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PRESIDENT’S REPORT: Behind the Trade Distribution Decisions

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I came away feeling both
exhilarated and sad after sitting in recently with the committee that meets
twice a year to select titles for PMA’s Trade Distribution Program.


It felt good seeing all the
excellent work from small, independent presses whose titles found the elusive
trade distribution they deserve, sometimes after much struggle. Yet only about
20 percent of 188 titles submitted to the program in August were accepted. And
this was the part that felt like a wake, mourning books that had not survived
the process, despite being the product of someone’s hard work, investment, and


Some submissions did not make the
cut for reasons that the publishers could have done little or nothing about
(except not publish). Some titles would have met the program’s requirements
with only minor modifications.


The Trade Distribution Program was
organized in 1992, while Bob Erdmann was PMA president, to help member
publishers get distribution at the bookstore level, as that became increasingly
difficult for independent publishers to arrange. Twice a year, executive
director Jan Nathan convenes a committee comprising representatives of Ingram,
Baker & Taylor, National Book Network, Barnes & Noble, Independent
Publishers Group, and independent rep groups to consider titles members have
submitted, which must not have been previously presented to or stocked by a
major chain or handled by a distributor.


The committee meets at a long
table piled with books and galleys and discusses each submission in detail.
Accepted titles earn distribution by IPG under special arrangement with PMA.
IPG includes the books in its independent press catalog, which comes out twice
a year. PMA receives no compensation or commissions. Participation in the
selection process by national wholesalers and retailers virtually assures
advance orders for titles with the best commercial potential.


What Was Wrong


I’ve been in book publishing for
17 years, and as I sat in on the committee’s summer meeting, I learned once
again that the more I know, the less I know. I appreciated gaining a better
understanding of some of the subtleties of our business by watching
professionals at work. These people love books, and they want independent
publishers to succeed. But they are realists who work for companies that need
to make a profit selling books, and they bring to bear their experience,
awareness of consumer trends, and good instincts about what does and does not
sell, and why.


Some of the committee’s experience
is distilled in this list of the dozen most-common reasons titles are not


1. The
book lacks a spine and/or a title on the spine. Since most titles in stores are
placed on the shelves spine out, spiral-bound books and other books lacking
titles on the spine cannot be accepted.

2. The
book’s production values are not competitive with those of other books in the
marketplace in its category. Design elements that make a difference include
typeface, jacket or cover, layout, photo reproduction, table of contents, and

3. Words
in the book are used improperly or misspelled.

4. The
book does not meet the competition, either editorially or graphically, in its

5. The
competition in the book’s category is fierce, and only those titles with the
greatest name recognition, smartest design, and most aggressive promotion and
publicity campaigns will be able to achieve significant sales.

6. At the
current time, more books are being returned than sold in the book’s category.

Fiction is a tough sell. Unlike most nonfiction titles, a work of fiction does
not usually benefit from simply being on a shelf in a store. Its success
depends on reviews and word of mouth, and marketing to the consumer is a

8. Poetry
is a tough sell. Its success, too, depends on reviews and word of mouth, but
also on awards.

9. The
book is not a general trade title and can be promoted and sold more effectively
through other channels, such as specialty stores, direct mail, schools, and so forth.

10. At
its current price, the book cannot compete.

11. The
book is too personal.

12. Not
enough inventory is available to market the book at the national level.


The acquisition committee will
meet again in January 2006. If you are thinking about submitting a title,
please review it against this list of reasons for rejection, and seek critical
feedback at every stage as you develop the title.


It’s also important to comply with
this basic checklist for any book you want to submit.


You must be the publisher of the title and own the


Front cover

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               The title must be readable from a
distance of six feet.

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               The author’s name should be on the
front cover, along with the name(s) of any illustrator and/or photographer.

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               The cover design must be



style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               The interior design must use a
typeface that is appealing to the eye, and it must not use too many fonts.

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               White space and white pages must
be limited.

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               The copyright must be current.

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               The margin size must be

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               The book should be professionally


Back cover elements

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               ISBN

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               Standard bar code

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               Retail price

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               Description of the book

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               Quotes from reviews and/or blurbs

style=’font-size:11.0pt;font-family:Symbol’>·               Subject category or categories


Visit <span
or see the <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>PMA Independent
archives at the site for more information on the Trade Distribution Program and
how to submit a title.


An Invitation: Come to
Seattle in November


This is a special invitation to
attend a one-day Business of Publishing conference at the Mayflower Hotel in
Seattle on Saturday, November 5, co-sponsored by Book Publishers Northwest
(BPNW) and PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association.


Panel discussions and Q&As
will focus on production issues, the special challenges of publishing
children’s books, financial management, national distribution and wholesaling,
and book club and catalog marketing; and at the end of the day, a lively
brainstorming session will focus for a few minutes on individual publisher’s
projects or issues.


Panelists, drawn from the PMA
board of directors, represent several hundred years of experience in


To register or get more
information, visit www.BPNW.org<span
class=95StoneSerifIt> or
Because seating is limited, registration will be on a first-come, first-served


As always, I welcome your comments
and ideas for the association—on this subject and any others. Please
contact me at gksturgis@earthlink.net.


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