Book Sales

Be Published? or Be Read?

Is your goal “being published” or “being read?”

What pieces of writing and publishing advice do professional agents and editors wish would go away…forever? I asked that question of some of my friends in the industry (yes, I have friends, and most are much smarter than me). The last two weeks I have posted (here and here) some of their responses. But I’ve saved one more for last.

One savvy, experienced publishing professional replied to my query by saying one piece of “conventional” publishing advice that needs to go away is, “You can launch your traditional publishing career by self-publishing or publishing with a micro-publisher first.”

[A micro-publisher can be defined as a small press. Of course then you have to define “small” too. We choose to define it as a small traditional publisher that pays royalties but rarely pays an advance. They usually have limited marketing budgets and rely on direct-to-reader/consumer ebook sales online with little or no presence in the traditional physical bookstore. They do not require the author to provide any money to publish the book. That is what makes them a “traditional” publisher.]

There are numerous good reasons to self-publish or to publish with a micro-publisher. I have publishing friends with great vision who are doing marvelous things to give new writers a voice and a helping hand. Some are changing the Christian publishing industry—slowly, but for the better, I believe. I have writer friends whose work has found an audience through non-traditional publishing—work that otherwise would never have gained a hearing from an agent or editor. And some have built a career and an income by e-publishing or working with a small publisher or non-traditional publisher.

But my industry peer is right. Too often an aspiring (and perhaps impatient) writer thinks, “If I can just get my first book published, then people will take me seriously. My next book will be easier to sell.”

Not so much. Having published a book is not the sole consideration. Sales history is part of an author’s permanent record. And if your first book sold only, say, nine hundred copies, that history is likely to come up in your next pitch to a publisher. And it is likely to hurt. It may even be fatal. It is a form of Test Marketing. In this particular case, the book has been tested and found wanting. (Dan wrote further on this topic in the post “Test Marketing Books.”)

That doesn’t mean you should never self-publish or sign a contract with a small publisher. It does mean, you should do so for other reasons, not “to get my first book out there.” It does mean, if you have more than one book in you and you plan to work with a large publisher in the future, you need to make sure that your commitment to any book you publish includes well-planned, strong marketing efforts of your own, because sales numbers will either help or hinder you in the future.

Sure, you may be the one-in-a-million author who sells twenty thousand copies of your non-traditionally-published book. It has happened. But more often, writers who poured themselves into a good book only to sell a few hundred copies end up shooting themselves in the foot by focusing on “being published” instead of “being read.”


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Adopt a Bookstore

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For Christian bookstores, the challenges started over a decade ago when a substantial part of their business (in some cases over a third) began to disappear when music became a downloaded media (iTunes started in 2001) and retail sales of CD’s began to decrease significantly.  A second hit came when movies and video started to be rented and sold in numerous locations, then eventually becoming a downloaded or streamed media.  To a lesser extent, audiobooks becoming primarily a downloaded media was another hit.

Remember Borders?  They positioned themselves as a “media” retailer and the loss of music and movies put them into a spiral that resulted in their demise.  Of course, the fact that they were a publicly held corporation didn’t help.  Investors bail out fast when revenues drop and profit is marginal or nonexistent.  They were not able to make the changes necessary to survive.

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