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Selling Your Book

Updated on March 13, 2014

How do you sell your book?

The perennial question for self-publishers, how do I sell my book? I’m not talking about marketing, nor promoting, but the actual act of selling.

Let’s get this straight. All publishers are responsible for selling the books they publish. They can contract this out, but that costs money and the responsibility then, is to ensure that whoever they are paying to do this task, is doing it properly. The crux here is that you can’t know whether they are doing it properly if you don’t know how to do it yourself and quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing self publishers complaining about a lack of sales. So here it is, how to sell your book.

Firstly, we are talking about a physical book, not e-books, though all good publishers produce a title in both. E-book sales help promote physical books sales and physical book sales help promote e-book sales. The fact that a book is produced in both formats helps promote the idea that the book is worthy of publication in both formats. But I said I wasn’t going to talk about promotion.

So you have a book, a physical book, how do you achieve sales?

The first question is, where to sell? Bookshops, the obvious answer, with the rebuff that most are now chains with central buying so its therefore impossible la de la de la. No it is not. The problem is that you need to meet a certain set of criteria to be able to sell into chains and most self-publishing book production is done by ‘we will publish your book companies’ that, for their own benefit and despite that you are paying them, refuse to meet this criteria.

This goes back to one of the first steps in decided whether or not to publish, one self-publishers regularly forget. The market plays and important role in setting the price at which you can sell your book. If the majority of paperbacks retail at $£x and you try to sell a similar product at far above that price, your book is above the price barrier and won’t sell.

So now, before you’ve even started the publishing process, you know the maximum retail price at which you can sell your finished book. But this is the retail price. From this you must deduct the retail discount, minimum 35%, maybe 50% for bulk sales, perhaps even 60%. Then you have distribution costs and you need to allow for a little profit. So now you can work out the maximum allowable per book production cost for your book.

You think it impossible. This is how its done when its done properly.

So lets say you have a book, properly costed so that you can walk into any bookshop or bookshop chain and meet the criteria they require. Selling into any chain will still be a problem. Independents are easier. But this is just bookshops.

You can sell anywhere, from a local supermarket to a garden centre, especially one with a retail area. Independents are always easier than chains simply because in an independent, you can get to the person who makes the decisions easier than with a chain. But what you must do is have a script.

The Script

Every salesman, and woman, works to a script. Its like a play in which some ad-lib more than others, but they’re still working to a script. The first benefit of having a script is that it makes you appear professional. You know what you are talking about.

The first thing about this script is that the wording is not designed to show your benefit, but there’s. i.e: ‘I’m giving you the full 35% discount despite that you only need stock a small quantity.’

Your script covers your introduction. Sell yourself. Compliment the shop. The first rule in selling is that people buy from people they like.

You will know the retail price of your book, the discount you will give, the discount you will give if they order a larger volume, how much you can push each and still make a profit. You will know how long between order and delivers. I have them in the boot of my car, for your convenience, so you can benefit from sales straight away, not because I’ve got a crate of books cluttering up my front room.

Your script will also contain a selection of rebuttals. If you’ve ever wondered why any salesman you’ve ever encountered always seems to have an answer for everything, its because they have an answer for everything. Every objection to buying ever made is collected, collated and answers for these objections are devised and crafted. These answers are called, rebuttals. You rebut their objection to buying leaving them no reason not to buy, in a nice, friendly way because people buy from people they like.

So here’s what you do. You walk into a shop, introduce yourself, giving your full name, not Mr or Mrs or Miss so and so, ask to see whoever is responsible for purchases. You can also do this on the phone, selling yourself to make an appointment.

You don’t say: ‘I’ve self published my own book and would like you to sell it.’ You do say something like: ‘I’m (give full name). I represent Squiggly Publishing. We’re a small independent publisher expanding into this area and we’re looking for exclusive outlets to handle our first title.’ Now you hold out the book for the buyer to take.

Getting the product into the customers hand and remember, the customer for you is the retail outlet, not to whoever they might sell to down the line, is half the battle. Of course it has to be of suitable quality, i.e., having a good, well illustrated cover.

This is short and sweet and professional. Remember that in business, time is money. The person you see is not sat there waiting for you to call, but has other work that needs doing. Another benefit of having a script is that it prevents you from waffling on. Buyers hate salesmen that waffle.

So, retail price is comparable with similar products. You know your discount rates, delivery times. You won’t sell every time but you will sell some.

Oh! You will have prepared a properly laid out duplicated order form before hand, to leave the customer a copy and one for yourself. Some small independents may pay there and then on small orders but expect to invoice in 30days.

Too difficult! Try the direct selling route.

Direct Selling

Direct selling is where you sell direct to the final user, cutting out the middleman and therefore making extra profit in return for the effort involved. So where can you sell?

The obvious answer is, any book fair.

I can list a book fair for every month of the year that is within easy driving distance of home. In some months there is one a week. Of course you have the cost of travel and the cost of a table and to make it more viable, I take books by other local self-publishing writers that I sell on commission.

But there’s not only book fairs. There’s fetes and carnivals and vintage car club gathering and steam fairs and hot air ballon meets, mostly on a weekend, where people gather to relax, which makes them willing to purchase something they otherwise might not. Like a good book, because people still read books.

All you need is a product and somewhere where there’s a lot of people gathered. You’ve got your book, or books. It’s the weekend, get out and sell.

Point of Sale

Point of sale items are things like banners, book stands, those things you need to help display your product and draw potential customers to your stall. The first line of a story is said to be, its hook. Well you’re doing the same here. Trying to hook customers from the crowd so they stop to look at what you have on offer. When they do, don’t just sit there. The first rule of selling applies.

People buy from people they like. A simple ‘hello’ is often enough. Then disarm them. People see a stall and their sales resistance starts to rise. ‘Lovely day isn’t it?’ Selling is largely psychology. By asking a question you’ve put them on the defensive. It would be rude for them not to answer. You’ve also mentioned the weather, or something else unrelated to the books you’re trying to sell, which sends a subliminal message that you’re not trying to sell them something. Oh yes you are. There sales resistance falls. Have a short conversation about anything and then say, very politely, ‘while you’re here I’d appreciate to know what you think of my book.’ Then put one in his hand. Then put your hands down by your side, behind your back, in your pockets or best of all, pick up another book, which makes it difficult for the buyer to hand back the one they’re holding. Their still holding it, they must want it. Now the clincher. ‘The usual price is $£x, but I’ll let you have that one of $£y.’

Book Signings

Ok. So you can’t get one of the chains to stock you book. This doesn’t prevent you doing a book signing, especially in a local store.

What you need to think of is the quid pro quo. The first task of any retail outlet is to get the customer in to their shop. They are not doing you a favour, you are doing one for them. A book signing is an event that gives potential customers a reason to enter that store. Nor are they limited to bookshops. You can do book signings at any retail outlet that has any section related to books. All you need is a table, you bring along your own point of sale items, you may be expected to provide, in advance, a poster for the shop window.

With a bookshop and most others, you will be expected to sell through their till, meaning they get their 35% or whatever you’ve negotiated. The benefit is that if you achieve enough sales, they may then be tempted to stock your book. Most chain managers are permitted the discretion to stock books by local authors so the odds are that the local shop will agree at the very least.

The simple fact is that nothing proves that your book will sell like selling your book and this is what its about. If you are going to self-publish, you need to be prepared to get out and sell that book when its published. It’s not that hard so just do it.


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