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- in Publishing Industry
- by Shennandoah Diaz
There’s a mis-perception common among readers and writers alike. One publishes a book and VOILA it ends up on the shelves at every major bookstore in the nation.
Sorry folks. I wish it were that simple but it’s not. Just because a book is published, even by a major traditional house, there is no guarantee that Barnes & Noble or any other bookstore will actually carry it (or if they do how many). Every day close to 2,000 books are published. There simply isn’t enough room on the shelves. Plus there are a few other considerations such as:
- Market: Certain books with regional or niche appeal don’t need to be in every bookstore.
- Quality: Many self-published books aren’t up to par in terms of design or content.
- Consumer Demand: Consumer’s wants change and are influenced by things like media, word of mouth, and economics.
So how do books get onto bookshelves?
Roughly five months before your publication date your publisher creates something known as a galley or Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC). This is an unproofed sample of your book. Sometimes it will have the final cover design, but the main difference between it and the final printed copy is the back cover copy. Instead of a traditional blurb the ARC has a marketing summary and information on any upcoming publicity you have planned. This tells the corporate book buyer (the person who decides what books to bring in to the stores) that the author is serious about creating interest among readers and that there will likely be demand for your book.
The ARCs are divided up between your publicist and the sales reps who work for the distributor that is either part of your publisher or whom your publisher has a contract with. The sales reps then take your book and travel to the stores in their region and try to convince the store’s book buyer to bring on your book. (FYI–Barnes & Noble has a single corporate buyer for all of their stores. You can’t contact individual stores to request buys).
So why is this happening 5 months before your books is published? Bookstores work on budgets just like everyone else. In January they are figuring out how to allot their budgets for May. As a published author you want to approach book buyers when their pockets are full. If they like your book they will make room for it in their budget (FYI-the actual buy doesn’t occur until the month prior to pub date, sometimes later).
If the book buyer thinks they can sell your book they will make a buy based on how many they expect to sell. This number varies from book to book. When they actually make the purchase most bookstores don’t source directly from the publisher/distributor. Instead they source through a wholesaler like Ingram or Baker & Taylor. The Big Bad Book Blog has a post that clearly explains the difference between a wholesaler and a distributor. Just know that the wholesaler helps to simplify the book buying process and acts as a barrier between book stores and the thousands of publishers that exist.
This is just a brief introduction to the complicated and varied process of getting books onto to bookstore shelves. Hopefully it clears up some confusion. We’ll chat more about the intricacies of publishing and distributing books in upcoming posts, but if you have a specific question I’m more than happy to answer. Just paste your question into the comments section. Readers are also free to chime in and give their input. Our collective wisdom can help others!