Publishing Insiders Wrap-Up: The Dos and Don’ts of Book Distribution

by | Apr 6, 2011 | Book Marketing Basics

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We had a great show on what every author should know about book distribution.

Our guest and cohost was Sherrie Wilkolaski, who is Director of Marketing at Author Marketing Experts, Inc., where she is responsible for client relations, product development, campaign team management and business development.

The parts of a 10-digit ISBN and the correspon...

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Distribution is a challenge for most authors. Many want to get on, and that’s all they know. But distribution is the ability to get the book out in front of as many people as possible. Amazon is one channel. Other channels include online bookstores, ebooks, audio books, book clubs and bricks and mortar bookstores. Begin by doing your research and thinking ahead. You have options. Be flexible, find experts to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

* Questions authors must ask themselves

1. Where are you self-publishing? There are different rules and regulations for each publisher covering everything from cover design, to formatting, to page count.

2. What are your long-term goals? As part of your marketing, you need to have distribution for your book. It’s important to map this out in advance.

* All about ISBN

The ISBN is a 10- or 13-digit number that supplies distributors with information about your book, including publisher and language.

Should an author purchase his or her own ISBN or is it better to get the ISBN through a self-publishing company? If an author uses the free ISBN from the publishing house it will list the publisher’s name in the book catalog. If you form your own publishing company, you can purchase your ISBN directly. However, check with your state to see if you have to set up your own business first. Marketing-wise it’s not going to make a difference; people buy a book based on quality and content. If you can get a free ISBN from your publisher, take it.  Otherwise, if you know you’re rolling out several different books, then form your own imprint and buy your ISBNs.

You will need a different ISBN number for each format you choose for publishing (paperback, hardback, ebook, etc.).

The interior of the Barnes & Noble located at ...

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Another consideration: if you published a book and then change more than five percent of your original manuscript, you are creating a whole new work and will need a new ISBN number for the updated version.

* How do you buy an ISBN?

Bowker is the only official source in the U.S. where you can purchase an ISBN. The website is

It’s cheaper to buy ISBNs in bulk, so do so if you know you’ll be writing several books. You can buy your ISBN number in advance of publishing. Once you apply it to a book, the number will be tagged to that title.

People confuse the ISBN number with the barcode. ISBN identifies your title, pricing etc. For logistics, you need a barcode image, and there are requirements to follow for resolution, size, etc. that you can find on

* Book size considerations

That cute square book you see in a bookstore doesn’t qualify for distribution if it’s self-published. Traditional publishing can put out non-standard sizes because they are printing in volume, but that’s not an option for self-publishing. Do your research and find out what book sizes qualify for distribution.

The Children's Book of American Birds

Image by Javier Arce ? via Flickr

You don’t want this author’s experience: she had a small, square gift-size book. The interior was done, her cover was ready to go to print, and she had paid for a print job – then learned she could not get on or anywhere else because she was self-publishing her book and didn’t have a distributor. She did one print run then had to have her book reformatted and she also had to buy all new images for the book. As a result, she spent twice as much as she had planned. If she had done research before making those publishing choices, she would have avoided this expensive mistake.

* Distribution packages

When buying a distribution package from a self-publisher, what do you get?

The package may say “expanded distribution;” that means the book is published, it has an ISBN and the book is available for purchase on and, etc. But that’s it. Your book can be purchased and is in online catalogs, but you still need market your book.

* Distribution time frame

Once you approve the final version for Amazon, it can take two to eight weeks before the book shows up on the site.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble have different times of the month when they update their catalogs, so check to see their timeframe.

Image representing Amazon as depicted in Crunc...

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Also, if you’re doing some online marketing for your book, don’t market or presell your book until it’s available for purchase on Amazon (which is the largest online portal where people purchase books).

* Self-publishing considerations

When you’re done writing, it’s time to consider book size, binding, ink, formatting and color. Each self-publisher has different standards and it’s important to learn what the standards are – before committing to a publisher.

Check out books in your genre and see what size they are. In addition, you can’t print any size book you want when self-publishing so learn your options before deciding; 6×9 is most popular size.

Self-published authors also have limited options for color because it’s more expensive, and that affects your retail pricing. You will have to follow the guidelines to see what’s available and what works for your book.

The good news is that within the next 12 months there will be additional options for printing in color, thanks to technological developments.

* Page count, formatting issues

Intentionally blank pages at the end of a book.

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Page count is another consideration, especially for children’s books. Self-publishing limits how small or large your book can be, page-wise. If your book has few pages, you may want to do an ebook instead. There is a 700-page limit, so if you have a longer book you’ll need options. There are ways to get around requirements, however. Sherrie worked with someone who had an 850-page self-published book, and she suggested he publish volumes.

Authors also need to pay attention to what is required for the gutter (middle) and the edge of the book. If it’s not formatted properly the book will be kicked back by Amazon. The same rules apply to cover design. Sherrie had to revise the book cover for her first book because her name was too far down on the front cover and it was rejected. It’s better to know these things up front.

It’s important to learn the standards of the publishing company you work with, and you’ll find their requirements on their website. Do this research before you make any formatting decisions.

Elements like the ISBN and the bar code have placement requirements. And, with a smaller page count, you have to consider what will happen to the spine of your book based on book size. Can you fit a logo or the title? Perhaps not if the book has few pages.

* Bookstore distribution

Talk to your local indie bookstores and don’t overlook your area Barnes & Noble, since many of their stores have a local bookshelf. If your book is presentable – with a strong cover, good formatting, a solid marketing plan and some good reviews/endorsements – you should have no problem getting them to consider stocking your book. Be prepared: if you are self-published stores will want to know your buyback policy. You have to be willing to find a distributor with a buyback policy, or if you are your own publisher you must agree to buy back your books if they do not sell.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

And remember that there are many distribution options: online bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, bricks and mortar bookstores (chain and indie), ebooks, audio books, bulk books (would an association or group in your genre/field purchase multiple copies of your book?) so be creative when distributing the book. You have a lot of options.

* Amazon and book sale expectations

Amazon is wonderful and your book should be available to purchase on the site, but authors need to keep their expectations in check. Whether you’re self-published or traditionally published it’s important to understand that a high sales rank among books in your genre, even #1, might mean selling 1,000 books that month. The majority of authors on Amazon are not selling millions of books a month regardless of their sales rank.

Developing distribution channels for your book is a must, but that doesn’t automatically generate book sales. Distribution means your book is in catalogs and is available to purchase, but you still need marketing. The marketing sells your book. Book sales also don’t happen overnight.

* Pricing considerations

Pricing is very important. Examine your competition and their book prices. You want to keep within the price range of your competitors. When you are self-published you will find your price range will be higher than books from traditional publishing houses. That’s because you’re basing the retail price on printing one copy of your book. But that’s OK, you can change pricing down the line. Don’t assume that you should price your book even higher to recoup your printing costs, price the book to sell. Create an ebook version and sell it for $4.99 or $5.99 to get your content out there.

You can download the full show at


Upcoming Episode:

Please join us April 19, 2011 for Dos and Don’ts of Distribution, Part 2

Join us as we discuss additional distribution options every author must know about, including online bookstores, ebooks, audio books and much more!

Shot of the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Clifto...

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Topics include:

* How to find a distributor

* How to get your books distributed in bookstores

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