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Selling Lots Of Books

When beginning a book that you plan to publish yourself, it is important to have a clear understanding of how you will market it. The marketing plan MUST be developed well ahead of your book coming off the press.

When beginning this project, I read everything book I could find about Christmas. There are hundreds of them. If my book was to sell, it would have to be quite different from the many books available from the "biggies." This is an important step, and it takes time. How will your book compete with the hundreds of thousands appearing each year? Fiction in particular is very hard to self-publish.

I wrote my book specifically with fundraising for cancer research in mind. But I also needed a way to encourage bulk sales. I knew that bookstore terms would make it difficult for me to succeed. So I decided from the beginning that I would focus on marketing to various groups who need to fundraise--schools, daycares, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, women's groups like Beta Sigma Phi and Altrusa, etc. Our credit union was a big supporter. Other credit unions got on board. All of these groups need to raise funds for their own projects, and I am thrilled that our book has the opportunity "to help twice."

I knew from the start that the chances of making money were against me. The average book in Canada sells 1500 copies, period, even those printed by larger Canadian publishers. I had to plan on recouping my print costs and raising $10,000 for cancer research. I knew it wouldn't happen on the first print run, but I definitely felt it was do-able. To make our book attractive to fundraisers, I structured it so that they keep 40% of sales, I offset the GST (a federal tax) for them, and the Canadian Cancer Society receives 25% of each book sold. That doesn't leave a lot leftover for advertising, etc. But once the design costs were paid off, which happened in the first printing, it would be "just" feasible.

I took a workshop on self-publishing at our local community college, went away and wrote my manuscript, rewrote it about 20 times, and then went back and took another course on self-publishing. After taking the course on self-publishing twice, I had learned a little bit, but not nearly enough!!! I wish I'd known about the self-publishing site before I started. On the other hand it might have seemed an insurmountable task. I must be honest and say that both instructors discouraged self-publishing a Christmas book because there are so many on the topic and because the time frame for sales and promotion is so tight. (Sept-December sales rather than all year.)

I read some of Tom and Marilyn Ross's books as well as a couple by Dan Poynter. I have Shel's book, Grassroots Marketing--it's very good. Preparing the manuscript and having the book produced was not nearly as hard as the marketing. You can find a lot of good information at Look at their self-publishing pages--lots of info there.

Pricing your book right is really tough, but very important. The books all say it should be about 8X the cost of printing it. And I don't think that is on a small print run of 1000 or 2000 either! My initial print and design cost per copy was $5.93 per copy. You can't price it at $48.00! set mine a little lower--at $16.95. It probably would have sold well at $18.00 Canadian (about $12 in US funds) but I predicted ahead that the folks buying it were probably going to buy more than one copy. They do--some people buy 10 at a time. The nature of my marketing also means that I have a really good payment rate--my groups may take 60 days to pay, but they do pay. For larger orders (over 50) I generally require a 50% down payment.

On my first print run, I ordered 1500 extra covers of the book printed on a lighter weight than the covers. These could travel with a couple of pages of regular paper in an envelope for 48 cents in Canada. Test driving this will be important. If your info is too heavy--those postage costs will go up. And every penny is going to be important. I designed a "blurb" for the other side of the extra covers that gave the reader a good idea of what the book was about and other info. Bookstores will really want to see your cover with info on the back. I only had $1500 for mailing, photocopying, to work with initially, so I decided to put a lot of energy into obtaining media coverage. In Canada, it is very important to design your book with the weight and size in mind if you plan on selling lots of individual copies by mail. If it weighs less than 500 grams and can fit through a plastic slot when in a padded mailer, it can travel for a very reasonable price. If it can't, you will be paying TRIPLE, even if it just a smidgen over. So work that out carefully beforehand. It makes a big difference.

I sent out a lot of press releases, I offered articles without charge. More experienced writers may take issue with this, but I had no track record, no portfolio of work which had appeared in print. The Simple Living Network in the States excerpted a chapter and took some books on consignment. Since this is a website for frugal people, we didn't get a lot of orders from them, but it sure looked good in our media kit, as they have over 200,000 subscribers. If you share an article, make it clear that they must print your byline at the bottom indicating you've written a book, a couple of sentences about it, and where it is available. I offered one last fall to newspapers about "More Christmas with Less Money." Small papers will do this often because they don't have a lot of staff writers, and they need content. Did we get a lot of sales from these articles? Not always, but eventually it will make a difference.

