Direct Mail Book Marketing

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Direct mail has been given a bad reputation because of overuse and poorly designed mailing pieces. People tend to perceive direct mail as junk mail. However, when you have a finite, identifiable group of people who are potential customers for your books, direct mail may be an efficient book marketing tool you can use to reach them.

Direct mail marketing gives you control of the timing, delivery, and content of your promotion, a pre-determined fixed cost, and the means to forecast and measure the return on your marketing investment.

Unfortunately, direct mail marketing is too often implemented simply by purchasing a mailing list and then sending an existing brochure. Unless you first prepare a book marketing plan, including a way to evaluate your relative success, you may end up wasting money and becoming disillusioned in the potential effectiveness of a strategic direct mail campaign.

Your plan can be a simple document that outlines the actions you intend to take in the following six key areas. 

The Product

Not all books are destined for successful direct marketing. You have to ask, is what you're offering via your direct mail marketing a real value for the cost to the customer? Cost to customers could be their time and effort to do what your direct mailer is asking of them or actual financial costs. If you are trying to deplete your inventory of overpriced books simply by offering a reduced price via direct mail, you may be disappointed. Instead, think about your offer from the recipient's perspective. Is what you have to offer, really worth their attention and subsequent action? What's in it for them? But also, determine how many recipients you'll need to take action from your mailing for it to be worthwhile for you. What's in it for you?

The Target List

When mailing to existing customers, make sure your list is current and has been cleaned recently (old names eliminated). But also make sure the people you're mailing to are likely to act on your offer. Consider who's most likely to be interested in and act on your offer, and only send it to that audience.

The Offer

The most important part of your direct mail campaign is not your book, but the offer that surrounds it in regards to the audience you're sending to. There are several basic propositions you can use by themselves or in various combinations, depending on your objectives. Here are a few:

  • Free Information: This is often the most effective offer, particularly when your objective is to generate leads for future business. Tell people that when they visit a specific page on your website and fill out a form, they will also receive a special guide or some other free, useful information.
  • Samples: If you are selling a children's book, a sample brochure of some of the illustrations will show people the quality they can expect when they purchase your book.
  • Time Limit: Setting a time limit on a given offer forces action. Usually, it is more effective to name a specific date rather than a time period.
  • Discounts: A discount is a popular lure and is particularly effective where the value of your book is well established. Three types of discounts are typically offered: cash, an introductory order, or volume purchases. Providing free shipping could be considered a discount.
  • Stock Up: This is a favorite of publishers of book series. For example, you could offer a set of twelve books at a discount, one to be sent each month. This type of promotion is made possible by the guarantee of a bulk purchase (12 books) and engages the customer longer by having them look forward to receiving the next book.
  • Free Gift: For best results, test several gifts to determine the one most appealing to the target audience. The most important criterion for gift selection is 1) the appropriateness of the gift in relation to your book, 2) its effect on repeat business, and 3) net profit from the mailing, including the cost of the gift.
  • Secret Gift: If the prospective customer completes the call to action on the direct mailer, he or she will receive a free, unnamed gift.
  • Deluxe Alternatives: Give the customer a choice between your perfect-bound book and your special leather-bound edition. An autographed copy or dedication page (which you can do with IngramSpark's Personalization Option) could be considered deluxe alternatives, too.
  • Retargeting: This offer succeeds on the premise that the best time to sell people is right after you have sold them. Here you'd offer more of what they originally purchased: related books or items.

The Format

The standard format for direct mail is the packaging, the offer (including benefits to explain why someone would want to participate), and a means for them to respond (i.e. a specific URL for them to visit on your website to take advantage of your direct mail offering).

The Test

Before you embark on a 10,000-piece nationwide mailing, test on a smaller scale your choice of book title, the list you will use, the offer you will make, and the different formats you plan to use. Also, test the timing of your mailing and alternative geographic areas.


Before you conduct your direct-mail campaign, make sure it will be profitable for you. Calculate the cost of the mailing to make the offer, plus the cost of shipping your book in response to an order. You can determine what you'll make on each sale of your book using IngramSpark's publisher compensation calculator.

Direct mail is a targeted book marketing weapon that can help you sell more books, test new titles, generate sales leads, or communicate information about your books, brand, author platform, and business. It can be an effective and efficient addition to your promotional strategy when used properly.


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Brian Jud

Brian Jud is the author of the book, How to Make Real Money Selling Books, the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales, and the administrator of Book Selling University. Contact Brian at or