Publishing 101: When the “Little Guy” Struggles to Sell a Book

Ingram vs Amazon Self Publishing 101 Claire McKinneyIt’s hard for a person to figure out how to publish, market, and publicize her work on her own, and it is even more difficult to simply make the book available for sale.  Among all of the e-retailers out there, we know that Amazon ranks king in the world of online sales—which is where most of an indie publisher’s books will sell.  If you go through CreateSpace, an Amazon company, you will have a much easier time of getting your book on their site and available without too much fuss.  If you decide to start a new business and imprint, like I did, and choose to go through the Ingram platform IngramSpark instead, well, that’s where more problems can occur.

It can take a month for the information about your book on Ingram to be completely reflected on Amazon.  Ingram sends it in an instant, but Amazon goes through a process that takes time.  During this period your book might be listed as “out of stock”, “ships in 2-4 weeks”, “ships in 2-5 weeks”, or nothing much at all.  I’m okay with that, because it’s common knowledge if you read all the print, fine and otherwise, on Ingram and Amazon.  I also know from working with authors, that this is a standard. 

What I don’t understand is what’s happened to my book since its publication date, which was June 6, 2017.   Since then it’s been listed as “ships in 2-5 weeks”, “out-of-stock”, “ships in 1-2 weeks”, and lately with a random future availability date that Amazon pulled out of a hat.  My first line of defense was to call Ingram.

Here is an approximate run down of what happened with Ingram:

Me: “Hi, I’m calling because I don’t understand why my book, Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?, isn’t immediately for sale on Amazon, especially given it is a print-on-demand title.  Theoretically it should be available almost immediately with shipping being the only issue.”

Ingram: “Hmmm, well I don’t see anything wrong with your account or what we sent.  You know, Amazon sometimes will hold individual customer orders for POD and submit them all at once.  This is why the book may not listed as available.”

Me: “What?! You mean if someone orders my book, the order could be held with several other titles ordered by different people until Amazon feels like sending them over to Ingram?”

Ingram: “Yes, that’s possible and we have no idea of why Amazon does that.  In fact, we have no idea of how or why Amazon does what it does and we’ve given up trying to figure it out.”

Me: “Right, and they won’t tell you why because it’s an algorithm thing or something like that.”

Ingram: “Correct.  But, you do have your ‘BUY’ button, that’s a good sign.”

Me: “My ‘BUY’ button?  You mean they could take that off whenever they want?”

Ingram: “Yes.  And again, we don’t know why they do that, but we get a lot of calls from authors who have that problem.  There isn’t anything we can do except send the title information to Amazon again and hope that jars something for them.”

Me (thinking): This sounds like the kick the vending machine way of getting results, but what do I know?

Me: “Well, thank you for your help.  I understand you are doing what you can.”

Ingram: “Good luck.”

Good luck, indeed.  Since I published the book to help people who need a resource and can’t afford to hire a publicist, and because I have a day job, I can let some of this slide without worrying about missed sales opportunities.  But what about writers who are expecting to earn a living, or are currently earning a living from their books?

I’m hoping that the more titles you publish the more influence you have with Amazon and the more seamless the process gets.  For now, I can only say keep an eye on your BUY button and watch what happens with other titles you know.  Maybe there is an order to this that we aren’t aware of, kind of like the universe.  On second thought—Amazon-the universe—I hope not.

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