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Advice from Experience on Special Sales

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More than 100 PMA members were gracious enough to share their experiences with special sales, providing the rest of us with a fabulous education. A great big thank-you to everyone who responded. Because of space limitations and duplications, I have consolidated participants’ remarks.

Please see “To Learn More” at the end if you’d like more information from or about some of the people quoted below.


Special (or “nontraditional”) sale. A special or nontraditional sale is defined here as a sale–often a nonreturnable sale–made to a customer that is not a bookstore or a wholesaler that sells primarily to bookstores. For this article, we asked for information about sales of more than 1,000 books at a time.

Premium sale. Say “special sales” to most people and they think “premiums.” A premium sale is made to a buyer who will use your book to get its customers to buy more, to motivate its sales team, or as a giveaway for other reasons. So a premium sale is a special sale, but not all special sales are premium sales. A premium buyer might want its logo on the cover of your book or inside it, and some special sales buyers prefer to manage the printing of your book for their purposes.

Premium buyers may buy enough of your books to give away one copy with every sale over a certain dollar amount, or with every tank of gas, or to winners of a contest–the possibilities are infinite. When your book is used as a premium, the buyer is automatically advertising it for you.

Prospect Categories

Prospects cover a wide range. Brian Jud, author of Beyond the Bookstore, recommends choosing a vein (i.e., an industry) and mining it. That lets you tell potential buyers about companies that bought your book in their industry. They are likely to have the same level of interest in your book, and they rarely have concerns about competition.

Here’s how to get started with various kinds of prospects.

Corporations/companies. Brian Jud says, “Begin by finding the SIC [Standard Industrial Classification] code for the product line that fits your title; then look for other companies with the same code. Most libraries have the SIC listings, or you can check online (try Moody’s and don’t forget to look at the Fortune 500 online listing).” For example, if you’re selling a book about child safety, find the SIC codes for retail stores that sell children’s clothes and toys, or any other place parents might look for relevant items. Ask your local librarian to show you how to use the library’s largest database. Search “companies” or “corporations,” asking for specific job titles, names, addresses, phone numbers, and your preferred SIC codes in the results. Begin to build a list of groups to target. You can buy such lists on the Internet, but why pay when your librarian will help you at no charge?

It’s tough to get orders from companies like Books Are Fun (www.booksarefun.com) or from companies such as Mary Kay or Amway, but when they do buy, sales can be huge. Try www.intipub.com for more information.

Associations. Again, use your library. This time go to the classified section of the phone book for your state capital, where most state associations are based–just look under A. (Try the same technique for Washington, D.C., which is home to a great many national associations.) It’s inexpensive, and you’ll have the phone numbers quickly (which doesn’t happen with a site-by-site-search). While you’re at the library, check the subject index to the Encyclopedia of Associations and look up promising groups.


Your library may have a catalog of catalogs that will help you get started. You can photocopy the relevant pages and take them back to your desk to order copies of the catalogs themselves. Pay close attention to whether your product will fit and which page it would fit on (it should be with related items), and get ready to convince catalog buyers that your book will increase their sales.



Try an advanced Google search on government plus buy plus books or other combinations that will get you to a list of government buyers. Brian Jud says, “Catch the government at the right time and they won’t argue prices or discounts; they will just reorder. Sometimes the federal people can direct you toward the state buyers. Once you find a buyer, the process goes very quickly if they are interested. The U.S. government wants to deal with small companies and American companies.”

Niche markets.

Gift shops, museum stores, camera shops, and other specialty stores and chains can be good prospects as long as you don’t have a contract with a distributor that says you can’t pitch them. Go after tightly targeted prospects–market a book on aquariums to tropical fish stores, but not to museum shops. Some publishers make most of their money in niche markets. Others find that the profits from niche-market sales are just big enough to pay for weekly groceries. I like the casual, friendly approach and the easy paycheck.

Local not-for-profit groups.

Check local bulletin boards, newspapers, and the classified section of the phone book. Keep asking yourself and your friends, “Which groups need a product to sell at a charity event?” The Boy Scouts? A church? A community charity? Usually these groups will buy books from you at a discount and resell them at the full price to raise money for their activities.

First Steps for Snagging a Special Sale

Start with preparation, and a great deal of it.

Cynthia Frank of Cypress House recommends lots of research. Once you’ve chosen a category and compiled a list of names, “get on the Web and research them, finding out as much as you can about what they might need. Remember, other people are calling them too, so think about filling their needs or creating new ones.”

