2023 / 10 - THE ROLE OF THE DISTRIBUTOR
“I need to get my books into bookstores! If I didn’t need to, why would I bother with a publisher?”
Fixing a misunderstanding - publishers ‘technically’ do not put your books in the bookstore. They work with bookstores and distributors to put your books in the bookstore / library / place where you can get them.
Therefore, even if you’ve edited, printed, and stored your books as an indie or self-publisher author, you still have the next step to consider - putting your books in the correct channels.
So in that case, how can you take that first step to engaging a distributor?
Or in other words, network.
There are a few kinds of distributors -
Distribution Companies - publishers mainly use distribution channels or companies to aid with their own titles. And these are the one of the major ways books are brought into bookstores or chains.
However, note that unless you’re already in the industry or with a sizeable business or audience, it can be a challenge to approach individual distributors cold. Many of these distributors are B2B (business-to-business) processors, not so much B2C, or business to consumers / individuals. That said, self or indie published authors can also try…
Independent Bookstores - Both online and physical. Some of them buy books from independent authors on commission directly, though in smaller batches or through events.
Get a greater understanding of your own needs, especially with the channels you would like to work with first to distribute your books. And how do you talk to people within the industry? We’ll be covering that in the later sections.
Many people tell me that the first rule about wanting to get published is to keep writing (because it only takes one ‘yes’ - thanks TSNOTYAW!).
Perhaps the better rule would be this - practice patience.
Publishing moves at a glacial pace, and so does the process after publication.
If you're an author published with a traditional publisher and/or working with a literary agent, it’s usually a matter of getting updates.
If you’re an indie or self-published author, this will be another stage of patience as well.
Whether we admit it or not, being a working creative means we are creative or arts entrepreneurs. And that comes with a slew of pitches, rejections, and patience.
So keep at it!
A Note to Consider for Self-Publishers
Talking to publishers as an individual can be a challenge. Internally, do take this note into consideration - Capacity.
If you are a self-publishing author with no access to storage should you decide to print your books, take note and handle the logistical preparations first. There are no guarantees with distribution, so storage can be an issue if you did not prepare.
Personally - we ended up pulping a majority of our books that weren’t selling with our distributor because of the above reason.
Pitching. Again: Being a creator / writer / artist, especially a working one, also means that you are not that different from an entrepreneur. Your day-to-day, unless you have sales staff, will be a line of pitching and selling. And if I’m not wrong, this typically does not sound like something you would rather be doing.
So a way to reframe this could be like so - Speaking to a distributor allows me to showcase my work in channels that can reach my audience better and wider than I can as an individual.
This gets especially useful when our creative careers are highly product-based and we want to get once product on as many channels as we can without burning ourselves out.
Contracts: Instead of viewing this as a document of jargon that only greatly benefits the other party, think of it as how both you and the distributor will be protected during this working relationship.
In any working relationship, boundaries are important - having a discussion over the contract also gives you a better understanding of the concerns you and the distributor might have.
Remember: While they have more space and resources than we, as individuals, do, they still have limited resources fighting against the demand of current, past, and future publishers and writers.
What can I do as a Writer?
Ask: No, really. If you need to fill a gap in knowledge or process, ask for help. That said, here are a couple of steps that may help…
Build Relationships: Not necessarily straight with distributors, libraries, or bookstores. The common advice here is to be genuine, not transactional.
Attend events, workshops, or talks that you’re interested in, held by these organisations.
Ask questions during or after events related to the topic (not because you want to throw your book at everyone).
Support people in your community who resonate with you - never underestimate how much genuine fandom can enhance your creative career. My first opportunity into distribution opened up because I was already supporting the industry.
Persevere: Rejection is so commonplace in the publishing industry, independent authors have started to collect them for the fun of it. One rejection from one place doesn’t mean the door has closed and locked.
Again, remember this - being an arts practitioner means you’re going to have to have some level of entrepreneurial skills. And that includes pitch after pitch.
Even though you got rejected, hold fast to your goals and keep creating.
I hope you will be able to glean something helpful from my reflections moving forward as well!