Ratchet Sales Up with the Right Questions
by Brian Jud
Most independent publishers are interested in increasing revenue and profits by selling in nontrade markets, but many aren’t sure how to get started. Start by asking and answering the right questions. After all, if you don’t do that, you will never get the answers you need.
Be sure to formulate your questions for productive answers. For instance, instead of asking, “Where else can we sell this title?” which may elicit only one response, ask, “In how many places can we sell this title, and what are they?” thereby generating additional possibilities.
That question and those that follow will get you going. Feel free to add your own; fully exhaust your ideas for answering each question, and then always ask, “What else can we do?” before you move on to the next.
In how many ways can we change a given book to make it more marketable? Should we make it smaller or larger? Increase the spine width or make the typeface on the spine more legible for better visibility on the shelf? Come up with a new title, color combination, or cover design?
In how many ways can we work more successfully with our distributors? Can we communicate better? Share marketing plans sooner? Participate in cooperative advertising? Provide the distributor’s salespeople with more and better sales literature and information about our title’s sales handles?
In how many ways can we improve our pricing? If we lower production costs could we make more money at the same list price, or even at a lower list price?
In how many ways can we improve the quality and quantity of promotion? Should we try for targeted television and radio shows? Take advantage of media training courses? Strengthen press releases and kits? Hire a publicist? Create more and better sales promotion items? Improve our Web site? Make a personal selling kit? Conduct more personal presentations?
Who can use the information in the book? The answer to this question should direct you to broad market segments no matter what the subject of a book is. To provide the examples from here on, I will use a career or job-search title. For it, answers to this question include people seeking employment for the first time, looking for a career change, or trying to find new employment after being laid off.
Where do people generally look for the kind of information in the book? Yes, maybe bookstores, but do not stop there. Add places like colleges and high schools, churches, state employment departments, employment agencies, outplacement firms, and networking groups to your list until you cannot think of anything else.
Who else could use the information in the book? Think beyond broad market segments. Finding new niches where you can sell existing titles may be the most efficient way to increase your sales and revenue. Possibilities for a job-search guide include high-school and college students, people over 50 years old, women, blue-collar workers, and more.
Who could use the book’s content in generally overlooked segments? This question should get you thinking about very specific groups of people. For instance, prisoners who are released or paroled, who must be trained to find new jobs; and military personnel, who need job-search information when they are discharged.
Where do the people in these segments look for the kind of information in your book? This answer will tell you how to reach those specific groups of people. Prisoners may go to their prison libraries, search online for career information, or ask their parole officers for advice. Military bases, posts, and installations provide books and courses for people in the armed services who are about to reenter civilian life.
Who influences the people who use your content? Instead of marketing directly to prospective customers, you may want to market to people who can influence them. For the job-search book, this might mean approaching career development officers at colleges, guidance counselors in high schools, and/or parents of graduating seniors.
How might you lower your costs without negatively affecting quality? A four-color cover is typically the most expensive part of the book-printing process. If you print in large quantities, the unit cost is substantially reduced, but it is not always sensible to produce a large quantity of books. Therefore, you might consider printing a large number of covers and a smaller number of books. That way, you would have covers readily available for your next print run.
Who spends money to adapt your content to their specific needs? Informal research may show that Spanish-speaking Americans are spending time and money translating job-search information. If so, a Spanish translation of the job-search book might provide the opportunity to sell many copies to a whole new market.
Who uses—or could use—the book in large quantities? You can sell 10,000 books to 10,000 different people one at a time, or you can sell 10,000 books to one person at one time. Clearly, the latter is more profitable. People who can buy in large quantities may be in government offices, corporations, schools, or many other places. In this case, meeting planners might buy books for everyone in the audience at the author’s job-search presentations.
Who could purchase your book without large discounts? When people buy a book to resell it, they obviously want to buy it at a discount. To avoid having to grant steep discounts, sell at list price or short discounts to people who will use the book themselves instead of reselling it. For example, college career-development offices would buy at list price because they would keep the book for their own use.
The Electricity Analogy
Asking and answering questions such as these about a given book will help you formulate ideas about how to take the title to new markets to meet the needs of more groups of people.
When you seek new opportunities with a clear eye and an alert imagination, you will find that good questions are like electricity. They give energy and power to the publisher, author, and title. They bring good books to life.
Brian Jud, president of the consulting firm Book Marketing Works, is the author of Beyond the Bookstore and other guides for publishers. This article is adapted from his new book, How to Make Real Money Selling Books (Without Worrying About Returns), from Square One Publishers, Inc., which includes additional information on reaching library markets. To learn more or to order, visit squareonepublishers.com.
Profiting from Other Forms
Providing a book’s content in various forms can be profitable. Try answering these questions to see whether it would make sense for you.
What information about customers could lead to a new product form? Once you determine who your target audience is, find out how they like to get their information. Research among college students may uncover the need for job-search information in a more user-friendly format. Instead of offering them a book, you might create a series of booklets, each devoted to one traditional job-search tactic such as writing a resume or interviewing. With a little rewriting, the booklets could easily be adapted to meet the needs of other markets, such as state unemployment offices.
Who might want the content presented in a different form? Everyone doesn’t use information in the same way, so different forms can make content more accessible to different groups of people. For example, blind job-seekers need the same information as people with sight, but they need it delivered in an audible or Braille format. And a three-ring binder or a spiral or comb binding might be the preferred format for use during a seminar or workshop, so the book would lie flat.
Is format a hassle for people purchasing the book? Books are not always easy to transport. Heavy and oversized books do not sell well in airport stores, for example, because people do not want the aggravation of carrying them through the airport and onto planes. If your content can be delivered in a more portable form, it might be purchased in larger quantities.
Does any aspect of the book’s content suggest a new product form? Certain things are difficult to verbalize. Think of interview skills involving body language, eye communication, and facial expression. Perhaps it would be profitable to demonstrate those skills in a video or DVD.
Which production technologies have changed the most since the book’s latest printing? Since technology is constantly advancing, look to see whether any new platforms would work with your information. You might attract more people to a book through apps, Webinars, podcasts, and/or e-readers than you would through traditional channels, and your previously published videos might be more profitable in DVD format.
Could the information in the book lead to a byproduct and another business? Some aspect of a book may transcend its original purpose and extend into different markets. For example, information about interview skills for job-seekers is relevant for people appearing on television or radio. So that part of the book might be repackaged for that market.