We were incredibly lucky--our local media took quite an interest in this project. It's a real people story. The Canadian Cancer Society here in Nanaimo did a couple of press releases initially. The local media took an interest. Once I had a few press clippings, I made up a press kit to send out. CBC, our national radio station called, several major newspapers and magazines took an interest. Sometimes people told them about us, and other times it was because I had sent information out. Be prepared to spend quite a bit on postage. My postage bill last year, without counting shipping book orders, just PR stuff, was about $2000. We had over 300 long distance orders after one article appeared, written by a prominent national reporter.

You will need to think of an angle that will appeal to the press, read the newspaper a lot to see what sort of an article might appeal to them, and find relatives who will help fold materials and lick envelopes! First you will need to work up a really good press release. If the media ask for more info, you send a press kit by mail if they wish. Some prefer to access it online. You will want a website where they can download all of that info too, including a picture and bio of you too.

Before you approach the media, prepare a list of questions to submit if they want to do an interview. That way you will do a better interview. Practice a pretend interview ahead. Anticipate questions.

I spent months surfing the net, compiling a list of possible groups to approach. As a teacher, I knew that parents and other groups who fundraise with popcorn, chocolates, etc. are tired of paying top dollar for items that are really overpriced. Because so many groups needed to fundraise, I thought I could develop a good partnership with these folks. Once I'd compile lists of who I wanted to contact, I learned how to compile a database of the various people I wanted to contact about selling the book. I use Works, and then print the labels with addresses on. If you can't type, do you have someone who will do this for you? You will need help. You can buy commercial prepared lists of bookstores addresses, radio stations, etc. I didn't have $ for mailing lists. Could you form a co-op with some other authors whose books have a common theme? A group flyer with each person contributing to mailing costs would make it much more affordable.

I can help you access some Canadian bookstore addresses if you wish. But you may want a distributor because bookstores prefer to deal with them anyway. They can write one cheque after one placing one order for books from several different publishers that way. And that makes sense, because they are as busy as we are. The distributor will take a % for doing their work--which is fair enough, but it hard to find the $, especially at first. Generally the bookstore wants a 40% discount, and the distributor will take another 15%, and you will probably have to pay shipping to the distributor. Small bookstores ordering directly will usually pay their own shipping, but the big guys won't--you have to absorb that. And boy, is that extra 15% hard to find in the beginning. I am just now approaching the point where it might be "do-able."

I accept charge cards now, but it has been a huge hassle and is quite expensive. I waited until it looked like the book would be successful before I signed up for extra perks like that. In the 3rd edition, we added info about how to pay by credit card. I do all of my bookkeeping to a certain point and then hand it in to a very good accountant to verifies everything. That will cost $ too. You need to have a good head for numbers and keep your records up to date so you always have a handle on how many books you have, your bank balances, etc. Website design is expensive--a friend did mine, and that was really helped.

Review copies are important. And you will need to allow quite a few copies to do that, and you won't get any $ for them. But it is necessary. I'd send one to Jim Cox at Midwest Book Review from our discussion group for sure. I sent them to parenting magazines, major newspapers, online magazines, etc. We had several very positive reviews. These were added to our press/information kit (with permission from the source, of course).
Without knowing a lot about your book's contents, this may be too general, but I hope it helps. Would your book appeal to groups who need to fundraise? It is one that could be sold in pet stores, toy stores, etc.? Would gift shops be interested? Special sales/gift shops usually want 50% off list, but it is better in some ways because you can tell them up front you won't take returns.

I really was committed to fundraising for cancer research--that inspiration has kept me going as I work 4 or 5 hours after supper most nights and on the weekends 12 months a year. I began researching in 1995 and am still working hard in 2002. You have to love your topic because you are going to work with it for a LONG time!! You have to be very frugal, every dollar is important. You will have a lot of $ go out before any come in. It is hard to keep up the marketing momentum, but that is what will make/break your sales. And if it never gets going, you have to be able to accept that too.

My book had a special appeal to other organizations and is a good fit to their own objectives, and that has made helped make success possible. But being an "independent publisher" has also meant that I had to wear all of the hats. I'm a middle-aged teacher who also works long hours at school. With an enormous amount of work, a good marketing plan, and an attractive book, you can do it too!

Virginia Brucker
We Believe Publications

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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