Words Distributing Company's hopes of finding a new buyer came to an end last week when a Northern California bankruptcy court judge rejected the sale of the company's exclusive distribution contracts. A hearing on the formal termination of the contracts will be held May 10, which is also the last day that Words will ship orders or receive returns. All 33 publishers that stayed with Words will need to make arrangements to remove their books from the Words warehouse.

"After the hearing, publishers will be free to enter into new distribution agreements," said Judy Wheeler, director of sales and marketing for Words and for parent company Bookpeople, which filed for Chapter 11 last August.

Although the warehouse will close in mid-May, Words plans to continue to operate its WordsDistributing.com Web site for as long as possible, so that publishers can post information on their new distribution arrangements. "Our computer people will be the last to leave," said Wheeler, whose own plans for the future include "a long nap," followed by a search for a new job.