What you need to know about timing the release of your book.
To be brief: start early! If it’s November and you’re shooting for books on the shelves of retail chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders for the Christmas season, sadly, you’re about four months late. Retail buyers generally buy six months out, which means that they were making decisions in June about what they would carry in November for the holiday season. June is the time that buyers have their largest available budget for November, so if your publisher or distributor is trying to pitch your title for a Christmas-time release any later than June, you have a much slimmer chance of getting a good buy (or any at all) because most of the money allotted for that month has already been spent.
Most publishers and distributors work under catalog schedules built around these retail lead times. Ideally, they have advance reader copies or galleys available to present to retail buyers at the six-month-out point. If galleys are not ready, the next best option is to present a title, cover image, table of contents, a few sample chapters, and the ever-important marketing plan. Plan to have these critical materials ready at least six months before your desired pub date in order to maximize your chances of a successful pitch.
There are many other factors that may present timeline delays depending on what publishing route you take. Here is a quick rundown of the factors to consider, along with time estimates:
If you go the traditional route…
Time to get an agent: Once your manuscript is complete and polished, 12 months
Time for the agent to shop your book: Once you have an agent, 6-18 months
Time to publish with a traditional publisher: Once the agent finds a buyer, 12 months
If you do it yourself…
Time to print offset, domestically: 6-8 weeks
Time to get a distributor: 1-3 months
Time for sales presentation to buyers: 6 months before book release
These estimates are averages and many of these processes can be faster or slower. In your pursuit of the perfect release date, whether it’s for the holidays, spring, or the beginning of the school year, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to research and plan for each step in the publishing process. If you want to maximize the sales potential and buzz around the release of your book, be realistic about what goes into each leg of the journey and set your timeline accordingly.
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Unlike fiction, where an author must have a completed manuscript ready before they approach a publisher or agent, a nonfiction author only needs to develop a proposal to submit to publishers and/or agents. The proposal should answer the following questions:
- Content: What is the book about?
- Market: Who would be interested in this idea?
- Competitive Titles: What other books already exist on this topic and how does this one differ?
- Platform: Who is the author, why is the author the best person to produce this book, and what are they doing to engage with potential readers?
Section One: Content
This section of the proposal is usually 1-3 pages, unless you include a sample chapter which can range anywhere from 5-20 pages. Length is not as big of a concern as the quality of what’s included.
First, you want to come up with a brief, one sentence pitch that captures the soul of your idea. For example: “Affordable and complete wellness.” This is the hook of your book—the key message we discussed earlier.
Next you want to create a short summary paragraph that goes into slightly more detail about how the book will achieve your hook. For example:
This book is a guide for achieving complete wellness in an affordable and holistic way. It explores the pitfalls of the modern health care system and identifies ways to integrate alternative medicine techniques into traditional medical practices. The book educates the reader on current practices and arms them with new resources and techniques to achieve total wellness.
If you have a startling statistic that stresses the importance of this message, by all means use it here. That information will help sell the importance of your topic to the prospective agent or publisher.
Once your opening summary is developed, you will follow it with your outline. Your outline identifies the chapters and the key topics they will address. Identify any compelling facts, strategies, case studies, or information you will use to support the ideas in each chapter. You may include a sample chapter if you choose. Some publishers and agents require one, but many don’t. It really depends on whether you will be the one actually writing the book (or working with a ghostwriter), and on the agent or publisher’s requirements.
Section Two: Market
This section can be anywhere from 1/2 of a page to 2 pages. Here you identify the market for your book both in qualitative and quantitative terms. To determine who your audience is in qualitative terms, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who would be interested in your topic?
- Where do they live?
- What kind of work do they do?
- What are their hobbies?
- How do they get their information? And so on.
The key is to be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to say your book is geared toward “men” or “businessmen.”
Section Three: Competitive Titles
In your proposal, it is important to note the top 2-3 related titles and how your project is different from them. Not only does this help identify the potential sales numbers for your book, but it also helps the publisher identify exactly where you fit into the market.
Section Four: Platform
In this section list all platform-building activities you are engaged in and those that are in theworks. This includes any speaking you are doing on your topic, organizations you are involved in, articles you written or been cited in, etc. It’s important that the agent or publisher see that you are indeed an expert on the subject and that you are building a career as an author and an expert.
For more information on how to write a book proposal, check out the following resources:
How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen
Book Proposals that Sell: 21 Secrets to Speed your Success by W. Terry Whalin:
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Any opportunity you have to get in front of an agents or publishers and tell them about your book is a precious opportunity, no matter how brief the encounter. Don’t waste it. Make the moment memorable (for the right reasons) by crafting a series of brief, targeted talking points about your project.
Qualities of a Good Pitch:
- It’s brief: A good pitch starts with a single sentence, known as a logline or hook. Prepare one or two additional sentence-long talking points about your project based on the book’s synopsis.
- It gets to the guts of your book: By boiling your pitch down to a single sentence, you are forced to get to the heart of the story or message. The hook should be the book’s compelling central idea and will be used to sell your idea again and again.
The elements of a pitch are slightly different for each genre, but the purpose is the same—to convey the meat of the project in as few of words as possible.
A fiction or memoir logline contains the following elements:
- Protagonist: Name your hero/main character.
- Core conflict: Lay out the main issue of your book (only use relevant subplots for additional talking points if the agent or publisher asks—for example, they may ask if there is a love interest in the story).
- Differentiating factor: Explain to the agent or publisher what sets your book apart.
- Setting: Establish the time period, location, or specific subgenre, if applicable.
Here is a sample logline taken from the copyright page of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins:
"In a future North America, where the rules of Panem maintain control though an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the twelve districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss's skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister's place."
This logline hits all the elements listed above; we see that
- The main character is a sixteen-year-old named Katniss.
- The main conflict is that Katniss must compete for her survival against other teens.
- The story is different because of the idea of children fighting each other as a means of entertainment.
- The setting is a future dystopian North America.
If you would like additional examples, read the blog post “Writing a Logline” from Query Tracker.
A nonfiction logline is slightly different from a fiction logline. A typical nonfiction hook will contain
- Genre: Whether stated or implied, the agent or publisher should be able to surmise the book’s genre—business, new age, health, etc.
- Key problem addressed: Are you helping women with weight loss, new parents with discipline skills, business managers with communication skills?
- Promise: How does the book solve the problem? Are you teaching people how to be more assertive, how to eat better, how to delegate?
- Differentiation: What makes this title different from its competition?
Here is a sample logline for the upcoming title Briefcase Essentials by Susan Spencer:
“A woman’s guide to discovering the 12 natural talents that can help her achieve success in a male-dominated workplace."
We see that
- This is a business book that deals with success in the workplace.
- The problem addressed is women competing in male-dominated industries.
- The promise is to give women 12 tools to help them find success in a male-dominated workplace.
- The book is different in that it encourages women to embrace their natural abilities rather than try to adopt masculine traits.
Again, you can refer to the examples in Query Tracker or look on the copyright page and back cover of comparable titles for ideas on how successful authors and publishers have crafted their pitches.
As you develop your pitch, avoid the following mistakes:
- Don’t talk about the process: Although the journey has been the most exciting and rewarding part of your writing experience, it is not relevant to the agent or publisher’s decision-making process. Refrain from explaining how you developed your characters or where you got your ideas. Those topics are better reserved for author interviews.
- Don’t pounce: Take the time to open up a natural conversation if at all possible (if you’re pitching roundtables or attending a crowded conference, you may not have this luxury). Building rapport before the pitch makes the agent or publisher more receptive to your message.
- Don’t verbally vomit: Stick to short, one- to two-sentence talking points that make them respond with “Tell me more.” People lose interest during long-winded pitches. Pause, take a breath, and if you see their eyes gloss over, stop.
- Walk away when you’re ahead: Once you hear the magic words “Send it to me,” say thank you, stop talking, and move on. You’ve done your job, now congratulate yourself and end the conversation before you undo the progress you’ve made.
Again, the pitch is not a retelling of the whole story. It is a brief statement depicting the core idea of your book. When you’re competing against hundreds of other writers, a well-crafted pitch can make or break your chances of connecting with a potential agent or publisher. Take the time to do it right. Practice saying your pitch out loud. Test it on a couple of friends. Whittle it down until it contains only the barest essentials. You’ll be glad you did.
