I'm about to fire my distributor. This is a long story, but it may be of interest to litmag editors and publishers, or those who would like to become litmag editors or publishers, so bear with me. The first and second issues of upstreet were distributed by Bernhard DeBoer (owner: Faye Kosmidis), whose clients included Ploughshares, Fiction, Poetry, Jubilat, and McSweeney's. Seems like that must be a reputable outfit, right? And they were willing to take on an unknown literary journal that only comes out once a year. (Most are quarterly, and are replaced in the bookstores every three months.) All this cost me up front was a $100 contract fee and 200 flyers for DeBoer to mail to bookstores. In December 2005, I had the printer ship 250 copies of upstreet 1 to DeBoer, and it was distributed to their list of bookstores across the country. When it's time for the next issue to come out, the distributor does a recall. The bookstores pay for the sold copies, tear off the front covers of the unsold copies, and return them to the distributor, who sends an affidavit to the publisher stating the number of covers received. What the distributor owes the publisher is the contract price for the number of copies sold, minus whatever it cost to mail the books to the bookstores. All well and good.
In November 2006, at Faye's request, I sent her 225 copies of upstreet 2. I still didn't know how many copies of upstreet 1 had been sold, since the recall wasn't complete. The second year was much the same as the first, except that I didn't have to pay the contract fee or provide any flyers. All I was out was the actual copies of the book I had shipped to DeBoer. It became increasingly difficult to communicate with Faye; e-mail and voicemail messages had a way of disappearing into a black hole, unless she wanted something--for example, to talk about distributing the next issue. Besides this, it is impossible to find out where the books were distributed to, since DeBoer's list of bookstores is proprietary information--and, according to Faye, her only business asset. So, if someone e-mails me and says, "Where can I buy upstreet in Boston?" my answer is "I don't know," which sounds really stupid. Stay tuned for part two of this continuing saga.