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Special Sales: Divide & Conquer

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The term “special sales” is commonly used to represent revenue opportunities outside of bookstores. Tales of orders for hundreds of thousands of books whet our appetites and generate alluring visions. However, after spending fruitless months or years contacting prospective special sales buyers, most independent publishers learn that these visions can be mirages.


This doesn’t have to be so. If you divide the special-sales market into its component parts, you can create tributaries that create a significant revenue stream. This task is easier if you view special sales as having three parts:

1. The special distribution sector, which utilizes existing distribution channels to reach consumers.

2. The commercial sector, which encompasses sales to corporations that use books as sales-promotional devices.

3. The niche-group sector, which involves direct marketing to people who have an identifiable need for the information in your book or books.


Special Distribution

This part of the special sales market follows a pattern much like the one most independent publishers currently use in marketing books–i.e., distribution partner Þ
retailer Þ
consumer. Examples include using Advanced Marketing Services to sell your books to warehouse-buying clubs, or Anderson Merchandisers to resell to Wal-Mart, or Levy Home Entertainment to sell to discount stores. Other distributors can take your titles to educational markets and the military.

You can discover the names of the appropriate distributors by asking the buyers at the retail level. You can also conduct a search online, check Literary Market Place, or consult John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books.

There are other similarities to the traditional bookstore distribution channels, such as the fact that discount retailers rarely buy directly from publishers. In addition, the distributors that serve discount retailers know exactly what their customers are likely to sell. Their choice of titles is a marketing decision, not a literary one, and they will reject fiction and nonfiction that they find not suitable. Returns are endemic, the discount schedule can reach 70%, and payment terms may exceed 90 days. On the other hand, the rewards of immediate national distribution can be significant.

Although most discount retailers don’t buy directly from publishers, some do. Think, for instance, of book clubs–not just the major clubs but the many niche clubs, too–which offer increased revenue, credibility, and exposure for appropriate titles. There are book clubs that focus on children, religion, foreign languages, teaching, and more. Or think of mail-order catalogs that can move large quantities of books. Catalogs can be segmented demographically (for children, pet owners, lovers of individual sports, people of different religions), psychographically (health, New Age, and alternative), and geographically. Of course, they exact a price for their efforts, with discounts reaching 70% off list.


Commercial Sales


Corporations, associations, foundations, government agencies, and network-marketing organizations buy books directly from publishers for use as premiums, incentives, and sales promotion tools or for educational purposes. They may also purchase books for resale. The factor differentiating this segment from special distribution is that you contact, negotiate with, ship directly to, and bill the people representing these firms. There are no distributors to deal with, you bargain for the terms, returns are rare, and payment is generally made in 30 days.

To target this segment, you can search online or off for the names of companies that might purchase your books. Begin by going to http://www.census.gov/epcd/www/naics.html and clicking on “NAICS Search” to locate the NAICS–North American Industry Classification System–code (formerly the SIC codes) for your industry of interest. For example, if you had a book of interest to real estate agents, you would learn that their NAICS code is 531210. Then you could access the Gale database of SIC/NAICS codes by visiting http://galenet.galegroup.com/ and entering your local library-card barcode number and password to get names of companies. Or visit a library near you that has the SIC Code Directory, Ward’s Business Directory: Of U.S. Private and Public Companies, the Standard and Poor’s 500 Guide, or the Hoover’s Handbooks. Use The Encyclopedia of Associations to compile lists of groups to contact about using your book as a fundraising item. The Premium and Incentive Show held in New York every year is another source of leads to people who buy books as premiums.

Books have an approximately 6% share of the $1.5-billion incentive market (according to Incentive magazine). Buyers for organizations are aware of the value of books as sales-promotion tools, but the sales process still requires good selling techniques, numerous cold calls, and the ability to accept rejection. The selling period is long–sometimes a year or more–but the payback can be enormous when one customer buys tens of thousands of nonreturnable copies.


Niche Marketing

Niche marketing,or selling to definable groups of people who share a need for the information in your books, might involve pitching your title about healthy eating to beauty shops, doctors’ offices, fitness centers, and stores that sell clothing, cookware, gourmet foods, groceries, and health foods. A children’s book could be sold to daycare centers, toy stores, pediatricians, children’s hospitals, and children’s museums.

This strategy generally results in relatively small orders from many customers. However, a key to larger orders and profitability is to find clusters of prospective customers–such as a chain of daycare centers or stores–and then sell to the group’s buyer.

When an author is proficient at public speaking, niche marketing can entail back-of-the-room sales of books at full-list price. Skill at public speaking also facilitates library tours during which books will sell with little or no discount. Jerry Labriola, M.D., sold thousands of copies of the book Famous Crimes Revisited: From Sacco-Vanzetti to O.J. Simpson during personal presentations at libraries just in Connecticut. The physician/novelist had co-authored the book with renowned forensic scientist, Dr. Henry Lee.


The Internet also provides opportunities for niche sales, vastly reducing your time and expense per sales call. For instance, when selling your children’s book, you could contact online gift-registry agencies for babies to have the sites use your book as a gift item or premium (Webistry.com and iBaby.com) and submit to online niche bookstores such as Just-for-kids.com. You could also offer your book as a sales-promotional item for companies that provide baby-shower services, using Baby-showers.com.

Leaving aside the online bookstores that are considered a traditional sales outlet (Amazon.com, Books-A-Million.com, BN.com), many niche stores online may serve your needs. These include Coffeetablebooks.com, Dealpilot.com,Booknook.com,1Bookstreet.com,Adventuroustraveler.com, and Smartbooks.com. To find niche bookstores online for your titles, simply visit www.google.com and search with relevant keywords.


A Case History

It’s possible to market the same book in all three special sales sectors. One case in point is Business-to-Business Golf: How to Swing Your Way to Business Success, by Michael Andrew Smith. This book helps salespeople develop relationships with clients while they’re playing golf.

1. Special distribution

could involve submitting the book to distributors that reach sporting-goods stores such as Sports Authority and Herman’s. Every sporting-goods store in the U.S. could be a prospective customer, as could general discount stores such as K-Mart, Target, and Wal-mart. And there are mail-order catalogs catering to golf books, including GolfSmart and Sportsman’s Guide.

2. Commercial sales.

Business-to-Business Golf could be purchased by companies to give to their salespeople, or by firms that manufacture golf equipment and accessories for use as a premium or self-liquidator. Companies that make golf software could also use it as a sales-promotion item. The PGA and the state PGAs might use it to promote golf as a business sport. Similarly, The Club Managers Association of America could use the book as a fundraiser or to resell on their Web site to their members. And Smith recently sold foreign rights to a Korean publisher.

3. Niche markets.

Online stores such as Golf Warehouse Home Page, Your Golf Advantage, and Online Sports Home Page could sell the book, as could gift stores and golf pro shops. The author could pursue media events on Web forums, become active in newsgroups such as alt.golf, and write articles and stories for golf magazines such as Golf and Golf Digest. The readers of airline magazines would also be interested in articles about business-to-business golf, and so would readers of periodicals for salespeople and business executives.

You could hire a company to pursue special sales; however, with investigation, persistence, and creativity, you can also make these sales happen yourself.

Brian Jud is an author, speaker, seminar leader, book-marketing consultant, and creator of the Market-Mappingä
System for special sales. For more information, contact him at P.O. Box 715, Avon, CT 06001; phone 866/788-5334; fax 860/276-2453; e-mail brianjud@msn.com; or visit

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