Your Book Distribution (Spiritual Book Marketing Part 4)

Your Book’s Distribution

This an excerpt from Simon’s talk on spiritual book publishing at a recent Book Expo America. This is the last of four parts, starting with Book Sales and Marketing For Spiritual and Mission Driven Publishers (Part 1) .

The master distributor is proactive and has a sales force. They do two things for you. They get you into the national accounts and they have sales reps who visit independent stores. We have touched on how independent bookstores are a smaller and smaller part of the pie. The truth of it is reps are a dying breed. So you are in a declining market there. It is a fairly sad thing. But that is what the master distributor does.

They also demand to be exclusive. So, you cannot sell to any other retail or wholesale outlet. Everything goes through them including books to the wholesalers. There are about ten or twelve master distributors a couple of notable ones are Bookworld, Associated Publishers Group, LPG. The biggest is Publishers Group West, and National Book Network is very strong in this department, however they won’t take publishers that sell less than $250,000 per year. National wholesalers are Ingram and Baker and Taylor. Regional ones are New Leaf, Bookpeople and then a bunch of others. That is your second path. If you don’t go for a master distributor then you can look at going for wholesalers.

The third path is hiring independent sales reps. If you are new to the business that can be daunting. You meet with them twice a year to get them excited about your line. They get a commission on the sales that you make 12-15%. The cost of that is that someone needs to manage them. You also have to be significant enough for them to want to carry your line. Those are the three options.

There is a trade organization for sales reps – NAPIR. You can look up NAPIR.com. Also you can call the organization. They are listed in LMP. You can get them to send you a booklet of all the sales reps. In general they are sincere about what they do and are very good people.

Bear in mind that the most important part of your sales will be the national accounts and on-line stores.

One of the issues around sales, working with reps and in the mechanism of sales happening is timing. Many times publishers don’t understand and mess up on the timing front. Barnes and Noble buyers operate on a budget. So for example, for a book with a pub date in May they have a budget to buy in December and January. The sales rep has to get the submission into the buyer a month before that. So we are talking five months before pub date. If you miss that the buyer has spent their money for that pub date. If the rep shows up and says, “Sorry, I’m late. Will you take a look at this?” The buyer says, “No, I can’t look at that. I’ve got no money left.” And so there is a time honored conflict. Now a days you can produce a book very quickly indeed. So, the publisher can be quick off the mark, but the sales cycle is much, much longer. So, you have a trade off and the price you want to pay. If you want to publish off of a quick turn-around looking at the consequences of missing the boat with many of the accounts.

Selling to the chains is tricky. Chains are relatively unsympathetic to spirituality. How do you turn them around? One thing to do is to do surveys of your readers and come back to them with statistics and results and show that to the buyer. Secondly, your author is key. If you have a gung-ho author who is prepared to be out there, travel, do store events, radio, TV and so-forth, then it accounts for a tremendous amount. Point out to the buyer that the store needs to stock good books as well as popular books.

The book store Gaia in Berkeley closed. Before they closed their doors, they did focus groups with their customers about what they needed to do in order to make it. The feedback that they got was that the customers wanted a “thicker soup”. They wanted more substance in the books. They didn’t want Gaia just to be stocking popular books that sold well. They were hungry for the real thing, and you want to present that to the buyer. The fourth point of leverage is that you want to use a well known writer because then you can leverage their history of sales.

Also, buyers buy the publisher. Stay pure in what you publish because you will be known for that and future titles will be judged on how past titles did. Another way is to add a new message onto an old one. Take a book that has done well but the sales have faded. Put out a new edition and basically rework it as a new book. As far as the buyer is concerned they will look at the sales history of the old one as a guide to buying.

When you are selling to the independent stores and especially the New Age stores you can sell on the basis of being touchy feely in contrast to the chains.

And, you can have your materials read that way. When you are selling to the chains they want it to be grounded conservative and useful. You may have different promotional materials for each market.

Here is an example, we worked with Chris Prentiss and his book Little Book of Secrets. We did a sell sheet for him. It’s a 8 1/2″ x 11′ glossy printed by Tuvets in LA. Image of the book, key points about it. What we did is get a terrific designer. It looked fantastic. Second we had great copy. For it we had the slogan the little book that sells big. Thirdly, it is a good book. It has information based on the I Ching so it has a solid philosophical foundation. The combination of those three things–the design, the copy, and the pull of the book itself–the buyer at Barnes and Noble said we’ll take one for cash register placement for every store in California . We then got the author out on tour visiting Barnes and Noble stores promoting the book.

When we put him out on tour we did posters which were put up to promote his events. We did buttons and also sent out free reading copies of the book to all the staff of Barnes and Noble stores in California . (I wouldn’t recommend this for a small press. This sort of tactic is a loss leader in planning for large sales.) We also did stuffers, 1/2 sheet of yellow paper with information on the upcoming event to be put into every book that was bought in every Barnes and Noble store two weeks prior to the event. What really makes an event a success is an article in the local paper. Papers will oblige but you have got to have a great story. If you have that story then you are in, and when you get that article your event will be crowded out. If you don’t get that article in the paper then you will only have a few people turning up and it will be your usual break-even event.

Another way to build sales is to build friendships with the stores. Get to know people in the bigger stores, get their newsletter, get to know them personally.

I will give you another path that we have done for John-Roger and Mandeville Press. We were involved in the launch of a book called Spiritual Warrior in Los Angeles . There was a launch event there. 600 people turned up. Admission to the event was that you had to have a copy of the book in your hand. The books were sold through the Bohdi Tree Bookstore who recorded those sales to the best seller list and it showed up on a few other lists. In a few weeks time it was on the L.A. Times Bestseller list. We attribute it to that launch event.

