Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Monday, May 24, 2010

Guest Post: Being a First Time Author and Selling Books - A Dose of Reality

Being a First Time Author and Selling Books - A Dose of Reality

Being a First Time Author and Selling Books - A Dose of Reality

By Lynn Baber

It seems that almost every person I meet has either written a book, is thinking of writing a book, or has been told by someone that they should write a book. While I am not technically a first time author, it's been so long since the last one that I don't think it should count against me. Certainly very few people can remember that business book published way back in 1989.

Authorship is Glamorous, Right?

The news reports of book events by authors Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, and Karl Rove have been making headlines in recent weeks. Their books were published, hit Amazon, and these authors garnered even more fame, money, and celebrity as each scheduled book event drew to a successful close.

"If only I could get my novel published, I could buy that house in the country," one would-be author laments. "Once my work is out there I can quit my office job and stay at home and write," dreams another. All I need is a break, and it's New York Times Bestseller List here I come!

Well, they're right, aren't they?

Nope. That is, of course, unless you already have a built-in audience numbering in the millions just waiting to part with $24.95 for a chance to meet you and get your autograph. If that doesn't describe you, then let me share the facts - just the facts, ma'am.

Publishing a Book is Like Buying a Horse

Not everyone who wants a horse will be able to buy one. Not everyone who has a story will get published. What is common in both the horse and book scenarios is that the upfront cost is the easy part. Once you bring your dream horse home the serious bills begin to mount and the real work begins.

Ditto publishing a book in today's market. Last year there were nearly a million book titles published if you add up the numbers from traditional publishers, self-published books, and e-books. I've seen reports that a successful book in the marketplace today is one that sells 5,000 copies.

Do you know how hard it is to sell 5,000 copies? We'll get back to that in a moment, first let's talk about the fun stuff - the money.

Authors who are published by traditional means are usually paid by royalties. Contracts differ among publishers and authors, but for the sake of argument let's assume you will receive a royalty of 15% of the price the publisher receives for books sold into the marketplace. Please note, your royalty is not 15% of the cover price, but calculated on the amount the publisher receives per copy.

Authors Make Millions

I suppose some do, just as there are folks who win the Lottery. Writing a book and buying a lottery ticket are both bad bets upon which to budget. Just for fun, let's assume your book is one of the few that actually sells 5,000 copies. If your publisher puts a cover price of $19.95 on your book it is entirely possible that the amount received per book will average around eight bucks, more or less. Don't get caught up in details until we wade through the concept part. So, if all 5,000 books are sold and not returned (did I mention that sold isn't always really sold...) the gross amount to your publisher is about $40,000. Congratulations, you are a successful author. Now let's look at your paycheck.

Don't call the realtor yet, your gross royalties amount to $6,000. I won't speculate on what it might cost you to write your book, but I know my office supply store clerk grins every time I come in for more paper and printer ink.

If you're still hankering to get your story or message out, maybe it's time to move on to the issue of marketing; actually selling books.

Selling Books Is Personal

The only way to sell books is to tell your story to the people who are interested enough in the details to write a check, hand over cash, or hover their computer cursor over the BUY NOW button and left-click their mouse.

How do you reach these folks? How will they find your book? The answers are the same. You need to bring it to their attention in any way possible. Creativity is good, but persistence is even better.

First time authors don't usually get promotional tours paid for by publishers. First time authors usually get a listing on the major book sites and distribution channels that will supply books ordered by book stores. Please note, I did not write, "Stocked in book stores."

The most important thing to successfully marketing your book is great content. Your book must be good! The words you write must somehow fill a need in reader's lives: for entertainment, for inspiration, or as a source of needed information.

What comes next is work. Then more work. Just like the horse example, the real effort begins when your book is released. Finishing the final edit on your manuscript barely achieves a beginning if your goal is a successful book.

Is This Where it Gets Glamorous?

Uh, sure, if you think toting boxes of books, tables, chairs, and all the accoutrements necessary to set up an inviting display for book fair patrons is glamorous. Then, there's the matter of initiating conversation with anyone who comes within earshot of your booth. You have to be a people-person to sell books. Did I mention that selling books is personal? Unless you're well known, you are really lucky to have the opportunity to tell each person who approaches your table about your book and why it might matter to them.

The actual value of book signing events is debatable. Book fairs can be long, tiring days. Each author needs to take a critical look at their book and decide if it appeals to a broad enough market to make such events good choices.

How Else Can I Reach Potential Readers?

The article you are reading I wrote for free. Why? I wrote it both as a service to fellow authors, and to let you know I exist. This is one example of book marketing. My usual topics have something to do with horses or faith, but writing and selling books is something I'm getting to know more about each day.

