The Joy of Special Sales

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Anyone who publishes a book knows that book returns can destroy profits and potentially put you out of business. Bookstores are a consignment business: If they don’t sell a book, they can return it and ask for their money back. This can mean that if stores do not sell your books to readers, you could be faced with a demand for thousands of dollars.

Is there another way? Oh yes, says Brian Jud, author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books (without worrying about returns). Here’s what he advises: Sell to non-retailers who buy books without threatening to return them. This is the world of special sales, and last weekend at Publishing University, held by the IBPA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, Jud explained how it works.

How do you sell books to non-retailers? The special sale differs from the sell to retail stores, Jud said. “You’ll make more money if you stop selling the book,” he said. “Sell what your book does for the reader.”

In other words, help your reader solve his or her problem. Say you have a book on flower arranging. You could call a major 1-800 flower shop to make the sale. But don’t talk about the book. Instead, pitch it as a perk they can offer to clients who spend a lot of money on flowers. The book, in other words, will help the flower store sell more flowers.

“You’re not selling the book. You’re selling a solution to their problem.”

Jud asks the usual question: Who is your target? When do they buy? Where? Why?

But he doesn’t stop there. “Who else might buy your book?” His book, Job Search 101, was obviously pitched to college students, but the answer to the second question led him to a very juicy market — parents of college students.

Who do you pitch in special sales? There are plenty of non-retail buyers — corporations, associations, schools, military, clubs, and government. If you pitch corporations, you’re not selling the book, Jud says. You’re helping the company increase sales and profits by offering a gift in return for a big order. Why shouldn’t that perk be a book instead of a coffee cup? If you reach out to associations, help them find and keep members. If you talk to the military, think about how a book can help military families feel happier so the military can recruit more people. If you pitch to homeschoolers, how can a book help them do their job more effectively?

When Jud makes a pitch to a company, he doesn’t start with a description of the book. Instead, he might ask them what they use as a gift to induce buyers to spend more. Is it coffee cup? How many to do they offer per year? What problems do they face? The answers give you crucial information, such as how much they’re prepared to spend on a perk for buyers.

Making a special sale takes a lot of persistence. You might have to make dozens of calls to score that big sale. Jud’s Premium Book Company offers advice to do-it-yourselfers or a sales force for those who prefer to let someone else do the calling.

Special sales should be an important part of any author’s marketing plan. Selling to stores is a good way to raise your profile, but with special sales, you cut out the distributor and the retailer, so you will keep more of the money from the sale of your books than you would if you sold through a retail store.