Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Book Sales, Promotion, Distribution
and Giant Squid

Here's another image from Daryl Benson's forthcoming book, Canada, available now for pre-order (US | Canada), and more of his insights as a published author.

"This, of course, is the Giant Squid of Glover's Harbour, Newfoundland. I used my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer filter to darken the sky which helped 'pop' the cloud pattern out while reducing squid glare, even though that eye seems to glare at you wherever you move. Using a 'lighter, brighter' LB filter allowed me to get the shot hand held at a faster shutter speed, because you don't want to linger or impede your mobility when contending with a giant landsquid like this one.

"Would you believe I chose the squid image to illustrate this entry on book sales, promotion and distribution because the squid's tentacles are analogous to the many different methods available for today's author to sell, promote and distribute a book? Oh, squids and books are full of ink, too. It's a perfect metaphor...

"Seriously, self-publishing a book is fun, creative and overall a very enjoyable experience. Selecting the images, arranging the layouts, trying to figure out a look for the cover (visually the most important part of a book), working out the overall design, font choice and paper selection all creative and fun stuff. Selling, promoting and distributing a book, now that’s work. But, if you're serious about making income from the project you NEED to spend just as much time selling and promoting the book as you did creating it. This is true even if you have a big publishing company printing and distributing your book. You may think that they have a vested interest in promotion and seeing that your book gets exposure and sells. They do, but not to the extent you may think. I can’t speak for other countries, but in Canada most large publishers receive grants if a certain amount of their yearly titles are Canadian content. In many cases books are published to meet that quota or for other reasons and not necessarily just for profit from sales alone. If you want your book to sell, whether you self-publish or have an existing publisher print and distribute the book, you MUST knock on every door, explore every option, and no matter how lonely it may seem at times, do all the book signings you can organize! For my last book, Alberta, I personally arranged and did nearly 80 book signings over four years. That book sold 25,000 copies, and that was just in one province (Alberta).

"If you’ve produced a book of quality, for every book you sign, that store will sell two more, on average, through word of mouth or because you got to know the staff at that store personally and they will direct other customers to your book. You have to put on your salesman’s hat, get out there and sell! It’s not a hard sell, it’s a genuine chance to get to know the staff at the local bookstores or camera stores, thank them for the opportunity, remember their names and leave unsold copies signed. The large chain stores (Barnes & Noble or Borders in the US and Chapters/Indigo in Canada) let individual stores order locally so if your book happens to be on one state, province or city, you don’t have to approach a national head office. Visit and get to know the staff at your local big book outlet store(s). This all seems like common sense stuff, but by doing these few simple things you’re ahead of 90% of the approximately 172,000 titles published every year in the US or 20,000 yearly in Canada.

"If your book is on a broader subject and you want to have it in bookstores nationally or even internationally, I strongly recommend a distributor. It’s another set of hands in your pocket taking a healthy percentage for this service, but it’s the only real way to have large quantities of books in stores throughout the country. You should not be running around the planet trying to sell books out of the back of your van, chasing down delinquent accounts and trying to straighten out the dog-ears on damaged covers. You’re a photographer, your time is best spent creating images. A distributor will take about 55% to 65% of the retail price for their service (you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate). If, for example, your book retails for $50.00, and the distributor takes 60% ($30.00, the distributor shares that amount with the retail store), that leaves you with $20.00 per unit sold. If your cost to produce was $10.00 per book you then net $10.00 on each sale. That’s how it should work. When doing the math for retail it should be a five times multiplier. In other words if your product costs $10.00 to produce, it should retail for five times that amount. This leaves room for markup and profit for everyone in the food chain.

"In most cases distributors have spent years developing the contacts and networks to warehouse, ship, sell and bill larger outlets across the country and in some cases internationally. The difficulty in doing this yourself, on a large scale, is in storing say 5,000 copies of a book. (I mean, come on, do you really want to park your car outside all winter long because your garage is full of books?) Also shipping them in units of 10 to 1,000 to locations all over the country and then dealing with billing, returns, delinquent accounts, etc. Combine those difficulties with the fact that most large outlets won’t sign one person with one book into their inventory system. These larger outlets (Wal-Mart, Costco, Borders, Chapters etc) carry tens of thousands of products and have massive inventory systems to control the flow of these products. To assign one tracking number to one small product like a single book is too costly and they won’t do it. If however, you’re a large distributor representing dozens or even hundreds of titles then it makes sense. It’s not impossible to distribute nationally yourself, but it’s the next thing on the scale to impossible.

"I hope I’ve convinced you of the necessity of a distributor, but that’s not the whole story. You have to find one willing to distribute your book! Most distributors are actually the larger publishers, although not all will take on self-published authors. I can’t recommend whom to choose as there are too many possibilities, but it is helpful if the distributor is close to your home. It just makes it a bit easier to visit the warehouse and offices and helps keep the interaction more personal.

"Here are some resources for checking out the book publishing and selling industry and for looking up potential distributors/publishers:

"In Canada, Quill and Quire ( puts out a yearly updated, and very worthwhile publication, Complete Guide to the Canadian Publishing Marketplace.

"In the USA, try,, or

"These are also good resources for looking up independent bookstores (booksellers), print and broadcast media for promotional contacts (I mailed out over 90 free copies of my first book to various newspapers, magazines, TV and radio program hosts, as well as members of local government), and information on awards, contests and grants. Good luck with the awards and grants. After days of searching this topic I found nothing of consequence for self-published photo books. Lots of literary awards and lots of grants for existing publishers, but nothing for the so-called vanity press. (Sorry if that sounded bitter.)

"There is more value in a well-crafted book than purely monetary. It should be something you create that you’re proud of and reflects your efforts, ability and thought. I’ve been photographing for over 25 years and have become somewhat jaded. I’m rarely inspired by any single image. Instead I admire the photography of others when I can see the mind at work behind the images. This is usually best illustrated in a collection of photographs and a book is still the best vehicle to present that collection. If you’ve got a story to tell or a vision to share don’t let anyone or any obstacle stand in your way. Do it!"

Learn more about Daryl's many projects at his website,


Chris Kayler said...

Thanks for this one. I found it really informative.

Renato said...

Thanks very much for this great article. Lots of good information.