A note on selling to shops

Open Contents



In this section:

    Case study: Neil Levin on How to Sell Books

    For many years Neil Levin was responsible for selling CI’s book’s in the USA.

    I have been selling books for 30 years. I have literally sold millions of books. First, as the junior sales guy calling on the key national chain buyers. Then up through the ranks of the publishing business. As the Publisher of Time Life Trade Books, I published 100 new books a year and had books on the NY Times Bestseller lists. At National Book Network I managed 200+ publishers and an international sales force selling 2500 new titles each year, with over $150 million in sales. In the 2010s

    These are the factors that I believe will affect the success of your book in the North American market.

    The quality of the writing


    Has the author published any other books?

    Most of these items on my list deal with the credibility of the author as a voice that should be listened to.

    The first thing a bookstore buyer will want to know is what you have published in the past. What are the raw sales numbers (I have access to Nielsen book sales data for the US)? What kind of publisher were you with? While these questions are what a bookstore buyer will ask, the answers will also have an impact—consciously or unconsciously—on a consumer.

    Besides their publishing, are they a recognizable personality?

    Not every author comes to us with a list of best sellers. Quite the opposite. We publish many first-time authors. So if you didn’t publish before, I will look intently at your Author Information. I will want to know if you are a leader in your field. Do you have extensive scholarly credentials? Have you published articles or other content? Those details will have a bearing on how I grade this question. Also, it is very important that you supply the information about where you were born, educated, and currently live.

    Do they have a marketing platform?

    Your marketing platform can include as many of the following as you can maintain: your Facebook page, blog, website and YouTube channel. You can use these platforms to take the marketing of your book to the next level. We could spend days talking about each one of them but the key points to remember are that they need to be current, include bonus material, offer a way for the reader to interact with the author (and vice versa), and a way for you to collect names of the people who visit your page or website. The key phrase is “that you can maintain.” These platforms lose their power when the information on them is dated.

    What is their marketing plan?

    Do you have a target consumer? Do you really know them? What they read? Where they go? What they like? What they bought before? You can’t create a marketing plan for your book unless you know who you are marketing to. No one can afford a blanket marketing plan that is aimed at “people who read.” When I look at the plan, I am considering store visits, articles or blog posts, speaking at conventions, media coverage, whether a PR person or agency has been hired, appearances, etc. I want to know that there is a smart effort being made to sell the book and support retailers who are bringing stock into their warehouses.

    Do they have any endorsements?

    If you haven’t written any books before and you have a difficult time in documenting your own scholarship that supports the writing of your book, what do you do? What you do is get endorsements from bestselling authors or from thought leaders in your field. The power of endorsements is amazing. Chain-store buyers consider an endorsement from a best-selling author as good as gold and while a consumer may not know all of the authors’ names the right endorsement for a book can make the difference between high sales and low sales.

    What is the retail price of their book?

    Since much of the pricing of your book is out of your control, this can be a challenge. We price according to the extent of your book. But we let you know how that process works and you should know that consumer products, yes, including books, are price-sensitive. Part of the craziness we see in our business is due to the instability of traditional pricing models.


    There is one big exception to my evaluation process. Regardless of my view about the potential success of a book, I have seen countless examples of authors break out as a result of excessive and extreme hard work. They got in front of every potential customer and media person whenever and wherever they could. They burnt out their shoes. And they sold books.

    Share this page: