Monday, August 6, 2007

What's a Publisher?

August 6, 2007

Last week this guy, Jerry, said to me, "I would think that with computer technology these days anybody could get published."
Well, yeah. I answered a little bit about POD and iUniverse, including my experience several years back with it, but really, that's not what I'm talking about today.
Just a footnote, though. A few years ago I gave a few talks about how to get published and one of the things I said was: A publisher is a person with money who wants to publish books. Period. There's no school; no license; no certification. Just money and the desire to be a publisher.
Yes, but...
I learned something important from my iUniverse experience. This was reinforced by my publication experience with High Country Publishers, a small press in North (or is it south?) Carolina, who did such a fine job of publishing DIRTY DEEDS.
Distribution is everything.
In fact, when I interviewed author David Morrell last year, he commented that the way in which publishers were doing so little promotion these days, leaving it up to the authors, and how technology was such that the actual manufacturing of the actual book was so inexpensive and easy to come by, that the only thing publishers really do is distribute. (David was making a point to me, in a musing way, how publishers were doing less and less for writers, I think).
Distribution is getting your book into bookstores. Not Amazon, but all the other bookstores, Sam's Clubs, Wal-Marts, etc.
And here's a not-so-big secret. If you're self-published, if you're published by iUniverse and other PODs, it's damned near impossible to get your book into bookstores for a number of reasons, including but not limited to "no return policy" and "no standard bookseller discount."
A discussion of both of those would go on and on today and I'm up at Higgins Lake contemplating the beach shortly, but let's just say that if you're an aspiring novelist and you don't understand what I mean, you need to do some research on how bookselling works in the United States.
And here's a little-bigger secret: even if you've got a publisher with seemingly good distribution, your book may not automatically be distributed to bookstores, chains or otherwise, and if your publisher isn't behind you in a big way, you can pretty much kiss goodbye the notion of having your book at Wal-Mart, Sam's Clubs, airport bookstores, and the book section at your local Meijer store. I've had this hit home a little harder recently when I paid some visits to very large independent bookstores hoping to sign stock. These were bookstores where I had sent flyers and postcards regarding my books, as well as them being included in my e-newsletters. The Tattered Cover in Denver and Horizon Books in Traverse City. Neither of them had my books. (In fact, in Denver, I didn't see any books by my publisher, Midnight Ink, a division of the rather large publisher, Llewellyn. I forgot to do that thorough a check in Traverse City).
The fact is, I don't know how to convince them to carry my books. If my publisher's catalogue doesn't inspire them, my postcards, newsletters, author blurbs, or reviews don't inspire them, I just don't know how to get them to carry my books.
And here's the Catch-22. The way to get them to carry my books is for there to be demand. For people to be looking for them. And for that to happen, particularly on a nationwide business, there needs to be bigger sales. And how do you get bigger sales? Well, partly by having books show up in bookstores. Ideally on end-racks, on front tables, in front windows, in local author sections, etc.
Nobody said this would be easy, did they?

Mark Terry

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