Beware the Subtleties

November 14, 2012

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!

#gratefulfriday – My distributors

August 26, 2011

It’s been a few weeks since I did a Grateful Friday post. Today is dedicated to my distributor. In a word – I love them. A lot. To put in terms that anyone can understand – being with my distributor is like driving a Maserati instead of a Yugo.

I think the reason I love them so much is because we’ve driven a Yugo with our prior distributor. We spent a year in Purgatory with those yahoos, and I can honestly say that NO distribution would have been better. After being away from them for nine months, we are still haggling with them. They’re like the proverbial wet booger than just sticks on your finger and won’t flop off.

Our current distributor, OTOH, is brilliant, connected, and savvy. Because of them, our footprint has grown – and it’s taught us that the old axiom of “people judge you by those you hang with” is true. All of a sudden we have much bigger street cred. And I feel the quality of our books bears that out.

Because of these darlings, I’ve had radio stations calling from all over the country wanting to interview the author of our #1 title for the Fall/Winter season. I’ve received requests for book reviews on backlist titles because they are constantly out there pushing all titles, not just the frontlist.

We have joined in with co-op advertising and taken advantage of having our books showcased at bookfairs that are geared especially toward our specific market. I’ve had publicity folks give advice and help to some of our authors – the cool stuff never stops with them.

I can email them at any time about cover art advice, and I’ll always get tons of feedback. If someone reads an article that’s germane to one of our books, they send us the link. We have sales meetings every season with no less than fifteen people – all picking and poking in order for us to put out the strongest books possible. They are our eyes and ears, and they’re always hooked in and primed for action.

And this is why I will always defend mainstream publishing over those who go it alone. It’s a numbers game, and those pondering going it alone needs to consider whether they’d rather have a team of fifty who are all experts in their field backing them up, or a team of one, which consists of just the author?

I adore this business, I adore my writers, and I adore the guys who make it easier to get our books out to the marketplace. Consortium, you rock it.

How ’bout you? Are you grateful to a team of somethings who made your life worth living, or simply just made you smile?

Doing the writer’s conference bugaloo

August 16, 2011

I love conferences. I say that all the time, but I mean it. It’s the only place where I get to talk to my favorite people (authors) while taking the pulse of how people perceive the direction of the publishing industry. As it turned out, authors had many questions on their minds.

What about agents adding publishing services?

Hooboy, this was a hot topic that revealed varying opinions. Authors were confused. Editors shook their heads in wonderment, and agents both defended and reviled the idea. Many agents were very uncomfortable with the idea, saying exactly what I’d said: “I’m very uncomfortable with this idea. My job is time intensive enough as it is. If I added publishing services to my day, I wouldn’t have time to do my main job – which is selling my authors’ manuscripts. Besides, I don’t want to give the appearance of there being a conflict of interest.”

And that is the crux of the problem – time and perception – and I’m glad to see agents whom I admire and respect feel the same way. As I’ve said before, I know how time and labor intense my job is. If I decided to also represent authors and sell them to other publishers, not only would I be accused of a conflict of interest, but I wouldn’t do my own authors proper justice.

The other side of that coin is that agents who have become publishers claim they’re hiring people to take care of this end of the business, thus allowing them just as much time to sell their authors as before. This flies in the face of logic for me because the reason they’re doing this is to keep themselves afloat. It’s a profit center for them, so hiring people impacts their bottom line.

Authors are right to question this idea because it impacts their writing careers. Out of all the agents at the conference, those who approved of agents-as-publishers were in a large minority. Interesting, no?


This was an interesting discussion because ebooks have really gained their rightful place in the publishing industry. Where it was easy to poke fun at e-publishers back in the day, there were two e-publishers at the conference who are making some very good money. How far we’ve come!

Of course, everyone wants to know if ebooks will edge print books out of the scene. Since no one possesses a crystal ball or tinfoil hat, all we can do is conjecture. But there is no denying that ebooks are here to stay and that more people are buying more ebooks.

The decision becomes whether authors are ready to make the leap to only see their books in ebook format. Those I talked to still wanted to see their books in print – and I don’t blame them. Perception doesn’t happen overnight, and print books have always been the litmus of success. POD and vanity publishers have taken that viewpoint down a peg, which is, again, the result of publishing evolution. But for the most part, authors still have that desire to hold a physiscal book because, as one author put it, “Holding my book in my hands makes it real.”

