An effective sales and marketing plan, whether for books or boats, requires two main elements: having in place a distribution channel, or channels, and bringing potential buyers to your channel. The old adage, ‘if you build it, they will come’, just ain’t so.
Historically, the sales channel for ‘published authors’ was simple – the publisher pushed your book to booksellers; for most indie authors, it was even simpler, and simply ineffective: you bought a run of books from the printer and stored them in your basement, hoping to find buyers from your own direct sales efforts.
(I recall when I first got into this book selling business with The Dynamics of Management and The Maxim Chronicles Marlene’s abiding fear was: would there be 10,000 copies of unsold books in the basement and a correspondingly big debit on my credit card?)
Modern print-on-demand publishers such as lulu.com makes the distribution channel problem a lot simpler. You don’t need to purchase a minimum quantity of your books; no need to worry Marlene about those 10,000 copies. Moreover when your customers buy on-line from your distributor (in my case lulu.com) the on-line sales system (with royalties paid to you through PayPal to your bank account) takes care of all those purchasing and delivery mechanics for you. And Lulu’s links to the General Distribution network gets your books into the databases of the big on-line distributors: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, et alia. Ingram even connects to Independent Bookstores (more on that later). And of course, the author still has the ability to keep an inventory of books (and replenish as needed) for direct sales.
When you become your own salesforce you have to add all those point of sales functions to your repertoire: cash is easy, but banking and accounting for sales is tedious; e-transfer is even easier (if you have your business bank account set up properly). Getting a POS credit card reader is a bit more ambitious.
Classically the main sales channel is direct sales. This method goes back hundreds of years with all those itinerant snake-oil salesmen tramping dusty backroads. Or even a hundred years of students selling Encyclopaedia Britannica to settlers in the Outback. (Among my grandfather’s many careers was a stint as a Fuller Brush salesman – his sunroom was also a mini-showroom where he kept his inventory. Little did I know when I was eight that I would one day be an itinerant salesmen myself.) Sales begin by informing family and friends of your new book; you soon find out who your real friends are. If you’re more assertive you learn to twist their arms without actually hurting them, or your relationship. Chatting up random people in stores and restaurants is another strategy; I’ve actually sold a few books that way – you chat up the waitress to get her interested, show her your product and when she’s fully persuaded, tip her generously. In this way I get to buy my own book twice.
Another distribution channel is book fairs and exhibitions. Really, a fair is where the customers come to you rather than you harassing them in the streets. I tried this method – fairs that is, not harassment –, admittedly less than whole-heartedly, with my previous books (The Maxim Chronicles and The Hallelujah Chorus), but his proved to be tedious and unproductive, and in the case of the big Toronto Word on the Street fair, expensive. (And it turns out Marlene wasn’t completely wrong: I still have 100 copies or so of TMC and of THC in boxes in a closet.)
When I was promoting the dog books it was suggested that I buy or rent a display tent and travel throughout Ontario following the Dog Show circuit, flogging my books at each venue. Surely dog owners and fans would be eager to buy books about those champion poodles. I never had the courage for that.
The one piece of this sales channel strategy I was missing was having my book(s) in actual bricks and mortar bookstores. I had made inquiries of Chapters/Indigo…and its chain of smaller bookstores, Coles…but they aren’t really interested in promoting or even accommodating indie authors. And who can really blame them, there are thousands of us, and who knows if any of them/us are any good. I did in fact succeed in getting one Coles store to allow me to do a book signing event one Saturday a few years ago to promote The Hallelujah Chorus; sold 3 – 4 books to store customers and Coles sold a few more copies of TMC or THC from the store afterward, but eventually they asked me to take back the unsold stock.
