Friday, July 23, 2010

Our Friend The Book Distributor by 'S'

Because I wasn’t paying attention during an e-mail exchange with Madame Zelda, I find that I’ve agreed to do an overview of “Our friend, the book distributor.” (The heat has leached any brain activity and I thought I was agreeing to be nice. Obviously I should have read all the words in the e-mail she sent.)

But her plea of authors needing to know what a book distributor is and why they should care did touch my heart so here is an overview of why book distributors are important in sales. (Remember sales? Once you get published, sales need to be considered.)

The short answer is that book distributors exist so libraries and bookstores can order a variety of titles at one time from one place. Yes, libraries and bookstores can order directly from the publisher, but there are a lot publishers and that’s a lot of paper to have to track. If you can order the majority of the popular titles from one vendor, you have fewer invoices, fewer places to contact with shipping concerns, fewer places to send remainders back, and fewer catalogs to read.

Basically, life is short and book distributors are efficient.

Now your next question may be, “That’s nice. Why do I care?” A good question. Not all publishers have agreements with book distributors. The larger ones do but a smaller press may not. If you are self published, odds are book distributors won’t carry your book. They too need to think big and will generally have a minimum number titles by a set number of authors to before doing business with a new small press/publisher.

Book distributors vary too. Some focus on certain types of materials, such as academic libraries and university bookstores, others on school libraries, others on mainstream materials to libraries and bookstores, or even focus on media, such as DVDs and CDs. So a library may buy popular books from one distributor and DVDs from another one. One size does not fit all when talking about book distributors.(Of course I'm going to continue to make more generalized statements about book distributors now that I've told you that you can't generalize. I'm aware that life is unfair.)

Distributors do have online catalogs and generally have updates of quantities in warehouses. So if a book group wants to read your new title and need 20 copies, the bookstore needs to know that it can get 20 copies at the same time.

Distributors can also setup standing orders for bookstores and libraries. The lists are designed to simplify everyone’s life. A bookstore knows about how many titles of a Stephen King hardback it needs and how many Nora Roberts hardbacks it needs. And it can setup accounts that say, “Every time there is a new Nora Roberts hardback send me X number of copies. Every time there is a Nora Roberts paperback original, send me Y number of copies.”

This kind of thing makes a lot of groups happy and simplifies a lot of planning. The libraries and bookstores know how many they need and can fill out the forms and stop having to think about whether the new Nora Roberts got ordered or not. The book distributor can track how many libraries and bookstores have new Nora titles on a standing order and use that to start to figure out how many titles are going to be needed. (Not all libraries and bookstores use standing orders, but it’s a good gauge.) So the book distributors can work with the publishers to make sure there are enough books to cover the demands too.

The fewer things people have to think about and track, the easier life tends to get.

Some standing orders will be based on types of materials. For example, a library might order 10 copies each of 20 paperback original romances and 10 copies each of 20 paperback original mysteries as part of a standing order. In this case, the library doesn’t know which 20 new titles of romance and which 20 new titles of mysteries it’s going to get each month, but the library does know that its patrons will check these out quickly .

For this type of plan to work the library also has to trust the book distributor to include titles and authors that will grab the attention of the library patrons. 20 random new titles can’t be selected for these lists to be successful.

Strangely enough, people have to be involved in the creation of these lists. People are also involved in the initial decisions of how many titles to order for the warehouse/warehouses. (Some distributors have a single warehouse. Others have multiple warehouses across the country.)

Now you’re bound to be thinking, “Who are these people and can I bribe them?”

And I would have to encourage you to let that idea go. There are just too many people involved.

You all know that advance copies get sent to reviewers and bookstores and some libraries. Well, they also get sent to book distributors. And there are people who read advances to decide how many copies are going to need to be ordered. If it’s a mid-list author who’s written something big, like when John Grisham wrote “The Firm,” the buyer may call bookstores and talk to the person who does ordering and say, “There’s this fun book that’s going to be published in a few months and I think you’re going to want to order this. Have you read the advance copy? I think this may go somewhere.”

And you may ask yourself, why? Isn’t that the publisher’s job? Well, yes but the book distributor is a bit different. The book distributor is selling its expertise in knowing the book market. It’s not selling for the publisher. To a certain extent, it has no horse in this race except it wants libraries and bookstores to buy from it. It needs bookstores and libraries to thrive so it can distribute to them.

Because the book distributor has set itself up as an entity that can identify what the public wants, it has to have programs and processes in place to remind the bookstores and libraries of its ability. (Remember the standing orders earlier? No? That’s exactly how I ended up writing this blog. I couldn’t retain what I’d read earlier. Go back a few paragraphs and review.)

The same book may be read and assessed by completely different groups at a large distributor or even a specialized distributor. Stephanie Mayer started out in the Teen/Young Adult section. Once her titles started showing up on lists showing increased sales and Publisher’s Weekly lists and New York Times lists, and people realized adults were buying these books too, the adult buyers for book distributors had to keep up with the new titles so they could identify similar types of authors/trends to include in existing lists or start new lists. Now adult fiction buyers, young adult fiction buyers, paranormal fiction buyers, and romance buyers all read Stephanie Mayer and include her works in lists.

You may be thinking, “Oh, I’ll just bribe a few.”

