Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why Books are Returned

During the Depression of the 1930's, the publishing industry faced a major crisis. People were desperate to put food on their tables and keep a roof over their heads. Unemployment was rampant and food lines were long and numerous. Those were the days before unemployment benefits, before Medicare, before food stamps and welfare.

Books were a luxury.

In an attempt to prevent the publishing industry from going bankrupt (these were also the days before corporate bailouts) they came up with a plan: they would allow book stores to send back any books that didn't sell, just to keep their books in the marketplace.

It was supposed to be a temporary measure.

The Depression ended and needless to say, the returns did not.

There has been talk throughout the industry at different times but the policy has never changed industry-wide.

Some publishers, however, have decided not to accept returns.

You won't find some of Drake Valley Press' books on bookshelves in every store in the country. To do so would require print runs of 100,000 or more plus the cost of shipping into the market. If the books aren't sold, months later they can come back - resulting in losses both for the publisher and the author.

All of Drake Valley Press' books are available to all book stores and they're carried by Ingram and Baker & Taylor, the country's largest wholesalers. If you don't see a book on the shelf, always ask for it. It can be special ordered and should arrive within just a couple of days.

Meanwhile, we hope this policy of retailers returning books months after they've been purchased will stop. It is an archaic system, and it is uniquely used with books - no other products have ever used this type of consignment system.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How Books Get to the Market

Getting books into the marketplace and into a reader's hands is a complex process.

It begins when the publisher adds a new title to Bowker Books-in-Print and registers the ISBN.

Small publishers often use distributors to get their books into the distribution channels, so the books first go to the distributor from the publisher.

The distributor then sells the books to the wholesalers, such as Ingram or Baker & Taylor.

Book stores usually order through the wholesalers. In larger chains, the books go first to the retailer's warehouse or distribution center.

Then the books go into the stores, where readers buy them.

Small and mid-size publishers will often have their books stocked at the wholesalers' warehouses so when a special order is placed for a book, the retailer often just has to order it from the wholesaler. Larger publishers have the clout to have their books stocked in the retail stores.

If a book stays on the retailer's shelf for six months without being sold, the retailer can send it back to the wholesaler. (More on this next week.) The wholesaler will often send unsold books back to the distributor, and the distributor eventually sends it back to the publisher. If the publisher can resell the book, it goes right back out the door. If not, it shows up as a "return" and a negative number on the author's royalty statement.

The publishing industry is changing rapidly, however.

Ingram now reports that they are carrying virtual inventories - which means the books are not stocked in their warehouse, but they are in their database. When an order is placed by the retailer, the wholesaler places the order with the distributor or direct with the publisher (if the publisher is large enough).

Publishers are also moving toward more virtual inventories. The old business model was to stock warehouses with all their published titles. The new model allows the publisher to print some titles on demand, reducing the overhead of inventory space. It also eliminates the guesswork and complex mathematical equations used to determine print runs and how often to reprint books.

Drake Valley Press uses a hybrid model - both traditional print runs augmented by print-on-demand, which reduces the guesswork and allows books to remain in print longer.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why Publishers Use Rejection Form Letters

The editors at Drake Valley Press receive a large number of queries each week. We can usually tell by reading the subject matter and seeing the author's style whether we'd like to see more. If we do, we will often ask for the first fifty pages and one of the author's favorite scenes. If we like what we see, we'll request the entire manuscript.

Sometimes the submission just doesn't grab us. It can be for a variety of reasons. The top reason is poor editing. When the author doesn't know the correct spelling of the word "query" it doesn't bode well for their manuscript. When there are fragmented sentences, punctuation errors, and poor grammar, it means a lot of time, energy and money would have to be spent to get it in good shape for publication.

Sometimes the story is a good idea but the execution isn't. In an industry where 85,000 words is the norm for new or relatively unknown authors, writing a book that comes in at 200,000 words - and insisting the book is perfect - can set the road to disaster.

Other times, the authors simply don't know enough about the industry. We will always ask for the author's marketing plan and their background. We want to know why they were the best person to write this particular story, and what is in their background that will enable them to sell it. When they think the first draft is the final and it's the publisher's job to rewrite it and then the publisher's job to do 100% of the marketing, their expectations are unreasonable.

So why do publishers often send form emails or form letters instead of telling the author what they need to work on?

The number one reason is The Author's Ego.

99.9% of authors, when told what they need to improve, will try to argue their case:

I've been told they use fragmented sentences because it's their "voice".

I've been told the book doesn't drag in the middle chapter that comes in at 100 pages - I just simply didn't understand it.

I've been told the facts they cited are absolutely correct - even though there exists scores of evidence that argue otherwise.

I've been told they didn't have to follow standards for their genre because their book is "special".

I've been told they won't have to market it, because their mother/ father/ sister/ brother/ spouse said it's the best thing they ever read. The book will sell itself.

The list goes on and on.

