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IT'S ABOUT THE DISTRIBUTION, BABY - Bakka-Phoenix Books -- Canada's Oldest Science Fic — LiveJournal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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IT'S ABOUT THE DISTRIBUTION, BABY [Aug. 10th, 2007|12:06 pm]
Bakka-Phoenix Books -- Canada's Oldest Science Fic


After some experience, most writers have an understanding about how the publishing (A) side of the book business works (ie: it takes time; a lot of people are involved; the money isn't huge; did I mention that it takes time?). Also, because most writers are readers, they usually have a good acquaintance with bookstores (B), and at least a passing understanding of how they work (ie: spining vs facing on shelves; returns; HC to PB cycles, etc.).

What many people don't understand is that there is a third, equally important side to the equation: distribution. Books don't get from A to B without it.

Most big publishing houses, like Random House and Penguin, provide their own distribution. Many of them also distribute books for other, smaller publishers. Harper Collins, for instance, distributes titles for McArthur & Co. HB Fenn is a major Canadian distributor: with only a small publishing program of their own, their primary business is the distribution of other publishing houses (one of those houses is Tor, the SFF publisher, so we see a lot of stuff from Fenn). And there are others: Raincoast; PGC; Georgetown.

One major plus of a distributor is the accompanying sales force. A person with one book to sell cannot possibly afford to meet with booksellers across the country: a national distributor with thousands of titles can. Another important factor is the billing. It's MUCH easier to pay one big bill to a distributor than twenty small ones. Anything that makes a bookseller's life easier is good thing.

And then there's price. A distributor works the same way a publisher does, selling books to stores with a standard percentage discount off the listed price. Individual writers with books to sell are often shocked to hear that a bookstore wants a %40 (or %50) discount. It's not greed, it's necessity. If we don't have even the possibility of making a real profit, why on earth would we carry the book? And that doesn't even touch the question of returns...

Now, it needs to be understood that none of this applies to online writing. I'm only talking about actual physical books. And I'm not saying it's impossible. But it's even more difficult than writing the book in the first place -- because you have to co-ordinate the actions of other people, not just your own. If you're prepared to do that work, go for it. But be prepared.

[User Picture]From: monkeyman
2007-08-10 07:31 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I don't know much about that side of it at all, and it's really great of you to take the time to lay it out in an understandable way. (I suppose if I were a more successful writer at this stage in the game, I might. Or then again, I might have become one of the people who's been bothering you. )

While I'm sure that there are a few good writers out there who can find no other outlet than to do their own publishing, distributing, and so on ... it too often seems to be the folks who don't believe in things like, oh, editing and revising their spontaneous bursts of creativity who wind up shopping themselves door to door, or store to store.

Of course, should I ever become desperate enough, I reserve the right to do a complete 180 on the subject. ;)
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[User Picture]From: rambleman
2007-08-11 12:04 am (UTC)
as someone who has worked Customer Service for a distributor [IPG] I'd like to thank your efforts to clue people into this much overlooked aspect of the whole book world. the number of calls I've taken from authors who have self-published, convinced that they're the next big thing, rolling out all the marketing blitz, only to think about the distribution, say, the month before publication...
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[User Picture]From: twiegand
2007-08-11 03:28 am (UTC)
Cost. You mentioned cost in this. Let's start with the obvious from the seller's point of view. Rent, salaries, utilities, taxes. The distributor can add all of the above plus gas, vehicles and insurance for the same. Add the publisher's costs and it becomes quickly evident why writing doesn't always make lots of money for those involved. (The same goes for shoes.)
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