The Art of Book Selling

It isn’t just authors; people, in general, are wary of the word: sell. But selling your own books can be an enjoyable experience once you face it with the correct attitude.

What is a sale?

A sale is simply a transaction between a buyer and a seller. For a sale to take place, there not only has to be a buyer — there also has to be a seller. Therefore, a sale is a transaction between two parties. Somebody must be buying, and somebody must be selling. If either party is missing, no transaction takes place.

Sometimes, your lack of sales isn’t because there isn’t any available buyer but because there isn’t a seller. Sometimes, it’s because there isn’t enough “selling” taking place. At other times, it’s because the seller, although available, isn’t good enough.

There are two forms of “selling,” especially as it applies to the book industry. They are:

  1. Active Selling
  2. Passive Selling.

If you are selling any books at all, then you are either doing one or the other. If you are not selling any books, then you are clearly doing neither. Check within yourself and see if this is true. If you are not selling books, it’s because you are not selling them.

Often, it is the seller who has to look for the buyer. When the seller goes looking for the buyer, it is called “active selling.” But sometimes, the buyer comes looking for the seller. When the buyer comes looking for the seller, it is called “passive selling.”

Don’t get confused into thinking that each form follows a different process because it does not. Active selling and passive selling are simply two ends of the same process. They are opposite angles of looking at the same thing. For passive selling to begin, active selling had to have taken place. When active selling ends, passive selling begins. The trick is in identifying which sale belongs to which end.

Let me give you a little illustration:

Publisher A has just released a new book titled XYZ, but nobody has heard about this new book. Publisher A has to actively sell this new book to bring it to consumers’ attention. So, publisher A buys advertising space on book blogs and e-magazines and popular Internet sites, runs radio and TV commercials, and sends promotion street teams into consumers’ homes to introduce readers and book buyers to XYZ. The goal of Publisher A is to “actively sellXYZ until passive selling begins.

Active selling can get expensive, depending on the nature of your promotions. Nevertheless, the returns from a successful campaign can be staggering. A successful “active selling” often means longer spells of passive selling, which ultimately means more returns and surpluses at less and less costs. This is the goal at which every business aims.

When consumers — readers and book buyers — begin to visit their local book stores to search for XYZ, and when retail store owners are calling Publisher A to place bulk orders for XYZ, passive selling has begun. Publisher A can now comfortably relax from active selling and focus on making passive selling easier, faster and more profitable.

You can see how both forms really mean the same thing. When a reader walks into a book store and purchases a book, a passive sale has taken place. When a publisher, author or book store owner mails the reader and offers a book, and the reader purchases it, an active sale has taken place.

Why is it important to understand the distinction?

It’s simple: If you don’t know from which end your sales are tripping in, you cannot control your sales. Being able to control your sales means being able to narrow down and map out where your next sale should come from. Without this marketing leverage, you’ll struggle to stay in business. If you don’t understand the distinction between active selling and passive selling, you cannot accurately measure the results of your marketing efforts. In other words, you won’t be able to determine what is working for you versus what is working against you.

Knowing what is happening keeps you alert, mindful and on the lookout for opportunities. Even when you are unable to launch active selling campaigns, you’ll find yourself taking advantage and maximising each passive sale that you receive. When your passive sales eventually trickle to a stop, you’ll already know what the next step should be: to resume active selling again.

This is why, as an independent publisher, you need to focus most on retaining your book customers. After a successful sale, keep in communication with the buyer so that when you realise that you need to resume active selling, you don’t have to start afresh. When you can comfortably spend less and less with each new marketing campaign, and still guarantee the same returns, or higher, business growth is said to have taken place.


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