When my first travel guide was published in the UK last year, friends and family back home in Canada asked why they couldn't get it in the big book stores over there. I had a hard time explaining why -- given I knew next to nothing about how book distribution worked! I still don't know a great deal, but I do know that getting your book published doesn't necessarily mean it will wind up on the shelves.
Why? It all comes down to distribution.
There are four main players:
1. The Author. Writes the content, sells it to publisher.
2. The Publisher. Buys the content and produces books. Publishers are not book sellers (usually, although this is changing with eBooks). Publishers partner with a distributor to sell the book into bookstores.
3. The Distributor. Takes a cut of the publisher's book profits in return for selling it into bookstores. Distributors usually work with many publishers, big and small. As a small publisher, having a well-known distributor can help give you credibility. But since smaller publishers are usually less significant profit-wise than the bigger clients, it's hard to make sure the sales reps push their titles.
Distributors only cover certain geographical areas (i.e., UK , Ireland and Europe), so if the publisher wants their books distributed in a different area, they have to find another distributor. That's why my UK-published book wasn't available in Canadian stores -- we didn't have a Canadian distributor.
4. The Bookstore. Meets with distribution sales reps and decides which titles to buy. Bookstores can also return books back to the distributor if they don't sell, but they obviously want to order books they know will fly off the shelves.
The advent of eBooks can really make a difference to smaller publishers. They can sell their books anywhere in the world, without needing a distributor -- and hang on to more of the profits. Bookstore shelves won't be reserved for a limited number of titles any longer and readers won't be forced to choose from pre-selected titles.
And there you have it! Book distribution for beginners! Any questions? Have I missed out anything critical?