Do You Really Want Mass Distribution for Your Self Published Book?
Many self-published authors seem enamored with getting mass distribution for their books. And they want it now!
I understand...sort of. We all want our books to be accepted and purchased by our target audiences as soon after publishing as possible. But I also understand how difficult that can be to achieve.
The Fantasy and Fallacy of Seeking Far Reaching Book Distribution
Authors may feel that their books, missions, or messages are extremely urgent. This is especially a problem with nonfiction. They believe that the change they wish to see in the world is critical to the future as they define it.
Others realize that there is a unique, and possibly closing, a window of opportunity to get their words out into the world, either due to current events, public sentiment, and tastes, or their own personal time-sensitive goals.
Emotionally motivated by their mission, they want wide distribution for their books. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with wanting that. All authors want that! But the problem is that they usually have no audience for their work because they’re first-time authors with no fan base. Now that they’ve made the decision to publish, they’re stunned at what it could take to get the distribution level they want.
What Do You Mean by Wide Book Distribution?
First, we have to define what is meant by wide, or mass, distribution. And I’m guessing that even authors who say they want it don’t know what they mean by it.
Here’s what it could mean:
Mass Market Appeal and Availability
Some authors think that having their book available in a retail setting (bookstore, Walmart, etc.) means wide distribution. Multiple problems here. One, just because it’s in retail, even in a bookstore, doesn’t mean it will sell. Second, getting a self-published book in retail is next to impossible. Lastly, with more and more sales of books (and everything!) occurring online, these “see it in the store” dreams are just nostalgia for a different retail reality that is becoming obsolete.
High Volume Sales
How high? High enough to earn a bestseller status on a list such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.? That could mean tens of thousands of copies sold. A brand new self-published author with no following and no experience has the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of this happening, especially within a short period of time (like a year). It might be possible with a massive investment (measured in thousands of dollars, like several thousand) in advertising for the book, but even that’s no guarantee.
Media Coverage, Interviews, and Appearances
Often these authors think that getting media coverage (interviews, appearances, or getting their articles published) would be the key to getting the wide distribution they want for their books. For others, it’s an ego or passionate mission thing, and the media attention would help satisfy that longing and their egos. But if I would ask them how they plan to get that coveted media coverage, I’d put money on that they don’t have a clue.
Getting even the slightest mention in the popular media (TV, radio, newspapers, etc.) is quite a feat, and may require the assistance of PR (public relations) professionals and services who have established relationships with media contacts. Media stations and publications are constantly bombarded with press releases and requests for coverage. It is also unlikely that the media will voluntarily seek out new self-published authors. Again, possible only with a massive investment of time and money.
The Everyone Problem
Even more troubling is that authors often equate wide distribution with their books being appropriate material for "everyone." Here’s where I start rolling my eyes. No book, no matter how interesting the topic is for large segments of the population, is for everyone. This lack of audience awareness has self-published authors chasing every possible avenue of attention and sales, which can be quite exhausting and expensive.
The appeal of creating content (book, blog, video, etc.) that goes viral is quite seductive, including for self-published authors. Like viruses for this year’s strain of the flu, viral content is that which is widely and wildly distributed from person to person, almost without abating. “Going viral” is an elusive goal for self-published authors who want wide distribution and sales for their work.
Like many biological viruses, viral content can be highly unpredictable. The exact factors that can prompt a groundswell of attention and book sales may be completely uncontrollable. So if going viral is your definition of wide distribution, you’re simply hoping and gambling.
What’s Your Distribution Number?
Aside from being unable to define what they mean by wide distribution, I would venture that most self published authors don’t have a clue about what their target mass distribution number is. Hundreds, thousands, millions?
At this point, it would be good to be reminded that best selling books on the top bestseller lists may only be selling tens of thousands of copies. Plus, most self-published books only sell a few copies a month for most authors. In fact, in my 2016 and 2018 Thorne Self Publishing Surveys, 73.02% (2016) and 73.46% (2018) of authors, with one or more books published, were making less than $1,000 annually from their books. That cannot mean a high unit volume of sales for most self-published books. So expecting book sales of thousands upon thousands of units—which is challenging for even the most popular books—is unrealistic for most self-published authors.
How to Get Real With Your Book Distribution Expectations
Yes, you want as many people as possible to read and buy your self-published book. I’m not saying to not try. I’m encouraging you to create realistic goals and expectations to avoid disappointment. Here are some reality check questions.
Why are you the one to deliver this message?
Here’s where authors can get delusional, especially those who feel they need to change the world. They’re so impassioned that they pursue impossible distribution channels and numbers, which can be financially devastating. Understand the needs and limitations of your author platform (fan base), and continually seek to build your thought leadership presence, so that you become a sought-after expert that could attract book sales and media attention.
Is getting your work distributed widely truly urgent, or just your interpretation of urgent?
Authors who want to change the world can be most susceptible to feelings of urgency. They feel that if they just get more distribution, the world will logically and automatically accept their work and take action. Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to convert the unconverted since people are illogical beings. And, today, people are so overwhelmed with information overload that they can ignore much of what crosses their path. That’s why continually building a fan base of like-minded followers and buyers, and becoming a thought leader, is so critical when self-publishing.
Or if your sense of distribution urgency is more based on your own personal goals, such as “I want to become the best selling author by next year,” realize that the world and the market may not share your sense of urgency.
Can your goals be accomplished another way?
Self-publishing is not the only way to achieve ultimate goals since it can be a long, hard road to riches or encouraging people to change their attitudes and behavior. Could you instead volunteer for your cause, or get involved in a community of people who share your passions and ideals? Becoming an author is just one of many paths to making an impact on society.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Heidi Thorne