Selling in the Nonprofit Sector: A Win–Win Adventure Story Starring Custom Dust Jackets
by Francine Poppo Rich
Small publishers of children’s books are often told we cannot rely on mainstream book sales to keep us afloat. Regularly, we hear and read, “You won’t survive unless you fill a void in a niche market.” But how do you do that, and just how many niche markets might one book have?
We’ve been successful in niche markets partly by targeting the nonprofit sector. Our most recent release, Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound, is a picture book written by Beth Finke, who happens to be blind. This is a true story about the relationship between a Seeing Eye dog, Hanni, and her partner, Beth. The last four pages of the book contain notes about Hanni’s training at The Seeing Eye and about Beth’s process of adapting to her blindness. Early on, during production, I knew I needed to find target markets for this book that were well off the traditional bookseller’s path. I found two: one was The Seeing Eye, but the first was Easter Seals.
Inspired at a Store
Three months before pub date, when I was shopping in Kohl’s, I came across a display of Kohl’s Cares for Kids® books, which are sold in all the chain’s stores. These are well-known books repackaged with dust jackets and covers that bear the Kohl’s Cares for Kids logo, the program’s mission statement, and a letter from the author supporting the cause. Hmmmm, I thought; this is a model I could follow. I made a list of nonprofit organizations that could benefit from distribution of Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound, especially if the book’s jacket featured the organization’s name, logo, mission statement, and a letter from Beth.
At the top of my list was Easter Seals, the community-based health agency dedicated to helping children and adults with disabilities gain greater independence. I knew Beth worked at Easter Seals as a part-time moderator of its autism blog, and I scanned its Web site for a hook—some event coming up at which they might want to distribute Beth’s books, both as a testament to the people they serve and as a way to spread the word about their future goals. As luck would have it, the annual Easter Seals convention was scheduled for the same day as the book’s release.
I quickly constructed a letter to Shari Burton, Easter Seals’ assistant vice president, National Fundraising Initiatives, and offered to partner with her by giving the group a discount on a large order. I enclosed a copy of a Kohl’s Cares for Kids dust jacket and said I would provide similar custom dust jackets for Easter Seals. Shari loved the idea. In fact, she loved the idea so much, she paid for Beth to attend the convention just to sign books for attendees.
Recently, The Seeing Eye—an organization that partners with blind or visually impaired people who choose the independence of traveling with a Seeing Eye dog—contacted me and said they were interested in purchasing approximately 500 books for an August event. When I began asking questions, I discovered they wanted the books for more than 1,500 Seeing Eye puppy raisers who would be gathering for a family appreciation day. Then I offered to create a special dust jacket, which would include a letter from Beth, The Seeing Eye’s mission statement, and its logo. What better, more appropriate audience than one with a built-in passion for the topic and the cause! Teresa Davenport, Seeing Eye director of communications, loved the idea and began working right away on providing the copy. And the timing was perfect for us, because we were ready for a second printing.
Pluses for the Nonprofits
Most nonprofits, especially the larger ones, have annual conferences and thank-you celebrations for their top donors. Books can be a great tie-in with these events when the books match the group’s mission. Shari Burton had been searching for an appropriate thank-you gift for Easter Seals Presidents’ Council donors when Beth Finke showed her an early proof of Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound. “I realized I’d found the right gift,” she remembers, “but it needed to be personalized for Easter Seals.” Our version with the custom cover was ready in time for the convention, and Shari reported that it was extremely popular—not only with the donors but also with affiliates, who wanted copies as gifts for their donors. “Having a mission-infused gift like this sure beats giving another T-shirt or hat,” she told me.
A book with a custom dust jacket accomplishes several things at once for a nonprofit:
Education and outreach. Most nonprofit organizations pour a lot of time and energy into educating the public. They often do this through literature. Although many books have been written about The Seeing Eye, “This was the first time we were presented with the opportunity to tell our own story on a customized dust jacket,” Davenport told me, explaining that “education and outreach always have been vital to our mission, and this gives us a unique way to enrich readers’ understanding of the role of dog guides in the lives of people who are blind.”
Advertising. Many people get to see the organization’s logo and mission statement on the back of the book.
Credibility. The author’s letter (which often goes on the left, inside flap, replacing a summary and/or reviews) affirms the success of the organization’s mission, enhancing its credibility. Beth’s letters noted that she is an example of how well the Easter Seals and Seeing Eye programs work. She wrote that purchasing the book means you’re supporting the nonprofit, which in turn supports her.
Donations.“A portion of the proceeds . . . ” is a powerful phrase. Folks love to see their dollars being stretched to fund worthy causes. If a nonprofit organization buys books from a publisher at a 50 percent discount and resells them at full price to its supporters, the organization can announce the fundraiser on the dust jacket.
Pluses for the Publisher
The best time to offer a custom dust jacket is before your initial print run or when you’re almost ready for a reprint. The cost of creating the jacket is minimal. In our case, if the customer buys 500–999 books, we charge only the printer’s set-up fee (approximately $500) and provide the layout and design free of charge. If the customer wants 1,000 books or more, we pay the set-up fee. Increasing your print run reduces your per-unit cost, of course, while prepayment for a large order helps pay the printing bill.
Here are some other valuable benefits:
Satisfaction gained from helping organizations that help others.
Quantity sales. It’s always better to move 500 books at a time to one location than to sell a few here and a few there.
Prompt payment. Nonprofit organizations pay their bills, and you don’t have to wait 90 days or more. The Seeing Eye paid 100 percent up front, no questions asked. They understood, respected, and appreciated the discounts and services we were offering.
No returns. These customers can’t return books because I can’t sell copies packaged for them to anybody else. People in nonprofits get this and work hard on sell-through, generating maximum exposure for both of us.
Visibility in targeted markets. Fifteen hundred puppy raisers and their families gather at the family appreciation days sponsored by The Seeing Eye. This year, they saw a book that tells a true story about the relationship between a woman who is blind and her Seeing Eye dog. Those who didn’t buy the book on the spot could go home and order it either from The Seeing Eye or from their favorite bookstore. Those who did buy it on the spot could go home and buy more copies as gifts for others with the same passions and interests.
It’s never too late to make a pitch to a nonprofit organization whose mission ties into your book. Nonprofits interested in using a book for fundraising/promotion don’t give a hoot about release dates. If the book helps them achieve their goals, that’s all that matters.
Francine Poppo Rich (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the publisher of Blue Marlin Publications, specializing in children’s picture books. The book highlighted in this article, Hanni and Beth: Safe and Sound, won the 2007 Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award, sponsored by the ASPCA. To learn more about Blue Marlin’s award-winning books, visit bluemarlinpubs.com.