More Routes to Readers
Reports by 14 PMA members about where they sell books appeared in the January issue. This month, another dozen tell what they’ve learned about a wide variety of sales channels. Still more will share the wealth of experience in upcoming issues.
Many Paths to a Niche Market
I self-published Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide that is sold in both the United States and Canada. The book is highly recommended by health professionals, individuals with celiac disease, celiac organizations, and others. I have earned the reputation as the “gluten-free diet guru” because of my qualifications as a registered dietitian with years of expertise in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, and because I’m a member of the medical advisory boards of celiac organizations in the United States and Canada. Becoming an expert in a niche market has resulted in numerous speaking engagements, media interviews, and consulting work, all of which provide opportunities to market and sell my books.
Although I use distributors who sell to bookstores and the health food/gift store market, and I also use Amazon’s Advantage program, I have found that selling my book to nonbook-store markets is easier, more profitable, and more fun. Sales channels that perform especially well include gluten-free specialty food companies and distributors (their products are in my book, so they promote and/or purchase it); national celiac organizations and local celiac support groups; dietitians’ conferences and trade shows; health professionals (e.g., gastroenterologists and dietitians) who purchase and sell books to patients needing a gluten-free diet, or give out my bookmarks and order forms; back-of-the room sales at speaking engagements; and my Web site and related sites that include a link to mine or sell via the Amazon Affiliate program.
Case Nutrition Consulting
Using Special Sales Specialists
My situation is a little unusual because I became my own publisher after seven of my books were published by a large commercial house, where many of them were (and are still) among its top sellers. Having a following certainly helped my company get off to a solid start.
My primary goal is to sell in case quantity, and to do that I depend on a media services company that is willing to handle my books because of the popularity of my previous work. It placed my first ArtStone Press book, Rock Painting Fun for Everyone! in Hobby Lobby and AC Moore. My latest book, Painted Garden Art Anyone Can Do, seemed like a perfect candidate for home improvement centers with garden departments, because many of the projects use manufactured rock and stones sold there. However, even though the media company I work with services one of the big-box retail home centers, it turns out that this company prefers to carry only a limited number of publishers’ lines, so getting books placed there was never an option.
A different media company services Michaels, the largest retailer in the craft and hobby market; but, like Wal-Mart, it has co-op requirements and demands huge discounts and other concessions that make it difficult, if not impossible, for smaller companies to participate.
I also work with a special-sales professional to move my books through other art-and-craft outlets. Probably 50 percent or more of my sales come through these two channels.
Other sales come through my Web site and through specials offered via my newsletter to people who signed up at my site. I sell signed copies this way, which some people prefer. About 15 percent of my sales come through my site, plus programs, workshops, and other events that I either initiate or accept.
Amazon accounts for another 15 percent of sales, not only because it is well established and easy to use, but because when my books reach a certain sales level, they are automatically discounted at no cost to me, or paired in “better together” offers. I find Amazon orders an excellent way to track the impact of promotional activity and publicity, as I can see an immediate jump in sales when a TV appearance airs or when a publication mentions one of my books. Sometimes the increased order size is my first clue that my book received a mention somewhere.
The remaining sales come through Baker & Taylor, primarily, with smaller orders coming from two smaller distributors. I don’t have a full-service distributor, one with sales staff. It is up to me to drive sales through articles, press releases, and whatever creative means I can think of. B&T orders increase in direct proportion to promotion, so they are another way I gauge the success of my efforts
In many ways, I find that my job as publisher is not terribly different from my job when I was just an author. Promotion is still mostly up to me. The biggest difference is that when I do manage to score a great hit with the media, the benefit is also mostly mine now, instead of showing up as a 5 to 10 percent royalty on the wholesale price in a statement as much as six months (or more) down the line.
I never tell anyone this is an easy way to make money. But it can be very satisfying in many ways.
Mix and Match Sales Channels
We have sold 10,000 of A Busy Cook’s Guide to Spices outside the bookstore market–in two spice catalog companies (28 percent), spice shops (35 percent), kitchen and gourmet shops (12 percent), and culinary schools (5 percent) throughout the country. Amazon (12 percent) buys more every year, and the book continues to do very well in the winter months. This year we redesigned our Web site to accept PayPal. It is too early to tell how this will do for us during the holiday season.
Almost Native: How to Pass as a Coloradan is a regional book we have sold mostly within the state of Colorado, at museums, visitors’ centers, tourist gift shops, and bookstores. It breaks out fairly evenly at 25 percent each. We hope to see an increase in sales with the upcoming Democratic Convention in 2008.
Our newest title, Mystery Lover’s Puzzle Book, is meant for bookstores and designed as a mini-anthology. We hope it will help stores sell more books by introducing readers to popular mystery writers who do series.
With this third book, we have positioned ourselves as a gift-book publisher and distributor. We find it ironic that some independent bookstores, which have suffered at the hands of large chain stores, often refuse to purchase books unless they are distributed through the two monopolistic distributors in the United States. That is one reason we avoided the bookstores until now.