If only it was that simple.

Now, this is generalized but will give you the broad strokes of what next happens. Once a title gets into the system, decisions have to be made about shelf space. You have to know which titles that haven’t been selling need to go back to the publisher and how much shelf space you’re going to need for what may be a lukewarm versus a hot title. (Shelf space is more important than people think when they think about books. If you’re adding something to a warehouse, something else is getting taken away.) It’s hard enough for me in real life. The idea of doing on a warehouse scale makes my eyes cross.

It makes a lot of people’s eyes cross which is why inventory and sales reports tend to run through programs so the inventory of the warehouse will match the demand by the bookstores and libraries.

Now you have to bribe programmers and these are pricey guys. And you’ll probably have to bribe several of them because several programs may be involved. Now you’re having to track buyers and reviewers and list makers and programmers and lions and tigers and bears, oh my. (Well, okay. Just track through the programmers. But that’s still a lot of people per book distributor.)

Because if you’re going to bribe these folks, the other folks you really need to bribe are the ones that clean up the publisher descriptions and make sure that there is a cover image in the catalog. Here’s what I mean. Think about searching Amazon or B&N’s site. You can see that a book by Christine Feehan, “Ruthless Game,” will be published in January 2011. Right now, there is no cover art and no information about the plot.

As the publication date get closer, the publisher will send out a new feed , probably with the cover art and some plot information. But sometimes the cover art doesn’t translate well in the feeds or doesn’t come. And the wrong plot can be attached to the wrong title or missing too.

This happens enough that some distributors have a group that reviews the information in the system with the physical book when the physical book arrives in a warehouse. They confirm things are good when that’s true and fix things that are missing or wrong.

And if a library orders your book, it may order it “shelf ready.” That means that there’s a cover and barcode on the book and catalog record to load into the library’s catalog so the library can unpack the box and put the book on the shelf. This can take time and you want the book distributor creating the catalog record to spell your name correctly. If a library has a lot of local quirks to its cataloging, getting a shelf ready book to the library will take longer. Don’t get me started on the myth of “all library use the same cataloging rules. (I have to stop now before the eye twitch comes back.)

With this, book distributors have to keep track of getting materials to libraries and bookstores as close to the release date of things as possible. The bookstores and libraries aren’t supposed to release the materials prior to the release date so everyone is on a level playing field. If Bookstore A’s box of books arrives on Thursday and the release is next Tuesday, it still can’t put out the books until Tuesday. Bookstore B’s box of books may not arrive until Monday. But it still can’t put the books out until Tuesday. And the library can’t let the patron have the books before the bookstores can sell them. That’s part of the agreement. If you can’t meet the agreement, your books don’t get shipped to you until after the release date.

As a proud book geek, I know when titles I want to read are to be released. I will go from bookstore to bookstore searching for these titles on that day. (Yes, I should get a life but at this point it would simply confuse me.)

So with release dates in mind, book distributors have to factor shipping time with when titles leave the warehouse. Arrangements have to be made with groups like UPS, mail, and local carriers to make sure boxes get picked up and delivered in time.

So the short information is, book distributors are your friend. Libraries and bookstores like to order through them. A lot of people, work, programming, and physical assessments go on so your book can get to your readers. And then your readers can buy your work. And now we're back to sales.

Lovely, lovely sales.

As authors, the more you know about what is involved in getting your work to your readers, the better to spend your bribery money.


" 'S' has spent a lifetime haunting bookstores and libraries. Faced with nothing else that interested her, she continues to spend time professionally and personally in bookstores and libraries."

A note from Tina:

A big thank you to Madame Zelda for securing 'S' for us. An even bigger thank you to 'S' for agreeing to be with us. Today Seekerville is giving away a copy of the Seekerville book of your choice to one commenter. More lovely sales!! Winner announced in the weekend edition.

And as a special help we've included these book distributors so you can browse their site and do a little home study.


Madame Zelda said...

Velcome, my dear friend, S.

You know you love to throw around your wit and wisdom and we love to have you here in Seekerville.

I have made my famous peach blintz and sausages for you and we have plenty of coffee.

Now first I have a few questions for you.

I am writing a book. Surprise.

How can I get it on the New York Times best seller list? What does it take? Who must I talk to?

Another question. What is all this send back books that don't sell nonsense?

Okay, and I want to know the difference between a distributor and a wholesaler and a jobber.

Pass the cream.

Kathy said...

Wow! Thanks, "S". I had no idea what went on with book distribution behind the scenes. It makes me even more amazed at you multi-published gals and guys and what you have accomplished!

I'll put the coffee on - its got a little chocolate mixed in so its really good!

Helen Gray said...

Madame Zelda:

Coffee's on.

I'm thinking about giving my new hero the last name Coffee. Whatcha think?

Will you get me a job with S, so I can work "undercover" and help myself along when my book gets published.


Mary Connealy said...

I find this fascinating and will read it five more times before I begin bombarding you with questions.

Poor S.

I have always wondered how in the world Amazon works. Does Amazon have a warehouse? No, it can't, but the books come in a box marked AMAZON. Very distinctive, unless you buy from one of their used providers.
So does a distributor have the Amazon boxes? Does it go straight to the publisher and the publisher fills those orders, using Amazon boxes?

A mystery.

I'd be much obliged if you'd explain it.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Welcome to Seekerville, S.

Mary, poses an interesting question. Darn that Mary.

Ingram Books owns Barnes & Noble. They supply to Barnes & Noble. Who supplies to Amazon?

Vince said...

Hi S:

If you can’t bribe a distributor (like authors have money to do this) and there is little an author can do to help them, shouldn’t an author be expending her efforts on the demand side?

Create enough demand and whatever is necessary to get done to get the books to the book store will happen.

I understand that a new IRS rule will require businesses that buy over $600 of goods from one vendor to send in a new 1099 form on that vendor. Do you think this will make distributors even more important? The idea will be to have fewer vendors.

If you want a book ahead of everyone else, do you search for ARCs for sale on the internet? Also some books come out a year early in England before they are released in North America. Do you buy these?

I really enjoyed your inside view of distributors. Do you think there will be any distributors when eBook readers drop in price to $5? What do you see for the future…or is this the domain of Madam Zelda?



Julie Hilton Steele said...

This is a very interesting post, especially considering I just found out our library is starting ebook downloads beginning in August. The library system is going to use EPub which can be read by Nooks but not Kindles...or so I have been told.

I am really wondering how eBooks count in the distribution world. I have also been told there are unlimited downloads for an ebook so wonder how the library does that. Shelf space isn't a consideration, it is all about if the title is in the catalogue at all.

There is always a new wrinkle to consider. With Amazon announcing its ebook sales have surpassed hardcovers, it makes me think of how books (and their authors) will be judged re ebook versus paper sales.

Thanks for an informative post...and to everyone else who brought coffee!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Kathy, Helen....


Muchas gracias!!!


Such a simple letter for such a brilliant mind. You have given me great intropsect and possbily a story idea. Thanks for both! And huge welcomes to you from Seekerville. So glad to have you here because we LOVE inside tracks in Seekerville.

Like Vince mentions, I think creating demand by book quality and/or allure is the best way to get your book noticed, but we also know that takes T-I-M-E...

And that IS a boatload of people to bribe, S. Especially when I need a new roof.

Such are the quandaries of life.

I've always seen 'climbing the publishing ladder' as a step by step process that often gets bogged down in the middle, the mid-list... Which is NOT a bad thing, right? Productive midlist authors make good money... Key word: productive.

A jobber????? Isn't a distributor a wholesaler?

Gulping caffeine to clear the cobwebs.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Peach blintz????



Anonymous said...

Thank you for the book distributing information. I have never written a book before, but I am strongly considering it. I actually think I would like to write it as a true story instead of taking the true story and making a novel of it.

I am starting a "square one!" I know nothing about writing books; however, with one of my degrees and my teaching credential being in English, that may be beneficial. But, I also know that formal education does not always prepare one to be an author...especially a successful author! I'm glad I discovered this website.

April W Gardner said...

Oh my goodness, this is such great information! And I've only read half. I've got to dash off, but I'll be back!!
Just wanted to say THANKS.

Kav said...

In my library world book distributors are my friends...but so is my local family run bookstore who uses distributors to fill my order so book distributors are still my friend. :-)

I'm thinking one publisher that is unique to this is Harlequin -- they both publish and distribute and have been very succesful.

Dianna Shuford said...

Wow, "S", I think my brain hurts now. That was a lot of information, and I think I'm going to need to read it again once I fully wake up.

So, authors can't bribe the distributors, and the distributors work for the libraries and bookstores. Then how can the authors influence the book distributors? (Just wonderin' for future reference...)

I don't do coffee so I brought some delicious hot chocolate...with marshmallows...


Julie Lessman said...

TINA ... you had me at peach blintzes!!

S ... you have me glazed and awed and yes, a little cross-eyed! Like Mary, I will have to reread this several times to digest (after the blintzes, of course!).

THANK YOU for explaining the whole behind-the-scenes process of distributors. I've always heard my publisher talk about "Ingram" and wasn't really all that sure what or who they were. Thank you for clarifying.

You said: The bookstores and libraries aren’t supposed to release the materials prior to the release date so everyone is on a level playing field.

A Passion Most Pure was scheduled for release on January 1, 2008, but I actually found the book in my local Borders around December 15. How does this happen?

Thanks for the education ... I hope I don't flunk!


Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

I've sent Madame Zelda to wake up S. No doubt she is in line to pick up a book.

Until then...more coffee anyone?

Anyone tried the new Starbucks Via Iced Coffee? I won some at Marilyn Brandt's blog. YUMMMMM.

Glynna Kaye said...

Thank you, "S" for visiting Seekerville. (Leave it to our Tina to lure you out from behind a stack of books!) It's fascinating to learn what goes on behind the scenes!

Janet Dean said...

Fascinating information S! Thanks for sharing with Seekerville. My head is spinning. Not pretty. :-)

Coffee is helping. Love the peach blintzes, Madame Z!


Anonymous said...

Wow, I could use a Tylenol.

This is interesting and it's just one more example why it's so hard to get published. A lot of time and money is invested by many folks to get a book on the shelf.

No wonder editors and agents get annoyed when want-to-be-authors send in sloppy work. I need to remember this when I'm grumbling about revising my manuscript.


bcountryqueen6 at msn dot com

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks for the info. It all sounds very complicated, because it is. And since I can't afford to bribe anybody, I'm just praying God will do some miracles on my book's behalf!


I am.

Walt M said...

Okay, peach blintzes. I'm done.

S, thanks for coming by. I hope you will answer my question.

On libraries, do book distributors work with groups of libraries (like all the libraries within a county system) or do they work with the individual libraries themselves? If you have a system with 20 libraries, you can break them into groups and send each group a different set of books and then library patrons can request the other books as needed.


S said...

Dear God. Do none of you people sleep? You realize all of this coffee is virtual?

Let me sip mine and start answering questions.

I'm bound to miss some but here we go.

1. Ingram doesn't own Barnes and Noble. Barnes and Noble was in talks to buy Ingram years ago but that didn't happen. Right now, they may acknowledge that the other exists but I'm not sure it's much beyond that.

2. New York Times bestsellers lists are outside the scope of book distributors, Madame Zelda, but good try. (You see why I don't read all of words of her e-mails?)

3. Amazon. At one point in the 1990s, Amazon had warehouses. I'm not sure about now. I know it does have agreements with book distributors to send orders for filling to some book distributors. The boxes say Amazon but are coming from a book distributor. I know for some that the book distributor lets Amazon know how much volume it can take in terms of orders. (Or maybe volumes. I'm not sure.) It's generally not an issue until mid-December when people like me realize it's the 19th and we haven't done our Christmas shopping, much less shipping and start ordering on Amazon.

S said...

I wrote more than the comment box could handle. (Whoever is nearest Madame Zelda, if you could just slap her after she get off the floor having laughed so hard she fell off her chair, I would appreciate it.)

4. I adore the person who grasped that book distributors simplify people's lives and cited IRS rules. Just stop being lucid this early.

5. Creating demand. That's a group that's not me. Talk amoung yourselves.

6. Getting books early - ARCs
If you're willing to pay for an ARC and someone is willing to sell it and no one takes the seller to court, who am I to judge?

7. Getting books early - British publishers.

Not all books released in Britian will be published in the States. And it will vary over where the book gets published first.

I can remember having a discussion with a British author who was peeved that US readers were ordering her books from instead of waiting for the books to be published in the States because she felt it was lessening her demand by the US publisher.

On the other hand, there are some British authors who are published in the States first and have a large following in the States and less of one in Britain.

And then there's Rowlings, who is in a class all by herself, where the British and US publishers agree to release the books on the same day to meet demand.

Unless Madame Zelda asks you to write a blog on British/US publishing, you can't make blanket statements.

8. Getting books early - on the shelves before the release date.

Oh, this is sticky. Let's use Harry Potter as the extreme example.

Everyone wants to read this book, there are no ARCs, and the release date is well known.

To have the books in time to be able to sell them/check them out at 12:01 on the release date, organizations have to sign a form stating that the materials will not be made available in advance. (It may even say that the boxes can't be opened in advance. I don't remember the details.) By organizations, I mean bookstores, other stores, libraries, anyone who might sell the book or have access to it.)

You could only get the boxes if you ordered boxes of books. So if there were 20 copies in a box, you had to order 20 copies to get the box. Any partial boxes were shipped after the release date.

If you paid attention to the 2 weeks/week before the release date, there were stories in the news of books appearing in advance. Trust me. Publishers and book distributors tracked those offenders down and they didn't get any more advance copies. They had violated the contract.

That put them behind on the next release of anything with a release date.

Now, Harry Potter type titles are few in publishing.

The bigger the demand for the author/title, the more bookstores pay attention to the release date.

But also keep in mind that not all release dates listed in Amazon (or other sources) are the same as release dates for potential best sellers.

So it's possible to have books on the shelves before the date stated on a website.

If it's a "Street Smart" date, the publisher makes that decision and those materials can't/shouldn't be released before the stated date.

Publishers have gotten excited about Street Smart dates and some publishers have applied them to most of their titles. (But, really, how many Fodor's titles need Street Smart dates?)

Does that make sense?

I must get more coffee. I'll be back.

S said...

Oh Dear God. The serve is possessed. I am so sorry.

Ruth Logan Herne said...


Oh, S, I am so sorry to be laughing at you.


On the floor laughing.

Wetting my pants, possibly, and I'm too young for Depends.

Or so I keep telling myself.

Oh, that Mr. Google!!! He does have a sense of humor, doesn't he??? And just when you thought you were soooooo smart-i-licious.


Just go back and delete all but one of those repeats. Every now and again we have this problem in Googleland.

Beulahland GOOD...

Googleland.... Sometimes good.

And Um, "S"...


(Our friends do not all realize the coffee is of their own imaginings, so ix-nay on the outing us, 'kay, Cupcake???

And Zelda will have a field day with this.

Oh my stars, gone is any respect you might have mustered through the years, Mystery Woman...)

You keep talkin' and answerin' and I'll gather some more food.

It's all good...

S said...

I've had coffee and blintz and will continue answering questions.


Everyone take a deep breath and get a grip on something solid.

First, it's not likely that the price of an e-book is going to get as low as $5.00 any time soon and as authors, that's very little money for you.

While you don't have to physically create or ship books, you still have to store them electronically and make them available. That means servers and techie guys.

It also means publishers. They have editors, cover artists, publicity people, trade shows to attend, buildings to heat and cool, etc.

I'm guessing you all want to receive some type of compensation for what you've written as well.

The other thing is that e-books have existed for over 10 years and they are always on the edge of being something. Between the Kindle and the iPad and other electronic sources, that may be true but my view is that the delivery, usage and tracking is still to be developed.

Yes, Amazon released a statement that more Kindle titles had sold than hardbacks for a period of time but were any numbers listed? (No. They weren't.)

I've learned to wait until I see which technology is going to win before I invest in it. (Yes, I was around for the VHS vs. Betamax of the 1980s. I will neither confirm nor deny that I was a part of the 8-track vs. cassette experiment of the 1970s.)

But as an observant individual and student of history, I let people who like the bleeding edge of technology get excited and then I wait and see which wins before I get involved.

Until Publisher's Weekly has an e-book/digital bestseller list, I would assume things are still in a state of flux. (And a state of flex.)

My opinion is that between devices, publishers, and discussions about digital rights for authors' estates, it's going to be a while for all of this to shake out.

Angela Bell said...

Thanks for the great info. :)


S said...

If I let things like worry about respect bother me, I'd never have time to be a "Smart Ass." And everyone knows I gave up being serious years ago.

Now, dear, dear Walt M., you asked about libraries and book distributors and how all of that works.

That's more than a separate blog but the simple answer is that it depends. A large library district will generally have one group within it that does the ordering for the entire system and make arrangements for numbers of copies of titles to be delivered to the branches.

Once you start talking about library consortium, it all depends on the consortium. (By consortium, I mean several local libraries that band together for a library system or purchasing agreements.)

The important thing to keep in mind is that most library systems have a way to request the purchase of a title. And I will tell you this. Don't depend on donating a book to get it into your library. Get a friend to request the purchase. Here's why.

Go back and read the section on shelf ready materials for libraries in the original blog. (Or don't if it's all too much or you can remember it.)

Libraries have less staff which means they outsource things like processing materials. If you donate a book, they have process it and catalog it. If it's purchased through a book distributor, odds are it will arrive ready to go onto the shelf.

Most libraries cannot promise to add your book to the collection. It may get added to the library book sale.

If someone who is not the author requests the purchase of the book, the library wants to make its patrons happy so they will vote for library increases.

If you want your book in your library, get four or five friends to request it over 2 weeks.

(Oh God. I hear librarians forming a mob and coming after me now. I'll have to go into hiding after today. I need to see if that's going to require a new wardrobe.)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Ah, muy bien, "S"!!!


And an excellent answer and who knew you could use flux and flex in the same sentence so readily???

I'm totally impressed.


I get some of my books from a wholesaler so I have extra copies around. Harlequin is also a wholesaler AND a distributor, correctomundo????

And their distribution center is humongous (I got to visit it last month, SO FUN AND TOTALLY IMPRESSIVE) because they have individual retail for online buyers from e-harlequin, book-club/readers/service sale area for packaging monthly shipments(mega cool automated system being installed as we speak) AND the overall distribution of mega cases of books to go to places like Ingrams.

FOUR Tractor trailers travel from the book printing facility located behind the distribution center all day long, just loading up the next month's titles.

Amazing stuff.

"S".... You're a smart gal. Great command of the English language and the written word. So tell me:

Are we going to see a book in your future, "The Confessions of "S" " OR perhaps a sweet, fun, totally snark novel with your quick wit ingrained??

Jump in, Sweet Pea. The water's fine. ;)

And so totally organized that Tina would have dumped Tom and married the

S said...

Now, Darlings, I'm going to have to go and do all the things I promised I would do before I agreed to write this blog. But I will return and answer any new questions tonight.

Certainly mock me and give me grief. God knows Zelda will and I'd so much rather it was you than she.

Madame S.

Walt M said...


Thanks for the detailed response to my library question. Sorry about you needing to go into hiding. I am wondering if there's a story in that.

Judy Gann said...

"S," I'm a librarian and promise not to mob you. Thank you for your excellent post! One of the best I've seen on why and how libraries work with distributors. May I quote you (anonymously, of course) in my "Behind the Stacks: Secrets of Library Marketing Revealed!" workshop I'm teaching next week?

Distributors have excellent "standing order" lists for "inspirational fiction."

Distributors are librarians' best friends.

Regina Merrick said...

Librarian here....if you move quickly, I'll hold off the mob...

As the director of a painfully small library, it's not hard to get a requested book here. You ask, and if I think it'll check out, I'll order it. I generally use Ingram, but over the last few years I've learned how to work it. I used to have all these titles that would end up on backorder, or on the NYR (not yet released) list, etc., and I've started reading the entries more carefully - noting that if the Nashville distribution point has NO COPIES of it, I'm probably not gonna get it. If they have a bunch of copies? I'll get it two days later. I download the record, put it in our system, and we can have a book on the shelf (with US doing the wrapping, barcoding, etc. because we're CHEAP)in less than a week. My sister lives in a large city, and we get books on the shelf a LOT sooner than her library.

Sad thing is, though, that we only buy one copy.

