Friday, May 29, 2009

On Getting Distribution

Seeking distribution? Small, independent publishers (like us) have a rough time getting distribution into bookstores. Here's why.

Imagine that you own a bookstore. You love books and you'd love to be able to order any book you want. But you don't have time to establish relationships with each of the 85,000 American publishers (Publishers Weekly stat. from 2004). (Can you imagine learning 85,000 different ways to order books?) If that's not overwhelming enough, c. 10,000 new publishing companies pop up each year ( If you're a bookstore owner, that's about 30 new publisher's you'd have to sign up with each day. Kind of takes the fun out of book selling.

That's why the publishing industry established middle men. Ingram and Baker & Taylor are the two main wholesalers that mainstream bookstores work with. Most bookstores have a relationship with both of them, allowing them to order regularly through those two systems. (Christian bookstores have their own middle men.)

But as you can imagine, Ingram and Baker & Taylor don't have time to establish relationships with 85,000 publishers and this year's 10,000 new publishers. They'll work directly with larger publishers, but otherwise they'll work with another set of middle men - the distributors.

So small publishers must establish a relationship with a distributor by filling out an application, paying a sign-up fee (some don't have a fee like this), and agreeing to give the distributor a cut in your profits (or both). This distributor in turn supplies the big wholesalers with your book.

This arrangement of four middle men (publisher, distributor, wholesaler, bookstore) between an author and a book-buyer shows why an author will get maybe 8% of a bookstore sale (80 cents of a $10.00 book). And, from what I read, none of these four middle men are getting rich.

What does this mean for a small publisher or self-published author? If you've printed your 2,000 or 5,000 copies, if you want to have a shot at getting into bookstores, you'll have to convince one of the distributors that your book will sell and establish a relationship. If you went print on demand through Lightning Source or Booksurge, bookstores and libraries can purchase through either Ingram (Lightning Source) or Baker & Taylor (Booksurge). But I don't think that either wholesaler is set up with a return policy with these print on demand books. Thus, only in rare situations will a bookstore stock your book. It's too much of a risk on their part to stock a book that they can't return if it doesn't sell. They can put through a special order if a customer wants it, but they won't stock it in hopes that someone will purchase it.

So it shouldn't have been a surprise when I received this rejection letter from Baker & Taylor:

Dear Publisher,

Thank you for sending in your materials for consideration as a new vendor to Baker & Taylor, Inc. After careful review of your application and supporting materials, we have decided not to establish a business relationship with your company at this time.

Our decision was based upon the following factor(s):

Inadequate marketing and/or promotion plan

As a courtesy, they included a list of distributors I could work through to get to them.

Hmmm. I sent them three copies of my 45-page marketing plan. One publisher had called my plan "over the top." I must assume that since I'm not a major publisher with catalogues going to bookstores and marketing through the traditional bookstore channels, that they fear that bookstores wouldn't buy it.

And you know what? They're probably right. While I've been on TV twice and had an excellent review from a major financial columnist, I doubt people are flooding the bookstores looking for my book. I think that my primary sales will come through Amazon and non-traditional channels. Why waste time and money trying to establish distribution into bookstores if bookstores aren't likely to carry it?

My decision, at this point, is to only distribute through Premium Book Company. I took out a $400 ad that they will use to try to distribute through alternative channels (libraries, to businesses as incentives, etc.) I'll let you know how it goes. I'm getting healthy sales through and through my own efforts to sell in bulk. For now, this seems like the best course to stay on.

One publishing adviser had counseled me against seeking a return policy with a wholesaler. If bookstores ordered 200 copies and they didn't sell, they'd get returned (some of them damaged), and I'd be out some money. Glad this phase is behind me. One less thing to worry about.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is Your Book Marketing Working? Maybe It's Just a Matter of Time

Two marketing books I was re-reading this week (with nonfiction books, I initially read do a thorough read, underlining extensively. Later, I tend to re-read just my underlinings for review.) urged readers to give marketing time - a lot of time. I didn't remember this from my first read of each book, but it came at a good time for me.

