Book Sales & Marketing: Setting Realistic Expectations for New Authors

Some time ago, I worked for a small Canadian literary publisher. It was an eye-opening experience for an aspiring author with no prior concept of how book publishing, sales, and marketing all worked. Beforehand, I had romanticized about my future life as a “discovered” author whose only job was to spend time leisurely creating my next masterpiece, in whichever exotic locations I found most inspiring, while my publisher bustled about in the background, managing all the logistics—sales, marketing, distribution—on my behalf. Of course, my books would be flying off the shelves with very little effort on my part, earning me millions of dollars in royalties in the process. My biggest concern would be somehow answering all those fan letters and selecting the perfect attire for each upcoming sold-out book signing.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Come on … even you men out there who grinned at my feminine reference to finding the perfect outfit. Wouldn’t it be nice if that’s all there was to it? (And, yes, there’s still a part of me that says, “Some day!” with a glimmer of hope in my eyes … I’ll admit it. Lol.)

Back to Reality

My first real eye-opener came that spring when I was asked to mail out the annual royalty payments to our authors. One look at those statements and I was shocked, to say the least. Even our top authors—the ones with two or three titles already in print—were only earning up to $3,000 in royalties for the year. The new, unknown authors were receiving up to $500 for their frontlist titles. For the year. It makes you wonder how on earth anyone can earn a living at this, doesn’t it?

The good news is that it is possible to earn a living at this … over time. The reality check is that there are much better ways to do it than sitting back and waiting to collect royalties from a publisher—particularly a traditional (trade) publisher. Authors can expect a much higher rate of return when publishing through a supportive self-publishing house like Polished Publishing Group than they can expect from a trade publisher. (For a better understanding as to why this is, please read this comparison of the book publishing business models.)

A Realistic View of Success

If you are able to sell 5,000 copies of your book and it becomes a Canadian bestseller straight out of the starting gates, I applaud you! (And I’m damn jealous of you! I don’t mind you knowing that.) If you don’t, that’s okay. Don’t fret. The fact is, very few authors do. It takes an investment of your time and money. It takes preparation. It takes a well-thought-out plan of action. It takes work. And it takes realistic expectations about how many books you can expect to sell in certain situations.

The most successful authors are the ones who buy wholesale copies of their books and go out there and sell them on their own rather than relying on royalty payments for income. (Authors always earn more money per unit for the wholesale books they sell on their own. It’s a fact.) Here are a few examples of how and where new, unknown authors can sell their books and what results they can expect in each case:

* A book signing is a great way to celebrate your new book and announce it to the public. Make sure to send out invitations to all your friends and family members as these are the first people who will come out to support your new book. If you do this, and you have a big enough crowd at your signing, you can also expect to attract some additional buyers to your table. If you sell from 25 to 30 copies of your book at a book signing, the event was a success. Give yourself a pat on the back!

* A book launch party is another type of celebration that can yield similar, if not better, results than a signing. With the right amount of preparation—invitations sent out to friends and family coupled with advertising and door prizes—a new author might even sell from 30 to 40 copies of a book in this environment.

* New authors who wish to sell a few books here and there, throughout the year, might also consider renting a table at a community craft fair. If you sell from 5 to 10 copies of your book at a craft sale, consider yourself successful.

* Consistent and persistent online advertising is an easy way to attract extra book sales with very little effort. Keyword-rich online articles are one effective way to promote a book. Another excellent online advertising tool is Twitter. By creating a hashtag-rich tweet (a keyword-rich phrase of 140 characters or less) that directs traffic to your book on an online store, and by “tweeting” it daily on Twitter’s newsfeed, authors can realistically expect to sell one or two extra books per month to people who did a search for those particular key words. It stands to reason that you’ll sell more books as you publish more books. Advertising has a cumulative effect for those who are consistent and persistent in their pursuit of sales.

* More and more, professional business people are recognizing the value of publishing a book to highlight their expertise in their given fields. These authors can earn supplementary income by selling books alongside their other products and services. Many also set up speaking engagements and/or workshops and sell their books at the back of the room.

The Value of Print-on-Demand


The above five examples will hopefully provide some realistic expectations for new authors who are trying to gauge how many books they should print the first time around. Depending on your audience and the type of book being sold, it might be wise to start out conservatively and print only 100 copies to begin with. Once those have sold, print another 100 copies. And so on, and so forth. That’s the benefit of today’s print-on-demand technology. It’s definitely author-friendly because it eliminates having to store large quantities of books in a garage that may or may not sell down the road.

Eventually, the authors who are out there selling their books might also be able to sell off the rights to their work for additional income. That’s where the real money comes in: film rights, foreign language rights, etc. (We’ll touch on that in another blog entry on copyright another night.)

In the mean time, I’m working on the sure-fire way for new, unknown authors to sell 5,000 books immediatelyand at a great enough profit to quit their day jobs! Once I figure it out, I’ll blog about it immediately. I promise you. Until then, I hope this article has provided you with some realistic expectations. Please also feel free to browse our sales and marketing section for all kinds of “real life” ideas to help you sell more books. Good luck to you!

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