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Make the Grade in the Academic Market

By Brian Jud


The academic marketplace is an enormous segment for publishers, one using books as a foundation for its existence. It impacts people of all ages, from pre-school through graduate school and adult education courses.


Books sold for use in the classroom comprise a large part of the books sold in the academic market. Unfortunately there are no national standards for choosing textbooks, but there are usually state standards to which purchasing decisions are held. Although each state is unique in its needs and buying procedures, if you can publish to the standards of CA, FL, IL, NY and TX you will reach the five top states in terms of population and budget money.


Criteria used for selection of the textbook:

1) Quality of production and content. Your book must have superior production characteristics and the information in it must be current and verified.


2) Author’s credentials. Include the qualifications of the author as well as endorsements and testimonials.


3) Teachers aids. A teacher’s guide is indispensable, and additional information such as sample test questions, exercises, and assignments are helpful. You might increase your chance of selling your titles if you include overhead transparences and answer keys for grading purposes.


4) Binding. Textbooks are used repeatedly and are subject to harsh use, so most teachers prefer hardcover books. Supplementary material may be soft covered, but the primary text should have a hardcover.


How to reach the academic market

In many cases, the teachers themselves decide which books to purchase. If the school board makes the final decision, then the teachers become decision influencers. Still, the instructors are critical to the decision process, and an excellent way to reach these people is through direct mail. The best time to reach them is when they are deciding which books to use in the next school year. Experience shows that this occurs in late summer and early spring.


Textbook buyers are reluctant to purchase from publishers with single titles. If you do not have a product line, consider bundling with other authors and publishers with complementary products. Then create a catalog describing your entire line. Buyers place great significance on your catalog, so invest enough money to create one of high quality.  


Direct marketing works well in reaching this well-defined target segment. This includes direct mail, personal visits and telephone calls. You can also reach buyers indirectly through school supply stores, educational dealers and suppliers, trade shows and book fairs.


What should you include in your direct-mail package to instructors? It would be cost-prohibitive to send a review copy to each, so your initial letter should qualify those who might use your book as a text. Follow up with a complementary copy to those who are interested. With this strategy, your direct-mail package should contain an informative letter, the Table of Contents, a detailed description of your title, a sales piece and a reply card requesting a “desk copy” or “examination copy.”


You can also use the reply card to obtain important marketing information as well as for qualifying the prospect. For instance, ask the respondent for full contact information, when the decision will be made and the age or grade level for which the title is being considered. Then you will know the best time to contact them and perhaps open a market you had not previously considered.


An excellent resource for mailing lists is Quality Education Data (QED), a research and database company focused exclusively on education. Quality Education Data, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Scholastic Inc., the global children's publishing and media company. QED is located at 1625 Broadway, Suite 250, Denver, Colorado, 80202; Phone: 800-525-5811 Fax: 303-860-0238;


There are educational conferences held regularly throughout the year. Find those appropriate to your topic and titles and attend them. The conference planners may allow you to make a presentation, perhaps in exchange for exhibit space. This projects and confirms your image as an expert on your topic. Hand out catalogs and flyers about your titles, but avoid using your speaking time for selling. You may also write an article for the conference program, furthering the perception (and fact) of your expertise. You can locate a conference near you by going to Here you can find the affiliates in your state and when their conference is held.


Go to the websites of your target schools. Many will display course outlines, perhaps including the current textbooks. The websites of some states’ Departments of Education provide explanations of the requirements for each grade level. Use this information to tailor the content of your books as well as your sales approach, demonstrating the benefits of your title over their current text. You can also learn some of the industry jargon, such as the use of the terms beginning readers, emergent readers or reluctant readers in the K-12 arena. You can find the website for your state’s department of education by going to and searching for “(Your State) department of education.”


Reviews will help you in this market, too. Send review copies to pertinent publications, especially School Library Journal. For SLJ’s submission guidelines, go to


Since school districts are so geographically dispersed, you will probably not find it economical to contact them personally. For that reason, most large publishers use independent sales reps to reach academic markets. These salespeople need new product every season and will not represent you if you cannot supply it. The National Association of Independent Publishers Representatives (NAIPR) is a trade association of about 350 book publishers' commission reps. For links to their members’ groups, go to


Follett Educational Services sells a variety of products and services to educational institutions. They sell used textbooks, workbooks and teacher's editions through online or printed catalogs. They also sell paperback novels and reference books. Contact them at 1433 Internationale Parkway, Woodridge, IL 60517-4941; 1-800-621-4272 or fax 1-800-638-4424. Their website is


NACSCORP is a national wholesaler and services provider to college stores and campus resellers. It offers over 160,000 text and trade book titles from more than 300 publishers. NACSCORP is an industry service offered by the National Association of College Stores (NACS), the professional trade association representing more than 3,000 collegiate retailers and about 1,000 associate members who supply books and other products to college stores. You can reach them at


NACS publishes The College Store magazine for higher education retailers. This magazine reports on topics of interest to collegiate retailers. In addition, it hosts several conferences throughout the year. NACS is located at 500 East Lorain Street, Oberlin, OH  44074; its telephone is (800) 622-7498, fax (440) 775-4769. Additional information Additional information can be found online at 


There is no typical discount structure for school buyers, and you may decide to offer a discount on volume purchased. Except for damaged books there are no returns and schools generally pay the shipping charges. Some publishers simply add 10% on the invoice to cover shipping and handling costs.


You must be patient when selling to schools. You may not reach a break-even point for two to three years. But once you demonstrate your credibility, build your product line, win awards and elicit positive reviews you will begin to reap significant rewards.


Other possibilities for your titles

Opportunities abound in the academic marketplace for the creative marketer, particularly at the secondary level. For example, if you have a line of career-related titles you could sell them directly to the Career Development offices located at most colleges. You could also sell your books to alumni associations or campus chapters of the American Marketing Association as a fundraiser (for a list of collegiate chapters go to Who else cares about the future job of a college graduate? The parents. You can purchase a mailing list of the parents of graduating college students (American Student List Company, 330 Old Country Rd. Mineola, NY 11501-4143; Toll Free: (888) 462-5600, Fax: (516) 248-6364, and send them information on your titles.


The confined nature of the campus population presents a unique opportunity for media advertising. You can promote your titles inexpensively to a highly concentrated audience through college newspapers. At the same time you can test different headlines, body copy and layouts, but be sure to key your ads (one ad may request a reply to Dept. A and the other to Dept. B) so you can track the responses. A list of college newspapers, listed by state may be found at


Many schools have television or radio stations. Appear on them to market your books, but remember that the typical student buyer is frugal. When marketing directly to them be sure to offer a compelling financial incentive. For a list of college radio stations by state, go to


Expand your definition of the academic market.  There are even more opportunities for book sales outside the traditional academic markets, and many of these are open to fiction titles. For example, you could sell fiction or non-fiction to trade or vocational schools, daycare centers, home-schooling organizations and school libraries. Many schools have adult-education programs utilizing non-traditional textbooks. These may be books on very specific topics. Books Are Fun serves tens of thousands of schools, corporations, early learning centers, and many hospitals, universities, government offices and non-profit organizations in the United States and Canada through a variety of programs. For questions regarding book submissions, email


Brian Jud is an author, seminar leader, book-marketing consultant, creator of the Book Market Map directories for special sales, and author of “Beyond the Bookstore” (a “Publishers Weekly” book) and “The Marketing Wizard CD.” Contact Brian at P. O. Box 715, Avon, CT  06001; (800) 562-4357; or visit