Getting the Order (part 3 in bookselling success for publishers)

By Tony Wales

This is the third article in a four-part series to help publishers succeed in selling their books. The first key is preparation and the second key is selling the benefits of your publication. See the respective articles, “Four Vital Ways to Improve Your Success in Bookselling” and “Selling the Benefits“. 

Once you have presented your publication to a prospective customer, there are several ways to ensure you get the order.

1. Ask for it!
If you don’t actually ask, all that preparation and the efforts you’ve made tomulti-ethnic-biz-meeting-fr understand your customer’s needs and present your publication will be wasted. So be prepared to simply ask them for the order.  However, here are few helpful tips:

–  Train yourself not to ask in a way that demands a “yes” or “no” answer. An unhelpful example would be something like this: “Do you wish to buy some copies of this book?” This makes it too easy for them to answer “no.” Instead ask in a way that will allow them to engage more fully with the decision to buy.

For example: “How many copies of this book would you like to order today?” or “Would you like to start with two or three copies of this book, or would you prefer to get the extra discount for an order of 10 copies?” or “If you order today, would you like to add some copies for that pastors conference being held next month?” All of these types of approach imply that they will be making a positive decision to buy.

– Think ahead how you might present your request for the order. And keep your ears open for the sort of information in that last question; that is, the pastors conference opportunity. You may have discovered about the pastors conference in your preparation, or seen it in the window of the shop when you arrived for the sales meeting or during the conversation with your customer! To be alert in these ways is to find ways to increase your sales.

2.  Record the order then and there
If you don’t already have one, it is important to have an order form ready for all sales occasions. It is a document you can take to all sales occasions whether to shops, churches, conferences or other opportunities. It should always be available to you and your staff in the office so that orders from visitors or from phone calls can be taken immediately. The order form should include the following information:

– The name and logo of your organization including your full address, phone, e-mail or other contact information.

– A box to allow you to record the name and full address of your customer and the date of the order

– A complete list of all the titles you currently publish. This is normally in alphabetical order of title or series (if it’s a series, the titles in the series are usually listed alphabetically within that section or, in the case of a Bible commentary series, in Biblical order). The important thing is that the information is clear to you and your customer. Make it as easy to use as you would want for yourself.

– Each title should be accompanied by the author’s name, the ISBN number and the regular retail price. It is also worth indicating if the book is paperback or hardback or other special bindings. This is often needed for hymn books or Bibles or other titles where each binding style should be recorded as a separate line on the order form.

– Allow enough space before each title for the quantity to be written in as you take the order.

3.  Make two copies of the order (one for you and one for the customer)
– Do this while you are with the customer so that she or he witnesses the recording of this information

– Ask the customer to sign and date both copies of the order. This will protect you and them against any future error or misunderstanding.

Businessmen-shaking-hands4. Make a date for the next meeting
– Don’t forget that what you have achieved with this meeting needs to be a building block in your relationship with this customer, so it is vital to agree upon the next meeting. Put this in your diary or planner while you are still with the customer so that it is clearly understood.

-If they are unable to offer you a date for the next meeting, ask them to call or e-mail you with a date and time. However, it is always better to have this agreed before you leave.

–  Do all the friendly personal inquiries and introductory conversation with your customer at the beginning of the meeting rather than at the end. So, when you’ve finished, don’t prolong the meeting with further personal conversation. Your customer will appreciate your professional courtesy as you simply thank them for the order and say goodbye (until the next time).

5. Make sure the order is put into action within 24 hours
This must include any special instructions (such as special discount or delivery details) being passed on to your staff. You are responsible for ensuring maximum accuracy and efficiency so that the customer is fully satisfied.

Next time; the final vital way to increasing sales success is ‘Follow up, follow up, follow up’…

Tony Wales is a board member and trainer for MAI based in the UK. See his first and second articles on bookselling for publishers.

Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos, by Ambro

Stories from Vietnam: “Out of the Dark Night”

A new collection of stories by Vietnamese Christians, Out of the Dark Night, launched before an audience of multiple Asian nations in Singapore on September 28. Originally published in Vietnamese, this English edition by Graceworks Publishers aims to share with a wider audience powerful testimonies and lessons learned amidst adversity. “Our brothers and sisters in Vietnam have much to teach those of us who follow Christ in freer societies,” said publisher Soo-Inn Tan.Front cover lo-res Vietnamese testimonies book

The book began with a small gathering of motivated women in Ho Chi Minh city five years ago.  These writers listened, learned and put their fingers to the keys.  They honed skills and refined ideas in workshops during MAI’s three-year training program. Within the first year, they had launched their women’s magazine, Hat Muoi (A Grain of Salt). The first issue quickly sold out, and now they regularly print 8,000 copies per issue.

Motivated to share Christ, these women painstakingly compiled stories and edited a book full of testimonies of local people whose lives had been changed by Jesus Christ.  The book’s stories range from dramatic mental and physical healings to a believer inviting a friend to church.

“I was blown away by the kind of testimonies inside this book,” said Bernice Lee, editor and publisher at Graceworks Publishers.  “This book is such a powerful reminder for all of us that there is hope.”

Out of the Dark Night is available for purchase online at Graceworks Publishers or from MAI (email [email protected]) for $10 US plus shipping.

