How to Get Your Book Distributed: What Self-Published Authors Need to Know

book distribution

Photo credit: The City of Toronto / CC BY

Note from Jane: This post is part of a 101 series on self-publishing. Visit this post for background on how to self-publish.

Distribution used to be the biggest challenge that self-published authors faced in selling their work—at least before online retail came to dominate bookselling.

Today, the most important thing any author needs to know about distribution is that more than half of all book sales (regardless of format) take place online. Self-published authors have the same access to online retail distribution as the major publishers. This access is also largely without upfront costs, making it straightforward for any author to begin selling their book at Amazon, the No. 1 retailer of books in both print and digital format.

You do not have to hire an expensive self-publishing service to get your book distributed through Amazon and other online retailers; you can secure distribution on your own at little or no cost for both your ebook edition or print book edition. Here’s how.

Ebook distribution

Once you have ebook files ready to go (EPUB and/or MOBI files), you have a choice to make. Would you rather deal with each online retailer directly, or would you rather reach them through an ebook distribution service?

  • Working directly with online retailers usually means better profits, more control, and more access to marketing/promotion tools (but not always).
  • Working with ebook distribution services usually means giving up a percentage of your profits to the distributor, in exchange for the centralized administration and management of all your titles. Some ebook distributors can also reach outlets you can’t on your own, such as the library market, and may offer you helpful tools to optimize book sales and marketing.

The good news is that you don’t have to choose between working directly with online retailers and using ebook distributors, since it’s rare for any distributor to demand exclusivity. For example, you could choose to work directly with Amazon KDP to sell your ebooks on Amazon, then use an ebook distributor such as Draft2Digital or Smashwords to reach other retailers. Or you could choose to distribute directly to Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Nook (by using their do-it-yourself portals), then use Smashwords to capture the rest of the market (such as Scribd and libraries).

Bottom line: There’s no one right way to go about it, since it depends on your time and resources, your books, and your marketing strategy. You can also change your mind at any time (although not without some administration hassle and sales downtime).

Print book distribution

Print book distribution is fairly straightforward if you’re making use of print-on-demand technology to print your books, rather than investing in a print run (where you produce hundreds or thousands of books at a time).

Print-on-demand printing means that your book isn’t printed until someone orders and pays for it; when an order comes through, one copy will be printed and shipped to the customer. If books are printed only when they’re ordered, that reduces your risk, but it also means that you’re probably not going to see your books sitting on bricks-and-mortar retail shelves nationwide (or even regionally)—that’s the drawback.

However, don’t assume that if you do a print run, that means you can get distribution into physical retail stores. First-time self-published authors rarely have a sufficient marketing and sales plan in place (or a sufficient track record) that would justify bookstores ordering and stocking books on their shelves. Also think it through: If you did invest in printing 500 or 1,000 copies, do you already have customers or accounts that you know would purchase those copies? Do you have speaking or event opportunities where you could sell them? If not, it’s probably best to go with print on demand. You can always order print-on-demand copies at a reasonable unit cost if you want 50 or 100 copies on hand to sell at events.

Print-on-demand distribution

Assuming you’ll go the print-on-demand route, then you have two key distributors to consider:

  • IngramSpark, a division of Ingram, the largest book wholesaler/distributor in the US; distribution fees cost about $60 per title
  • Amazon KDP, no upfront fees. (Note: CreateSpace, the popular print-on-demand service provider owned by Amazon, merged into Amazon KDP in September 2018.)

Again, as with the ebook distribution decision, you don’t have to be exclusive with either. You can use both and benefit from both. I recommend that authors use Amazon KDP to distribute their print books strictly to Amazon (do not choose their “expanded” distribution), then use IngramSpark to distribute to the universe outside of Amazon (bricks-and-mortar bookstores, including Barnes & Noble, and more). This will maximize your reach and your profits from each sale. It does require buying your own ISBN numbers from Bowker—you cannot use a Amazon-provided ISBN with any book you want to distribute via IngramSpark.

Both services allow you to purchase copies at unit cost plus shipping. My book, Publishing 101, costs about $3.60 per unit if I want a copy, plus shipping. There’s nothing to stop you from ordering 50 or 100 copies at a time if you want to sell books to local or regional stores on consignment.

If you really, really want to encourage bookstores to order and stock your print-on-demand book: Make sure you use IngramSpark, and set the discount at 55%, and make the books returnable. This will reduce your profit and also risk returns, but these are the industry standard terms required if you want bookstores to place an order.

