Seven years ago, I went to work for Reading’s Fun as a corporate Book Fair rep in Arizona. I was going through a truckload of books (up to 15,000 books) every 3 to 4 weeks. I had the same two challenges that the company had: keeping the books that sold well in stock and finding new books to sell. I sold over 500,000 books in 3 years and learned a lot about their process of purchasing books from publishers and even more about what books the customer wanted to buy.
Through that process I found books from small to medium size publishers and tested the books. If the books did well I sent them to the home office and provided them with my results and feedback. About half of the books that I forwarded to them ended up being tested. About half of the books they tested ended up being production titles or were “rolled out”.
To this day, I continue to function as a scout for books for Books Are Fun. I currently work as a broker for several small to medium size publishers representing their books to BAF and other special markets. Over the last seven years I have helped numerous publishers through the process of presenting books and the negotiation process for orders between 25,000 and 250,000 books.
What kind of books do they buy?
They look for hardcover books with a $20 or more retail price with hardcover illustrated children’s books ($15 and up) being the exception. They will occasionally buy paperback books if they are part of a set. They look for general interest, self help, adult gifts, how-to, reference, sports, coffee table books, some best sellers, lots of cookbooks and their largest area of specialty is children's books (interactive, educational and storybooks).
A few of the books that have done well for them are:
|From Medium to Large Publishers
||From Small To Medium Publishers
|Guess How Much I Love You
||Love You Forever
|Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus
||How To Behave So Your Children Will, Too!
|The Christmas Box
||Conversations With God
|Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
||Moments With Angels
|BH & G New Dieters Cookbook
||God’s Little Devotional Book
|Mrs. Fields 200 Best Cookie Recipes
||Where’s Mom Now That I Need Her
|Snow Falling On Cedars
||The Twelve Gifts Of Birth
|The Partner (Grisham)
||With Love From My Kitchen
|8 Weeks To Optimum Health
||All About Me
|Disney’s Treasury of Children’s Classics
||Moments For Sisters
|Chicken Soup For the Women’s Soul
||Secrets Of Fat Free Living
|Kraft Best-Ever Grilling Recipe Collection
|The Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair by Black & Decker
How does the buying process work?
If BAF is interested in your title for a national test, they will place a test order for between 400 to 600 books at an 80% discount. They then run concurrent tests across the country in a number of locations. It can take up to 90 days to get solid test results in. Based on the overall success of the test, they can do a rollout order of 10,000 to 250,000 books for either their fall or spring season.
They generally work at least one season ahead and more often two. They may test a seasonal Christmas title in October of this year and rollout a production run that dictates that they need stock in their warehouse by the end of August. Another title may be tested early in the spring and can often get test results quickly enough for a rollout the following Fall season.
Regional Books are less common, but BAF does sometimes have success with them. The test for a regional title is usually done with 200 to 300 test books. If a rollout is done the quantity is generally between 3,000 and 10,000 books.
The discount on a rollout varies and is based on the test results. Titles are to find the optimal pricing for the BAF customer. When the test is completed and they have their data they decide if they want to purchase film rights or do (or join on with a publisher on) an actual print run.
If they purchase film rights, they can pay a royalty based on numerous factors including the quantity they forecast for the book. The royalty is comparable to those paid by Bookspan (Book of The Month Club, Doubleday, etc.) or Scholastic Bookclubs.
If they do a print run or join on with a publishers print run, they look for discounts of at least 80% and in some situations closer to 90%. The books are not returnable, net 90 days from delivery to them and they pay the freight from your location to their warehouse. You can count on the invoice being paid within 90 days. They have always gone out of their way to pay on time.
The discount they look for is based on what it will take to make the title work in their system, not on how low they think the publisher will go. Sometimes it happens that due to royalties and print cost, the publishers end up going back to their author and working with them on the royalty to get it to where it will make the transaction work.
“I Will Lose Money On The Test.”
Most publishers do. The big publishers know the value of the test and the potential of the rollout and jump on the chance to have a book tested. It may be a surprise to most authors and publishers that even the big publishers do smaller print runs for the most part to keep more of a “just in time” type of product flow. Most of the larger publishers end up losing money on a test, but they know that a rollout can help put a book on the map very quickly.
I recently presented an offer to a small publisher that could have generated a sale of between 50,000 and 75,000 books and they turned it down. They felt that they could not take such a big discount. With decision-making like this, it is no surprise that 70% of all one-book publishers are out of business in 24 months. The sad thing is that the publisher is sitting on the stock now and probably will still be sitting on the same amount of books if not more in six months, after the normal return cycle.