Oh, and Amazon has a major distribution point in Campbellsville, KY. Where the books come from, I don't know, but if you live in KY, you can get your Amazon stuff pretty darn fast!

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Now you have all met S and you now understand why Zelda adores her and Marlena Fortune will not be in the same room with her.

I have had the opportunity of working with S. Yes, as my boss for many years..and it was many years ago.

She is a plethora of trivia and insider info.

Ask away..if she doesn't know the answer she knows someone who does or can fake it well enough to satisfy even the most demanding!!!

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Let's discuss the ALA. Is it worth an author's time to court them? Go to their events.

ALA=American Library Association.

Do distributors have organizations with meetings we can crash??

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Lots of librarians here.

I am a former copy cataloguer.

Vince said...

Hi S. (‘S’) (S)*

I’ve ordered books early for years from Blackwell’s. This bookstore is amazing. I’d write them to send me the Norwegian original of title I’ve read in English and they would mail it form England with a statement. No problem. I didn’t even have to pay for it in advance.

I never wanted to wait a year to read the new Donna Leon mystery. It never occurred to me I might be hurting her relationship with her American publisher.

BTW: Mills & Boon keeps sending me emails with special bargains but when I try to download them a screen comes up and says that I am not authorized to download the books to North America. Harlequin Medicals are especially difficult because of publishing agreements.

Also, did you see (or read) "84 Charning Cross Road", and if so, did you shead a few tears?

*I am very curious about your name. Does the S stand for something and need to be written as S. or does it not stand for anything (as in Harry S ‘for nothing’ Truman) and thus be written without the period? Or is it like a trade name and written as ‘S’?



Sandra Leesmith said...

Morning S, Thanks for all the inside info on distributors. No matter what you say, distributors are huge in the life of an author.

My question, whenyou have the orders of the big sellers filled and only so much shelf space left, how do you select what will be put on the shelf from the list of relatively unknown and/or new authors?

Thanks again for giving us this important info.

Too bad you can't be bribed. We at Seekerville have no qualms about it. We can easily be bribed with chocolate and/or coffee LOL

Julie Hilton Steele said...

S, I remember sleep before was a lovely thing.

I hang with librarians and have the utmost respect for those who run our libraries...especially with this economy and all its challenges.

We are running into the issue of current Harlequin produced books being "on order" and not available usually until a month after they come out. Do you think this is an ordering issue on the part of the library? I know as an individual I can order a month ahead any series book I want.

And I guess I wonder how these preorders and advance sales count for the author in the scheme of things.

Thanks for such helpful info and comments from everyone.

Peace, Julie

Missy Tippens said...

Wow, S. This is great stuff! thanks so much for being with us today! I've learned so much.

I've got a subscription to Publisher's Alley to check on book sales. Are you familiar to them? Do you have any idea what portion of total sales their accounts might represent?

Thanks!! I'm also enjoying the responses to other great questions and from librarians who are popping in.

Thanks everyone for a great discussion!

Cara Lynn James said...

Really interesting information, S! Back in the day I used to own a small bookstore and use B&T and Ingram for most of my ordering. It was much, much easier than getting books directly from the publishers.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...


The S stands for SECRET.

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

“The S stands for SECRET”

So then it should be written as S. right?

It’s just polite to get it right.

BTW: Because of the placebo effect, virtual coffee can give you a very real caffeine high -- (unless, of course, it’s virtual decaf coffee.)


S said...

Okay, I'm here between errands. I feared the questions would continue. And I didn't even use my psychic abilities.

Okay, here's some answers.

1. Harlequin is not like other distributors. It would be good for a book on its development. It started off offering one type of book, but it has certainly been able to identify and ride trends and expand over time. 20 years ago if you had told me Harlequin would publish nonfiction, I don't know that I would have believed you.

2. The only reason I'm concerned about librarians tracking me down is if you organize groups of 4-5 people to request your titles. Librarians communicate with each other. Someone is bound to ask why they're seeing this trend and then someone is bound to rat me out. And then they'll find me. They're trained information professionals.

3. No, I'm not writing a book. I have no plans to write a book.

4. Please use any information I have provided as the opinion of some anonymous person. All opinions are mine and all errors are also mine. But if I wrote something that makes sense, feel free to share it. (I supose stranger things have happened but I can't think of any right now.)

5. About the meaning of "S," at 9:00 on Sunday night it stood for "*hit, I said I'd do what and you need it when?"

6. Standing order lists are lovely things. I encourage anyone reading who orders books to investigate them if you are not familiar with them.

S said...

A few things to consider regarding ALA.

1. Libraries do not equal ALA. (American Library Association.)

2. Work with local libraries.

Local libraries are always looking for free people to do a program. Now, I don't mean to confuse people, but there seems to have been an earlier blog this month on public speaking. Read it.

If you're still not sure you want to do public speaking, get a friend who's an author, buy a boa and dark glasses, and do a joint presentation.

(Really. No matter who you are, if you're wearing a boa and dark glasses, you can present anything.)

Every one of you is bound to have a story that would be funny if it had not happened to you that you experienced on your way to becoming an author. Groups love those sorts of stories.

It makes your library happy because it's a program that won't cost money and it builds interest in your book release as well.

