distributing your self-published book

Distributing your self-published book – where do you start?

You have boxes of your printed books (or you’re planning to print boxes of your book) and a page on your website to sell them. But is this really the best strategy? Unless your website is getting several thousand unique visits a week, you’re going to struggle to reach new audiences and see a return on your investment. To really leverage your book, reach more people and bring in more business, you need to look at additional distribution channels. Remember, if people can’t find your book, they can’t buy it.

So what are your options?

Book distribution options

By the time you're ready for distribution, you'll be considering the three main formats and their associated distribution options. These include:

  • Print
  • eBook
  • Print-on-demand

The format you choose will determine what distribution options are available for you as a self-published author and what costs and commissions you will have to allow for.

Where do you start?

Regardless of your method of distribution, there are certain things you need to have in place before your book is ready to take the world by storm. Preparing your book for distribution in this way will have several benefits:

  • It reflects publishing industry standards and shows professionalism
  • The book will be more discoverable for readers interested in your topic
  • You will help readers to make the decision to purchase
  • Booksellers and distributors can find your book
  • Libraries can stock your book

Things to do in advance of book distribution

Get an ISBN

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique 13-digit identifier for books and simplifies the distribution throughout the global supply chain. If you don’t have an ISBN your book can’t be found in bookstores, whether physical or online, since booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors use this number for the marketing and ordering of books. Your ISBN should be printed on the back of the title page of a book, often referred to as the imprint page, with the copyright and publisher information. It must be printed exactly as given with the letters ‘ISBN’ preceding it. In Australia, you can purchase an ISBN from The Australian ISBN Agency, which is operated by Thorpe-Bowker.

Get a barcode

A barcode encodes your book’s ISBN number and price. It also helps booksellers to track their inventory and sales when it is scanned at the time of purchase. As most bookshops will only sell a book if it has a barcode printed on the cover, if you want to distribute by bookstore, getting a barcode is essential. If you apply for your ISBN through the Australian ISBN Agency, you can buy a barcode at the same time. You can purchase a barcode from Thorpe-Bowker as a stand-alone item or together with your ISBN.

Register with bibliographic lists

A few months before you publish your book you need to pass on its details to one of the catalogues that booksellers use to find books. Booksellers and libraries use these lists to keep up with new titles that are released and to find out how to order a book that a customer requests. Listing your book with bibliographic information suppliers can help with sales because key industry buyers can access the information they need to order and sell it. The main suppliers you should list with as an author are Nielsen BookData and Books in Print. Because you are a publisher as well, you can also list with TitlePage. This is not exactly a bibliographic list, but it is a service that booksellers commonly use for price and availability information.

Register with CiP and make a legal deposit

Cataloguing-in-Publication (CiP) is a service that lists your book on the National Library of Australia database. As a publisher you are also required by law to deposit a physical copy of any print publication to the National Library so it can be preserved as a historical record. This means your book can be found in the library’s search engine (Trove) and can help generate sales of your book to Australian libraries. You can apply for a CiP with the National Library of Australia.

Provide enhanced metadata

At a minimum you need to create metadata for your book, which is used for all online listings of your book. While online distribution channels will ask you to fill out an online form or a spreadsheet template with the metadata items, having this information prepared in advance will make the process easier for you and keep your information standard across all channels.

Basic metadata includes essential details such as the title, author, publisher, ISBN, price, format, language, and rights information etc., while enhanced metadata includes additional information such as an author bio, cover design, blurbs, excerpts, reviews and links to your websites. Part of your metadata also includes assigning the category codes that the supply chain uses to organise books by topic or content.

The main system for this categorisation is the BISAC system. Check it out and see which categories might apply to your book; you can add as many as are relevant. This keyword-rich information is essential as it increases your book’s discoverability in the supply chain (where your book is available for sale), on search engines and on social networks. And the more information you give, the better, which is where enhanced metadata comes in. In a nutshell, by giving browsing potential readers the information they want, you can further influence them to buy.

Book distribution in summary

By correctly preparing your book for distribution, you ensure your book has the best chance of success.

Enjoyed this post? Check out our follow-up post on distribution options and service providers.