“Why Should I Take A Loss To Sell Them Test Books?”
Most small publishers have a harder time understanding the benefits. The vice president of BAF has always told me that if the publishers gave the test books to them for free they would still lose money on the test. Testing 500 books takes a lot more time, effort and shipping expense per book than to rollout with a production run of 100,000. Smart smaller publishers lucky enough to get a test order jump to fulfill it!
You can create a lot of demand in the market and bookstores by doing transactions like these. The reps from BAF generally are in and out in a day or two at a location. When the books start circulating around the office or with friends and family they tend to create interest (buzz). If someone wants to buy the book at that point, they are driven to the bookstore, Amazon.com, the publisher, or the publishers website.
The BAF customer is not the typical customer that goes to a bookstore to buy a book and therefore selling to them does not compete with the bookstore sales. In fact, it creates sales at the store level. More often, their customer is at work and they see the book at a discount and just can’t pass it up. Their typical customer would probably not have bought the book if it were not for the fact that it was basically delivered to them at a discount.
I can remember when the original Chicken Soup for the Soul first came out. BAF tested the book and ordered 60,000 copies. They sold out of the initial order very quickly and ordered another 60,000 copies. Before the second order was sold out, the book hit the New York Times Bestseller list and stayed there for a long, long time. BAF has sold more than one million copies in the Chicken Soup series.
How They Find Books.
The company is always searching for new books. The buyers are inundated with over 20,000 new books each year to find the 400 to 500 titles that will generate sales of each title between 10,000 and 250,000 copies. The average is 65,000 copies per title.
For the most part, each member of BAF’s team of 13 buyers is assigned to specific publishers. They deal with every major publisher in the country, and every time the new publisher comes out with a new catalogue the buyer and the publishers rep go through the catalogue to see which books BAF might want to test. Books Are Fun’s impressive vendor list include: Random House, Publications International, Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, Meredith, Penguin-Putnam, Time Life, Blue Mountain Arts, DK, Quail Ridge Publishing, Simon & Schuster, and many more.
BAF also works with hundreds of small and medium sized publishers. Most have a special markets representative that either works for the publisher or they use independent rep/brokers that present their books to the BAF buyer.
Many distributors have relationships with a buyer and present books to BAF and the books are seen that way. Smaller distributors often use independent commissioned sales reps or brokers that present their books to the BAF buyer.
How Do I Approach Books Are Fun If I Don’t Have A Buyer?
For smaller companies that publish less than 30 titles a year, BAF often prefers to work with brokers, or commissioned sales reps that reps books to BAF for a commission paid by the publisher.
This can be much more efficient representation. With the volume of books that BAF receives, books can get lost in the cycle. It is just like an unknown author submitting a manuscript to a large New York publisher.
Working with a broker can work to your advantage. I will use a recent trip that I made to visit with the vice president at BAF. We have known each other for over seven years now and I have a good idea of what he is looking for. Between July 1st and September 15th, I evaluated more than 300 books from 100 different publishers. Out of those books, I picked 50 books that I thought would have the potential to be tested by BAF. I then made the trip to BAF headquarters in Fairfield, IA. I only passed two buggies on the way. One was two horsepower and the other was one horsepower.
Fifteen of the 50 potential titles qualified for and are being tested today. Everybody wins in this situation. BAF does not have to receive 300 books that they have to catalogue, evaluate, assign to a buyer and then start the explanation process to the publisher while at the same time the publisher is being represented by someone that has extensive experience in the process. What a great savings of time and resources for the publisher and BAF.
Generally I ask that if a person feels that their book is a fit for BAF (if you still are not sure you can see some of the books that they carry at www.Booksarefun.com) that they send two copies of the book to Tim McCormick, P. O. Box 27672, Tempe, Arizona 85285-7672. You should include a one-page summary or sell sheet on the book. Other facts that are help are number of books in print, first print run quantity, date, most recent print run, quantity, date, and the cost from the printer from each, how many books you have in stock, any special sales in quantities of over 200 you have for the title. I welcome calls from authors and publishers, at 480-838-4309 Arizona time, if I have a copy of the book in my hands to look at before they call. It is best to allow about 7-10 days for me to look at the book before making any follow up calls. Please do not send me a URL and ask me to go look at your books.