Showing posts with label Gift Guide Sales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gift Guide Sales. Show all posts

Boosting Book Sales for Specialty Books


By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

   Yes, it is time to plan for holiday season book sales. 

 Here is a road-less-traveled to consider for specialty books.

It’s June and holiday gift catalogs from fine stores and not-so-fine are planning and designing theirs right now--both the kind that land in you snail mail and the ones that come to your e-mail box. Authors who put their marketing hats on and think out-of-the-box for places to expose their books to a new audience will find all kinds of benefits they never encountered selling books “the usual way.”  (See below for a few of  idea of how to make them work for you.) 

Commercial catalogs (now often called gift guides)—benefit from the great blurbs you have excerpted from your reviews. In fact, you are more likely to get a contract for your book to be featured in a commercial gift guides if you have excerpted a stunning blurb from a review. The catalog’s designers use them to prompt their readers to buy your book. And, wow! Are these catalogs a way to pick up musty book sales!

Catalogs are show business. They spotlight a product for the purpose of selling merchandise, but they also create a buzz, project an image, tell a story, leave an impression. They create celebrity for themselves and for each of their products.

Brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers of every kind—from department stores to gadget stores to catalogs for seniors to museums and charities—still send catalogs by USPS and big online retail outlets send individual suggestions for products their algorithms tell them you’ll like. Millions of them.

Before authors or publishers pitch a book to one of these entities, they must find a catalog-match for the genre, theme, or topic of their book. Here are a few examples of how books can add a new dimension to catalogs: 

§  Your nonfiction book on the life of Picasso or your historical fiction account of his life are prospected for exhibition catalogs produced by art galleries like Smithsonian or the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some still have honest-to-goodness brick and mortar stores where some books make great point-of-purchase items.

§  Your how-to travel book or travel-oriented memoir will fit on the pages of Travelsmith or Magellan’s.

§  Your book on the history of porcelain or bone china could be featured in Geary’s online gift guide.  Geary’s is an ultra-fine gift store located on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, so a fiction book set in that area or about a Beverly Hills lifestyle might give their catalog a dimension they haven’t tried before.

Once you find a match, pitch your idea with the query-letter basics described in my How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically now being edited for its second edition from Modern History Press. This query, however, must emphasize why this book is a fit for the catalog buyer’s publication and how the designer might best showcase it. Because catalogs need great visuals, include an image (not as an attachment) of your knockout cover.

Here’s how to find catalogs that might be interested in your book:

  • Search online for “retail catalogs.” About 31,000 lists will appear. See if the search brings up online or real paper catalogs that might be a fit for your book. Don’t judge too narrowly. If you have an idea for them, they might have leeway enough to make room for it.
  • Go to a bookstore or library and ask to see their Catalog of Catalogs. Find one with a recent update or copyright date. Tada! You’ve found another way to see your book cover and your blurbs in print and realize sales at the same time.
  • Become familiar with the catalogs that come to your home. Sign up for gift guides that might offer possibilities. Ask your friends to share their used catalogs with you. When you find an appropriate one for your book, go for it! Contact information is usually on the inside of the front cover or on the back cover. 

The benefits of these kinds of retails sales far exceed those of selling retail through bookstores: 

§  The primary reason for your book to appear on the pages of a retail catalog is sales, but that exposure is also extraordinarily good publicity.

§  Though commercial catalog exposure looks like advertising, it has more benefits than most ads. Here’s the best part: It is not usually exposure you pay for. The catalog administrators buy books from you and do all of the production and distribution work. Your only job is to sell them on the idea of your book, provide them with ideas for copy including one of your book’s rave reviews, and send them a great image of your book, perhaps a 3-D image, which you can get from author Gene Cartwright if you don’t know how to do it on your own.

§  Catalog buyers reorder just before their stock is depleted, usually with no prompting from you or your publisher.

§  Unlike most bookstores or other retail outlets, print catalog companies expect to pay the freight for their book shipments.

§  Unlike most bookstores, catalog producers do not return what they cannot sell. They probably won’t ask for returns unless you suggest it, and why would you do that? This is their usual way of doing business. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Hint: These no-return sales terms should be included on order forms, invoices, and the sales contract.

§  Catalog buyers must be sure they have stock to cover their sales, so their orders will be substantial enough to make both you and your publisher smile.

§  If catalog sales are successful, administrators may ask for a contract for their next catalog. The beauty here is that you can help make sales soar by promoting the catalog on Twitter, your newsletter, and many of your other marketing efforts. Use the motto “As seen in Smithsonian’s Holiday Catalog!” everywhere.

§  Commercial catalogs expect you to set minimum quantities of what you sell them. That means you can tell them—as an example—that their minimum first order must be forty-eight books and orders thereafter must be in lots of at least six or twelve. I’m sure you can see the benefits of this policy, not least of which is that they will be less likely to run out of stock. You’ll save on accounting time, too.

