Now we come to the independent publisher's nemesis: distribution. Is there any way to get the book into bookstores? Bookstores cannot possibly deal one by one with every individual publisher: they work through distributors, who represent large companies or large conglomerations of small ones. Getting a distributor can be almost as difficult as getting an agent or publisher. As with everyone else in the publishing world, traditional distributors make money on any given book only if it generates a large volume of sales.
One way around this problem is not to worry about bookstores. An independent publisher can sell through Amazon or through the author's own website. If the book is an e-book only, the question of physical distribution never arises. For adult books, the e-book only route may make the most sense. After all, close to half of all adult books sold are now sold as e-books, and it's relatively cheap and easy to format a manuscript (or have someone else do it) for the Kindle and competing e-readers. After that, it's all profit (though the e-book companies take a good share).
For the children's market, however, e-books comprise only 4% of all books sold. This may change, and is certainly already changing for YA books (books written for teens). My experience may be informative here. Of the roughly 2000 books I sold in ten months, I sold around 900 myself, through my website and various events, including 120 to one school and 160 to be given to attendees at a math and science education conference where I was keynote speaker. Of the 1090 ultimately sold through Greenleaf (the distributor), 74 were e-books, 306 sold through Amazon, and 182 sold to libraries. Something over 500 sold through a mix of chain and independent bookstores.
So how does one get a distributor? One option is to publish through an entity like Lightning Source, which has a direct connection with Ingram, one of the largest distributors. This is a rapidly changing landscape, with Google, Amazon, and some literary agencies developing their own imprints, so rather than try to summarize the field I'd just recommend that any author think hard about distribution and investigate the options with a lot of internet research before making any deals.
I chose to approach Greenleaf, which works with independent publishers of all sizes. Greenleaf is selective, and it also prints under a couple of imprints of its own, like Emerald Book Group. An author can submit either a manuscript or a book that is much further along the production path. Either way, Greenleaf will charge for its services; even if you are seeking only distribution, you will be asked to submit a marketing plan and commit upfront to significant spending on marketing and promotion.
The truth is that like most self-publishing operations, Greenleaf makes its money from charging authors for services, not from its share of sales revenue. That's why it can afford to open its doors to a wide range of books and authors. Still, I have found them honest, responsive, professional, and pleasant to work with. Greenleaf designed and placed great banner ads for online sites like Publisher's Weekly; they fulfilled orders promptly; they kept me informed about sales and always answered within a day when I had a question.
So the final message here is Think about distribution. Sometimes we authors are so fixated on seeing our books in print that we forget to wonder how anyone other than our own friends and family will ever see them. There are lots of great options now, but all of them need deliberate thought.