I hear this phrase a lot from some publishers, and it never fails to confuse: We submit to bookstores at the corporate level (Barnes & Noble, Costco, Target, etc.) for nationwide stocking.
And this leads to authors thinking: Ah! This publisher said their books are in bookstores. Yay!
No. This isn’t what the publisher means at all. It’s very subtle, and authors think their books are in stores, but that isn’t the fact. Read it again; We submit…which means that they don’t have a distribution agreement in place and must submit each title to the corporate offices for possible stocking. Submitting entails shipping a copy of a book, along with promotion and marketing plans, and hoping your title is chosen for an order.
And don’t get googley-eyed that they’re doing this (even though it’s far better than doing nothing) because all this usually means is that your title will be input into B&N/any other national account’s database so people can order it. But it won’t find shelf space, where it really counts.
The end run here is that there are so many books and fewer and fewer bookstores in which to shelve them, so those publishers who submit to corporate are the lowest on the food chain.
If you’re looking for a commercial press, make sure they have established distribution relationships with the blue chip distribution companies, whose sales and marketing teams represent each and every book from their publisher-clients. If you’re not sure, ask. “Who distributes your books?” If they say Consortium, Perseus, IPG, etc. then you know they have good representation.
Make sure they market and promote your book.
As with everything, authors need to research and know their stuff, so they can ferret out the subtleties and make the best decisions that will positively affect their writing careers. Now go out and be brilliant!