One of the interesting things that all authors need to think about is the availability of their books for a variety of distribution purposes. Since my book was published in September, I have learned a great deal about how books are distributed in places like libraries and book stores, and have thought a lot about balancing the issues of profit over exposure. While I can safely say this information is very 101, still I wish I’d had this knowledge a little earlier in the process of organizing my book tours and appearances, as it would have been very helpful. Every author’s situation has a few variables, so I’m just gonna walk you through a few details and not make any recommendations.
Createspace: Amazon’s print appendage, CreateSpace is a great place to order books that are posted electronically on Amazon, and have been published by Amazon. Some small presses and self-pubbed authors choose CreateSpace because they feel it is the easiest option for them regarding convenience and set up. A disadvantage of using CreateSpace is that most bookstores, indie and big box, see Amazon as competition. You can print books via CreateSpace and sell them as consignments in bookstores, but bookstores will not order them for you for signings or events.
Ingram: Many small presses and most large publishers are in the Ingram catalog. Bookstores of all stripes order from Ingram for signings and events. Self-pub authors can also use Ingram for printing instead of CreateSpace through various options.
Baker and Taylor: Libraries order books through the Baker and Taylor catalog. If you want a book to be available at public institutions or in schools, this is a catalog you want to be in.
Obviously, you can be listed in more than one catalog. I am currently available via CreateSpace, and I will be available in Ingram.
Now, to talk a little shop regarding royalties and profits. One of the things my publisher does is to allow me to purchase printed books at a reduced rate, and I see fifty percent of the profit from my books. However, these books do not apply toward my royalties. Further, unless a bookstore orders my book through the Ingram catalog, my book is sold on commission, reducing my profit substantially. It seems that the best venue for CreateSpace authors to sell might not be bookstores, but rather conventions and book events. In these scenarios, my publisher and I benefit, because we both receive maximum royalties.
Bookstores benefit from ordering through the Ingram catalog. Being in the Ingram catalog is important for exposure and organizing events for bookstores, so if you are the kind of author who has always fantasized about the book tour, you definitely want your self-pubbed book or small press to have a presence in Ingram. Books sold through Ingram count in regard to royalties, and since being in bookstores logically increases your exposure, even when you are not present, it is a good move. Bookstores have the advantage here, as books may be returned to publishers if they don’t sell, but publishers may have a distinct disadvantage, depending on how well a book sells.
Some publishers, such as Tor.com, have begun experimenting with a kind of hybrid approach called Print On Demand. CreateSpace is fully print on demand for Amazon customers, but again, the rivalry between the physical and the virtual bookstore looms large. However, if you are in Ingram, and a bookstore wants to forego the risk of having books of an author that don’t sell, a book can be ordered and shipped again. What you lose there, of course, is the casual buyer who will be captivated by your cover when they know nothing about you.
Is there an ideal solution? It sort of depends on what you’re looking for as a publisher, an author, a library, or a bookstore. I mean, for me, I’d like to be in all three catalogs, and be wildly successful, so no one lost money on my books. This is what we should all shoot for. 😀 But this isn’t what we usually get as first time authors.
All that said, you should buy my book. Somewhere.