A few weeks ago, at the San Francisco Writers Conference, I had the good fortune to met Peter Beren, a publishing consultant for over 30 years and the author of this informative guest post. He graciously gives us the basics of the book business as he sees it – information, which all writers should be aware.
Every author published or not, needs to know the basics of the book business. One of the most basic parts is distribution. When you pitch a publisher on a book idea, they have one eye on the consumer and one eye on their distribution system. It is only when both “eyes” say “yes” that they are seriously considering a book.
Books are ordered in advance of their manufacture. They are sold on the basis of future promises. Many books actually don’t exist at the time they are ordered. Most books are presented as unique, authoritative and complete even though they haven’t been finished at the time they are ordered by booksellers.
20% of book sales occur in the E-commerce channel (statistics from Bowker) which captures all online booksellers, including Amazon. 27% of sales come from large chains
(3 accounts: Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million), 8% from Mass Merchandisers(Costgo, Target, etc.), 11% from Book Clubs (membership Clubs by direct mail) and 5% from independent bookstores.
When you or your agent pitches a book, the publisher is sizing it up on the basis of similar books and how they performed in these channels. Of course, if the publisher has a similar book on its list and the book was successful, it’s a lot easier to model it and project a reasonable lay-down across these channels.
The “lay-down” is the sum of all the book units ordered in advance and the number of books in distribution immediately following its publication date. In my experience, if you wait 30 days for stragglers, you will have a complete picture of the number of books available to consumers in all the channels before the “sell-through” or sales out of the stores and etailers actually begin.
It is shocking to note that most books do not sell more than their initial lay-down and that the size of the lay-down will determine critical mass in the channels and whether or not the book is successful. A book will succeed or fail according to the size of its advance orders or, in other words, the earliest possible moment in its sales life. That is one reason why authors need to promote their books ahead of pub date. When a publisher is asked how a book is doing and it’s already in the stores, the usual response is “it’s too early to tell…” what they mean is, “we know this book is going to be successful, we just don’t know how successful.” Or, the opposite.
In the book business, perception is reality and distribution, the wider the better, is the single most important aspect in the success of a book.
PETER BEREN is a Publishing Consultant to authors, self-publishers and independent publishers. Formerly Vice President for Publishing at Palace Press International, Publisher of Sierra Club Books and Publisher of VIA Books, he has more than 30 years experience in the publishing industry. The author of six books, including (with Brad Bunnin) The Writers Legal Companion and California the Beautiful (with Galen Rowell), his latest work, Hidden Napa Valley, featuring the photography of Wes Walker, was recently published by Welcome Books. Visit his web site at: http://www.PeterBeren.com/ and read his online column on Examiner.com at: examiner.com/a-25786-SF-Publishing-Examiner
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