Brian Jud advises against mass cold-canvassing and mass mailings. “Send out one carefully crafted letter instead. Do the research before you make any contact. You have to demonstrate that you know your prospect’s business or industry, and you must be prepared to show how your book can help.” Brian says he started out trying to sell his books, and that was a mistake. “Find out what they want to buy instead of trying to make them buy what you have to sell.” He learned to take book content and turn it into other forms like videos, booklets, CDs, or books in other languages. “Don’t force anything down their throats,” he says. “Find out the form they want; then adapt your materials accordingly.”

Ed Helvey of Oak Hill Press says, “If you realize early on that what you have to sell is not a match or maybe not a good match, be honest with yourself and with the prospect. Selling them something they don’t really need or want will not make you popular with them. Refer them to the right product or place–be straight with them. It’s amazing how many referrals you’ll gain from operating from a base of integrity. And a significant number of these prospects will come back to you when they are interested in something else–and maybe the second or third time will be your windfall.”

It takes a lot of time and research to find the right person at a targeted company. After you have convinced them to buy, it can take a lot more time to make the deal happen, unless you’ve managed to hit them at the right moment in their cycle–and cycles are different for different prospects. So forge a relationship with the buyer and then use a call/send/call system. First, call and find the buyer’s level of interest. Second, send a free book or books if the prospect is interested. Third, make a follow-up call, and try to get a small sale (a few books they’ll buy outright). Later you can call again and try to get a bigger order.

What Do You Say Once You Have Them on the Phone?

Denise Hamilton of Inktree Marketing recommends saying, “This is the genre of my book; is it something you sell in your market? And what is your buying time?” She points out that, since there is no universal “season” for buying, you’ll need to do your research and keep notes on who buys what and when. Don’t get discouraged if a prospect doesn’t buy this time; the company may be interested at a later date, so be clear on the answers to those “when” questions.

Brian Jud suggests asking for the brand manager in companies that make products for consumers and for the product manager in companies that sell industrial products. He reminds us that these people have bottom-line responsibility for a product and always want to sell more, so you need to show them how pairing your book with their product will increase sales. “Be persistent,” he says. “The people you are calling have other things on their mind. Keep your name in front of them. Use tenacity mixed with professionalism. Get their buy-in (‘When shall I call you back?’). Then do it, reminding them they asked you to call. Also, give people ideas. ‘Here’s how another company has done this’ or ‘Here’s an idea for a premium/customer gift/sales promotion’ or ‘Here’s how buying my book will help you sell your product.’”

What If They Say Yes?

After you get the go-ahead to submit your book, expect months of back-and-forth phone calls. Don’t forget to ask prospects whether they want to see your marketing plan, a full press kit, or just one sheet. Cynthia Frank notes, “Some will also need a product sheet or sell sheet with all the nuts and bolts including dimensions, weight, and more–not just the page count, price, and ISBN.”

On follow-up, Cynthia says: “If you have developed a strong relationship with the buyer, don’t be shy about asking to have them paged. If they ask for a big order, negotiate in good faith–don’t let a few pennies ruin the deal. Be sure to deliver on time, and give something extra, like bookmarks or recipes.”

One catalog called and asked me for a minimum of “five or six books.” I said our minimum order was one carton (24 books), and the buyer went ahead with the one-carton order. Our next step is to wait a month, then call and find out how well the books sold. If they sold well, we’ll ask the company to order more. If not, we’ll try to find out why not.

Be sure to get all your agreements in writing. Requirements and expectations should not be left open to interpretation.

Can I Get Someone to Handle Special Sales for Me?

Maybe, but there are a few things you should know. Cynthia Frank says, “Some reps have you sign up, then simply put your book in their catalog and that’s it, so don’t consider reps the be-all and end-all. Be sure to tell your rep where you have already marketed your book. And remember there are all kinds of other markets you can seek out yourself. I don’t like to see exclusive arrangements with reps because it closes off other potential sales.”

Some exclusive distributors handle special sales for their clients. If you work with one of them, ask for the list of companies they’re contacting. Then, if you want to approach a company on their list, work out a way to do it so that no one’s toes get stepped on and there’s no miscommunication with the potential buyers.

Any special sale representatives you work with should tell you which groups they are approaching each month. They may not give you contact names because they do not want you to call directly; duplication can kill a sale. If you have a rep, do not duplicate the rep’s efforts. Before you contact any group, run the name by your rep.

Denise Hamilton says, “We’ll send it to a minimum of X companies. Our agents will be open to phone calls but do not want to spend most of their time on reports. We’d rather be contacting the buyers. We do report to you on request and feel that a report once a month is about right.”


