Production and distribution are the elements of the publishing process that relate to transforming your book from a set of master files on a computer into a readily available product in the real world. The real world does, of course, include the virtual world these days, which is important to note and will be discussed further below.
A Wide Range of Formats
A decision that every author must make relates to the formats in which they would like their books to be made available. Possible formats include paperbacks, hardcover books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Whether you decide to employ some or all of these formats for a particular book release will depend on the type of book you are intending to produce and the ambitions you have in terms of your anticipated audience.
It’s no secret that eBooks have transformed the publishing industry in recent years. Amazon now dominates not only the eBook market but the book retail market in general, and there are difficult decisions for self-publishing authors to make concerning whether to make their books available exclusively through Amazon (for a higher royalty) or whether to ‘go wide’ with a range of retailers, including popular competitors such as Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, Rakuten Kobo, and Google Play.
There are now a number of companies known as ‘aggregators’, who take a small percentage of book sale revenue in exchange for distributing digital versions of an author’s books to a large number of digital retailers, so that as an author you don’t have to deal with each retailer directly. Examples of popular aggregators include Draft2Digital, StreetLib, and PublishDrive.
While aggregators provide obvious benefits, it can feel a bit like they are just throwing your book out there without a lot of care and attention in terms of how your books will be promoted. Simply making your books available to a wide range of retailers via an aggregator will rarely lead to many sales. For this reason, some authors prefer to go direct to a selection of retailers, so that they can work with those retailers around promotion and marketing activity to get their books increased exposure.
Audiobooks are becoming a more important format for authors as consumers increasingly listen to content on their smartphones and also invest in devices such as the Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod which allow for audiobook playback in the home. As part of their production and distribution plans, therefore, authors should consider working with a company such as Findaway Voices or ACX who are specialists in audiobook production and distribution.
Getting your books into traditional bricks-and-mortar book stores is still a dream for many authors, although in a post coronavirus world where so many high street retailers have closed down, the digital world is becoming increasingly important and physical retailers less so. Given these considerations, it is becoming increasingly rare for self-publishing authors to target physical retail chains such as Waterstones and Barnes & Noble – although some authors do still try.
The Evolution of Book Production
Print On Demand (POD) technology has transformed the way in which physical books are being printed and distributed. Rather than having to hold a large inventory of physical copies of your books, POD technology means that retailers like Amazon will only print a copy (or a handful of copies) of most of the books they ‘stock’ once orders have been placed. This considerably reduces the risk of them having warehouses full of books that may never sell. Popular POD distributors include KDP Print (which is part of Amazon) and Ingram Spark, both of which have global distribution networks.
Many authors will also consider paying for a high quality physical print run of their books which they can sell themselves either in face to face scenarios (such as launch events or book fairs) or through their author website, and for these kinds of scenarios authors may consider ordering a print run of paperback or hardcover books with a traditional printing press such as Clays or CPI. The quality of books that can be produced through these printing companies tends to exceed what is possible through Amazon KDP, Ingram Spark, and other POD distributors, although the production costs tend to be significantly higher.
One consideration, if you are planning on producing physical copies of your books, is that you will likely want to go through the process of producing a proof copy that you can check for appearance and errors before your book goes on sale to the public. The timeframe involved in ordering and checking proof copies can be significant, so it’s important to factor this process into your publishing timeline.
Distribution is one of the key reasons why many authors still consider that working with a traditional publisher is worth considering, because they have large distribution networks in place ready for your book to feed into. However, as I have already touched upon, the trend these days is that the industry is increasingly embracing digital retail and POD publishing, and I’ve heard that even large traditional publishers are sometimes ordering print runs through Amazon / KDP these days in certain circumstances.
A Final Word
One thing is abundantly clear to me, which is that the options for self-publishing authors to make their books available to a wide range of customers are better and more numerous today than they have ever been before. This is a great benefit of the digital age, and as self-publishing authors we should be thankful for the opportunities we have to distribute our work to a large number of readers around the world. Of course, while production and distribution are essential to a successful book release, authors are unlikely to generate many sales unless they have a well thought out promotion and marketing strategy in place.
Once your book is released into the world, the next step is to ensure the world knows it exists! Learn about book promotion and marketing.