Do I Need A Book Distributor?

That is a big if. If your book sold close to 500 copies on Amazon in the first three to four months after publication, and if you are on track to sell 2000 copies the first year, you should try to find a distributor. Any less than 2000 annual sales means you will lose money with a book distributor. That translates to 166 sales per month for a year (or 42 sales per week, or 6 sales a day).

Large bookstore chains won't deal with self-publishers or even small independent publishers. Reason being, they can't be sure the books will meet modern publishing industry standards with a professionally designed cover and expert editing. Plus, they don't and won't deal with small orders. They only deal with distributors. And by the way, if you don't own the ISBN, no distributor will even talk to you.

Book distributors are the middle men between publishers and the book-buying public. A distributor will want a 60-75% discount to get your book into bookstores. They have catalogs and sales staffs that pitch books to bookstore chains. They know what they are doing and have access to the market. Vanity publishers like to say your book will be "available" to 25,000 bookstores. True, but that doesn't mean your book will be on the shelf in bookstores. If someome goes in and orders your book, it will only be "available" in an invisible database.

Book distributors have access, which means their sales people can and do present your title personally to a buyer from  booksellers like Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and all the other major bookstores. "Available" only means your book can be ordered through a bookstore. Access means your book can wind up on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. Big difference. A distributor works hard for the author and earns every penny of the commission they require.

Here is a good question to ask: If any publisher tells you they have "distribution" or will make your book "available" to bookstores nationwide, ask, Does that mean your sales rep will personally present my book to bookstore buyers from Barnes & Noble? The answer will always be a quiet, "No." They are simply talking about listing your book in Ingram's database (for which they will typically overchage). It costs a publisher $12.00 annually for that listing. If your first print run is with Lightning Source, you will automatically be listed with Ingram (and any bookstore can order your book for customers).
As a new author, I wouldn't worry too much about getting my book on bookshelves. At best, only 25% of your sales will come from bookstores. Concentrate on the 75% that will come from online sales, personal appearences on TV and radio, personal speaking engagements and your personal efforts to market your book through your personal Website, social sites like Facebook and blogs.

Below are links you can study to answer any other questions you may have:  A good first-step for new authors.

Thor FAQs:
 Answers to various distribution questions.

Lynne Klippel discusses Book Distributors And What They Can Do For Your Book.
Bottom line: Don't worry about a distributor unless your book takes off.
For further study, visit our Author Resource Links.

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                                 Updated February 12, 2015