Gift and Specialty Stores
Gift and specialty stores are another huge division within special market sales. Gift stores usually choose eye-catching books that can be sold as a gift near the register, meaning they are a great sales opportunity for indie and self-published authors; whether the publisher is a big name or not is less important than the book’s subject and appearance. If you think your book has that keepsake quality so prized by gift stores, be sure to consider national and local gift stores. If not, think about what the book needs in order to qualify – in many cases, it can be a simple matter to add special packaging or a small piece of merchandise to enhance your book.
Specialty stores can be anything from gourmet cooking stores and stationary stores to fishing and hunting shops. It really depends on the topic of your book, but every topic has several corresponding specialty stores out there. For example, a book of photography would be at home in a camera shop. A record shop might pick up the biography of a rock star. The possibilities are endless!
Beyond the Bookstores
Selling Your Books Through Special Market Sales
According to Dan Poynter, a father of the self-publishing movement, “Bookstores are a lousy place to sell books” (from The Independent Publisher). This comment may strike some as surprising, but unfortunately it is all too often true. While bookstores are a crucial revenue stream for many authors, they are also notoriously difficult sales outlets for small publishers and self-published authors because of the high returns and heavily discounted prices bookstores demand. Poynter’s remark shows how crucial it is for publishers and authors to focus on sales outside of the bookstore. These sales are generally termed special market sales.
Special market sales provide authors with so many opportunities to move their books in creative ways. Since special market sales are most often defined as sales to anywhere but a bookstore, the category is incredibly broad and encompasses all manner of sales. These sales are typically broken down into the sections below, each with advantages and disadvantages to the author or publisher.
Direct Sales – Selling directly to the reader can offer huge advantages. Most importantly, cutting out the middlemen means you can sell the book at the full retail price, rather than slashing it with discounts. However, since direct sales usually don’t occur in large bulk orders that dominate other special markets, they require far more involvement and legwork to sell the same amount of books.
The ways you can directly sell books are endless. The most common methods are through seminars, media appearances, and book discussions at which books are sold following the presentation, direct mail, and advertising in trade publications. “The more tightly targeted your book is to niche markets, the easier it is to sell by direct mail,” says the Insider’s Guide to Large Quantity Book Sales. By clearly defining your target market, you can more effectively attack your book’s likely audience through direct sales.
Mass Markets – Discount chain stores and warehouses such as Target and Walmart offer huge sales potential for titles, and are accordingly very difficult to crack into. Mass-market sales are most beneficial for proven bestsellers, since these stores will purchase the books in bulk at a heavy discount somewhere between 50 to 65 percent and pay after the book sells. Many retain the right to return the books to the publisher after a certain period. In most cases, publishers have to sell the books using a distribution partner who knows exactly what the store would best sell, although some stores will also deal directly with publishers.
Catalog Sales – A listing in a catalog can result in tons of book sales, and the vast number of catalogs available opens this option up to every type of book. Quality publications showcase books excellently, and will often deal directly with the publisher rather than going through a distribution partner. Most will negotiate on non-returnable terms, meaning you don’t have to worry about poor catalog sales compromising your payment.
Catalog buyers base their book purchases on the discount offered, the relevance of the book to their publication, and the quality of the book. Sales pitches that illustrate the connections between the book and the catalog are more effective, because they make the purchaser’s decision easier.
Corporation Sales – Corporations frequently bulk order books, and such sales are highly profitable for the publisher or author. The motives vary—some may purchase a particular business book to gift to interns and entry-level employees in an effort to facilitate their training, some may gift books to employees as a public relations booster, or some may provide them to clients to increase the quality of their services or to personalize the business relationship. Whatever the motive, the opportunity to sell your books to a corporation is a great one.
Corporations do buy books at large discounts, but the purchases are large and there is no threat of thousands of returned books. However, book purchasing decisions are less systematic and established among corporations; a company may only do it once in their history, or sporadically. It is therefore more effort to seek out the companies to pitch to, and the pitch itself demands a very thorough presentation of the book's value to that specific company.
How to Get into Special Markets
Attacking special market sales by yourself can be difficult. Many of the bigger publishing houses have a special market sales staff within their sales team who deal with certain titles deemed likely to sell to special markets. If your publisher doesn’t cover special markets, or if you published independently, you can opt to hire a special market sales representative. Established sales representatives offer a lot of advantages that make them well worth the price; they are experts at finding niche markets, drafting effective pitches, and utilizing their connections with companies who make frequent bulk purchases. Your level of control over the special market sales will vary depending on your sales rep, as will the results.
If you decide to take the reins and go after special market sales yourself, here are some tips to help your pitches get results.
1. Determine who to approach
Attacking special market sales on your own requires a lot of creative thinking. Depending on what type of book you have written, brainstorm which companies or organizations might benefit from having a copy of it; in other words, find out how can your book can be used by someone to achieve a certain end. Is your book the type that a business might provide to its employees to enhance their performance? Does it advocate a certain product or lifestyle? What type of person would benefit from reading your book?
2. Identify a need and offer a solution.
This is the simplest way to approach a sales pitch. Rather than focusing on your book first, move the focus onto them—whatever organization or company or chain you are targeting. Research what they are all about, what they strive to provide, or what they consider their purpose to be. When you know this about your target, you can then tailor the pitch to attract their attention the most.
In choosing your targets, you had to have identified some connection between their needs and your book. Illustrate this connection in the pitch with three simple steps. First, establish that you understand the mentality behind their goals as an organization. Then, explain the problem, the reason their goals are unfulfilled. Finally, bring your book into the pitch as the solution. This doesn’t mean sticking your book in as an afterthought to a five-page analysis of the company. You can hook their attention early on with your book and what it will provide for them. Rather, it means engaging the readers by focusing on the advantageous nature of your book to their specific company.
3. Be flexible when negotiating the terms of the sale.
Keep in mind that the discounted prices seem scary, but the quantity purchased can make the sale more than pay off. Since special market sales are so important to self-published authors and small publishers, it is important to maintain this flexibility when approaching unique and established sales routes.
Lauren White recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in History and English. She is serving as assistant editor at Independent Publisher for summer 2013 and hopes to continue her career in publishing in New York City. Please email her at larenee [at] umich.edu with any questions and comments.