What is a book distributor?
In a nutshell, a distributor is the stepping stone that gets your independently published book into the bookstore system. A hundred years ago, when there were only a handful of publishers in the country, bookstores used to deal with them directly. Now that there are too many publishers to count, bookstores can no longer keep up. That’s where distributors come in.
A distributor contracts many different publishers and consolidates all of their products into a single catalog. This makes it easier for parties on both ends of the process. The bookstore has to deal with only one person, and you as the independent publisher have to deal with only one person, too: the distributor.
When do you need a distributor?
You need a distributor when you are looking to get your book or books into the bookstore system. If you only want to sell your book online or at the back of the room after a speaking engagement, contracting with a distributor is not for you.
If you do want to get into the bookstore system to boost your commercial sales, you are going to need a distributor. Bookstores won’t buy from you directly, and the only one of the two major wholesalers in the United States that will deal with independent publishers — Baker & Taylor — is famous for not paying its bills. A distributor will put your books where you want them to be and make sure that you get paid what you’re owed.
Choosing a distributor
Some distributors are better than others. The best ones have an outside sales force that will promote your book once you sign with them. One red flag to watch out for is a distributor who tries to charge you a fee up front for contracting with you. Legitimate distributors make their money by charging a commission on the sales of your books. Those who do otherwise are probably scams. Also note that some distributors are easier to contract with than others, but the easier they are, the bigger commission they’re probably going to charge on your sales, and the less likely they are to have that outside sales force.
The bad news is that the huge amount of small publishers in the market today (around 85,000 in 2010) is causing a lot of competition. Distributors have far more would-be clients than they can take on. In other words, you need them, but they don’t need you. That means that to land a good distributor, you’re going to need more than just a quality book. Here are three tips to put you on the right track.
1. Have a solid budget.
There are some distributors out there who won’t even look at representing you unless you have $10,000 for your publicity campaign. This isn’t always the case. However, having some solid funding will show that you’re serious and will definitely help your case with any reputable distributor.
2. Have a platform.
If you already have a strong marketing and publicity campaign in the works, that will also be attractive to distributors. Not only does it show them that you’re serious, but it also gives them a head start on the marketing they’ll be doing for you anyway. Furthermore, if you have something like a blog with 10,000 followers, that demonstrates that you already have a base to sell your book to. The more sales that are in it for the distributor, the more money they’ll make, and the more likely they’ll be to contract with you.
3. Have more than one book.
Distributors make their money on commissions from selling your books. As such, they can’t usually make much money on one-book publishers. Therefore, if it’s possible, having more than one book to show them will help your chances. The more books you have on your list, the more you increase your odds. Generally speaking, a small press with 10 titles will usually be able to put itself on a good distributor’s radar.
If you need assistance planning and organizing your book, a professional ghostwriter or editorial coach can help.