I find it helpful to read articles written for book buyers. Gaining insight into how they think about what to stock in their stores helps me to understand the supply chain. The more I understand what stores are choosing to carry–and how librarians decide what to shelf–the better I’ll be at positioning my clients’ books to publishers. And in suggesting promo plans.
Recently I read an article in Christian Retailing Magazine that confirmed some things I suspected and gave me a few new insights.
Book Buyers Order Based on Past History
Checking how an author’s previous release sold guides the book buyer whether to order any copies of the writer’s newest offering and if so, how many. “I always look at how many copies I sold of their last book the first three months after release,” writes Lorraine Valk in her column, “Ask Lorraine.” “That’s a really good starting point for a reasonable quantity to order. Additionally, peeking at our distributor’s stocking level gives another unbiased glimpse at projected sales.”
The High Cost of Weak Past Sales
For the author, that translates into taking seriously how well your last book sold. If the bookstore employees ended up repacking boxes of your books to return to the publisher because they didn’t sell, that owner will remember seeing your name over and over again on those covers and thinking, “I way overbought. I’ll never do that again.” On the other hand, it the book buyer kept having to place additional orders, that goes into the memory banks as well.If anyone’s memory fails, a quick check on the computer reveals all.
For these reasons, it’s imperative for both the publisher and the author that each book be viewed as a success by everyone in the supply chain. That means the publisher needs to create reasonable expectations. If the author’s books sell moderately well, everyone’s expectations will be for a moderate success. While that’s tough to break out of, it can lead to a sustainable writing career.
The Author and Heavy Lifting
That also means, if the previous release was disappointing, additional energy needs to come from the author and the publisher to boost sales in the face of book buyers placing conservative orders. Two countermeasures include the author working harder than ever to come up with a fantastic hook for the new release. Or to try a different genre as a way to make a fresh start. Something must be done to shake up the status quo.
The author and the publisher’s promotions for the new title need to include encouraging fans to go to bookstores and libraries to ask for the buyer to order a copy. While the buyer is at it, more than one copy might be ordered. Also, strong–and many–Amazon reviews and fans’ Goodreads activity can boost enthusiasm for a title.
These might seem like small victories, but I did write “heavy lifting” in the subhead, didn’t I?
The bottomline is that there’s no easy way out of the Valley of Low Sales. A fantastic manuscript. A compelling hook. A targeted promotional campaign. All are integral to making a difference.
The Difference a Sales Rep Can Make with Book Buyers
If a sales rep is enthusiastic about a title, she can make a world of difference when it comes to orders.
One of my clients is beloved by her publisher’s sales reps. To make the most of that relationship, every time she visits the publishing house, the sales reps are invited to have lunch with her.
A few years ago, I attended that lunch. She was like a queen holding court. The thirty-or-so sales reps attending had lots of questions about her upcoming book and the best way they could pitch it to book buyers.
They left the lunch armed with helpful taglines and hooks. But most importantly with confidence they could generate strong sales.
Other Ways to Connect with Sales Reps
Now, not every author has the opportunity to meet with the sales reps, but your editor presents your book to them at the season’s sales conference. Everything you can do to equip him to make an energetic presentation can boost sales reps’ confidence that they can obtain substantial orders for your book.
One of my clients once a month assembles excerpts from letters and emails she receives from readers who were deeply touched, if not transformed, by the author’s books. These are read in meetings at the publishing house and passed onto the sales reps. Nothing like reminding the reps that they’re also in the transformational work of putting books in readers’ hands.
The Power of Popularity for Book Buyers
Ms. Valk mentions in her article to retailers that, if they’re in doubt about what to order, they should check with distributors by searching online for rankings by popularity. I feel a tug of sadness about that. Sure, retailers have very thin margins; they need to stock what will sell. But, unless your most recent book is a sales barn burner, it will not pop up on the buyer’s screen.
Fortunately, she also suggests reading trade magazines to keep up with what’s new and on the best-seller lists (surely a rare starred review in a trade journal would be of benefit, too). She even mentions book buyers watching what their Facebook feeds reveal. Hooray for fans who post book covers and rave about a book.
What encourages you about how book buyers choose stock? Discourages you? What might you do differently to help increase sales for your book?
Take a glimpse inside the book buyer’s decision about what to stock. Click to tweet.
How book buyers take the guesswork out of their stocking decisions. Click to tweet.