Saturday, February 18, 2012

Small Press Distribution Woes

Below are the (general) requirements for a small press that is seeking distribution:

  • A copy of your best-selling titles (or artwork, page spreads or galleys for books in production)
  • Complete title list with backlist and any upcoming publishing plans
  • Sales history of each title, including original pub date, sales Year-to-Date and previous year, Lifetime sales,
  • Available Stock and Location, and sales projections of future titles
  • Marketing and publicity plans, including copies of recent advertising and reviews, and marketing plans and budgets for upcoming titles
  • Current catalog, if available
Never mind the cost to the publisher, which can be substantial and based on a per title account, it is these points that discourage 90% of all small press from EVER obtaining meaningful distribution.  First they have to list their best sellers, and that means that they've hopefully sold something that might break the four-digit threshold.  Not likely.  It is most likely they will manage two-digit sales from internet presence only, and possibly three-digit sales if the author has gone out and performed speaking engagements, books signings, and hand-to-hand physical sales.

Determination:  They won't qualify.

They better have a healthy backlist that proves they've been doing this for a couple years.  We're not talking about three or four books, nor reprints of public domain classics. 

Determination:  If they don't have the stock--they won't qualify.

The original pub date, sales Year-to-Date and previous year, lifetime sales, of every single title can be a very embarrassing disclosure.  A house might have one copy that has sold 1,200 copies in three years, believing this to be their ticket to distribution, but if the rest of their backlist has average total sales of 45 copies (each) sold in three years, the chances or slim to none they will be picked up.

Available stock means just that--warehoused books.  That equates to offset runs, or very high initial POD runs (right from the gate).  Extremely unlikely with POD publishers, and that's just about all you see out there who call themselves small or independent publishers.  Expense is the culprit.

Determination:  Will not have sufficient inventory:  Will not qualify

Marketing and publicity plans--it's possible that a small POD press might have some ideas, tricks and gimmicks, but it is extremely unlikely that they will have any record of advertising dollars spent, or any real legitimate industry reviews.  Expense and credibility (sources) are the culprits in this example.

Determination:  Won't qualify.

They better have an up-to-date HARDCOPY catalog, preferably a color one.  Sadly many of them don't.

Determination:  Won't qualify.

Folks, these are just some of the bare bones requirements for simple, relatively economic distribution.  The chances that your POD outfit (publisher) has a distributor is very unlikely.  Which will mean NO bookstore placement. Fulfillment distribution is the least acceptable route for a small press, which costs less than the full package that has a sales force that actually visits and pitches to independent and chain book stores.

Publishing today is black and white.  There is no such thing as a medium-sized publishing house anymore, aside from a few (POD) exceptions that manage to garner respectable industry reviews, produce sizable print runs and sell copies in the thousands  .  Either they have distribution or they don't. It's the difference between selling 46 copies and 4,600.  It's as simple as that.  Sadly, if you don't have an agent batting for you and sending your manuscripts out to the majors, you will be inclined to accept contracts from the smaller guys.  Good luck.  Your only recourse then is to work/negotiate the contract until you feel comfortable with the deal.  You'll be hard-pressed to get an advance, but it is possible.  Anything is possible.

Good hunting.

P.S. three words have always defined legitimate publishing for me:


See if you understand the reasoning behind this.  It leads to a complicated but understandable formula, which leads right back to distribution status.


  1. Oh, I see the reasoning. Indeed I do.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Nicole. Unfortunately, the reasoning usually leads to very low sales when the press has inadequate distribution. The opportunity to find yourself in print is gratifying. The hammer blow comes when you realize that sales are you usually left up to you and they are entirely garnered from the internet. There is something to be said about selling an average of 75 books via the POD model. I've gone through it three times now for four books.