Publishing Insiders Wrap-Up: The Dos and Don’ts of Book Distribution, Part 2

by | Apr 21, 2011 | Book Marketing Basics

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We had a great show about additional distribution options – with an emphasis on getting into bookstores – with special guest Amy Collins.

About our guest: Amy Collins is the owner of The Cadence Group, a sales and marketing service provider for the publishing industry. In 2008, The Cadence Group launched New Shelves Distribution, a full-scale book warehousing, sales and fulfillment company selling publisher’s books directly to the national chains and independent bookstores in North America.

Distribution is the biggest challenge for independent publishers and authors, but there are companies that will handle distribution for them.

The ability to get books to major wholesalers, to librarians (who are still important and where more people are going for books these days) and bookstore buyers – that’s the greatest hurdle. There are great companies offering distribution services. There are fewer companies these days, further apart and their standards are getting higher, but they still exist.

What do you need to get distribution?

Book Cover Design by Alice Cordelia Morse

Image via Wikipedia

Authors need a well-written, compelling and professionally-edited book that is on par with any book produced by a major publishing house. Prospective distributors look for:

* Solid writing

* Professional editing (not editing services from your great aunt Edna who was a librarian for many years) – and have the book proofread two or three times, once is not enough

* Proper copy editing

* Interior laid out by a professional – the question to ask: does it look like any other book being published by a major publisher? It should.

* Strong cover – does your cover look like any other cover designed by a major publisher? That’s the standard for judging your book.

If you can look yourself in the eye and know that you published the book professionally, you will most likely get a distribution deal.

Will distributors work with authors who only publish one book? Yes. It’s true some distributors won’t take on a single book, but others will (including The Cadence Group).

Reviews/advance reviews – a must have?

Library Journal

Image via Wikipedia

Yes, reviews at this point are must-haves. If you would like to be seriously considered by the library and bookstore community you need to be vetted and approved by the bigger names in the review community. Examples include ForeWord, Kirkus, and Library Journal – each is known for autonomous, honest reviews. There are thousands of book reviewers out there who are highly respected, such as Grady Harp at Amazon, the Midwest Book Review, and If you can develop a tsunami of positive reviews (meaning dozens and dozens of positive reviews), they start to take hold on the Internet. For instance, a BlogCritics review of a book distributed by The Cadence Group was picked up by both the Seattle Times and USAToday.

Getting reviews is more difficult because there are so many books published and competing for reviews. If an author has a book out for six to eight months and is finally getting reviews – would a distributor still consider that book? Yes, says Amy. Larger publishers needed to create a financial window that gave books a short period of time to make it; that’s not a publishing decision. One of the beauties of being an independent publisher or a self-published author is that the rule doesn’t apply to you. A two-year-old book is just as valid as a two-month-old book as long as the information is still relevant and the writing is good.

The difference between warehousing, fulfillment, distribution and wholesaling

Midnight buying a book

Image by bpende via Flickr

When a book is printed on paper (there are different sets of definitions for ebooks), it needs to become available to consumers. How will readers get the book? Perhaps through a bookstore, a library or, or – these are retailers.

Those retailers get their books from wholesalers. Wholesalers buy books from publishers, store them in warehouses and then wait for orders from retailers. Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Quality, Davidson … these are examples of wholesalers. Books not ordered by retailers will be returned to the publisher.

Although wholesalers get books directly from publishers they don’t work with every small press since there are so many of them. In those cases, wholesalers insist that the small publishers find a distributor. The distributor takes the publisher’s books and actively and aggressively sells those books into the retail and wholesale marketplace. (Unlike a wholesaler who waits for orders to come in from retailers).

Fulfillment involves the distributors shipping orders when they arrive, billing those who buy the books, and turning money over to the publishers.

Genre considerations

Harlequin Art Exhibit, NYC, 5/29/09 - 122 of 145

Image by rtbookreviews via Flickr

What if an author wants to create a new genre? Amy’s advice: stick to the genres that exist. If you are a small press or self-published author you don’t get the same benefit of the doubt as a major publisher. You have to follow the rules, and one of the rules is genre counts. The American reader wants to know if they read a Debbie Macomber book that this new book is the next Debbie Macomber. Rarely can you launch a book that is so unique the public will take a chance on it. Your book is not the exception. If you have written a spiritual porn romance, pick one genre – the three combined is not a category.

So, you want a bestseller

Amy would tell a client: let’s see what foundation we can put under this book to lift it as high as we can… then it’s the book’s job to lift and soar. First, the author needs to answer the following questions: What is your marketing plan, what is your distribution plan, are you buying ads? If you’re buying ads, where? Who is your reader? Where will your reader buy this book? You need to answer these questions beforehand. You need to put the money and time behind your book to lift it as high as you can. If you don’t have the money, then invest the time and the passion required to promote your book.

Time to buy a book?

Image by ....Tim via Flickr

If you’re a publisher you know that publishing a book is a business decision, not a labor of love. It’s a risk.

There is a formula of sorts for bestsellers. The recipe requires that a book needs a certain number of reviews as well as a certain number of books in print. Ways you can fall short in this formula abound. For example, if you’ve written an espionage novel and seek 52-year-old espionage fans, then your cover needs to look like every other bestselling book in your genre. You have no reason to expect bestseller status for your book unless you make a bestseller investment in key areas like cover design, getting a distributor, etc.

Writing a book is a little like giving birth… and now you have to raise the kid – and that’s not a two-month process. The hard work is just beginning. So don’t say after two months that you’ve done everything that you can for your book. If you’re an author who is going to self-publish, you can do this, but there are also experts who can teach you, use them. If you don’t know something, ask.

Download the full show at


Upcoming Episode:

Please join us May 3, 2011 for Dos and Don’ts of Distribution, Part 3–part-3

Braille book with shadows and texture

Image by jasonpearce via Flickr

Join us with our special guests as we continue our discussion about the importance and value of book distribution. We’ve covered the basics in previous shows, and now we’ll take it up a notch to discuss additional distribution options, such as ebooks, large print, Braille, audio books and more!

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  1. Cheryl Pickett

    I’m really glad when I see statements like this with regard to self-publishing: “If you’re a publisher you know that publishing a book is a business decision, not a labor of love. It’s a risk.

    It’s not that you can’t write a book just as a labor of love; it’s perfectly okay to do so. The thing is, if you want to use your book to build your business (if you’re a consultant for example) or career or to make any kind of income, it can no longer be just about the love of writing and desire to hold pages in your hand.

    The advice in the quote above is solid, publishing and all the components are business decisions like the myriad of others you’ll need to make along the way. Make smart, educated choices and you greatly increase the chance of success.

    Excellent advise here.

    • Paula


      Thanks for stopping by! You are right on target – and it’s a discussion we have all the time with authors. Love your work, but realize publishing is a business and you’ve got to make decisions based on that fact.

  2. Amy Collins

    Penny and Sherrie, you are amazing! Thank you so much for a great time. I just love how knowledgeable you guys are and I enjoyed sharing the hour talking about our industry. Thanks so much guys.

    • Paula


      Thank you for being on the show and providing such great insights/information. We really appreciate it!

    • Penny Sansevieri

      Thank you so much!



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