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Blessingway Authors' Services - Ellen Kleiner - Santa Fe, New Mexico

What It Takes to Self-Publish:
Part II: Distributors

Distributors are publisher driven. They create demand by generating orders from stores, usually through a catalog and sales reps who go out on three 3- to 4-month tours of independent bookstores each year. Between selling cycles, most stores will continue to order their stock from distributors they've worked with. Today, more distributors than ever before are willing to take on single-title publishers. Some will want an exclusive contract with you, whereas others will not. Your best bet is to work with one or more distributors that specialize in titles similar to yours, because these suppliers already have a relationship with stores that feature this genre.

What does a distributor do? Typically, a distributor who takes on dozens of self-publishers as clients, does so based on the sales potential of their books. Basic services include warehousing, cataloging, sales representation to independent and chain bookstores (and sometimes libraries), shipping, billing, collections, and marketing. Most operate on a consignment basis and will send you a check each month, reflecting sales that took place 90 to 120 days earlier. Most also send sales catalogs of their books (with new titles frontlisted) to the trade. Distributor catalogs are usually published in January (with an acquisition deadline of October) and June (with an acquisition deadline of March).

What does a distributor look for in a new book? For a distributor to sell your title to the US book market, it must have: (1) an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) on the copyright page, (2) a bar code (for inventory control) printed on the lower right side of the back cover, (3) a subject (cookbook, self-help, parenting, men's studies, women's spirituality) or two or three printed on the upper left corner of the back cover, (4) a CIP (cataloging-in-publication) datablock on the copyright page, and (5) a sophisticated, sales-oriented cover design.

How to approach distributors? Call those that seem experienced in your genre. Describe your title. If they seem interested, ask if they would prefer to see page proofs (galleys) or a bound book, and request submission forms or a copy of their guidelines for submitting a product. If they are not interested, ask them to recommend a distributor with a more compatible line. Most will be glad to give you a recommendation.

What to send an interested distributor? Along with the page proofs (galleys) or review copy, send a cover letter describing your target audience, your unique qualifications as author of the book, why you think it will be successful in bookstore (and library) markets, and sales records of any previous books you have written. A news release is also helpful, though not necessary. All your material should go out well ahead of your pub date.

Please request a current listing of distributors by emailing us at

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WHAT IT TAKES TO SELF PUBLISH: Editing & Production | Distributors | Wholesalers

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