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Oftentimes authors are quite confused about what exactly each person does in the publishing process. There are so many people involved in developing and promoting a book that it is easy to get overwhelmed by the many functions and responsibilities of each department. To help make it easier, here’s a quick breakdown of the general jobs in publishing and how each one functions.
If pursuing a traditional publishing deal, the author must first secure an agent. The agent serves two roles. One, the agent acts as a gatekeeper for publishers, vetting books for quality and marketability and sorting through the many authors vying for a publishing deal. Two, the agent is the author’s representative in the negotiation process for securing the book deal. The agent’s job is to get the best deal possible for the author and to sell author’s rights in a way that is most beneficial (e.g., the agent may recommend selling subsidiary and film rights separately). In exchange, the agent takes 10 to 15 percent of all payments made to the author in advances and royalties.
The publisher is the person who actually produces the physical book. Inside a publishing house the author will work with a variety of people:
- Editor: The editor helps polish the manuscript and makes sure it is free of typos, grammatical errors, and other mistakes.
- Designer: The designer works on both the cover design and the interior layout for the book (some house separate these functions out).
- Print buyer: The print buyer works with vendors to secure the best deal on printing services. Traditionally published authors may not deal with this person directly (but trust us, they’re there).
- Production associate: This person works as the puppet master, making sure all the pieces of the publishing process flow into place on time and on budget.
- Distribution team: Depending on the publishing route you take, you may work with an in-house distributor or a third party, but in either case the distributor is responsible for getting your book into the internal and bookseller systems and making it available to wholesalers and retailers.
- Marketing team: Each publisher has a marketing team that works with the trade to drum up interest among corporate buyers, indie bookstores, libraries, schools, and some specialty stores. They may also help with securing some reviews and advertising, but again this depends on the publisher.
Some publishing houses have a staff publicist, but for the most part authors will need to hire their own publicist to help secure media coverage, interviews, reviews, and other coverage to help create demand for the book. Some publicists work online and may also schedule and coordinate events, provide media training, and schedule speaking opportunities. While the publisher works with the bookstores and the author connects directly with the reader, the publicist’s job is to work with the media—all three parties aiming to drive book sales.
Authors nowadays must wear many hats, including “writer,” “entrepreneur,” “marketer,” and “ringmaster.” You are largely responsible for serving as the producer of content and as the face of your brand as an author. You are the driving force behind your platform and are ultimately what attracts people to your book. As mentioned above, it’s your job to connect directly with readers, and you should be doing this in as many ways as possible—through social media, speaking, and other platform-building activities.
As you can see, it takes many people to take a book from idea to the bookstore. There are additional functions depending on the publisher, but overall this is the core staff for any book that ends up in a reader’s hands.
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Say you’ve written a book or are still in the process of writing it. How do you use your existing content to create more value for your readers? Or maybe even use that same content to create useful products to compliment your book? Ancillary materials, like reading guides and workbooks, are one way to leverage and monetize the content you’ve already created. Here are a few basic categories these types of materials fall into.
Content chunking and social media
Pulling out nuggets of useful content from your book can be an easy way to create material for blogs and social media. Blog posts are an excellent marketing channel for sharing a top-ten list, how-to steps, a high-level exploration of a concept, or tips/recommendations for common problems. You can also submit articles to content syndication websites to generate more online exposure. A few such sites that include free services are e-Articles, Article Alley, ArticlesBase, and there are also paid services like iSnare.com or RcpLinks.com.
Nonfiction and business authors can include content chunks in how-to PowerPoint presentations and then upload the presentations to SlideShare.com, the world’s largest community for sharing presentations. Authors who redistribute bite-sized pieces of book material over the Internet—whether through blogs, video-sharing sites, or PowerPoint presentations—build brand awareness and instantly boost their visibility online.
Workbooks can be a great tool for books that present a step-by-step approach to improvement or that instruct the reader to perform a number of activities (typically health/fitness, business, self-help, etc.). Authors of books like these can create workbooks in line with the content, incorporating any activities mentioned in the text and building from there to create a comprehensive resource for readers to use as they apply the concepts in the book.
