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Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

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In less than two years, I have sold more than 17,000 copies of my self-published personalized children’s book, My Very Own Name. I accomplished this without selling through major bookstore chains or traditional channels, and without a hefty marketing budget or staff. What’s the trick?

I wouldn’t be a true marketer if I didn’t preface my answer to that by telling you about my book. An educational, keepsake gift for children ages 0-8, My Very Own Name is a beautifully illustrated, hardcover book made especially for each child. In the story, animals find a bassinet in a fantasyland and gather around to name the child. Each animal brings a letter to spell out the child’s first and last names. (For a child named John, for instance, the jackal brings the J, the ostrich brings the O, etc.). At the end, the animals celebrate because they have created the perfect name for the child. The book mentions the child’s birthday and includes a personalized dedication from the sender and an illustrated encyclopedia of 53 animals.

 

Following are the marketing tactics I’ve used:

A Web site

, www.iseeme.com. If you’re thinking of creating a Web site, don’t know HTML programming, and have a small budget, consider creating a Yahoo! Store. (Check it out at http://store.yahoo.com). You’ll pay only $49.95 a month, plus a percentage of sales, and you can start selling your book online right away. I recommend putting your Web site address on your letterhead and even on the book if possible.

A PR campaign.

A Web site isn’t much help without visitors. I started my PR campaign locally, by contacting local media and asking if I could produce a personalized book for producers’ and anchors’ children. I’ve now appeared on 14 different TV morning news shows around the Midwest. My book has been featured nationally in Parents magazine and Baby Talk magazine, as well as in three major newspapers, and I’ve learned some things about dealing with the media, including:

  • Start local. It’s easier to get a story about you and your book if you have a local tie-in.
  • When you call the media, try to find the name of someone who covers a subject related to your book, rather than just asking for the person who does book reviews.
  • Give them a “hook” by explaining why your book is relevant right now. Perhaps it’s a perfect gift for a specific holiday, or it covers a topic that’s currently in the news. Or perhaps you’re doing a book-signing event in an area they cover.
  • Consider hiring a PR consultant who will charge by the hour to pitch the media. It’s particularly helpful if this person has relationships with the local media.

An online affiliate marketing program.

“Affiliate marketing” is a fancy term for promoting your product on someone else’s Web site (an “affiliate Web site”). You place your link on the affiliate’s site and give the affiliate a commission on the sales that it generates.

The hard part of this is finding sites that want to promote your book in return for a commission. There are companies that provide a meeting ground for sites with products they want to promote and sites that want to earn money for promoting other people’s products. These companies also handle the work of tracking sales and paying commissions

The “meeting ground” that I use is Commission Junction (www.cj.com). I recommend that you also check out Linkshare (www.linkshare.com) and Be Free (www.befree.com). I now have more than 2,000 Web sites promoting my book, although the Top 10 are the ones that generate most of the sales volume.

A network of “Sales Enthusiasts.”

On my own site, I created a section called “Earn Sales Commissions” with an e-mail address visitors can use to contact me if they’re interested in selling the book on commission. So far, I have more than 135 Sales Enthusiasts (mostly moms) who promote the book in their communities all over the U.S. I provide each Sales Enthusiast with a free shipping code to give to family, friends, and co-workers. Whenever anyone uses this unique code to order on the Web site or by phone, the Sales Enthusiast earns $5 a book. It’s a great way to encourage sales through word of mouth.

Fund-raising campaigns for charities.

By offering this same deal to charities, I have forged partnerships with the Children’s Miracle Network, the JCPenney Afterschool Program, and several hospitals and day care centers. They simply distribute fliers about my book and then receive $5 per book when their members use the code to order via my site or toll-free number.

Local baby boutiques and independent booksellers.

I started exploring these sales channels by walking into local baby boutiques and independent bookstores and showing my book to the owners. Today these stores display a sample book and take orders from customers. We ship the personalized books to the stores for customer pickup.

Once I developed relationships with a few local storeowners, I asked them for the names of good sales representatives who might represent my book to other stores. Then I contacted those reps and provided evidence that my book sold well in stores in their territories. A few months later, I asked the reps if they knew good sales representatives in other parts of the U.S.

Using this strategy, I found representation for my book across all of the central states. More than 190 baby boutiques and independent bookstores now carry My Very Own Name. One nice side effect is that I frequently schedule book-signing events at stores, which gives me an excuse to pitch the local media in their vicinity.

Department stores.

Eventually my sales representatives were able to approach buyers of department stores and show success stories. As a result, I’ve recently started selling My Very Own Name in the infant departments of all of the Nordstrom and Von Maur department stores in the central states.

Catalogs.

Certain catalogs may have a theme that fits with the subject or nature of your book. I sell mine through Wireless, a gift catalog owned by Target Direct. If you call the phone number listed on the back of a catalog, you can ask for information on how to submit products for their review.

 

My Two Main Tips

Through this myriad of outlets and techniques, my sales are growing at double-digit rates. Generalizing from my experience, I offer two primary pieces of advice.

First, start with a local focus in terms of both public relations and wholesale distribution, and then move outward. By focusing initially on the local market, I’ve been able to learn which tactics are most effective, and I have been able to develop success stories that I can use as I expand into new markets and larger stores. Starting local has also kept me focused and prevented the feeling of being overwhelmed by all of the marketing possibilities.

Second, look for marketing programs that require you to pay only when a book is sold. This keeps your marketing budget in line and reduces your risk. If you blow your whole budget on a print advertisement that doesn’t work (as I did a year ago), your promotional dollars will dry up fast. A shoestring budget can go a long way if your marketing dollars are funded by your sales.

Maia Haag is the author of the personalized children’s book “My Very Own Name.” She is the Founder of the I See Me! Inc. publishing company.

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