When Rick Warren announced his "40 Days of Purpose" campaign to Zondervan's executives in early 2002, they were intrigued and excited. But when he explained that it required them to sell 400,000 copies of The Purpose-Driven Life to churchgoers at $7 per hardcover copy, the blood drained from their faces. "Do what?!"

At that price, those sales would mean zero profit. But Warren was able to convince the publisher to go along with the plan—and the "40 Days of Purpose" campaign eventually grew to involve more than 20,000 churches and millions of books. As it turned out, those "unprofitable" copies created an army of customer evangelists whose enthusiastic, word-of-mouth recommendations influenced shoppers who paid retail for the book, eventually pushing total sales past $26 million in three years.

The incident was a classic example of a publisher mistaking an opportunity for a threat.

That behavior was also on display in a recent story I read in PW, wherein publishers, upset by media people who sold galleys on eBay, were numbering galleys and writing stern letters in hopes of stopping the practice. Publishers had paid good money to produce those galleys. How dare media use them to turn a fast buck? An attitude of scarcity was causing publishers to miss the point.

Why do we distribute galleys? We hope media will drive sales by exposing a new book to consumers. Perhaps they'll review it or write an article. If things go especially well, they'll show the cover. And, of course, we expect media will provide this promotion at no cost. So what's wrong with eBay?

Stop thinking about eBay as an auction site, and consider what really happens when someone sells a galley on the site. A seller creates a Web page with the book's cover, a detailed description and glowing editorial comments. The page is then posted to a site that gets 32 million visitors each day. People from around the world bid on the galley for a week before it's sold to a fan who pays a premium just to read his or her favorite author's book a couple of weeks before it's available in stores. That fan then generates positive word-of-mouth by bragging to friends, thereby creating pre-pub demand that drives sales during the critical first week. In other words, galley sales on eBay deliver the very promotional value the publisher sought in the first place.

In fact, eBay sales actually represent increased coverage. If media review the book, then eBay exposure is a bonus. If media ignore it, then eBay coverage is the only exposure the book was ever going to get.

Rather than trying to thwart eBay sales—assuming that was even possible—why not cash in on those sales by exploring ways to maximize their promotional value?

Establish a partnership with a local literacy organization, and create an eBay account in its name. Next, get permission from your authors to sell a few galleys on eBay as part of the marketing plan. Savvy authors will see the benefit. They might even autograph the galleys to increase their value. Create an auction page for each galley, and then send the product to the literacy organization. Let the literacy group track the auction, ship the product to the winning bidder and receive all proceeds. You can add winning bidders to your consumer database and equip them to spread the word to their like-minded friends.

Sound like a crazy plan? So did "40 Days of Purpose." But selling books cheaply through churches created the bestselling hardcover book in American history. Could galley sales on eBay create your next bestseller?

Greg Stielstra is the v-p of marketing for the Christian trade book group at Thomas Nelson Publishers. He is the author of PyroMarketing: The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life (HarperBusiness) and was the marketing director for The Purpose-Driven Life.