Congratulations on printing and publishing your book! Makorokoto! Amhlophe! The somewhat tedious publishing process is done and dusted. What’s next? If you are publishing for profit, you are obviously anticipating to count those dollars, and that can only happen when you reach your target audience. If you are publishing for free distribution, you also want your publication to reach the intended readers so that the idea of you becoming a writer is not just a fantasy but is finally manifested as people get to read and engage with your content.
Book distribution is the process of getting a book from the publisher to booksellers and ultimately, to the intended readers. Book distributors or book sellers bridge the gap between the publisher and the reader. Their job is to get the books to the actual buyers and readers. However, book sellers usually do not represent anyone. They sell what they think will sell or what is in demand. Some also sell what has been pre-ordered. Their main objective is to make money hence they guard their businesses jealously.
Identifying a book seller
As with any business, shelf space is expensive because any retailer wants to stock what they can sell within a specific time. This is the same with book sellers. When they make the decision to stock your book, they need to gain confidence in it. Traditionally, publishers would identify the booksellers that could push their books, but with time, the tables can be reversed with booksellers pursuing publishers for the best-selling books because everyone wants a piece of the pie.
Booksellers get at least 15% – 35% discount from the publisher and in cases where there is competition in the market, for instance text books distribution, booksellers compete for that market share thereby making distribution easier for the publisher who has the best-selling book or the ministry recommended title.
However, where the publisher has launched a new title, the mandate lies with that publisher to extensively market the book to the target audience. Using the same example of textbooks, publishers will market through schools and take advantage of boards and events such as the National Association for Primary/Secondary schools heads. Sample copies are left with all schools then they will order the books through the booksellers or directly from the publishers. For a healthy book chain, it is recommended to order from the booksellers, while publishers are not encouraged to sell directly to consumers but to the retailers.
What does this mean for an independent author?
Selling is a specialised skill – selling books is a far more unique skill that booksellers have acquired over time. Marketing books can be tedious hence the independent author will have to strategically identify at least three booksellers that can push sales.
Booksellers compete for a market on their own and are always gathering some intelligence on each other. This means that if the first three booksellers are successfully pushing the independent author’s book, it is only a matter of time before the other booksellers catch on and seek to stock that specific book. In no time, the book will be in demand and selling like hot cakes. The key here is to always stock books. It is important to have a ready printing budget or to reinvest money from sales made into printing, in order to satisfy the market. This would also be a time to ride on pre-orders.
New ways of selling books
Selling through book distributors and book sellers is the traditional way of book distribution. However, there are more practical ways that can help sell your book in 2020 going forward.
1. Identify your beachhead market
With a clearly defined audience, it is easier to get to them and offer what they need. For instance, if you are targeting farmers, the best way to sell your book would be to have a stand at the farmers’ festivals such as the Agricultural show. Farmers will be moving around and looking for literature, hence they will see your book and buy or get your details so as to place their orders.
You can also advertise in the farmers magazines, radio shows, or stock your book in farmers’ equipment shops.
2. Study the market and know where they hang out
Another important aspect is carefully studying the market and understanding where they spend their time. For instance, if you are targeting children, you will know that they spend their time at fun parks, play centres and the mothers spend their time in malls and boutiques, therefore, partnering with such people and ensuring your books are at the check-out points or in little shop corners will help attract your customers.
3. Social media
Social media is playing an active role in our lives today. It had wrongly been labelled as an evil that wastes people’s time and render them unproductive before people discovered the business side of it. There was a time that I had distanced myself from social media and I always regret that period because it is then that I lagged behind a little. However, it is never too late to start anything.
To help sell your books, it is important to have an active social media page. Again, this also starts with clearly identifying your market. What is their persona? Where do they spend their time? LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
Developing and maintaining your social media page will help you engage and reach your target audience. Keep them updated about your book project. This can also help you get feedback quickly and you can work on improving your book.
4. Active website
Technology and the internet are here and we cannot avoid it anymore. An active website that gives your audience motivation and snippets about your work is equally important. For instance, if you are writing about women’s health, you can always share short blog posts about diet, exercise etc to keep your audience engaged and develop their confidence in you as the expert in the subject so that they will buy your book.
Publishing is a business, that means there are sales involved. To run a successful business, your sales funnel should be effective. Best wishes selling your book. Feel free to ask if you have some burning questions.
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