By including a bonus workbook with every book purchase, you are offering readers an incentive to buy the book through your website instead of Amazon and giving them exclusive, value-added content. If you instruct seminars or workshops, you can independently sell workbooks to attendees or include them within the cost of registration. Alternatively, you can post an abridged version of the workbook on your website or use the workbook as a reward to readers who signed up for your newsletter or RSS feeds. Emailing readers a PDF of your workbook is another great way to thank your customers!
Author Q&As are typically included in the backs of books, along with reading group guides. All you need to do is prepare a list of questions and answers that are relevant to your content and audience. By sharing personal details and revealing the creative process behind character creation or plot development, you encourage a higher level of reader engagement. As a bonus, an author can leverage the Q&A as a part of the book’s publicity campaign. Many publicists include an author Q&A within online and print media kits to inform print, radio, and TV media contacts of potential angles for interview questions and human-interest stories.
Reading group guides
Reading group guides are discussion questions presented in the back of the book or on the author’s website. By including reading group guides, you encourage the adoption and, ultimately, purchase of the book by interested book club members. If you’ve already printed your book, you can add a reading group guide to your website or the next printing of the book.
Self-assessments are a great tool for engaging readers and establishing yourself as a subject-matter expert. These assessments can be presented as part of the book but are typically more effective online, and you can use them to capture customer data, evolving trends, or industry opinions. Self-assessments may take the form of a quiz or survey and you can embed charts, graphs, and real-time survey results into your website to give fans statistics about the data they’ve provided.
How do you incentivize readers to complete the self-assessment? Consider holding a book giveaway on Twitter or Facebook where each completed assessment counts as a contest entry.
A training guide is typically a separate publication that is paired with a nonfiction book. It should offers a week-by-week or half-day seminar approach to implementing the author’s content, and it can be intended for individuals or organizations. Training guides usually include concept summaries, points to consider when implementing the concepts, and activities for groups and individuals.
Authors can use training guides in several ways: as the foundation for the author’s own training or coaching program, as one component of a training package, as a bonus readers receive when they buy the book, or as an add-on the author can sell.
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It’s a commonly held misperception that authors are rich. Yes there are some authors who are well off, and yes some of them sell thousands of books, but here’s the real reason those authors are making money—they’re thinking beyond the book.
The truth is that quality books are costly to develop and produce and they must sell through several reprints to become profitable. As such, much of the money authors make doesn’t come from the sale of the book itself but from the opportunities the book gives the author.
As an author, a book gives you instant credibility and opens doors to other streams of income previously unavailable to you. For nonfiction authors, the book is often an extension of your business or expertise. It’s a marketing tool, demonstrating your philosophy and unique approach to potential clients, media outlets, and speaking opportunities. For fiction authors, a book demonstrates your ability to perceive and recreate the world, and opens up opportunities to teach, speak, and educate other authors.
Here is a sample list of the many ways you can make money as an author:
- Speaking: Authors are sought after speakers for seminars, conferences, charities, and other events. Speaking gigs are also great opportunities for back-of-room sales, which often yield a higher return than selling through retail channels.
- Teaching: Authors often teach their subjects at workshops, conferences, universities, continuing education classes, online, and in other venues (again, you can roll the cost of the book into the cost of the workshop or sell directly to students—just be sure to teach them and not sell to them!).
- Ancillary Materials: Books can be repurposed into teacher’s guides, workbooks, pamphlets, e-books, and other products.
- Merchandise and spin offs: T-shirts, posters, DVDs, and other merchandise either based on the book or related to it offer additional streams of revenue.
- Endorsements/Packaging: Outlets like Open Sky let authors package and/or promote their books with related merchandise for a commission. Does your lead character have a penchant for coffee? Sell coffee, coffee mugs, and related merchandise as you promote your book. Did you write a cookbook? Create a culinary store where you sell the tools used to create the dishes in your book.
- Articles: A book gives you the credibility to write and publish articles on your topic. Magazines pay anywhere from $25 to $2,000 for well-written, expert-supported articles.