Brian Jud says it’s not smart to propose a price. “Ask them, ‘What is your typical discount?’ If you talk first, you lose. It’s all about preparation, so have their Web site open in front of you.”

Expect to give discounts up to 80 percent on a big sale; be flexible, and be prepared to spend a fair amount of money to do a test.

Rondi Hillstrom Davis of Nine Twenty Press advises, “Do your homework. Know what the company has paid in the past. Don’t negotiate price until you have made the sale. Once I had the sale, I was passed on to someone in the purchasing department. This gave me a great advantage. I knew the company had already committed to buying the book. The purchasing agent’s job was to get the best price, but she was not going to break the deal. I offered a 40 percent discount, which they accepted! Looking like a hero, I offered a deeper discount for larger quantities.”

Julie Valin of Dawn Publications recommends that you “have a set discount schedule in place and don’t let the buyer strongarm you. It always feels good to stand behind an established discount schedule, based on quantity. With our special sales so far, buyers have never tried to get a deeper discount from us. In fact, they always seem pleased at the discounts they receive.”

Don’t worry too much about how you’ll pay the printer if you get a large order and you don’t have enough books on hand to fill it. You can always show the printer the purchase order from the buyer and negotiate terms. If the buyer pays in 30 to 45 days, ask the printer for 45 to 60 days to pay, and give the printer some money up front. Don’t do a large original press run if you may eventually be dealing with buyers who might want customized books. And be sure to discuss the terms of shipping: who will pay, how much, and when.

“We always add freight to the invoice,” Ed Helvey of Oak Hill Press says. “Unless the buyer wants priority shipping, we always ship in plenty of time to use the most economical method for the specific order. Check with the buyer to make sure they have loading dock and forklift capability when shipping large orders. If they don’t, alert the shipping people so they can route the delivery on the right kind of truck.”

Even after the sale, as Cynthia Frank points out, it’s important to stay in touch with your buyer to see how your books are selling. “Invoice them (if appropriate) on time; remain polite even if they pay slowly, and stay in communication with one person there.”

So go forth and multiply . . . your sales, that is.

Liz Franklin is the author and publisher of How to Get Organized Without Resorting to Arson. She can be reached via her Web site, www.franklinizer.com.


To Learn More

    • Brian Jud: “I am not taking on new special sale projects at this time,” but you can sign up for a free, biweekly special-sales e-zine at www.bookmarketingworks.com.
    • Cynthia Frank: “Yes, we represent books for a fee, but we’re very picky about which books we’ll take on”(www.cypresshouse.com).
    • Denise Hamilton: “See our Web site for packages” (www.inktreemarketing.com).
    • Laura Duksta: “I will consult with other people, but not do the sales for them” (toll-free 877/474-4634; www.ishineinc.com).


A Special Sales Sampler

    • David Mittelstadt of New Canaan Publishing Company, Inc., sold 227,000 copies of My Daddy Is an Airman and My Mommy Is an Airman to the United States Air Force family morale program.
    • Ray Riegert of Ulysses Press sold 50,000 books to the Union Pacific
    • Julie Valin of Dawn Productions sold 20,000 copies of The Dandelion Seed to CTB/McGraw Hill.
    • Lisa Frey of Starshell Press sold 4,000 art books to Scholastic Book Fairs.
    • Ed Helvey of Oak Hill Press sold 1,200 books to PeopleSoft; 1,000 to Monster.com; 2,100 to National Cities Bank; 5,000 to Adecco Staffing Systems; and 2,500 to Executive Books at discounts of 4 to 50 percent.
    • Shel Horowitz of frugalmarketing.com sold 1,000 copies of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First to Southwest Airlines.
    • Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret of Penfield Press sold 3,000 copies of License to Cook New Mexico Style to the Daughters of the Nile, who were holding a convention in Albuquerque.
    • Linda Pinson of business-plan.com sold 7,000 books to Better Homes and Gardens at a 70 percent discount; 5,000 to another major magazine publisher at a 70 percent discount, and 10,000 to Houghton Mifflin (at a discount that’s confidential).
    • Judith Briles of Mile High Press Ltd. sold 1,500 copies of Zapping Conflict in the Health Workplace to the Nurse Book Society.
    • Gene Evans of Merit Publishing International reports average sales of 5,000 to 10,000 copies to pharmaceutical companies but adds, “We have also sold up to 50,000 copies and as few as 1,000.”

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