AN IBPA ROUNDTABLE
Stimulating Sales, Part 2
IBPA members devise lots of different ways to stimulate sales, as Part 1 of this series showed last month and as the reports below show too. But there’s more. Responses also show that doing any one thing isn’t generally enough. Doing a suite of things is what works, and doing them so that they feed into and strengthen one another.
Many thanks to all who shared their experiences.—Judith Appelbaum
The Benefits of Booths
As a small publisher with some regional and some very local titles, we have found that a booth at artists’ markets and craft fairs is a good sales outlet, a way to distribute our catalogs to potential retail customers, and a way to provide work for people at slow times of the year.
Our town, Ely, MN (recently voted America’s Coolest Small Town by Budget Travel), has a Farmers’ and Artists’ Market every Tuesday evening all summer in the park. This is popular with local residents, cabin owners, and tourists. For about four hours of work for one person, we bring in $200–$300, which adds up over the 16 weeks of summer. Two local festivals net another $3,500 or so. Although we haven’t analyzed this, we believe that the local retail customers who pick up our catalogs in summer are also quite likely to order from us for holiday gifts.
We have also attended holiday craft fairs in the Minneapolis area, with mixed results but never a loss. The only time we lost money was at an outdoor wine-tasting festival during which it (the weather, not the wine) poured most of the time. Since then we have generally avoided weather-dependent events that require travel time.
Minnesota has a booklet that lists all the craft fairs in the state, their focus (one that specializes in books was a relatively poor performer for us), whether or not they are juried, and the charge for a booth.
The success of these events depends on having a skilled salesperson to staff the booth. We’ve found that sales drop considerably when we use anyone who isn’t familiar with our books or particularly gifted at sales.
Raven Productions, Inc.
Steps Toward Sales at Schools
I have found several ways to increase sales through school visits, having learned that it’s not enough to just schedule a visit, show up, read my books, and expect to make sales.
When I sign the contract for a visit, I let the coordinating teacher know that I will be sending:
• Full-color flyers to be posted in the school entrance and in each
• A letter/order form that is to go home with each child approximately four days before
my visit. The letter tells parents about the upcoming visit. It includes a short bio, a
few sentences about each of my books, a list of our awards, and an order form. I
request that this letter also be shared with the entire staff, as other teachers are
often interested in purchasing books.
At the end of the school day, I autograph the books that have been ordered.
The next step is one that I added when I found that children were likely to go home after an author visit and ask their parents whether they can still purchase a book. On the day of my visit, I bring follow-up letters for the children to take home. In these letters, I tell the parents how much I enjoyed my visit to their children’s school, and I tell them that I will be accepting book orders for another week.
At the end of that week, I pick up the additional orders and leave the signed books. When a school is too far away for me to do this easily, I ask the coordinating teacher to mail the orders to me, and I then mail the books to the school.
This may sound like a lot of work, but it usually leads to selling 20 to 30 more books—and to a lot of happy children. School staff members are always willing to do a small amount of additional work, since I donate a portion of my sales back to the school. It’s really a win/win situation.
Best Fairy Books
Spurring Regional Sales
Two things that I think paid off for my novel focused on the Pacific Northwest where the author (yours truly) was known to some bookstores and libraries, and which is also the setting for the book:
• We advertised in the PNBA Holiday catalog and had a nice boost in sales with very
few returns (so far, anyway, fingers crossed).
• Our part-time assistant sent a cover letter and our flyer to all the libraries in
Washington and Oregon, and as a result we have had sales from many libraries
in these states.
Endicott & Hugh Books
Especially for This Store
Connecting personally with retailers works for me. I look around a store or go to its site to find something special about it, and then I mention that when I talk with the buyer. For instance, my book includes an essay about ice cream, and one of the book buyers I sell to loves ice cream; so each time I call or email, I mention a new flavor that I’ve discovered (this must be why I’ve gained a few pounds since last year).
I find face to face or phone works best for sales. I’ve also started teaching Author Promotional Workshops at a local bookstore. The manager helps by adding information on the best ways to contact bookstore buyers—what to do and not to do—and I think she appreciates the traffic my workshops draw to the store.
Beach Chair Diaries: Summer Tales from Maine to Maui
Success with School-centered Tours
In 2005, when he released his first book, Fablehaven, Brandon Mull embarked on a 25-city nationwide author tour, visiting schools and sharing his message, “Imagination Can Take You Places.”
Tours have paid off. To date, there are more than 1 million of the Fablehaven series books in print; they often appear on New York Times lists of bestselling children’s books; they’ve received a number of awards, and the first volume is on the master reading list in 10 states.
The blueprint for the author tour included visiting three to four schools each day, and typically remaining in a city for two days. Each assembly would be filled with third through sixth graders, often with as many as 300 students per assembly. On average, Mull sold 250 books a night. Bookstores embraced the results. Evening signings would last for three-plus hours, with kids dragging parents to the area stores.
Using the same model, his tours have continued with each successive book release, and the series has continually found commercial success. The fifth and final book in the series, Fablehaven: Keys to the Demon Prison, recently debuted at no. 4 on the Times’ bestselling children’s series list, just behind Twilight, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. It was no. 23 on USA Today’s list of bestsellers.
To date, Mull’s “Imagination Can Take You Places” tour has reached more than 215,000 elementary school students. Mull is just wrapping up a 30-city book tour, with major events in Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Louisville, Seattle, and Dallas.
We think part of the magic comes when the author gets students excited about reading, but it’s also important that this is a series. Kids say they can’t wait to read the next adventure, and they are star-struck when they meet the author in person.