The end result of using either Amazon and/or IngramSpark is that your print book will be available to be ordered by nearly any retailer, as a print edition, and available for sale through their online storefronts if they have one (such as

How to distribute when you have a print run

If you do invest in a print run and are comfortable fulfilling orders from your home or office, then you’ll need to sign up with Amazon Advantage to distribute and sell your print book through Amazon. It costs $99/year and they require a 55% discount off the retail price. You must also pay for shipping your books to Amazon.

As far as reaching other retailers with your print edition, it’s far better to use IngramSpark’s print-on-demand service. If that’s not a possibility for you, then you’ll have to find a formal distributor who can help you, and that’s a difficult challenge for the first-time author. IBPA has some recommendations of who to approach.

Parting advice

A self-published author can quickly get their print and ebook distributed to the most important online retailers by using just a couple services, all of which have no or very low upfront costs. Don’t be fooled by expensive self-publishing packages that claim to distribute your book to thousands of outlets. Today, the most critical distribution is within the reach of each individual author at no cost.

Posted in Publishing Industry, Self-Publishing and tagged , , , , , , .

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Kate Sherwood

Good information – thanks!

Just one bit of US-centrism, though – Bowker is only the US distributor of ISBNs. Other countries have other organizations, and some (for example, Canada) provide ISBNs for free. So authors should be sure of the situation in their jurisdiction before making any decisions based on the cost/nuisance of getting ISBNs.

Anne Hagan

Great article! I would just like to add that there are five major eBook distributors now and they all have their strengths. Draft2Digital (D2D) is the easiest to work with to get the formatting right where Smashwords is the hardest to upload to but they have access to more markets than D2D. I’ve used them both in concert with each other for some time. There’s also Streetlib and PublishDrive which both give an author access to GooglePlay – something the other two do not – and to many smaller distributors throughout Europe and Asia. Pronoun is newer on the scene… Read more »


What happens when you move a book that already has Amazon reviews, please?

Jemima Pett

As long as you claim your titles Amazon is pretty good at putting new editions in with the same review and other meta-data – it has to be a good match, though, i.e. same title, author. They may take a while (a long while) to lose any old and unwanted editions from their list, though.

[…] The most important thing any author needs to know about book distribution is that more than half of all book sales (regardless of format) take place online.  […]

Alan Horne

Any kind of physical distribution for a self-publisher is like taking on a second full-time job.

Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would even attempt it.

Shelley Schanfield

Thanks for summing up the options, Jane. I’ve directly uploaded e-books to Amazon and used Draft2Digital for other retailers. Easy-peasy for both, but I think I’m going to try Pronoun for my upcoming release. A recommendation for a print service: I used Thomson Shore, a well-established book manufacturer in Dexter, Michigan (next door for me–I live in Ann Arbor). They do manufacturing for all the major publishers (they did a marvelous hardcover for Eggers “A Hologram for the King”) and do POD as well as print runs and distribute to all the major book distributors like Ingram as well as… Read more »


I am just now stumbling upon this old post but this is some info I have been searching for! I realize that these POD’s give you access to online distribution but it makes me sad that it costs the quality and doesn’t allow for any unique design choices. Does the print shop you mentioned also put your books on the major online book stores including amazon? Or is it only direct through them?


Shelley Schanfield

Regarding my recommendation for Thomson Shore, I should add that I worked with an independent book designer for cover and formatting and did all the legwork for IBSNs, LCCNs, etc. They do not provide services like that.

[…] the steps to creating and distributing a self-published book? Publishing guru Jane Friedman posted this fantastic article unpacking the book distribution process: the best ways to get your book (print and ebook) as far as possible, while avoiding the pitfalls […]

Manu Herbstein

I’ve published six works of fiction, paperbacks at CreateSpace/Amazon and Ingram Spark and ebooks via Pronoun. Would there be any point in approaching some of Ingram Spark’s bookstore and library customers directly, submitting publicity material and inviting them to place orders? Is there any economical way of obtaining email addresses of libraries and bookstores in the U.S. and elsewhere?

Ryan Petty

Thanks for this great information.

Would you mind also sharing anything you know about Amazon’s new POD service, accessible directly within its KDP service? I’m particularly interested in the way(s) it compares to Createspace… because it looks like Amazon has set up its new POD service to compete directly with its existing Createspace subsidiary.

I’m interested in the PROS and CONS of using the new service, particularly vs Createspace (but also, in general).


