Selling Advertising Space In Books

Don’t you wish companies would offer you money to include an ad about them in your next book? Most of us would love such an infusion to our writing income. A question about this coveted practice arrived in my in-box just this week.

Wendy wrote in with the following:

“Several years ago, my first health-related book was released. I am in the process of updating the manuscript and preparing for the second edition. While doing so, I also did a little research and found several companies whose nutritional products would benefit my reading audience. Before approaching these companies, I plan to set up a mock page with their product, formatted in the style of the section of my book for which it would be placed. However, before I approach these companies, I would like to have a good idea of a realistic dollar amount to ask for featuring their product. How do I go about finding out what a ‘customary’ fee should be for someone to advertise their product in a book?”

Unfortunately, this is one of those “what to charge” questions that you won’t find any firm answers to no matter where you look. If you feel you have a manuscript that may interest potential advertisers, there are several questions you should ask yourself.

Self-Published or Not?

Is your book going to be self-published or is a traditional house interested in it? If you’re turning over the rights to your manuscript to another company, they will want to do any advertising negotiations directly and they’ll probably choose not to sell any advertising at all. If they do, they’ll be paid for that advertising space. If you’re self-publishing, you, of course, get to keep any advertising income that comes in.

Are you established or unknown in your genre or field?

Let’s be realistic. Unless the author already has a built-in customer base through current contacts, such as prominent membership in a large organization, ownership of a successful electronic or print publication, writes a newspaper or magazine column, has impressive sales on a past title, or has the potential to draw incredible press based on current events, advertisers just aren’t going to want to risk their money on someone who can’t offer them any distribution and publicity guarantees. Your chances of success in this endeavor will be much greater if you’re already known in your field, if you have had past success with book sales on a previous title, or if you have a really incredible opportunity to draw press (i.e. “I was Saddam Hussein’s Personal Assistant” or “Michael Jackson’s Plastic Surgeon Speaks Out”). Authors with a strong local angle may have success selling ads to local companies.

Fiction or Non-Fiction

Fiction authors won’t have as much luck as non-fiction authors in attracting advertisers, and must be pretty creative to figure out advertising candidates for their titles. But, this can actually be fun.

One idea for fiction authors is to attract sponsors instead of advertisers. For example, you might be able to convince the manufacturer of a certain type of lingerie to pay you to have your main character only (and repeatedly) wear their brand of lingerie in your romance novel. Or, if there is another type of recurring theme in your book (like your character frequently drinking a certain brand of soda), you may be able to work a deal with a manufacturer of that product. If one manufacturer says no, try switching brand names and approaching another. I’m sure your character won’t mind being addicted to, say, Dr. Brown’s (yes, that’s a real soda) instead of Nehi. Why didn’t I mention Coke and Pepsi? Because I’m being realistic. When trying to work one of these deals, you should focus on smaller companies that aren’t yet a household name. A small, specialty soda manufacturer will probably be more receptive than Coke or Pepsi to a creative sponsorship deal like this.

If my romance novel was set in Bar Harbor, Maine, for example, my main character might be addicted to Bar Harbor Root Beer, manufactured by Bar Harbor Brewing Company and Soda Works. If I were writing a ghost story set in Bangor, Maine, perhaps I would approach local restaurants for sponsorship opportunities, before I decide which old restaurant houses my protagonist spirit. Sure, my first choice would be The Sea Dog, right there on the Penobscot River, but there are other riverfront restaurants in the area that would work just as well. If you think about it, you can probably come up with some pretty clever ideas! And, using local companies and locations increases your chances of local press! In addition, any local companies appearing in your book will probably want to carry copies of your book on consignment for their customers.

If your book does sell well and eventually lands a traditional contract and sells even better, whatever company your character is associated with may very well be a household name in the future.

You may also be able to convince other authors who write for your genre to run ads in the back of your book for their own books…though they’ll probably just offer you an ad swap. But, why not swap ads with your author friends and help each other out this way?

