Distribution is a team effort
Distribution doesn’t happen on its own, as in, “if I publish it, it will go forth and sell.” If that was the case, then even vanity presses would enjoy shelf space. But the truth is that shelf space is very limited and stores will only buy what they believe will sell. It takes an amazing amount of team effort to bring a book to market…marketing, publicity/promotion/coordinating with the sales teams/getting sales kits to the sales teams/coordinating with the author and their promo plans…the list is nearly endless.
The upside of this is that the team has one goal, and let me just say there is huge comfort in this, for everyone. If one chink in the chain drops the ball, it can crater. This is why your publisher’s distributor is integral to your literary career.
How you can favorably impact the use of solid distribution
As I mentioned, distribution is a team effort, and this means you have a role to play as well.
Damn good book - Marketability begins with a good product, so your job is to write a fabuloso book that a good publisher will want to buy. Yah, ok, that was the “duh” factor, wasn’t it?
Promotion Plan - I love it when an author understands the marketplace and the industry at large because they’re better prepared for the rigors of selling a book. Since I concentrate on nonfiction, our authors must have a solid platform or promotion plan in which to excite the sales teams, which in turn, excite the genre buyers.
This means that a writer of an autism book who sits at home knitting bellybutton warmers isn’t going to attract much attention from a readership unless she’s the president of the Bellybutton Knitting Society with a membership in the hundreds of thousands. I need that writer to be actively involved in the autism groups, a leading voice in that community, and a source for the media outlet. Why? Because there are a ton of autism books already on the market, written by experts. Given that competition, what chance does Ms. BellybuttonKnitter have of making any kind of impact with the genre buyers?
These are the thoughts that go into our decision-making when considering buying a manuscript.
So, provided you have a great platform for your autism book, you can help your distribution chances by preparing a solid promo plan that puts you in front of the media. It’s literally the difference between selling thousands and tens of thousands.
For novelists, a platform isn’t as vital because how does one have a platform for vamp mysteries? Or romance? But I’ve gone to any number of author events for novelists, and the good ones always have something fun to talk about. I’ve talked to ad nauseum about promo plans, so I won’t belabor the fact here but to say, plan ahead and be creative.
Communication - Oboy, this is a biggie. Nothing is more important than good communication between editor and author. If you have upcoming media placement or a big event, you need to let your editor know so she can alert their distributor’s promo/marketing folks and the sales teams, who blast that info out to their national accounts. There have been any number of times when I found out about an author event after the fact. I look at those as blown opportunities and missed sales.
Never be shy about staying in touch with your editor and constantly updating her. We want your book to sell, sell, sell, so the more information we have, the better able the team can make that happen.
Research - Always keep your eyes peeled for things that are happening in the world. It’s possible something is going on that’s a perfect lead-in for your book. Has a big review come out on a book that’s similar to yours? Is there discussion about something that actually takes place in your book? Don’t miss the opportunity to ferret these out and share them with your editor.
Questions to ask a potential publisher
- Who is your distributor?
- Do they have sales teams and a marketing/promotion department?
That’s it. That’s all you need to ask. If they say they are distributed through Ingram or Baker & Taylor, you know they don’t have a distribution deal. Ingram and B&T are warehouse distributors. They simply fulfill orders placed by libraries and bookstores. They don’t have sales teams or a marketing/promo department.
If they mention any of the Cadillac distributors – Perseus, IPG, Consortium, Ingram Publisher Services, NBN – then your publisher has good coverage. If they mention other names, then it might be a good idea to ask around, do a little research. Here’s a pretty good site that lists distributors, along with a brief crit of their abilities. Keep in mind that the crits aren’t up to date.
I realize authors are going to freak – “Oh NO! One more thing we have to know…blurgh!” And I can’t say I blame you. On the other hand, what are your plans for your literary career? Knowledge is power, and that’s the intent of this series; to help you understand the ins and outs of how books are sold so you can make wise decisions that will enhance your writing future.