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Marketing Your Book by Direct Mail
by Brian Jud

Return to Getting Your Book Published · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Have you ever sent a fax, email or letter to a prospective customer asking him or her to buy one of your books? If so, you have participated in direct-mail marketing -- one of today's most efficient and effective selling techniques.

Direct-mail marketing is a highly selective tool that can help you sell more books, test new titles, generate sales leads or communicate information about your authors and your business. At the same time it can eliminate returns, abolish deep distribution discounts and reduce 90-day payment periods. And it gives you control of the timing, delivery and content of your promotion, a pre-determined fixed cost and the means to forecast and measure the return on your marketing investment.

Direct-mail marketing involves sending an offer (Buy this book at 25% off), an announcement (Introducing the latest book on ...), a reminder (The perfect Holiday gift) or other message to an identified person at a particular address. There is generally some response requested. You may ask the recipient to return an order form with payment or to visit your web site for more information (and to make a purchase).

For instance, if you published a book about golf, you could purchase a list of all the pro shops in the U.S. and send each a letter with an order form offering a special discount. Similarly, you could send a letter about your new photography book to camera shops, your dog-care book to pet shops or your diet cookbook to health-food stores. Or, you could purchase a list of golfers, photographers, dog owners or dieters and send them customized letters directing them to your web site.

What makes a successful direct-mail package?

Unfortunately, some direct-mail marketing has been used improperly. Now, people perceive unsolicited promotional letters as junk mail and its Internet equivalent as spam. Yet, properly produced direct-mail pieces can work if they adhere to certain standards. In order to be effective, they must include a message about a product of interest to a specific audience, be produced in a professional format and contain an offer that will induce the recipient to respond favorably.

The product. Not all books can be sold successfully through direct mail. The topic must be of interest to the targeted audience and the price must be sufficiently low to encourage people to respond with an order. If you are simply trying to deplete your inventory of over-priced books by offering a reduced price, you may be disappointed. People will not purchase an unwanted book at any price. Instead, think about your titles from the recipient's perspective. Tell them why the information in your book will be of interest to them.

The target market. There are two general groups of people to whom you could mail your package: customers and prospects. In either case, if you mail to an outdated list, your results will be unsatisfactory at best. Make sure any list you use is cleaned (obsolete names removed) regularly.

If you intend to mail to prospective customers, you may have to buy a list. Mailing lists can be highly defined, offering lists by name, title, geographic location or other useful segments. Visit www.ThinkDirectMarketing.com for an economical way to sort and purchase names of prospective customers.

When you purchase a list, it is usually for onetime use. Do not attempt to use it twice, since most are seeded with the name and address of a person who monitors how many letters he or she receives. If that person receives multiple mailings from you, you will be charged for another use of the list and perhaps prohibited from buying that list again.

The format. The proven format for direct mail is a three-piece package consisting of a cover letter describing the offer, a brochure and a reply mechanism. Make your letter informative and persuasive, your flyer attractive and descriptive and your reply mechanism complete and easy to use.

The offer. You may be surprised to learn that the most important part of your direct-mail package is not your book, but the offer that surrounds it. There are several basic propositions you can use by themselves or in various combinations, depending on your objectives. Here is a list of several:

  1. Free information. This is often the most effective offer, particularly when your objective is to generate leads for future business. Tell people that when they send for a copy of your book they will also receive a special report or some other free, useful information. You can also direct people to your web site for answers to frequently asked questions.

  2. Samples. If you are selling booklets or other low-cost items, a sample will show people the level of information and quality they may expect when purchasing from you. Perhaps making an excerpt available on your web site will accomplish the same results.

  3. Conditional sale. If you are selling a subscription to your newsletter, or perhaps a continuity book program, you could sell a long-term commitment based on a sample. For instance, you would offer the premier issue of your newsletter for free if the prospect agrees to a one-year subscription.

  4. Time limit. Setting a time limit on a given offer forces action, either positive or negative. Usually it is more effective to name a specific date rather than a time period. Allow enough time for deliberation, but not so much as to cause inertia.

  5. Discounts. A discount is a popular lure and is particularly effective where the value of your book is well established. Not only is the discount itself a key to success or failure, but also the manner in which it is presented can have an equally dramatic effect. For example, here are three ways to state the same proposition:
    A. Half price!
    B. Buy one -- get one free!
    C. 50% Off!
    Which of these do you think would be most effective? The one most likely to draw a higher response is B because of the power of the word free.

  6. Free gift. For best results, test several gifts to determine the one most appealing to the target audience. The most important criterion for gift selection is 1) appropriateness of the gift, 2) its effect on repeat business, and 3) net profit per thousand including the cost of the gift.

  7. Secret gift. If the prospective customer completes all the information on the reply card or order form he or she will receive an extra free, unnamed gift.

  8. Advance payment. If you want the customer to order with a credit card or to send a check with the order you could offer an incentive for doing so. This might be a special report or free gift.

  9. Add-on offers. If you want your customer to call you, tell them to ask for your special offer when they speak to your sales person. A variation of this might direct more traffic to your web site.

  10. Deluxe alternatives. Give the customer a choice between your perfect-bound book and your special leather-bound edition. An autographed copy could be considered a deluxe alternative, too.

  11. Offer a guarantee. The words satisfaction guaranteed are at the heart of all mail order selling. If you include a "return" option it becomes even more effective.

  12. Bounce-backs. This offer succeeds on the premise that the best time to sell people is right after you have sold them. Here, forms offering more of the same item, related books or items totally different from that originally purchased are included in shipments or with the invoices.

The test. Before you embark on a 100,000-piece nationwide mailing, test on a smaller scale your choice of titles, the list you will use, the offer you will make and different formats you plan to use. Also test the timing of your mailing and alternative geographic areas. Invariably you will learn ways to fine-tune the key areas listed above and more accurately forecast the results you can expect on the larger mailing.

Can you make money with direct mail?

Before you conduct your direct-mail campaign, make sure it will be profitable for you. History has proven that you will probably receive orders from about 1 -- 2% of the people to whom you send letters. Calculate if the potential orders will cover all your costs for creating and sending the letter. For example, if it costs you $750 (75 per piece to buy the list, print the letter and envelopes and pay for postage) to mail to 1000 recipients, will 20 orders for your books (2% of 1000) amount to at least $750? In many cases a single title will not produce enough revenue and you may have to bundle several together.

Don't limit your sales to bookstores. If you have a title that is relevant to a select target market, direct-mail marketing may provide the most profitable way to reach them. Combine the right offer with a professional mailing piece and you can take more control over your future sales.

Copyright © 2001 Brian Jud
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Brian Jud is an author, book-marketing consultant, seminar leader and television host. He is a prolific writer of articles about book publishing and marketing, a syndicated columnist, and a frequent contributor to the Publishers Marketing Association Newsletter. He also hosts the television series The Book Authority, and has appeared on over 500 television and radio shows. Brian is the founder and president of the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association, and founder and president of Book Marketing Works, a book-marketing consulting firm (http://www.bookmarketingworks.com/).


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