Ask any professional writer about the pros and cons of traditional publishing in today’s rapidly changing world and they will advise you to carefully research and stay open to other publishing options as well.

Let’s say you were among the lucky ones who received acceptances from “the right” literary agent who was able to land “the right” publishing contract with one of the leading traditional “New York” publishers.

Here are some general questions to ask your agent about that publisher before signing on the dotted line:

  • Where will my book be sold?
  • Who is your wholesaler or distributor?
  • What is your marketing budget?
  • What is your promotion/publicity budget?
  • Will I have to bear any of the costs of publishing, marketing or promoting my book?
  • Is my royalty payment negotiable if sales are higher than you anticipate?
  • What is your policy concerning subsidiary rights, such as foreign rights, audio books, film
  • and television rights, etc. (if this information is not included in the contract)?
  • How long is the contract in effect (if this information is not included)?
  • What is the termination agreement (if this is not included)?
  • The future of your work may depend on your prospective publisher’s answers to the thoughtful questions you ask.

    The Role of Intermediaries in the Book Industry

    Wholesalers and distributors are intermediaries or “go-betweens.” They keep databases for book titles, warehouse the books, send out orders from retailers when they come in, and truck the books to the retailers’ warehouses. The procedure is as follows:

  • The publisher sends books to the distributor.
  • The distributor sets up the book in its database and warehouses the book.
  • The distributor sends out information to wholesalers announcing latest releases.
  • Wholesalers place this information in their database and send this seasonal catalog to the retailers
  • (stores and libraries) whom they represent. The buyers review the book list or catalog and
    present it to their Board of Directors, if they are corporately owned. The Board, marketing
    director and other members of management determine which books they will purchase and
  • Sometimes the corporation is so large, buyers are divided into territories and each territory is
  • autonomous in making acquisition choices.
  • If the book is accepted for retail placement, the buyer will send a request to their wholesaler for 1-5
  • copies per store, to be shipped to each retailer.
  • The bookstore’s wholesaler will send the order list to the distributor and the distributor will send the
  • requested number of books to the wholesaler’s warehouse. The wholesaler will keep a database
    and inventory of books received and books shipped out.

    So far, no money has exchanged hands, since no books have been sold. All of this ordering and shipping is on consignment only, although these transacted activities are called “distributors’ purchases.”

    The books are shipped to each retail store where they are placed on the shelf for a period of 30 or possibly 60 days. If they do not sell, they are then sent back to the wholesaler’s warehouse. The wholesaler will keep them there for awhile, in case there’s a call for the book from one of the other stores. If, after a short time, it’s evident that the book isn’t selling, the “remainders” will be shipped back to the distributor’s warehouse where they may be sold at a discount to remainder companies.

    All of this transporting and data processing takes place during a period of approximately six months from the time the book is printed. The cost for this service is 60% of the retail price for every book that is sold. Returns are discarded if they are damaged and cannot be sent out again as “fresh inventory.” Meanwhile, the publisher is paying for warehousing of the books.

    The first compensation a publisher receives for any book sales, approximately six months from the time the book is printed, is one-half the sales compensation for the first month of bookstore sales. From that time forth, the second half of the first month’s compensation plus one-half of the second month’s compensation are delivered to the publisher on a monthly basis.

    If the book is selling well, the publisher must have enough money on reserve to pay for a second print run. This is another Catch-22 for many independent publishers and often it has ruined their opportunity to have a best seller. Books that are printed must be paid for: one-half the amount up front and the other half immediately upon printing and shipping. For a small publisher with a limited budget, the cost of even a small print run of 5,000 copies is yet another financial challenge.

    If the book doesn’t stay in the stores longer than 30 to 60 days, chances for good sales will only happen if the book catches on. And here we have the backward chain of dominoes:

    If the book is not publicized well and if the author cannot be booked for prestigious appearances—if a hefty sum of money isn’t spent launching an ambitious book campaign--no one will hear about the book. If the publisher chooses not to invest megabucks in bookstore display space, it will get lost among the thousands of other new titles. A limited promotional budget for ads, catalog and data base placement may also damage book sales.

    The Book Review Process

    Book review “galleys” or preview copies of the book must be sent to the media before the book even appears in print, to allow for reviewers to read it and write the reviews.

    If book reviews don’t coordinate with the “street appearance” of the book in the stores; if the books don’t arrive in the stores in time for a major media appearance; or if the publisher doesn’t have a large enough budget to pay for a second print run, a book campaign can be ruined.

    Other Options – Co-Publishing

    Co-publishing offers writers the best of both traditional and self-publishing worlds. Although the author pays pre-press, marketing and promotion costs, a reputable co-publisher works integrally with the author every step of the way.

    Far from being a turnkey online “fast food” publisher, a good co-publishing company offers quality pre-press, printing, marketing and promotion that incorporate the latest and greatest Web 2.0 and Content 2.0 technologies. Now that online book marketing has captured center stage, possibilities are limitless.

    Gifted authors with a passion to write and promote their books are given the opportunity to work with expert online marketers. These savvy professionals will have a chance to sell more books and achieve greater levels of success than any traditional publisher could ever offer them.

    Consider co-publishing with Dandelion Books. For more information, contact Carol Adler,’s Expert Guide to Publishing.

    Author's Bio: 

    Carol Adler, MFA’s first ghost-written book listing her name as co-editor, Why Am I Still Addicted? A Holistic Approach to Recovery, was endorsed by Deepak Chopra, M.D., and published by McGraw-Hill. Other publications include three novels, four books of poetry, and well over 200 poems in literary journals. She has ghostwritten over 40 non-fiction and fiction works for a number of professionals in the education, health care and human potential industries.

    Carol is President of Dandelion Books, LLC of Tempe, Arizona; a full service publishing company. She is also President and CEO of Dandelion Enterprises, Inc., Write to Publish for Profit and President of the International Arts & Media Foundation, a non-profit subsidiary of Dandelion Enterprises, Inc.

    Her business experience includes co-ownership of a Palm Beach, FL public relations company and executive management positions in two U.S. rejuvenation and mind/body wellness corporations, for which she founded publishing divisions.

    Carol has served as editor of several poetry and literary magazines. Her career experience includes extensive teaching of college-level creative and business writing, and conducting of writing workshops in prisons, libraries, elementary, junior and high schools, and senior citizen centers.

    Additional Resources on Publishing can be found at:

    Website Directory for Publishing
    Articles on Publishing
    Products for Publishing
    Discussion Board
    Carol Adler, The Official Guide to Publishing