Book Marketing: Planning for Uncertain Times

by Brian


Books and BinocularsAt the beginning of 2020, aggressive goals were set based upon an optimistic view of the coming year. That changed abruptly with the advent of Coronavirus in the first quarter, leading to the subsequent quarantines and closed businesses. While this year has been a difficult one for making sales, book marketers learned some valuable lessons for succeeding under dire circumstances. The key to survive in the future is to apply those lessons to make your business profitable over the long term.

Even though what the future might bring is foggy, you can still create plans for what might happen. In this case, do not think of the word plan as a noun, but as a verb, a work in progress to which you can refer regularly and adapt to unforeseen conditions. Think of it as the first draft of your manuscript, needing multiple rewrites.

In normal times you would create your plan, implement your actions, periodically measure your results, make necessary changes and implement again. But these are not normal times, and the future is more unpredictable than ever. Our job as strategic book marketing people is to create plans for what might happen. Then take aim at implementing it and make changes as the fog of the future becomes clearer. Here are two scenarios to consider get your started.  

Scenario One: The economy returns to a pre-COVID status. This option assumes that a successful vaccine will be available soon and the general population will return to business as (new) usual. The parenthetical word “new” is the key. Returning to what you were doing in 2019 is a huge step backward. Heraclitus said, “You can never step in the same river twice.” The opportunities for selling books changed as fast as the river flows.

Publishers who maintained or built sales during the pandemic found new, creative ways to do so. New sources of sales abounded through retailers that remained open, and to non-retail buyers looking for promotional items to maintain their sales.

Scenario Two: We return to a lockdown similar to (or more severe) than that in the second quarter. What did we learn from 2020? Who might be staying open? 

Here are some outlets, anecdotes, and things to consider that could be used in your 2021 planning.


Retail stores generally purchase from a distributor or wholesaler rather than from the publisher. Three of the major distributors are listed below. See my recent article Nowhere to Sell Books? Know Where to Sell Books for more distribution options and contact information.

  • Symak Sales Co Inc. ( is a distributor of general merchandise through retailers including discount stores, variety stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, distributors, department stores, and dollar stores.
  • Readerlink Distribution Services, LLC ( is the largest full-service distributor of hardcover, trade and paperback books to non-trade channel booksellers in North America
  • Choice Books ( distributes books through more than 11,500 displays in various retail locations such as supermarkets, mass merchandisers, airports, pharmacies and travel centers

Supermarkets and convenience stores. If your content is about activities family members can do together (games, exercises puzzles) while quarantined, sell your books here. These would also be the perfect outlets for your cookbook of simple recipes a family could make together. For example, The Association of Publishers for Special Sales created a 16-page, black & while booklet with family-friendly word-search games, pages to color, daytime and evening activities, exercises and mealtime fun. It is being sold to food providers who will give them to supermarket chains. The stores will in turn give them to their customers at checkout for free. The minimum order for these is 50,000.

Discount stores and warehouse clubs have product lines well-suited to people looking for ways to save money (unemployed people especially). Can your content help their customers do that? Both are established purveyors of books, particularly fiction.

Pet stores. Your content about all kinds of animals could be sold here. It could be about how to find and care for the best pet for your family circumstances. Also consider sales through veterinarians, kennels, pet hospitals and resorts. Find a distributor of pet products in any state here:


These buyers typically purchase larger quantities of books used as promotional items (premiums, ad specialties, etc.) rather than for resale. They usually pay the shipping charges, and most are sold on a non-returnable basis.

Homeschooling is becoming more omnipresent as public schools resort to online learning. The National Home School Association site includes the Home Learning Store “to assist homeschooling families to obtain all of the products and services that they might need,” including books. See it at

Airlines are having a difficult time getting people to travel. They are using promotions to make that happen. If your content is about destination activities and events, airlines could give your books to their elite members or first-class travelers. Or, offer a free download of your fiction book to read on the flight if the passenger purchases a ticket on the airline’s website. Airlines could give your children’s’ books to travelling families. What about bus companies? Amtrack? How could they use your content similarly?

Funeral homes. Content helping people (especially children) prepare for the death of a loved one, or helping children cope with grief would be welcome here. Sell your coloring books to keep kids occupied during a wake.

Government. The federal government has its own bookstore at Each state has one or more Procurement Technical Assistance Centers ( that can help you find the right agencies and traverse the paperwork.

Military. There are many opportunities to sell to service personnel and their families. The Army Airforce Exchange Service (AAFES) is the largest of the military exchanges and has a bookstore located here: A Google search will reveal military associations, book clubs, libraries and schools appropriate to your content.

Associations. There are over 100,000 local, state and national associations related to almost any topic. Their objective is to maintain or grow membership. Contact the membership chair to purchase and use your book as a thank-you gift for people who join or renew.

It is impossible to forecast what venues will remain open. But if history repeats itself, there will be more book-selling opportunities to utilize. Depending on your topic – and ingenuity – you may be able to work with hospitals, realtors, automobile companies, companies selling recreational vehicles, restaurants, liquor stores, fasts-food companies, travel centers and gas stations, among many others.

No one knows what will actually happen. But if you plan for what will probably happen, you will be more prepared for any variations.  What is the future you see for your business? Plan now to make it happen.

Brian Jud is the author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books and the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales.