In the traditional book-publishing world, insiders often refer to the initial release of a book from a new author as a marketing test…more R&D than launching and promoting a known product.
The self-publishing process can function in a similar role of market testing for a first time author. You won’t know for certain how it will be received, but it is worth the effort to try. Most authors desire the chance to prove themselves and self-publishing is a good way to do it.
I’ve recommended to any number of authors they self-publish a book because at the moment I didn’t see a ready market for it among traditional publishers. Also, if an author needs a book to sell at their speaking engagements to build their author platform, waiting 18-24 months for a release from a formal publisher is often not in their best interest.
But I also know what I suggest is that the author test-market their writing and marketing platform to see if it meets expectations. A self-published book, which doesn’t sell particularly well for the author might make it hard for them to attract the traditional publisher because they now have sales history that can be tracked. For some it might mean the end of their aspirations to be traditionally published. But mainly, it means they should go back to work, make adjustments and try again. How much work, how many adjustments and how long they continue to try is up to them.
Every human endeavor, from a young man asking a young lady for a date to making toast in the morning, involves the same three steps:
A book puts the writer “out there” for all to see and invites readers to vote with their money on whether they like what they read.
“Doing something” is step one of the market test.
Every week, I receive several proposals from authors who say in effect, “I tried self-publishing and it didn’t work well, so I want to pursue the traditional route.”
What I hear is, “The test marketing for this product didn’t go well, but I still think a company should invest money in it.”
It’s a rather simple decision regarding agency representation. Sorry.
If you decide to self-publish initially with the desire to eventually get an agent for traditional publishing, your self-publishing efforts need to show growth and good revenue streams over a long period of time in order to get the attention of anyone. There are no magic numbers to aim for, but unless your sales are in the multiple thousands of revenue generating units, agents and publishers probably won’t be interested.
And, their interest would be in your next book, not the one currently available and being market tested. (Unless your book is selling thousands per week, at which time everyone involved in traditional publishing will be your friend)
Traditional publishers would rather take a risk on a new author who has no proven track record of sales than the author who “tested” poorly in self-publishing.
So, even self-publishing is risky. It puts you in front of a crowd who will pass judgment on whether your work is worthy to be purchased. No one enjoys failure to perform as expected, not to mention the risk of poor reader-reviews.
Low sales for a self-published book means you need to try again, write a new book, or change the title, pricing, online product description, marketing, or whatever else you think for the book, which didn’t test well. But if you can’t get some momentum built no matter what you do, it is your decision how long you should persevere.
Figuratively speaking, every book has a “here I am world, what do you think?” sign attached to it. Authors need to be open to adjust to whatever the test data is trying to tell them.