Shadow Mountain Publishing
Relying on Relationships
My favorite way of stimulating sales is finding the right markets for my books and building relationships in those markets. It takes time and effort to generate interest, but finding the opportunity and then capitalizing on your assets can make marketing enjoyable as well as profitable.
Sales for my first novel, published about a year ago, are continuing to grow, and the bookstores I have worked with are inviting me back for a signing of my second book, which was recently released. I make sure that the store’s employees as well as the top managers and I enjoy each other’s company, try to offer suggestions that will help their business, and communicate regularly with owners and managers in person or through phone calls or email.
Events other than signings have been effective too. These include presentations before nonprofit groups such as Rotary and Kiwanis, and presentations at craft and art fairs where my wife and I have tables side by side (she is an artist). People love to ask questions at those events, and they are prepared to spend money.
Over the last six months, my first book has been in four shows around the country. I have two more to go this year.
Postcards and Other Pluses
As the author of Bright Ring Publishing books and as a consultant about art for children (the topic of all the books I publish), I travel around the country giving keynotes, presentations, and workshops based on the contents of individual books. Sales follow immediately, and I see increased sales over time along with increased activity on my Web site and blog.
The many downloadable resources on my site are so helpful that visitors often purchase my books so they can use the resources effectively.
Although I depend heavily on my distributor, IPG, to sell my books, I try to support their efforts in various ways, especially when I have a new book to announce or promote. For example, when Great American Artists for Kids came out last August, I printed 500 postcards with the book cover on one side and promotional information on the other. I gave these to my museum sales associate at IPG for a mailing, and I also gave him a long list of museums whose artists are featured in the book, complete with contact and mailing information. Many of these were new to the museum salesperson, so working together increased sales on this new title. The extra cards were sent out by my educational sales associate at IPG to clients who tend to place larger orders.
MaryAnn F. Kohl
Bright Ring Publishing, Inc.
Readings Are Rewarding
Since we publish plays for the most part, and our most recent book, Short Plays to Long Remember, has 27 of them by 14 authors, we have found semistaged readings work best for book sales. I am hoping the INDIE we just won will also help a good deal.
We’ve done a series of readings from Short Plays at book fairs, bookstores, and special events, and we are working on other venues for the fall.
I select different groups of plays for each venue—two plays about the golden years for Nifty After Fifty for Barnes and Noble, four plays with gay themes for the LGBT Center, and plays from the early 20th century for the Dramatists Guild. We have several authors at each event to sign books.
The events are fun for me as a long-time stage director and as a publisher; they’re prestigious for authors, and they often get press coverage, which serves us all well.
While sales at these events are small, maybe five to eight books, word spreads, and inquiries and sales online increase.
Francine L. Trevens
TnT Classic Books
A Trove of Tactics
We direct prospects to Amazon.com through email solicitations and appearances at conferences.
We make our texts available in electronic form from us directly and on Kindle.com.
We offer a new book as a door prize at conferences that we are unable to attend, in exchange for a mention of our generosity and of our Web site.
We publish regular supplements to our reference books, which stimulate sales of the original book. Buyers of the supplement are prompted to tell others—usually other librarians—about the original book. And many libraries misplace the original book and reorder it when prompted by our email reminder of a new supplement.
We offer a free book to anyone who tells us about a typo on our Web site. It gets people reading a lot of the site, and it’s very inexpensive backup proofreading for us. The winners are awed by our generosity.
We sometimes send email promotions to current customers and ask them to forward them to a dozen of their colleagues. And they do.
We regularly monitor the Web to see the buzz, if any, about our books and to see whether accessing our Web site is easy.
We read and reread our Web site to make sure that it is reader-friendly. We add content monthly.
We make sure that we are listed in all the directories of books that we can find. We are listed in Ebsco’s Library Buyers Guide.
When sales are really flat, we write letters to the editor—to any editor on any subject we deal with. When the letters are published, that reminds people that we are still around, and they are prompted to go to the Web site or write us for more information.
Speaking on Two Subjects
As a self-publisher, I naturally do all my own sales and marketing. This can be a daunting task, but here’s what has worked for me: I speak at women’s clubs, men’s clubs, book clubs, libraries, and seniors’ organizations.
Sometimes I speak about my books, but I also speak about writing a memoir. It’s a hot topic, and since it is also the genre in which I write, it’s pretty easy to work in a plug or two for my latest book.
When I speak about memoir, I tend to include a sort of minicourse designed to get the audience interested in some ways that they might write their own stories. I let them know I am passionate about the subject. There seems to be a lot of interest on their part, and a little bonding occurs.
This does not hurt sales. And when I sign books after the talk, I get to speak with fans personally—more bonding.
It doesn’t hurt either that my current book appeals to a fairly wide audience, especially the over-40 crowd and back-to-the-landers, who also tend to be interested in memoir.
Of course, I try to leave no avenue to book sales unexplored, so I have a couple of Web sites and several blogs, and I’m on RedRoom, Blogger, LinkedIn, Facebook, Amazon.com, B&N.com, and Powell’s.com. I’ve also been known to tweet on occasion.
Time of year and day of the week seem to have little bearing on my sales. My book sells slowly but steadily, and that’s fine with me. It’s been doing so since 2007. One bookstore hand-sells my book by keeping a postcard showing the cover next to the cash register. They’ve sold nearly 150 copies this way, and I now give them an additional 10 percent for their trouble.
Currently I’m offering classes in The Art of the Memoir at a local arts center; and, of course, like every other self-publisher, I’ve even sold books out of the back of my car.
Whatever it takes!
Mary Lynn Archibald
Cloud Lake Publishing