The bottom line is: publishers don't sit around all day, twiddling their thumbs and checking their inbox to read submissions. They are busy. Ultra busy. Weekends, evenings at home, holidays and vacations are often non-existent. They don't have the time for an author to telephone them in a vain attempt to convince them that their book is the best thing since sliced bread. The fact is, it isn't. None of them are.

Publishing is a business. The three things every author can do to help their own career soar are (a) write the best book you can possibly write; (b) listen to professional advice on improving the book so it has a better chance; and (c) learn everything you possibly can about the publishing business.

It's no longer acceptable to be a writer only. You have to be a stellar writer and know the business in order to be successful in this day and age and in this competitive publishing environment.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why Publish Traditionally?

It's true: anyone can publish a book these days. eBooks can be uploaded and formatted to fit any eReading device, and paperback or hard cover books can be printed on demand, which means no costly inventory and no large outlay of cash.

So why even consider traditional publishing?

When a book is self-published, the author is starting their own company, whether they realize it or not. No lines are going to form automatically at your door, no one is going to be clamoring to book you for a signing or event, and you won't rise miraculously to the New York Times bestseller list. Most new authors who believe their books are the savior of all mankind are disappointed to find that most people outside of their close friends and family, aren't eagerly awaiting their book's publication.

Those are the tough but true facts.

To effectively get your book in the hands of the reader and earn enough money to make the writing worthwhile, requires a team who knows what they're doing.

Polishing and Editing

In today's competitive environment, a book must be edited and polished in order to stand a chance. While Drake Valley Press, along with most publishers today, only accepts books that the author has already edited and polished so it shines, it doesn't mean we don't read it, polish it further, and make suggestions. Our editors look for grammatical errors, punctuation errors, technical flaws, consistency, plotline, character development, pacing, and many other factors. The result is the book is better by the time it goes into production than what the author thought possible or necessary.

If you self-publish, in order to stand a chance you need to hire a competent editor.


Drake Valley Press generally publishes in eBook format and in trade paperback, though we occasionally will print hard cover copies. That requires professional formatting.

If you are using word processing software, you might think you've formatted the book as well as it can be formatted - and you'd be wrong. Publishers use professional software such as PageMaker, Creative Suite or Quark for laying out pages. This software permits professional kerning and page layouts that standard word processing software doesn't do. You can squeak past by using word processing software for eBooks, but there is a massive difference when you are printing a book.

There are also things that can throw off a book's acceptance by eBook readers - many of which are invisible, like extra spaces at the end of paragraphs, soft returns instead of hard returns, the use of the space bar or tab instead of indentation, etc.

Publishers also will have professional fonts for the printed book. You can spot a book that was formatted in Times New Roman or another standard word processing font - and it won't look like those from a larger publisher.

Cover Designs

We all know that we do judge a book by its cover. It's easy to spot a book that was self-published, because most authors are not graphic designers. The use of clip-art, free images, low resolution graphics, and a poor placement of the title and author's name shout to the world that the book was self-published.

You can hire a graphics designer to develop a professional cover for you, and you can also hire someone to use professional formatting software to make the interior what it should be. All of this costs money.

ISBN's and Bowker

You can also purchase an ISBN whenever you publish a book, if you go through a reputable source. But most publishers buy them in bulk. Most have accounts in which they can assign the ISBN's so their information goes right into the databases used by retailers.

The Distribution Channel

Once the book is printed, the work is just beginning. In order for anybody to find it, it must be in the distribution channel: that includes distributors, wholesalers, online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores. It must also be available for readers to find and purchase.

So far, if you're self-publishing, you'll have had to find reputable sources for editing, formatting, cover design... and now figure out how to effectively get it into the distribution pipeline. This can take research, a lot of time and effort. Reputable publishers already have this figured out.

You also have to know how long it takes for the information to filter to the reader. For example, though you can print a book today, it doesn't mean anyone can walk into a book store tomorrow and they can find it in their database. Maybe some day everyone will be connected to instant information, but in today's environment, it means the information has to be in the databases that are sold to the stores. Most stores have subscriptions and the information is updated perhaps on a weekly or monthly basis. But that information has to flow through the wholesalers and distributors to the retailers. If you don't know this, you could encounter a great deal of frustration when your friends and family try to find it through any source other than you personally.


There are two methods of selling: one is to sell to the retailers and the other is to sell to the reader. Both take effort and time. Assuming you want your book in the hands of more than just your family and closest friends, you'll need a marketing plan. It should include mainstream media, online publicity, book signings, personal appearances, and/or virtual book tours.

Have you identified your target market? Do you know how to reach them?

That's the job of the publisher's sales and marketing team.

In Essence...

In essence, you need a TEAM to be successful. You need a great editor, professional book interior, professional cover design, well-printed books, a distribution plan, and a sales and marketing plan.

We'll talk more about each of the factors above in upcoming weeks, as we continue to post on Wednesdays.