BOOKSTORES ARE ASKING FOR MY BOOKS!
That's the good news.
MY BOOKS ARE DISTRIBUTED VIA CREATESPACE AND ARE NON-RETURNABLE!
That's the bad news.
But I did what Hugh Howey said to do! He published all his books through CreateSpace before he hit it big. He even got free CreateSpace ISBNs for all of them! Well, yeah, but after he did hit it big, his giant traditional publisher took care of the extended distribution. Actually, I don't know. I'd have to ask Hugh. I'm assuming it did. Now, before I confuse you any more, let me explain to you the hurdle I'm up against, what I did, what I will do, and what I suggest you do, if you're wading out into the self-publishing world for the first time and want your books to be available in bookstores and libraries.
WHAT I DID.
When I started out about 2.5 years ago by self-publishing my first trilogy, Siren Suicides, I have sold everything I owned to write full time and, therefore, had no extra money for anything, living mostly on savings and unemployment. Anything cheap or free was awesome. So I went ahead and got free CreateSpace ISBNs. I have selected extended distribution channels to bookstores and libraries. It looks like this.
After this I happily forgot about any issues related to distribution and set out to write more books. Then I did my first book reading at Third Place Books here in Seattle, and they took a bunch of my books on a consignment basis. I also befriended a few of local indie writers and was bewildered at how some of them managed to get their books into stores like Barnes & Noble and others. I had no time to investigate it, so I forgot about it.
Then I got invited to a reading at Auntie's Books in Spokane, after I have harassed people at SpoCon to buy my books, and they apparently loved it so much, they bugged a bookstore to bring me over. The lovely staff at the bookstore gently told me that they would love to stock more of my books, but they are non-returnable. I frowned, not fully understanding what it means.
HERE IS WHAT IT MEANS.
FREE CREATESPACE ISBN—THEY ARE THE PUBLISHER.
When you get a free ISBN through CreateSpace, they are listed as your publisher. For any other format of the book (like a hardback or an ebook) you will beed a separate ISBN. Kindle Direct with Amazon doesn't require an ISBN for an ebook, so you can get away with getting one free ISBN for each title. That is what I did. You can read up on ISBNs on Bowker's website.
PURCHASED BOWKER ISBN—YOU ARE THE PUBLISHER.
If you purchase an ISBN, like from Bowker, for example, you are the one who is listed as a publisher. You will need a separate number for paperback, hardback, and ebook. You can get 1 for of them for $125, or 10 for $275, or 100 for $525. Makes sense to invest into more. Now, you don't have to buy it if you want to be primarily distributed through Amazon, but if you want to get into bookstores, I suggest you set up your distribution through Ingram directly, because CreateSpace distributes through them too. Little did I know. Ingram requires you to have your own ISBN. They won't accept the CreateSpace one. I will be buying my own ISBNs soon. Can't afford it right now--delayed payment from a client and money I paid for bankruptcy have left me with only enough for February rent and food and a new cheap dress for RadCon! So I'm sorry for your wait. As soon as I can, I will do it and start listing my books through Ingram to make them available through bookstores.
BOOKSTORES WON'T BUY YOUR BOOKS IF THEY ARE NON-RETURNABLE.
There are two exceptions to this rule. One, you offer them on a consignment basis. Typically only bookstores that sell second hand books will be interested in that. Two, people want them really bad. That is what happened to me. So many people have asked Auntie's Books to stock Rosehead that they took a risk and purchased them. Lovely lovely people. For bookstores to make a profit they have to be able to buy your books at a 55% discount and be able to return them.
I URGE YOU TO READ GIACOMO GIAMMATTEO'S BLOG POSTS.
This darling author has taken the time to extensively research print book distribution on CreateSpace versus Ingram and has written two blog posts, part 1 and part 2, that list all the numbers and information you need to know, to make your own decision on what to do. Since this is the best mixed distribution solution I have found, I will stick with it and see how it goes. I will publish my books via CreateSpace, both print and ebooks. But I will do extended print distribution via Ingram, to print better quality books and offer them to bookstores and libraries. I will also separately distribute my books to all other channels, like iBooks and Kobo and such, without letting any third parties do it (you can do ebook distribution via Ingram or Smashwords or other places).
