Planning For Book Sales In Uncertain Times

book sales

No one knows what will actually happen in 2021. But if you plan, you will be more prepared to grow your book sales.

At the beginning of 2020, you may have set aggressive goals for your book sales based upon an optimistic view of the coming year. That changed abruptly with the advent of Coronavirus in the first quarter and the subsequent quarantines and closed businesses. While this year has been a difficult one for making sales, we learned some valuable lessons for succeeding under dire circumstances. The key to surviving in the future is to apply those lessons to make your business profitable over the long term.

Even though no one knows what the future brings, you can still create plans for what might happen. In this case, do not think of the word plan as a noun, but as a verb, a work-in-progress to which you can refer regularly and adapt as conditions change. Think of it as the first draft of your manuscript, needing multiple rewrites.

In normal times you would create your plan, implement your actions, periodically measure your results, make necessary changes, and implement again. But these are not normal times, and the future is more unpredictable than ever. Our job as strategic marketers is to create plans for what might happen. Then, take your best shot at implementing them and make changes as the fog of the future becomes clearer. Here are two scenarios to get you started.

Scenario One: The economy (including book sales) returns to a pre-COVID status

This scenario assumes that a successful vaccine will be available soon and the general population will return to business as “new” usual. The word “new” is the key. Returning to what you were doing in 2019 is a huge step backward. Heraclitus said, “You can never step in the same river twice.” The opportunities for selling books changed as fast as the river flows.

Publishers who maintained or built sales during the pandemic found new, creative ways to do so. New sources of sales abounded through retailers that remained open and to non-retail buyers looking for promotional items to maintain their sales.

Scenario Two: We return to a similar (or more severe) lockdown

What did we learn from 2020? Who might be staying open? Here are some lessons from this year that could be extrapolated for 2021.

Non-bookstore retail stores

Retail stores generally purchase from a distributor or wholesaler rather than from the publisher. Three of the major distributors are listed below. (Read my post, “Know Where To Sell Books” for more information.)

  • Symak Sales Company is a distributor of general merchandise through retailers, including discount stores, variety stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, distributors, department stores, and dollar stores.
  • Readerlink Distribution Services is the largest full-service distributor of hardcover, trade, and paperback books to non-trade channel booksellers in North America.
  • Choice Books distributes books through more than 11,500 displays in various retail locations such as supermarkets, mass merchandisers, airports, pharmacies, and travel centers.

Supermarkets and convenience stores

Covid Guide BannerIf your content is about activities family members can do together (games, exercises, puzzles) while quarantined, sell your books here. These would also be the perfect outlets for your cookbook of simple recipes a family could make together.

The Association of Publishers for Special Sales created a 16-page booklet with family-friendly word-search games, pages to color, daytime and evening activities, exercises, and mealtime fun. It is being sold to food providers who will give them to supermarket chains. The stores will, in turn, give them to their customers at checkout for free. The minimum order for these is 50,000.

Discount stores and warehouse clubs

These outlets have product lines well-suited to people looking for ways to save money (unemployed people especially). Can your content help their customers do that? Both are established purveyors of books, particularly fiction.

Pet stores

Your content about all kinds of animals could be sold here. It could be about how to find and care for the best pet for your family circumstances. Also, consider sales through veterinarians, kennels, and pet hospitals. Go to to find a distributor of pet products in any state.

Non-retail opportunities

These buyers typically purchase in larger quantities for books used as promotional items (premiums, ad specialties, etc.) rather than for resale. They usually pay the shipping charges and most are sold on a non-returnable basis.

Homeschooling is becoming more omnipresent as public schools resort to online learning. The National Home School Association site includes the Home Learning Store “to assist homeschooling families to obtain all of the products and services that they might need,” including books.

Airlines are having a difficult time getting people to travel. They are using promotions to make that happen. If your content is about destination activities and events, airlines might give your books to their elite members or first-class travelers. Or offer a free download of your fiction book to read on the flight if the passenger purchases a ticket on the airline’s website. Or they could give your children’s books to traveling families. What about bus companies? Amtrack? How could they use your content similarly?

Funeral homes. Content helping people (especially children) prepare for the death of a loved one or helping children cope with grief would be welcome here. Sell your coloring books to keep kids occupied during a viewing.

Military. There are many opportunities to sell to service personnel and their families. The Army Airforce Exchange Service (AAFES) is the largest of the military exchanges and has a bookstore. A Google search will reveal military associations, book clubs, libraries, and schools appropriate to your content.

Associations. There are over 100,000 local, state, and national associations related to almost any topic. Their objective is to maintain or grow membership. Contact the membership chair to purchase and use your book as a thank-you gift for people who join or renew.

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It is impossible to forecast what venues will remain open. But if history repeats itself, there will be more book-selling opportunities to exploit. Depending on your topic – and your ingenuity – you may be able to work with hospitals, realtors, automobile companies, RV dealers, restaurants, liquor stores, travel centers, and gas stations, among many others.

No one knows what will actually happen. But if you plan for what will probably happen, you will be more prepared. What is the future you see for your business? Plan now to make it happen.

Related Posts
Know Where To Sell Books
Book Marketing In Quarantine
Writers’ Stories From Quarantine
Creative Inspiration For Book Selling During Quarantine
Make Inroads Into The Homeschool Market



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