The art of distributing SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS

By Trevor Graumann

Your book is finished, all neatly printed out on clean sheets of paper; a novel, maybe. Or maybe your story is about helping educate a group of village children in Nepal or helping your father fight Alzheimer’s. But you can’t convince a publisher that readers will gobble up and be enriched by what you’ve written.

This is no reason to abandon your creation if you truly believe in its value. You have the option of self-publishing, an increasingly popular practice in Canada. In the same way that unsigned bands can now use the Internet to get their music out to the public, unpublished authors can get their waiting text into circulation by publishing it themselves. True, you can upload the material onto the Internet, but that in no way matches the fulfilment of having the book sold in bookstores where people are much more likely to pick it up and read it.

You will have to pay the printing and publishing costs, but that is the least of the challenges. The trick is to get your opus into circulation, making sure people have a chance to read it. That’s where a bookstore, with a special soft spot for someone who would go to the trouble and agony of bringing a book idea to fruition, comes into the picture.

One such a bookstore is Winnipeg’s McNally Robinson, which currently carries over 500 self-published titles. Senior inventory manager Chris Hall explains these books are sold under the terms of a consignment agreement with the writer, who pays a printer to have the book published. “When a book is sold, we pay the author an agreed-upon share of the price,” Chris says. A staff member is put in charge of implementing the agreement, which entails reordering copies as they sell and paying the author at least three times a year. Chris says this arrangement has proven satisfactory to authors as shelf space in a major bookstore is invaluable for sales.

And McNally doesn’t just let the author’s book sit on the shelf. They help promote it, largely through events taking place in the store. Once an event is planned McNally Robinson shares the cost and does all it can to advertise it. “Promotion,” Chris explains, “includes a display of the book in the store for two weeks before the event, posters in the store advertising the event, online ads on our site and mention in our coming events flyer, which is mailed out to 8,000 households in Winnipeg.” For an additional charge, authors can choose to have an ad for their event placed in the Winnipeg Free Press. Catering of the event by Prairie Ink, McNally Robinson’s in-store restaurant, is also an option.

Despite its considerable contribution to sales of self-published works, co-owner Holly McNally says the bookstore plans to become even more involved in future. “We’re looking to acquire a print-ondemand publishing machine – an espresso book machine – to operate within the store,” she says. The move will make it easier still for authors to get their words out to the public. Chris says the major advantage of such an operation is that books can be printed with no minimum quantity, limiting an author’s expenses if a book sells poorly.

McNally Robinson considers their work with self-published authors to be a key competitive advantage in the local marketplace. “I like to say that a local author outsells John Grisham almost every week on our bestseller list,” Chris says. “It’s just a different local author each week.”

Since the publication of this article, McNally Robinson has opened its book printing press and it is available for customers to use. Visit them 1120 Grant Avenue or online at 

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