Over the next several days I plan to feature a series of posts about questions I believe authors should ask their editors/publishers. Far too frequently it seems like the critical discussions between author and editor focus on things like writing schedules and compensation packages. While those are certainly important subjects there are plenty of others that need to be covered as well.
The first item I'd like to suggest is distribution. Every author should ask their editor the following question: What sort of distribution do you expect for this project? Shelf space is at a premium. Does the editor anticipate getting the book into the key brick-and-mortar accounts? If so, how deep will this distribution be? One copy per store? Two? More?
To be fair, at the project proposal stage, no editor can tell you exactly how many copies of your book will be at your local bookstore or across a chain. And while conditions can change significantly between the contract signing stage and the book's publication date, the editor should be able to give you projections throughout the project. Assumptions are made at the proposal stage, verbal/projected buys are provided by accounts 2-4 months prior to publication and then actual store/chain orders are in publisher systems within 30-45 days of the book's pub date. Your editor should be able to give you an estimate at each stage and those estimates should become more precise the closer you get to the pub date.
Don't forget about overseas channels as well. Ask your editor what sort of distribution you can expect for English language copies outside the U.S. And although they may not be able to pinpoint the number of translations that are likely, they should be able to give you an idea of how similar recent publications have fared.
Don't be afraid to ask -- you never know what you might learn along the way.