- Resident Expert/Correspondent: A book also gives you the credibility to serve as an expert or correspondent to media and organizations.
- Consulting/Clients: Nonfiction authors can build a consulting business or add to their client list. Fiction authors can coach other authors through the process.
The list goes on and on and is only limited by your creativity, topic, and ability to recognize and chase down opportunities presented by your book. The key is to think beyond the book and look for ways you can leverage your new position as a published author to find ways to generate income, grow your platform, and identify new outlets for your talents (and your book).
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*Disclaimer—This post is not legal advice and is not meant to substitute for the knowledge and experience of a lawyer or agent. This post is intended to serve only as a basic introduction to your rights as an author. Always refer to a certified lawyer for any questions you have regarding your contracts before you sign any agreement.
When it comes to legal issues dealing with your book, it can be daunting to wade through the different types of rights available to you as an author. Here we want to give you a brief breakdown of those rights and differentiate between copyrights and other author rights.
As soon as you write anything, from an article to a book, you have a copyright to that work. However, the only way to have 100% ownership and proof of that copyright (and, most importantly, to be able to defend it in court if an infringement issue pops up) is to register your title with the Library of Congress. You can do this for $35 and the website has lots of great information on copyrights and what they entail.
In addition to your copyright, your created work also automatically comes with a bundle of rights that you can keep or sell at your discretion. There is an abundance of different author rights; a literary agent or lawyer can fully enumerate them, but a sampling is listed here:
- First North American Serial Rights: This is the right to be the first to print something throughout all of North America
- Electronic rights: This is the right to publish only in electronic form
- Hardcover or paperback rights: Rights specific to each format
- Foreign rights: The right to publish in foreign markets
- Language rights: The right to publish in another language (can be domestic or foreign and can be sold separately or bundled with foreign rights)
- Exclusive rights: The exclusive right to publish across all formats, languages, etc. This right can be held for a specific time period or indefinitely
- Film rights: The right to adapt the book to film
The major distinction between a copyright and an author right is that your copyright is something that always remains in your control. While you can sell different author rights, your copyright is always yours and cannot be sold.
It is important to remember that if you publish through a traditional publisher, you often are not allowed to reprint anything from your book without giving the publisher some form of payment and/or getting their consent. This includes using excerpts on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, in presentations, etc. Which rights you sell to the publisher will depend on your contract, but once they own those rights, you will have to buy them back if you are in any way dissatisfied with the publisher’s services. You can also wait for your rights to revert back to you, but with the advent of digital technologies, some publishers can keep titles on backlists indefinitely, so often buying back the rights becomes your only option. Also, you oftentimes forgo any further creative control over your content when you sell your rights, which is certainly worth considering if you are trying to build a brand.
Your options when publishing your book are not limited solely to traditional publishing, of course. There are self-publishing routes and independent publishers to consider as well, so if you wish to maintain all your rights, you will want to explore these avenues.
Following are a few resources to explore for more information about rights:
- Writer Beware: Information on legal issues concerning authors
- Mark Levine’s book Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide for Authors, Agents, and Lawyers
- Publishers Marketplace/Publishers Lunch: Information on agents and current deals being made
Hopefully we’ve been able to give you a good introduction to rights that clear up some of your questions. Again, working with a literary agent and/or lawyer is the best way to know what rights you have as an author, and they can help you fully understand how to approach the keeping or selling of those rights.
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Let’s face it, the children’s book market is one of the most competitive spaces in the retail booktrade.Your book is not only measured against the huge number of children’s books being created every day, but is also going up against all the mainstays like Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss, and Eric Carle who are so beloved, they don’t have to fight for shelf space. Competition is so fierce that even when every piece of your project is perfectly executed, and you’ve convinced, cajoled, and charmed your way into retail channels, it’s still a small miracle to see your book on shelves in the company of Little Bear or Sheep in a Jeep.