I’ve learned in sales that it isn’t necessary to push too hard. People in the book business either see the sales potential of a book, or they don’t. Time is better spent finding the folks who are excited about your book. They are the ones who will spread the word.
Conventions Matter Most
We publish graphic novels (digest-sized comic books), so we sell to comic-book shops in addition to bookstores. We also sell at numerous conventions for fans of anime through our own exhibits and through a distributor who sells to convention exhibitors. Currently, we’re exhibiting at 28 shows a year.
The anime conventions are extremely important to our business for both sales and promotion. In addition to exhibiting, we usually present a panel, advertise in the program guide, donate prizes, and bring in one or more of the show’s special guests. The large shows are venues for new-product announcements, which get reported by influential bloggers, podcasters, Web sites, TV shows, and magazines like Publishers Weekly.
The largest anime convention in the United States draws more than 45,000 attendees. We find success (at least $1,000 in revenue, usually requiring gross sales of at least $3,000) at nearly any anime convention with at least 2,500 attendees. In fact, we’ve had so much success with anime conventions we’ve even started our own in Phoenix.
Anime conventions account for 48 percent of our sales, bookstores for 40 percent, comic-book shops for 7 percent, and online sales for 5 percent. Although sales to comic-book shops are relatively minor, we love them because they’re nonreturnable.
Majors Must Prepay
Birch Brook Press brings out books of popular culture (fishing, outdoors, baseball, books about books) and the arts (poetry, fiction, music, film) mostly in antique-style letterpress editions printed in our own shop. These editions are supplemented by a line of trade books printed by offset.
Slowly but steadily, we have built up a loose network of active local, national, and international outlets and wholesalers for our books. Coupled with the usual—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and online booksellers, and our own PayPal-rigged Web site—they create a steady level of business that, given our low overhead, has sustained us for 25 years. Birch Brook Press also exhibits at two or three U.S. book fairs and at Frankfurt, and we have enjoyed several foreign-rights sales.
Most small publishers are only too aware of the practices the largest U.S. wholesalers pursue to the considerable detriment of small independents. We were being charged back by the major wholesalers for books that had never been paid for in the first place, including many that had been damaged in their possession. But I’m pleased to report that we prevailed. Our current arrangement provides that we won’t ship a book to any of the majors unless it is paid for in advance. As of this writing, it is working out well.
Birch Brook Press
Ripples from the Back of the Room
As an instructor for UCLA Extension Writer’s Program and a speaker at writers’ conferences, I sell most of my HowToDoItFrugally books for writers in the back of these rooms and, I suspect, through word-of-mouth recommendations that come from those sales. I always include a pitch about my books in my handouts, and I encourage those who attend my lectures to share them.
It’s harder with my poetry and fiction. But my novel This Is the Place is enjoying renewed interest because it is set in Utah, and Mitt Romney is running for president. I rely on Amazon for those sales. Love Amazon. It’s doing a great job with the perks that help authors target their audience.
Relying on the Web
As a self-published author, I had my second book—Full-Time Woman, Part-Time Career—printed by BookMasters, Inc., so I took advantage of its distribution services via its newly formed Atlas Books. But I found that I was not selling enough books to cover its fees.
I travel a lot for my job, and I would go into bookstores in various cities. Whenever I asked if a store had a copy of my book in stock, someone would look it up on the computer and say, “No, but I can order it for you,” which meant that people who were browsing in the bookstores would never see my book, and thus would have no chance to buy it. So I decided to cancel my distributor arrangement and let readers order online.
Today I sell mostly via Amazon.com, my own Web site, and at the back of the room after speaking engagements. Fortunately, I have had a lot of recent media exposure—radio interviews, a few articles, and one TV interview in my local market—and now that my book is starting to be noticed, bookstores are contacting me. This morning I had a special order from Borders waiting for me on the fax.
Applause for Amazon
Amazon put me on the map. I have the best luck with Amazon. I have never received a return, not one damaged book back, and every month a check is deposited into my account like clockwork. I don’t have to invoice. I don’t have to play the return game. Amazon actually uses ads and purchases ads on my behalf to promote my books (at first, I didn’t even realize that). Amazon will sometimes purchase ads at the top right-hand side of the page, or above the searches at the top of the page, so if you Google or search my book Let’s Get Ready For Kindergarten! you will sometimes see an ad sponsored by Amazon. That takes you directly to my book. I did not purchase that ad, Amazon did!
Thus Amazon has helped me get my titles at the top of the search engines, without me paying it a single dime. Amazon has also created some wonderful tools for authors to use to help us promote our books. If someone purchases a book on kindergarten, Amazon will send them an email saying, If you liked this book on kindergarten, you might also like Let’s Get Ready For Kindergarten! I have yet to discover another distributor who does all that and more for me.
