At least once a week, someone will walk through the doors of the bookstore, or send us an email, asking us to have an event with them or carry their books because they’re now published! And they’re so excited. And then we ask who their publisher is. And they say Createspace. And we say, sorry, but no.
Those who love to read often enjoy writing. And when they read their favorite author’s works, they often think to themselves, I can do that. I’ve got a book in me. And then they sit down, and they crank out of draft, and are faced with a decision – how do they get their draft in the hands of readers. Three main options exist.
Option 1: Traditional Publishing
Traditional publishing means that you send your manuscript out to agents in the hope that one will represent you, in a similar manner to those who are looking to get into the film business. Not sure how to find an agent? Check out The Writer’s Market, an annual publication that spells out the steps needed to get your book from draft to bookstore shelves. If you want to see your book on the shelves of a chain bookstore, Barnes & Noble in the US, Chapters Indigo in Canada, Waterstones in the UK, etc. Traditional publishing is the way to go. In the US, if you are traditionally published, it means that your book is distributed by one of the big publishing houses, Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Hachette, Houghton Mifflin, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster or Scholastic. There are a few others that stores work with, but these are the big ones.
Perks of going the traditional route – cost to you – minimal. The publishing house, once they accept your manuscript, you work with their editors, their graphic designers design your cover, the format your manuscript for printing, they promote your book, they make sure that their sales team knows your book is coming, and they in turn inform booksellers about how cool you are/your book is MONTHS before it even hits their shelves so that they can help spread the word that your book is coming.
Option 2: Small Presses
These are the indies of the publishing world and are often distributed by big printer and US nationwide distributor, Ingram. Small and university presses offer some of the same benefits as the larger publishing houses, such as editors, but often don’t have the same resources in house that the houses do. The print runs are going to be smaller, your book may go out of print more quickly, and it might not get any promotional assistance from the publisher. Upside here – if you go into an indie bookstore and ask them to carry it, they probably will. They’ve probably worked with the publisher, or at least Ingram, before. In this instance, you are more likely to see your book on an indie store shelf than a chain store shelf. However, if you want your book to be a major success if it’s published by a small press, you need to be prepared to do a lot of promotional legwork yourself.
A note about small presses and books being carried in a bookstore: Ask what their terms are with bookstores. Most independent bookstores are looking at the 45+% discount they receive from major publishing houses and the 42% they get from Ingram. And they want your book to be returnable to the distributor if it doesn’t sell off their shelves in a predetermined amount of time (most stores it’s anywhere from 12 to 24 months). Familiarize yourself with the term “consignment” and what that means to a local bookstore.
Option 3: Self-Publishing
This should be your last choice if your end goal is to have your book sitting on a bookstore shelf. If you want to publish only e-books, sure. Go for it. Self-publishing, by definition means you did it yourself. You may have conscripted friends into proofreading, or hired an editor, graphic designer, etc. but you fronted the costs. Once you agonize over whether or not your book is ready, you have to make a decision about who you want to print it.
You may entertain the following idea: Oh! Amazon does printing! I’ll publish it through their in house press, Createspace! If you ever want your book in an independent bookstore, DO NOT DO THIS. Indies have been suffering for YEARS because of Amazon’s book selling business practices. Indies will not bring your book in from Createspace because doing so directly lines the pocket of our biggest competitor.
If you insist on doing your own publishing AND having your book carried in traditional book stores, search out other options that aren’t owned by their biggest competitor. You can try Lulu, or one of the other options for self-publishing that exist out there – a basic internet search should help turn up a few options.
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Note from the Sarah: I’m the manager and adult book buyer for a sizable independent bookstore. I get asked to explain the differences between publishing options on a regular basis and have found that the vast majority of those who are self-published didn’t want to put the time and effort into query letters and attempting to be published traditionally. Most of the time, their books are not of the same caliber as those that come in from the major publishing houses. I firmly believe that self-publishing should be a last resort if you want to see your book on the shelves of a bookstore.