The Castillo de San Felipe de Lara is a Spanish colonial fort in eastern Guatemala built in 1644 to guard Lake Izabal against pirate attacks. The land approach to the three story fort was protected by a moat with drawbridge. (Image © Jain Lemos, Río Dulce National Park, Guatemala; 2014.)
Managing Fulfillment is the topic of Part 31 in my blog series, The Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books. Earlier I provided information about fulfillment decisions in the Planning Distribution section. Here is a review of how the books are going to get into the hands of your retailers and readers. If you aren’t handling orders yourself—and for most projects I don’t recommend that you do—you will need a solid partner.
For starters, your book has to be available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Ingram. There is something known as “compliance” with major commercial shipping accounts that these companies require and the fulfillment house needs to confirm in your contract that they meet those requirements.
If your title is listed in catalogs distributed to bookstores, there will be a sales representative assigned to your book. For special retail outlets who don’t receive publisher sell sheets, the company should provide options for placing book orders by telephone and email. You should also have a dedicated website for single orders and those who want to place bulk orders with all sales being funneled directly to the fulfillment house.
Most companies are going to require that your books are in their warehouse 30 days prior to the on sale date that you determined. They can often accommodate earlier shipping dates but don’t assume that the day after your books arrive from the printer they will be ready for shipping to customers. But once this intake period is over, orders should be shipped in one to two business days. What’s important is that you have access to some type of online account management system that is updated in real time.
Typically, you will receive payment for orders on a monthly basis. Don’t accept quarterly payment terms because you don’t have to. The contract should indicate exactly when you’ll be paid, for example, within ten days from the end of each month. Ask if they can set up a direct bank deposit instead of waiting more days for checks by mail.
The fulfillment company is going to be charging sales tax and someone needs to report and remit all taxes to the right tax authorities. Make sure you work out who is responsible for this as it’s going to be a state-by-state situation. When it comes to foreign sales, see if your fulfillment house has a program to cover overseas markets.
Some companies specializing in book fulfillment provide marketing services for extra fees but these can be very expensive. Ask for a detailed plan to consider anyway for comparing what you are preparing to do on your own. Work together on all sales opportunities as no one cares as much as you do about making sure your books are distributed far and wide. Follow up directly with customers on larger orders to make sure the books arrived in good shape, that their order experience was pleasant and to see if you can help them sell even more.