3. Contracts, Production, Promotion
Australian fiction comes out as standard paperback or trade paperback, trade being the larger size books. Publishing houses here don’t bother with hardback, except for Bryce Courtenay and a few such names, but trade serves the same purpose, i.e. getting a double bite at the cherry. With trade first and standard to follow, there’s more time to get momentum going with reviews and word-of-mouth. And when one format has had its time on the bookshop shelves, another appears to maintain the presence.
A different means to the same end is the advance short run of reading copies, using a short run method of printing. These will go out to reviewers and/or bookshops and/or general movers and shakers within the book industry. With luck, reviews will be appearing soon after the selling copies hit the shops, instead of several months later.
The word ‘trade’ has a further meaning for children’s and YA fiction, where titles are marketed either as trade or as education. Whereas trade sales are made through bookshops in the ordinary way, education sales are made through schools, organised by school-visiting reps. For some reason no one can explain, titles are almost never marketed as both trade and education. The education market has its own requirements; it pays, but it doesn’t do much for an author’s general profile.
Bookshop sales work in different ways depending on the type of shop. At one extreme are the ‘independents’, who make their own decisions and order in whatever they think they can sell. (And don’t we love ‘em!) At the other extreme are the newsagencies, that have their books supplied by a supplier like stationery or greeting cards.
Chain stores such as Dymocks and Collins vary along the same spectrum. Some are run by managers who simply stock the titles ordered in by the chain’s head office (this was especially true of the old A & R company stores). Similarly with the book sections of the big retailers like Big W, K Mart, DJs and Myers. Franchise stores are more independent: they have to take certain quantities of the titles ordered in by head office (at a bulk discount, naturally), but they also make their own decisions about other orders.
When the books arrive, they’re categorised according to the shop’s shelves: Fantasy/SF, Children’s/YA, etc. Bookshops will almost never put a title in two separate places, which can be a problem for a book that crosses between genres.
What about end-of-row positioning, dump bins, special spots? Let’s not get carried away! A publishing house has to offer incentives to bookshops and/or head office to gain these spots. With company stores, there’s payment involved … in fact, they require payment even for putting up posters of a book.
(If this sounds topsy-turvy, it’s how supermarkets work too. Food makers have to pay for a prominent space on the shelves for their products.)
Lastly, the issue of shelf-time. Groan! The old expectation that a book would stay on display for 6 months is highly optimistic nowadays. It’s sell fast or perish! When you think how long we take getting around to buying a book, how long we take reading it, how long before we recommend it to friends—well, a movie that’s on the screens for a week has more chance of building momentum by word-of-mouth.