Check out the paths to success for books that lead long and happy lives. In reading this roundup article, you may have a hard time spotting bookstores. Although bookstore sales figure in most publishers’ plans at some point, they often play a minor role compared to sales through “nontraditional” outlets.
The stories below show how well those “special” sales channels can work for PMA members’ titles.
– Judith Appelbaum
No Returns & A Narrow Niche
The title of our record holder is The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Frederick Stonehouse. Originally published in 1977, the book has sold over 150,000 copies and continues selling in the 4,500-5,500 per year range.
It was originally published to help resolve the controversies over the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in November of 1975. The author examines all of the theories and gives details of the Coast Guard findings.
We market all of our titles through a strong network of gift shops throughout the Great Lakes region. National distribution to bookstores is handled by Partners Book Distributing.
We expect the title to continue to sell well since the History Channel, Discovery Channel, etc., are constantly doing stories relating to the Fitzgerald.
In addition to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, we have quite a few other titles that sell every year in the 3,000-5,000 range, thanks to our reputation in the niche market of Great Lakes shipwreck and lighthouse books. Our two lead authors, Fred Stonehouse and Wes Oleszewski, are the recognized “experts” in the field.
The other important reason for success is our marketing approach. We sell roughly 85% of our volume through the gift trade, the balance to the book trade. Also, very important, we do not take returns from either segment. The gift trade sales are handled by gift reps throughout the Midwest and by a company salesperson in our home territory.
In addition to the shipwreck and lighthouse books, we also have regional cookbooks that sell at a steady number each year. Again, a nice niche market covered by our gift reps.
Wells Chapin, Avery Color Studios
Parents Primed the Market
Do we have a book that sells and sells? Yes, we do. The book’s title is Awakening Brilliance: How to Inspire Children to Become Successful Learners and the author is Pamela Sims, M. Ed. First published in 1997, Awakening Brilliance was reprinted in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2002. It is selling in nine countries, has been translated twice (into Korean and Slovenian), and has won two prestigious education awards.
The book contains a strong and passionate message about how to help all children succeed in school. It was not written as a manual; instead, it weaves true teacher-student experiences into a fictionalized story that shows how to look after students’ emotional needs, improve academic performance, and motivate reluctant learners.
Initially, we marketed Awakening Brilliance to parents through bookstore signings, and radio, TV, and print reviews. The author also uses it in her speeches and workshop presentations.
In the beginning, it was difficult to get into the school market, which was the book’s target audience; however parents, who loved the book, brought it into the schools. Now most of our orders come from schools that purchase a copy for every teacher.
We continue to do print advertising of the book targeted toward our prime audiences of parents and educators, so that people will know the title is still available. Sales are still strong. We have decided that as long as there are orders, we will keep the book in print. We’re down to our last thousand from the fifth printing and expect to have to go to press again in the near future.
Kelly Smith, Bayhampton Publications
School Sales for a Business Book
Business Mastery: A Guide for Creating a Fulfilling, Thriving Business and Keeping It Successful
first appeared in September 1988 (250 copies in three-ring binders). The first perfect-bound edition came in June 1989. So far, we have sold almost 150,000 copies.
I published it because I couldn’t find a business book that had depth and practical
information combined with a spiritual foundation and a tone that would appeal to my target market.
Business Mastery was written specifically for the holistic market, although we’ve had orders from all types of business owners who embrace the book’s philosophy. Initially I sent postcards to selected healing arts schools–massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture–psychology schools, and some professionals. Then I did more elaborate mailings to schools and took out display ads in holistic health magazines and professional journals such as The American Massage Therapy Association Journal,The Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals Quarterly, and Massage Magazine.
Bookpeople, New Leaf, Quality Books, and Baker & Taylor began carrying the book with the second edition (1991). This edition got reviews in the major trade publications as well as in newsletters from associations focusing on massage, acupuncture, yoga, etc.
I contacted catalogs that carried products (e.g., massage tables, charts, books) for healthcare practitioners. In addition, I began writing articles and columns for the various trade publications, and I presented at many conferences. I also developed alliances with others who service the same market (we promote each other’s services and products). We’ve had a website for many years, where, in addition to the online catalog, we offer lots of free services, such as marketing tips and downloadable forms.
We make sure we talk to a decision-maker at every school at least once per year. We send out free newsletters on teaching tips three times a year, plus we post them on our site. Every couple of years, we do some type of holiday promotion (usually in conjunction with another company). And we use classified ads, having found that the classifieds got approximately six times the response that display ads got at about one tenth the cost. We still do display ads for new titles, but combine them with classified ads; then, within a year, we drop the display ads altogether (unless there’s a special promotion).
The current (third) edition of the book is used internationally in more than 900 schools specializing in massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga, and the like, and it’s a required text in more than 400. I imagine it will continue to sell for at least 20 years (with new editions). It’s a great book. The information is good and the layout makes it easy to read. Plus the schools know that they can call us for all their business/practice management needs and that if we don’t carry what they want, we will send them to the right place. We send out orders the same day as received or the next business day. In other words, we really care about this market and they can sense it.
Cherie Sohnen-Moe, Sohnen-Moe Associates, Inc.
[subhead] Production Value Payoffs
I am the author, publisher, and only employee of BelleTress Inc., a firm with eight titles in print. In the fall of 1994, I released two gift books, Angel Prayers and 100 Ways to Attract Angels. The first editions sold more than 83,000 copies altogether. With combined orders for the second editions, released in late fall 2002, coming to more than 65,000, the grand total is just short of 150,000 copies. This summer, 100 Ways to Attract Angels received the Visionary Award for the Best General Interest Book from the nationwide Coalition of Visionary Retailers.
Many variables contributed to the success of the angel books, which were designed specifically for the gift market using high-quality paper, a matte finish cover, and professional artwork. A four-color sales sheet with mock-ups of the books drew a contract with a distributor and the distributor’s sales forecast encouraged me to order a first print run of 10,000 copies for each title.
Initially Login Publishers Consortium distributed the titles in the trade book market, where sales were fair, and Sourcebooks distributed in the gift market, where sales were exceptional (and where books sell without author promotion or really no marketing expenses at all!). Later, I hired an agent to handle special, nontraditional sales. Recently I received an order from Books Are Fun for 31,500 copies of each angel book, which will be sold in sets.
Both books have wings and continue to fly.
Samara Anjelae, BelleTress Books
Talking Turkey at Resorts
I never wanted to write, illustrate, or publish children’s fiction. I never thought I could. It was all my daughter’s fault. When she was two years old, she pressed the button of inspiration in my being. Every evening just before bedtime, she’d convince me to tell her an original story. I wasn’t permitted to read someone else’s work. It had to come from my own imagination, spontaneously. After she had tapped the well, stories just kept on flowing.
I wrote Torey the Turkey Goes Skiing in 1992 because I wanted to give my daughter the gift of immortality. Although I had had next to no education in the fine arts, I somehow managed to draw all the illustrations for the book. It was a lengthy, often tedious process, but my daughter would not allow me to give up. “Mommy, why aren’t you drawing the turkeys?” she’d ask. That was enough motivation for me.
In 1998, after years of pounding the pavements to and from the offices of various publishers, I decided to create a publishing division within my existing video corporation. In December of that year, the Torey the Turkey dream came true. The 24-page picture book (originally 40 pages) about an unlikely friendship between two creatures on the ski slopes appeared just as my daughter turned eight. .
I sold the book to my video customers at $10.99 a copy at first. Then, a few years later, I dropped the price to $5.99 as I found that $10.99 was too expensive for a paperback, saddle-stitched book. I have taken the book to school book fairs; had signings at many bookstores, libraries, and toy stores; and have even taken it “on the road” to elementary schools (thanks to local grant money) as well as to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake (where I presented it dramatically in local stores, dressed as the bunny character; I have a background in theatre). I joined PMA and participated in its various marketing programs. Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, Brodart, and Baker & Taylor all agreed to carry the book. I have advertised in their publications, on radio, and in newspapers. There have also been printed features about me and my various dramatic exploits as a skiing bunny.
Ingram offered me a contract after I had approached the ZanyBrainy children’s chain-store company successfully, and ZanyBrainy had bought nearly a thousand copies. Because of ZanyBrainy’s declining financial situation, I got most of these books back, but I’ve sold nearly 2,000 copies of the book and continue to sell it in elementary schools (where I sell the most copies) and in gift shops at ski resorts across the country.
I found a guide to all the ski resort towns in the United States and Canada at Border’s. It lists all the hotels in specific towns. I call them and ask if they have gift shops. If they do, I send the buyers copies of the book, following up with a phone call a week or so later. I do this every October. Since fictional children’s books about skiing are rare, the resorts are happy to carry Torey and it sells out year after year at places such as Sundance, Redford’s resort, The Von Trapp Family Lodge, and Stein Eriksen’s Lodge. Unless the snowboard replaces skis entirely, I don’t see sales dropping off altogether.
It’s been five years since I founded CGS Press. I sold the parent company last year but maintain the publishing division. Our latest release, Serendipity and the Dream Catcher (a chapter book for ages 9-12, which I also wrote and illustrated), was printed this past summer. My daughter, who is now 12, brought it into her reading class.
What I’ve learned about marketing backlist titles is to use creative common sense. Don’t limit yourself to bookstores. Broaden your avenues of sales. So many outlets are available if you use your imagination. Listen to the voices of experience, and be polite but relentless. Success only comes with persistence. That is true in every endeavor.
Gwyn English Nielsen, CGS Press
Making the Most of a Related Magazine
We have been telling people about Arizona through our Arizona Highways magazine since the state built roads. In 1983, our books division published a paperback called Travel Arizona. Eight editions later, we had sold over 240,000 copies for under $11 each. In 1999, we replaced the Travel Arizona book with a Travel Arizona II. Now in its second printing, it has sold 32,000 copies at $15.95 each. Our other steady sellers include a hardcover book, Arizona Landmarks, now in its 10th printing, which has sold more than 55,000 copies priced at $35.
