Why and How to Generate Catalog Sales
by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier
Chances are excellent that you can sell your book or books in catalogs. You can find a catalog for every category of interest you can imagine. And although the number of catalogs available in print-only formats is decreasing, the number of print catalogs with online editions grew from 8,675 to 8,894 in 2008, according to the 2009 National Directory of Catalogs, and the number of catalogs available in online-only formats grew from 1,868 to 2,011.
Catalogs range from those that offer expensive gifts and gadgets, such as the one Neiman Marcus puts out, to those that cover everyday fare, such as Miles Kimball, Lillian Vernon, and Walter Drake. And there are specialized catalogs for electronics, collectibles, clothing, gardening, appliances, hardware, food—you name it. If you have a book on boating, try Goldberg’s Marine Catalog. Want to place your crafts title? Maybe Creative Xpress would be interested. And Brookstone, famous for its hard-to-find tools, just might cotton to your career guide on blacksmithing.
Industry statistics reveal that 56.6 percent of all adults bought from a catalog in a recent 12-month period. In the year 2008, consumers and businesses buying through catalogs accounted for almost $128 billion in sales.
Here’s why you can’t afford to ignore this sales channel:
• Virtually all catalogs buy nonreturnable. No more risk.
• Most pay in 30 days. This is almost unheard-of in the publishing industry.
• Catalogs buy over and over and over again. If your title sells well for a catalog
company, it will put it in its next catalog, and its next, sometimes over a
period of years.
• Catalogs rarely require exclusivity, so you have a chance to place the same book in
many different catalogs.
• They usually pay the freight. This frees up some capital for more important things.
• You get exposure to hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of consumers.
• Backlist titles are welcome. Catalogs couldn’t care less if your book is two, three, or
more years old—as long as the information is still fresh and of interest to the
Finding the Best Catalogs for a Particular Book
There are several directories of catalogs, which typically group them according to subject matter. Because most of the directories are quite expensive, you’ll probably want to look at them in a public or university library before considering a purchase.
Here are some to investigate:
• The Directory of Mail Order Catalogs (greyhouse.com/marketing.htm) lists more than
• The Directory of Overseas Catalogs (researchandmarkets.com) contains information
on more than 2,000 mail-order catalog companies around the world.
• National Directory of Catalogs (nmoa.org/catalog/mailorderdir.htm) lists more than
12,000 mail-order catalogs.
Of course, you can also research catalogs—both paper and electronic—by typing your subject area into your favorite search engine. And you can do useful research at Web sites such as buyersindex.com and cataloglink.com, which list catalogs by category.
First Steps Toward Sales
* When you have a list of catalogs that might carry your book, call and request a copy of each one. Most catalogs have toll-free numbers and will gladly provide a free copy.
* Study every catalog you get. Consume it. Think about it. Think hard about how it relates to the book you want it to carry.
* If the catalog still looks promising, call again. This time, ask for the name of the buyer (get the spelling, too), as well as the buyer’s address, direct phone number, fax, and email. Also ask for submission forms and/or guidelines.
* Complete any form or forms the company sends, and write a benefit-oriented sales letter that explains why the catalog’s customers need your book and cites specific examples from the catalog’s current offerings that relate to the book. Include a catalog information sheet (see below), a book cover or color print of it, and important testimonials or reviews.
* It is also wise to write a catalog blurb for your book in the catalog’s style. Bingo—you’ve just made the buyer’s job that much easier. Most publishers agree that it’s better not to send the book at this stage.
* Follow up two weeks later with a phone call. Find out when the decision-making committee will meet. Offer to send a sample book.
* At the designated time send the book along with copies of all the material you sent earlier. Then, if you haven’t heard anything, follow up two weeks after the committee was to meet. If the committee said no, ask for information about its objections so you can fix any problems before the next round of meetings.
Don’t get discouraged. Be tenacious. When Communication Creativity published Country Bound!, it seemed like a natural for Mother Earth News, which included a catalog in its magazine. But we could never catch the decision-maker, let alone get to yes. Finally, the fifth call did reach the decision-maker, who promptly put us on hold. She came back a couple of minutes later saying, “You know, you’re right. I just pulled your book off the bookshelf, and it is right for our readers.” Then she gave us a purchase order for several cases, and Mother Earth reordered month after month, and year after year thereafter.
When a Catalog Is Interested
Most catalogers will want to do a test before fully committing to a book (or any other product). This usually involves a purchase—anything from a few dozen copies to as many as a thousand, depending on the catalog’s circulation
If a book passes the catalog’s test, the rollout order can mean a few hundred copies, or as many as 50,000. Subsequent orders from major catalogs may end up being your biggest revenue producer.
Most independent publishers give catalogs a 50 percent discount. Larger catalogers will send you a product submission packet and their contracts with required discounts and terms. Don’t be surprised if they want 80 percent off the retail price. If you’ve priced your book properly, you can give them that on orders of several thousand and still make a profit.
Once you’ve negotiated a catalog sale, it’s obviously essential that you be able to supply books. Find out early when the catalog buyer will want you to send additional stock. If your book really takes off, you must be prepared to have a reprint delivered within four to five weeks.
Publishers who make an ongoing commitment to catalog sales will benefit by reading the trade journal of the industry, Multichannel Merchant, which is available in some libraries. For subscription information, go to multichannelmerchant.com. There you can also access selected stories from the current issue, check the archives, and do a keyword search. Other good publications for those interested in selling to catalogs are Target Marketing, DM News, and Direct Marketing.
Marilyn Ross is a self-publishing pioneer. Since 1978, she has helped thousands of authors sell millions of books. Sue Collier’s years in publishing have included several in the trade sector. The two have been collaborating for the past decade and a half and have recently focused on Self-Publishing Resources, a writing, marketing, and publishing consulting firm that serves authors. You can reach them via SelfPublishingResources.com, or 720/344-4388. This article is derived from their Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, available at bookstores online and off-, including writersdigestshop.com.