Amazon’s Order Policy Will Affect Indie Authors and Publishers

A recent article in Publishers Weekly (Amazon Stands by Books) came and went without a lot of fanfare, but independent authors and micro publishers should be paying attention.  The article is about a drop in sales due to changes in Amazon’s order policy, which the company says is a result of a cut in the warehousing of products.  However, Amazon assures publishers that they stand by books and are not planning any moves to relegate book sales to third party sellers.  For the bigger publishers, this may be comforting, but for independent presses, and authors who publish and distribute through Ingram, there may be a problem.

How Ingram Works with Amazon

Ingram is a wholesaler.  If you print books in quantity, you may have a distribution partner or you may warehouse the copies in another way.  Orders placed directly to Ingram will be fulfilled according to the terms you have set.  If you are a Print-on-Demand publisher, then Amazon and other retailers will populate your title on their sites when you select “global distribution” as you upload your title to Ingram Spark.  An article that goes into this more deeply can be found here.

How Indies will be Affected

In the past Amazon often ordered a small quantity of print books for new titles without a distribution partner.  A dedicated sales rep could increase that number, but many indies cannot afford to pay for one.  Also, having a partner does not guarantee you will get a bigger order. 

Now, Amazon may order zero copies of a new title, unless there is a pre-order demand.  In that case Amazon may only order the number of copies required to fulfill those orders on release date.  If that happens any additional orders will take “1 – 3 weeks” to fulfill, while Amazon waits on a new bulk order.  If their algorithm does not predict many sales soon, it is possible that Amazon will not stock additional copies until an order comes in. 

Unfortunately, a traditional book distributor is not going to solve this issue either.  Recently we have been told by indie presses that there is “nothing that they can do”.  Amazon makes their decisions and they can’t be refuted. In these cases authors are linked to the market through a “middle man”.  They have to wait in the dark  for something to change.   

While this is happening, there could be second-hand sellers on Amazon offering the book as “in stock”.  They may appear as “trusted sellers”.  Some of these people could have received a review copy for free and they are turning it around to earn a few bucks.  The books could have associated shipping costs and delivery dates of several days or more.  It looks bad to prospective Prime book buyers who are trained to get their products in two days or less.  It could deter people from purchasing.

Solving Amazon’s Order Policy Problem

The most direct way for Print-on-Demand (POD) publishers to solve the problem created by Amazon’s order policy is to publish directly to their KDP platform in paperback or hardcover.  If you do this after your title has been uploaded on Ingram Spark, your Amazon upload will overwrite Ingram’s.  You can still link your ebook to your account, even if you published that format through Ingram only.  

This method ensures that Amazon will have a vested interest in your book being available on their site.  Amazon has become your printer for the format you uploaded.  Your terms selling directly on the platform will be 60/40 in your favor, the book will be Prime eligible, and you can participate in direct advertising.

For independent publishers who print in quantity and have a distribution partner, the solution is murky.  Like so many inequalities in life, POD is a lower-class option because it is, for lack of a better word, “down market” publishing.  The reason small and micro presses pay distributors is to raise their status.  In some cases these relationships make them eligible for the advantages afforded to the bigger companies.  The question is, does this relationship truly elevate a book’s status?  Is there even enough room to consider titles from small presses?

Without traditional distribution, indie press books may not be eligible for certain awards.  Also, larger media outlets such as USA Today will not consider any POD books for review.    There are over one million books published every year.  This number it too high for media outlets to cover everything that is released.  Traditional distribution may provide some access to what the Big Five publishers can do.  It will not solve the ordering issue.

What Can Authors Do?

The first thing authors need to accept is that publishing your book is Step 1.  You may think you are done, but your work is just beginning.  Authors will need to come out of their comfort zones and become entrepreneurs who have platforms and marketing plans.  In the words of one of our clients, practice “shameless self-promotion”.   

Also, authors need to consider whether they want to work with a traditional publisher, a hybrid, or do it solo.  Make it a priority to find trusted sources who will explain how things work for indies. The divide between indie and big five publishing has only gotten wider over the last few years.

A friend of mine used to say “growing older isn’t for sissies”.  Well, writing and marketing a book isn’t either.  There are no shortcuts; it takes time, costs money, and there is no single path to take.  Be informed, prepared, and patient. 

How Bookstores Work

All new authors want to see their books in bookstores.  Although you do need to have books available for orders, setting your sights on attracting booksellers to your title may not be the best use of your time.  Here are some things you need to know about how bookstores work.

Book Distribution

If your book is available for wholesale purchases on Ingram or in your garage, you can sell to the trade (stores).  But did you know that IF a store wants to stock your book, they might only stock one or two copies at first?  You may be convinced that without bookstores you can’t succeed, but there has got to be a better way.  If you get fifty stores to buy one or two copies you have distributed 50 – 100 books.  For an indie author or press, that method is a ton of work for not so much of a return.