Ryan Petty


Gina Conkle

Thanks for this wealth of information, Jane. A great post and much appreciated.

Natalie Ducey

Thanks for sharing this with us, Jane!

Karen D Dowdall

Hi Jane, thank you for the great advice for writers! I also use Createspace and their distribution as well as KDP. Both are fantastic and have made the process of publishing in print and Ebook a so easy and the books are always perfect, whether print or Ebook! Great post! 🙂

Emily Buehler

Hi Jane, Thanks for all the great info. I have a question about distributing a print book through Amazon. You wrote about Amazon Advantage, which I take to be selling the book with Amazon as the seller. How about selling the book as a private seller? Ten years ago (when I started self publishing), Amazon didn’t allow you to sell a book as a private seller unless they also sold the book, but they made an exception for private sellers who had a certain upgraded, paid account, which thankfully my dad had (go Dad!). We were able to sell my… Read more »

Jemima Pett

For UK based authors, I recommend for your POD paperbacks. They use a desk-top publishing approach which gives you control of your book layout, using their freely downloadable software. handles other countries’ authors, but this gets UK indies over the constant problems of US shipping (both cost & time). Blurb says I should get my box of books within ten days, and it’s usually there in four. Choose distribution via Ingram at the set-up stage.
Good luck.

Brian Astbury

Thanks for this valuable post. I have been busy researching Pronoun. But now I’ve just heard about Zola Books’ Everywhere Store. – Do you know about it? It looks interesting, but my poor old brain clogged up trying to work out what it was all about (I’d been reading up on Pronoun for more than an hour…) and I suffer from what my late wife called Wallpaper Syndrome. She used to take me shopping for wallpaper with her, but after looking at five-or-so patterns I would go blind…

John Grabowski

Thanks for an interesting article. However, newbie-doobie me is not understanding something.

You say, “For example, you could choose to work directly with Amazon KDP to sell your ebooks on Amazon…”

Then you say, “Or you could choose to distribute directly to Amazon [and Apple, Kobo, and Nook (by using their do-it-yourself portals)]…”

What’s the difference between these two ways, as far as Amazon is concerned, and does it matter for either whether you have your own previously-purchased ISBNs (as I do) or are using their “free” ones (which I don’t want to do).


[…] How to Get Your Book Distributed: What Self-Published Authors Need to Know […]

Boni Lonnsburry

Hi Jane,

Thank you. This was a very informative article. Question: if I invest in my own print run and use IngramSpark for distribution, would I need two different ISBN numbers?

Thanks in advance!

Boni Lonnsburry

Thanks Jane! I understood you needed a seperate ISBN for each version of ebook…it that not correct?


I have a related question Jane: I saw that you recommend buying your own ISBNs, even for e-books, but what is the disadvantage of using the free ISBN as provided by the e-book distributor? Bowker only seems to sell ISBNs in quantities 1, 10, and higher. So to get ISBNs for the e-book as well as the paperback for IngramSpark costs another $150.
Thank you.


Hi Jane. Thanks for your answers. I parted with the money to buy 10 ISBN’s because I want this done right. And I paid for a good cover and for a logo to go with the publisher name I attached to the ISBN. But how important is it for the company attached to your ISBN to have a company email address and/or a PO box or some other professional looking contact information? Will a personal email address and street address listed for the company in Bowker derail this whole effort to look professional? I have heard that some book stores… Read more »

Kathy W

Always insightful, Jane. Thank you. What are your thoughts on making books returnable vs non-returnable. Is it true that book resellers could buy up a large number of books only to return them causing a huge monetary loss to the self-publisher? I want bookstores to buy my book but don’t want to risk everything to make that a possibility. Is there some recent research out there on returnable books? I’ve seen many posts but am looking for solid data and analysis. Just how risky is it? Thanks.


