Why Isn't My New Book Going Into Every Bookshop?

To help you understand how book distribution works, here's a snapshot of what really happens to get your first book onto readers' shelves.

It's published...

... but why isn't my new book going into every bookshop?
Once your first book is published, one of the common questions from authors is why their book isn't going into every bookshop. To help you understand how book distribution works, here's a snapshot of what really happens to get your book onto readers' shelves:

The Commercial Realities of Bookselling

Due to recent advances in technology, online book retailers can advertise a book on their website and supply it to customers without necessarily having physical stock in a warehouse. This is great news for indie and self-publishing authors, because it means that, with the right initial set up (usually involving POD, Print On Demand), your book can be listed and displayed by almost every online retailer in the world. Readers can easily find your book online, see the cover, read the book description and, if they wish to, purchase it quickly and efficiently.

By contrast, the traditional book trade operates on the basis of sale-or-return. Traditional bookshops need to be able to try stock on their shelves without risk, see whether there is a demand, and return any unsold stock. To stock your new book in hundreds of independent bookshops and retail chains, an indie or self-published author would need to budget for a large number of bookshops to initially stock the book, and for those bookshops to be able to return unsold copies. For UK-wide distribution this could mean making available upwards of 20,000 copies with no guarantee of sales. A sale or return policy means accepting the returns no matter what condition the books are in.

Getting your books into bookstores routinely is something to be cautious about:

  • A bulk print run needs to be available and held with a UK distributor so that wholesalers will keep it in stock.
  • Being in stock with a wholesaler doesn't guarantee that a bookshop will order. They need to know about it so you need to work on your 'discoverability' and profile.
  • In order to convince a bookshop that it's worth their while ordering and keeping stock of a book, an author has to be active and present, engaging with the bookshop directly, and driving customers for the book to the stores that have stocked it.
  • There are sales teams that can do this, but they're notoriously selective about the books they agree to represent, tend to want surefire bestsellers, and also take a high commission.
  • Most books sell online these days unless the author has a high profile and is a known name being promoted by the bookstore (i.e. featuring on one of the tables in-store, highly visible to shoppers strolling through). The latter only tends to happen with a large financial investment from a traditional publisher.
  • Even if a book is stocked by a bookstore, it can be subject to returns. With POD, SilverWood sets a 'no returns' status, but with books distributed through our UK distributer we have the same arrangements as a traditional publishing house and agree to a high discount of around 50% off RRP or more. In addition, we have to authorise returns. Returned stock is not usually in a condition to be sold again, so it can be an expensive exercise as books are remaindered or pulped at the author's expense. That's quite dispiriting for an author who has used their budget to pay for the print run, seen it go out in sales and felt heartened, then to see returns in the following months if the book doesn't sell.

Printing in Bulk

Bulk Printing allows you to print in larger volumes and, if you sign with SilverWood Books, engage the services of our UK distributor, thus ensuring that wholesalers and retailers can be offered the discounts they need to make the transaction commercially viable for them. This means they're more likely to stock your book.

Key Points:

  • Bulk Printing is the traditional lithographic or digital alternative to POD.
  • There is a wider choice of paper and cover finishes, including traditional gloss plate sections if you wish to gather your photos together in one or two sections (and want crisp photographic reproduction).
  • Unlike POD, Bulk Printing doesn't come with built-in distribution but SilverWood can arrange UK distribution, thus ensuring that UK wholesalers and retailers get the discounts they need to make the transaction profitable for them.
  • You still need to actively promote your book, but achieving sales should be easier because higher discounts are in place, making the transaction commercially viable for UK bookshops (so they're more likely to say yes to taking stock of the book).
  • There is no annual digital archive and management fee.
  • You can order reprints in volumes of 250+ (smaller orders are possible but are more expensive).
  • There is limited distribution outside the UK.

The Benefits of Print on Demand

Instead of paying print costs upfront, we recommend print on demand (POD) which enables authors and online retailers to advertise a book without investing in the print costs upfront. Platforms such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble often only print copies when the orders are placed, or they keep very low stock in their warehouse to reduce the commercial risk for them, sometimes printing in ones and twos until a strong demand for a book is proven. Print on demand has many benefits, although there are some drawbacks too: colour printing in POD can be costly, and the range of papers and choice of book cover finish is more limited than with printing in bulk.

POD Key Points:

  • POD books are printed to meet demand, so you don't have to print a stock of books in advance. This means your budget isn't tied up in inventory, and you avoid the warehousing and shipping charges associated with traditional printing and distribution.
  • You can top up your personal stock of books with orders of any size, even a single copy.
  • POD is widely used for books with black-and-white interiors, and colour books with a low page count. Colour books also come with a premium option which costs more due to the higher quality of paper and inks/toners used.
  • Rather than grouping your images in a plate section you can have them positioned throughout the book, which can work well if the images need to be with the text that refers to them.
  • Images reproduce well in the black-and-white option, although they can lack the crispness of images printed on gloss plates. However, this can work well with older photographs or illustrations.
  • Images containing a lot of black can seem darker or more dense when printed.
  • Due to the high-speed ultra-streamlined POD process, there is a limited choice of paper and cover finishes. Request a sample to ensure you are happy with the paper and overall quality.
  • Built-in worldwide distribution is managed by the world's largest book distributor, Ingram. There is an annual digital archive and management fee for keeping each book live in that distribution system.

Can you have the Best of Both?

Some SilverWood authors purchase a Bulk Print run of 300+ copies for UK distribution (which takes advantage of economy of scale and higher discounts for bookshops) and they have POD set up to fulfil non-UK worldwide orders, thus receiving the benefits of both methods of printing. This does depend on the book being appropriate and commercially viable for each method of printing.

Marketing your Book to Bookshops

Relationships count: with independent book shops, they may be interested in hosting a book signing or launch party for you as a local author which could boost the local sales. They'll welcome events if you're making the effort to attract potential customers into their shop - but you can't rely on them to do the marketing on your behalf.

Final Word - What if the Bookshop Says No to my Book?

Take it on the chin and move on with a positive mindset. In particular, redouble your efforts with your online sales. Focus on building an online profile and readership. Blog regularly, be active on social media, hand-sell at talks and events, consider blog tours (virtual book tours), point your readers to all the links where your book can be purchased as a paperback and as an ebook, run competitions and giveaways, get onto Goodreads lists, encourage reviews, write topical articles and get them published in places where you can also link to your own website and mention your book... you get the picture.

Your online presence is so much more valuable (and low cost) than working hard and spending money to get your book into bookshops.

If you'd like to talk to SilverWood about publishing your book, then drop us a line.

If you found this article helpful, then you might also like:

The Printing and Distribution of Books
The Manuscript in the Attic - a case study
The SilverWood Quick-Start Guide

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“If you’re thinking of self-publishing, I hope you don't go at it alone. With a team like SilverWood behind you, you have the support you need to publish the best work you believe in.”

J A Higgins