But publishing is expensive, and e-publishers save on print runs and warehousing costs. I spoke with one an editor from a former-print publisher who was floundering last year and was on the verge of closing their doors until they found new life and prosperity by going ebook. Now they’re doing well and are able to pay their editors and hire more because sales are booming.

I love a success story. But here’s the thing about e-publishers – they’re genre. The successful e-publishers are romance, horror, thriller, SF/Fantasy. These genres have a faithful readership and will glom onto anything genre.

Many writers are mainstream fiction, and this remains the hardest sell of all. This means that you’ll find fewer successful mainstream fiction e-publishers. In fact, I’ve noticed that the mainstream fiction section of successful e-publishers is very small. It’s the genre stuff that keeps the mainstream fiction ebooks afloat.

The same can be said about nonfiction. The readership for nonfiction is varied and fractured, so e-publishers avoid this genre. On the flip side, print publishers release their books as ebooks as well in order to appeal to those who prefer e-readers.

And this brings me to another “Hmmm” moment. If ebooks sell best with genre, then what is the future for mainstream fiction and nonfiction in terms of e-publishing? So far, those don’t exist in any great numbers, so will mainstream fiction and nonfiction remain the only viable print-publishers?

Again, without a crystal ball or tinfoil hat, it’s hard to predict the future.


This conversation went hand-in-hand with the future of print publishing. Distribution is the lifeblood of our industry, whether you’re an e-publisher or print publisher. I’ve seen many e-publishers whose books were only available on their own website. Unless that publisher is really well-known, then one wonders how they drive the marketplace to their online store.

Likewise, I’ve claim to have distribution, but it only amounted to being with Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Just to refresh everyone’s memory, this is warehouse distribution – meaning that they are a centralized warehouse for bookstores and libraries to order from. They don’t have sales teams who actively pitch your titles to their national accounts and bookstores. They don’t market and promote your books. Ingram and B&T simply fulfill orders.

Publishers who rely on Ingram and B&T are akin to the e-publishers who only make their books available on their site. In either scenario, the author will be the one responsible for making sales because the publishers don’t have the money to market and promote.

Swimming to the top of the heap

As always, authors are interested in discovering how they can swim to the top of the heap. If there was a magic bullet, I’d happily share it. But there isn’t. Success takes hard word, knowledge, and luck. And this is why I continue to promote conferences. There is no other place where you can talk to agents and editors, and get their advice, feedback, and recommendations. We are on call the entire time we’re at a conference, and it’s because we are committed to helping you swim to the top.

If it were easy, everyone would be a bestselling author. But I like to think of the diamond analogy – that diamonds are made because molecules are forged together under extreme pressure to create something beautiful. It’s that learning process – about writing and the industry – that gauges the pressure you can withstand.


Aside from the discussions that fueled the conference, there were some observations that I thought would be helpful in making for a successful conference:

Bring Money: That isn’t meant to sound as grubby as it came out. What I mean by this, is there are always book signings at these events, and it’s great to be able to support your fellow authors. Even though I read from my Kindle app, I bought a couple books because a) they weren’t available in Kindle, and b) I really wanted to read those books.

Booze: Now don’t get me wrong – as much as I kid around, I’m really not much of a boozehound. But conferences always provide a bar at the evening mixers. Depending on the hotel, those glasses of wine can run $9 per glass…which is highway robbery. That said, there is nothing that eases fears and anxiety than a pouty red or crisp white. And this is where we do so much of our chit chat with authors. Liquid courage. Besides, what better opening can you have than to offer to buy your favorite agent or editor a glass of wine. Last time an author did that to me, I ended up signing her. These special conference bars only accept cash.

Bring Pages: There were several times that I was interested in someone’s book and asked if they’d brought pages. They hadn’t. Even if no one ever asks you for pages, always bring them. Chances are that had I had those pages, I may have offered a contract on the spot because I loved their idea and knew I could sell it. As it is, I have to wait for them to email the pages to me. Be a good Girl Scout and be prepared.

