Day 18: Selling Books to Churches and Ministries

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Since I work for a Christian publishing company, churches have always been an important marketing and promotional opportunity for our authors.  They can also be some of the most difficult venues at which to market and promote books, despite the message the books contain. 

Many authors with Christian books make the mistake of contacting every mega-church they can think of right out of the box.  After all, these churches have several thousand members in their congregation, so this is the perfect place to sell lots of books, right?  Well, not so fast.

First of all, while it is true that the mega-churches have large congregations and minister to thousands of people, most of them are pretty stringent when it comes to who they invite to come and speak and sell books to their flock, especially if you aren't a member of the church in the first place.  In fact, many of these places are more concerned with selling their own pastor's books, and outside books are not really welcome.  Other churches frown on selling anything of any kind in God's house at all.  The church I attend falls somewhere in the middle.  The bookstore only sells books written by the pastor, but they do have a nice coffee shop which sells an awesome caramel machiato. 

Christian authors can do a great job of reaching their book's niche, expanding their ministry and helping churches all at the same time.  It's all a matter of how they approach it.  Here are a few tips to get you started:

1.  Start with your own church.  If you are an active member of your church, talk to your pastor about speaking to the congregation about the topic of your book as a Bible lesson.  You could also propose that you teach a Bible class, with your book as part of the curriculum for the class, or take part in a retreat as a featured speaker.

2.  Expand your ministry.  Once you have your foot in the door at your own church, ask for recommendations for other churches in your denomination or synod.  Offer to teach classes, speak and participate in various church ministries, with the teaching materials centered around your book.  This is a great way to spread your message.

3.  Work the phone.  It's a fact of life that churches get bombarded by sales people all the time, and they get a lot of junk mail pitching religious supplies, Bibles, pews, computer software and books.  If you simply mail a request to a church, chances are you won't get far.  Work the phone, find out who makes the decisions for scheduling classes and guest speakers at the church, and then contact that person and use your elevator pitch.  Explain how you can help the church, don't just ask for an opportunity to sell your books.

4.  Speaking of helping the church...  Offer to donate a portion of your book sales to the church, or a special fundraising project they currently have underway.  Donate a couple of copies of your book to the church library, or offer to stock a few books in the church bookstore on a consignment basis. 

5. It's all about the niche.  Churches are niche markets, too.  Just because you have a Christian book doesn't mean it is appropriate for all churches, especially if it goes against their doctrine.  For example, if your book is Pentecostal in nature, you won't have much luck pitching your presentation and book to a Lutheran church. 
6.  Don't forget the church bookstore.  Many churches have their own bookstores now.  Don't forget to check and see if you can do a book signing there or if the store will carry your books on a consignment basis.  Some church bookstores have an account with book distributors, just like regular retail bookstores. 

For many Christian authors, their book is a key part of their ministry.  If you work with the churches and help them accomplish their mission the sales will follow. 
Coming up next:  Day 19 – Selling books at schools

Day 17: Selling Books at Speaking Engagements

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One of the most effective ways for authors to directly reach out to readers (and sell books to them) is through speaking engagements.  For some authors, this is their main means of moving significant quantities of their books.  For others, it is a way of not only generating book sales, but it is also a means of generating additional income through speaking fees.  Whether you are looking for speaking engagements as a way of promoting your book and selling books through back-of-the-room sales afterward, or you are striving to become a paid-for-play speaker, one of the most difficult questions for the beginning speaker is:  how do I get started?

For folks like Sarah Palin and Bill Clinton, it's easy.  They are already household names, and they demand (and get) hundreds of thousands of dollars for their speaking events.  For those who are not famous, at least not yet, they have to start somewhere.  That usually means speaking to local civic groups like Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Chambers of Commerce, VFW, American Legion, book clubs, writing groups, etc.

To start with, you might consider forgoing a speaking fee and making a book signing after the speaking engagement part of your agreement.  Once you become more well-known and you are in demand, then you can start charging for your speaking engagements, AND holding a book signing during back-of-the-room sales at the end of the event.  Here are a few tips to get you started on the path to public speaking events:

1.  Work your contacts.  Are you a member of any groups or organizations?  Does your college have an alumni association?  Start working your own contacts.  These are the people who already know you.  Even if they don't have an immediate need for a speaker, they may be able to give you some leads.

