Tag s | Book Business

How Do You Measure Success?

A few years ago while talking to an editor, they told the story of an author who was never satisfied (not revealing the name of course). If this author’s latest book sold 50,000 copies. the author wondered why the publisher didn’t sell 60,000. And if it sold 60,000, why didn’t it sell 75,000? The author was constantly pushing for more and was incapable of celebrating success in any form.

Note the title of this post. I’m writing about measuring success, not defining it. To measure is to “estimate or assess the extent, quality, value, or effect of (something).” To define is to “state or describe exactly the nature, scope, or meaning of.”

[For some people, this may be only a matter of semantics; but it should be seen as the difference between setting a qualitative or a quantitative criteria for success.]

When it comes to book sales, many authors have written openly of their own measurement by using numbers and charts. Some even reveal how much money they’ve made. Following these claims can cause a range of emotions from being enlightened, debilitated, or simply frustrated.

I understand the desire to have some objective standard by which we can measure whether or not our efforts are successful. It is a natural instinct. I tried to answer a common question in the post “What Are Average Book Sales?” But it is still only one measure.

In one way, the question “how do you measure success?” is a wise one. It helps to set realistic expectations.

In another way it is unwise because it can end up inside the dangerous game called Comparison. I’ve talked to depressed authors who are wounded by numbers. I’ve talked to angry authors who are incensed by a perceived lack of effort by their publisher. I’ve talked to highly frustrated authors who wonder if it is worth it all.

Ultimately, the quest to know such information is an attempt to define success for the individual author, not measure it. I propose that one must measure before defining. If you can measure it, you can define it. As long as you know what “it” is.

__________

If you can measure it, you can define it.
As long as you know what “it” is.
__________

I think success in book publishing has at least two measurements.

One is yours. The one you define for yourself and your circumstances.

The other is determined by others when looking at your book, either by reading it (an evaluation of content quality), looking at it (an evaluation of production quality), or by evaluating data (sales numbers or market penetration).

The general market tends to both measure and define success based on how much money the author makes or how many copies the book sells.

The Christian market tends to measure success based on the impact of the material on someone’s life. (At least we can hope that is how they measure success.)

I’m aware that the above generalization is simplistic and almost naive, but one cannot deny the sentiment.

At the very least, the Christian author would like to have both. They want their book to both make money and be one that changes lives.

I hope you would agree that impact and changed lives are of primary importance to every writer who is a Christian. To create stories (novels) that reach hearts through the power of story. To write nonfiction that inspires, persuades, encourages, and challenges hearts and minds.

Any discussion of sales numbers should become secondary.

The letters our clients have received from readers include messages from those who chose life over suicide, life over abortion, marriage over divorce, certainty over doubt, reconciliation over stubbornness, hope over despair, a life with Christ over a life of emptiness—because of a book they read.

There is power in words, written and spoken. They can be for good or for evil. Strive for your words to be measured by good. Let them not be banal or benign, but choose the words that challenge and change the lives of those who will read them.

 

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Always Be Learning

During the Summer of 1978 the #1 hit on Christian radio was the classic “He’s Alive” by Don Francisco (click here to listen). That same Summer I attended a Christian music festival in Estes Park, Colorado and decided to take a class on songwriting being taught by Jimmy and Carol Owens. I settled into my chair near the back of the room with notepad ready.

Just as the class was about to start a bearded man slide in the chair next to mine….notepad at the ready. To my astonishment it was Don Francisco. (I recognized him from his album cover.)

Here was a singer/songwriter who had the number one hit in the nation…taking a class on songwriting! What did he think he needed to learn?

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Four Questions About Publicity

by Steve Laube

Publicity is the art of telling the world about you and your book. We recently received a few questions about publicity via the green button you see in the right hand column of our blog (yes, it really works).

1.) When should a writer hire a publicist?
I think an author should wait to see what their publisher will provide in this area. If you do hire a publicist make sure they coordinate with your publisher so as to not duplicate efforts. (Don’t aggravate your local TV station with multiple PR contacts.)

But the question was “when” not “should.” So let me re-answer.

If you are on your own with regard to your PR, you should hire that firm six to nine months prior to the release date of your book. The PR firm will be handicapped if you wait too long. They need lead time especially in the area of getting reviews for your book. Few review outlets are interested in a book after it has already been released.

