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Book Clubs: To Sell or Not to Sell

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Let’s say you have a book that looks as if it belongs in a book club catalog. It has strong content in a popular subject area. The book has high design and production values. It’s also priced high enough to withstand deep discounts. Should you shop it around? And if so, what’s the most effective way to do that?

 

The Different Deals

First, do the math. Book club sales can be structured in several ways. Here are the most common.

 

Royalty-Inclusive

You print the books for the club and receive a unit price from it that covers paper, printing, and binding–plus a royalty. The advantage? You get paid up front. And if you can add the club’s quantity onto your own press run, it will lower the unit cost for all the copies. If you split royalties with an author (typically a 50-50 split), don’t forget to factor that in as well.

For example:

Your List Price $24.95

Typical Club Member Discount 20%

Club Price $19.95

Discount to Club Off Member Price 75%

Your Gross $ 4.98

Your Unit Paperback Cost $ 3.19

Your Net $ 1.79

 

Royalty-Exclusive, Inventory Purchase

 

The club buys copies from you at cost and pays you a royalty as the books sell. Usually you can negotiate an advance against royalties. As above, this is most workable if you can add the club’s quantity to your own press run, but it can also be a handy way to reduce excess inventory. Again, don’t forget your author’s share, and consider the disadvantage of having to wait for your royalties over a period of several months or even years.

Here’s how these numbers work:

Your List Price $24.95

Club Price $19.95

Your Negotiated Unit Price $ 3.39

Your Paperback Cost $ 3.19

Your Royalty (e.g., 8% of club price) $ 1.60

Your Net $ 1.80

 

Royalty-Exclusive, Club Prints Its Own Run

For larger quantities–over 10,000, say–the book club prints its own run using your film or electronic files and pays you a royalty. If you take this route, be clear in your negotiations about who will be responsible for pre-press costs.

Your List Price $24.95

Club Price $19.95

Your Royalty, at 8% $ 1.60

On the face of it, this is the least advantageous financially, though it relieves you of the hassle of printing for the club. Yet if you can add your press run to the club’s–a common arrangement–you can substantially reduce your own unit cost, possibly making this the best deal of all. Try to negotiate the largest possible advance–up to 100% of anticipated royalties.

 

Finding the Right Club

A quick Internet search will give you contact information for more than 40 different book clubs–offering everything from fiction, to cook books, to gardening titles, to romance novels, to war history books. Many current clubs have been consolidated under the umbrella of Bookspan but each has its own buyer and catalogs.

If you publish special-interest books, join the most appropriate club or clubs and watch what they feature as main selections, alternates, combinations, and premiums. Notice the price points and content descriptions. Then get to know the buyers.

 

Book club buyers love books. They’re exquisitely attuned to the interests of their members, and they are eager for new and interesting material. After all, they have to fill a catalog every few weeks. Be prepared to show them as much as you can as early as you can–at least a season before publication is not too soon if you can pull together a reasonably finished manuscript and a reasonably finished cover.

If your book is highly illustrated, showing finished artwork is essential. You can do this by mail, but personal visits can help build a relationship. With the possible exception of literary book clubs, buyers are generally open to looking at books that are already in print too–sometimes long in print, if a book fills a niche in their catalog.

 

While it’s important to home in on the club or clubs most focused on your subject matter, don’t rule out the occasional wild card. I’ve sold a fairly indulgent herb cookbook both to a nurse’s book club and to a science book club, for instance.

 

Is It Worth It?

You can see from the simple math above that you won’t make a lot of money from a typical book club deal. So why bother? Well, first, it adds a cachet, an implicit endorsement that can be useful in marketing. It’s also good for your author’s ego. And it provides free exposure in a catalog that’s distributed to thousands–or tens of thousands–of book buyers who are interested in books like yours. This may just lead to strong sales numbers that will serve you well in promoting the book to others.

 

Linda Ligon is President and Publisher of Interweave Press in Loveland, Colorado, and immediate past President of PMA.

 

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