Agents and editors are far from blase when they see something they think has huge potential, and they are like little kids in that they want instant gratification. We’re pathetic that way.


No conference would be complete without a couple warnings, right? Here are a couple of consistent problem areas that I see.

“Everyone”:  Whenever I asked, “Who is your intended readership?” I got the requisite reply: “Everyone.” I’ve heard it so much that I call it “Everyone-itis.” We have Alzheimer groups in our Rolodex, we have heart disease groups in our Rolodex, we have travel groups in our Rolodex, but I can guaran-dang-tee you that we do not have “Everyone” in our Rolodex.

This is a question that will dog you for you entire writing career, so you would be well-served to have that figured out. Besides, wouldn’t you find it easier to know to whom you’re writing?

Eye contact:  I’m the first to appreciate how hard it is to do a one-on-one with an agent or editor. Personally, I think we’re far less scary than agents! We all honor the fact that you’ve made the move to stick your big toe in the water and test the temperature. It seems a shame not to present yourself in the very best that you can be.

When an author insists on reading their pitch rather than simply engaging us, I feel like they’ve put up a wall that I can’t penetrate. We have precious little time in which to get to know you, and I can’t meet you halfway if you’re staring at your page. Practice in the mirror or with your friends or family.

DON’T MEMORIZE YOUR PITCH!! I had a few authors who did, and it sounded canned and stilted. A few times I’d wait for them to take a breath and ask them a question. It threw them completely off balance because I messed with the playing field. I didn’t do it to be rude, but I honestly wanted to engage them, not their perfect memory.

Smell the Roses: Last of all, enjoy the process of writing, of networking, and going to conferences. You’ll go home feeling like your brain is about to explode, but over the course of time, bits of brilliance will seep through and you’ll realize you learned far more than you thought. Conferences are that diamond-making pressure I talked about earlier. Embrace it because the end product is a beautiful diamond – just like you!

Distribution Series #3 – why does it matter to you?

February 2, 2011

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

  1. Who is your distributor?
  2. 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.

Distribution Series #2 – why does it matter to you?

February 1, 2011

Why doesn’t everyone have The Good distributor?

After reading yesterday’s post about The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of distribution, you’re probably wondering why every publisher doesn’t have a distribution agreement with The Good (Cadillac) distributor. It’s the same thing as asking why every author isn’t signed with Random House, or why vanity presses exist. It’s about competition and who is most likely to hit the finish line ahead of the pack.

It’s about a quality product that a lot of readers want to buy.

Since The Good (Cadillac) distributors have entire teams that support all aspects of selling your books, they have their pick of the litter. They want the best. They want what they believe will sell a bucket load of books because sales is what keeps everyone’s lights on. This means that they look for publishers who produce something unique – be it mystery thrillers, romance, history, or educational.

They look at potential publisher clients the same way we look at potential authors. Does the publisher have a unique voice, message, philosophy that will make the genre buyers sit up and take notice? They look at the publishers’ past sales, just like we do when an author is previously pubbed. If sales on your last book were in the tank, then we have to weigh that against the potential of your current book, since you’re basically starting over without much of a readership. It comes down to: are you worth the risk? The Good are asking themselves the very same question.

The Good require larger print runs because they cast a wider net, so this nixes Print On Demand publishers. And yes, there’s more risk involved with a higher percentage of returns. But their sales are also higher…hopefully. I have talked to publishers whose returns exceeded their sales, and it nearly killed them. Some actually did implode. When that happens, there are usually extenuating circumstances that lend a hand in their demise. And that is why publishers can’t afford to ever drop the ball or become complacent. You blink, you can be filing Chapter 11.

There aren’t guarantees in this business, and just because your publisher is with The Good doesn’t mean they’re bullet-proof. It’s still a team effort, and publishers have to have a marketable product and have the bank account to shoulder the risk.

What makes The Good so good?

In a word: reputation. Since most smaller commercial publishers don’t have the clout, time, energy, or staff to handle book distribution, independent distributors were formed to handle those duties. The Good distributors were formed by people who were knowledgeable and respected within the industry. Their reputation gives their clients a larger footprint within the industry, as in, “Oh, ABC is your distributor? Well, you must be a good publisher.” You just can’t beat that kind of press. And that means that your book has a better chance of solid shelf space.