Hi Jane, what a fabulous and informative post. You answered many of my questions. I am trying to work through one issue — in your article you wrote “I recommend that authors use CreateSpace to distribute their print books strictly to Amazon (do not choose their “extended” distribution), then use IngramSpark to distribute to the universe outside of Amazon (bricks-and-mortar bookstores, including Barnes & Noble, and more). ” When I price the printing of my book (with color) on Ingram, it is significantly less than on CreateSpace. Can I use Ingram to sell through Amazon? Is that an option? Or,… Read more »


Hi Jane. If I do a print run with Amazon Advantage, do I make one shipment of my 500, or however many, books to them, and Amazon then ships books individually to customers as they’re ordered? I have the same kind of question about IngramSpark. If an order is made, is it made directly to you and then you have to tell IngramSpark to print some copies and tell them where to send them? Or does the order go to IngramSpark, and they print and ship, and bill you? I looked through their website and it’s unclear. Lastly, I saw… Read more »


Thanks for your replies Jane, and sorry to keep at you. A two hour search didn’t reveal the answer to this question anywhere on the web. In registering to get ISBNs, can I just throw in any name I want to the “company name” blank, and put any name I want on the ISBNs as the publisher of record? Or do I actually have to set up my own publishing company officially–fill out paperwork, pay fees, buy a PO Box, and whatever other pain is involved in registering? Also, do you know if the company name and publisher of record… Read more »

Kim Addison

WOW… Jane… This all seems so complicated to me. I have been offered a “partnership” publishing contract from a company. Yes the deal is I pay 3400 upfront and they do everything from editing – design – distribution – and sounds like a teeny bit of marketing… I retain all rights and ownership and sign a 2 yr contract with them… Then I get my initial investment back before they make a penny which is 6% commission per book. Does this sound out of line? I’ve googled them online and can not find one single bad review about them. I… Read more »

Kim Addison

Thank you for your quick response Jane! You’re right. The only marketing plan this company has in place is some dipsy “press releases” they will send out. It doesn’t sound too promising. Yes I do need a machine behind me because I am too busy to do all this research to get this book out there by myself but I am not sure how comfortable I am with this $3400 outlay AND the 6% commission once I make the money back (I would have to sell 800 books to do that) I am going to research this other company that… Read more »

Jim Stein

Kim, I’m late to the game, but a small press might also meet your needs. They should not charge anything upfront, while providing editing, cover art, and setup distribution. Again, not likely to get marketing help, and royalties will be maybe half to a third of direct self-publishing. I’d not looked at small press until a writing group pointed me that direction. Full disclosure, I’m looking to perhaps self-pub in future (for those higher royalties-in an attempt to make some of my personal advertising $$ back) -Another new author 🙂

Tonja Ayers

Great info!

Gillian Deezy

Print-on-demand distribution: I have been using for years, for both printing of my titles and for distribution to Amazon and Ingram. They had some start up challenges, but I today I find their work stable, predictable and excellent. You should have mentioned them.


Hi Jane, I have published a book about Slovak cuisine in English, which is primarily aimed at international audiences. I invested in a print run – that is the only way to publish a book in Slovakia – but would like to distribute a few hundred copies outside my country. Is selling through Amazon the best solution in my case? I’m a first-time author, but the book has recently won one of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, which might help mightn’t it?
Thank you for your advice, it looks like you’re a real expert in the field.

Corina Andronache

Hello, Jane I am so grateful to come across your article. I have just published my book and I used BookBaby as the On Demand Distributor. My book appeared on Amazon on May 24th. From day one, my book was out-of-order. I just closed my contract with BookBaby. It took people a month to receive the book. Amazon says that BookBaby didn’t send books. Anyway, now I have to start all over. Amazon says that I have to have a new ISBN number. Even though I had my own ISBN and had my own book designer, on Amazon BookBaby appears… Read more »


Thanks a million for this information. It was very helpful.

Nitya Swaruba

Hi Jane, this is a great article. If you have a few minutes, I need some help please. I live in Pondicherry, India, and I self-published my first book of poems One Flew Over The Heart. My book is available on Amazon and other online stores. I came to read your article when looking up on “investing in book distribution.” A Mumbai-based distributor came to me with an offer to distribute my book to retail stores in Mumbai. I have to invest in the printing and send them 50 copies. As a first-time author, I feel that my book first… Read more »


Very informative blog, Jane! I hope you can answer my question. I see so many conflicting blogs and comments, and cannot find an answer to this question: For paperback and hardcover, if I own my own Bowker ISBNs and started my own publishing company with intentions of using both KDP and Ingram Spark as my PODs, will Ingram Spark let me use the same ISBN number I purchased through Bowker if I already used it with KDP or will this create to listings for one book? I keep reading in blog comments that you have to use IS first, then… Read more »


Thanks for the reply, Jane. I feel greatly relieved to hear this.
— Rebecca

Bernard Franklin

My wife had a book published by Author-house in 2010. During the first year she only received around £18 in commission. Since then she has had nothing. We have contacted both the printer and Amazon that is selling it. We were told they needed details of my wife’s bank account to receive royalties. This we did many months ago but have not been contacted. My wife has sold around eighty copies herself locally without much trouble. The book is titled “Selection of Poems poetic visions of moving experiences.” It is by Rosemary Mayo-Franklin. She would like to publish another book… Read more »

Joseph Libertson

I have five successful Elizabeth Gage novels that made millions of dollars with S&S. Can you produce them as trade paperbacks in a boxed set and get the set on Amazon?