For non-fiction authors, the possibilities are much greater…and less creativity is required when trying to determine who might want to advertise in your book. Simply create a list of product and service categories that will complement the topic of your book. Which companies might your readers be most interested in? Approach them about running ads in your book.

Having a hard time coming up with a list of potential advertisers? Pick up a magazine that targets your book’s audience and make a list of the advertisers appearing therein. You can usually find some quick contact information about them in their ads, too.

Printing Press Or Print On Demand?

If you’re self-publishing, are you using a company that uses a printing press or are you publishing through Print on Demand (POD). If you’re purchasing thousands of copies of your book up front, you’re probably using a printing press. Advertising income helps to defray those initial printing costs. With POD, unless you’re using one of those companies that charges inflated setup fees (more than $500), you probably won’t need advertising income to pay the setup fees. But, it’s okay to try to earn extra money by selling ads anyway!

How Much To Charge?

If you’re selling just enough space to cover the initial costs, figure the amount you’ll be spending on editing, design, and printing. That’ll be the dollar amount of advertising space you’ll need to sell to cover your fees on that run. How many ads can you put in the book (without diluting the quality of the material you’re offering)? Divide your costs by the number of ads you think you can sell and that’s how much each ad should cost. You can, of course, sell the ads for more money. If you want to try to earn more than your costs, go for it!

You should not accept any payment, or accept only a token down-payment, until your manuscript is finished and ready to publish. The advertiser will trust you and be more willing to work with you if you don’t demand money before you need it for production.

What Can You Guarantee The Advertiser?

The potential advertiser is going to want a guarantee for their dollars. How many eyeballs will see that book? You will probably need to promise that a certain number of books will be printed and distributed/sold. If you collect enough advertising income up front, you may be able to give away enough free copies to satisfy the advertiser’s demand for distribution. That’s how controlled-circulation periodicals work. They sell enough advertising to enable them to distribute their publications for free to a specific type of readership. But, if you are skilled (and lucky!) enough to sell enough ads to give away your book, your advertisers are going to want specific guarantees about how, when and where your book is being distributed to a targeted list of people that will be interested in the types of products and services advertised in your book.

If you can’t guarantee distribution or sales, you may want to offer to also promote their company on your website and/or in your ezine, or other promotional materials, such as press releases. If you’re publishing through POD, you may want to offer the advertiser space in your book for the first ___ number of books sold/distributed. You can then approach them for additional money if they want to keep advertising in the book after the initial limit is reached.

The advertiser is also going to want distribution information for your book. Where will your book be for sale? What online bookstores will have it listed? What local bookstores or other retailers have agreed to carry your book? How many unique website visitors do you have each month? How many people really subscribe to your ezine? Make sure your list is clean and only contains live email addresses!

Do you sell advertisements on your website and in your ezine? How much do companies pay for those and do you have repeat advertisers (which indicates the ads are working)? Your book advertisers will probably want a list of testimonials or references from any current advertisers. And, if you do have paying advertisers, those should be the first people you approach to advertise in your book!

Are you getting married?

Whatever you do, don’t offer to run their ad in your book for an unlimited amount of time or in an unlimited number of books. You never know what can happen! You could be offered more money from one of their competitors. The company could get some really bad press, making your relationship with them undesirable in the future. You may want to simply stop publishing the book (while they demand you keep it on the market and keep selling copies). Your book may be picked up by a traditional publisher who may insist on changing the name of the sponsorship companies, or may want to drop all ads. The problems that can arise from marrying yourself to an advertiser like that are endless.

What about competing ads?

Will you allow competing companies to run ads alongside each other or does each type of company get the exclusive right to advertise in your book? The latter makes the deal much more appealing to the advertisers, but you should charge them more for that exclusivity to make up for lost sales from other potential advertisers.

Ad Or Advertorial?

Let’s face it. Ads are boring. Advertorials (advertisements that appear to be articles) are much more interesting! Offering more space in an advertorial format for advertisers will be very tempting for them. In fact, their ad may appear to be just another chapter in your book! But, you should label the ad as such. (I’m sure you’ve seen advertorials in your newspaper with that microscopic font at the top that says “advertisement.”) Don’t ever do anything to try to fool your readers or your reputation could be ruined. For sponsorships, you should be honest and acknowledge in the beginning of your book that ABC Corporation is a valued, paying sponsor of your work.

