To fulfill or not to fulfill?

Written with help from Renee and Jack Brodie, publishers.

Publishing your book is exciting; there’s no doubt about that. And it’s hard to beat seeing your printed book for the first time. But shortly thereafter you’ll receive 1,000 books or more…. How will you handle your own fulfillment?

Storage and warehousing—do the math
First, take a reality check on how many books you’ve ordered. Our latest order of 3,000 books arrived in small double-walled boxes each containing 28 books and weighing 24.5 lbs (about 11.13 kg). We got 107 boxes, for a total weight of 2,622 lbs (1,191 kg), which is 1.31 tons. We keep the boxes spread around the basement instead of stacking them in one corner, to decrease the load on our house’s foundations.

Be particularly careful of load limits if you live in an apartment or plan to store books on a floor above ground level. You’ll need to check whether your structure can handle extra weight, and also whether your fire insurance will be affected by a large amount of flammable material such as boxes of books.

If your home doesn’t include a suitable storage space for books, you can rent space in a mini-storage facility or warehouse. Just be sure that your books will be protected from getting damp.

Shipping—handle with care
Damaged books get sent right back to you at your expense, so investing in double-walled boxes is worth the cost. You’ll need a heavy-duty cutter for cardboard, a selection of boxes, padded envelopes, packaging tape, and an assortment of packaging materials such as cardboard pieces, bubble wrap and foam chips to fill in the gaps.

Here’s how we package books for shipping:

Large orders. We requested that our printer ship our books in double-walled boxes. These boxes are the best way to protect your books’ corners from damage when shipping in quantity. We use the same boxes for shipping large orders to distributors. We alternate the direction the books are laid in the boxes; otherwise the edge along the spines gets much higher. Then we pack cardboard pieces along the sides to protect the edges of the pages. If we can’t ship a full box, then we’ll fill the empty space with the same crumpled paper used by the printer, or use bubble wrap or foam chips as required.

Small orders. These can be time-consuming to package. Save every plain box you can find that will fit your books. In the US, small parcels are shipped by weight, but in Canada they are shipped by weight and size—so keep your boxes as small as possible for the orders you’re filling. Don’t pack air!

Single orders. Bubble envelopes or padded envelopes are fine for shipping one or two books. Padded envelopes are a little heavier than bubble envelopes. In Canada, envelopes qualify as letter mail as opposed to parcel post, and therefore go by airmail and are not stopped by customs.

The orders roll in—tracking income and expenses
Your book orders will probably come from a variety of sources, and possibly in a variety of currencies too. Orders can arrive by email, regular mail, telephone or the Internet. Payment can arrive by check, PayPal, email transfer, or credit card.

You may choose to deal in only one or two currencies to simplify your banking. You’ll want to be aware of the fees involved when receiving different types of payments, as some can cost you more than others (ie. PayPal or credit card). Having a separate bank account for your book will help you keep track of publishing income and expenses.

How time-consuming is fulfillment?
Well, that depends. But big or small, each order requires responding to your customer, packaging their order, delivering the package (either to a post office, bookstore or distributor), receiving payment and doing your banking. You’ll streamline some of these tasks as you go, but hopefully you’ll also receive an increasing number of orders.

Do it yourself or contract it out?
There are some benefits in doing it yourself:

  • You’ll save the cost of paying someone else
  • You’ll control the quality of packaging and the speed of shipping
  • You’ll build business relationships directly with your buyers
  • You’ll build a reader database which can be used to market future books, products and services

Your decision as a publisher to do your own fulfillment will depend on whether you have the time, storage space and inclination for the job. If you lack any of these, you may want to consider contracting it out.

(Renee Brodie published two full-color books and produced two companion CDs about healing using the vibrations of sound and color. Jack Brodie published a combination autobiography and family history for family members. Together, they have printed, marketed, and shipped around the world over 14,500 books and 3,500 CDs.)