Author Events

Publishers worked around the small orders by setting up big author tours, where a store would normally purchase about 20 copies for a lesser known author’s appearance.  Getting the buyers in the store to purchase them, well that’s another story.  If only two people attend an event, then most of those copies go back to the warehouse.  Big publishers pay for shipping to and from the bookstores and they take returns.

Discounts and Other Protocols

Bookstores require a wholesale discount.  On Ingram, that means discounting your book by 55%.  Ingram gets 15% and the bookstore gets 40%.  Also, you will be asked if you accept returns.  If you do not, then you will not sell wholesale copies to traditional stores.  Amazon is a different story.


Five stores each order two copies of your book.  Where will the copies be?  On the shelf?  Spine out?  How will people see it?  This is where merchandising comes into play.  There are several different options for shelving books including spine out, front cover facing, tables, end-caps, and displays.  All, except for spine out, usually cost money that comes from a publisher’s marketing budget.  It depends on the size of the store and how they choose to merchandise.

Don’t get me wrong, I love bookstores and I’m a browser who might see your book on a shelf–spine out.  But, when you are starting out as an author, especially in the indie world, think of alternative ways to get your books to readers.  You will be dwarfed by the big publishers and authors if you try to start out in the traditional retail marketplace.

Highways and Car Trunks

Here are a couple of examples of authors doing it differently:

E. Lynn Harris was a maverick in many ways.  He wrote ten best-selling books and you know how he started?  He sold books out of the trunk of his car.  A couple of decades ago, Harris was building his army of readers on the ground.

Michael Connelly used to meet a guy on the highway in California.  Michael would sign a couple of hundred copies of his latest hardcover so they could be sold to collectors.  This was a way of marketing and selling to a niche audience that would not be able to find a pristine, cello-wrapped copy in a store.

For more information about bookselling check out our blogs:

“When Promoting a Book is Also About Selling a New Idea”

“How Many Books Should You Be Selling?”

Get Ready to Promote Your Fall 2021 Book

The glory of working in retail  is that you always need to think six months ahead of when your product is going to be ready.  Books are products and you want to have an opportunity to make noise leading up to the holiday shopping season.  Here is a list of things you should be doing right now to promote your Fall 2021 book.

Digital Platform

Is your social media strategy and online profile up to date?  To promote your Fall 2021 release,  you should have a plan to market yourself and your work on your social channels.   Create or polish a content calendar, and make sure you have a clear schedule of how you are going to market your content and when, leading up to the publication.

If you are not subscribed to a scheduling platform like Hootsuite, now would be a good time to set that up.  On Hootsuite you can schedule content in advance so you can make sure you are keeping to your calendar.

Review Copies for Publicity

Are you going to use digital galleys or print review copies, or both?  I recommend printing some review copies for people who still like to have a physical book.  Physical copies of the book are great for Instagram influencers.  They will often take a picture of your book when they receive it and tag you in the post.  Now you have a new, original image to use on your own digital platforms.

Lead-Time to Publicize your Fall 2021 Book

If you want reviewers and other media entities to cover your book, you need to allow four to six weeks for pitching and follow up.  When you are asked for a review copy, you need to prepare to be patient.  It can take up to three months for the book to be read and reviewed.  Sometimes you can get faster results, but in general the lead time for books is three to four months at minimum.

Interviews for online publications, radio, podcasts, and television can be pitched with a shorter amount of lead time.  But if you want to feel confident about the amount of coverage you are going to get, it is still a good idea to allow up to two months to get responses and schedule interviews.

For more information on when to publish check out our blog including this infographic on when to publish your book:

When should you publish your book? An Infographic



Book Covers: Hiring a Designer

You have your book written, edited, and you’re now prepping to publish it. Previously, we spent some time discussing how to design an appropriate book cover that will keep your self-published masterpiece from going unnoticed. If you read over our summary on how to design a book cover yourself, you likely have a better idea of whether this is a task you can take the time to handle yourself or not.

If it doesn’t seem like the DIY option is the right fit for you, don’t fret! There is another way. There are thousands of trained professionals out there who would love to help you design an eye-catching and unique book cover – for a price, of course.

Where to Look to Hire a Graphic Designer

The biggest question when it comes to hiring a professional designer is where to start looking. You could start by searching social media using terms such as cover design, book jacket design, or a specific hashtags like #bookdesign. These terms may lead you to some smaller artists whose work you enjoy. You can usually either find a link to an artist’s portfolio through their social media accounts or get a quick snapshot of their work through their posts, which makes for an easy vetting process. Social media allows for direct, quick, and open-ended contact as well when you approach someone about their commission prices.

Other options that might help you quickly sort through many artists and designers who can provide the exact services you’re looking for are platforms like Fiverr, which exist solely for artists to advertise their skill sets and prices in one place. Freelance marketplaces like this cut through a lot of clutter that exists on social media. You can filter your results by whether you need only a book cover or whether you need help with the typesetting process as well.

