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Archive for indie publishing

Paths to publication

Some authors like publishing. Others just like books. Some just like storytelling. The wide range of publishing paths is mapped in Jane Friedman’s annual report, Key Book Publishing Paths. The 2021 edition contains a new path: hybrid publishing. These are companies that package services authors need in one bundle. Friedman’s report only gets better with each year.

Its wisdom is always close to my keyboard when I consult with an author who’s had an edit. When I do an evaluation edit or a development edit, it includes options for getting the book into the world. The steepest path requires an agent for a traditional deal, including payment in advance and a sales force. The gentlest slope gets a book into the world on the Web, or through social posts, where the primary concern is how professional it looks.

Hybrids sit just about in the middle on Friedman’s chart: Professional work, always with no advances to the author, higher royalties, and marketing that’s almost completely on the author’s shoulders. Many hybrids don’t judge what’s worthy of publishing, while some do vet the books they produce.

I recommend Friedman’s free annual report to every author who brings me a book. It can be hard to judge what you’ve created. Some authors write enough to call the work a manuscript but aren’t even sure if they have a book yet. The path from manuscript pages to publication can succeed if authors know the bends in the road. The steepest path is at the left edge of Friedman’s table. The closer to the left you want to tread, the harder the work.

Know if you’ve got what it takes to be published?

Sometimes, in the course of coaching an author, they ask if they’ve got what it takes to be successful. The harder question is whether their book that we’ve development-edited can be published. Everyone who’s ever written a book has this question, asked every time. Asking it is the way you know you’re serious about your life as an author. When your writing is a hobby, you won’t be asking if you’ve got what it takes.

The answer rides on how much an author will work to improve their book. Multiply that by the number of months you’ll spend developing your book’s market plan. That development is outside of the work to make the book the best one you can write. The best way to give that market plan a chance of helping is to learn about the market and industry you’re trying to crack.

Authors visit the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors conference with varying degrees of love for publishing. They’re locked in on their love of storytelling, plus the wordcraft that makes a book easy to enjoy. The business? Not so much, for some authors. They will leave this to their publisher. Embracing this part of the author’s life is more fun when you have an avid curiosity about how books get sold. The selling of books is the business heartbeat of publishing.

In a nutshell, that’s what it takes to be a success in publishing: curiosity. Learning how to write more clearly, how to craft great characters, how to introduce suspense and write endings that are spoiler-worthy and inevitable — those are simply the Publishing 101. Graduating into making a profit on a book means understanding the industry, driven by curiosity.

Figuring where to learn

You can be reading Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, a good blog like Jane Friedman’s, or a teaching publisher like Anne Trubek; she runs a press in Cleveland and has a terrific book, So You Want to Publish a Book? Mike Shatzkin’s The Book Business is another bible that I savor.

Your query letter offers the easiest early steps to see if you’ve got what it takes to succeed. Part of your query that you can serve you fastest are your comps — the recent books like yours that have succeeded in the market. Or books that succeeded in the market and are sort of like yours, but they left one part out. Your query helps an agent, or a publisher, imagine the success of the book.

Publishers have to make a case to whoever sells their books. That might be a distributor, which is a sales force not working strictly for one press, but for many presses. Or it might be an in-house sales force, if you got to a big enough publisher. Whether your book gets picked up, or doesn’t, is going to be in the hands of the people who sell books. Knowing about their trade makes it easier to know if you’ve got what it takes.

Why hybrid publishing produces your book, without gimmicks or fraud

Some of my editing clients publish through hybrid presses. No skullduggery there; it’s a straight-up hybrid. A hybrid press is another way to purchase a publishing services package. Some hybrids are more open than others, and plenty will tell authors that they’re meeting a higher standard than Everybody Gets Published. It’s true. When you consider how bad a book could be at the moment of submission, it’s a good business move to keep the lowest-caliber books out of a hybrid’s work flow. If you only write the books, hybrids carry you from a final draft to the for-sale moment. $2,400 is not an unusual number for a hybrid quote.

