APSS - Association of Publishers for Special Sales

Helping Publishers Sell More Books in More Ways

FAQ: The Business of Publishing

FAQ Index
Learning the Business of Self-Publishing:
What you need to know to get your
book sold

Thank you to Creative Minds Press for providing the content for this FAQ


How do I decide on a book price?
Should my book price be even-numbered or
end in $.95?

What’s all this about trade discounts?
Where does my discount go?

What are Distributors and Wholesalers?
What are Distributors?
How do I get a Distributor?
What are Wholesalers?

Who are Ingram and Baker & Taylor?
What is Ingram?
What is B&T?
How do I register a new title with B&T?

Why do I have to take returns?
What if I tell Wholesalers I won't take returns?

What do I do about "hurt" books?

How should I ship my books?
What type of material should I use to ship my books?

What does STOP mean?

What should I price my book?

Pricing is always a difficult matter. There are some rules of thumb out there that you should increase the price of your book by a factor of 8 times the amount it cost to print it. This allows for industry discounts (see explanation) and a comfortable margin (the difference between what it costs and what you make. Also called profit). However, realistically, one can’t always get that much of a margin—especially if you print POD/digitally. That much of a mark-up would make the book too expensive, thus you would lose sales.

For a very careful analysis of how to do this on a spreadsheet, go to the Gropen Associates' website and click on "Reference Desk."

Go to your local bookstore and look at the books in your category. How much are they charging?

If you can undercut the "going rate" for your topic, it’s possible to attract more buyers to your product. What you’ll usually find is that the big publishing houses have already priced their books for a budget-conscious market. Your difficulty will be matching this. In some rare cases, books priced higher than the others in its category have sold well—but this is in specific niche markets like business, legal and medical tomes.

Barnes & Noble and Border’s Books are becoming very price conscious. They like to see paperbacks under $16., hardbacks under $25. This is not always possible, and they often break this rule if the title is a strong seller.

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Should I state the price as an even-numbered dollar amount or slightly less? (For example: $16.95 or $17.)?

Consumers are conditioned to thinking that a $__.95 price point is less than rounding up to the next higher even number. If you ask people, they know there’s hardly any difference between $16.95 and $17, but they "feel" better not having paid the higher number. If you are not selling books to the trade (at the back of the room after speeches, at craft fairs or as part of a fund raiser), an even numbered price is fine. To the trade, it’s wiser to stay with the herd and price your book $ .95.


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Why do I have to discount my book?

The quick answer is you DON'T have to. But you won’t be able to get the book into a bookstore unless it’s specially ordered by a customer. And most customers don’t want to wait to make a purchase.

In all cases where a product is produced (manufactured goods, clothing, etc.), wholesale prices are usually ½ or less (sometimes way less). The actual ROI (Return on Investment) the producer (in this case, you) gets is usually fairly small.

Please see the short article on the importance of discounts and returns.

For a further discussion of why manufactured goods are discounted, see this article.

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Where does my discount go?

Distributors and wholesalers take large discounts off the retail price. See the explanation below for why they do this. Wholesalers usually take 55%. Distributors often take 25-35% on top of that.

Booksellers & Libraries generally get 40% off the cover price on quantities up to 10. You can give better or not-as-deep discounts. But be even-handed.

Please see the short article on the importance of discounts and returns.

Amazon (see further discussion) is the only retail outlet we know of that demands—and gets—a 55% discount in their Advantage program.

Bulk Sales to Consumers can be as much or as little as you decide upon. Just decide upon a scale (1-5: 10% off, etc).

Bulk Sales to Corporations are usually very substantial, from 60-75%. Sometimes the corporation requires mention on the cover or a whole new cover. This is possible if you do a new print run, but should cost them something over and above the cover price. The nice thing about these sales is that they are non-returnable.

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Distributors and Wholesalers

Please see this article about
Distributors and Wholesalers

What are Distributors?

Distributors take your book and get it into wholesalers and bookstores. They generally have catalogs and some sales force to let the world know that your book exists. They almost always demand an exclusive contract—meaning you can’t sign up with other distributors or wholesalers. They usually take 60-68% of retail price (this includes wholesaler fees (see explanation)), depending on the deal you work out with them. All can and will return unsold books (See the discussion).

Note: they do not market (see explanation) your book. Marketing is your business. If you don't tell the world about your book, all the distributors in the world stocking your book won't matter—you'll get them all back.

It's up to you to let your distributor know when you have a promotion. Discover the name, phone number (and e-mail) of your buyer in the company. Alert them when you are doing a signing, events, or know about a high visibility piece of publicity coming out. Then they can order more books so they are available for the coming demand.

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How do I get a distributor?

Many distributors don't wish to deal with small publishers. Attracting a company is often difficult.

Here are some large distributors to try and contact:

Book Clearing House 
Client Distribution Services (CDS) 

Independent Publisher’s Group (IPG)
Midpoint Trade Books 

National Book Network (NBN) 
Publisher’s Group West (PGW)
Small Press Distribution 

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What are Wholesalers?