The Internet is a wonderful tool. Each book has a specific market. Your challenge is to reach into your market and speak to the individuals who make up that market. My true goal is to share a message of faith. I use the written word as well as personal appearances and video to get the message out. Once your book is out, and you fully understand that selling copies is a marathon race and not a sprint - then it is time to let your creativity go wild.

The Reality of Authorship

Here's where I share my reality as an author with you. I am passionate about the message I share with my readers. There was never an option of NOT sharing it. I'm in this for the long haul. I hope that when folks close the back cover of Amazing Grays - Amazing Grace, their lives will be forever changed for the better.

Is your message great? Are you passionate about sharing it with others? If you answered both these questions with a loud, emphatic, "YES!", then you just may need to keep after the goal of being published.

Don't plan on paying any big bills with your royalties, but you may just have a message that will make a material difference in the lives of others. What better goal is there?

When that first email arrives telling you that your words 'changed my life', your heart will grow about two sizes and you will head back to the computer to do it all again.

Read excerpts from Lynn's newly released book, "AMAZING GRAYS-AMAZING GRACE: Pursuing relationship with God, horses, and one another" at or on Written in a conversational tone, author Lynn Baber uses a variety of literary styles including allegory, analogy, and story-telling to share principles of leadership and faith. Seek freedom with a band of wild horses. Stand beside Lynn as she judges a Western Pleasure class, when she makes the very first connection with an untrained horse in the round pen, and as she shares God's amazing grace that ultimately leads us to heaven. Learn the answers to questions like, "Why won't my horse (child) do what I ask?" or "Why does God let bad things happen."

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Friday, May 21, 2010

What Are Returns, and How Do They Affect Authors?

As an author, one of the terms you may be familiar with by now is returns, but what are they, and how do they affect you, as an author?

Basically, when a distributor or bookstore orders books, they may not sell all of the books they have ordered. Those books are then shipped back to the publisher. These are known as returns. For each book returned, the publisher loses money.

But it doesn't stop there. The publisher may have already been paid for the books that were returned, and they may have already paid the author royalties based on those purchases (or credited their account). When there are returns, they are debited from any future royalties that may be credited to that author's book. So, not only do returns cost the publisher money, but ultimately they cost the author, too. That is why it is imperative that both the publisher and the author do what they can to minimize returns. More often than not, when an author doesn't receive a royalty check for the quarter, it's not because their book hasn't sold. It's because they had returns. Returns are a black hole in which an author's royalties, and a publisher's profits, disappear.

New York Times bestselling author Lynn Viehl shared one of her royalty statements online to illustrate this point. You'll notice that her returns total more than $13,000 for this particular quarter. Her net earnings for the quarter were $0.

Returns will never be completely eliminated. No title sells out of every single copy ever printed. A return rate of 30 percent is considered "normal" in the publishing industry, but again, these returns cost you, the author, your hard-earned money. Publishers try to minimize these returns by not overstocking the distributor and by printing books in manageable print runs. Many publishers are switching to a "just in time" supply method of printing books as they need them to meet demand.

What can authors do to minimize returns and the damage they do to their royalty statements? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Do consignment events. Rather than do all of your book signing events at stores which order from the distributor, do a consignment event, where you provide the books that are being sold. You'll likely earn a higher profit margin, and the unsold books will go home with you, instead of back to a distributor.

2. Encourage the bookstore to order reasonable quantities. I have had authors get angry with a bookstore manager (and me) because the store only ordered a dozen books for their book signing event. They think the store should order at least 100 copies. The reality is the average bookstore signing sells about six copies. Guess what happens to the other 94 copies? That's right, they are returns, and another drain on your royalty statement.

3. Aim to sell out the store's stock at your events. Selling 6 copies at a book signing event might be a great boost to an author's self-esteem, but if the store ordered 30 copies the author actually lost money on the event. Try to find out how many books the store is ordering prior to the event, and then do your best to sell every copy they have ordered. If the store has ordered 30 copies, invite more than 30 people to your event. If the store sells out, that's fine. They can either place an order for the book through the store, or the store may invite you back for another event.

4. Target venues other than bookstores for signings and sales. A lot of these will either carry the books on consignment, or allow you to do a consignment event. Again, this will help you avoid returns.

5. Sell books on a non-returnable basis. Sometimes authors will hook up with a company or a church or some other organization and sell books to them in bulk. The company purchasing the books will typically get a larger discount, but in return they are purchasing them on a non-returnable basis, which means that sale won't come back to haunt you in the form of returns.

Book marketer Brian Jud once said "Bookstores don't sell books, they display them." That is true to certain extent. Nobody at the bookstore is actively pushing books on their customers. Customers browse and if they are interested in a title they may buy it. Or not. It is up to the publisher and the author to create the awareness and the demand to make the book-buying public familiar with a title. It is up to the author, not the store, to get people through the door for book signing events and to move books at those events.

Do your best to avoid returns, and that will be reflected on your royalty statement.

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