There’s a hidden layer to publishing--one that doesn’t get nearly all the glitz and glamour that the front-facing publishing companies do. Publishing companies may be the ones who create the finished product, but it’s their lesser-known cousin, the book distribution company, that actually ensures the book sees the light of day.
If you’re in a traditional publishing deal, then most likely your publisher has a distribution company they work with already. For example, Night Heron Media works with Small Press United and Ingram Content Group through the Independent Publishers Group.
If you’ve self-published, though, book distribution is a different beast--and it’s one worth putting some thought and effort into.
Book distributors are responsible for pitching your book to their networks of schools, libraries, bookstores, and other retailers and then getting them on those shelves where readers can access them. Working with a distributor means that all the hassle of marketing your book to independent bookstores one at a time becomes a non-issue. Also, you won’t have to worry about where exactly in your home you’re going to store hundreds of copies of your book, because the distributor will take care of that.
While the process is a lot simpler for eBooks, if your goal is to see your book in print, you’ll need a distributor, and there are plenty of them, which can be overwhelming for the first-time author. Most book distribution companies, though, have certain specialties which can help narrow down the choice. For example, one company might specialize in self-help books, while another might focus solely on educational materials. The closer of a match you can find to the genre of your book, the better, because it means these companies are experienced in the selling points of other books in the genre and will know how to market your product well and which retailers your book will sell the best. Another way to narrow down the choice is by location. Do you want your book distributed locally? Across the US? Internationally? These are all things to consider when you’re looking for a book distributor.
Additionally, some distributors are indie-friendly (meaning open to distributing self-published authors) while others are...less so. You can generally find this information on the About or Services portions of their website, along with the different packages or features they offer. Once you find a distributor that fits both you and your work, you’ll fill out the application or use the provided contact form, and you’re on your way!