Wholesalers are the "middlemen" of the book world. Getting your book into a wholesaler is, in general, a good thing, in that few booksellers will order directly from a small publisher. Most wholesalers charge some fee to list you in their database. They all require a 55% discount to stock an item. All can and will return unsold books ( See the discussion).

Some small press / self-publishers insist that wholesalers take less (ie: 20%). This guarantees that the book is marked "special order only" and will only be ordered by booksellers who have a customer order.

The 2 biggest wholesalers are Ingram and Baker & Taylor (see explanation), but there are many smaller ones.

Marketing (see explanation) is your business. If you don't tell the world about your book, all the wholesalers in the world stocking your book won't matter—you'll get them all back.

If you are distributing yourself, it's up to you to let your wholesaler know when you have a promotion. Discover the name, phone number and e-mail of your buyer in the company. Alert them when you are doing a signing, events, or know about a high visibility piece of publicity coming out. Then they can order more books so they are available for the coming demand.

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Ingram and Baker & Taylor

How do I get in to Baker & Taylor (also called B&T)?

Join SPAN (Small Publishers Association of North America (see explanation)) or to get your book into the Baker & Taylor small press program. B&T will require you to send 3-5 books and sign an agreement to sell books to them at a 55% discount.

You can demand they take a lower discount, but your books will only be special-ordered, not stocked. Contact them by going to this website and click on the pdf for "Establish a Relationship" 

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How do I register a new title with Baker and Taylor?

If you are already registered with Baker & Taylor, go to this webpage to put new titles into their database. 

How do I get into Ingram?

If you are a one or two book publisher, Ingram doesn't really want to know about you. That's harsh, considering they are the #1 wholesaler in the Industry and the first question you are likely to hear from a bookseller is "Are you in Ingram?" One way around this is to get in with a distributor who stocks Ingram

You can read about their policies on this webpage

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Returns and other unpleasant facts

What's the deal with returns?

Back in the Depression, when bookstores were going under right and left, publishers realized they had to do something radical to keep booksellers in business. They came up with the idea of returns—a system whereby any bookseller may return any book, with little regard for how long the book was kept or what condition it was in. No one told the book business the Depression ended 70 years ago. We still have a system that—not to put too fine a point on it—sucks. Few other industries operate on what amounts to a giant consignment scheme.


What does this mean to me as a publisher?

Any book you send out to a bookstore can come back. They will frequently be damaged (see the explanation on what to do with "hurt" books). If they have passed through a wholesaler, it's hard to tell who damaged it, when. While you may file a complaint for a damaged book, it's rare that one wins that dispute.

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What if I tell the wholesalers I won’t take returns?

You can refuse to take any returns. This will force your book into the "special orders" category and the books will not be stocked. Unless you have a very strong Marketing Plan (see explanation) for sales outside of the book trade, this is not recommended.

How can I manage returns?

The best way to manage returns is to have a clear Marketing Plan (see the section). After all, a book isn’t really purchased until it’s bought by the end consumer (not the bookstore). What are you doing to get your customers to go into bookstores and buy that book?

Keep your expectations in line. If you recommend to the buyer at Baker & Taylor that they order 200 books for your signing at the local bookstore, you are part of the problem. You will likely get 150 of those back—at least.

But you need to get used to the fact that you will get returns. That's the nature of the business.

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What do I do with "hurt" books?

Returns that are damaged are called hurts. You can sell them on your website, eBay, or the Marketplace part of Amazon.  The less damaged ones you can give to your local library or literacy agency.

See my article on using Amazon's Marketplace for these tips and other things Amazon.

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How should I ship my books?

Our rule of thumb is anything under $100 value (cover price) goes USPS Media Mail with Delivery Confirmation. During the holidays (Thanksgiving to Christmas) we don’t use this service as the Post Office is overwhelmed and Media Mail can take as long as 3 weeks (it normally takes up to 7 days).

Over $100 value, we ship FedEx or DHL Ground. You can set up an account so that you can print labels right in your office. All you have to do then is drop them off. You can arrange for driver pick-up, but this is an extra fee. Note that rural addresses may incur extra fees. This is particularly an issue for DHL.

We don’t recommend UPS. They charge more than any other delivery service. Don’t take our word for it: check their websites for differences in rates between FedEx, DHL and UPS for your average shipment.

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What type of material should I use to ship my books?

A lot of people like to ship one book, or STOP orders (see the explanation) in "Jiffy" bags. The padding is either rag duff or bubble wrap. You can get them cheaper than from the office supply store from these suppliers, (as well as many others)
Paper Mart 

However, if it is going through the tender hands of the Post Office, it’s not going to get to it’s destination in pristine shape.

We recommend using a small box, just the size of the book. Use blank newsprint (which you can buy in bulk from the above vendors, or check with your local paper) to fill the box. Again, the above vendors can help you find just the right box for your book.

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What does STOP mean?

Single Title Order Program. Because everyone recognizes that it is more expensive to send a "onesie" than to send multiples, the discount expected is less. How much less depends on your marketing plan. Some people don’t give any discount. Some give a regular trade discount (40%). Some give a "short discount" of 20%.

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Thank you to Creative Minds Press for providing the content for this FAQ


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