Six Secrets of “Distributor Appeal”

by Don Linn, CEO of Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, Inc. Publishers and authors often ask me what it takes to be represented by a distributor like Consortium. While specific qualifications obviously differ from distributor to distributor, I feel fairly confident that certain truths are consistent across the board. Here are a few of them: Distributors are interested in publishing programs, not individual books. Publishers with only one or two books or one or two authors generally don’t interest us. Why? Well, profitability is the big reason. We like publishers who can develop a publishing program that can sustain a loyal base of readers who will keep coming back for more but who are not tied to a single author. So align yourself with serious authors who are in it for the long haul. Their success is your success, and your success is our success. The books should have a cohesive theme. You should be able to describe this theme in 20 words or less. A good distributor knows exactly what it is looking for in clients. As an example, Consortium recently issued a press release seeking publishers that specialize in very specific areas. Here are a few of the themes we sought: Socially Conscious and Non-Traditional Business and Management . . . Titles Published for or Concerning Communities and People of Color . . . Non-Traditional Cooking and Lifestyle. My point? If the books you publish are “all over the map,” try to narrow your focus. You have to know who you are before a distributor can know. Your “theme” should be carefully thought out and well supported over time. You and/or your authors should be prepared to spend money on marketing and publicity and should have a platform for helping to get the books out into the marketplace. A good book publicity firm can help package an author’s message in an innovative way, but even an “amateur” with good writing skills and relentless dedication can keep a message in front of the press. With over 200,000 titles published each year, you must be prepared to do the work to make your titles stand out from the pack. Your authors must be deeply involved in marketing their books. Obviously, you, the publisher, cannot be expected to do it all. Seek out authors who are committed to getting their books in the hands of readers. Besides publicity support, there are many ways authors can help market their books. They can tour and give readings and signings, host seminars on their subject of expertise, speak at a conference, send out “VIP” packages to industry movers and shakers, and so forth. If an author is unwilling or unable to do his or her part—or seems unenthusiastic about it—think twice before you align with him or her. Your books must be high quality in every respect. Clichés aside, book buyers and readers do judge books by their covers. Make sure yours are eye-catching and professionally designed. And it goes without saying that what’s inside must be compelling, well written, and well edited. The price, the look, the “feel”. . . all are important. Trust your gut, but do the research to find out what works and what doesn’t. Spending time in the relevant sections of a Barnes & Noble store or looking at comparable titles on, for example, are the easiest and often the best ways to develop the right package for your books. Be sure you have the financial and other resources necessary to play in the big leagues. You must be organized to work with a distributor, paying attention to tight timetables, industry-wide publishing seasons, data management, and a host of other details. And of course you have to have the capital to keep up. This is a tough business—and though many in the independent publishing world like to think of themselves as artists, it is a business. The good news is there will always be a market for fresh, innovative, cutting-edge, non-mainstream books. If you publish well-written, well-designed, salable titles, you can practice your craft and succeed financially. Finally, keep in mind that even if you have all these variables in place, you aren’t guaranteed a spot with any particular distributor. Different distributors have different criteria and different needs and constraints within their own catalogs. But not to worry, that’s a good thing. If you’re professional in your approach and in your offerings—if you know who you are and what you represent—and if you can make a compelling and credible case for the future of your publishing program, odds are you will be able to find a good fit for your books. And once that happens, you’ll be on your way to success. * * * * * Consortium Book Sales & Distribution is the exclusive distributor for nearly 100 independent publishers from the United States, Canada, Europe, India, and Australia. Books are currently distributed in the United States and Canada. In addition to sales and distribution services, Consortium provides marketing, promotional, and product development support. Check out their Prospective Publisher submission guidelines. Don Linn is a Southern-born, Harvard Business School-educated ex-investment banker who just happens to love books. The road that led him to Consortium Book Sales and Distribution was long and winding and more than a little strange. Don has worked in mergers and acquisitions on Wall Street and in catfish farming in the Mississippi Delta. In 2002 he purchased Consortium and moved to the Twin Cities.


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John Kremer’s Marvelous Book Marketing Strategies

Git-er-Done NOW Book Marketing Tip #5 - Talk to at least one sales rep.
Welcome to Marvelous Book Marketing Strategies, a monthly column based on book marketing expert John Kremer’s 24-Point Book Marketing Action List, a list John compiled specially for the participants in his Book Marketing Blast-Off seminars. The actions on the list range from writing press releases and networking, to contacting Oprah and getting to know your bank’s president. The underlying value of the list may be that it encourages you – the independent author and/or publisher – to focus on ACTION. As an independent author, self-publisher, or owner of a small publishing house, it all depends on YOU and your ability to GET THE JOB DONE. Self-promotion, guerilla marketing, and effective networking strategies are all vital elements of getting the BUZZ for yourself and your books that lead to SALES.

Each month we list one of John Kremer’s Marketing Action suggestions, and elaborate a bit on why it’s important and how to make each action happen effectively and efficiently. Prepare to TAKE ACTION, IMPROVE YOUR MARKETING, and SELL MORE BOOKS!

Book Marketing Action Tip #5:
“Talk to at least one sales rep.”

“If you plan to sell your books via bookstores, you need to know how sales reps and distributors look at books. What are their mindsets, how do they think, what are their needs, how can you help them meet those needs? Get to know at least one sales rep so you can begin to think like one. It will help you sell more books through bookstores.”

Now that you’ve done all you can to produce a great book and get some promotional tools in place, it’s time to get serious about SELLING it. And who better to SELL your book to than the salesperson that actually sells to bookstore buyers? A good sales rep should be able to give you excellent feedback about what the stores want, and help you fine tune your marketing plan, press kit, and overall sales strategy. Most of all, this will determine if your book is even appropriate for retail bookstore sales, and help you decide if you need to focus your promotional efforts elsewhere. After all, many books appeal to such a niche audience that selling them at traditional bookstores is not a priority, and their publishers need to find alternative markets and special sales for these books.

How do you find book sales reps? Why, you hang out wherever books are sold! BookExpo America is probably the biggest gathering of reps, but getting to know your local bookstore staff may help you make a connection. Of course the Web is a good place to search out sales reps. Some distributors like National Book Network lists their reps on the site; Biblio allows access to registered users only. The Independent Publishers Group site lists their in-house sales staff and the rep groups from around the country that sell their clients’ books.

In all cases, especially when approaching these companies without being a client, the utmost caution and etiquette is required to get information and not be dismissed as a crank. Be courteous and politely inquisitive, and you should be able to find some helpful industry experts willing to share their knowledge.

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Previous Marketing Action Tips:

Tip #1: Develop a 25-Word Key Statement

Tip #2 - Get Testimonials from at Least Three Famous People

Tip #3 - Develop a free report and write a news release for it.

Tip #4 - Write a free report.

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