INGRAM OFFERS BETTER PRINTING QUALITY.
I'm a design snob and a perfectionist. The way CreateSpace is printing books kills me. The color is off, the ink is faded, the cream paper looks too yellow, the bleed on the cover is cut off not exactly as specified in the file, the text on the pages is sometimes shifted. I can keep going. With Ingram I will be able to order high quality books for you, my beloved readers, so you will be able to get high quality autographed books. And the cost of printing is almost the same! I can also do... *gasp* ...hardbacks! For those of you who want them.
INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING WITH INGRAM IS CHEAPER.
Many of you have asked to ship you books to Australia and India and Egypt and more countries where if you were to pay standard shipping, it would cost you about $30 or more (that is what I have to pay at the post office). Ingram has so many printing offices around the world, I will finally be able to ship to you internationally! Only the books won't be autographed, because for that I would have to ship to you from Seattle.
INGRAM PRINTS BOOKS IN COLOR!
This is fantastic news, if I ever decided to illustrate my books with color drawings. So far for Blue Sparrow 2 I have asked Jeff Bergstrand to do line drawings, knowing that I can't do color with CreateSpace. In the future I will be able too, and the price is not that steep.
PICK THE RIGHT DISTRIBUTION MIX THAT WORKS FOR YOU.
In conclusion, what you see listed here is what works for me. I don't like going through third parties, I like to go directly to separate distributors. For example, I distribute my ebooks separately via Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and Wattpad. You can do it via Smashwords, if doing it yourself is too much work for you. For print distribution I will be using a mix of CreateSpace (for paperbacks to give away, to sell at online retailers like Amazon, and to sell at conventions) and Ingram (for high quality autographed paperbacks to sell on my website and for bookstores/libraries distribution). Will the same work for you? I don't know. Have another mix of distribution that works for you? Please share in comments.
SHOULD YOU RESEARCH DISTRIBUTION BEFORE PUBLISHING?
No. Don't waste your time. Go with the cheapest and the easiest option, like CreateSpace, and focus on writing good books. With good books will come good readers. Those readers will ask you to get books into libraries and bookstores. Only then worry about how to do it. It took me almost 3 years to get to this point. Instead of spending time on research, I have spend it on writing and reading.
SHOULD YOU PITCH YOUR BOOKS TO BOOKSTORES?
Again, no. Don't do any of this. Yes, there are indie writers who have focused on learning all there is to know about distribution and the business of book selling. Yes, they have gotten their books into bookstores. Does this guarantee sales? No. I have heard stories of writers who are not making anything, and after initial excitement books stores are not interested in stocking their books anymore because they don't sell well. Same goes for reading events and other appearances. Unless you can gather a crowd, don't even approach them. You will have bad rep, and to erase it will be very hard. It's better not to do any readings as opposed to doing one where only your auntie Sarah shows up with her poodle.
BUILD DEMAND FIRST.
The rest will happen on its own. Focus on these 4 things.
- WRITE. Write every day till your nose bleeds. I use Stephen King's formula and don't let myself out of the room until I have produced 2k words. If you work full time, wake up early in the morning before work and do at least 1 hour of writing.
- READ. Read every day till, well, till your brain explodes. I read at least 100 pages every day. More if I can help it. Cut down your TV time and read. Study how others write.
- SHARE. Share your highs and lows with people. Be honest. Select a few social media channels and share. It can be your blog, or Twitter, or Facebook. Do only the channel that works for you. If Twitter doesn't cut, don't do it.
- REPEAT. Wake up in the morning and do the same thing. Over and over again. Every day. Don't sway. Believe. Like dripping water you will make a hole in that stone wall, I know you will. One day it will tip over and people will ask you for things, not the other way around.
Okay, this is the end of this long-ass post. You get a pickled hedgehog in the mail for reading this far. In other news, I have a bunch of blog posts drafted to publish, like about my creative process, and how Stephenie Meyer influenced my writing, and more. Stay tuned.