Self Publishing Pros and Cons: Distribution

A while ago I did a couple of posts regarding the pros and cons of Self Publishing, with the intention of doing some more posts at some point. Well this is the next one. It’s on distribution and an area that is bugging me quite a lot at the moment and where I think there is quite a big gap in the market to help self published authors.

On the eBook side self publishers have quite a good choice for distribution. They can get their eBooks published via all the main eBook retailers through a variety of means – either going direct with Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble or Apple or using distributors such as Smashwords and Lulu to do part of it for them. It seems that of the retailers only Amazon demands direct engagement from authors and won’t let a distributor take some of the pain of multiple platforms away – but then Amazon don’t want authors distributing their work via other retailers anyway. Going direct to retailers has its benefits, but self published authors have the choice usually of doing that or using a distributor for their work.

On the traditional publishing side it really depends on what arrangements have been made by your publisher. Some publishers have a difficult relationship with Amazon for a whole host of reasons. And I think some others – more small to medium sized – are still only just getting to grips with eBooks. I was surprised to find that some recent Science Fiction books that I was trying to buy recently from well known authors were not available as eBooks. So it’s possible that to go the traditional route may inhibit eBook distribution if the publisher has a tiff with someone like Amazon, or just is slow in getting its systems together – worth taking into account when selecting a publisher.

Print is not dead – still the majority of the market

This is still true and I think a major problem for the self-published author. The one clear advantage of being published by a traditional publisher is that your book will appear in print and will get some sort of decent distribution to bookshops, book wholesalers and to library suppliers. Maybe even into book cataloguers/book clubs and supermarkets if it is a bestseller. Even if the shelf life is short there will be some exposure and book shop customers can place orders for a book through a book shop and have that order fulfilled.

For a self published author to achieve the same level of distribution is difficult. To get the same face time as a publisher sales rep with book shop chain buyers who decide whether to buy copies of a book is impossible.

On the logistical distribution side it seems that the main options for self publisher are to purchase a more expensive package than the standard ones from Lulu or Createspace – you need something like the Extended Distribution from Createspace or to go with Ingrams’ Lightning Source service to even get in the major bibliographic databases, otherwise online sales via Amazon are probably the only means for customers to purchase print.


For some bright spark there has to be an opportunity here. Either a start-up company or one of the book wholesalers perhaps could step in and offer enhanced sales and distribution for the self published author. They could produce a catalogue and actively sell these titles to bookshops. I think they would have to impose some sort of vetting process – the author would have to somehow justify why their book should get attention from the bookseller – previous eBook sales or direct online print sales history could play a major role here I think.

Interesting times and an area that’s still in development for self published authors.

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My Reading Challenge – Hugo Winning Novels Since 2000

Cover of "The Yiddish Policemen's Union: ...
Cover of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel

Sometimes I read whatever I feel like, while at other times I try to read books based on a certain theme. So for instance a while ago I wanted to investigate how thrillers worked and read a number of thriller novels by authors I hadn’t read before. The idea was to get a good idea of how thrillers were structured and what made them ‘thrilling’. My historical fantasy novel, Hell has its Demons, has some of the elements of a thriller, so I wanted to make sure I was injecting a little extra thrill juice into it. I also from time to time read a bit of epic fantasy, but more in hope than expectation of finding something to match the range, depth and storytelling of Tolkien. Not much compares unfortunately.

Currently I am reading Hugo Award Winning Novels since 2000. My nagging doubt being that given my unhealthy obsession with things like epic fantasy I’m probably missing out on some really good speculative fiction. I’m tracking my reading over on Goodreads under a shelf called Hugo Award Winning Novels. I might also go the next level down and look at those nominated, and then move onto other awards – although there will be some crossover. I’m actually cheating and listening to an audiobook of a book only nominated – Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. But I’m also reading the paperback of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon.

Despite these good intentions I will no doubt give up on my challenge at some point and read something completely different!

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Science Fiction Magazines Increase Contributor Pay Rates

For quite a while now the contributor pay rate for a professional Science Fiction and/or Fantasy Magazine has been 5 cents per word. So if you were to write a 5,000 word story you should be making $250. This rate has been pretty much the market standard and fixed as the sign of a professional sale as the SFWA only recognizes a magazine market as professional if it pays this rate or over.

Now it seems economic factors such as inflation have finally caught up with this figure. Asimov’s and Analog are both increasing their rates. SFScope reports that these two publications are actually increasing their rates from 6-8 cents per word to 7-9 cents per word. The other major market is Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine – their website reports that they are offering 6-9 cents per word.

How long I wonder until the SFWA increases the criteria for the qualifying markets it lists? I would imagine they might look at increasing it to at least 6 cents per word? Although it doesn’t sound like a lot, when you calculate the payment for a 5,000 word story then it does add up: $300 instead of $250. These magazines must be taking quite a hit at the moment to their costs. I hope they can cope, as we definitely need these publications to stay vibrant and profitable for the sake of the SFF writing and reading community.

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