Why does Distribution matter to you?

By now, I think you have a good handle on why distribution matters to you and how it impacts your literary career. Oddly enough, though, distribution is something many, many authors don’t think about. When they sign up with POD or vanity presses, they’re dismayed that their books won’t be in bookstores. They have no idea how hard it is to get books on the store shelves. You can have an amazing book, but if you have no distribution, or The Bad or Ugly distribution, a successful outcome is harder to achieve.

The end result is that the distribution efforts fall squarely on your shoulders, and this is the same as spitting in the ocean.


Wednesday I’ll finish up with:

Distribution is a team effort

How you can favorably impact the use of solid distribution

Questions to a publisher

Distribution Series #1 – why does it matter to you?

January 31, 2011

There’s book distribution and then there’s book distribution. Since we have such a wide array of experiences, I thought I’d do a series about distribution because it’s vital to your literary career. Knowledge is power, and you need it in order to maximize your ability to make good, solid decisions.

According to the dictionary, Distribution is the state or manner of being distributed.

Sounds simple, right?


HOW books are distributed makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between watching your books die a slow, lonely, obscure death and enjoying fabulous sales and wide availability.

I know, I can hear you now – But, Pricey, what can we do to influence how our publishers distribute our books?

Well, let’s talk about that, shall we? But before we do that, it’s important to know the differences between distributors.

The Distribution Process – The good, the bad, and the ugly

For starters, distributors are not created equally, and I’m the first to suggest that it’s better not to be distributed at all than distributed poorly. A crappy distributor will take a publisher’s money, NOT get the books into stores, and do one of two things – a) go out of business or b) assume as little risk as possible.

Either way, the publisher loses. And if they lose, so do you. So let’s get down to basics.

The Good

The good distributors have sales reps – both in house and commissioned. The in house sales reps take care of of national accounts like B&N, libraries, Target, Wal-Mart, specialty venues. The commissioned reps deal with the individual stores in their region.

But it doesn’t just stop with the sales reps. They also employ an entire support staff who do nothing but work toward getting your publisher’s titles nationally stocked. This means that you have marketing and publicity staff at your fingertips, along with the angels who put together the catalog twice a year. And let’s not forget the folks who keep track of stock and the blessed soul who deals directly with the large chain buyers.

They have excellent communication and offer advice on marketing, promotion, cover design, focus, print runs. Suddenly a publisher doesn’t consist of just their own staff, but rather an entire football team whose focus on helping their client publishers be successful.

I tend to call these lovely nugget o’ love Cadillac Distributors.

The Bad

The Bad sucks. Let’s just get it out there right now. There isn’t anything in between The Good and The Bad because this is an either/or business. You either do great, or you suck. The Bad may have commissioned sales reps as well, but they probably split their time working for other distributors. It becomes a matter of to whom do they give more weight? Your distributor or someone else who is possibly a bit higher on the food chain?

The Bad may be a new distributor who hasn’t been on the block too long and they don’t have established reputations within the industry. This has a trickle down effect because this business is based on who you know. If your publisher’s distributor is starting from scratch, they may not have a real clue how difficult it is to sell books to the stores and probably doesn’t have their foot in the door. They may be vastly underfunded. In their ignorance, they may take on risky publishers who don’t have marketable books. They may not have held back enough in reserves to allow for returns, thus putting them at financial risk.

All of these elements spell disaster for your publisher – and for your book. I know because we lived it. We busted our hump signing quality books with marketable stories and authors with good platforms, but The Bad had constant trouble with their sales teams. We had several extremely big regional books that should have been in every store, yet they weren’t. We screamed and yelled, and The Bad apologized profusely, stating that they were in the process of replacing their regional reps. Great. Fabulous. How does that help us and our books? We ended up doing it ourselves. Oh yes, The Bad got their cut from all of our hard work. One book even made the LA Times bestseller list. They were thrilled, of course. We seethed because this was no team effort. We’d done it all.

But as with most new start ups, they took on too few marketable publishers, and the dogs dragged the rest of us down. When we all suffered the Huge Return Implosion several years ago, The Bad was driven into bankruptcy because they hadn’t kept enough money in reserves to ward against returns. This means that the publishers actually had to write them a check to pay for the returns. They couldn’t/wouldn’t pay. So The Bad went belly up owing us over ten grand. We’ll never see it.


