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Special Sales: Divide and Conquer

Brian Jud

The term special sales is commonly used to represent revenue opportunities outside of bookstores. Tales of corporations buying hundreds of thousands of books whet our appetites and generate visions of grandeur. However, after spending fruitless months or years contacting corporations, most independent publishers learn that these visions can be mirages.

This doesn’t have to be so. If you divide the special-sales market into its component parts, you can create tributaries that feed a significant revenue stream. This task is made easier if you view special sales as comprised of three segments. The first is special distribution that utilizes existing distribution channels to reach consumers. Second is the commercial sector encompassing sales to corporations that use books as sales-promotional devices. The third entails marketing directly to niche groups that have an identifiable need for the information in your book.

1. Special distribution is similar to the way most independent publishers currently market books, i.e., distribution partner Þ retailer Þ consumer. Examples of this network are having Advanced Marketing Services sell your book to warehouse-buying clubs, or Anderson Merchandisers reselling to Wal-Mart or Levy Home Entertainment to discount stores. There are also distributors that will take your titles to educational markets and the military.

The similarities to the traditional bookstore distribution channels do not end here. These discount retailers rarely buy directly from publishers and their choice of titles is a marketing decision, not a literary one. Distributors know exactly what their customers are likely to sell – either fiction or nonfiction -- and they will reject others. In addition, returns are endemic, the discount schedule can reach 70% and payment terms may exceed 90 days. On the other hand, the rewards of immediate national distribution can be significant.

However, there are companies in this category that will buy directly from publishers. For instance, book clubs offer increased revenue, credibility and exposure for appropriate titles -- not just the major clubs but many niche clubs, too. There are book clubs for children, religions, foreign languages and teachers. Another example is mail-order catalogs that can move a large quantity of books. Catalogs can be segmented demographically (catalogs for children, pet owners, individual sports or different religions), psychographically (health, new age and alternative catalogs) and geographically, but they exact a price for their efforts with discounts reaching 70% of the list price.

2. Commercial sales. Corporations, associations, foundations, government agencies and network-marketing organizations buy books directly from publishers for use as premiums, incentives, sales promotions or for educational purposes. They may also purchase books for resale. The factor differentiating this segment from special distribution is that you contact, negotiate with, ship directly to and bill the people representing these firms. There are no distributors to deal with, you bargain for the terms, returns are rare and payment is generally made in 30 days.

Books have an approximately 6% share of the $1.5 billion incentive market (per Incentive magazine). Buyers for these organizations are aware of the value of books as sales promotional tools, but the sales process still requires an understanding of successful selling techniques, numerous cold calls and a the ability to accept rejection. The selling period is long – sometimes a year or more -- but the payback can be enormous when one customer buys tens of thousands of non-returnable books.

3. Niche marketing entails selling to definitive groups of people that share a need for the information in your book. For example, you could sell your book about healthy eating to beauty shops, doctors’ offices, fitness centers and stores that sell clothing, cookware, gourmet foods, groceries and health foods. A children’s book could be sold to daycare centers, toy stores, pediatricians’ offices, children’s hospitals and children’s museums.

This strategy results in relatively small orders from many customers. However, a key to profitability is to find clusters of prospective customers such as a chain of daycare centers or stores. Then sell to the group’s buyer.

If you are proficient at public speaking you could sell your books at the back of the room at full list price. This skill will also enable you to conduct library tours during which you can sell your books with little or no discounts. Jerry Labriola sold thousands of copies of his book Famous Crimes Revisited during personal presentations at libraries just in Connecticut.

The Internet provides valuable potential for niche sales, vastly reducing your time and expense per sales call. For instance, when selling your children’s book you could contact online gift-registry agencies for babies to have them use your book as a gift item or premium ( or submit to niche online bookstores such as Another prospect is You could also offer your book as a sales promotional item for companies providing services to families for baby showers.

Online bookstores are considered a traditional sales outlet, but independent publishers typically limit these sales to, or In fact, there are many other niche stores online, some of which may serve your needs. These include (all end in .com) coffeetablebooks, DealPilot, BookNook, 1Bookstreet, Adventurous Traveler and Smart Books. To find niche bookstores online for your title, simply visit and search under keywords relevant to it.

Case history

Perhaps an example will help clarify this process. Business-to-Business Golf: How to Swing Your Way to Business Success, by Michael Andrew Smith is a book that can help sales people drive their business forward by developing successful business relationships while playing golf with their clients. Here are examples non-traditional sales opportunities for Business-to-Business Golf.

1. Special distribution can be utilized by submitting the book to distributors reaching sporting-goods stores such as Sports Authority and Herman's. Every sporting-goods store in the U.S. could be a prospective customer as could general discount stores such as K-Mart, Target and Wal-mart. And there are mail-order catalogs catering to golf books, including GolfSmart and Sportsman’s Guide.

2. Commercial sales. Business-to-Business Golf could be purchased by companies to give to their sales people or by firms that manufacture golf equipment & accessories for use as a premium or self-liquidator. Companies that make golf software could also use it as a sales-promotion item. The PGA and the state PGAs might use it to promote golf as a business sport. Similarly, The Club Managers Association of America should use it as a fundraiser or to resell on their website to its members. And Mr. Smith recently sold foreign rights to a Korean publisher.

3. Niche markets. There are online stores such as Golf Warehouse Home Page, Your Golf Advantage and Online Sports Home Page that could sell Mr. Smith’s book. Business-to-Business Golf is also a great title for sales through gift stores and golf pro shops. The author could pursue media events on web forums and write articles and stories for golf magazines (Golf and Golf Digest). The readers of airline magazines would also be interested in articles about business-to-business golf, as would magazines whose readers include sales people and business executives. Michael could become active in newsgroups such as and

There are companies that perform special sales for most titles, but there is no reason why publishers and authors cannot pursue these lucrative avenues themselves. It takes some investigation, persistence and creativity and in many cases this can be accomplished online. Do not be intimidated by the term special sales. Divide it into its component parts and address them as you see fit for each title.