Some of my marketing for Enjoy Your Money has paid off immediately (like the nice review in the Oakland Tribune), but other things I've done seem to go nowhere (like adding all those search terms to my Amazon page.) I suppose I expected that most of my marketing efforts would have some kind of immediate payoff. Bad expectation. Marketing takes time. Here's what some experts are saying:

  • "When you aim at Amazon, you need a certain amount of patience. Though a well-written and well-published book should start selling almost at once, it will generally take about a year to reach its full potential. That's because, as the book begins to succeed, its success feeds more success. Amazon's sales mechanisms and dynamics gradually lift a winner toward the top. It just takes a while." (Aiming At Amazon, by Aaron Shepard, p. 135)
  • "Generally, your book's rise on lists and in other Amazon features is very gradual, and that's why reaching full potential takes a book about a year. So, take a deep breath, sit tight, and enjoy the very...slow...ride." (Shepard, p. 141)
  • "Patience is another way of saying commitment. My advice to you is to create a sensible plan, then stick with it until it proves itself to you. How long might that take? Maybe three months, if you're lucky. Probably six months. And maybe even as long as a year. But you will never, never, never know whether the plan is working within the first sixty days. Commitment is directly related to time." (Guerrilla Marketing, Jay Conrad Levinson, p. 17)
I'm about at the three-month mark for my book being available on Amazon. I'd pretty much concluded that nobody would ever be able to find my book on Amazon by searching general terms like Personal Money Management. After all, thousands of books on that topic are on Amazon, with many of the authors being household names like Dave Ramsey and high profile authors with television shows. Why would Amazon's search algorithm allow my book to the forefront of such a general Amazon search?

But today I searched Amazon under the popular search phrase Personal Money Management and was shocked to find my book coming up #4 of over 3,000 results! How could it be? Perhaps Amazon prioritizes books that
  • sell consistently, even if it averages just about one per day.
  • get lots of 5-star reviews.
  • have people who've taken the time to type in search terms for the book on Amazon.
  • have a blog connected to the Amazon page.
  • have several sites and blogs linking to the Amazon book page.
These would all be consistent with my book. But I'm still amazed that I'm coming up #4 in a search result. I also think it's interesting that many of these things (reviews, adding search terms, etc.) were up and going the first couple of weeks that I had the book on Amazon. I'm not sure why they're seeming to take effect now, after three months. Perhaps it just takes that much time for Amazon to realize that the book is a consistent seller. Or perhaps its search engine doesn't update with new information except once a month or so.

As Levinson urges, great marketing isn't in the huge things (like hoping for a spot on Oprah); it's simply doing the little things right, consistently over time.

So if you get easily discouraged, don't give up! Some things don't make a difference immediately. Give them time.

Do you have experience with failure over the short-haul but success over time? Please let us know!

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Solution to the "Need More Time to Market" Issue

Publishing consultant John Mark Schuster just gave me an idea I thought was worthy to pass on. I'll print it here in its entirety:

"I recently spoke to an author who "hired" a college student to do
marketing/promotions for his book project.

He approached the Marketing Department at a local university and asked about
hiring a student to assist with his book promotional efforts. He was
surprised how much the college embraced him and shared that a student could
actually earn "credit hours" through an Internship program if set up

Benefits for the author:

-Having a college student assist with your book's marketing plan is a great
option for authors that do not have a lot of time or money to spare.
-You can interview a suitable candidate and pick a marketing student who is
well-suited for your needs.
-A college student knows how to effectively utilize the internet for both
marketing and research.

Perks for the student:

-College credit is earned and real world experience is a resume builder for
the student in this tough job market.
-They build a relationship with an author who may be able to help them
further develop in their professional life.

It is important to note that it will be your responsibility to provide the
student with your publishing or marketing goals. You will probably need to
complete a course credit form and outline your project in great detail to
the college's standards but in the end it could be a big payoff.

It will be your responsibility to further explore this option and complete
necessary forms/work but I hope this proves to be effective."

I might add that occasionally marketing classes like to take real businesses and suggest marketing plans for them. We did it last year with our not for profit and gleaned some great ideas.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

When "What Makes Sense" Keeps us from "What Works"

Need to sell more of your books? If marketing methods that make sense aren't working, try methods that don't make sense. This kind of thinking isn't unusual in the business world.

  • Who'd have thought that people would pay $3.50 for a cup of coffee? Starbucks did the nonsensical and built a great company.
  • Who'd have thought you could make money by selling products so cheap that real businessmen "just knew" you couldn't make a profit? Wal-Mart did the nonsensical and built the largest retailing outfit in the world.
  • Times were when people "just knew" that the universe revolved around the earth, that the earth was flat, and that time wasn't relative. But thinkers who entertained nonsensical thoughts discovered otherwise.
Assumptions I'm Questioning

So what are some of the things that "everybody who's anybody knows for certain" about selling books, that we might want to question?