Joe Libertson


Hi Jane- If you have a few small retail stores or churches that are open to selling copies of your book in their book store, how do you go about distributing those? Do you have them pre pay for the books, or collect payment if they sell in their store? Do you offer them a percentage of the sales? Is there a business form you should prepare for the Author, and store owners to sign ect? Thank you


Your information has been so good! Thank you. I do have a question for you, Jane… Is it possible to publish on amazon for their perks, Ingram sparks for their distribution as well as a local printer for some higher quality & unique design options? If so, do I use the same isbn for all three? If my local print shop book has some additional design details ie foil on the words or a different cover coating, but the exact same design, content and everything else, can I still use the sane isbn? I thought it would be fun and… Read more »


I’m sorry my questions are coming out in pieces…I’m really hoping you still respond.

One more question: if Ingram sparks places your book on Amazon as part of its wide distribution, what would be the benefit to publishing on both amazon and Ingram sparks for print?

And it’s your recommendation NOT to do ebook through Ingram?

Jillian Ahonen

This is amazing info and an answer to prayer! There is very little quality info in regards to my specific questions. I had a few other questions that I added separately in the comments, one being in regards to a local book printer. I really wanted to print local so I could have some unique design choices such as foil writing or even texture but fling only that seems to limit me from the vast potential of online sales. I was considering doing Ingram, amazon & local printer and if I do that would I need a separate isbn for… Read more »

Phil Slattery

I enjoyed this article very much. It’s clear and concise and gets straight to the basics of what any self-publishing author needs to know. I will be using this information to help distribute a children’s book I am currently developing. I have been using Amazon exclusively without much success. The information about alternative distributors for print and e-books is very useful. I have not yet looked into Amazon’s rules on exclusivity in any detail.

Gary Heilbronn

Hi, great article. Just one question I was trying to find the answer to. Aside from Amazon and Apple (who are more exclusive), is there any reason why one should not distribute through several distributors eg D2D and Smashwords and Ingrams to the same retailers eg Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Tolino etc…. (As a matter of interest after Createspace merged with Amazon, I had entries two for a print book on Amazon, one from CS and the other from Ingrams ..causing a little confusion.)

Great Igwe

Hello Jane, Thanks so much for these article it was so so helpful to me. I have a quick question? I will like to do the print on demand route, but I dont know if Amazon KDP or Ingram will print my books in the kind of paper I want. I want to print the book with cream color paper and it hardcover. Listen there options for that?


Thank you. Great advice.

Ron Seybold

D2D is asking authors to supply a new ISBN for its new POD service. The request seems to fly in the face of the very good advice here about distribution. What’s the harm in having multiple ISBNs for a book distributed by several firms? I reference your advice here that having multiple distributors serve the same retailer would be a problem. Thanks for the great insights.


Thank you for the information. When referencing Amazon KDP’s distribution channels, I believe it’s their ‘expanded distribution’ (not ‘extended’ distribution) you mention to avoid using.


Hi, I haven’t seen this option addressed in self-publishing blogs–what if we want to sell a non-fiction POD book and ebook from our website ONLY (unlike most people), so don’t need/want Amazon, distribution, bookstores, etc.?? Can we opt out of all those things, and just have a company print and drop ship the book when one is ordered, and send out the ebook file when ordered, WITHOUT making them available or seen anywhere else? Preferably a seamless, integrated process (API) on our website so customers put in their payment and shipping info (probably on our website and not the printer’s),… Read more »


Great, thanks! Regarding printing, I guess if we had to, we could do this by printing a short run somewhere (not offset) that was not POD, but we’d rather do POD and not carry any inventory. Thanks again!


Thanks again for all the info, we are following up on several things!

Angela Newman

Very helpful

Anne Repnow

That is really interesting and sound advice, Thank you! I used to be in scientific publishing (Germany) and now want to selfpublish a book. Printing on demand used to be only viable for text only books. My book requires high quality photography. Is it possible to produce this on a printing on demand basis or do you need a print run?