Here’s a good thing to know: if all you write is the book, you’re probably going to see a fraction of the sales if you’d written essays, articles, blog posts, Facebook posts, and even long Instagram captions. Or maybe just a great newsletter. Publishing needs authors to write after the sale. Or, you can get lucky and get a contract where you get some help from a marketing department to write some of that stuff.

I don’t see any problem in publishing through a hybrid, so long as you understand it’s on par with self-publishing done professionally. Belt Publishing, which does great books in traditional agreements, also operates Parafine Press. It’s a hybrid. The profits from Parafine help Belt pay its bills on the traditional book deals where the book doesn’t earn its way to a profit. This drive for profit is one of the things that hammers down advances. Anne Trubek, who heads up Belt, has a wonderful book out, So You Want to Publish a Book. It’s the best $10 you’ll ever spend on your career.

Investments abound

Authors have invested in getting their books published since, oh, the 19th century, maybe earlier. There’s also a process called subvention, where someone invests in the book besides the press. Subventions are more common in academic presses.

Ever since I sat down in an editor’s chair, I’ve known publishing is a for-profit business. That was clear from that first job in 1981. That publisher closed its doors 90 days after I went to work. The losses just got too steep there. If nobody is earning anything from a book, it’s usually not because that was the intention. A vanity publisher is still a publisher, but their gate is as open as your investment makes it.

There’s nothing wrong with vanity publishing. When you get honest about what a traditional deal amounts to, it’s an advance and maybe a sales force and good promotion, plus somebody else to pay for creating and shipping the books. The traditional press grooms you for another book and attaches its influence and connections to its better-known authors. That’s why a traditional deal is prized; some of that is hard for anyone to offer except a traditional press.

Your reputation should precede your publication

If you’ve ever self-published a book, then you’re likely to get a phone call from a publishing house. At least that’s what the caller will tell you they’re representing. The call might well come from Author Reputation Press, like the one I got this week. They’d heard that my 2012 novel Viral Times was for sale at Barnes & Noble. “How’s the book doing?” In a few minutes, the caller was ready to help my self-published novel from nine years ago get better published.

All it would take was $6,799 and my willingness to send the book to the company for fresh editing, cover, and a marketing package. I’d get 45 printed copies, too. The reputation of my book was already nine years old on the afternoon I was called. They have “book scouts,” a mythical set of creatures like wood nymphs, who scour the world for good books that can be better published.

I had to invite the caller to connect with me through email. I was on deadline, I explained, and didn’t have time to talk about my first novel. That’s a conversation to have before your book is published, not years afterward. A quick look into Author Reputation Press shows a thick sheaf of complaints and warnings.

The publishing world is full of corporations that want to dig deeper into the vein of self-publishers whose books already have a reputation in place. By some industry estimates, four of every five books fail to earn back their advances. The books themselves might be fine efforts, but they didn’t find an audience and sell enough copies.

When you’ll see results

There’s a much better time to talk about getting your book the reputation that it deserves. That’s when the book is still developing. Re-releasing a book is a noble mission, of course. The movie business used to re-release good films, in part because the studios controlled the theaters where the movies were distributed. The movies didn’t get a makeover, though, like the promised ones from Author Reputation Press. The studios turned the crank of marketing to find a new audience for the films.

Author Reputation Press doesn’t control any distribution avenues. This is a hybrid publishing operation, one where the author arrives with a budget and the old books get spruced up and refined. I’d hope that any call to attract your expenditures might start with a better opening line than “How’s your novel doing?” If the caller doesn’t know that, you wonder how they’d know enough to get the book selling better? Some of the Author Reputation packages don’t even include editing services.

There’s nothing wrong with buying a package of services to get your self-published book into the world. Try not to pay for a lot of printed copies. The distinction you’ll seek from a hybrid publisher is how well they’ve done to publish other books. That’s publish as in “sell.” You’d like to see the specifics for marketing and sales beyond a bullet point for “Professional Sales and Marketing Package.”

