Book Selling Strategies and Tactics (Don’t Get Caught In The Monkey Trap)

book selling

To move forward with your bookselling, you may need to go back to the basics of marketing and create a plan that defines your mission, objectives, strategies, and tactics.

There is a unique way to trap monkeys in the islands of the South Seas. The natives drill a small hole in a coconut, hollow it out, and fill it with rice. When a monkey puts its hand in the coconut to get the food, it cannot remove its clenched fist. Refusing to let go of their prize, the monkeys are unable to escape.

You can get caught in a similar trap if you become conditioned to avoid risks and persist in using strategies that might have worked in the past but don’t get the results you need in today’s marketplace.

Don’t just do something, stand there!

Stop yanking at the coconut. Let go of your past and pause to ponder what you are doing and where you are going. Go back to the basics of marketing and create a plan that defines your mission, generates objectives, establishes strategies, and develops specific tactics.

1. Draft a mission statement

Your mission statement is a concise answer to two questions: 1) “What business am I in?” and 2) “Who am I trying to serve?”

“What business am I in?” This may seem obvious because you are a producer and purveyor of books. But this is a limiting concept because you are really a provider of information that people need and are willing to pay for.

“Who am I trying to serve?” Define your target readers and buyers. Use the Five Ws: who are they, where do they shop, when do they buy, why do they need your content, and in what form do they want it?

2. Define your objectives

The purpose of objectives is to divide your long-term vision into attainable goals. Traditional business planning requires that objectives be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-oriented. However, goals must be more than that or they simply remain good intentions.

Write out your objectives so it helps you find new ways to reach them. A goal to “Sell 10,000 books by December 31, 2019” puts your focus on selling books. If you say “Reach net revenue of $100,000,” you expand your focus to profitably selling your content through books, booklets, or other formats. This can also include revenue through corporate sales, consulting, and/or speaking.

3. Develop strategies

Next, develop strategies that will direct your efforts to achieve your objectives. Think of your strategies as statements of the general direction you will take in each of the four areas of marketing: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion.

Product strategy. The word product (instead of book) forces you to think of all merchandise you can create that will satisfy the needs of your customers.

Place strategy. Place refers to your distribution network. There are three general channels: direct, indirect, or a combination of the two. Indirect distribution to retailers utilizes some variation of the traditional distributor/wholesaler/retailer (bookstore, supermarket, airport store, etc.) system. Alternatively, you might consider the technique of marketing directly to non-retail buyers in corporations, associations, schools, or the military. The most effective system combines both.

Pricing strategy. There are three basic pricing strategies: 1) a penetration strategy with a low price, 2) a skimming strategy with a high price, or 3) a competitive strategy, pricing your book similar to competitors.

Promotion strategy. There are four general promotional tools you can use at different times (online or offline) to accomplish your goals. These are sales promotion, publicity, advertising, and personal selling.

4. Tactics

In each of the four strategic areas, describe innovative and specific actions you will take to employ your marketing weapons. This creates a “To Do” list of activities that will apply your strategies and fulfill your objectives. Customize your actions to your title and circumstances. Be specific and add a deadline for the accomplishment of every action.

Product tactics. If you chose a strategy that expands your product mix, list the actions you will take to do so. For instance, is your title a candidate for eBook and printed book? Audiobook? When and how will you have them produced?

Place tactics. Plan ways to work with partners and alternate (non-bookstore) retailers to sell more of your books. Also, explore non-retail segments (businesses, associations, schools) that might purchase your book.

Pricing tactics. What will your price be? Basing the price on your costs plus a standard markup is a simple system, but it fails to consider competition, customers’ buying habits, volume benefits, special-sales opportunities, economies of scale, and profit objectives. One price might not fit all.

Promotion tactics. Create a mix of tools to best promote your books – on and offline.

  • Sales promotion uses premiums, giveaways, coupons, and website offers to generate awareness and stimulate demand through short-term awareness campaigns.
  • Publicity (social networking, testimonials, media appearances, press releases, reviews) is perhaps the most economical element of the promotional mix.
  • Advertising, including direct mail, can reach many consumers simultaneously with the same message and with a relatively low cost per exposure.
  • Personal selling (direct sales, personal networking, trade shows, store events) can be the most persuasive promotional tool because it allows two-way communication.

You should always evaluate what has worked for you in the past and try new strategies and tactics as necessary. Aim high. Set big goals that will motivate you to action. Remember, some people thought Goliath was too big to hit. David thought he was too big to miss. Whether you have a stone in your sling or your hand in a coconut, you may need to let go to succeed.


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  1. Hi Brian

    I am in book trade since1983 specializing in technical books. Please advise selling strategies in present scenario.



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