The ins and outs of self-distribution

The next major hurdle and learning curve to climb on our publishing journey was how to get 214kg of books safely and efficiently into the hands of our amazing supporters.

Shopify - an all-in-one dream

A crucial cog in the wheel of our distribution comes in the form of a website and online store - also the place I'm composing this blog and will send email newsletters from.

Shopify allows you to do all of the above in a reasonably easy and efficient way. There are certainly cheaper ways to run an online store, but few options that cater for a store, website, email marketing and easy interconnectivity with social media channels.

For our first edition, our books were sold exclusively via this website and the order process from a distributor's point of view was simple and comprehensive. When a customer buys a book, we recieve both swift receipt of payment and all the details we need to ship the order to their door.

Shipping - our biggest challenge

The biggest challenge we faced in distributing our books was shipping and making sure we were doing everything possible to get orders to customers on time and in great condition.

After taking advice from a range of people who run online stores, we decided to sign up with GoSweetSpot as a shipping partner. In simple terms, they act as an intermediary between a store and couriers and their system finds the best available price for any given delivery from all of the local options available. We found them particularly great for shipping to areas outside of Auckland and courier pickups were fast and generally efficient. However...

One thing I quickly discovered was that for deliveries within Auckland, NZ Post's own service was cheaper. Once you sign up with a business account with NZ Post, you can access their courier service and get quick quotes on pricing for any possible delivery. 

Rural deliveries proved to be extremely expensive as we weren't able to distinguish rural addresses from regular addresses within Shopify and charge a different rate - sometimes it cost three times as much to deliver to a rural address. That meant we relied on rural customers to be honest about their location and tick the rural delivery option - unfortunately, not many did and so we have now noted within our shipping policy that we can charge for the rural rate retrospectively. 

International orders were shipped via the same process as above, however the only affordable option for those customers is to provide an untracked service in which we hope for the best once they leave New Zealand shores.

All of these services require you to package and label your orders yourself before a courier is sent to pick them up from your location. Which leads us to our next hurdle.. 

Packaging and labelling

Lots of research went into the most cost-effective and sutainable way to package our orders. We ended up with two different types of A4 "twist mailers" made from recycled cardboard - one for orders of up to 3 books, and a slightly larger one for orders of 4-10 books. 

Beneath the boxes, we individually wrapped our books in tissue paper and sealed it with a custom Sing Like A Unicorn sticker. Our pre-order customers got the extra pretty treatment of having their books tied with a shiny, teal-coloured bow.

We also slipped a black and white colouring-in page into every book to provide an extra activity for the kids that read it. Finally, we added a custom-made Sing Like A Unicorn postcard with a personalised message written on the back into each mailer.

All of that customisation meant a surprisingly large amount of time spent in a basement listening to podcasts. For the supporters of our first edition, this time was 100% worth it and hopefully meant we stood out from other Chrstmas purchases that people made at the time. We definitely received a bunch of videos of happy kids unboxing their new books. However, if you are juggling a busy life, then keeping this process simple could be a better option.

The final step in the pre-shipping process was labelling the orders.

For those orders we sent via GoSweetSpot, Shopify was easily linked to their online system and a label was automatically generated that included the customer's address details. For NZ Post orders, we had to manually enter the address details, which took a little more time.

Once you have downloaded the files that contain the labels to your computer, you need to print them. We opted to do this via a specialist label printer and went with a Brother QL1100, which cost just over $200. Everything ran easily with this printer except it wasn't 100% compatible with my MacBook - luckily I also have a PC tablet which did the trick. 

There is a fair amount of up-front cost with purchasing our own label printer, but over the long run we hope to sell a lot more books and make it pay for itself. 

The next chapter

While we learned a tonne from this first round of distribution, a second edition is on its way and comes in the form of a lighter, slightly more fragile paperback.

This will mean adaptation in how we package and deliver once again. I anticipate that this form of book will open up other options for packaging in particular as they are a very slim product.

Another new factor in our second print run is our partnership with a distributor, who will take care of sales to retail stores across New Zealand - a super exciting development that we hope will lead to more exposure for our book and a new set of children filling their households with song.