What’s on offer for your hybrid payment

I’ve worked in publishing since 1981, editing and marketing stories in periodicals and books. Creating a great book is a thrill, just like it was nine years ago with my first novel, or in 2019 for my memoir. Across the 40 years of publication work, I’ve learned that selling and marketing a book might be the hardest step on the way to carrying the story onto the landing of success.

When a press calls to offer you an improved reputation, keep the conversation focused on what they will pay you for your self-published book. If you’ve had professional editing and design, the next best step is to improve the chances of your book’s discovery. That’s what an accomplished press does with a good book.

How to help your book get distribution agreements

What are distribution and wholesaling anyway? If you believe you only need to write your book to publish it, you’re going to be disappointed at the sales once it’s in the world. D&W are different in a significant way. Distributors do more selling on your behalf. Wholesalers take orders. In the broadest sense, Amazon is a wholesaler, moving one book at at a time.

Librarians rarely order from Amazon. They use wholesalers because the librarians are readers who develop their own tastes and trust their wholesaler to get the books shipped and invoiced.

A great series at Reedsy (where I’ve hired my editing and design pros) is keeping track of what an author and self-publisher needs to get the word out about their book. It’s a short list with a long tail: you’ll be doing these things the rest of your life, once you finish that book.

A lifelong list

Amy Collins of New Shelves Books sums up the list. She’s writing about how to create buzz for your book to impress librarians and library wholesalers. You want to create demand, so your book attracts wholesalers. Libraries buy 90 percent or more of their books through wholesalers.

  • Write articles for news and other print and online outlets.
  • Create fun top 10 lists, listicles, and infographics. Get them published on blogs, other sites, and magazines.
  • Get interviewed — appear in many venues across the internet and print media.
  • Do a radio show tour. Include book giveaways.
  • Develop a large online and social media following

Amy doesn’t say this, but everything above gets you these golden nuggets

  • Endorsements from famous authors or celebrities
  • Reviews by quality, independent, respected media, and industry outlets.

She claims you should never pay for a review from a service like Kirkus or Clarion Foreword. It’s not that cut and dried. Nobody who’s in the industry, like a prospective wholesaler, will think those services are really independent book reviewers. You need to prime the pump, though. A radio tour might factor in some well-written paid reviews. Always excerpt the paid reviews. Never discount the power of any well-written review, either. A new author needs them. Set a budget for that sort of thing.

Librarians are going to need these

Collins has a specialty in getting into libraries. Acquisition librarians do the book buying and need to be sure the new purchases turn into borrows. The librarians’ bottom line is their patrons’ engagement.

Collins adds that “some of these ideas are much easier said than done. All of them can help a retailer or library see that you understand your book has a job to do. And that job is to make them money — or in the case of libraries, increase their total borrows.” If you didn’t know it, library borrows earn money for authors. The borrows also find an audience for a new author.

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Self-publishing, self book marketing: How to tips

So you’ve finished your book! Good news, if you’ve already invested in editing and purchased a pro cover. Now is the time to shoulder the wheel of marketing and distribution. Self-publishing is not real publishing until it includes self book marketing. My concise list gives you tasks to accomplish.

You need to write sales copy. That’s the brief and enticing copy you will find on every book’s page at Amazon. You will also use this copy in a fact sheet (sometimes called a tip sheet in traditional publishing). It’s not all words in a fact sheet. A photo of yourself is essential in one. You send the fact sheet out to reviewers and bloggers you’d like to cover your book. You send the sales copy to Amazon and any other retail outlet you’re using. For example, IngramSpark needs this copy. So does Bowker, where you registered your ISBN numbers for the book.

Try out promoting at Goodreads. You set up an author account there (mostly by “claiming” your book as your own.) Once you have an author status, Goodreads promo tools like giveaways and book feeds (think Facebook-style) will be in your grasp. In the meantime, tell your tribe to review your book on Goodreads. They can put it on their to-read lists, too. Goodreads is the best place to encourage your fans to post their reviews. Of course, if they’re buying from an outlet with a website, a review is good there, too.