But now with The Treasure of Stella Bay I resolved to try again. And I had a bit of encouragement from a retailer on Amherst Island itself. The Weasel & Easel is a consignment store for local artists located in the same building as the Amherst Island Historical Society and when I dropped in on them a year ago while doing my research for The TSB the volunteer I talked to said it was likely my book would qualify for being stocked there. Ten months later The TSB was published and I went back to the W&E. ‘Sure, we’ll take ten copies,’ the Director said. I sent them twelve, two of which were complimentary for staff to read themselves. At the same time, through a network I was gradually building up on Amherst Island, through contacts whose own networks we never can predict, I got in touch with the proprietor of the Woolshed at Topsy Farms on Amherst Island. As the name suggests, the Woolshed sells wool items from sheep raised on the farm, but the Proprietor and her daughter-in-law thought my book should also have a place on their shelves. I sent them twelve copies, ten for stock, two for staff to read. (As it turns out, the Proprietor is an avid reader and has a show (Sally’s Books) on Radio Station CJAI. – more on that story in a later blog post.)
While doing my research tour on Amherst Island last fall I spied a bookstore in tiny Bath Ontario; I stopped by to chat with the proprietor. Ten months later, emboldened by my warm welcome on Amherst Island I emailed Books On Main and proposed a consignment arrangement with them too. They thought that was fine and I shipped them 12 copies, ten for stock, two for staff.
(Here again the Lulu.com machinery is very helpful: I place the order with lulu.com from Kanata and have the stock shipped directly from lulu’s printers to the stores.)
Amazingly, W&E sold out their stock of ten in one weekend. Books on Main sold six copies the first day they stocked the books! Both reordered ten copies.
Emboldened, I began to reach out to other independent bookstores up and down the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario shores. I contacted Novel idea Books, an iconic store in downtown Kingston, they decided to stock 3 copies initially but opted to order the books directly from Ingram Books Distributors rather than consignment. Which suited me just fine. (Probably suited Marlene’s ghost too.)
I contacted Beggar’s Banquet Books in Gananoque and they took five copies on consignment; and Books and Company in Picton – David took five on consignment as well. I reached out to Lighthouse Books in Brighton and Katheryn took six on consignment. I was on a roll.
I decided to work on indie stores in Ottawa, and investigating stores up and down the Rideau Waterway, and the Trent River System too; Almonte. Books on Beechwood accepted three copies on consignment; Perfect Books ignored me though to be fair, their policy is clear, no consignments. Mill Street Books in Almonte didn’t bite, yet; Perth is brittle; Campbellford??
By sheer fluke I found The Open Book in Williams Lake, British Columbia and Angela accepted six copies on consignment. The backstory there is that my brother Steve lives in Williams Lake and when he was in the store a few months ago he told the proprietor that his brother (moi) had written a book, The Treasure of Stella Bay. Angela comes from Amherst Island!
I was really on a roll now and reached out to Indie Bookstores in Cobourg and Port Hope. My sights were set on Pickering and Toronto, and who knows, Manhattan, Berlin.
But the train stalled. Port Hope asked for terms I couldn’t agree to; Cobourg ignored me. And sales from my network of stores, slow. Hmmm
I began to wonder about this strategy – was getting my books into retail establishments going to work after all?
Developing a network of independent bookstores to proffer my books, even if only 9, is hard work. And have I merely moved my books from the basement to their shelves? Admittedly the bricks and mortar strategy substantially increases my chances of actual sales, but since the books are there on a consignment basis, I am still financing the inventory, just on their premises rather than mine.)
Marlene’s ghost began to haunt me. My Mastercard statement haunted me more.
Time to reevaluate this strategy.
I’m learning there is more to this Marketing and Sales Project than I quite appreciated: Even if you have all those sales channels in place that is no guarantee of actual sales of one’s books. There’s still the problem of drawing potential buyers to the distribution channels. Ha! More on that in the next blog.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario
© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing
All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢.
 Shoeless Joe by Canadian W. P. Kinsella, on which the movie, Field of Dreams was based. ‘Say it ain’t so Joe (referring to Shoeless Joe Jackson), say it ain’t so’. Of course, to be accurate, the kid crying to Joe Jackson wasn’t talking about mousetraps.