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The PMA Trade Distribution Program: Taking Stock After 15 Years

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For the small publisher, getting books into bookstores, especially the large national chains, was no less difficult 15 years ago than it is today. In 1989, PMA was directly presented with a challenge: Do something to help small, independent publishers get their books into major bookstore chains!

PMA accepted that challenge by promptly meeting with key executives from Barnes & Noble/B. Dalton and Borders/Waldenbooks to offer them an idea: Would they be interested in purchasing books published by many PMA members from a single vendor for distribution in their stores if the books had been prescreened by a selection committeeof industry experts? It was really a no-brainer. Of course they would. As the CEO of one of the major chains said, rubbing his hands, “I can’t wait to see those books!”

Next, PMA met with executives from Ingram to enlist their support as the source from which the national chains would purchase PMA members’ books. Naturally, Ingram agreed with enthusiasm.

The first selection committee consisted of representatives from Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and a trade publisher, along with the PMA president and its executive director. This group selected titles published by several PMA members for presentation to the national chains, which bought the titles they liked and set the program in motion in 1990.

A year later, PMA enhanced the program by adding a distributor. With Independent Publishers Group in the mix, it was possible to include independent bookstores as well as the national chains.

$14.5 Million (and Counting)

Altogether, PMA members whose books have been picked by the program’s selection committee have earned $14 million from it. Now in its 14th year, the program has achieved unparalleled successes for hundreds of books that, in all likelihood, would never have seen the inside of a bookstore, let alone the insides of hundreds of thousands of readers’ homes.

Here are some numbers behind that big number:

· Approximately 2,500 books have been submitted; about 25 percent

of them (623, to be exact) have been picked by the selection


· A total of 1,631,608 units have been sold through the program,

bringing in revenues of $14,529,073.

· The return rate for these books has stayed consistently under 14

percent, significantly below industry averages.

The top 10 sellers have been:

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

, by Marshall B. Rosenberg; Puddle Dancer Press

Birthing from Within

, by Pam England and Rob Horowitz; Partera Press

Massage: A Career at Your Fingertips

, by Martin Ashley; Enterprise Publishing

Signs for Me: A Basic Vocabulary for Children, Parents, and Teachers

, by Ben Bahan and Joe Dannis; Dawnsign Press

The Kitchen Companion

, by Polly Clingerman; American Cooking Guild/Sundance Publishing

First Steps In Winemaking

, by C.J.J. Berry; G.W. Kent, Inc.

Find Anyone Fast

, by Richard S. Johnson and Debra Johnson Knox; MIE Publishing

The Concealed Handgun Manual: How to Choose, Carry, and Shoot a Gun in Self Defense

, by Chris Bird; Privateer Publications

Poetry for a Lifetime

, selected by Samuel Norfleet Etheredge; Mira Vista Press

Citizenship Made Simple

, by Barbara Brooks Kimmell and Alan M. Lubiner; Next Decade, Inc.

All these books are still selling strongly.

What the Selection Committee Looks For

If I were to submit a book to the PMA Trade Distribution Program for consideration this coming January, I would work very hard on:


Choices are important. Our lives are dependent on the choices that we make almost every minute. When you decide to publish a book, do so judiciously. Think! A publisher I respect once said, “Two books on a given subject are successful–the first book, and then the best book.” And a member of the first selection committee was fond of asking, “Does the world need another book on . . . ?” If you are going to do another book on . . . , it had better be the best book. Effective marketing begins when a publisher selects the right book to publish.


A book displayed in the very best position in a retail bookstore has less than five seconds to catch the attention of a prospective buyer. The cover graphics and copy must be striking. Of course, the book needs the proper bar code, shelving category, price, etc. And don’t forget the all-important kudos from credible sources. Don’t cut corners on the cover.


Your book’s interior must not only look good, it must be reader-friendly. Use proper fonts, leading, chapter heads, etc., so it can be read without strain. And be sure front and back matter are properly designed.


Although publishers often ignore paper selection issues, they are important. Chose a paper that will carry halftones or color well if your book has these features. And pick a paper that doesn’t glare or reflect light, causing eyestrain.


The PMA Trade Distribution Selection Committee wants to know what you are going to do to drive customers into stores. Bookstores are not in the business of providing shelf space for books. They want you to create demand at the consumer level.

To create a marketing plan that stimulates consumer demand, define your market, identify ways to reach it, and develop a realistic budget and a month-by-month timetable. Aside from the obvious–send galleys to trade reviewers 90 to 120 days ahead of publication date; send bound books to major consumer media reviewers–what can you do to get your readers into those stores? Make your marketing plan creative and practical at the same time. The selection committee folks are pros. They know when the proverbial chain is being pulled.

Press Kit.

Along with your book, provide a good-looking professional press kit that includes a pitch letter, a news release, media Q&A, an author biography, reviews, press clippings, the cover, and any other information that highlights the strengths of the book’s content and your marketing.

The PMA Trade Distribution Program has been a blessing for many. Sure, it has room for improvement; everything does. However, nearly $15 million in sales and a very low return rate are certainly indications that it’s working very, very well.

Publishing consultant Bob Erdmann created PMA’s Trade Distribution Program while serving as president of the PMA Board and chair of its Marketing Committee. He is a veteran of more than 40 years in book publishing. For further information about his full-service publishing consultancy, visit www.bob-erdmann.com, call 707/726-9200, or e-mail bob@bob-erdmann.com.

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