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18 strategies for successful self-publishing

Maximize your readership – and your profits – with these key steps.

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11. Understand how distribution works

Many authors dream of seeing their books on the shelves of bookstores. Although this is not an unreasonable goal, you need to understand how bookstore inventories are managed. When a bookstore needs to place an order for a book, it goes to a big distributor like Ingram (IngramSpark is the smaller self-publishing branch of the larger Ingram corporation). This allows the bookstore to place one order and deal with only one company. For bookstores to make money, they need to buy books at a wholesale rate from Ingram, which is typically 40%-55% off the retail price. They can then turn around and sell the books for retail price and make a profit. Books that don’t sell are sent back to Ingram or destroyed.

If you want your books to potentially be available in a bookstore, you need to have them available through a distributor like Ingram, which you can do through IngramSpark. You need to discount your book’s price at least 40% and make your book returnable. Granted, this doesn’t mean every Barnes & Noble is going to stock your book; it only means it is available for them to buy or for customers to special order. If the book doesn’t sell, it is returned to you, and you are charged for the shipping. Because of the large discount you need to offer, you may not make a big profit on each book, and if it is shipped back at your expense, you may even lose money.

12. Contact local bookstores

Traditional publishers dominate the shelf space in big bookstores like Barnes & Noble. Independent bookstores, on the other hand, are more open to stocking books from self-published authors, especially if they’re local. If your title is available through Ingram, it makes it easier for indie bookstores to order and stock your book. (The maximum wholesale discount offered through KDP is 25%, which is not high enough for bookstores, therefore they aren’t willing to order books through this platform.) Some bookstores offer consignment programs where they will stock your book, and if it sells, you get paid your 60%, and the bookstore keeps 40%. They typically keep it on the shelf for a couple of months. Some stores charge fees to small publishers to help cover their costs and the time it takes for employees to add your information into their system.

If you want to see your book in your local bookstore, make an appointment with the book buyer. In addition to finding out how to make your book available, share ways you plan to promote it and drive customers to the store. (Although bookstores want to help authors, they are businesses, too, and need to turn a profit to stay open.)

13. Look at your marketing connections

Marketing is an essential element to a successful self-published book, but it’s not as difficult as you may think. Once you make your book available on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc., then you must let people know it’s there, or it will get lost in the millions of books already available for sale online. When developing your marketing plan, think about where you already have connections. Take a few minutes and write down all the people and groups you know. For example, family, college friends, a church group, a service organization like a Rotary Club, colleagues…keep writing until you can’t think of any more. Next, write down the ways in which you connect with these people. Is it on social media? Email? Newsletters? U.S. mail? The hope is that you will see you already have lots of connections. You can begin your marketing by reaching out to these people and share about your upcoming book release. It also doesn’t hurt to ask if they will help you spread the word. 

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