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What Are Average Book Sales?

by Steve Laube


We recently received the following question:

“What does the average book sell today? An industry veteran at a writers conference recently said 5,000. What??? I know it all depends….but … nowhere near 5K, right?”

My simple answer?

It’s complicated.
It depends.

HAH!

Average is a difficult thing to define. And each house defines success differently. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at one publisher they celebrate and have steak dinners. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at another publisher you find staff members fearing for their jobs and in total despair.

Let me give you some real numbers but not revealing the author name (and there is a wide variety of publishers represented):

Author 1: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 8,300

Author 2: novelist – 12 books – avg. sale = 19,756

Author 3: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 7,000

Author 4: novelist – 7 books – avg. sale = 5,300 (Two different publishers)

Author 5: non-fiction devotional – 5 books – avg. sale 10,900

Author 6: non-fiction – 2 books – avg. sale = 5,300

Author 7: novelist – 4 books – avg. sale = 29,400

Author 8: non-fiction – 3 books – avg. sale = 18,900

Author 9: fiction – 7 books – avg. sale = 12,900

Author 10: non-fiction – 5 books – avg. sale = 6,800 (three different publishers)

So you can see it DOES depend. Depends on the author and publisher and topic or genre.

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How Long Does It Take to Get Published?

How much time does it take to get published?

I came to the publishing business from the retail side of the equation. The biggest adjustment was understanding how long the process takes. In retail there is instantaneous gratification. But book publishing is a process business.

There is no question the timeline varies from person to person and project to project. In the world of major publishers the diversity can be quite extreme.

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That Conference Appointment

You snagged one of those valuable 15 minute appointments with an agent or an editor at the writers conference. Now what? What do you say? How do you say it? And what does that scowling person on the other side of the table want? What if you blow it?

Many excellent posts have been written on this topic (see Rachelle Gardner and Kate Schafer Testerman for example) but thought I would add my perspective as well.

What advice would you give to a beginning writer about attending a writers conference and meeting with an editor or an agent?

Go in with realistic expectations.

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Who Gets Paid in Publishing?

With all the talk about Independent publishing vs. Traditional publishing and the talk about how writers can get rich if they follow a certain plan…I got to thinking. Maybe we should do a quick look at the Economics of Publishing to see if anyone is making off like a bandit. Sorry for you non-numbers people, but it is critical to understand the infrastructure (i.e. the lifeblood) that keeps your ideas in print.

The detective in the movie says “Follow the money,” so we shall. But first a disclaimer. These models are estimates based on years of reading contracts, profit and loss sheets, spreadsheets, and royalty statements. Your mileage may vary.

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Writers Expect Good News

Writers expect good news…any day now. Is it the curse of eternal optimism?There is this hope within each writer that it will be their manuscript that is chosen for publication. And the money will rain on them like a spring shower.

Despite the odds.

Despite the competition.

Despite the cynical, horrible, no-good, very-bad agents who review them.

Expectations

Are these expectations realistic? Of course they are. It is the essence of hope. For without hope there is no reason to continue the pursuit of the craft. You have to believe that you have what it takes.

Are these expectations practical? Of course not. Who said the writing profession was “practical?”

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Checked Your Copyright Lately?

Have you checked your copyright lately? I mean, have you actually gone to the US Copyright Office web site and searched for your registration? You might be surprised at what you won’t find. Here is the link to start your search.

Most publishing contracts have a clause that requires the publisher to register the copyright, in the name of the author, with the US Copyright Office. This is supposed to be done as part of the in-house paperwork process.

If you do not find your book, don’t panic.

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Many Happy (?) Returns!

by Steve Laube

Every first-time author is confronted by the reality of “Reserves Against Returns” as part of publishing economics. It is usually a shock and elicits a phone call to their agent crying “What happened to my money?”

Did you realize that book publishing is the only “hard goods” industry where the product sold by the supplier to a vendor can be returned? This does not happen with electronics, clothing, shoes, handbags, cars, tires…you name it. If it is a durable good the vendor who buys it, owns it (which is why there are Outlet Malls – to sell the remaining inventory). Except for books. Somewhere along the line the publishers agreed to allow stores to return unsold inventory for credit. In one sense, publishers are selling their books on consignment. Bargain books are actually resold by the publisher (after getting returns or to reduce overprinted inventory) to a new specialty bargain bookseller or division of a chain (which buys the bargain books non-returnable).

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