Self-publisher essentials with Ellie Marney: tackling distribution
Author Ellie Marney has experienced two sides of the publishing process, both as a traditionally published author and a self-publisher. Her first book, Every Breath (2013, Allen & Unwin), was one of the most-borrowed young adult (YA) books in Australian libraries in 2015, according to an ALIA report. Her debut self-published title, No Limits (2017), topped the YA crime fiction category on Amazon in its first week of release. Marney, who describes herself as a ‘hybrid’ author, shares her insights on the perks and perils of self-publishing in a new series of articles for Australian Self-Publisher. The first topic in this series is about book distribution and what that entails for self-publishers.
Distribution is about your book’s availability: the formats it can be bought in, the places where readers can find your book and (hopefully) buy it. Distributors deliver your books to retailers (sellers). They don’t sell your books, but they put them into the hands of people who do.
Are you set up for distribution?
There are different avenues for distribution, depending on the format of your book. All self-publishers should have an ebook, but it can also be worthwhile to have your book available in hard copy as a paperback or hardcover. Audiobooks are also a format that’s gaining ground quickly—and making self-published audiobooks is getting easier all the time.
Ebook and audiobook distribution
You’re on Amazon, right?
Amazon currently holds the lion’s share of ebook sales worldwide (over 60% of the Australian ebook market, about 70% in the US), and they are both a distributor and a retailer. Make sure your ebook is in the proprietary MOBI file format, so your book file is Amazon-compatible.
And you’re on other platforms too?
It’s also worthwhile to be on other distribution platforms (what’s referred to as ‘going wide’). Apple iBooks holds about 30% of the ebook market in Australia, with the remaining non-Amazon sales going to platforms like Kobo, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Google Play. Some self-published authors make as much money from their ‘wide’ platforms combined as from their total Amazon sales.
You can sign up to each of the platforms individually, and load your book to each one. Or you can sign up with an aggregator like Draft2Digital, who does it all for you, for a small cost.
Hard copy distribution
Do you really need a hard copy?
Hard copies are expensive to create: you need a full cover and, once you take printing costs and wholesale discounts into account, you may make limited profit on bookstore sales. Think carefully about putting your book in hard copy. You need a better reason than ‘I want to see my book on shelves/hold a copy in my hand’.
Consider your book’s format and target audience: Is your book a coffee-table book with lots of photos? Is it a thick textbook, a field guide, or a children’s picture book? Is it for a market that prefers hard copy, like the young adult (YA) genre? Those are all good reasons to go with a hard copy. Having your book in stores can increase its discoverability, plus hard-copy sales are on the rise (mainly through Amazon).
Australian bookstores, iPage and wholesale discount
Local bookstores usually place book orders through iPage online: In the last few months, iPage Australia has opened to self-publishers, so booksellers can now order your book on the same webpage as books from traditional publishers. But booksellers are typically given hefty discounts on wholesale orders. The rate of discount is up to you, but between 40-60% is industry standard.
You can make your paperback available through printer-distributors Ingram Spark, let booksellers know, and let them do the ordering themselves. Or you can go consignment…
The ‘consignment’ question
Many bookstores ask self-publishing authors to sell on consignment: You order the books, have them delivered to you, then take orders from bookstores and distribute the books to them for sale. When the books are sold, the bookstore pays you for them. But it’s a lot of back-end work for self-publishers: you bear the brunt of shipping/distribution costs, chasing down invoices can be time-intensive, and if you’re not doing off-set print runs to minimise print costs, you’re often getting small return for all that effort. Bookstores prefer consignment, because it benefits them, but you should work out the costs-versus-returns before going this route.
Selling hard copy outside of Australia
You can register your paperback for sale overseas through printer-distributors IngramSpark, but it’s unlikely to get much traction in overseas bookstores. The simplest way is to create a hard copy through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) print program, and allow readers to order a print book on the same page as where they buy your ebook.
Other options: selling on your website or at markets
You can sell your paperbacks yourself—on your website, for instance. Some authors pay for a market or convention stall and sell stock that way.
Why it’s great to connect with libraries
The Australian government subsidises publishers for the cost of library book sales to the tune of about $2 per copy—the system is called Public Lending Rights (PLR), or Educational Lending Rights (ELR) for school libraries. If you sell your book to libraries, you’re eligible for PLR and ELR by registering at the Lending Rights Australia portal. This means better returns on sales to libraries, plus you’re increasing your book’s discoverability while supporting a worthwhile system.
Visit the Australian government’s Department of Communication and the Arts for more information and for eligibility criteria. Contact library suppliers to inform them about your book’s availability and how they can order.
Good luck, and happy distributing!
Ellie Marney is a teacher and hybrid YA author. She lives in Victoria with her family, and her new book, White Night (Allen & Unwin), is out March 2018. Find her at www.elliemarney.com or on Twitter or Instagram.