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How to Sell Backlist Books at Christmas

In the world of book publishing, Christmas has a huge impact. Indeed, large and small publishers alike invest a significant portion of their annual marketing budgets into selling books in the run-up to the big day. Why? Firstly, books are a luxury item. Many readers won’t buy them for themselves but will accept them as a gift. And as Christmas is a time for giving, that also makes it a time for selling books. Secondly, both gift shoppers and readers are more likely to convert on impulse purchases at that time, knowing they either have to buy a gift or have time to fill during the holiday period. In both cases, a book, being a low-cost item, often becomes an easy purchase.

Knowing all this, it’s easy to understand why you also might want to cash in on the Christmas gold rush; there’s money aplenty for those who can crack the festive bookselling code. Do so and you can massively increase your sales revenue as an author while also capturing a new audience that could read through any series you’ve written for the rest of the year. The question you must answer, though, is, “How do I clean up at Christmas?” Sure, you could try to compete with a Christmas-themed book, but what if you don’t want to write a whole new novel? Collaborate on a multi-author anthology? That’s still a lot of work. Fortunately, there’s an easier option.

Backlist sales.

According to the standard industry definition, these are any books you’ve launched at least six months ago. Now, you might be thinking, My backlist doesn’t sell any more. Surely, Christmas won’t change that when there are new books in the charts? Well, the reality is that, while your backlist is old to you, those books are new to any reader who encounters them for the first time. As a result, they can sell just as well as frontlist titles during the Christmas period. All you have to do is optimise your books and platform ready for the festive period, as you will discover in today’s article, which covers five simple tactics you can use to sell backlist books this Christmas.

Create More Formats

Indie authors tend to focus on selling ebooks for good reason. Typically priced cheaper than other formats, they’re easier to sell. Plus, as ebooks are digital products, authors who prioritise them get to enjoy no inventory, instant deliveries and quick review feedback. In short, the format is an instant-gratification goldmine, ideal for scaling. The problem for many authors, however, is that they only produce ebooks and leave money on the table, justifying their actions by saying they focus solely on the format that drives their results. Then, rewarded, they lean into that mistake and create a self-fulfilling prophecy that tells them not to work on any other format.

If you’ve followed this same trajectory then challenge your thinking. Produce other formats and you’ll instantly re-package your work in a way that’s attractive to Christmas shoppers, which will lead to extra sales. Think about it; who wants to gift their sister an ebook file? What child wants a book on their ereader instead of a wrapped book under their Christmas tree? Ebooks don’t make good gifts but paperbacks, hardbacks and large print editions do. So, if you want to sell more backlist books at Christmas, produce Christmas-friendly formats ahead of the Amazon or Ingram Christmas deadlines and you’ll open yourself up to the huge Christmas shopper market.

Advertise to Christmas Shoppers

If you aim to make money selling books and you’ve spent time in the indie author community then there’s a chance you’ve already paid to run Facebook or Amazon ads. If you’re skilled then you might even run profitable ones on a continuous basis. This is a playbook that works. What many authors – even those who’ve cracked the code – forget, though, is to run seasonal ads alongside perennial campaigns they’ve optimised. Why do this? Simply, doing so means reaching Christmas shoppers that aren’t your regular book buyers in addition to your regular readers. These extra campaigns require different copy, creatives and targeting, but they work.

Say you have a strong Facebook campaign that hints at your book’s fantasy sub-genre and targets “young adult urban fantasy” fans. That’s great if you’re trying to convert ideal readers, but what about Christmas shoppers? In their case, you’ll need to be more explicit about the genre. Perhaps cast your net wider to “fantasy fans.” Also, instead of targeting sub-genre searchers, consider covering the search term “fantasy books for teenagers” in case your target Christmas shoppers aren’t familiar enough with the young adult urban fantasy sub-genre. These tweaks will help you hit the market while it’s hot. Just remember to pause them when the season ends.

Create a Gift

A portion of the public view books as their go-to gift option. Most of the population, however, rarely consume books and never think of them, even when faced with the task of buying a gift for a keen reader-friend. That said, as an author, you can course-correct them onto the right track by framing your books as gifts online. One way you could do this is by creating a bundle. Perhaps package three novels in a box with some merchandise and sell them through your website. Or simply just offer a link to a hardback on a retailer website and use appropriate hashtags on social media to promote it. Good ones that push your work as a possible gifts include:

  • #ChristmasShopping
  • #ChristmasGifts
  • #ChristmasGiftIdeas
  • #StockingStuffer

Alternatively, if you prefer to sell in person and want to soak up the Christmas shopping atmosphere, consider attending a Christmas fair. That way, you can sell individual books or gift bundles with merch to real readers and their loved ones, making authentic connections. Much like online, people who browse bookfairs during the festive period are more likely to follow through on a purchase so these live events become more likely to be worth your time as you approach December. No matter what options you choose to pursue, the key to success is to market your book as a potential gift, whether you do it with some clever sales copy or a shiny bow.

Partner with a Charity

Selling books online requires you to align a number of stars. The more stars you can align, the more you’ll convert casual browsers into active readers. One star is a professional book cover that targets the correct audience. Another is a well-composed book description. Social proof like reviews and celebrity blurb quotes is a further one. An underrated star that many authors never align is affiliation with a charity. Indeed, partner with a charity on a project and you will generally sell more books simply because those who might previously have baulked at the final hurdle will hit “buy” purely because a portion of the money is going to a good cause.

On Giving Tuesday 2022 alone – the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving – the day’s official website reported “$3.1 billion of critical support for communities and causes donated in just 24 hours.” That’s a lot of money! Consider all the good you could do for a charity if you, say, opted to give all the December royalties from book one in your flagship series to a linked charity. In doing so, you’ll sell more copies and help more people. The consequence, of course, is that the sequels will also see a sales rise months later. By the way, if you’re wondering when to promote a charity push, studies suggest that people tend to be most charitable on Sundays and Mondays.

Schedule Your Marketing

The run-up to Christmas is a huge opportunity for selling books to Christmas shoppers, but don’t forget those who receive ereaders for Christmas. Reach them on their first day as an ereader owner and you could get your foot in the door before they’ve had a chance to accumulate a virtual TBR pile that’ll stop them from ever seeing your work. How do you achieve this feat? The key is to run a discount promo over Christmas Day and Boxing Day on the ebooks you already know how to promote. Scheduling discount promo services like Hello Books, Bargain Booksy and BookBub for those dates will help you hit the charts just as they’re finding the bestsellers list.

Many authors will tell you that there’s no point running these sorts of promos on those days – that your potential return for email marketing will suffer because lots of people don’t check their emails on the 25th and 26th – but that’s equally a reason to do it: you’ll have less competition so need fewer sales to chart well. And if working on those days is putting you off the idea, don’t worry. As long as you have your books ready, you can schedule price drops, create graphics, write copy and slot social media posts into calendars ahead of time then use scheduling software like Later, Hootsuite or Buffer to post content for you on the days you don’t want to work.

Selling books is never easy and it’s no different at Christmastime. Pitted against massive publishers with seven-figure marketing budgets set to bombard Christmas shoppers, marketing books at this time can be a daunting task. No matter your genre, though, these low-cost tips will likely find you a few extra backlist readers. Test them and you’ll see some success that you can use again every year. That’s the beauty of driving backlist sales at Christmas; once you figure out what works, Christmas becomes the gift that keeps on giving. Now, it’s time to make like a Christmas elf and get to work. As they say in the North Pole, there’s no time like the present.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.