Visit this blog's 'Write a book' category page for previous posts in this series.
When you finally have your book in your hot little hands, take a moment to reflect and enjoy the feeling – there's nothing quite like it. But don't bask in your newfound glory for too long. Now that your book is finished, it's time to get it out to the world. This involves a combination of publicity, so people hear about your book, and distribution so that once people hear about it they are able to buy it.
Needless to say this topic could fill a book on its own; what I'm sharing here is the equivalent of the sixpence inside your Christmas pudding.
It should also be said that while this topic is the last of my 'write your book in a year' series, publicity and distribution would ideally be considered before you start your project. When people ring me for advice on self-publishing, my first question is usually 'How will you distribute it?' simply because there's little point writing a book unless you have the means to spread it around.
Structure of the industry
It's worth knowing a few things about the publishing industry before you go too far. As an industry it has a number of quirky characteristics.
First, understand that the industry essentially has three tiers: publishing, distribution and sales (aka retail). Publishing covers most of what you've been doing so far: the actual production of a finished book. Distribution covers the physical placement of books into retail stores or other sales outlets, including ebook outlets. Retail covers the bookstores – both physical and online – that will stock your book and give readers a chance to buy it.
In the broadest sense, distribution simply refers to getting your book in front of potential readers. Depending on your circumstances, there are a number of ways of doing this.
If you're a speaker or trainer, you may not need any distribution other than what you do yourself, i.e. sell books at the back of the room. Similarly if you have a strong online profile (you're a well known blogger, for instance) you may be able to make sufficient sales directly from your website without pursuing other distribution channels.
If none of these applies to you, you will want to get your printed books into bookstores if you can. And to do this you will probably need to use a specialist distributor as, generally speaking, bookstores won't deal with individual authors and independent publishers. Independent distributors won't take on every book they are offered, but they are much more likely than a publishing house to take on a previously unpublished book.
Should you be successful in finding a distributor, they will generally charge around 25% of the retail price of all books sold as their fee. This is on top of the 40% discount that book shops will take as a commission on sold books.
It's easier to independently distribute an ebook than a paper book. I've covered this in some detail in a previous post: click here to read it.
You don’t need to be told that there are thousands of books out there and many more arriving on the shelves every day. As a result, the art of selling a book is less about the writing (despite all that effort!) and more about creating demand.
If you will be selling most of your books directly (e.g. back-of-room), you won’t need to worry about publicity or marketing much – assuming, of course, that you already have plenty of people turning up to your talks and workshops. But if you are planning to sell via bookstores, you will need to spread the word. Typically this will be done via the media. The dynamics of doing so may be changing as the media landscape changes, but the basics of publicity never change very much.
As with distribution, you can try to attract media attention yourself. However, your chances of success will be much greater if you are able to hire a publicist to help you ‘cut through’. A well-connected publicist will develop a strategy for you and be much more effective at getting your book noticed by radio and TV producers, and newspaper and magazine editors, than you are likely to be on your own.
In making the decision to hire a publicist, you need to consider your ability to turn any publicity into sales – which is where we close the circle back to distribution.
There are many different ways to approach marketing your book. The most important thing is that you have some sort of plan and don’t expect the book to walk off the shelves by itself!