When a sales rep meets with a book buyer to determine how many copies to take of a particular title, she looks at a number of criteria.  The first is sales history, if it exists. The second is the design of the cover art itself – is it pleasing? does it convey the genre?  But she’s also looking to see how much the publisher has spent on the book to get an indication of how hard they’re going to be pushing this title to attract readers and recoup their costs.

The first indication of a book’s “importance” is the format in which it’s published.  Traditionally, of course, hardcovers are perceived as the most worthy of attention, then going down the price scale from there to trade paperbacks, mass-market paperbacks and finally ebooks.  Typically, advances for hardcovers are higher, the price point is higher, and *perception* is that these are “better” books.  I’m sure everyone has an opinion on that…

But let’s jump to mass-market paperbacks, ’cause that’s what Dorchester does and that’s the predominant format for the romance genre.  Special cover treatments are often used there to indicate factors a book’s “importance” or expectation of sales.  In increasing cost order, there’s:

  • emboss and/or foil of the type (author name and title); ideally they’re both foiled and embossed
  • spot emboss, where one element of the cover is raised up (like the ornament on A CHRISTMAS BALL)
  • spot gloss – using a section of gloss on a matte cover
  • full foil, where the entire cover is shiny in some way (like the Black Dagger Brotherhood series)
  • stepback – a glossy page of color art behind the actual cover

We also talk about creating a “big-book look,” which generally features a large author name and just an element of art rather than an entire scene.  Often in romance, you’d see a fairly sedate front cover and then the clinch in the stepback.  The idea is to make it look larger than a genre book.  It tends to work best when the author has some name recognition.  Otherwise, readers might not know what genre it belongs to.

The design of the book itself can also be an indication to readers. The more money spent on making it look pretty, the more that book has to earn back and the harder the publisher needs to push sales.  Typically mass-markets don’t have a lot of design in their production, though every now and then you run into beautiful drop caps or a pretty feature to open chapters.  The whole point of mass-markets is that they’re inexpensive to produce and generally not expected to have the shelf life of hardcovers.  Jennifer Ashley recently loaned me a copy of THE LUXE, a trade-sized historical YA, which was beautiful – gorgeous script on the chapter openings, all kinds of different fonts.  It really made the book fit its title.

But I find it highly interesting that all of this goes away when you start talking about ebooks.  Ebooks are truly the great equalizer.  The format of the print edition isn’t a factor. There is no tactile cover.  Often the type design is different depending on the format and the capabilities of the reader you’re using.  And the reader can change the font into whatever they want. 

There have been all kinds of ebook price wars among readers and publishers and retailers.  Because, truly, it’s the price that’s the last great publisher-determined separator of what’s supposed to be “good.”  It will be interesting to see how the model changes as the ebook market gains more precedence.


With publishers still feeling the pinch of the economy, brand names (read: guaranteed sales) are more important than ever.  Everyone is mining their backlist to repackage sure hits. 

Coming up, we have:



Originally published by Dorchester in 1996.



Originally published by St. Martin’s in 1996.  Parts have been rewritten and updated.

A trade-size edition from Harlequin containing Outrageous and Riley.

There are a bunch of others as well–Grand Central is redoing  some Jayne Ann Krentz futuristics in early 2010, Harlequin is packaging some Nora Roberts’ books into double trade-size editions, and Bantam is re-releasing the movie tie-in of The Bourne Identity.  And these are just ones I noted from recent kits.  We don’t receive sales info from Kensington or Penguin (Berkley/Jove/NAL), but I”m sure they’re doing it as well.

It’s a big advantage to be able to get out a lot of copies for not much money.  The advance is already paid, and depending on how old the book is, the publisher may not have to pay to re-typset it.  So usually it’s just new art and the printing costs. 

For readers, the best way to tell whether a book is new or a reissue is to check the copyright page.