Make your website your hub

Double down on your author website. Bare minimums: a fun About Me page (tell a story or two about how you came to create your book, how you decided to be a writer) and links to the places your book is on sale. A blog is super useful to create writing you will offer for free to interested readers. Have links on your website for the social media accounts you will be feeding with delicious snippets. One big plus is a way to take orders for your book from your website. There’s an easy way to take these kinds of orders using Aerio, a service run by IngramSpark. They print your books on demand and fulfill orders. You can also hand-ship signed copies to your greatest fans if they order through your website.

Not only do you make more money per sale by moving books through your website, you also connect to readers (more on that in a minute). Amazon will never tell you anything about who reads a book you’ve written.

Create Advanced Reader Copy files (called ARCs) to send out to reviewers and allies of the book. Digital files should be in PDF, EPUB, and Kindle (MOBI) formats. Have your cover designer help out. You need these copies to help you land some endorsements of the book. Those are sometimes called blurbs. They give your book some validation, and praise, if you’re lucky. Don’t leave home without a few blurbs and endorsements.

Get those ARC files into the world for automatic download. Bookfunnel is a good and inexpensive service to use for this process. In some cases, places like Bookfunnel can even round up a few reviewers. Bookfunnel is like NetGalley but less costly. They both have promotional offers.

Make your outreach

Create and feed an author newsletter. This can be an email with just three links to interesting webpages where something happened that relates to your book. It’s much better if you write a snippet about your writing life and an aspect of your story. It’s best of all if it links to your blog. You create an emailing list of your own to send this newsletter to. Simple ways to build email lists are to swap with other authors in your field or genre. You will be doing a lot of asking with humility while you market. It’s not so bad once you’re used to it

Your author newsletter connects you to fans and readers of your books. Again, Amazon will never do this so you can see who your fans are.

Build a reader magnet to build your mailing list. You might have had good stuff from your book that just didn’t make it into the final cut. Revive it. Write histories of your characters. Write an author’s guide to the best books from your genre. If you’re unsure what a good reader magnet looks like, seek out authors like you who are creating this bonus content. Look over what they’re doing.

Develop posts for social media. People use various kinds, but you’re never far away from connecting to readers and potential fans when you use Instagram and Facebook. Create a Facebook account for your author life, not just your personal Facebook account. Your book is represented by a Page, which lets you attract Likes. Those Likes are a way of pushing your news into the Facebook Feeds of your readers. Instagram works differently — hashtags and listing the accounts of others gets you into feeds.

There is more, always more

Some of the rest will cost you more. Contest entries are the least expensive. Paid reviews will be more, and some people don’t think they’re that important. There is advertising at Amazon and at Facebook you can purchase. Take great care with that, and measure and test as you go. For more connection, you can use YouTube or Facebook for chats with fans: tell them when you’ll be live by putting the date and time in your newsletter. You can even record a little video for use on Instagram, or post one on your YouTube channel.

What, you don’t have a channel yet? It’s easy to set up. Use it to get the word out. Buy a ring light to illuminate your smile for the camera. Tell the world about your book. Then you can revel in the life of a self-published author who is doing their self book marketing.

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

Put proofreading into books after copyedits

Ah proofreading, the finish carpentry of editing. Many authors who create their own books think they can skip it, leaving the proofreading work to a copy editor.

Pro publishers do not do it this way.

These are the kinds of things I never thought I’d care about while I was traffic director at Graphics Express in Austin in 1984. Inside that typesetting shop, though, we had a dedicated proofreader who read every bit of type that was set. The mission was, and always is, to find typos.

I have a funny story about proofreading. In a bit of maximum irony, it comes from a writing coach. In a PDF handout, the coach writes this…

“Wikipedia says copy editing is ‘the process of reviewing and correcting written material to improve accuracy, readability, and fitness for its purpose, and to ensure that it is free of error, omission, inconsistency, and repetition.’ ”

Then she adds, “There is a great deal of overlap between this kind editing and proofreading. It would be unusual for a writer to have both a copyedit and a proofread of the same manuscript.”

I’m going to tell you there’s a typo in the coach’s advice, and let you have a little sport in finding it. Hint: it’s only two letters long and is a missing word.

