This looks like it might be a good place to hide. Image © Jain Lemos.

Part 4 of The Ultimate Guide to Producing Documentary Books is about planning sales, now that you’ve determined how distribution is going to work. In the last chapter I explained how packagers and in-house editors work with a publisher’s distribution and sales departments. Independent producers will need to find their own sales channels and figure out how to get books moving out the door.

At some point over the last century, sales took on a negative meaning. When it’s time to work on sales it’s funny how everyone disappears. If you flinch when it’s time to talk about selling please turn this segment of your project management over to people who are in the business of selling. Better still, stop being silly and get your head wrapped around sales. Having a sales plan in place early in the project’s development will give you great confidence throughout the rest of the book’s process.

When it comes to selling books, a link to Amazon on your website or in a tweet is not going to do it. You need to get out in the world to reach people on an individual basis. Start by becoming clear on the difference between selling and marketing. I think of it like this: marketing is the telling of a story and sales is where that story means something to someone. Publishers use the term audience to describe their sales target but in the end, sales are personal, one-to-one relationships. A single individual is going to buy your book and so will thousands of other like-minded individuals if you know where they are likely to be found.

Beyond the usual suspects (bookstores and big box retailers) your title will have a natural built-in audience. This special sales category is the place to concentrate and then keep expanding into peripheral groups. For example, a documentary book about raising race horses would naturally sell in tack shops and places selling riding or Western apparel. But it will also appeal to youth development organizations such as 4-H clubs. Part of the sales proceeds could go back to the group. Every state has a number of county fairs and when they run they have gift shops. This title could be offered to hotels in horse-breeding locations for their lobbies, gift shops or spas. A manufacturer of horse trailers could buy in bulk and give away gift copies to their buyers. You could offer a special edition tipped-in page at the front of the book with their branding and “thank you” statement.

As soon as you have a pub date, working title, brief description, general outline and sample images you can begin setting up for sales. Compose a sales script and then make calls and send personal emails. Prime your buyers with offers they will remember so they’ll be excited when the books arrive. Maintain a contact database of individuals—not just company names or vague categories—who are in the position to buy your books. In each record add notes about when you contacted them, the quantities to quote, pricing information and other specifics. Keep them posted along the way so they feel a part of the project, too. As you build relationships ask for referrals and explore ways to help each other bring in more business.

Think broadly as to who is interested in your topic. Find out where they congregate, what trade shows they attend, what clubs and associations they belong to, what annual events attract them and then work your way into the fold so you and/or your authors are in a position to make special presentations on the topic to them. Prepare a dedicated sales calendar and set dates for author speaking engagements where books can be sold before, during and after.

For large print runs or if you need sales support, consider contracting with a dedicated sales force. Decide if you want to use a fulfillment house or if you can ship out of your garage. As I already covered, you can work with a distributor who will become your sales force and shipper (if they accept you as a publisher). Remember a distributor will cost you about a third of the book’s retail price. They will do little if anything when it comes to special sales in terms of making connections but they will work to get you into large bookstore chains and deal with returns. You will still need to do all the work of setting up special sales channels, only to be obligated to turn over all orders to them for fulfillment. Your title will be in their catalog… along with hundreds and hundreds of other ISBNs.

Take time to understand all of your sales options so that you are in the best position to sell the maximum number of books at the largest margins for you. When I return, the topic will be about Figuring Timing so you can take advantage of the best seasons for each phase of your book. Speaking of gambling, what do you think the odds are for California Chrome to win the Triple Crown?