Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Distrubution Dilemma

Currently reading - Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Part of the reason self-publishing was discouraged (and discouraging) for lo these many years was the lack of distribution.  Even if you did the smart things on your own like hiring an excellent editor and an incredible cover artist, you still had to pay for the printing yourself.  Then you faced the problem of how to distribute your books to readers.

Bookstores didn't want to take a chance on some Jo Blo off the streets, preferring to stick with trusted wholesale distributors like Ingram.  The wholesale distributors relied on the publishing houses and often refused to even talk with the Jo Blos.  Maybe Jo could get her foot in the door at Independent Book Store down the street from her house, but her reach was limited to her neighborhood.  Once Jo had sold books to Grandma, her two aunts, her three neighbors, and five random strangers that stopped in Independent Book Store, who else could she sell her book to?

The law of diminished returns started to apply to Jo and her efforts.  She would have to go to other independent book stores, in other neighborhoods, other towns, possibly other states, on her own dime.  The travel costs soon outweighed the number of books sold in these excursions.  Ask John Grisham about the fate of his first edition of A Time to Kill.  While the book was published by the now-defunct tiny comany Wynwood Press, John literally couldn't give it away out of the back of his station wagon.  Copies stored in his garage had to be hauled to the dump after a flood.  Imagine your own money landing in that garbage heap.  Kind of defeats the purpose of pursuing a writing career, doesn't it?

The game has changed.  Now you've got retail players like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Lulu not only acting as wholesale distributors but willing to work with the Jo Blos of the world.  You now have access to millions, that's right, MILLIONS of people, not just in the U.S., but around the world.  You can sell your story in just about any format you can imagine!

Here's the CAVEAT!!  READ THE FINE PRINT before accepting terms from anyone, including the folks mentioned above.  If you don't understand the Terms of Agreement, GET SOMEONE WHO SPECIALIZES IN PUBLISHING TO EXPLAIN IT TO YOU.  Seriously, folks, as a former attorney, I can say a little preventative legal medicine goes a long way in keeping you out of trouble.

READ what others say about their experiences with a particular company.  Bob Mayer, Dean Wesley Smith, Kris Rusch, and Joe Konrath are brutally honest in their opinions and experiences doing their own thing.

First and foremost, do your research.  You won't regret it.

(Photo by Liam Quin, 2003)


  1. I learned the hard way when I published my romance "And That, My Dear, Is What Love Is". I'm waiting until I can buy back my rights and re-submit it elsewhere. I won't mention the publisher's name (unless you care to go to and search my title) but I will not recommend this publisher to anyone.

  2. Damn, girl! (Yes, I looked. I was curious.) I hate people that think it's okay to prey on other's dreams.

    That's one reason I'll preach educate, educate, educate until my eyeballs explode.