Just to be thorough, that coach’s advice from that PDF uses two different styles of copyedit. The Chicago Manual of Style recognizes only the verb without a space between copy and edit. So copyedit, not copy edit.

And the person doing the work? They can be a copy editor, or a copyeditor, according to the Third Edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary and the British Oxford Dictionary of English. (These are the flesh and bone of Apple’s Dictionary app.)

So clearly, any advice that you don’t need to get an MS both a copyedit and a proofread depends on who’s doing the proofing. It’s safe to assume the coach had her writing copyedited. Not so much for the proofreading.

With all credit to the Chicago Manual of Style, here’s what the CMOS says about proofreading:

“Proofreading here … applies to the review of the manuscript after it has been converted to a format for publication but before it is published. Usually, this format consists of the typeset and paginated pages of a book or journal article (referred to as proofs or proof and read either on paper or as PDF) or the full text of a book or journal article intended for publication in one or more electronic formats other than PDF.”

Go the extra step and get your book looking professional. Even if its only format will be digital. Pro advice: have proofreading follow your copyediting. Try to get two pros here — or if you love your copy editor, give the copy a week or two to rest before that person gives you a proofread.

Image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

Agent intelligence flows from Writer’s League

I took a deep class this month on attracting a literary agent. Offered by the Writers’ League of Texas, it was provided good intelligence on getting books considered for representation. It might have been the single best $52 I’ve spent as an author and coach. For example, I learned that some agent businesses are a “solo shingle.” That’s a single agent, successful at a larger company, who starts their own business and finds books to sell to publishers.

In another example, the instructor Becka Oliver (director of WLT, she worked at William Morris as an agent) had advice about writing the Compel section of a query letter. Despite all the other options of contacting agents, the query letter remains the lingua franca of agent pitching. By crafting your Compel paragraph, you try to lure the agent into requesting pages they might agree to represent.

Some agencies permit the submission of sample pages with your initial outreach. The agencies nearly always request a “cover letter.” No surprise, that’s your query letter. In order of materials requested for fiction, the readers at an agency dig into the query letter, then the writing sample. If they request a synopsis, Oliver said that agents are likely to look at it only if they’re well along in the book and need a map to see where the story’s headed. Nothing is absolute about this process, of course.

In another example, a query’s Context paragraph is the best way to assure an agent you know where your book should live on the shelves. One phrase that I’ve used in query letters is, “This book is for readers of [commercially successful book like yours] and [critically successful book like yours].” Both these kinds of books like yours help the agent place your book prospects.

There was plenty to learn. Oliver drew out maps of the Big 5 publishing empires, plus independent presses like Coffee House and Dzanc. Both of the latter group will consider non-agented projects. They do prefer agented submissions, though. Lots of authors don’t remember to check up on the indies while querying. Those kinds of queries to the indie presses can go straight to publishers. The Big 5 imprints — and there are so very many of them — demand agented material.

Query letter advice was only a part of the WLT class. What to expect to hear when you get a call from an agent. What questions to ask an agent when you’re offered representation. Ask them what they specifically love about your book, for example, just to see if they really read it. How to follow up: Wait for something significant to happen — a contest, a publication of a short story. You want more good news to add to the submission.

You also will wait “as long as it takes” to hear from an agent. After a matter of months, it can be permissible to send a little email saying, “I know you might be just getting ready to read, and…” The submission of your book for consideration is a humbling affair. But agents, acting as gatekeepers, are a very good means to get a professional publishing contract.

How to use Amazon KDP Select, or skip it

Amazon throws its weight around. They have books to sell that are exclusive. They also sell other ebooks like everybody else does: book distribution can happen simultaneously with other retailers and reading services. Kindle books can be sold only at Amazon when authors use Kindle’s KDP Select. It’s an exclusive sales channel.

Amazon calls it Kindle Unlimited for the readers; the authors know it as KDP Select.

The Kindle books which are not set up for the Select program do not need to be exclusive. It’s a choice that the author-publisher gets to make. And change back and forth, if they want. When an author chooses to use KDP Select, Amazon makes the author commit to a 90-day exclusive term. (Authors are warning each other that the exclusive term rolls over automatically — unless you turn it off.)