I think these books keep on selling because they focus on what we do well–helping people get around and look at the beauty of Arizona.
We market our books through local and national distribution and, seasonally, online. We market to teachers and librarians and, with fliers, to our base of magazine subscribers. We produce an annual catalog and list our titles occasionally as “additional reading” in Arizona Highways magazine. We also market by making sure local print and electronic journalists and producers understand how valuable a tool we can be for them and their viewers, readers, or listeners. The local PBS and NPR affiliates have used our books as premiums during fundraising, and we sponsor a local travel show.
So far, we’ve sold more than 325,000 copies of these three books.
Patricia Powers-Zermeño, Arizona Highways Magazine
Students Spread the Word
I wrote Feeding the Whole Family:Whole Foods Recipes for Babies, Young Children and Their Parents in 1992-93. I wanted to encourage parents to feed their children in a way that would help youngsters realize their maximum potential. The book was picked up by a small publisher out of San Diego, where I had a contact. However, most of that company’s books were on women’s spirituality, so my title did not fit well with their list. Between 1994 and 1997, they sold about 3,000 copies. Then the company folded and the rights returned to me.
After much angst, I decided to revise the book–in particular to change the cover and the format–and self-publish it. The revised edition came out in 1998, and I sold the first print run, 3000 copies, in six months. I kept my marketing labor and dollars focused on my niche–women with young children, particularly those who breastfeed and/or shop at natural foods markets.
My goal was to attract notice through organizations such as La Leche League International, to get reviews in and write articles for parenting publications, and to make contact with natural foods stores. This seemed to be the right focus. Since 1998, I have sold about 22,000 copies of the book. The sales, while not astronomical, continue to be steady as rain. Part of this is due to my job, which is teaching for the nutrition department at Bastyr University’s School of Natural Medicine. I am grateful to be able to say that as my students graduate and move out into the world, they recommend my book.
Cynthia Lair, Moon Smile Press
Special Markets as the Norm
Our hardcover book How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too! (original pub date April 1997) has sold 600,000 copies in 21 languages.
Total hardcover sales to the trade are 150,000 copies, foreign sales 40,000 copies, and special markets/non-trade sales 410,000 (340,000 hardcover and 70,000 paperback). Not bad, especially when you consider that three major New York publishers said this book would never make it in hardcover. With more than 1,800 active parenting titles in Ingram’s database at the time of the book’s release, I was told the parenting arena was way too competitive for a small publisher to make a showing.
Buyers included Scholastic Bookfairs, Books Are Fun, LTD Commodities, Children’s Book of the Month Club, Starcrest, A. G. City Books, Savouir International, American Book Display, among others. In fact, we were so successful at selling to special markets that we developed a business selling to these accounts as an independent representative for small to medium sized publishers.
Because we had no budget for travel, and because the author was a full-time school psychologist who could not commit to a heavy travel schedule anyway, we had no choice but to try for radio, newspaper, and magazine interviews. He did do some travel when we got national media if the media paid the travel expenses.
We scheduled 10 to 40 interviews a month for about 30 months–without a publicist. (On our first media tour, we had wasted our publicity budget on a publicist. It cost us over $30,000 and got us very few results.)
That early experience with the publicist probably taught me the most expensive lesson I learned in my seven years as a publisher. But the main thing I learned is that with books that have broad consumer and media appeal, it can take a year or two to get the momentum going. I also learned that I had a significant advantage over the New York publishers, in that they cannot afford to focus on one book for two years–and I could.
I expect How to Behave to keep selling for at least 5 to 10 more years. Those sales are now in the hands of Viking/Penguin, which purchased North American rights and released its paperback version in July.
Tim McCormick, Greentree Publishing
Covering the Ground for Grits
My first “evergreen” is With Love From My Kitchen, a write-your-own cookbook; this is a title which I acquired from another self-publisher in 1996 (it had originally been published in 1989). I had previously published and marketed cookbooks I had written, but that particular title had more mass appeal than my books. I got a sale for 90,000 books in 1997 to Reading’s Fun (now Books Are Fun), and have since sold a total of 315,000 copies. Due to word of mouth, catalog sales, and gift shops, I expect this to be a dependable seller for the next 5 to 10 years.
My Gone With The Grits
cookbook, which I published in 1992, has sold a more modest 80,000 units, including 15,000 to Quaker Grits as a coupon offer. I demonstrated recipes on many TV shows (Regis & Kathie Lee, Donny & Marie,etc.) even when the book was a few years old. To further its longevity, I added a subsidiary gourmet line of cheese grits snack biscuits, “Grits Bits,” whose packages match the book cover.
My latest endeavor is speaking at special events on grits, where I not only receive a speaking fee but can sell the book and gourmet items at retail to a very targeted audience.
My publishing friends know I have never even USED the word “backlist,” as I believe there are always new markets for tried-and-true books.
Diane Pfeifer, Strawberry Patch