3. There are local and national writing groups that attend state and national library meetings. Sisters in Crime for example.

I know they've attended ALA and had authors come and sign free copies. Heck, they may even have had authors come and sell copies and sign them.

If you belong to an organization and it requests you come to an library group, I'd encourage you to do that.

4. I wouldn't encourage you to show up at ALA on your own. I don't know if that would be the best use of money or time. Generally the librarians at ALA are either local and there to get the free stuff or are high up in libraries and there to meet with as many vendors as possible.

There is also the group that's there for the programs and will hit the exhibits between programs but with budget cuts, even they're fairly focused on what they know they need to track down.

Publishers are flat out there to meet with librarians, not to meet with authors, unless you've been invited by the publisher.

5. State library association meetings will vary by state. (I'm sorry. Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated.) Visit one before you invest in booth space.

But you want librarians to know who you are. Not only will they buy a copy of your book for the library, but they also do Reader's Advisory. (That's when someone comes in and says, "I liked that book by Tina Russo. What else is like that?")

Some libraries and librarians are better at this than others. But it happens a lot.

And a lot of readers started reading an author because a librarian or bookseller hand sold the book.

Now, you want librarians thinking happy thoughts about you for this sort of thing to happen. So don't drop by a library and ask to see the person who orders the type of book you have written without an appointment. They may have time to meet with you or they may be trying to get ready for a book club and you are interupting the prep time.

Also, don't expect to be able to sell the book to them right then and there. Most libraries don't do business via cash. Purchase orders are involved. And the tighter the materials budget, the harder the decisions on what gets purchased.

But I do know that most genre groups, like Bouchercon or RWA will have a day for librarians to come, with programs geared for librarians.

Did that answer anything or have I just been typing random words?

Mary Connealy said...

Here's something cool. (don't tell) I have four daughters and they have banded together to request my books from libraries, some borrow phones and make multiple requests in case they save phone numbers.

Then they check the books out. Multiple times.
I have no idea how closely libraries follow actually identities of checker-outers (yes, that's a word, shut up). My one daughter checks out the books online, gets them stacked up for her, takes them home and drops them off the next day again. And checks another one out. She tries to do this with new releases.

Sometimes there's a waiting list and I'm terribly afraid all the people waiting...are HER.

On the other hand, in the Omaha, NE library system there are an amazing number of my books on the shelves, multiple copies.

The demand is apparently wild. I just hope at least SOME of the demand is an actual person who is NOT related to me.

S said...

Oh, the question about how decisions get made about how much shelf space for new authors...

I hate to sound so cut and dried but for a lot of distributors, it's a formula. A new author by publisher "A" in this line has x number of copies ordered.

There will always be surprises. Everyone forgets that Dan Brown had been a mid-list authors for years before "The Da Vinci code" was released.

But, and I'm making up this statistic, 99.8% of the time, the formulas work.

Mary Connealy said...

BTW I have never seen Madam Zelda and Marlena Fortune on the same room. I have long suspected they were the same person.

Sort of like Michael and Janet Jackson.

Which another BTW, anyone grieving for Michael should stop. He's just gone to his Janet identity full time.

cynthia said...

Thank you for all the information of what a book distributor does. It's very eye opening. It sounds like such a complicated process--one in which they have a huge effect on what is seen by the public in bookstores and libraries. There's a lot of things to think about. I love reading, but I know that some of my tastes are not always with the mainstream, so I'm not sure I could do it. Thanks.
cynthiakchow (at) earthlink (dot) net

S said...

The comment about the Harlequin June orders not being available at the library until July. (How Madame S interpreted the situation)

There are two ways this is happening.

1. Internal backlogs at libraries.

Most libraries cut staff before they cut a lot of materials. Which means you have fewer staff getting materials into the catalog system and physically processed.

And once that happens, libraries are going to focus, generally, on the highest demand materials. (I know none of you would behave in such a way but many patrons become pissy and mean when the NYT bestsellers are delayed at libraries and verbally abuse the staff. What makes it worse is that these are generally not the people who can do anything about it.)

And I would suspect these titles come on a standing order either from Harlequin itself or a book distributor. The reason that is important is that they probably are not being ordered individually by title.

The only reason that is important is the a lot of libraries will move materials with patron hold to be done faster than materials without patron holds. (Librarians know patrons are waiting for materials with holds. It really is that simple.)

If there's no order record for the title, there is no system hold.

And no system hold probably means that it gets done within three weeks of arriving in the library.

2. The other way is that a book distributor is providing shelf ready materials.

With the increase of libraries asking for shelf ready materials, many contract state the distributor has three weeks to catalog, process, and deliver the materials to the library.

There are good reasons for that. One of the best is that publishers don't always get the materials to the distributor by the release date. Generally they do, but they miss often enough that it's an issue.

Also, each copy has to be handled and shipped to the library. Once you involve shipping, geography becomes critical.

But these are just supositions off the top of my head. There may be a lot of other reasons that are causing the delay at your library.

I once worked at a library with a three month backlog, so a three week backlog sounded good to them. On the other hand, I also worked at a library where materials were received in acquisitions, cataloging and processed and on trucks to branches within three days of opening the boxes.

It's going to vary.

S said...

Oh, about polite.

