Distribution vs marketing and the author’s role in driving sales


Many authors assume that when a book is uploaded for sale in an online store, the book starts selling on its own. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As a self-published author, you are responsible for some of the functions that would normally be handled by a traditional publisher, one of which is marketing. Once in the store, it is up to you to let potential customers know about the book and to drive the book’s sales.

Think of your book as a product. Now, think of other products in the market. When you walk into a supermarket you will notice that some products have their own display. Others have a lot of shelf space, whilst competing products may have very little. Some come with discount coupons; others do not. Some even appear in the retailer’s promotional flysheet. The driving force behind these initiatives is the companies who own the products. It’s their marketing departments that make the decisions about how their products will be sold, where they will be sold, what specials will be run, and how the products will be displayed. If they want the front shelf, they pay for it. If they want to push sales in a particular week, they discount the product and let participating stores know. They advertise the product in newspapers, magazines and online media. They engage potential customers and build a following using social media platforms. At a basic level, the store provides access to the product – a platform through which customers can buy it – and it supports the company’s promotional objectives by advertising products that are on special, or for which the store and company have negotiated special deals or benefits.

Your responsibilities

Since you ‘own’ your book, you are tasked with the same responsibilities of identifying your target market, letting potential customers know about the book, devising incentives that will encourage them to buy, building a following for yourself and your book, and making use of every opportunity that presents itself to sell and promote your book. If you don’t do this, potential customers will not know that the book exists and you will have zero sales, regardless of your ‘global reach’ or how many online stores you are listed in. Any sales you make are likely to be the result of luck; for instance, a customer searching for another similar product and happening upon yours – perhaps your title name is similar, or your author name, or it’s a small store and a search for books on engineering brings up the only two engineering books listed there. The point is that this is very hit-and-miss. To sell books, you need much more than hit-and-miss.

A common misconception

Many authors think that marketing is the same as distribution. When their ‘publisher’ tells them that they will receive global distribution and be listed in major catalogues (along with a few thousand other books), it sounds like their book will be available far and wide and be seen by all, and will consequently fly off the shelves due to the sheer number of potential customers. I mean, how many billion people are there? Seven? With just a 0.00001% response, you could sell 700 books. That’s not so bad, you might be thinking. But most self-published authors rarely sell that many books, even with marketing and publicity. Those who don’t market at all are lucky if they sell even 50 copies – and these are usually to family and friends because they’re the only ones who know about the book.

Get your lines in the water

A good start is to draw up a simple market­ing plan. There are many examples of marketing plans on the internet – take one and adapt it. There are also many online resources offering a multitude of book marketing ideas that you can include in your plan.

Your book needs a good publicity campaign when you first release it and constant marketing to help it gain traction and maintain momentum. But you also need a good distribution network so that when people hear about your book, they have somewhere to buy it.

The two functions – marketing and distribution – work hand in hand. Marketing builds awareness around your book, lets people know it’s available, and encourages sales; distribution involves setting up channels through which the book can be sold and deals with the logistics of moving your book from point A to point B.

Without an efficient distribution network, all the publicity and marketing in the world is not going to result in sales because customers will have nowhere to buy the book. Conversely, having a global distribution network but no marketing and publicity will result in a pile of books that go nowhere and online listings that never get seen.

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