But to get there, the book does have to be perfectly executed, which is the first step (or impediment) to success. Based on the submissions we see, I’d like to share my top three considerations for creating a successful children’s book:
The importance of high-quality, professionally executed illustrations cannot be overemphasized. Characters and storyboards must be conceived and carried out by experienced children’s book illustrators. In this arena “cute” isn’t good enough—illustrations have to be dazzlingly perfect, and creative to boot. A traditional style of illustration, like this, can give a book a classic look, while a more quirky style, like this, can help differentiate your title. I recommend getting a third-party, professional opinion of sample illustrations before committing to an artist. Asking library buyers, literary agents, book publicists, or book distributors for feedback is a good start. It’s always wise to compare the quality of your book to comparable titles that have sold well in bookstores.
A Unique Story
Because of all those kids’ books published every year, you have to have a new message (or a least a new spin on an old message) for children and parents. If you’re thinking about writing a book about a popular topic like friendship, bullying, or nightmares, figure out how to approach it in a new way. You could do this with an unexpected story, funky characters, an innovative rhyme scheme, or unusual illustrations. Sometimes choosing an unaddressed topic and picking a specific niche can give you a built-in fan base. For example, topics like vegetarianism, knitting, meditation, or debt might be places where the market has holes that could be filled.
Similar to illustrations, the production of kids’ books has to be exceedingly high quality. To ensure the printing quality, make sure to do your background research on printers you’re thinking of using. Ask printers to send you a sample with specifications similar to your book’s so that you can physically assess paper, ink, and binding quality. Adding interactive parts to a book, like sound, mirrors, pop-ups or puppets, can also help it stand out, though beware of expense when considering these types of technology. If you want your book in retail outlets, it’s best to print your book with an offset printer, as opposed to print on demand—the quality is significantly higher with an offset press, and bookstores require their books to be returnable.
On the flipside, here are a few common mistakes we see on a regular basis:
Too Much Text per Page
We see a lot of kids’ submissions that have far too much text per page. For a children’s picture book, which are usually targeted at ages 4–8, text can be as minimal as you want it to be, but it’s generally a bad idea to exceed more than 70–80 words per two-page spread. Shooting for 0–30 words per page is ideal—when it comes to the amount of text per page, less is always more.
Unclear Age Group
It is sometimes unclear what age group an author is aiming for, and as a result, the book doesn’t really fit in any category. Oftentimes, books take an approach to their topic that is too complex for 4–8 year-olds, hurting its chances for retail. Similarly, we also see picture books with between 60 and 70 pages, which is too long for younger children. A 32-page picture book is generally meant for ages 4–8, so it’s important that your topic and diction are age-appropriate.
As we’ve mentioned before on the Big Bad Book Blog, the retail price range for a book is very limited and determined by the retail buyers. Charging $1 more for your book than other authors are charging could have a severely negative impact on sales. Most hardcover children’s books are between $9.95 and $16.95, with $14.95 being ideal in most situations. Board books are typically $4.95 to $6.95.
A note about money: it is important to consider profit margins before starting production on a children’s book since the printing price per unit is significantly higher than other books because of the color interior, and the price point is very low due to the competitive landscape. You want to make sure you’ve considered all costs before getting started so that you have a plan to recoup them.
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If you have already written a book, or even if you are just considering writing one, you may have asked yourself what it is that publishers are looking for. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula a writer can follow for guaranteed publication. What works and doesn’t work varies by genre, publisher, and other factors outside of the writer’s control. Still, there are some basic elements every publisher considers when evaluating a potential project. Those elements are: content, market, competitive titles, and author platform. We will cover each element in basic terms for the purpose of this post, but we do provide greater details on each of categories in our free white paper “What Publishers Want.”
Though certain elements vary between fiction and nonfiction, any book, no matter what the genre, must be compelling, marketable, and memorable.
Compelling: It must be a topic that people are interested in.
Marketable: There must be a significant number of people interested in the topic.
Memorable: The writing should be good and should stick with the reader.
Publishing is a business. In order for publishers (and authors) to make money, they need to sell books. So, when publishers look at a project they ask themselves: What is the market for this book? Who would be interested in this topic? How many people constitute that segment of the population? How often do they buy books and for what reasons? You need to be able to answer those questions before you even start writing.