It's very hot and very humid and there is no breeze where I am.

I don't do polite until the weather cools. It takes everything I have to do civil. (Check with Zelda. I'm not sure if she can tell you actual things she's witnessed, but I know she can make up something close to the truth.)

Oh. Tina Russo also forgot to mention that she did original cataloging as well as a variety of other things. The woman knows more than she admits and has done more than she says. (You have to admire that in a woman.)

Also, a "Brava!" to Mary C. who figured out how to get her local library to buy multiple copies of her books. Remember,these are your tax dollars in action, so you can't complain about how the money gets spent if you are fiddling the system. (I'm not saying you should stop at all. I'm just saying you can't complain if other things aren't purchased. It's a fine line but I have faith you will walk it.)

If you want to keep your books on the library shelves, check them out on a regular basis. Most libraries devote shelf space based on demand and run reports on a regular basis to see what titles/copies have not circulated in the past 12 months. (Again, it's going to vary from library to library.) Just keep that in mind. (The librarians are already coming for me. I might as well spill all the secrets.)

Now, I'm off to finish running errands and attending things so I really won't be back until tonight.

But it will be cooler when I return. Not cool enough for polite but civil should be easier.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Vince, it isn't polite to correct your grammar challenged hostess.

I am in charge of the coffee pot. Keep being fiesty and I will cut you off. At the knees.

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

I was not correcting anyone! Please let S. know this!

I was the one who was worried about being polite! I didn’t know exactly what from of S to use. I felt like getting it wrong was the equivalent of saying “Hey You”.

When I was in grade school you could get into trouble by putting a period after the S in Harry S Truman’s name. Didn’t you have this problem also? I had nuns so getting into trouble could be quite painful. (c.f. "The Blues Brothers")

(Can you tell business has been really slow lately?)

BTW: do the Seekers have decaf? I don’t think I’ve ever seen the word used in relation to coffee on this site. I figure that virtual decaf won’t interfere with my virtual sleep. This will give me more time to be non-virtually awake.

For Tulsa area people:

Carla Stewart will be doing a book signing tomorrow from 10 am to 12 pm at Steve's Sundry Books & Magazines. Her new book is “Chasing Lilacs” and you’ve had her as a recent guest.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Decaf has been offered on occasion, "V". I've made it myself...


I can personally vouch for its inefficacy.

And I'm glad you yelled at both Tina AND Mystery "S", Vince. Someone's gotta keep those gals in line. Heaven knows, I've tried and failed...

Hey, the blintzes are gone, it's hot and humid EVERYWHERE today, so lets' do an ice cream social supper.

Ice cream flavors:

Tractor Path
Orange Pineapple
Lemon Sherbet (if you put an 'r' in that second syllable I will hunt you down and... and... Just don't do it, 'kay???)


Chocolate Syrup

Nuts: Almonds, walnuts or peanuts
Maraschino Cherries

Whipped cream.... Fresh and real

Okay, cool off, dig in, and enjoy.

Ice cream and summer: bliss.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh. My. Stars. I have just clocked in at Seekerville, read S's entire post, and skimmed 53 comments. My eyes are glazing over.

You know what? This stuff is so far beyond my realm of comprehension that I will just have to trust that the system works like it's supposed to.


S, if Tina hadn't convinced us you are a real person, I would have taken you for Seekerville's dear friend Marlena Fortune. You have the same sweetly condescending voice and natural charm.

Truly a breath of fresh air. Come back anytime.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Okay, Vince, you are forgiven.

Regular=High Octane.

Seekerville is always high octane.

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Yes, S is real. Too real.

When I worked with her we put S-isms up on the walls. S has a lots of isms.

I only dream of aspiring to her advanced level of witticism.

Anonymous said...


I love how your family works together to promote your books!

So funny...


Madame Zelda said...


Thank you for being so very charming today. I know it wasn't easy.

Please come back soon, we love you dahling.


Julie Hilton Steele said...

On a semi-related subject, what is TRACKER PATH ice cream?

Peace, Julie

Madame Zelda said...

Mary, bite your tongue. I am so, not Marlena.

Dahling would I have a masseur named Bruno and wear that ridiculous hat?

Oh! Sorry, S.

Debby Giusti said...

So much info! My head is swimming.

Do you know about a publication called ROMANCE SELLS, sponsored by RWA? It goes out to librarians and booksellers. What's your opinion? Would advertising in the mag help a category inspy author increase sales to libraries?

Glad you could be with us in Seekerville.

Love the hat.

Looks like it could be worn by one of Janet Dean's cover models. They always wear hats. In fact, they often make them as well.

Is yours an original S creation?

Just asking.

S said...


I was sorry I had to leave early.

Yes, I'm real. The photos of me and that other broad look nothing alike. My strand of pearls makes all the difference.

I did work with Tina. I had forgotten about the "-isms" that she and other had put on the walls. It made me laugh to remember it.

You were all delightful.


Mary Connealy said...

If it helps at all, as far as library funding goes, I suspect now, based on an overheard converstaion, that my children are lying to me and have never done a single thing to help me.

I'm disallusioned of course, but he library funding is safe.

Valerie Comer said...

I think I mostly managed to catch that info! Thanks for the demystification attempt.

valerie at valeriecomer dot com