2.  Work the phones.  Call your local Chamber of Commerce.  Call your local convention and visitors bureau.  Call your local Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions clubs.  They are almost always looking for guest speakers.  Even if you have a publicist, make these calls yourself.  The decision-makers who schedule guest speakers want to hear directly from the author, not a go-between.  Nobody can speak more passionately about your book or your speech topics than you. 

3.  Work on your flyer.  Try designing a decent one-sheet flyer that you can mail out to any organization that might have a need for a guest speaker.  Include a good author photo, a picture of your book cover, and a bullet-point list of your topics and why you would make a good guest speaker.  Don't make it read like a resume.  Concentrate on how you can help the organizations, not your past experiences (although you should have a very brief author bio).  Include some testimonials from anyone who has booked you as a speaker in the past.  You can see some examples of one-sheets here.

4.  Ask for referrals.  When you do a speaking engagement, always make sure you mention at the end of your talk that you are available for other speaking engagements.  You never know who is sitting in the audience.  Make some one-sheets available at your book signing table.  One speaking engagement could lead to others. 

5.  Create your own speaking event.  Book a room at a local community center or local public library and schedule your own speaking event/book signing.  It will give you a chance to practice and showcase your speaking skills, and could lead to other events.  An event of this type will require a lot of pre-promotion to get people in the door, so make sure you have something to offer that would attract people to your event.  If the first event is successful, you may be able to branch out to other venues around the area.  Before you know it, people have heard of you and they will seek out out as a guest speaker (always have business cards and contact info available at your speaking engagements).

6.  Join a Speakers Bureau.  You may have a local speakers bureau at the convention and visitors bureau or chamber.  Try to get listed on them, and you'll have prospects come to you.  This is most effective after you have already developed a reputation as a speaker.  Speakers bureaus usually take a percentage of your speaking fee for sending speaking engagements your way.  
One of the most frequently-asked questions I get regarding speaking events if the issue of what to charge.  If you are just starting out and looking to sell books at your event, you might forgo a fee.  But, if you are counting on speaking fees for your income and you are getting a steady flow of speaking requests, you can probably start charging a fee.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to charging for your speaking engagements, and how much. 
First, ask lots of questions.  If you are contacted about being a speaker, you’ll need some information.  Are there other speakers?  What is the group’s budget for speaking fees?  Is there travel involved?  Will you be required to get a hotel room and stay overnight?  What is the size of your audience?  What kind of presentation does the group want?  These things will all figure into your fee. 
Remember, there are no rules governing fees.  Many times, I have been asked how much an author should charge for their speaking events.  My answer is usually “as much as you can get.”  Seriously, there is no rule-of-thumb on what you can charge to speak.  Those just starting out may just sell books and not charge a fee.  Others may be able to charge hundreds, or thousands, of dollars in speaking fees for each event.  How much demand is there for your time?  Are you struggling to schedule events?  Then you may not be able to charge much.  Are you getting so many requests you have to turn down events?  Then you can definitely afford to charge more.  I recommend charging more each time you schedule additional events.  As your reputation as a speaker and demand for your services grows, your fees should increase, too.  Remember, you are providing a service and you should be compensated for your time. 
Don’t forget the other fringe benefits.  If your speaking event will require you to travel and get a hotel room, the group hiring you may cover these costs, depending upon the size of the event.  Will your speech be recorded, either on video or on audio?  Ask if you can get a copy.  Also, ask if you can get a written testimonial following your successful speaking events, so you can post those to your web site.  This will help you get additional events.  Also, this event might be great for networking and generating additional speaking engagements.   Do you stand to get clients from your speaking engagements?  If so, the benefit of being able to generate clients for a business you may have may be more valuable than charging a speaking fee. 
Coming up next:  Day 18 – Selling books to churches and ministries

Day 16: Selling Books in Bulk

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Most authors have dreams of making their book an instant bestseller...seeing their book fly off the shelves of bookstores and selling their books to throngs of fans at book signings. However, the average signing at a bookstore results in about six copies sold. That's right, six.

But what if I told you it is possible to sell hundreds, perhaps even thousands of copies of your book without stepping foot inside a bookstore? Authors are doing just that...by selling their books in bulk.

I'm not talking about selling books out of the back of a truck, although that might work for you, too. No, these are sales directly to major companies which will use these books at premiums or "freemiums" for their employees and customers. A few examples:

1. If an author has written a book about personal finance and money management, they could approach a chain of banks or credit unions about the possibility of purchasing a quantity of books at a discount (probably 40-50 percent off the cover price) and giving those books to new customers who open a savings or checking account.

