Although members call and e-mail the IBPA office requesting advice of every shape and size, there is a common theme that runs through many of the questions that could be boiled down like so:
It was fairly easy, technologically speaking, to make my book available for purchase. Now what?
At the core of this theme there is a common precipitator: little planning on the front end. It might seem counterintuitive, but the first step in the publishing process isn’t the writing of the book. Instead, it is developing an understanding of who will buy and read the book once it’s written and published, and how you’re going to let them know about it.
An early connection to specific sorts of readers should drive many of the major decisions about the tone and form that content takes. It should also help create and manage a launch that is structured to drive sales.
Now, I understand that one of the allures of indie publishing is that you can get a book out fast on your own terms. If you’re comfortable with a slow burn (or no burn) on sales and with doing all your promotion in person or via social media, then this might be a viable option for you. For many IBPA members, however, it isn’t.
In fact, many members call the IBPA office after having already released a book and attempted to promote it themselves, only to discover they’re unable to crack the national distribution game and therefore the book isn’t being picked up by professional buyers (i.e., bookstore owners, librarians, specialty shops, and other retailers). But by the time they come to us with their questions, it can be too late for us to give them the help they need.
This is particularly true for those who have signed an exclusive deal with a particular distribution channel and/or already printed thousands of copies that now sit in their offices or homes.
Reasons for Rejection
According to the folks at Small Press United (SPU), a book distribution service created to meet the needs of small and start-up publishers: “There are many reasons why a well-written book may be turned down for purchase” by a national distributor or book buyer. “Sometimes it’s due to a perceived limited market, but unfortunately, and far too often, it’s due to common missteps among start-up publishers.”
IBPA has a strong partnership with SPU, whose distribution agreement includes a free new or extended one-year membership to IBPA. We also partner with other distributors and wholesalers, such as Baker & Taylor, Ingram Content Group, Cardinal Publishers Group, Partners Publishers Group, and Quality Books. The goal of these partnerships is to help educate the distributors’ clients, as well as all our other members, about the business of publishing while providing low-cost cooperative marketing initiatives.
We learn a great deal by carefully listening to our partners, and I want to share some of the knowledge we’ve gained from SPU with you now. So, to help you learn what kinds of books a distributor thinks will work in the trade market, I have listed six of the reasons SPU cites for declining to take a publisher on as a client.
As you’ll see, all these reasons are related to the publisher’s understanding of the reader and the marketplace. My hope is this list will save you a headache or two.
- The title and front cover copy do not immediately identify the benefits of the book, the subject matter, or category. For example, if a buyer can’t immediately tell if a title is fiction or nonfiction, or which of their shelves it will go on, they won’t buy it. If the cover doesn’t show what the reader will get out of the book, it has less of a chance of being stocked.
- The title’s category is extremely competitive and only those titles with big-name authors or fantastic marketing and publicity campaigns are considered for it. Even though a book may be unique, shelf space is limited and only those books with the greatest chance of selling are stocked.
- Quotes used on the front and or back covers are not from people with impressive credentials. It’s a common mistake to have a quote from a teacher or child on a children’s book, but unless that teacher has nationally recognized credentials or the child is a star somewhere, it hurts the book more than it helps.
- The format does not fit the category or age group. For example, a hardcover fitness book that lacks an author with a history of sales is less likely to be considered than the book formatted as a reasonably priced paperback. Similarly, a children’s picture book with pages that have large amounts of text doesn’t work as a picture book.
- The book’s immediate consumer appeal in a retail environment is overestimated. A book may seem likely to sell following the author’s hour-long speaking engagement, but may not be impressive enough to be picked up off the shelf without someone having heard the author speak.
- The book is inappropriately priced for the category and format. It is obvious when publishers don’t do their research before establishing a suggested retail price for their books. If the price isn’t competitive related to what the reader expects to pay, the book is rarely considered.
In other words, getting a book into the hands—and minds and hearts—of people beyond family and friends requires understanding both the readers the book is for and the organizations and processes that lie between the book and the readers. These organizations can do a lot to help you reach your market, but only if you do your part by learning their requirements and understanding their processes.
About the Author:
Just before Angela Bole became IBPA’s Executive Director, she was Deputy Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG), which fosters conversation and consensus across all sectors of the book business. Before that, Angela served for two years as BISG’s Associate Director and two years as its Marketing and Communications Manager. Angela also serves as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of IDPF, the International Digital Publishing Forum.