Beware of Prices that Look Too Good to Be True

With these kinds of services it’s important to note there are people who advertise cheap prices and make use of premade templates, free stock photos, or, at worst, steal and recycle designs completely.  It is my firm belief that when it comes to commissioning a book cover you ultimately get what you pay for. Expect to pay upwards of $300+ depending on whether you want spine and back jacket designs included in your design. Adding in the cost of typesetting will also make the process more expensive. A unique, custom designed cover will cost you more out of pocket, but it will make your book stand out amongst the millions of self-published titles that are released every year. While browsing through artists’ portfolios, make sure to keep in mind the current trends and aesthetics of your chosen genre. Choose a designer whose aesthetics match these trends. You still want the outside of the book to reflect the tone of what you’ve written on the inside.

Basic Etiquette for Hiring a Designer

I’d also like to speak on some basic etiquette for how to approach an artist and inquire about their rates. Most artists are friendly people who want to work with you to see your vision come to life. Start the conversation with a polite greeting and ask them if they are currently open to taking commissions. This is especially important if you have found them through social media instead of a freelance marketplace. If they respond positively, feel free to explain your project and what you’re looking for in a cover and to ask them how much they would charge for it. If their rates are too steep for your budget, it is not impolite to thank them and say it is out of your range. It is impolite, however, to try and haggle with a designer or to criticize them for charging too much.

If you find an artist you like and who you can afford, make sure you read and understand their terms of service before agreeing to payment. Freelance designers often require payment upfront. There may be a no-refund clause in your contract once they have started to work on your design. Always bring something up with the artist if you find there is an issue with their work and make sure you mention any kind of deadline you may have upfront.

Working with artists to bring your concept to life can be an exciting and fun experience. Designers love to hear input about their work when it is a paid commission, and they want you to be as satisfied as possible with the result. So, if the DIY option is just a bit too daunting and you’re ready to start searching for a designer to hire- happy hunting!

Book Cover Design: DIY

Previously we discussed two possible options when it comes to book cover design for your self-published book. The first option proposed was the DIY option, where you design the cover yourself. This option is more complicated and time consuming than hiring a designer to create a book cover for you. While it certainly isn’t impossible to create a great cover yourself, it is probably best to steer clear of this option if you have never dabbled in any kind of design at all or if you’re unwilling to spend time doing research. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s dive into the DIY option. 

Step One: Brainstorm Ideas for Your Book Cover Design

The first step is brainstorming ideas for what your cover should look like. You may have a strong idea already or you may be entirely clueless. Either way, I urge you to take time and study other book cover designs of best-sellers that specifically match the genre or tone of your book. If you wrote a murder-mystery thriller, look at other books that are traditionally published within that genre.

Angel Wings Book Cover DesignPay attention to the general style of fonts used, the color palette, and the overall feel. These will vary widely between book subjects. A self-help book cover will be different from those of romance novels. Even if you do have a strong idea of what you’d like to present on the cover, take into consideration what other novels are doing. Remember, the main point of the cover is to bring in an audience that wants to read what’s inside. Your cover needs to quickly convey what kind of book it is through its visual language.

Step Two: Find a Graphics Program

The second step is finding and familiarizing yourself with a graphics program that suits your skill-level and needs. If you have access to Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, then those are the preferred industry standard for designing graphics and you should be all set. However, these can be expensive options for a single project. It is worth considering other options, since there are many programs out there that are cheaper or, better yet, completely free! 

If you have experience with design and using image editing software, try programs like Clip Studio Paint, GIMP, Procreate, or Krita. You may need to supplement these programs with things like stock photos or fonts. However, you need to keep an eye on their usage rights.  

If you’re less experienced with design, it might be preferable to choose a program that comes pre-loaded with tons of templates, fonts, and stock images that make designing a cover less of a headache. Try programs like Canva, Adobe Spark, BookBrush, or Placeit. These are only a few of the available options and a quick search will lead you down the path to finding the best fit for you.  

However, most of these programs, aside from InDesign, are not suited for typesetting. If you’re planning on working with the interior of your book yourself as well, InDesign may be worth the investment.

Step Three: Consult with Your Publishing Platform

Doug Wood Book Cover DesignOnce you’ve come up with the idea for a design that is both aesthetically appealing and tells people about your book at a glance and you have a program of choice that you plan to use to bring it to life, it is important to consult with your publishing platform. Wherever you choose to publish and sell your book from, whether it’s solely digital or from a print-on-demand publisher, these platforms usually have specifications that you will need to follow concerning image dimensions, file size and type, and color profile. Keep these in mind when creating your design. 

Best of luck on your journey designing a brilliant book cover if this seems like the right path for you! However, if all of that was entirely overwhelming and you’re considering exploring the second option of hiring a designer instead, we will be talking about that in-depth soon as well!