How Do I Get My Self-Published Book into Bookstores?

For most self-published authors, the answer is almost always, “You don’t.” Those with the
energy, time and promotional skills may be able to place a few copies of their book with their
local bookstores and retailers, usually on a consignment basis. However, full access to the
bookselling industry nationwide requires “distribution,” an elusive dream for most indie
authors.

Distribution is provided by a network of national companies and organizations that
collectively make bookselling efficient and cost-effective for retailers and libraries. They do
this by:

  •  Publicizing new books, along with associated reviews and awards
  • Streamlining the ordering and accounting process
  • Allowing for the return of books that don’t sell

Fulfilment vs Distribution

What print-on- demand (POD) publishers, including KDP and Ingram Spark, offer is
fulfilment, rather than full distribution. By definition, POD publishers don’t accept returns
(books purchased by a retailer that do not sell and are returned to the publisher). Bookstores
confidently stock books via a distribution company, because they know they can return them
if they do not sell. POD publishers fulfil orders from a bookstore, who will order a book that
a customer has specifically requested (and generally already paid for), not copies that the
store will stock on an ongoing basis. This is a valuable service, but is very different from
having books included in catalogues and displayed on store shelves to entice browsers.

I didn’t use POD – can I get distribution?

Authors who choose to work directly with a traditional printer are generally no better off
when it comes to gaining access to booksellers. Usually, the best they can achieve is copies
taken on consignment through their local network. Not only do self-published authors
typically lack the resources necessary to publicize their title nationally, retailers are reluctant
to do the necessary paperwork to set up a new publisher/vendor for a single title. Booksellers
prefer to work with a distributor who handles all the accounting for them.

Distributors, for their part, want to work with established publishers who consistently provide
quality books that sell. A limited number of distributors are willing to work with self-
published authors whose books have a defined audience, strong promotional support and top-
quality production values, but they are very, very selective. Given the economic pressures in
the publishing industry, distributors have a low tolerance for risk.