Self-publishers make up a big share of these Amazon-exclusive booksellers. I’m not sure why, but if after awhile you haven’t sold many copies by the book, you probably believe your book can do better if you sell by the page.

It often does not.

What KDP Select costs the author

There’s a downside to KDP Select: You’re only paid per page read. Readers only pay $10 a month to Amazon and can read as many Select books as they want.

It’s a sales model that encourages browsing, instead of reading a lot of pages inside one book. When you stand at a buffet, you usually don’t load up your whole plate with roast beef only.

Amazon puts an Unlimited book into a higher rotation when readers are searching for books. An author still has to stand in line, though, behind the books that are advertised on Amazon. If you type “viral pandemic novel” in the Amazon search box, you don’t see my Viral Times. Well, you don’t see it after eight pages of search results.

If an author wants to use Kindle Select, it’s easier as a first move. You launch the book at Amazon. You don’t have to list it anywhere else, because it’s brand-new and exclusive.

If you go Select as your second strategy, it can be hard to pull a book out of distribution at all the other sales outlets. It’s especially hard if you have hired an aggregator to get your book into all those online stores. Aggregators are popular. For a lot of self-published authors, if they’re being sold anywhere else, managing all those other outlets manually can be time-consuming. Leaving the management up to the aggregator can mean it’ll take weeks to get your book off the non-Amazon sites.

Here’s an article on the struggle to get a book off of non-Amazon outets.

You sometimes have to fight to get your book out of a non-Amazon store — which is required if the book will become Amazon-exclusive. Smashwords used to distribute author books to a store in India, Flipkart. Authors learned that Flipkart never pulls books off of its lists. Amazon refused to let those authors get into Select, because their books were locked onto Flipkart.

The only way to fix the Smashwords problem? Smashwords had to quit Flipkart completely.

You can never tell how an online retailer will behave until they have to do something out of the ordinary. That’s the problem with using an aggregator like PublishDrive or Draft2Digital or Smashwords. They are your managers of the relationships with dozens of platforms.

What being Amazon exclusive gets an author

I have an author friend who did well with her romance in Select. She had a publisher and invested in ads. She wrote in a popular genre, one where reading many books cover to cover is a habit.

Kindle’s books can move in and out of Select status, but as I say above, it can be complicated to move them. I have client who’s in the Select program, so his book can be read in Kindle Unlimited. He’s not doing any better being exclusive to Amazon than selling direct. He hasn’t pulled his books out of Unlimited/Select, though.

I never took Viral Times into Select, and I have stayed away from Select for my memoir Stealing Home, too. It’s just that I want control — which shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me, a fellow who’s an editor and gatekeeper at heart. My views on listing a book as a Select title might change, but I’ll need better evidence that Select/Unlimited makes a difference.

Sales strategies come and go, after all. Books can return for sale on an online app like Rathe. Maybe that’s after an author has tried the exclusive KDP Select — and learned there’s still no substitute for advertising a book on Amazon.

Whenever you refuse Amazon’s exclusivity in KDP Select, you’re “going wide.” The same thing occurs in audiobooks, where you can publish through (Amazon’s) Audible exclusively. An author makes more per sale at Audible that way. You can’t buy the ebook or the audiobook anywhere else, though.

Just like selling ebooks, Audible commands a much larger share than other audiobook sellers. Amazon’s lead is not as big in the books market, though. Not everybody is reading from Amazon. Amazon certainly doesn’t know a thing about apps compensating authors by the episode consumed in the micro-reading of books.

Libraries and the future

Like everybody, I’m looking over my shoulder at library borrowing. It’s completely free for a reader, and great books are available there. Bestsellers. Also self-published books like Viral Times, or the audiobook for Stealing Home. (There’s a trick to getting those books through most libraries. You must have a free Hoopla account that ties to your library account. You get four borrows per month.)