Assumption #1: The best places to sell books are in bookstores.
Assumption #2: Businesses that don't currently sell books are the worst prospects for selling my book.
Assumption #3: The larger the bookstore, the better.
Assumption #4: Go for the large cities since more people are there.
Assumption #5: Go for reviews only in the largest newspapers.
Assumption #6: The ultimate is to get on TV.

Why I Question These Assumptions

I now question all these assumptions:

1. If you're a best-selling author with a traditional publisher, bookstores are great places to sell books. Although, after distributors, wholesalers, and bookstores take their cut, you won't get much money for each sale, people know they can find your books there. But if you're not that well-known, or not with a traditional publisher, you'll probably have trouble getting into the bookstore. And if it doesn't sell within a few months, it may be returned to the distributor and never re-ordered.

That's why Dan Poynter is fond of saying something like, "Bookstores are lousy places to sell books." Great places to buy books, just lousy places to sell them. And it makes sense, once you think about it. If my book is one of 100 personal finance books in a large bookstore, why would someone choose mine over the high profile Dave Ramsey's and Suze Ormans? But if they find it in a smaller, non-bookstore setting, there's no competition.

Since my current book is self-published, I'm encountering hurdle after hurdle to getting into bookstores. I've got it into some locally owned bookstores, but chains are much tougher.

2. Businesses that don't currently sell books at all might take some initial convincing to sell my book, but if they take it on consignment, with no risk, they might like the idea of finding a new source of income. That's how my friend David sold 200 books in a local restaurant in about 6 months. I've currently got my book in a consignment clothing and furniture store, and a video rental store. I'll keep you posted as to how these go.

3. Larger bookstores mean more competition for similar books. Amazon means the most competition. If you have a niche book, like my Contemporary Christian Music Debate, Amazon's a great place to sell a book. People searching for "Christian Rock" or "Contemporary Christian Music" find it at the top of their search. But my book on personal finances, Enjoy Your Money!, competes against thousands of books on the same subject. It's unlikely that anyone would find it searching the term "personal finances". (However, once readers hear about the book from other sources, Amazon's a wonderful place to sell my financial book.)

4. While big-time authors should do well signing books in large cities, where they already have followings, I doubt they'd come out for small-time authors. But since most big-time authors go for the large cities, why not go for the smaller cities? People in smaller, established cities actually read their newspapers to get local news. Hearing that an author's in town, they might be delighted to come to the library and hear you talk about your topic and your book.

5. It's great to get coverage in big-time papers that have a large circulation. Three days ago a financial columnist reviewed my book in the Oakland (California) Tribune. I sold 11 books that first day, five the second day, and four the third day. (One personal actually called to order from me, so that I'm reasonably sure where the other orders came from. For the few days prior to the article, none sold at all.) But if you can't get the big papers, realize that several small ones may net you just as many sales.

6. TV is cool, but can be frightening as well. I was on Fox 5's Good Day Atlanta last Thursday. Great potential, but what if I froze up like the Psychiatrist's interview in "What About Bob?". Everything went great, however. Everyone raved about how relaxed I seemed, how I gave great information, how the station highlighted my book and gave great contact information, how they linked to my book information from their Website, etc. Yet, on the day of the broadcast, I sold exactly 0 books. That's not a typo. The next day I sold a few, but I suspect the sales came from my wife telling her facebook friends about the interview.

Am I glad I did the interview? Sure!
  • It exposed a lot of people to the book who may buy it later.
  • People often need to be exposed to a product several times before they purchase.
  • I can purchase the video and use it on and link to it from our publisher's Web page to show other potential media that I can handle interviews.
But still, no immediate sales as a result? I've heard similar stories of people who got big-time media coverage, but no or few sales. (I passed on this phenomenon to publishing consultant John Schuster, suggesting that perhaps "viewers view and readers read." He responded that "several marketing studies have shown exactly that.")

So don't put all your eggs into a few massive events, seeing them as your silver bullets. In the long run, the little, local stuff might be your biggest hit.

What are your experiences with what works and what doesn't concerning selling books? Are you questioning some common assumptions? Post a response and let's learn from each other!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Book Marketing Can Be Weird

What marketing plan will work best for you? Are there any "sure-fire" ways to sell books? Here's what I learned yesterday.