The next thing publishers consider is your competition. This is key for many reasons. First of all, it shows them who your market is and the size of your market’s demand. If books on your topic are doing well, they are more likely to consider your work. Second, publishers look at how your book differs from the competition. If you provide enhanced content, an innovative approach, new research, or a more user-friendly voice, then they will be more likely to consider looking at and possibly acquiring your book. However, if your book is too similar to an existing one (especially one that has done well), or if your content is weak or poorly executed in comparison, then a publisher will be less willing to consider your project.
We discussed this in great detail before, and we can’t stress enough how important it is when evaluating your potential success as an author. Publishers need to know that you have identified your audience, that you are speaking to the needs and wants of your audience, and that you are continually and actively engaged with them even before you have a book.
Understanding how your book measures up in terms of content, market, competitive titles, and platform is essential to your publishing efforts. Weakness in any area can be improved upon, but too many issues in one or more categories can seriously hinder your chances of being published.
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Wherever you are in the process of writing or publishing your book, you’ve probably considered at some point how you’re going to get it out to all of your adoring fans. You might ask yourself: Once I’ve published my book, how will readers find and buy it? Wholesalers and distributors are the two main channels for getting your book into retailers like Barnes & Noble, Borders, and indie bookstores, as well as libraries and schools, but determining how these channels differ and which one is best for your book can be confusing.
Let’s start with wholesalers. Wholesalers like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Bookazine are the middlemen between you—the author or publisher—and most major book retailers. These retailers generally order books from wholesalers, which act as depots for your book. Retailers do this because it’s easier for them to order from a small number of trusted sources (wholesalers) rather than hundreds of individual authors and publishers (you). Thus, if you’re looking for national distribution to major retail channels, you generally have to be set up with a major wholesaler.
Although you may be listed with a wholesaler, it’s important to note that wholesalers generally do not market, pitch, sell, or push your book to retailers. Your title sits among thousands of other titles waiting for a retail buyer to take interest and order copies, and unless there is a compelling reason for the buyer do so, it’s unlikely that your book will be brought onto bookstore shelves.
This may be sufficient if you are not planning on marketing or publicizing your book. If, however, you are planning on aggressively marketing your book, you will want someone with connections to the national retail buyers to convince them that your title needs to be ordered from the wholesaler and put on bookstore shelves where consumers can see it, and hopefully buy it. That’s where distributors come in.
Distributors serve authors and publishers in two main functions:
1) They set up titles with many wholesalers.
2) They have an active sales force pitching and selling their exclusive line of titles directly to the retail buyers in the hopes of getting as many books as possible on shelves and in front of consumers.
“Why do I need a distributor to set me up with a wholesaler?” you might ask. Many wholesalers have an application process and require a minimum number of titles to be eligible. Ingram, for example, requires publishers or authors to have at least 10 titles before they will make their books available for order; if you have fewer than that, you need a distributor to get you set up in Ingram. You may also wonder, “What’s the benefit of having a someone pitch my book directly to the retailers?” As mentioned above, without someone actively and aggressively convincing buyers that your book needs to be on their shelves, in front of consumers, it will probably sit in a warehouse somewhere, never seeing the light of day. Distributors’ sales representatives often hold a certain amount of credibility in the buyers’ eyes as a trusted source of marketable, salable books. Good distributors and their sales reps are just as invested in selling your titles as you are, and their established relationships in the retail channel give you direct access to the desks of decision-makers at major retail chains.
So let’s recap: You want your book in Barnes & Noble, but you know you need to be listed with a wholesaler like Ingram before that can happen. Because you have fewer than 10 titles and are planning a publicity campaign around your book release, you realize you also need a distributor to get you into Ingram and pitch your book directly to Barnes & Noble. Your best course of action would be to hunt down a distributor who services Ingram and has a relationship with Barnes & Noble.
Clear as mud?
Understanding the fundamental differences between book wholesalers and distributors is important, but equally critical is establishing your distribution and sales goals for the book. If you’re not planning on doing any marketing to consumers and just want your book to be made available for your friends and family, a distributor probably isn’t necessary. If you’re planning on hiring a publicist and doing national media, you probably won’t get very far without one. Thinking carefully about your platform and marketing plans will help you determine realistic goals for your book’s distribution.