By Debbie Pederson

E-books Are Here to Stay

By Ramon Rocha

“Portability, accessibility, discoverability, impulse purchase.” That’s how one industry expert described why he loves e-books.

E-books are here to stay. While sales of electronic books among US Christian publishers are currently at 20 percent of their total sales, this percentage is expected to increase steadily in coming years. Currently, most digital sales are from fiction.

Sales of e-books among US Christian publishers are currently at 20% of their total sales, and expected to increase steadily.

Sales of e-books among US Christian publishers are currently at 20% of their total sales and expected to increase steadily.

The rest of the world will follow suit. So, global Christian publisher, have you converted your book pdf files into digital? Are you selling e-books at the moment? If not yet, when?

Consider these two options to turn your backlist into digital files: convert your old files yourself or contract a third party digital conversion company.

If you have the time and the energy to do your own conversion, preferably your bestsellers first, sell through or Smashwords to sell at iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other e-retailers.

If you would rather spend your time on marketing and can pay a professional digital conversion company, I suggest you compare the rates of these companies:

Flipside – c/o Ms. Honeylein Peralta, who is based in Manila, Philippines

Or get quotes from several other digital file conversion companies, using Writers’ & Artists’ Self-Publishing Comparison service. Better yet, find a local company that does conversion for price comparison.

For authors doing self-publishing, I’ve read good reviews of CreateSpace, an Amazon company.  CreateSpace offers reasonably priced services on design, editing, marketing, print-on-demand and distribution worldwide.  And good news! Publishers can now upload and sell books to customers in the Kindle Store worldwide with ebooks in 33 languages other than English. If your language is not on the list yet, hopefully it will be soon.

For your current and future titles, make sure you have the latest page layout software that can create book files both for print and digital. InDesign CC is the leading brand, but other options are available. Using the latest available software will help you avoid incurring future conversion costs.

To publishers who have already converted their book files, how did you do it? Any tips you can share with others who are yet to go digital?

Ramon Rocha is director of publisher development at MAI.

Photo above courtesy of Freedigital photos, by adamr.

Challenges in publishing in West Africa

By Ramon Rocha

The Economist recently described Africa as “a hopeful continent.” I had the joy of visiting Ghana and Nigeria in August. Dan Balow and I led a publishing training with 28 participants from 20 publishers in Accra, Ghana. I also enjoyed a consultation visit with Africa Christian Textbooks (ACTS) in Jos, Nigeria.

Customers browse the book table in front of a church in Jos, Nigeria.

Customers browse the book table in front of a church in Jos, Nigeria.

In both African countries, Christians are a majority. I saw churches with congregations as small as 50 people next door to mega churches. Christianity pervades their cultures with store names like “Anointed Cold Store” and “Kingdom Books and Office Supplies”  as common sights. A significant market for Christian books exists, yet Christian publishers are struggling.

Why? One reason is that piracy is a huge problem. If your title is experiencing brisk sales, most likely it will be copied illegally and sold at lower prices. Pirates use the same local printing presses as publishers. They also print in India and China (sometimes with the same companies that are printing the legal copies), then ship the pirated titles in container loads and distribute them freely. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same problem occurs elsewhere in Africa.

Obviously, some government authorities are turning a blind eye either for monetary gain and/or to avoid endangering themselves. And readers are buying the lower-priced books! To fight piracy, many publishers have agreed to: strengthen their ranks by approaching government as an association rather than individually, narrow the price gap between legal and pirated copies, educate consumers, and encourage pastors to preach that buying pirated books is a serious sin.

While these economies are steadily improving, low wages dictate low selling prices for books. Bookstores are trying hard to make both ends meet with a meager 20 percent margin. Several have closed. As elsewhere in the world, publishers are increasingly marketing and selling directly to consumers.

To improve margins, most publishers in Ghana and Nigeria are now printing in India. The unit cost of printing in India, even if you add shipping, is half of that locally. Over printing and poor scheduling challenges remain. But at least publishers have found a way to increase their margins and hopefully offer more discounts to booksellers.

I also heard about a proliferation of poorly edited or entirely unedited self-published books. Pastors of some big congregations are emboldened to self-publish because they see guaranteed sales of 2,000 copies from a 2,000-member church.

A bookstore in Ghana carries multiple titles for youth written by African authors.

A bookstore in Ghana carries multiple titles for youth written by African authors.

In Ghana, publishers whose books become  textbook curriculum are thriving. Most publishers want to publish school textbooks. Schools have replaced bookstores as distribution centers. Unfortunately, the 
ongoing strike of teachers in Nigerian state colleges and universities since June has severely affected the sales of publishers like ACTS.

In Nigeria, publishers are finding it difficult to hire qualified and competent staff due to the “civil servant mentality.” Because of the oil boom dependency, people just show up to work and get paid. There is no “pursuit of excellence” attitude. In many cases, new hires don’t get past the probationary period. Or good employees leave the company quickly because of higher pay elsewhere doing less work.

Despite these problems, Christian publishing in West Africa is poised for growth. God’s word bearing hope planted in the hearts of African people will grow and eventually bear fruit.

What other challenges do Christian publishers face in Africa? And what steps do you suggest to overcome them?

Ramon Rocha is director of publisher development for MAI.