How to Optimize Your Book Distribution


How to Optimize Your Book Distribution

With over two million books independently published each year, everything in the publishing process must be done professionally. A book that has been professionally edited, designed, and formatted is the starting point for any author who wants their book to be successful. However, an effective distribution strategy is crucial to be able to get your book into your readers’ hands.

Book distribution is based on a complex ecosystem of retailers, distributors, libraries, and other potential venues. You need to identify the channels that are the best fit for your genre, target audience, and book format. Independent authors should also consider pricing, metadata optimizations, and promotional tactics to help maintain an online presence that helps drive discoverability. It can feel like an overwhelming landscape to navigate.

The good news is that by taking a systematic, strategic approach to distribution, you can dramatically increase your book’s visibility and sales potential. In this article, we’ll cover key tips from industry experts on optimizing your distribution plan for print and e-books.

Understanding the Distribution Ecosystem

The first thing to understand is the difference in the distribution process between physical and digital books. For printed books, the two most common book distribution solutions for publishers are a full-service or a wholesale distributor. While the two systems can be used at the same time, as a rule of thumb, self- and small publishers will almost always opt for a wholesale distributor because it is suited to print-on-demand (POD) printing, while bigger and traditional publishers will use full-service distributors who can warehouse and distribute large, offset print runs of books.

E-books have a different way of getting into readers’ hands (or devices) as everything is managed digitally. There are many online retailers that allow you to distribute your book. You can sign up with every store or use e-book aggregators that facilitate the process, making the distribution setup faster.

Considering that printed book sales make up the bulk of the market, both in terms of revenues and number of books sold, the best strategy is to distribute your book in both print and e-book formats. This way, you’ll gain access to all major online retailers, from Amazon to Barnes & Noble, and potential distribution to brick-and-mortar bookstores, libraries, and more.

While you need to do your market research on which channels are best for your genre and target audience, we found that distributing in multiple formats is almost always the best option.

Leveraging Distributor Networks

For independent authors who want to reach a wide audience and optimize their revenue, using both KDP and IngramSpark is the most effective solution. KDP is the best way to distribute and sell both print and e-book versions through Amazon, while Ingram allows you to broaden your distribution through the Ingram Content Group and potentially reach over 39,000 retailers in the United States. The cost of accessing these POD printers is zero, or nominal, so there’s no reason for not taking advantage of it. This strategy also guarantees the highest share of the royalties.

When it comes to e-books, things may vary a little, and a more nuanced strategy can be set in place. However, with Amazon being the primary e-book seller, KDP is the default option. Depending on the genre and how many books you have published, it may be worth considering limiting the distribution to KDP and making your book available to Kindle Unlimited readers.

Implementing Strategic Pricing and Promotions

Pricing plays a big role in your distribution strategy. For printed books, there are some obvious limitations as you can’t set the price of the book lower than the printing and distribution costs. Besides that, authors should consider a few aspects: the average prices of similar books to use as a reference point, the royalties per book at the set price, and the room left for promotions and price drops.

If your goal is to distribute to physical bookstores, choosing not only a correct price but also an appealing wholesale discount is key. Bookstores expect to make money when selling your book, so you should set a discount to encourage bulk orders or library purchases. That means setting a 55% discount on IngramSpark.

While you certainly can change the price of your print copy, activate temporary discounts, and engage in other marketing tactics, authors often execute more aggressive promotions with the e-book version. Pricing for e-books is generally lower to start, and the lack of printing and shipping costs allows for significant cuts in the price for temporary promotions. If strategically executed, price drops can be very effective in driving sales and reaching new readers.

Optimizing Metadata and Online Presence

The online presence and discoverability of a book are crucial for the book’s success. It is very important to place the book in the right genre and store category. There are two main systems that categorize books: BISAC and Amazon categories. BISAC is used by libraries and brick-and-mortar retailers while Amazon categories expand the BISAC classification, adding dozens of more specific ways to define your book genre. Choosing the wrong category can be very detrimental to your book, especially on Amazon.

In optimizing the publication process, authors should also pay close attention to the keywords and book description they choose for the online retailers. The search engine and recommendation systems of stores like Amazon and B&N are sophisticated, and you need to ensure the online retail listings are detailed and accurate. Metadata can have a major impact on the book’s discoverability.

To recap, once you understand how the complex book distribution system works, you need to define your strategy based on your book and target audience. Most authors will largely benefit from creating and distributing both the print and e-book versions of their work. Most small presses and independent authors will use Print-On-Demand (POD) printers to print and distribute their books. Using KDP and IngramSpark allows them to reach a wider audience while optimizing the share of revenue per book sold and controlling costs by bringing inventory risks close to zero.

Understanding and managing the distribution of books can be hard, especially for first-time authors. As the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLiputs it:

As with all aspects of self-publishing, it’s crucial to seek professional help from service providers and demand the highest possible standards to ensure your books are indistinguishable from those produced by traditional publishers.

There are many reputable presses and companies authors can use to publish their books professionally, avoiding the major mistakes self-publishers often make when producing a book.


Patricia Marshall is the founder and owner of Luminare Press, a hybrid publisher based in Eugene, Oregon. In the last twelve years, she and her small team have helped over seven hundred authors publish professionally.

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