The Potential

I've heard cutting edge book marketers say that one of the biggest keys to sales is collecting e-mail addresses on your site or blog and then sending regular e-mails to give readers useful information and inform them about your books. That tact would seem to work perfectly for me, since I've got two busy websites, one for youth workers and pastors ( ) and one for those who teach character in public schools ( ). About 1,000 people visit these sites each day, and I've collected over 10,000 e-mail addresses.

The Plan

I've thought all along that my biggest opportunity for marketing my book on personal finances is through those sites, by posting links from the sites to my book on Amazon (did this for weeks ago), and mentioning the book in e-mails to the site members. In preparation, a couple of months ago, I found a great company that I can send my e-mails through. ( Vertical Response offers wonderful tools for creating your e-mails, managing your lists, and reporting the results. They'll also allow not-for-profits to send 10,000 e-mails free each month.)

I've spent a lot of time over the past week putting together an e-letter to the members of the youth ministry site and figuring out how to set up and send the e-mail. I have about 6000 e-mail addresses from the youth ministry site and sent out the first 2,000 e-letters yesterday.

The Underwhelming Response

So far, exactly 0 people have bought books from that e-mail! (As of last night, only one had even clicked through the link from the e-mail to look at the book.) I also have reason to believe that I've achieved no sales through people discovering my book on the sites and clicking through to order from there. Go figure.

[May 29 update: I sent an e-zine to my next list - about 3600 people, primarily teachers, who subscribed to my character education site. I offered a copy of the book at 60% off, or free if they're on budget restrictions, to review as a possible text. Two paid and one asked for a free one. If just one of these three decides to use it for a text...if they like it...if they give me a good blurb to use with other teachers...this would be a great payoff for the time and effort. But still, only three request a book out of 3600 educators?!?. Then again, how many of these actually teach a personal finance class?]

The Lesson

Throughout my life, I've occasionally attended seminars by super-successful people, who, with knowing glows about their faces, taught me seminars such as "Five Easy Steps to an Effective Ministry" or "Seven Sure-Fire Ways to Sell Tons of Books." But for me, nothing was ever easy and either I sucked at implementing the "Seven Sure-Fire Ways," or they simply didn't work for me.

Today, I'm more likely to teach a seminar entitled,

"Strategies That Worked for Me, and Just Might Work for You, but No Guarantees."

You can see why I'm not teaching many seminars. Everybody wants the "Sure-Fire" stuff.

The Lesson

I was a bit down last night, due to the "failure" of this effort. But after reflection, I've learned a wonderful thing. I'll go ahead and send out the rest of the e-mails. Perhaps this is the first time they've heard of the book and they'll make a decision later on. Maybe they need to hear about it from several sources. But if I see no real results in the e-letters, then the good news is, I don't have to do e-letters any more! One less thing to do, so that I can concentrate on things that actually work for me and my book.

I believe that successful marketing is finding out what works for my individual personality and gifts, combined with what works for my specific book.

Every book is different. Some can be positioned well on Amazon and do great without any further promotion. My book on church music, The Contemporary Christian Music Debate, isn't setting any sales records, but it sells pretty steady, although I've done absolutely no marketing at all for the book in 14 years. Being a niche book, those who struggle with musical style in their churches are likely to find it by searching "Contemporary Christian Music" or "Christian Rock" on Amazon or through Google. This is very different from my financial book. A person searching "personal finance" on Amazon would find thousands of books on the subject and wouldn't likely find mine unless they searched the exact title. The difference in subject matter requires different approaches to marketing. [May 29 update: My financial book is now #3 on a search for "personal money management" on Amazon. I didn't think this could happen. I couldn't be happier to be wrong on this one!]

Every author is different. Some have bubbly personalities that shine on radio and TV and book signings. Others prefer writing articles, sending e-mails and blogging.

There are myriads of ways to sell books and probably no silver bullet that works for everyone.
Beware of what everybody says you have to do. Beware of doing only what makes the most sense. Figure out what works for you and your book, then pursue it with a passion!

The Encouragement

Yesterday evening, Cherie checked our voice mail and discovered that a pastor friend wants to know how to get my financial book by the case. This was totally unrelated to the e-mails I sent out. Go figure. Marketing is weird.

Post by J. Steve Miller, Author of Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It.