Inside info about publishing and distribution


Simon Warwick is just the kind of “inside” guy that every small publisher needs to hear. He’s a 25-year veteran and book agent. He knows what a book needs to get selling traction.

So his 75-minute talk, “Getting Your Book into Distribution (or Should I Look for a Literary Agent?)” at the BAIPA (Bay Area Independent Publishers Assn) meeting in San Rafael on July 14 was time very well spent.

Let me share the take-away points that I heard. First, Simon’s main point: if publishing is chaotic now with digital changes and a weak economy, it will be drastically different in 20 years. The only thing certain is that there will be authors and buyers, but all the rest of the middlehandlers, all looking impregnable a few years back, may be gone or remarkably altered. Why? Mostly because you can sell to the buyer directly. So, says Simon, keep as little stock as possible and sell as much as you can. Book reps are also a dying breed.

1. Video or film is a great selling tool. Put it on YouTube and/or your home website. On the latter, it should open up talking, telling the viewer/listener what you have that they need or want.

2. Every book should have its own website (URL), most with a landing page that sells the book and lets the person either link ORDER or click off.

3. Shipping is very costly so look for something like UPS drop-shipping at low cost.

4. The traditional distribution as we’ve known it began in the 70s. (Get specifics about current distributors from Dan Poynter and John Kremer.) Other solid points:

Distribution has four tiers:

(A) the master tier, which exclusively handles the distribution—mostly to bookstores, chains, and foreign sales (like PGHW, Consortium, IPG, SCB, and Perseus). They take a discount of about 65%.

The master distributor has its own sales force (sales reps), so if you don’t want to create a sales branch and have 6+ titles (they’d prefer you have 100s), they might take you in. You must sell them on how, specifically, you and your book(s) will drive buyers to the bookstore. They don’t want POD books and like to see you have a print order of 500-1000+; it shows your commitment.

(B) wholesalers, non-exclusive, a 55% discount (like Ingram and Baker & Taylor)

(C) bookstores (brick and mortar, with a 40% discount, and online)

(D) Internet

5. If a distributor goes bankrupt, you get a settlement pittance for all of your books in their warehouse. To have a legal chance to enter and take your stock, get a ICC1 form, fill it out, and give a copy to the distributor (before the bankruptcy). Available in every state; you need it in the state where the warehouse is located. On line in CA. It overrides bankruptcy.

6. Gift trade is a hard place to sell books. Very specialized, non-returnable, 50% discount. If interested, Perseus may have a gift catalog to see how it works.

7. To whom are books distributed? 50% to chains, 15% to independent stores (but shrinking), 20% online, and 15% ebooks. No real difference in the last two categories; significant growth there.

8. You can sell directly to libraries through Quality (QBI), Follett, and Baker & Taylor. Think of a donation locally so your book gets in your county system. Also, look to IBPA for excellent distribution programs for small publishers.

9. Check Simon Warwick’s website ( to see a very good explanation of a good publicity campaign.

10. If you want an agent for your book, you must convince the potential representative that your book is over the top. You need positive reviews. Tell the feeling your book creates in the buyer. What unmet need or irrational passion your book provokes. Tell them your market and plan to sell to it, why the book will sell like crazy. Same thing for fiction or nonfiction. All in a one-page letter. You can find agents in the Literary Market Place and John Kremer’s materials.

11. A publisher is the person who puts up the money.

12. To get an agent or distributor you can also send a (marketing) proposal, to show that the author will take part in the selling process. Compare your book with the three top competitors; what does your book do better or differently? For fiction, you must at least send three chapters and a synopsis.

13. At your website, the book’s landing (pitch) page can be a long letter, with endorsements and a buy button. The important thing is the traffic conversion rate, how many buyers are driven to the site to buy. Build the search terms (SEO) into the website titles and text, to help the book found. Drive them to your website, then sell them.

14. Consider Google’s Adwords. They can cost $1-2+ each so you must have selling info waiting for the respondent that says “here it is, buy it!” Also use Google Analytics and/or Cherry Picker.

15. Newcomers get a book idea, write the book, then figure that they’ll find a way to sell it. That’s backward. You should start with the need the book meets, who will buy it, where they would buy your book, what words do they use to search?

16. Websites are cheap: $5-10 each. See Design your website so the reader will know how/why he/she needs your book, then how to buy it instantly.

17. You also need one page where all of your products are listed, with a landing page link for each. Include a media page at the site.

18. Your best marketing may be offline.

19. Simon is skeptical about social marketing to sell books. Returns aren’t good.

That’s a skeletal summary. Lots of very good material from a gent who lives book selling.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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