The Ugly

What could be worse than being owed ten grand? Sadly, it gets worse. Much worse. There are distributors who profess to be far more than they really are. They’ll avoid specifics, thus keeping their publishers in the dark about what they can, can’t, won’t do for their clients. This is especially insidious because the publisher ends up being in the dark as much as the author, and it can all fall to bantha twaddle  in a matter of months.

This can result in your book not even getting the attention of a genre buyer, library, or specialty account because the distributor doesn’t even have sales teams. The Ugly offers zero support because they aren’t really interested in standard distribution. Instead, The Ugly is a glorified Ingram or Baker & Taylor, meaning that they’ll wait for orders to come in and they’ll ship out. They send out catalogs, but do no follow-up to take orders.

They are reactionary rather than proactive.

They do this in order to decrease their risk. As we saw with The Bad, distributors can go belly up if they overextend themselves. The Ugly avoids all that by being the middleman for the publisher and the buyers. So, you’re asking, “Pricey, how do the buyers know to order if there’s no one pitching the books? Do they even know the book exists?”

Ding! Ding! Ding!

The publisher ends assuming all the risk for marketing and promotion without any help from The Ugly. Let’s use an example. Say you have a book that has a huge marketplace and the author has a fabulous platform. I’m talking about the Cadillac-stars-in-alignment kind of book. Obviously the publisher is pulling out all the stops to promote and market the book. In a perfect world, the publisher’s distributor’s sales reps have been out for six months prior pushing the book.

Not so in the case of The Ugly. They do nothing. This means that while your publisher has been busting a gut to make a big deal about your book, the distributor has done nothing to get the book stocked in the stores before the book’s release. So when your book comes out to great fanfare…no one can buy your book.

Or even find it.

This creates a huge bottleneck because everyone is now clamoring to get the book in stock. The Ugly can’t get the books out to market fast enough. You would think this would thrill the pants off everyone. Not so. What happens is that many stores end up not getting the stock because orders get lost or misdirected. Or worse, the orders take so long to fulfill, demand quickly drops off. Remember,distribution is about the ability to feed that instant gratification that call demand. If it drops off due to The Ugly’s lack of effort, then your publisher could be stuck with a warehouse of books.

And who do you think takes the gas for this debacle? Your publisher…from both sides, no less. You, the author, will be furious (and rightly so), and the book buyers will be foaming at the mouth. And let’s not forget the customers who are clamoring for the book. Who wins? The Ugly – because all they did was fulfill orders. They assumed zero risk of returns because those books are flying out the door so fast, everyone’s head is spinning. They’re on Cloud 9. And for all their “help,” they’ll collect their “distribution” fees that they happily get to keep because they don’t have marketing or sales teams on staff.

Oh. And they might further tie the publisher’s hands by not allowing them to contact individual bookstores to pitch their new books, saying that it’s a breach of contract. The Ugly types believe that individual stores don’t want to be contacted – which is hogwash – so they will only deal at the corporate level, and force the publisher to keep their mitts off the stores.

But one needs to take that logic one step further. Corporate isn’t as in tune with retail customers as the individual stores are, so it’s a huge mistake to ever cut them out of the picture. We’ve had many cases where the individual stores clamored for a book to the point where Corporate got off their butts and sent a P.O.

Anyone who is looking to be driven out of business needs to look no further than The Ugly type of distributor. The publisher can have the most amazing book in the world and be driven out of business because no one is pitching their books to the buyers.


So those are the specifics about the kinds of distribution that exist. Tuesday I’ll talk about: Why doesn’t everyone have The Good Distribution and Distribution is a Team Effort.

Distribution – another piece of the publishing puzzle

November 30, 2010

Publishers always have distribution on the brain because it’s a vital piece of the marketing puzzle. If you can’t get your books out to market, then it’s better to just stay home and take up knitting nose warmers. I’ve had it on the brain more than usual because we’re in the process of signing with a nice big fat distributor.

Maximizing one’s exposure is why publishers place such a huge importance on distribution, and this is why it’s important to authors to understand the idea of distribution because it will impact your book’s sales.


Distribution, simply put, is the delivery or giving out of an item to the intended recipients. So, first and foremost, you need product. The intended recipients are readers. To get product out to readers, it needs to be stocked in places where they can easily find them.

And this is where things can get a little interesting.

Publishing Options

With the advent of publishing options – trade, POD, vanity, self-publishing – there has been an attempt to blur the definition of distribution by claiming this are murky waters. It’s no longer about the simple “product in, product out,” but the degree and intent in which that is accomplished.

This muddy thinking advocates that even though POD, vanity, and self-pubbed books aren’t distributed in the same manner of trade books, they are available for ordering – and that constitutes distribution. It doesn’t, and here’s why:  Nothing is being shipped out to the marketplace. Being listed on a database, such as Amazon and B& isn’t distribution – it’s merely a listing. Being a part of a list is akin to finding a needle in a haystack because there is no guarantee your book will be found unless someone stumbles across it.

And this has huge implications to authors because it all comes down to exposure. I’ve seen firsthand what crap distribution can do to a title. It’s an uphill battle to get the book placed within the bookstores – where most books are bought . On the other hand, I’ve seen the power of having our books in the stores all over the country. Good distribution casts a wide net that launches a book into the hands of our intended recipients.

I’ve seen any number of POD presses insist that their books are distributed by Ingram and Baker & Taylor. This is NOT distribution. Ingram and B&T are centralized distribution warehouses that ship to the bookstores when they place an order for an author event or to replenish stock. A centralized warehouse is more efficient than having bookstores calling hundreds of different publishers to buy books. Ingram and B&T are the middle men and don’t have sales teams who pitch titles to bookstores and libraries.

The reason this makes me see purple is because it fools authors into believing they’re getting something they aren’t. Know the difference.

Marketing and Promotion

The ultimate judge of whether a book is any good falls to the overall consensus of readers. But they have to know that the book exists – and this is where marketing and promotion plays an invaluable role in the distribution puzzle.

While distribution is about delivering product to the marketplace – how many units of the product that go out depends on expected demand. Stores don’t want to be burdened with stock they don’t believe will sell, so one of the big things they look at is the planned promotion for the book. Does the author have a platform – meaning how many people know the author? How much publicity is being generated for the book?

Trade publishing depends on a set of ingredients that make up a successful recipe for sales:

  • Quality product
  • Distribution
  • Marketing and promotion
  • Sizeable print runs

But what about the POD/vanity author?

Options for the POD/vanity author

Bookstores don’t expect POD and vanity books will have a great demand because they do very small print runs. Their budgets make large print runs risky because they still have to pay for the print runs – whether the book actually sells or not. Furthermore, their budgetary concerns prohibit marketing and promotion, so POD and vanity authors need to find their intended recipients elsewhere. And this is perfectly fine. I’ve seen authors sell a lot of books because they had very effective marketing and promo plans that targeted readers.

The trick to this is to understand that a) you’re on your own, b) your book won’t be in the bookstores except for special order, and c) this is going to cost you time, money, and patience.

  • If you have a proactive personality and love doing public events, you have increased chances for success.
  • If you have solid editing and understand your competition, you have increased chances for success.
  • If you know how to let readers know your book exists, you have increased chances for success.

Publishing is changing. It always has and it always will. I’m all for it. Yeehaw. The important thing to keep at the forefront of every author’s mind is how they can best ensure their books will have maximum exposure. It may be that you’re happier going the DIY route, and I wish you all the best. Just always be mindful that without distribution, no one’s book stands a chance. So decide what options best fit your writing career, your book, your personality, and your budget.

“Wheee doggies! My UK book is being sold in the US!”

August 13, 2010

Foreign distribution. The very ring of it is music to any author’s ears. But what are the realities of this?

A UK author commented on that very problem in my post about advances. She talked about the overly generous advance paid by her UK publisher because the publisher struck a deal with a US publisher for distribution in the US. It all went south when the US publisher canceled the deal due to the tough financial climate. Simply said, the US pubby couldn’t afford the added risk.

How does foreign distribution work?

Your large conglomerate publishers and large indie presses (think Sourcebooks and Adams Media) have their own sales teams, which include employing sales teams in other countries.