Cedar Valley Publishing
Custom Editions Play a Part
Park It! NYC is the complete guide to the nearly 1,100 off-street parking garages and outdoor lots in Manhattan for all the people who have been frustrated by trying to find a garage or unpleasantly surprised at the rate when they retrieved their car.
I sell it through booksellers, general retailers, and directly to companies that give copies out as client and promotional gifts (I overprint the company’s information on the front cover to customize the book). Since retailers want a long shelf life and companies want to give the latest, greatest thing, I printed two covers this year. The retail cover says “2nd Edition” and the custom cover says “2008.” Both groups are very happy.
One month before the 2008 edition was released, I sought out my ideal target buyers of custom editions at various events and offered to provide 2007 edition books for their gift bags. I put a small sticker on the front cover of the books announcing the 2008 edition release date and inserted a promotional card shouting the benefits of custom editions.
After one event sponsored by a magazine for small-business owners, three companies ordered custom editions, and the magazine’s publisher added Park It! NYC to its year-end gift-giving guide. Compared to pulping the 2007 books, this was an extremely low-cost and effective marketing program, and I never would have reached these audiences otherwise.
Park It! NYC
Different Formats, Different Paths to Buyers
I have 16 titles in print today, and I published my first title about six years ago. Identifying my audience was easy; they are college students majoring in engineering and professionals working in that field. Reaching the buyers was the difficult task.
My first association with B&T, and my dealings with two distributors, did not work well for me, and I terminated them. Then, about two years ago, I reestablished my association with B&T, but with the Standard Package option, which does not require a setup fee and means that B&T orders from me only when it gets an order from a customer. I like this option since it eliminates overstocks, and returns are minimal. I receive payments in 100 to 105 days.
Sending free review copies to college profs for possible adoption turned out to be fruitless and very costly. But Amazon’s Search Inside feature and Google’s Book Search have been helpful. Having added many tags in my Amazon pages under “Tags customers associate with similar products,” I average 100 sales a month there, and get 55 percent of the retail price no matter how much Amazon discounts. I’m doing well also with e-Books, especially those from ebrary and Books24×7.
At present my sales are as follows:
printed books: 60 percent (Amazon Advantage 70 percent, B&T 20 percent, Library Services 7 percent, independent booksellers 3 percent)
eBooks: 40 percent (ebrary 40 percent, Books24×7 40 percent, NetLibrary 10 percent, Content Reserve 5 percent, MyiLibrary (now an Ingram subsidiary), 5 percent
Tactics for Avoiding Returns
Although my books are available in bookstores, I am not promoting them there. The returns factor is a complete turnoff. Instead, I focus on selling to groups, companies, gift shops, and schools, and through back-of-the-room sales after lectures. At least 50 percent of my annual revenue comes from sales generated by speaking engagements and my weekly radio show.
I sell to stores of any kind with a no-returns policy, demand prepayment from Baker & Taylor, fill Amazon orders as requested, and sell autographed copies via my own Web site. Once I established a no-returns, prepayment policy, the orders did not diminish, they increased.
Quality Books has been great to work with for the library market.
Starstyle® Productions, LLC
Why a Mix Is a Must
At Upper Access, the percentages vary considerably year to year. In a typical year, I publish only a couple of new titles. While I always try to make them attractive for trade sales, some of them do well in bookstores and libraries, while others do better in other venues. With such a short list, trade sales sometimes constitute up to half of my sales, while in other years, they may be less than a quarter. Therefore, I need a mix of sales venues to be sure of making a reasonable income year to year.
After many years of handling trade sales myself, I now work with Midpoint, and I’m happy with its services. The company earns its cut by selling more copies of books than I would be able to. Notably, six months before a new title comes out, Midpoint presells substantial numbers of books to the chains and the wholesalers. It also stabilizes my status with the major players in the trade. Ingram, for example, may welcome my business in years when a new title is doing well in bookstores, but not so when I’m concentrating on direct sales and special sales. As part of Midpoint’s mix, my books are always available through Ingram, other wholesalers, and the chains.
For special sales, I have had an ongoing relationship with nonprofit groups, such as Funeral Consumers Alliance, selling books in quantity to its members, and welcoming the publicity it provides. One of my new titles is a book for homeowners on how to maintain, repair, and improve a house, written by nationally syndicated columnist Henri de Marne. Henri has a big following, and his readers buy books in stores but also order books directly from me. I’m now also successfully selling the book in case-lots of 20 copies to real-estate agents, who have discovered that the book is an ideal closing gift for their home-buying clients.
The single most important factor for all sales is making sure that my books are easy to find by anybody who might be interested in them. My Web site, Google Book Search, Amazon Search, all the major book databases, various printed directories and informational Web sites, the journalists who cover the subject matter, the bibliographies of related books, the nonprofit advocacy organizations, and so forth, all need detailed and favorable information about the books. That drives people to the bookstores and libraries, and it also drives them to my Web site and other sales venues.