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Starting the Sales Flow on a Shoestring Budget

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African-American women are the target market for our book Get on Top! by The Righteous Mother. When we published it in late 1997, we knew that starting the sales flow would be tricky because we didn’t have much money.

So:

 

  • We placed an ad in Radio-TV Interview Report.

 

    This generated several radio interviews. Initially we didn’t see a large increase in sales, but we did find that many people had heard about the book.

 

  • We printed up several thousand postcards with the book’s cover

 

    on the front and ordering information on the back; this costs a few hundred dollars.

 

  • We printed a first run that we literally gave away

on the street.

 

    Inside these 1,000 copies, we included one or two of the postcards and some flyers. When women stopped to take a free book, we told them all about it and asked them to recommend it to someone else or to pass the book on if they liked it.

 

  • We included a survey form at the back of Get on Top! that customers could return to us with their comments and suggestions.

 

      Each time we received a survey, we wrote the customer a personal letter, thanking them and encouraging them to buy our other books

Delilah Power!; The Mystical Seductress Handbook;

      and

Sex Her Right!and we’d include a discount coupon to sweeten the offer. Sales of these other books increased due to this effort, and although they haven’t been as successful as Get on Top!, they provide a steady stream of income.

  • We approached street vendors and initially sold them the book at a steep discount for cash.

 

    We knew this would help promote the title as many street vendors display their books face-out. As the book began to sell, those street vendors became a valuable resource, purchasing regularly, accepting a standard discount, and always paying cash.

 

  • We sent copies of the book directly to local radio stations with a T-shirt and other promos.

 

      Because

Get on Top!

    is controversial, we found that many radio personalities were happy to discuss the book’s content during their shows

 

  • We made copies of the book’s cover, added a catchy phrase, and stuck the covers on car windshields.

 

    For example, shortly before Thanksgiving, we created a flyer that said, “Get rid of that ‘Turkey’ for Thanksgiving [referring to a man], and put something really exciting in your stocking this Christmas.” This was a very inexpensive way to alert people to the book. We may have annoyed some potential customers, but they’d seen the book’s cover and mentally registered the title. (Unfortunately, a new law in our area means we can’t do this anymore.)

 

  • Using a computer, we made inexpensive iron-ons of the book’s cover and gave them to people on the street.

 

    This was tedious work that paid off. We also offered iron-ons as a bonus with books that we sold.

 

  • We made bumper stickers

 

    that said, “The Righteous Mother says, Get on Top!” Also, we made pens with the same slogan and buttons featuring the book cover and gave them out.

 

  • We went to places like Madison Square Garden and the Meadowlands Arena wherever and whenever there were concerts or big events.

 

      We stood on the sidewalk or near the parking lot and passed out postcards and flyers to people entering and exiting. Because

Get on Top!

    has some risqué content and a provocative title, we attached lollipops and condoms to the flyers. This was a real attention-getter.

 

  • We went to nightclubs and left postcards near the bar, on cocktail tables, etc.

 

    We went to sorority parties, male strip shows, and more. (The male strip shows were a lot of fun, by the way!) At those shows, we convinced club owners to let us give away some books; this cost them nothing and enhanced the show. We’d stand on stage in front of a large group of frisky women, tell them about the book, listen to them cheer, and then give four or five copies away, making sure to include postcards women could pass on to their friends. We gave every woman at the event some form of promotional item for her time and attention.

 

  • Everywhere we went, we had postcards and/or flyers on hand.

 

    Any person we spoke to for any reason got a postcard, flyer, etc. I’ve even given out postcards and flyers while I’ve been on vacation in other countries and the Caribbean. After a while, we began receiving e-mails and orders from overseas.

 

Customers Start Coming

A few months after the first printing, we started getting calls from stores and readers. Each time someone contacted us, we filled their order and entered their name in a database we’ve used as a mailing list. Eventually we established accounts with local wholesalers that specialize in Black books. These wholesalers initially tried to purchase on consignment with 65% off list price; even as anxious as we were to sell the book, we took a gamble and refused them, continuing our publicity efforts instead. I believed demand would eventually dictate the terms of sale. The gamble paid off. As word got around, those same wholesalers came back to us and agreed to purchase on our terms. Currently, they buy the book in quantities of 1,000 or more at a time, at 50% discount, often COD! Later, we established accounts with Baker & Taylor and Ingram.

As part of our campaign to make the book constantly visible, we place it at events such as the Black Expo, Sisters Expo, African-American Women on Tour, etc. Instead of renting a booth, we enter as customers on the first day and approach someone who already has a booth (preferably a corner booth with a lively display) and offer them some money (usually around $100) to let us stand under their banner and sell our book. This saves us tons of money and we’re able to intercept a lot of traffic and make sales.

We still go to any and all types of events that draw large numbers of women and give out promos, keeping books on hand just in case we can lawfully sell them. The hardest part is dragging all those books around; however we’ve built some real upper body strength doing this.

We still attach items to our flyers whenever possible; now we add a gift or discount certificate to entice customers.

We also place notices of upcoming titles in Get on Top! to alert customers and give them an opportunity to “snatch” the title as soon as it arrives from the printer. During the holiday season, we sell Get on Top! in a gift package including a postcard, button, pen, bumper sticker, and gift tag in a little plastic bag with a ribbon. The promos cost about 40 cents, but that cost is well worth it because we experience a large increase in sales.

 

Perseverance Pays

The main thing we’ve learned about marketing backlist titles is that promotion must be aggressive, consistent, and ongoing. As long as the product is visible, you have a chance of selling it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to sell your book; you do have to use repetition to get into a potential buyer’s mind.

Another thing we’ve learned is that it is easier to sell to a repeat customer than find a new customer. Many of our readers call or write asking for catalogs and information on other titles. We give them the VIP treatment, placing them on a “special” mailing list, offering special deals on titles, sending greeting cards and notes during the holiday season. Our sales records show that it can be just as profitable to sell several products to one customer as it is to sell one product to several customers. We’ve also found that loyalty creates loyalty. Let customers know how much you appreciate them and they’ll keep coming back.

Be fearless in your approach to selling your product; if you truly believe it’s worth buying, other people will too. Let people feel the passion you have for your book. Even if they’re not initially interested in purchasing, they’ll be intrigued by your enthusiasm. That intrigue could turn into a sale the next time they see your book or hear about it.

Andas corny as this soundsnever give up the dream of selling lots of books. When I first published Get on Top!, I took a copy of the cover to the 1998 BEA and showed it to a number of publishing industry professionals. No one took me seriously and I was essentially told that I was wasting my time. I’ve never liked being told that I can’t do something. The lack of interest in my book made me all the more determined to sell it. Looking back at that experience and the more than 20,000 books I’ve sold since, I realize now that this first BEA was our first test.

At this point, my publishing company has several forthcoming titles, including a much-anticipated sequel to Get on Top! titled Sit on it! A Queen’s Guide to Life on the Throne. We’re already receiving orders for this new book from retail and trade customers. We printed an initial 1,000 copies, but this time selling them on the street at 50% off. Those first 1,000 copies went like hotcakes!

We believe Get on Top! and our other books will continue to sell very well throughout the years, because we’ll continue with the same approaches we’ve been using. Plus we always look for new ways to reach and please our intended customer.

Gina Clark is an award-winning English teacher, Publisher at Swing Street Publishing (www.goswingstreet.com), and Senior Editor of Alight Publications in New York City. She has work appearing in “African Voices” magazine and is the author of several books, including an upcoming suspense thriller. For more info, e-mail gina@goswingstreet.com or write to P.O. Box 846, Cathedral Station, New York, NY 10025.

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