How To Sell?

1. Your manuscript should be finished or you should have enough of your manuscript completed to offer as a sample for potential advertisers. Your manuscript should be edited and formatted and should resemble a book. The advertiser should get a true feel for what the final product will look like. They’re much more likely to buy an ad if they can picture what the final product will look like in their minds. If you’re approaching specific businesses for sponsorships in your novel, you can use a generic name in the book text until any sponsorship deals are complete. You can then insert the name of the sponsoring company throughout the book. (Word processing software makes this a breeze!)

2. You should create a tempting pitch letter for potential advertisers that lists the different sections of your book that will feature ads, information on the cost of sponsoring each section, and a note about any exclusivity offered (will you allow competing ads in the book or not?).

3. The reader above had planned to create mock ads for each company she was approaching…before she approached them. While this could obviously be an incredible waste of time for her, it may also offend potential advertisers. They may think she’s being too forward or that she’s assuming a relationship already exists. It’s a better idea to create a generic ad as an example. You could design a generic ad for each “section” of the book (targeting a different type of advertiser for each section). The potential advertiser can then see what an ad for a company like theirs might look like in that section of the book.

If you’re trying to solicit a sponsor, you can provide text from your book for a specific chapter that says Acme Cola or ABC Lingerie or some other obviously generic name. The potential sponsor can then imagine their company’s name appearing wherever one of those generic names appears.

4. Unless you already have a relationship with these companies, emailing your pitch to them would be considered spam. A better idea is to mail a pitch letter to each company (using your own letterhead that features your book’s cover, of course) with one of two links. You can either provide them with a link to a private area of your website where they can download your manuscript (that includes sample advertisements). Or, create a private section on your website just for potential advertisers and publish your advertising pitch there, using nice graphics and including sample chapters for their perusal. Having a preliminary book cover graphic to feature on your site would also go a long way toward making the book look “real” to potential advertisers. You could name this part of your website something like “Non-fiction author Jane Doe is now soliciting advertisers for her new book.”

You can, of course, print your materials and send them by mail to potential advertisers who you feel may not be online or who may be more receptive to print materials.

When a potential advertiser bites, you should have a contract prepared for their review that spells out the entire relationship between you and your advertisers/sponsors, and details every aspect of the deal. Have an attorney review your contract and make any necessary changes before distributing it to any potential clients.

And, finally, for non-fiction authors, never allow the purchase of advertising space in your book to sway your writing. One way to ensure non-biased writing in your book is to finish the manuscript before soliciting any advertisers.

Once your book is complete and the deals are done, collect all (or the final balance of) fees from your advertisers before printing the books or before submitting your final manuscript to your POD publisher. You don’t want to print a bunch of copies of your book only to learn your advertiser is a deadbeat.

Oh, and one nice thing about POD publishing is that you can usually make changes to your manuscript at anytime (meaning you can submit a new book text with advertisements therein) for a nominal fee without calling it a new edition and without changing your ISBN. So, current POD publishers can still solicit and sell advertisements/sponsorships if they want. To avoid surprises later, be sure to check with your current POD publisher about their fees for changes before heading down this road!

With more newspapers and magazines folding each year, advertisers are looking for other creative avenues to reach their target audience. Why shouldn’t one of those creative avenues be your book?

I’d be very interested in hearing from readers who have sold or purchased advertising space in books and how those relationships developed and ultimately worked out. I’d like to publish a follow-up article with examples and suggestions sent in by readers. Write to me at angela (at) writersweekly.com and I’ll get right back to you.

Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and Booklocker. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing emag for writers that features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. Booklocker.com, is rated the top POD Publisher by attorney Mark Levine. Mark’s book, The Fine Print, analyzes the contracts and services of 73 top POD and ebook publishers. Booklocker.com can publish your paperback or hardcover book in 4-6 weeks for only $217.