Paperback Distribution: Direct Methods

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

In this post, I’ll focus on distribution methods which allow you to sell directly to your customers, either in person or online. None of these require an ISBN.

Family, friends and acquaintances

This is distribution at its simplest. You sell your book to people you know, accepting cash, cheque, bank transfer or PayPal as payment. There’s no commission involved so you’ll receive the full cover price (minus any printing, PayPal and postage costs). However, your market will be extremely limited, no matter how many friends you have. Unless your aim is to produce a memoir solely for your family, you’ll need to look further afield pretty quickly.

The wider community

This method is particularly relevant if your book is nonfiction or of significance to a special interest group.

For instance, is your book on a business-related theme? Could you offer to speak at a corporate event in exchange for a prominent space within the venue to sell your book? Think local, not multinational, at least to start with.

Alternatively, your book might be of particular local interest and you could hire a stall at a community event.

You could even approach shops. If your book is about wheat-free cookery, for instance, enquire at local health food stores whether you might run a promotion in the corner of, or just outside, one of their shops.

There’s probably something about your book that would appeal to a certain sector of society, whether that be working mums or OAPs. Think about events where these people gather and be imaginative in how to make your presence there attractive to the organisers.

If you’re a fiction writer, you could offer to do a reading at a library or talk to other local authors about your experience self-publishing. There are all sorts of opportunities out there once you start to use your imagination.

Always be professional and polite when approaching businesses or event organisers. Take a copy of your book and any promotional materials you have, so they can see the quality of your operation. If they say no, accept their decision gracefully and express a wish that you can work together in the future. Always remember they’re doing you a favour by offering you space to advertise and sell your work rather than your mere presence being a gift for which they should be eternally grateful.

Your own website

You can create an attractive-looking website for free using WordPress.com. It’s doable, even for the most technologically challenged amongst us.

WordPress.com offers a free service and don’t want people exploiting it so has rules on monetising your website. These rules can sometimes be a little fuzzy and tend to involve expressions such as sales links forming an ‘organic and natural part of your site.’ However, the good news is that selling a book you’ve self-published is very much permitted.

For full instructions on how to set up a website and take payment for your book via PayPal, please refer to my instructional. PayPal will send you an email, with the customer’s address, each time an order is placed. You can also check this information by selecting the item in your PayPal summary.

Ensure that you sufficiently protect your books against the rigours of the postal system (a fresh, new jiffy bag should be fine) and enclose a packing slip. PayPal have a simple one you can print off. From your PayPal summary, click on the order in question and near the bottom of the page, you should find an option to Print Packing Slip. I’m reluctant to use this service, however, as your home address automatically appears on the slip.

To avoid this, you can create your own, using a Microsoft Word template. How you access templates, varies marginally depending on which version of Word you own. On recent versions, they’re displayed on first opening Word. Generally, though, from any open Word document, select File (Office Button in Word 2007)-> New. On a Mac, the command is File -> New from Template

Look for a box which reads Search for online templates/Search Office.com for templates or something similar and type Packing slip into it.

You should be presented with some half-dozen options. Select whichever you like the look of and press Create or Download (the exact command varies depending which version of Word you’re using). Your packing slip will open in a new window.

Complete the form, filling out customer address, product name, description, quantity etc. If you’re uncertain, you could use a PayPal packing slip as a template for the wording. When it comes to your company address, simply enter either your own or your company name (if you have one), website address and any other information you’re comfortable divulging, such as an email address.

You’ll probably need to adapt or delete various fields. In addition, you may well choose to make the table, outlining the products contained in the package, smaller. In all likelihood, you’ll only have one item (your book) to add to it and then a gaping space underneath. To reduce this space, click on the table, and under the Table Tools -> Layout tab, locate Delete in the Rows and Columns section. Click on this and select Delete Rows. Do this multiple times and you should see your table reducing in size.

Finally, type This is not a bill under the table, to avoid confusion.

Once you have the packing slip how you want, remember to save it so that next time, you only have to alter the recipient’s address.

Selling directly through your own website is one of the most satisfying distribution methods. If your marketing’s right and you link to your website enough, you can reach a much bigger audience than selling your book in the real world.

Furthermore, as there’s no commission to pay to a third-party sales outlet, like a bookshop, you get to keep a high proportion of the cover price. The PayPal fee is modest at 3.4% plus 20p per transaction. On a payment of £10, this works out at just 54p.

Packaging materials are also inexpensive if you buy in bulk. You can get 100 JL1G jiffy bags (170mm x 245mm) on eBay for around £12 which works out at 12p per bag. JL1G jiffy bags should fit a modest-sized paperback. However, do experiment with sizing before buying a hundred of them. Your book should fit comfortably without being squashed or misshaped. I’d always recommend branded Jiffy bags over cheap, generic ones. The difference in cost is negligible per book and well worth it. The generic ones look cheap (not a good image) and are rather thin, which could result in damage to your books.

There’s also the cost of paper for your packing slip, a sticky label for the address and the ink used to print these items. All this shouldn’t come out at more than 8p per book, making your overall packaging costs a modest 20p. Not a problem.

Would that the same could be said for postage. Since Royal Mail changed their pricing bands, to take account of the size of packages, this area has become a minefield for authors. If you’ve produced a slim volume, you’re in luck. Depending on your printing method and the thickness of paper used, most paperbacks under about 250 pages should fit into the Large Letter category and cost just £1.20 (Second Class) or £1.27 (First Class).

Unfortunately, most books of average length upwards, will be counted as Small Packages and you’ll be charged £2.80 (Second Class) or £3.30 (First Class). This is a significant chunk of your profits. If you end up selling in huge volumes, you can reduce this cost by about 30p per parcel by hiring a franking machine but for the moment, you’re just going to have to put up with it.

Even with the high postage costs, selling directly is still a great method of maximising profits. Let’s look at the economics on an averagely priced novel:

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Alternatively, if the postage is paid by the buyer, the economics look like this:

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£4.72 certainly looks attractive but if you’re serious about selling in large quantities, I’d be careful about passing postage on to the buyer. £10.79 is a lot to pay for a book when you could get two or three bestsellers from Amazon at a similar price. Keeping the cost to the buyer low is definitely more important than grabbing an extra couple of quid commission on a single copy. £2.02 is actually quite a decent royalty and £7.99 is a much more attractive purchase price than £10.79. It’s much better to sell 100 books at £2 profit each than 10 books at £5 profit a piece.

Also, remember, when you’re selling a book, particularly if it’s your first, you shouldn’t only consider how much money it’ll make. It’s far more important to keep your price at a level where a reader will be encouraged to give you, an unknown author, a chance. If they like what they read, you have something far more valuable than a couple of pounds profit: you have an engaged fan who will buy future books and most important of all, spread word of mouth. One reader can quickly lead to ten, a hundred or even a thousand more but in order to snag that first reader, you have to keep your sale price at a reasonable level.

Even bearing this in mind, direct selling is an excellent way to maximise profits. To really take off as an author, though, you’ll need to look further afield at bookshops and online selling through third-party outlets.

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Next time: Selling through bookshops

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