2. Perhaps the book is about time management, or leadership, or effective work habits. The author could approach major companies about purchasing a copy for every manager or employee in their company. If it's a large company, the quantities could number in the hundreds or thousands. Again, you would need to offer the books at discount.

3. If the book is educational in nature, such as a Bible study book, the author could develop a course to go along with the book and offer it to churches around the country. Of course, the book would be required reading for the course. You could develop the same type of strategy for books about money management, getting through a divorce, better communication with your spouse, etc.

4. If you do public speaking and you are active on the speaking circuit, but not yet getting paid for your speeches (or aren't commanding high fees yet), tell organizations that instead of charging for the speaking engagement, the cost of attendance is the purchase of your book, which of course is tied to the topic of your speech. Tell them their members are getting the "organizational discount" of 20 percent off the retail price. The books could either be purchased at the door by attendees or in bulk by the organization itself (you can sweeten the deal by offering a bigger discount if they buy in bulk). If they have 500 attendees at the speech, and your book's retail price is $10, you'll stand to make $4,000 off that speaking engagement if attendees buy books at the door.

5. If you have a book about dieting, try to partner with weight loss organizations or gyms. You could cross promote with the businesses by giving them books at a discount to give to their new customers for free when they sign up for a membership, and when you are selling books at other events you could agree to place a small ad for the gym or weight loss organization inside your book (a card some other type of insert would do). When customers sign up at the gym with that card, they would get a discount on the membership.
Keep in mind that when you approach these companies about purchasing books, they will be buying books directly from you.  Your ultimate goal, aside from moving a lot of copies of your book, is to turn a profit.  Organizations that order your book in bulk will want a discount.  That discount is taken off the retail price, and should never be equal to the amount of the discount you get from your publisher.  If it is, that means you won’t be making any money.  Be sure to charge at least 20 percent more than you pay for your books to ensure that you will be making a profit from your sale.  Also, I recommend selling the books on a non-returnable basis.  If you sell 5,000 copies of your book to a company or organization, you don’t want 3,000 copies of those books coming back to you, and the money you got for those books going back out the door.  It is not to your benefit (or your publisher’s) if money isn’t being made on the transaction or you have a garage full of books.  Remember, you are running a business, and if the profit margin isn’t there, it is best to walk away from the deal. 
These are just a few ideas, but it gives you a starting point. Perhaps you have some similar ideas of your own, or you could develop some that would work specifically for your book. Instead of trying to sell a handful of copies to each retail store around the country, target a few large companies or organizations which will purchase your book in bulk by the thousands. It will require some sales skill on your part, and you will have to show the companies and organizations how YOUR book will benefit THEM. They must see value in what they are buying. For the authors that can strike these types of partnerships, the rewards can be great.
Coming up next:  Day 17 – Selling books at speaking engagements

Day 15: Selling Books at Fairs and Festivals

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Fairs and festivals can be a great way of gaining huge exposure for your book, and selling large numbers of books.  Almost every community has some kind of fair or festival each season of the year, and these events draw hundreds, if not thousands, of people.  Not everyone who attends may be interested in the genre of your book, but chances are you’ll still find your target audience amongst all those festival-goers.  You’ll likely have to pay for a booth to display your book and do your signing, but the cost can be reasonable, depending upon the size of the festival.  My rule of thumb is if you can break even on the event after 10 or 20 books, it may be well worth your time to register for the festival.  As with book signing events, your goal for fairs and festivals is to draw a crowd to your booth, sell books and “create the demand” for the book.

