As distribution manager for Greenleaf Book Group, one of the questions I’m asked most frequently by authors is “How do I get my book in Barnes & Noble or my local grocery store or even my favorite indie bookstore”? It seems like there would be a simple answer, but there are many industry challenges to navigate before a book finds its way onto the shelves of a brick-and-mortar store and I’ll shed some light on those challenges today.
First and foremost, your book cannot be a Print On Demand (POD) book. Retailers do not carry POD books because they are usually non-returnable (retailers require all books be 100% returnable to the publisher at any time, for a full refund) and there is usually little, if any, PR and marketing support behind POD books. Corporate book buyers consider POD books to be high-risk products, meaning the books will likely have low sell-through to consumers because of the challenges in generating awareness and demand, so they typically won’t stock POD books in their stores.
Most retailers, including B&N, buy books from wholesalers. Retailers like using wholesalers because it allows them to get any book from any of the major publishers, like Penguin Random House, and smaller, but well-known, publishers like Greenleaf. By working with a wholesaler, retailers only have to deal with one organization, making ordering, accounting, and merchandising very simple and streamlined. The trick is getting retailers to carry your book.
Small publishers generally have a distribution arm that allows some flexibility to distribute books that the publisher did not print itself. Those publishers charge a small fee to distribute other books, giving those authors the distribution muscle of a large publishing house. These smaller publishers bring in “distribution only” titles in order to expand and promote their existing catalog of books. Finding a publisher to distribute your title is probably the best option for getting your book into a brick-and-mortar retail outlet.
Another option is working directly with a wholesaler. There are a few wholesalers (notably Ingram and Baker & Taylor) that will carry independently published books, but there are some strict requirements to be met. Often, a wholesaler will require that an author/publisher have at least 10 books in print or sometimes a wholesaler will demand a very high discount, either way the requirements can be hard to meet. If you can meet the requirements, it’s often a good strategy to work directly with wholesalers because they don’t usually charge a fee.
In a nutshell, most authors looking to have their books carried in brick-and-mortar stores have two options—working with a smaller publisher or directly with a wholesaler. Retailers will typically disclose which wholesaler they use, so authors may reach out to that wholesaler and ask for their requirements. Otherwise, find a small publisher with a strong distribution network. There are many out there, so do your research, interview the publisher, and pick the one that fits you best.
Steve Elizade is distribution manager at Greenleaf Book Group.