Hoopla used to be Midwest Tape, a service that made books on tape available to libraries. A library has to purchase a copy of my memoir to offer it in their collection. It’s either got a one-copy-at-a-time license, or it uses a pay-by-the-reader license. Those second licenses are a lot more expensive for a library, so they usually buy a limited number of the single-reader books.

My ebook for Stealing Home is in these libraries. A library catalog called WorldCat has it listed at libraries in Dallas, North Dakota, and Alaska. Because Kobo distributes my memoir, it goes to OverDrive. And so my memoir can be checked out. You can also get it from your library by using Hoopla, another app that ties to your library account.

Viral Times has got a very special place at Rathe, an app that lets you read books 650 words at a time. The platform is the only other place besides Amazon where you can buy my book. I’m not in the Kindle Select program. At Amazon, I sell by the book, and I can sell elsewhere, too. The paperback hasn’t sold in a very long time. Maybe that will change — I just got my first Amazon order for a paperback sale in more than five years.

There’s a catch, of course, when you sell a paperback like I chose to do with Viral Times.

Viral Times isn’t print on demand. I have a couple of boxes here at the house that I got printed in 2012. There was no print on demand in 2012. I wrap a book and send it through FedEx Ground to get it to an Amazon warehouse. Amazon pays me $4 for this book. You can guess how much it costs to send it through FedEx, or even USPS. It’s more than $4. You need a tracking number, or Amazon can claim they’ve lost it.

Distribution — which amounts to outlets for sales, and sometimes the selling, too — is the trickiest part of the publishing adventure. Listing a book on a website is only wholesaling; there’s little effort to drive sales to the site, unless your email practices are strong.

Discovery by a reader while they’re already at Amazon is different today. Amazon has tilted the tables toward vendors and authors who advertise. Amazon used to let authors believe in organic discovery. Then Amazon started to sell ads, then made up Unlimited, and now there’s no substitute for buying ads for a book that’s in Unlimited at Amazon. Even that doesn’t work so well. Ad purchases can amount to big fees for clicks onto a book’s listing, but few sales.

The options to make ebook sales have their limits. It’s better if you know them coming in. A good article on the website Just Publishing Advice lays out the pros and cons of Select versus regular sales of Kindle books.

Traditional deals mean genuine distribution

Debut authors have many choices to make, from selecting an agent if needed, to choosing self publishing versus small press or hybrid publishers. That last category can differ quite a bit between providers. One marker to watch is distribution: the channel that gets sales for a book.

Many hybrid publishers—who by definition require authors to pay for services in exchange for a greater royalty share—have slim distribution options. No traditional distribution is a common situation for a hybrid. They can make a book wholesale distributed using IngramSpark. This wholesaling doesn’t drive placement in bookstores. Wholesaling makes your book orderable. It doesn’t drive sales without your personal investment in marketing.

More importantly, the lack of distribution can keep a book out of consideration for reviews and publicity coverage. It’s not an automatic exclusion, but library and trade book resources like Booklist and Library Journal do not make many coverage slots available for books without distribution. The feeling, perhaps rightly so from the trade’s perspective, is that a review of a book without a sales force sacrifices a spot Booklist could give to a better-distributed book.

Distribution is crucial for the brick and mortar selling that goes beyond consignment sales. Booksellers tend to order from their regular sources: direct from some select presses, then through distributors like IPG. It’s much harder to get a direct order from a bookseller if you only have print on demand (POD) wholesale distribution. Consignment sales can get your POD book into shops, but usually only for a limited run. If the book is selling, the shop will restock.

Return capability, when a book stops selling, is another crucial piece in getting your book into stores. POD through Ingram Spark does offer a return capability similar to regular distribution.

Generating that initial bookseller order is the biggest hurdle. It’s very hard to sell a book onto a bookseller’s shelves without the ability to return it unsold. The window on those returns is usually in excess of eight months by now. This is why publishers withhold royalties for six months or more. They’re waiting on their distributors to accept copies returned as unsold.

A traditional publishing deal can be worth more than selling your book yourself in some way. Either direct to a press, or via an agent to a larger press, you can move more books to the register and earn royalties.