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Seasonal Trade Book Catalogs: The What, How, Who, When–and Why

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Let’s begin with the “Why.” If you visited the various booths at the recent BookExpo America in New York City, you were offered catalogs announcing the publishers’ fall books. Without a doubt, you threw some of them away when you returned home. However, I’m equally sure that some titles interested you greatly, as competition for one of your titles, as ways to present your title–or the entire list–better, and maybe even as books to purchase.

Did your publishing company also prepare a catalog? If it usually does, but you didn’t mail it prior to the convention, you missed many opportunities. And if it doesn’t, you lost even more chances to capitalize on essential marketing.


It’s necessary to mail the fall catalog by April 15th (to arrive by May 1st), and the spring catalog by November 15th (to arrive by December 1st). (Note: Some publishers prepare a third catalog for summer.) The reason for this timing is quite simple. Book editors sit down on a specific day with all catalogs received and generally schedule their review coverage for the next six months, based on publication dates, titles with similar subjects, their editorial themes, etc. If you don’t send a catalog, they may still review your book, but you have placed one obstacle in your path.


Who should receive your catalogs twice a year? The list is long and expensive, but consider the possibilities, the exposure, and the synergistic potential.


  • All the Book Editors and freelance reviewers to whom you normally send copies of your books.


      Even if your list doesn’t include a bowling book this season, as it has the past three seasons, send the catalog to bowling media. If you take them off the list, it’s hard to remember to reinstate them the next season when you have three bowling books.

  • The electronic media.


      You never know when they’ll need your expert immediately, even if the book is not yet published. Yes, the cost of transportation, hotel, and food for the author could be expensive, but the resulting “buzz” could be just what is needed to launch the book.

  • Agents.


      Catalogs are superb tools to alert them to your list and get them interested in proposing their clients for your future lists.

  • Speakers bureaus.


      Of course!

  • Bookstores that your sales representatives will not visit.


      (If you have reps who will hand-deliver copies to their accounts, don’t forget to add the numbers they need in your print run!)

  • Ancillary sales outlets


      , such as Fotofolio, which purchases photographs for their extensive variety of postcards

  • Print media feature writers


    who don’t review books but might use your titles in articles


  • Magazines with long lead-times.


      Sometimes catalogs provide the only way to get your book included in event calendars, and they also offer a superb way to encourage interest in first and second serial rights.

  • Book packagers and companies that purchase film rights


      for TV and/or theaters

  • Publishers that buy reprint rights.



You know your production and financial capabilities. Maybe a four-color, 92-page, 8.5″ x 11″ catalog is not appropriate. I saw a fabulous Tehabi Books catalog that was only 5″ x 5.5″. Sasquatch Books produces a catalog that is 8.5″ x 5″. Some distributors require that their publishers’ catalogs conform to certain standards, so that they’ll fit into the sales reps’ portfolios. However, even a one-title publisher can produce “a piece of paper” that will serve the purpose of a catalog and capture the attention of the people who receive it.

Be creative!! Consider distinct ways of folding the paper, different envelopes (size or color, or an eye-arresting message or graphic), maybe a new format. Of course, a great cover (such as SquareOne Publishers’ “Got Book?”) makes the casual passerby pick up the catalog. But don’t let the design destroy common sense. A dark-green envelope may be very attractive, but the post office will have a difficult time delivering your catalog if the typed address isn’t readable.


All the content in a trade catalog must be geared to the primary markets: reviewers and bookstores. The flap copy you have written for your titles may be fabulous, but it probably is not the copy these two markets need. After all, flap copy is written for the consumer, the book reader. Catalog copy must include information not likely to interest readers.

Frontlist titles should be listed one by one in chronological order, beginning with the season’s lead title(s). For each title, present:


  • A description of its subject matter


    –hopefully in the “voice” of the writer


  • Author credentials


    , including hometown


  • A copy block of essential facts


    –title, subtitle, format (cloth, original trade paperback, trade paperback reprint, and/or mass market paperback), contributors (such as illustrators, photographers, author(s) of a Foreword, Introduction, or Preface), illustrations (specifying how many and what kind), price, number of pages, size of book, ISBN, BISAC category for shelving the book in stores, and publication date or shipping date (use one of these dates consistently throughout the catalog and explain which one you’re using in a note)


  • Marketing information


    , such as tour to five specified cities, national review attention, posters, bookmarks, online chats, subsidiary rights sold, etc.


  • Quotes


    from noteworthy names, previous reviewers, and/or sections of the book.

A backlist section should come next, with individual descriptions as complete as possible (depending on money and space constraints).

Then provide two Indexes–one, alphabetical by the authors’ last names; the other, alphabetical by the titles. If you can include price and ISBN along with catalog page numbers, so much the better.

Finally, include information about your publishing operation:

  • Your company’s address, phone, fax, toll-free numbers, e-mail, URL
  • If applicable, your distributor’s name, address, phone, fax, toll-free numbers, e-mail, URL, or the same contact info for your independent sales rep(s)
  • Your discount policy and other pertinent purchasing information
  • If applicable, contact information for nonbookstore sales (corporate, gift, graphics, etc.).

3 General Guidelines

Of course, the best advice is:


  • Survey the competition!


    What do they do that you admire? What could be improved?


  • Remember to add hundreds of copies, perhaps thousands, to your print run–to give away


    at regional bookseller trade shows, category book shows, organization trade shows, book festivals, the BEA (fall catalog only), etc.


  • Begin today!


    Your spring catalog should be in the mail by November 15.


Alice B. Acheson, an independent book publicist and publishing consultant, has won the Literary Market Place Award for Outside Services in Advertising/Promotion/Publicity. She presents the two core publicity sessions at PMA University and can be contacted at AliceBA@aol.com.


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