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More thoughts about selling your book(s) back of the room…

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I began this topic and posted it on Tuesday, May 29 (2012). That includes 12 starter points you might want to read first, before I continue here.

13. When I give my speaking program, do I have the products with me? Ask my sore back! Yep. I usually put two (or three) boxes of products on a reinforced roller and bring them with me, arriving at least an hour ahead of the program. I can usually guess well enough (extras of each) that I don’t have to go to the car to get more items after the presentation. But if I do, I ask the folks still there if they’ll guard my books and I’ll be right back. That’s fine with them—and I’ve only had maybe five books stolen in about 30 years, and those off the table during the first break (when the attendee also disappears!)

14. How do I pick BOR products to sell? The most important criterion is that they are written (or at least published) by me! Of those, I sell them at the same price they cost at the bookstore, though many become part of my special bundle. In fact, some of the books and reports are written and published specifically to match what I say at the seminars. For example, for decades I spoke about “How to Sell 75% of Your Freelance Writing.” It dawned on me rather quickly that I could write reports or books about segments of that program where the listener/buyer would receive much more detail and far more examples. So I wrote a book about query letters, the pivotal part of selling better than 75%. And I wrote a long report about selling the second or reprint rights to the original article–which I’m about to summarize as a blog on June 5. Those became the kind of BOR items that participants eagerly bought while the topics were hot!

15. Do I ever sell others’ products? Sure, particularly Writer’s Digest items (like the Writer’s Market of that year). But they must be particularly valuable to my attendees. I buy them from the publisher by the box, one or several with 15-40 in them, and get a 40-43% discount. Add shipping (very expensive now) to that and I earn about 33% profit.

16. Can you return the other publishers’ books, if necessary? I suppose but it’s a real pain. I take care to keep them clean and undamaged, and if they get dented or scratched I sell them at a 33% discount, so it’s a wash and I at least get my shipping back.

17. How much profit can one realize from BOR sales? At the college/university level, where my attendance (in today’s economy) averages about 25, I usually earned from BOR $400-700 a program, and I once made, if I recall correctly, $2800. But my larger-venue professional speaker buddies are often in five digits. At one lunch at an NSA convention a very well known rally speaker mentioned that he had been paid $2,000 to speak in Burbank. Not to worry, he added, the BOR take was $33,000!

18. Any other advice about specific product choices? Some. Customize your products to match your presentations. And don’t put two products on the table about the same topic: it so confuses the buyers they don’t buy either. For example, when I spoke about self-publishing, I displayed Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual. There was another book that covered the very same material, and the titles sounded similar too. I stayed with Dan’s book. That saved me a lot of trying to explain why one book is better or different than the other, questions that are usually asked when I should be taking others’ BOR orders.

19. Do I use (or hire) others to make my BOR sales? Almost never at the seminars, where I’m a one-man band. (I only sell products at the end of the seminar so I am available to speak with attendees during the two breaks.) If I’m speaking at a larger program in a different venue, I sometimes ask a couple of people in my audience if they’d like to handle the attendance and the SOPs sales in exchange for a couple of my products, their choice. That usually works well.

20. How do I handle credit card purchases? It used to be very hard to get into a credit card program—it was best to cajole your local bank to get you in. But now you can use PayPal and others. So that’s what I do. I have the buyers write down the card numbers, expiry, their name, and the three magic numbers on the order form, plus what they are buying, and I process them by computer later that night. One necessity: ask to see the card and check the numbers before you give them the products. I get stiffed once or twice a year, for about $30 each. I’m wary of accepting checks, but I will if there’s no other choice. Cash is gladly accepted.

21. Do you get any flack about selling products from the colleges/universities? Yep, they don’t like it much. In part, the bookstore is to have a sort of monopoly on product sales. But if you do two things, the college seems placated. One, don’t talk about product sales when you talk with your bookers. (They seem pleased not to know since the bookstore option simply doesn’t work for one-day programs.) And tred lightly when selling. In other words, don’t talk much about the products, don’t make them mandatory, and keep them very secondary, more a service you provide.

22. What about from your listeners, do they oppose your product selling? The longer you dwell on it, the more they complain. You’d far prefer they don’t complain, but if they do, much better to you than to the office. If I sense any resistance at all, when I give my gentle sales pitch I explain that “I’m not here to sell books but rather to help you be aware of the best writing/selling books I know.” There are only four hours for the program and sometimes attendees want more information than I can give in that time, so I have chosen the books I use to help them fill in any void. That seems to soften the rumbles against crass commercialism!

23. Last, do I always sell BOR: back of the room? Usually, because it’s easier to move the tables in or around back there, and the products are seen as folks take breaks or as they leave. But sometimes the rooms make it necessary to do SOR (side of room) and FOR (front of room). You do what you must do, but over time I’ve made more money with BOR than the other two.

Those are the questions I’ve been asked over the years about BOR sales. I hope this helps if you speak and you want to offer additional written or audio information through products.

Gordon Burgett

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