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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Publishing Myths, Part 7: My Publisher Has Distribution!

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Book distribution is a sticky topic, and it means different things to different people, apparently, but for the purposes of this post, it means: "how books get to the bookstore." That still matters to most writers as some 80% of sales are still made through bookstores.

Of course, there are niches where nationwide distribution doesn't matter, and that's perfectly fine. But if you want your books in bookstores all over the country, then you need a publisher with distribution.

Places like Baker & Taylor and Ingram are wholesalers. If your book has an ISBN, they can get copies to fulfill bookstore orders. But how does the bookstore know they should order your book to place on the shelves? This is where the distributor comes in. They deal directly with bookstores. These are the people who talk to buyers and convince them to put your book on their shelves. They also work with booksellers to make sure they order an adequate number of copies of a given book. One of the biggest problems plaguing the industry right now is returns. What's to stop a bookstore from ordering twice as many copies of a book as they expect to sell? It's one thing to buy two or three copies, but when you're talking 50 or 100 and multiply that by all the stores in a given chain, that's a LOT of books. A distributor can help a bookstore place an order that meets expectations. It's an inexact science, especially in this economy, but it's in the distributor's interest (as well as those of the bookstore and the publisher) to minimize returns.

Many smaller publishers don't have the resources to get hooked up with a distributor; but many others do have distribution. And, of course, if your title is of a niche or regional interest, you may not need a publisher with major distribution. That's one of the questions you have to ask as you make the decision whether or not to submit to a particular publisher.

What are your goals? Who is the audience for your book? If nationwide distribution and bookstore placement matters to you, then ask. Some publishers say their books are available to bookstores, which generally means no distribution, though they'll be available through Ingram and/or Baker & Taylor. You'll have to rely on the publisher (or, more likely, your own efforts) to get books into stores.

There's nothing inherently bad about a small publisher with no distribution, but it's not one of those things you want to discover after you've signed the contract. Reputable publishers will be honest about their distribution, allowing you to make an informed decision.

Read the previous parts:

Part 1 (Please read if you're coming in late - this post has the background and ground rules for the series)
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Filed under: Publishing Myths            
3/19/2009 10:04:09 AM
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