1.      Register for the event as early as possible
    1. Contact the event organizer
    2. Find out the cost of the booth or registration
    3. Register for the event and inform your marketing representative
2.      Spread the word about your appearance at the event
    1. Church bulletin
    2. Online newspapers free event calendar listings
    3. Free online listing at Craig’s List  
    4. E-mail  invitations to your address book
    5. Facebook
    6. Twitter
    7. Your web site
  1. Share expenses
    1. Split the cost of the booth with another author, if festival organizers allow booth-sharing
    2. Decorate the booth with a banner and tabletop posters announcing that the author is available to sign copies of books.  Make the booth as attractive as possible!
  1. Establish a family member or friend to help you during the event
  2. Items you will need for your booth:
    1. Books.  You will need to determine how many books you will need to have available for the event.  You can always keep extra copies in your car, if needed. 
    2. Giveaways.  Just like at trade shows, attendees are always looking for free items.  Have a supply of bookmarks, business cards and push cards on hand to help promote your book if people don’t buy a copy on the spot.
    3. Décor.  Most festivals will give you a table and a chair, and not much else.  Find out if you’ll need table coverings, a tent or awning (if an outdoor event), or a power supply for any video or audio needs you may have.  Also make sure you have pens and posters to advertise who you are and why you are there, preferably with a photo of your book cover on it.  You may even want to have a banner made for your book that you can re-use at future events.  You’re only limited by your imagination.
  1. Be prepared with conversation starters.
    1. “How did you hear about the event?”
    2. “Are you an avid reader?”
    3. “Do you live in the area?”\
    4. Have a one-minute pitch ready to go that tells people who you are and what your book is about.  Practice it so that it seems natural and not forced.
  1. Have a guest-book on your table for people to sign their name and e-mail address. By doing this at every event, you can create a large mailing list for e-blasts or newsletters about your book.
  2. Practice good booth etiquette.
    1. If you are sharing a booth, be considerate and polite to your fellow authors.
    2. Don’t complain to your fellow authors if the event isn’t going well and you aren’t selling many books.  Attitude is contagious! 
    3. Work out ahead of time how you will approach customers at the booth so you aren’t overwhelming them and pressuring them to buy books.
    4. Be friendly and approachable.
    5. Don’t just sit at the booth and wait for people to come to you.  Engage passersby in conversation and offer them any giveaways you may have.  Use the opportunity to tell them about your book.
  1. Arrive early, allowing plenty of time to set up for the event.

  1. Have book ordering information available in case you run out of books.   Business cards and push cards can be used for this purpose.
  2. Send a thank-you card to the organizer after the event. If the event was especially successful, send a letter of commendation to the event organizer.  They may ask you to be a featured author next year.
  3. Book early for next year’s event.

These tips not only apply to your local community fairs and festivals, but any local book fairs you may have in your area, too.  Of course, you may also want to look into attending the larger book fairs and festivals, but the cost of attending these venues can be high if you are not selected as a “feature” author, something that is usually reserved for well-known, celebrity, bestselling authors, or authors who have already developed a reputation for their writing and amongst other authors and writing groups.  The benefit of attending events like this is that everyone attending is interested in books, whether they are the casual reader or the bookstore owner.
There are usually a number of local and regional book festivals.  A good place to start is http://www.booktv.org/Book-Fairs.aspx.    There are also a number of industry events targeted toward bookstores, publishers or both.  Sometimes authors can participate in these events, either as a featured author or a guest speaker.  Again, the industry opportunities are usually not for the beginning author, but those who have already made something of a name for themselves. 
Whatever the fair or festival, start locally and build up from there.  At the very least you’ll gain some good exposure for your book, and at best you’ll sell a lot of books AND gain great exposure for your book! 
Coming up next:  Day 16 - Selling Books in Bulk

Day 14: What You Need to Know About Book Reviews

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One of the first things an author is looking for when their book is released (or just prior to its release) is a review of their book. Book reviews can be a very helpful way of letting prospective readers know what the book is about, if it's something that would interest them, and if the reviewer thinks it's any good. If a reviewer doesn't like a book, more often than not they will not print a review of the book at all, but that's not always the case. Books can and do get negative reviews. Still, book reviews are more ammunition for authors to use in their marketing arsenal.

Getting a book review from a traditional reviewer, such as one who writes for newspapers, magazines or other publications, can be just as challenging as getting a book published. Producers for network television shows can receive 50-75 review copies per day and they may only feature a book on their programs once or twice a week. One newspaper book reviewer told me he has stacks of books in his office, and he receives about 200 books per month. He is only able to review about six books per month. Most book reviewers only publish reviews by authors they know, or books from particular genres or books from the major NYC publishers. Many newspapers are reducing their book review staff, or getting rid of book reviews altogether.  As you can see, getting a book review is not always easy.

But, it can definitely be done. The internet has made getting a book review a bit easier these days, but the author has to realize these reviews won't appear in their local papers. They will mainly be available online. That's OK, because readers are turning to the internet to search for reviews of books they may have heard of, or books relating to a particular topic. With so many blogs and websites online, it has become easier to get online book reviews, although sending a review copy to these sites is still no guarantee your book will be reviewed. However, it is often easier to get an online review than a review published by the "traditional" media.

