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Just Like A Drug,
The First One Is Always Free

Authors try all kinds of things to get their book into bookstores... for example, have you ever heard of Reverse Shoplifting? An author friend of mine told me about it, because it's something that he does. First, he'll scope out a bookstore to find out if they carry his book. If they don't, he slips back out to his car, gets a copy of his book, then walks back inside carrying it as inconspiciously as possible. As soon as he can, he places it on a shelf, then walks around a bit as if shopping. He'll eventually make his way back to the book, pick it up as if he's studying it, and walk it over to the section where he wants it to rest. I don't dare want to give him away, but for example, if he had a cookbook he'd eventually want to place it in the cooking section, face out, on the top shelf.

Who would have ever concieved such an idea? Only a writer. The theory behind his actions is that someone will purchase the book, and when they get to the front register, it won't be in the store's computer. To the robotic store employees, this can only mean one thing: it was supposed to have been put into the computer system, but wasn't. They will therefore do it right then and there. The system would then tell them to order more, and the cycle of distribution would begin.

I've told this story at writer's conferences across the nation, and I've had people say everything from "That's brilliant!" to "It doesn't work that way." Still, I have a buddy who does it religiously. I could never do it - I'd be too afraid that somewhere in the process, I'd be mistaken for a real shoplifter.

Personally, I have a different approach - one that I learned from reading stories about drug pushers (and experiences with my personal physician). I don't use drugs, with the exception of caffine - if you monitored my coffee intake, you might be a little concerned about me. Anyway, I remember being in High School and seeing all those "drug pusher" films where they warned you that "the first one is always free". I thought about that recently, when I was sitting in my physician's office wearing a paper gown and my underwear. He told me that I had high blood pressure, and told me that I'd probably be taking a simple prescription for the rest of my life. He disappeared for a moment, then re-appeared with a handful of pills. "I'm going to write you a prescription, but here are some samples to get you started," he said. I remember thinking, "Wow, this is just like that drug film in high school."

Not too long ago, I had the occasion to think about that. I'd run across a store that I thought would be perfect to carry my latest book, and I felt like they'd sell a steady stream of them. To help them make their decision, I gave them a copy with my blessing. "Put it out where your customers can see it," I told them, "and watch how fast it goes out the door." I left it with them, and within a couple days, I had a phone call from them. "We'd like to order six books," they said, and to date, they've ordered six books every single week. It's a constant stream of income for me, and I can count on them to sell 300-400 books a year, with no extra effort on my part. It gets better, though... there are actually five stores with that exact same story, so the total books sold by giving away an initial five copies runs 1500-2000 books a year.

As of this writing, I haven't ventured outside of my city with this approach, but I definitely plan on doing so. Assuming that the formula holds true, by giving away another twenty copies I can generate an automatic sales of 6000-8000 copies a year... and it can only go up from there. All that because I'm following a simple premise established by drug dealers and doctors years ago - the first one is always free.

2005 Mitchel Whitington

About the Author

Mitchel Whitington is an author and speaker - visit Mitchel's website at

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