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Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Stores and Distributors

Every time I walk into a Barnes and Noble, Borders, or even an independent book store, I get this sinking feeling as my eyes rest on tables piled high with books, their signs announcing "New Releases" or "Now in Paperback." The sheer number of books lining the shelves of these stores makes me question why I ever thought there might be a place for one of mine, and when I recognize some of the titles or authors on the "Clearance" table, I'm convinced I'm trespassing on sacred ground.

Although I tend to revere books in general, I have recently come to terms with the fact that to book stores, books are a commodity to be priced, sorted, displayed, inventoried, and sold--not unlike lettuce or sneakers. Except for the classics, books even have a fairly predictable shelf life, so how does little old me get an untouted book by an unknown author onto one of those sagging shelves?

Well . . . it's not easy. Almost all book stores purchase books through Ingram, a gigantic book distributor, and the larger the store, the more automated their purchasing procedures. For example, Borders in Klamath Falls wanted to carry Brute Heart, but they didn't have a way to order or inventory it let along pay for it, because my book wasn't listed with Ingram, and Ingram won't set up an account with a publisher unless he or she has at least ten titles to sell.

I have discovered that the best distribution method for self-published authors, those of us with less than ten titles to sell, is signing up with one of several services that will print on demand. That won't get your book on one of those sagging shelves I mentioned earlier, however customers can special order it either at the store or online. Companies such as Booklocker( that specialize in self-publishing, provide distribution as part of their self-publishing package. Lightning Source (, the print on demand subsidiary for Ingram, is another option.

There are also distributors that will list, store and ship hard copies of books for a fee, usually 55-60% of the retail price. You pay to ship your books to the distributor, they pay shipping to the stores. If they think your book has potential, these companies will take your inventory on consignment and expect to return to you any books that don't sell. Partners West, located near Seattle, is one such distributor. They don't have a website, but do have a blog (

Since I divorced my online publishing company and struck off on my own, I have made the distribution process needlessly harder, forcing myself to either sell books directly to my customers or contact independent book stores one by one. I have been successful about half the time with independent book stores, but if you decide to go this route, be prepared to give books away to stores that will take one book, on consignment only, pay you if the book sells (and you may have to follow up with them to get paid), or donate your book to a book drive if it doesn't. To their credit, the two outlets carrying Brute Heart in Klamath Falls--the Klamath County Museum and The Oregon Gift Store, pay as they go for the books they order. Gift shops, boutiques, museums, sometimes even restaurants will carry books, so don't just concentrate your efforts on book stores.

1 comment:

  1. I like this blog. I can relate to what you're saying. I have gone the route of both self-publication and small publisher. I'm not sure which way I want to go with my latest book. I am thinking about self-publishing with createspace because their product looks very good and they are affordable. I also live in Central Oregon and love it here.