Smaller publishers who want to get in on the full distribution action will sign a deal with those larger publishers who have those strong distribution channels.

The other choices smaller indie presses have is to sign on with a large independent distributor like IPG, Consortium, PGW, etc. who also have sales teams in other countries.

So, whee doggies yeeehaw, right? My UK publisher got my UK book into the US stores, right? RIGHT? Eh, not so fast. Just because they now have the ability doesn’t mean those books will actually get into those foreign stores.

The reality/risk of using a foreign publisher or a distributor

Everything about publishing is assigned to risk. Having one’s catalog sold through a publisher in in a foreign country is terrific…clear up until something goes wrong with the publisher. Think Dorchester. Not only have they blown up, but the publishers who used their distribution pipeline are now without distribution. The inability to distribute books can kill a publisher faster than the beagle can down a pitcher of margaritas.

So let’s say the small foreign indie press signs on with a large distributor like the ones I mentioned above. Whee doggies yeeehaw, you say. Notsofast. You are a foreigner in a foreign land, so your risks increase due to competition, ability to promote locally, and the ability to stand out.


Competing for shelf space is hard enough, but what if you have to compete with your fellow publishers who are repped by the same distributor? The large distributors have hundreds and hundreds of client publishers and a finite number of sales teams. Most of their clients are based in the distributor’s home country. Let’s use the US distributor as our example. They accept their clients based the fact that they a)  are well-established and enjoy great sales, and/or b) they’re niche – meaning they specialize in one particular genre, like thrillers or mysteries and are extremely good at what they do. Think Tyrus Books.

Given that a distributor’s clientele is mostly US-based and employs a finite number of sales teams, how much attention will be given to the foreign press looking to break into the US market? A foreign press doesn’t have the footprint that the US publisher has, so who stands to lose? I know what the distributors tell prospective foreign clients – “hey, no problemo! We represent ALL our wonderful clients” – and  I also know the realities of what they do in practice, which is give the most attention to those whose cream rises to the top. And that doesn’t usually include the indie foreign publisher.

It’s one thing to have your books in a foreign publisher’s or distributor’s catalog. It’s quite another to get those books sold to bookstores. This is a big gamble with no assurances it’ll pay out.


So let’s say you’re a UK author and your UK pubby struck a distribution deal with a US company. Sales are harder to come by these days, and the first thing that comes out of the genre buyers’ pieholes is, “What’s the author’s promotion plan?” If you’re sitting pretty 8,000 miles away sipping tea with the odd crumpet or three, then you, basically, have no promotion plan that will entice a buyer here in the US. You’re an unknown quantity.

Time was that a book that sold well in the UK would be welcome over here for shelf space. Those days are loooong gone. Stores can’t afford to keep books on their shelves for too long, so they’re only buying what’s selling. They’ve gone even deeper with their cuts by sitting on their hands until demand comes in for a title. And this isn’t just small fries like us, but with the big guys as well. What kind of demand will a foreign book have if there is no promotion?

What does this mean to you?

What happens if sales fall far short of expectations? How will this reflect on you, the author? As my commenter above said, she was paid a generous advance with the expectation of garnering high US sales. When the deal fell through, she was left feeling very guilty. I spoke with another author whose UK publisher dropped them, over similar circumstances.

Ugh. How is this the author’s fault, for crying out loud? For starters, I would never bank on foreign sales for the very fact that my US authors can’t promote in foreign countries.  Foreign sales is icing on the cake – if the book actually sells.

Sadly, this is yet another part of publishing that is undergoing evolution, and publishers are having to rewrite a new rule book. What used to be the norm is now the exception. It’s an upturney world right now, and those who want to stay in business have to be very careful about learning what will sell books and keep them in business.

Good ideas and great intentions ain’t enough

July 30, 2010

The setting: Overworked and Underpaid Editor is toiling over a manuscript while the beagle lazes in the sunspot that’s shining on Underpaid’s desk. The phone rings.

Overworked and Underpaid Editor: Answer that, willya?

Beagle: Bite me. I’m working on my beagle tan.

