What to do before publishing a book, Part 1: Create a Sales Plan

A sales plan is critical to making your book successful—and will be your guide in almost every decision you face in design and printing.

Our clients, Marilyn and Nadine, as they load up their third print run of A Cincinnati Night Before Christmas. They donated the profits from their book to Cincinnati nonprofit adoption agencies, and sold it in retail establishments across the tri-state.

Our clients, Marilyn and Nadine, as they load up their third print run of A Cincinnati Night Before Christmas. They donated the profits from their book to Cincinnati nonprofit adoption agencies, and sold it in retail establishments across the tri-state.


Key questions to answer as you create your sales plan:

Who is your target audience? If you’re publishing a book for an anniversary, how large is your company, community, or organization, and how many within this group do you expect to actually purchase the book? If the book is for a more general audience, how many do you think you can sell within three months?

Why does this matter? You need to know how large your target market is to determine how many books you can conceivably sell, and consequently, how many books you should print in your first run.

Where do you plan on selling the book? Your website, local stores, national book store chains (Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, etc.), Amazon, your gift shop?

Why does this matter? This will determine how many access points you have to your target audience. If you’re only selling your book on your website or in your gift shop, this may limit the number you sell.

Do you need (or want) to make money on the book? Some of our clients only want to cover the costs of production, others want to donate profits to the organization or another nonprofit, and some see the book as an opportunity to build market share or extend the company/organization brand.

Why does this matter? This will determine how important the unit cost is in your decision. If you don’t need/want to profit off the book, then a smaller print run with a higher unit cost isn’t necessarily a bad idea. However, if you have a large target audience and you intent to profit off the book, then a larger print run with a lower unit cost is ideal.

How will you use the book? Is it a gift to donors or employees? A business development tool? A sales piece? A product for your gift shop?

Why does this matter? This determines certain quality decisions—hard cover or soft cover, black and white or full color, dust jacket, etc. For example, if the book is a gift to donors who give a specified amount during a capital campaign, the book’s perceived value/quality needs to be fairly high. A cheaply produced book given to high-dollar donors undermines the gesture. 

These four questions are critical starting points for your sales plan. You may also consult friends and family with experience—anyone who has published or sold a book before, or anyone who has experience in marketing/sales. You can also refer to writers’ blogs online for helpful input on marketing and promoting your book—these resources may also have personal stories that resonate with your goal and may help clarify how to publish and sell your book.