I recently came across a “save this series” campaign–the publisher has basically told the author sales have been rough and they likely won’t be able to buy any more books unless they see a dramatic uptick .  But the author couldn’t understand how sales could be bad if a book sold out its print run.

One word: returns.

For mass-market paperbacks, when a book is “returned,” it’s really destroyed. There’s no way to resell it.

Just recently I got numbers back for a debut published a while ago.  Our intitial print was close to 50,000 copies, which is pretty terrific for a first-time author.  In fact, a major account wanted to take 6000 more a few months after publication, which led to a reprint.  Fantastic, right?

Unfortunately, that same account then went on to return that 6000 and a good chunk of what it had initially bought.  Why did they order more when they had unpurchased stock sitting in their own warehouse? I have no idea. I’m sure it’s something to do with costs of shipping and warehouse inventorying.  It seems completely inefficient to me, but since they’ll get reimbursed for returns, there’s really nothing for them to lose.

Happy May Day!

Authors, while at RT we had a chance to meet with dozens of incredibly enthusiastic folkseager to sell your books.  One of our main purposes of the meeting was to get advice on what they like best.  Here’s what they told us:

  • Most preferred bookmarks to postcards.  Some wanted to receive about 10; others wanted close to 50.  If you have a way to check with the store, please do.  But they will get used.
  • Some booksellers will include bookmarks for upcoming titles when they fulfull their online orders.  They try to match the bookmarks to the style of the book the customer is currently ordering in the hopes they’ll come back.
  • Night Owl Romance has a bookmark club where members receive five bookmarks every month for a nominal fee to cover postage.
  • Others offer a free bookmark with purchase to provide extra value to their customers.
  • If you’re going to send signed cover flats, please sign the front (the side the art is on) so they can better display it.
  • A number of stores tack up the cover flats to help encourage preorders from their customers.
  • Pens are useful, but they can be more difficult to include in mailings.
  • The best way to build a following for a first-time author is to let booksellers read the book.  Many are now willing to accept eARCs, but they also find chapter booklets helpful.

If you’re a bookseller and you’d like to let us know you’re individual preferences, contact me using the form on the About page.  And I’d love to hear from authors and booksellers alike more advice on what works in the Comments.

We’ve been hearing reports of this for a while now, but the New York Times today has an article on how well romance is doing in times of recession because of its escapist nature and guaranteed happy ending.  The article quotes Jane Litte from DearAuthor, mentions releases of Lora Leigh and J.R. Ward, and gives the outlook from publishers such as Avon, NAL, Ellora’s Cave and Samhain;  booksellers; and librarians.

With so many free ebooks available, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t want to pay full price for anything.  Most websites don’t have great deals on single-book sales.  But if you’re a bargain shopper like me, you can get books at a significant discount if you know the ins-and-outs of the system.  So here’s a quick guide to getting books as cheap as possible on the Dorchester website:


The trick is buying in bulk and then taking advantage of all the sales and special offers.  Right now, the site is running a spring cleaning sale for 30% off all titles with a purchase of at least $10.


But there are two specials that are always available—no promo code necessary:

  • For every 5 books you buy, you get 1 free
  • Buy 10 books or more and get free shipping


So let’s say you’re going to buy 10 books—that means you get two free and you don’t have to pay shipping charges.  So you’ve got 12 books total.  Let’s say half of them are $6.99 and half are $7.99.  Retail value of the books would be $89.88.  That’s what you’d be paying if you ordered from Amazon or any bookstore.


But two of those $6.99 books are free, so knock the total down to $75.90.


Now take off your 30% with the SPRG09 promo code. That brings you down to $53.13


That gives you an average price of $4.43 per book, a savings of $36.75.  Again, even Amazon can’t beat that.


Another thing to remember: Preorder books count toward your total, and you don’t have to pay any extra shipping.  Plus, preorders often ship well before the on-sale date.You’ll likely have the book before it’s available in stores—without even having to leave your house.


One of our field sales reps was in the office last week, and I thought it a perfect opportunity to get the scoop on how a real, live sales call actually works.  Every week, we get reports from our sales staff saying stuff like “this account loved this cover so it’s an Impact Buy,” “previous sales were weak, so they’re revising their order,” and “they’re making this a Sidekick Title.”  But what the heck does all that mean?


It sounds as though prepping for a sales call is a lot like getting ready to send a manuscript on submission.  Each account wants the information presented in a very specific way.  One person wants everything rubber-banded and color coded, another takes paperclips, and yet another doesn’t want anything bound at all.  Gee, people are so picky.  😉


The first thing the reps have to do is research.  On the back of all the cover flats that are taken into the sales presentation are marketing notes from the publisher with comparison titles.  The sales rep has to look figures on the comparison titles that are specific to the individual account, and quite often secures it right to the cover in one of the aforementioned manners.  It seems as though most accounts are looking to base their buys on previous sales at the 8-week mark.


For 90% of the accounts, this presentation is the first time the buyers are hearing about the books. Though setting can make a difference (especially with historical romance), for the most part, the buyers aren’t too concerned about the book’s plot.  They like to see quotes, marketing plans, and most importantly of all, a strong cover.  This is especially true for a debut, but even an author with a strong sales record can fall short with a weak cover.


At Dorchester, we generally present 6 original romances, 4 Westerns, 2 horrors, 1 thriller, 1 sci-fi/adventure, and 1 Hard Case Crime book.  Buyers for chain stores (Barnes & Noble, WaldenBooks/Borders, BooksAMillion) and accounts that service libraries and independents (Baker & Taylor, Ingram) usually order everything on the list at varying levels.  But only some of the titles are chosen for display on front tables, ladders, or spin racks.  Usually that’s determined by how many copies the buyer wants to order and how much co-op money the publisher has available to pay for the placement.     


Wholesale accounts (servicing Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, drug stores, grocery stores, etc.) tend to have much more limited buys.  And this is where it gets fun.  Because they all have a different system.  For example, one account takes approximately 70 titles every month.  That’s of all the fiction that’s being published that month.  A general breakdown is:

  • 20 bestsellers (this would be your Nora Roberts, John Grisham, Dan Brown type)
  • 15 new romances, 10 or so backlist on bestsellers
  • 10-15 fiction
  • 5 mystery
  • 5 sci-fi/fantasy


The bestsellers generally get the largest buys, and the categories the smaller ones.  So anything we can do to bump a bigger-name romance author up to the bestseller category works for everyone’s benefit – it means there’s more left in romance for other authors, and we’ve secured a top distribution. 


Each wholesaler has its own hierarchy of buy levels.  Generally, the reps push a couple of the top romances, and shuffle things around to see if we can get a horror and western in the fiction section and a thriller as a mystery buy. This is where the salesmanship, knowing the area marketplace, and wisely choosing which books to use as a comparison title really comes into play.   Every now and then, the buyers go out on a limb and really push a debut because they like the cover or the marketing plans.  And that’s fantastic because it really makes the books visible, but then the book also has to sell through well (which can be difficult for a new author) or the big buy won’t be there next time.


This is why scheduling is so important—we don’t want to end up competing against our own books any more than we already are.


One surprise to me was that in months where there’s a huge release—a Harry Potter or a Stephanie Meyer—accounts are less willing to take big orders on other books because they’ve got so much cash tied up in the mega-bestseller.  I hadn’t really considered that before.  On the other hand, I’ve also heard that because of discounting, most stores take a loss on those mega-bestsellers, and count on the readers flocking into the stores to pick up a few more books or merchandising materials to make up for it.  Sue Grimshaw has previously mentioned that romance sales go up across the board in the month of a Nora Roberts or J.D. Robb release (isn’t that just about every month?) because customers come into the store for the latest, then stay for some impulse buys.


I think a book could be written on the sales process alone, and clearly every house works differently and every account has its own purchase process.  But I’m hoping this serves as a basic primer.


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