§  If, after the catalog has expired, you can coax the administrators of these catalogs to share their graphics with you, you can repurpose them for your website and about any other place great graphics will help your marketing. They probably won’t charge you if you make it clear that you intend to keep using their catalog in your marketing. Depending on how the segment is designed, it might become a logo, a banner for your social networks, and on and on.

§  Catalogs usually don’t care if the copyright date on your book is current; they are more interested in a title that fits their product mix, has a history of great sales, and has appealing cover art. 

§  Most catalogs don’t require exclusivity for their products.

§  You might interest some online catalogs to buy rights to give your e-book to their customers as a value-added gift for a limited period of time. 

Note: Many small-to-medium size publishers have no experience with catalogs and, though it seems self-evident that increased sales benefit them as well as you, you may need to convince them of that fact and then coach them through the process.

Catalog disadvantages are:

§  Learning curve ahead! You’ll need to expertly pitch your book and negotiate sales to catalog buyers. That means you have to readjust your thinking and tailor your sales tools to their needs. As you can see from the bullets in the list above, catalogs do business differently from bookstores.

§  Because print catalogs buy products in quantity and in advance they demand a hefty discount. If you or your publisher cannot give fifty percent or more, there is no point in pursuing them. However, if you only break even on catalog sales, it may be worth the trouble for the publicity benefits. 

§  Some authors and publishers fail to print enough books to supply a catalog’s immediate needs. Authors and publishers who use print-on-demand technology have the advantage of fast turnaround time, something a partner- or self-published author may use as a sales point in his or her query letter.

§  Nonfiction books are generally more suitable for catalogs, but as with other marketing, anything that works for nonfiction may work for fiction, too. It may just take more research and planning to achieve success.

Hint: It’s hard to believe that some publishers don’t jump at the chance to work with their authors on catalog sales. If your publisher can’t be convinced of the profit possibilities in partnering with you on a project like this, handle the details of this sale yourself. Ask your publisher for a large-quantity price break to stock your own books or work with the press that prints your book so you can save postage and time by having catalog orders drop-shipped.

Authors can produce catalogs of their own. Self-published catalogs are generally sponsored or organized by authors with independent instincts who have the support of charitable and professional organizations including writers’ organizations. 

Tip: Don’t let that “self-published catalogs” scare you. Authors who are traditionally published can use this idea as effectively as those who have had experience publishing their own work. 

These independently-produced catalogs become cross-promotional efforts that increase exposure for holiday gift-giving. They are great promotional handouts at literary events. They are take-it-home marketing tools that continue to sell after attendees have returned home, and they can be targeted at any demographic. 

When Joyce Faulkner and I sponsored a booth for Authors’ Coalition at the LA Times Festival of Books we published a full-color catalog that featured all our booth participants. We handed them out at the fair, but we also mass-mailed them to influential creative people in the Southern California area including Hollywood movie moguls who often adapt novels for the screen. We didn’t forget to include regional bookstore buyers and event planners, and the fair logo gave it even more credibility. (Fair administrators encouraged fair participants to use the logo liberally.) The catalog included an invitation to come to the fair and visit our booth. And, yes—because blurbs are superior sales tools—a quote excerpted from reviews was featured prominently on each author’s page.

Cooperative catalogs benefit by linking to great reviews of each book. When this is part of the concept, those online entities (bloggers, journals, etc.) may be thankful enough for the additional traffic to help with the catalog’s digital marketing—things like social networking and blog posts.

Catalogs like these usually rely on each participating author to distribute it to their own contact lists to achieve mass readership. All benefit from each author’s list. Because postage can get expensive, it is best if the bulk of your catalogs get distributed by e-mail, but paper catalogs are keepers and can be distributed as giveaways or through the mail. You can use the images you produce for your catalog participants in slide shows or YouTube to encourage people to subscribe so they will receive your next catalog.

 When individuals or organizations spearhead catalogs like this, there is usually a fee to cover the time and expense of putting them together and for coordinating the dissemination. They can be used as fundraisers for charities or to help a small publisher increase their bottom line so they can take on more publishing clients the following year. 

Note: To make an idea like this work, it is best to have participants sign agreements that clearly delineate the marketing expectations of each participant and the duties to be performed by the organizing entity.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson was founder and operator of her own gift retail chain with five stores including the only gift specialty store at the Santa Anita Race Track at the foot of the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains in California. She is now author of two series on of how-to books, one for retailers and one for authors—both traditionally and self-published. Learn more about her at

PS: The character I am with at a Miami Book Fair was the star of many gift guides and holiday catalogues that had nothing to do with children’s books because star-power followed him wherever he happened to go. Smart retailers! Smart publishers and authors cashed in on his...mmm--sex appeal. 

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