Here are a few steps to take in getting your book reviewed:

  1. Do your research.  Many authors make the mistake of sending out their book to anyone and everyone who does book reviews.  Too often, those books wind up in the reviewer’s “circular file.”  Why?  The author didn’t do their research to find out what kinds of books the reviewer likes to review.   If you have written a children’s book and you send it to someone who only reviews romance novels, you have wasted that reviewer’s time.  This is an instance in which Google is your friend.  Go to the search bar, type in the genre of your book and then “book reviewers.”  You should find a pretty healthy list of potential reviewers for your book. 

  1. Pay attention to submission guidelines.   If the reviewer states they only review galley copies three months before the book’s release date, and your publisher doesn’t use galley copies and only has finished copies of your book, then you’ll need to find another reviewer.  Sometimes, the reviewer doesn’t want unsolicited copies.  They want the author to email information about the book first, and then if the reviewer is interested they will request a copy of the book.  Pay attention to those submission guidelines and you’ll increase your chances of getting reviewed.

  1.  No means no.  If a reviewer declines to review your book, don’t keep hounding them to do a review or try to change their mind.  If your book isn’t for them, it isn’t for them.  Simply move on to the next reviewer on your list. 

  1. Paid book reviews.  Some web sites and organizations offer to do book reviews…for a price.  There are reputable sites out there that will review your book and place their review on Amazon and some other high-profile sites, and there are some that will take your money and simply regurgitate your book’s back cover copy and give your book five stars.  Frankly, I don’t recommend paying for book reviews.  There are enough book reviewers out there that will do it for no more than the cost of you mailing them a review copy. 

  1. Don’t forget Amazon.  Yes, it’s important to get book reviews from traditional media outlets, popular book bloggers, industry journals, etc., but don’t forget about one of the biggest book review sites out there:  Amazon.com.  Yes, anybody can leave a review on Amazon, but people who purchase books on Amazon base their purchasing decisions, in part, on the star ratings and customer book reviews listed on the site.  Would you buy a book with 50 1-star ratings?  Probably not.  Encourage your readers to leave their good, honest review on the page with your book listing. 

A word about bad book reviews.



Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do. - Benjamin Franklin

Every now and then, not often, but a few times a year, I receive a panicked call or email from an author which goes something like this:

"I just noticed that someone left a terrible review of my book on Amazon.com (or some other online bookseller).  How can we get it removed?"

Well, the short answer is:  you can't.  Customers are able to leave reviews of your book on most any bookselling web site, and you may as well get used to the idea now that not all of those reviews are going to be positive.  That's just the nature of the business.  That doesn't mean people can go on these sites and attack you personally, but they can just about say anything they want about your book.

The great thing about the Internet is that it allows anyone to go online and instantly communicate anything they want to say.  The bad thing about the Internet is that is allows anyone to go online and instantly communicate anything they want to say.  Some people say things online that they would never say to someone face-to-face.  The anonymity of the Internet gives them free reign to say mean things.

Take this one-star book review from Amazon.com, for example:  "The character development was shoddy, unrelatable and unbelievable, the plot kept changing along with character perspectives the actually story never really getting anywhere, it was written as if it was a bunch of stories that someone decided to string together with random sentences and pieces of other stories."

The book being reviewed?   The Holy Bible.

When you publish a book, you are putting a piece of yourself on public display.  Just as in everything else in life, not everyone is going to like you, or your book.  Book reviews are subjective.  Opinions will vary from person to person.  In the not-so-subtle words of my company commander from Navy boot camp:  "Opinions are like a hole in your butt.  Everybody has one, and most of them stink."

I once shot a TV commercial for a radio station where I used to work.  The kindest review I read about it was "Terry doesn't look as old as I thought he was."  Another review contained the world "yuck."  The local newspaper named it "The Best Worst Local TV Commercial" in its year-end edition.  My morning show's ratings were increasing, so I got a chuckle out of the reviews.  When you are in a public position like radio announcer (or author) you've got to have a thick skin.  

So, what can you do when your book gets a bad review?  Should you respond to bad reviews online?  My recommendation is "no." Why throw fuel on the fire?   Let the positive (and negative) reviews speak for themselves.  When your readers contact you to tell you they like your book, encourage them to leave a fair and honest (and hopefully positive) review on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and other book review and bookselling sites.  Let your loyal readers be your cheerleaders. 

Don't let negative book reviews get you down, and don't let them dissuade you from writing more books.  Every author has received bad reviews for their books.  It happens to everyone.

Just ask the guy who wrote the Holy Bible. 

Coming next:  Day 15 – Selling books at fairs and festivals

 

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