Also you can do pre-publication sales at a premium if you want to raise money to publish the book. I’ve done this personally. Gather round your friends ask for a donation and offer to publish their names in the front of the book by way of thank you. You would be surprised at the number of people that would be generous in helping you out.

Another area is special sales. I wanted to mention Byron Belitsos at Origin Press. He published Waking Up in Time by Peter Russell. He went to Noetic Sciences and sold them 40,000 copies and they sent out their annual mailing renewal to their membership and for everyone that renewed Noetics gave them a copy of the book. The key there is that Peter Russell is the darling of Noetic Sciences. You can turn around and look at organizations that are doing membership drives like that and find out what kind of a book would work and create that for them.

One of the goals in marketing is to build membership of people interested in what you do. So that they read your book, call up for a catalog, you put them on your mailing list, you offer them membership, sell subscriptions, invite them to conferences and workshops and you get all this kind of information about them on your database. You create a growth path for people interested in what you do. One way to attract people is through permission marketing. You contact them and make an offer for free information about something they are interested in. Because they are interested they will accept, an e-mail letter is one way of doing this. So, you have their permission to be regularly in touch. One day you pitch them on something they want to pay for and then you have converted them to a paying customer.

Looking at the internet and the advantage of website sales. You want to sell books from your website. Your transaction costs are lower, you are selling books at a lower unit cost, you have better customer relations, you can send them an e-mail confirming their order. Frequently you can sell more books per order. Amazon takes advantage of this because they put up what others who have bought this book are buying. And, also you can integrate more into your market. Time-Warner is a publisher but they are selling books on the internet and they are also coaching authors on how to write. so that they are using the internet to greatly expand how they are appearing in the marketplace. So having said all this you still have to compete with Amazon. When someone logs on to buy a book, you have to ask yourself, why do they go to you and not to amazon? In marketing jargon it is your long term competitive advantage. The key to this is going back to your niche, you’ve got to better at it than they are, people have got to feel when they log on to you it is home. They like it and are in an environment that speaks to them. The book on having websites that sell is by Ken Evoy entitled Making Sites Sell. you go to his website (sitesell.com) to buy it. He is a very interesting man. He has sold thousands upon thousands of copies of his book and, guess what, he has sold seven electronic copies for every one paper copy. There is a revolution coming around the corner very fast that I will tell you about. The key to his sales are affiliates, lots of people in the marketing business link their sites to his and their customers buy. So he has hundreds of affiliate sites. This is the electronic equivalent to traditional trade distribution. It takes time and money to set up but it can be dynamite. The best books to sell like this are books that offer solutions, how-to books. Pretty soon obviously we are heading down the path that e-books will be the way to go.

A couple of weeks ago Microsoft announced that they cut a deal with Random House, Simon and Schuster and BarnesandNoble.com. For sixteen Star Trek books to be sold as e-books. Microsoft is promoting a software for pocket PC’s and palmreaders. So you use the software you log onto Barnesandnoble.com and you down load your e-book. Microsoft is launching that this fall. Publishers Group West is throwing their weight firmly behind this. You are going to see a complete explosion of e-books in the next six months. You are going to find that everyone is carrying pocket readers. It is going to be THE gift for Christmas. You need to be thinking already about how you format your books. How are they going to look electronically? Writing for the electronic market is completely different style than for writing for a normal book. You are writing for people who want to see things in fewer words, more headlines, different illustrations and so on. This revolution is upon us right now.

Time-Warner is launching ipublish.com and there are three areas: 1) iread which is selling electronic books 2) iwrite where they solicit manuscripts and 3) ilearn where authors and editors coach people on writing. So they are dramatically expanding their role in the marketplace. So you can see that this revolution of the internet is gathering speed.

There is a survey coming out in Publishers Weekly that is somewhat startling and that is for the specialist new age stores only 15% of their stock is books. They have been forced to re configure themselves in order to survive. So they have more sidelines than ever and they operate more and more as a community center offering services and classes. So you need to be keenly aware of what is happening, the trend with the spiritually oriented store. On the Christian side they are only about 27% books, 15% bibles and that brings them up to 42% the remainder is what they refer to as “unholy hardware” and “junk for Jesus”. By contrast Barnes and Noble has 80% books. You can see they are gaining the upper hand. But they need to be aware of e-books. It is very much a food chain where the larger fish are eating the smaller fish. Barnes and Noble are no longer the biggest fish in town, ebooks are coming.

What is happening is that new age and Christian are kissing, pretty soon they are going to get married and have children. The Christian market is falling over themselves to get into the secular trade market and to some extent adapt their material so that it is acceptable there. The trade market is trying to get into the Christian market, but the Christian market is a very difficult market to get into. There is a merging going on. What happened was that the Christian market was operating fine in its own universe and then there was an explosion of interest in it. Some established publishers, DoubleDay and Tarcher (members of the Putnam Publishing Group), started publishing into the Christian market and they changed the way business is being done there. So they have driven a wedge into it and taken a chunk away from the traditional Christian publishers and they are forcing the Christian market to adapt and adopt to people from the trade and the trade interests that they are introducing. Originally the Christian market welcomed it but now they have mixed feelings about it and losing the business. Bill Anderson, the president of the CBA, feels that the newcomers are extending unfair discounts to the larger accounts and, low and behold, he is thinking about suing them just as the ABA did. With this explosion of interest there is a merging and this trend toward something for everyone.

To wrap up, what you have is a trend toward applied spirituality. People want to make it work in their lives. To be successful in spiritual book publishing you need to take the steps that I’ve outlined here: Be discriminating about what you publish, be cost conscious, be pure about what you put out there and then commit to it boots and all.

Simon Warwick-Smith is the President of Warwick Associates, a full service publicity firm in Sonoma, California. He works with authors, publishers, distributors and agents to make their books sell.
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