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What You Need to Know About Selling Bulk Orders of Self-Published Books

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Want to sell lots of your self published books in one order? Here's what it takes.

Want to sell lots of your self published books in one order? Here's what it takes.

Curious About Selling in Bulk?

Self-published authors often ask me about selling large quantities of their books to organizations such as schools or corporations. These are referred to as bulk book orders or volume sales.

While bulk sales are possible, they are not easy. Here's what you need to know about selling books in bulk.

What Exactly is a Bulk Book Order?

"Bulk book orders" are when an organization or business orders multiple copies of your book. These groups may need a large number of books for educational programs in schools or corporate training. Events may also purchase books from speakers to use as gifts to event attendees.

These purchases are usually not done through Amazon or other booksellers. Amazon does not offer bulk discounts for large quantity purchases. Bulk book orders are typically transacted between the author or publisher and the organizational buyer. The author or publisher may offer a volume sales discount, though that is not required.

If you self-publish on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you can order up to 999 author copies in bulk through KDP to sell directly to your buyer. But you won’t make your usual KDP royalties on author copy bulk book sales. Other self-publishing platforms also usually have a bulk order program.

Making a Bulk Book Order Sale

These bulk book orders are not easy to come by and require a significant sales effort.

You don’t just waltz into a school, have a little chat with a teacher or administrator, and, boom, a book sale occurs. Educational institutions can be some of the toughest to crack. Many are governmental organizations that have complex purchasing procedures and requirements... and tight budgets! Then there's the question of whether the school will sell your book through the bookstore. That may be a completely separate entity from the school. More complexity! From being in and around an academic environment, I can attest to this.

Corporations aren’t much better. Just because they’re big, doesn’t mean they have money to spend on your book. Your book needs to serve a specific purpose and help them meet an intended outcome. Plus, cold-calling corporations for bulk book sales is a waste of time. You need to have a network of connections who can facilitate buyer introductions for you.

As for making bulk book sales because you are a speaker at an event, I also have experience in this arena. Some events may tell you that you can make book sales at the back of the room at the event and that all attendees will likely buy your book. No, they don’t. When it comes to live events and speaking engagements, get the event host to do a bulk book purchase and pay for copies of the book for all attendees in advance, before you set foot on the stage.

Due to the pandemic of 2020, many organizations and events are going virtual. So it’s even less likely that you’ll be able to sell them by purchasing bulk orders of your print books. The logistics and cost of sending books to virtual attendees are just not worth it for them.

Challenges of Bulk Book Orders

Avoid Playing Bank

You may get a purchase order for these bulk book sales from the buying organization. Often, payment terms will not include a prepayment or deposit for the books. This means that you, as the author and publisher, may end up “playing bank” until you receive payment which could be up to 60 to 90 days after delivery, or even longer. This is why you should very carefully weigh whether offering a volume sale discount is worth the free financing you’re offering to your buyer.

Sadly, I have experience with this situation from my promotional products business where I played bank to multinational corporations, even when I had to pay serious money upfront to my vendors. Sometimes that added up to thousands of dollars I had to pay before the buyer paid me months later.

Shipping and Delivery

If your self-publishing platform allows you to ship directly to your buyer, do it! If not, the author copies order will come to you first and you'll have to reship. That's extra cost and hassle for you.

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Make sure that you include all shipping costs in your quote to your buyer. On large orders, it can be a significant cost and you don't want to be absorbing it.

Also, make sure that package delivery details are clarified with your buyer.

Sales Taxes

The other detail that you need to be aware of is sales taxes. When you self-publish on the likes of KDP, they will handle many, if not all, of the sales taxation issues for you on individual book sales. But when you purchase author copies in bulk, you are responsible for all applicable local, regional, national, and international sales taxes, even if your self-publishing platform charges you some sales tax on the order.

Another sales tax situation is when a buyer buys books in bulk for resale. In that case, you need their sales tax resale number because you are then selling to them at wholesale and usually you're not responsible for collecting taxes, even though you need to report these wholesale sales on your sales taxes.

Is your head spinning yet? Before you even delve into bulk book sales, you need to consult your CPA or tax advisor to find out how to handle sales taxes. And, of course, you’re also responsible for income taxes, too.

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.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 06, 2020:

Hi Marissa! Glad you found it informative. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 06, 2020:

AncientPathNaturals, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Marissa from Nigeria on August 06, 2020:

Wow, this is really an eye opener. Thanks for sharing!

AncientPathNaturals on August 05, 2020:


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 05, 2020:

Hi Adrienne! It's way more work than most authors ever imagine. Glad you understand that if you go down that road, you'll need some guidance. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Adrienne Farricelli on August 05, 2020:

Selling bulk orders seemed like an appealing option, but the many drawbacks you have pointed out make it sound intimidating! If I were ever to consider something like that, I would follow your advice of consulting with a CPA or tax advisor to play it safe. Great information as always!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 05, 2020:

Flourish, I no longer front money for any orders! You're right, big organizations are slow payers. After years of dealing with slow payers, I adopted a pay-to-play policy. It was crushing me financially.

Thanks for putting the emphasis on that point! Have a wonderful day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 04, 2020:

I sure wouldn’t be fronting the money for a business and waiting 60, 90 or more days for them to pay on it. Large organizations can be notoriously slow to pay.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 04, 2020:

Bill, ya never know, right? But I think it happens more for some types of books than others. Well, should that day come, at least you know what to do. ;)

Thanks for stopping by! And yes, it's beautiful here!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 04, 2020:

Thanks, Liz, for stopping by and reading! Yes, it can be quite a production.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 04, 2020:

Great additional points, Adrian! I know it seems obvious, but there are some inexperienced authors who don't know there's a difference between buying on Amazon and reselling author copies.

I would say that many events and professional buyers are aware of the need for deposits and such. But unfortunately I have experience with big buyers who didn't want to.

And the delivery details are oh so important! I once had an order that was maybe a half truckload and I had to work it out with the client. You can only imagine.

Thank you so much for chiming in and sharing your experience!

Liz Westwood from UK on August 04, 2020:

I really appreciate the way that you have tackled the bulk buying topic from every angle. This article makes great use of your past experiences to help others avoid some of the potential problems that they might encounter.

Adrian Segar on August 04, 2020:

Great article, Heidi! One small clarification.

You say "If you self publish on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you can order up to 999 author copies in bulk through KDP to sell direct to your buyer. But you won’t make your usual KDP royalties on author copy bulk book sales."

Absolutely. That's because you'll be buying the books yourself from KDP and selling them yourself to your bulk purchaser. You, of course will charge the buyer whatever you want. Royalties only come into play when the sale is made via Amazon.

And two more small points.

First, I always insist on buyer payment for a bulk order before I place their order on KDP. I've never had a buyer refuse to prepay.

And second, drop shipping your bulk order from KDP directly to the buyer is very inexpensive — so always do that! The one thing to bear in mind is that you never know exactly how long it's going to take for the bulk order to arrive (it needs to be printed and then shipped). So it's a good idea to ask for payment and place the order well in advance. If the bulk order is shipping to a meeting venue rather than the client's office, you'll need to coordinate with the client to ensure the books will be received and kept safely until the meeting is held. Most venues will do this, but you need to check!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 04, 2020:

Look at me, same day, and first to comment!!!! Pat on the back, please.

Bulk orders of my books? You have a great sense of humor, Heidi. I don't sell bulk totals in my lifetime, let alone one shipping. But hey, I guess it's possible it could happen some day, right?



Have a great day! I hope it is still cool there for ya.

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