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Beyond Co-op: Better Ways to Help Booksellers Sell Your Books

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If you think a shoestring budget means you can’t think big when it comes to book promotion, think again. There are dozens of economical ways you and your authors can work with booksellers to do a better job of marketing–and not one of them includes traditional co-op advertising. In many cases, it’s simply a matter of being more effective at what you’re already doing: Web sites, press releases, author appearances.

Hard to believe? Here are some suggestions based on the book marketing I’ve done since 1982 as a publisher, as an author, and as a publicist for other publishers.

What Publishers Can Do

Add “Where to buy our books” to your Web site.

Link the names of stores to the Web sites of the retailers selling your books. This gives you a reason to contact booksellers to promote your book and provides you with something free to offer them. It also ensures that your Web site will turn up frequently in Google searches.

Create an e-mail list of retailers for multiple uses. To create the “Where to buy our books” list, you must compile bookseller contacts. Use this valuable list to send out excerpts from reviews, offer author appearances, advertise new titles–and elicit testimonial comments you can use on your Web site and in flyers and catalogs.

Co-sponsor book tie-in events. At Parenting Press, we’re running an ongoing “Fish Lips Face” photo contest with bookstores and libraries across the U.S. At story hours, kids can choose to be photographed as they imitate the1M?4e on the cover of The Way I Feel. The best “fish lips face” wins an autographed copy of this prize-winning children’s book. Often a bookstore or library staff member takes the pictures, since the press is not involved with arranging photography, although it does require a release from the photographer. The contest gets The Way I Feel displayed at each venue for at least 30 days–and all it costs the press is a book for the prize, a dust cover for the display, and a little time updating the “Fish Lips” Web site (www.ParentingPress.com/fishlips) to include each contest date and the winning photo. In 2003, the press sponsored a kids’ video contest to promote the revised edition of Kids to the Rescue: First Aid Techniques for Kids. It offered a reason to contact thousands of teachers, after-school programs, and youth-group leaders.

Tell booksellers about important sales hooks or tie-ins. For my book Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest, recently published by University of Washington Press, I identified the particular company towns in each bookstore’s market area and put together a list of other regional books–even novels–that could be displayed with mine. When The Way I Feel author/illustrator Janan Cain’s new home was scheduled to be shown in a 13-week HGTV Dream House feature this spring, Parenting Press e-mailed a brief announcement to thousands of booksellers. (That may have been the reason that sales of the book, which was shown on screen, spiked dramatically after the first episode.)

Identify all relevant media–and modify releases for them. The press release Parenting Press sent to the Western Washington University alumni magazine about illustrator Carol Deach prompted a front-page story about alumni authors–and a 3 _ 4 1/2-inch full-color image of the cover of her book, My Grandma Died: A Child’s Story About Grief and Loss. The press release about Company Towns that UW Press tailored for a church newsletter resulted in a full-page story sent to 400 families.

Encourage stores and libraries to sponsor author events. Don’t wait for them to call you or suggest topics. When I published job-search guides, I often told retailers and librarians, “If you like, I can speak for about 10 minutes on common resume problems and then do 60-second resume critiques for those attending.”

What Authors Can Do

Maintain a Web-site list of upcoming appearances.

Like the “Where to buy our books” list, this will guarantee more frequent listings in Internet searches.

Submit the appearances schedule to Publishers Weekly. The online “Authors on the Highway” calendar appears on Publishersweekly.com, Libraryjournal.com, and Schoollibraryjournal.com.

Send out postcards announcing appearances. At Parenting Press, simple photocopied cards made with a PageMaker template go to catalog customers in ZIP codes selected by the bookseller hosts. The press also sends cards to media as a follow-up to press releases.

Use appearances to encourage publicity. Besides notices to media calendar editors, send feature editors story ideas. For example, when Parenting Press president Elizabeth Crary has a speech scheduled shortly before an election, we contact editors suggesting that Democrats, Republicans, and kids all have to learn about Dealing with Disappointment, the topic of Crary’s latest book.

Create handouts with value. Parenting Press created a one-page handout for children at appearances by author Janan Cain. When she mentioned how many teachers were snatching up extras for classroom use, the press added a more detailed “how-to” takeaway for adults. Both were PDFs, so there were no duplicating or shipping costs.

Create entertaining or newsworthy presentations. Every author should be able to speak on at least four topics: the subject of the book, what prompted the writing of the book, any special research the book required, and how to get a book written and published. This is true even for children’s books. Some professional and business groups may want to hear about how being published can help individuals market themselves or their companies.

What Publishers, Authors, and Booksellers Can Do Together

Make sure authors are familiar with sales techniques. Before an inexperienced author’s appearance, ask the bookseller what the setting will be and acquaint your author with some sales gambits. When a bookseller leads a store visitor over to the author for an introduction, the author can be coached to smile and say, “Now, this book makes a great gift–especially for you, if you’re interested in . . . ” With your author, brainstorm ways to overcome objections and turn “Maybe” into “Please autograph.” If a prospective customer says that an elderly relative would have loved my Company Towns, but that the relative is no longer able to read, I suggest that younger relatives each tape a chapter.

Encourage multiple appearances in one community. Work with your authors and booksellers to identify other places or events where your author can make noncompetitive appearances, thus increasing the chance of publicity and book sales. Before an evening presentation at a bookstore, for example, an author might visit a library, be introduced at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, and speak in a school class or assembly. Depending on their topics, authors may also be able to speak at senior citizen gatherings, teacher in-service courses, or meetings of a historical society, a professional association, and civic and special-interest groups.

Multiply marketing resources. If you’re visiting a bookseller or telephoning to arrange an appearance, be prepared to spark the retailer’s creativity. Compile a list of promotional ideas that you’ve seen used elsewhere–or that you’d like to have a bookseller try. Introduce suggestions for window and in-store displays, newsletters, and tie-in events with, “What such-and-such a bookseller said worked was . . . ” or (better yet), “Could you get a student intern who might help you to . . . ?” and “Would you like me to bring you an oversize cover for . . . ?” Be prepared to offer options. For example, when a busy chain store wanted a presentation by an elderly Parenting Press author, I suggested a “The Parenting Guru Is In” table (à la Lucy Van Pelt’s advice booth in “Peanuts”) where the author could comfortably sit and answer questions.

Implement even a few of these ideas, and I can almost guarantee you that you’ll sell more books. It may not happen overnight, but the more you make yourself a resource for booksellers and the better you prepare your authors to promote their books, the more likely your books are to be retailers’ favorites. It’ll be easier to launch new books, to get publicity for your authors–and to get your books, new and backlist, hand-sold.

Linda Carlson handles marketing for Seattle’s Parenting Press, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Her own most recent book is Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington Press, 2003), already in its second printing.

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