Small Business

Selling Your Book Online


Your plan is to generate buzz for your business with your new book. Here's how to sell it on the Web

I've written a book that could generate interest in my business. I'd like to sell it on the Internet, but I don't know how.

—E.H., Los Angeles

Since a publisher would have made your book available for sale immediately through online booksellers, we'll assume that you have not yet published the book.

If you think your book has a shot at being published by a traditional publishing company, submit it to some book agents who work with business authors. A 2006 survey on the business impact of writing a book showed that getting a well-known publisher resulted in more sales and greater credibility for the author's firm (BusinessWeek.com, 4/12/06]. Publishers Marketplace, a resource book and Web site, can help you identify agents and clue you in on what to submit to them: Some want complete manuscripts, but more often agents want query letters, book outlines, and perhaps a sample chapter. If a book agent takes on your project, he or she will market it to publishers that specialize in books like yours and represent you in the financial negotiations. Most agents work on commission.

Getting a book accepted by a traditional publisher isn't an easy task, however. If you've already tried and failed, or want to bypass the traditional publishing route entirely, you can do what many authors are doing these days: Self-publish your manuscript through an online print-on-demand firm (BusinessWeek.com, 1/9/08). Research several of these operations thoroughly and compare price quotes and references before you sign a contract. Be wary of firms that market themselves as "vanity" publishers. Some of them are scammers who may do little or no editing of your manuscript, yet charge you an exorbitant fee to turn out a shoddy, unsellable book.

The ABCs of Self-Publishing

In order for your book to be accepted and sold by an online retailer, your book must first be assigned an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), says Peter Honsberger, president of Cold Tree Press of Brentwood, Tenn. "ISBNs are necessary for tracking inventory and sales information. You can acquire an ISBN here, or you can go to Bowker Publisher Services, which is the official ISBN agency for the U.S. "Bowker is responsible for the assignment of ISBNs to publishers with a residence or office in the U.S.," Honsberger says.

If you self-publish, obtain an ISBN for your book and do a small print run so you have some inventory. At that point, you'd want to enter into an agreement with a reputable wholesale book distributor. Honsberger recommends both Baker & Taylor and Ingram Book Group. "Be sure to establish yourself as a publisher, even if you only have one book, and register to have access to Bowker's Books In Print. This database is the one most online retailers draw from when placing titles on their sites," Honsberger says.

A third option, which falls between self-publishing and selling your manuscript to a traditional publisher, is to publish with a "transitional publisher," such as Honsberger's, which arranges for your ISBN and places your book into online book retailers' systems and databases, as well as handling order fulfillment. Such a firm will also arrange for a scannable bar code for your book through a company such as Fine Line Technologies, Honsberger says.

Promoting Your Book

Once your book is ready to be sold, create and maintain a Web site where you can take orders or link interested buyers to the sites that are carrying your book. Of course, just putting up a Web site won't guarantee book sales. You'll need to promote your book heavily through your friends, family, employees, and colleagues. "If they enjoyed reading it, encourage them to post honest reviews on the sites that are carrying your title," Honsberger recommends. Other promotional opportunities include starting a blog for your book, hosting a MySpace page (BusinessWeek.com, 3/8/07) linking up with other authors to cross-promote, and participating in online literary forums, using your book title as your signature. If you are an informative, polite participant in such groups, your book will generate attention and interest potential customers without your having to do any hard selling.

You'll also want to contact bookstores and libraries to arrange book readings and signings, donate copies of your book to your local library, and pitch media outlets on reviewing your book or writing about your experience as a first-time author. "Hit broadcast media, magazines, and newspapers that serve your area, and if you have problems getting coverage in large cities, go after your local community newspapers," Honsberger suggests.

Good luck!

Karen E. Klein is a business journalist who covers small-business issues for several national publications. She writes her Smart Answers column twice a week.

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