Overworked and Underpaid Editor: (swearing under her breath as she reaches for the phone) Why bother, it only brings out more of your freckles. (speaking into the phone) Hullo, this is the land of the oppressed and overtoiled, how may I help you? (listens, then hands the phone over to the beagle) It’s for you. And how many times have I told you not to use the office phone? Use your cellphone, dammit.

Beagle: If I’m gonna use my cellie, then you need to trim my nails. Last night I accidentally dialed the Hot Dachshunds Talk Dirty line. Ever heard a dachshund talk dirty? All they know is the the Oscar Meyer wiener song. (talks into the phone) Beagle here, how may I help you? (the beagle gets excited and jumps off Overworked’s desk.) Yipeee!!!

Overworked and Underpaid Editor: What? Did the Fireman’s Fund send you your Sexy Dalmations calendar?

Beagle: Better than that. I’m taking submissions for my fellow canines to send me recipes for designer chewie bones. So far I have my own – the margarita flavored chewie bone and that hot Rotweiler down the street’s recipe for Frightened Postal Worker chewie bones. And last week, I got the recipe for Gardner In Full Retreat and a tasty recipe that contains nacho cheese and freshly caught rat. De-lish!

Overworked and Underpaid Editor: (considers the possibility that the beagle has finally gone ’round the bend) Um. What are you planning on doing with these designer doggie chewies?

Beagle: Oh, I’m going to sell them and make a fortune. That way I can blow this popscicle stand and follow my bliss and gather up independent wealth. And you, dear Ms. Overpaid and Underworked Editor, can answer your own damn phones.

Overworked and Underpaid Editor: (gritting teeth) That’s overWORKED and underPAID, you rancid fleabag. So, how are you going to distribute and promote these doggie chewies?

Beagle: Eh? Whazzat? Distribution? Promotion? Whaddya mean?

Overworked and Underpaid Editor: I mean, how are you going to get your chewies to market? You’ve collected all these chewie bones, and you need to show them to grocery stores, pet stores, national chains, and the like. So far, all you have is a groovy idea and no way to get them in front of buyers. And you need to consider why they would they buy your chewies if you have no promotion plans. You gotta take out ad space or talk to your fellow fleabags about your chewies in order to create interest. Otherwise you’ll end up with a warehouse full of designer chewies and no demand. Or worse, you’ll get them on the store shelves, but they’ll come back to you because no one knows they exist. Think how totally suck-o-licious it would be to be you – broke and out of business.

Beagle: (growing paler by the second) Oh holy Kibbles ‘n Bits, I’d…I’d…I’d have to come back and live with you.

Overworked and Underpaid Editor: (enjoying the moment) Exactamundo.

Beagle: (choking back a sob) So it’s not enough to have a good idea or great intentions?

Overworked and Underpaid Editor: That is your fuel – the tequila to your margarita, the jam in your jelly doughnut, the cream in your Twinkie. But no, intention and ideas are not enough to make it in this tough world. Being prepared, knowing what the hell you’re doing, and making the right connections to make those dreams into realities are what you need. And that takes money. Lots of it. But…you gotta know how to spend it, and what to spend it on. ‘Tis better to be rich and smart than rich and dumb because the dummy will soon be broke.

And that, gentle authors and authorettes, is what publishers must do as well. It’s not enough to have an infusion of cash if you don’t know how to spend it wisely. We’ve already seen how that ends up, yes? And the reason for this post is that I continue to see this a lot.

And you don’t hook up with someone who has little idea whether the product they bought (your book) is marketable or unworkable – and how they plan on selling it.This takes experience. One does not go into this business with little experience and expect to hang out their shingle and call themselves a publisher, and expect instant success.

And you certainly don’t allow anyone the first print rights on your book unless you KNOW they have proper distribution. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again: INGRAM AND BAKER & TAYLOR IS NOT THE SAME THING. These are distribution warehouses for libraries and bookstores to order from. They do not have sales people pushing your catalog to the genre buyers of the chains, indie bookstores, and libraries. That is what an indie distributor does.

If your publisher doesn’t have a relationship with an indie distributor or is tied in with another publisher for distribution, your books are going about as far as the beagle’s designer chewies…though I have to admit that the margarita chew has real potential.

And so do you. Choose wisely. Ask questions. Be careful.

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