Being a first-time author and selling books: a dose of reality
It seems like almost everyone I know has written a book, is thinking about writing a book, or someone has told them that they should write a book. Although I’m 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 back in 1989.
Authorship is glamorous, right?
News reports on book-related events by authors Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, and Karl Rove have been making headlines in recent weeks. Their books were published, they hit Amazon, and these authors gained even more fame, money, and celebrity as each scheduled book event came to a successful close.
“If only I could get my novel published, I could buy that house in the country,” laments a potential author. “Once my job is there, I can quit my office job and stay home and write,” dreams another. All I need is a break, and it’s the New York Times bestseller list here I come!
Well, they are right, right?
No. That is, of course, unless you already have a built-in audience of millions hoping to part with $ 24.95 for a chance to meet you and get your autograph. If that doesn’t describe you, 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 it. Not everyone with a story will be 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 big bills start to pile up and the real work begins.
The same goes for publishing a book in today’s market. Nearly a million book titles were published last year if you add up the numbers from traditional publishers, self-published books, and e-books. I have seen reports that a successful book in today’s market is one that sells 5,000 copies.
Do you know how difficult it is to sell 5,000 copies? We’ll get back to that in a moment, let’s talk about the fun stuff first: money.
Authors who are published through traditional media generally receive royalties. Contracts differ between 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 in the market. Note that your royalty is not 15% of the cover price, but is calculated on the amount the publisher receives per copy.
Authors make millions
I suppose some do, just like there are people who win the lottery. Writing a book and buying a lottery ticket are bad bets to budget on. 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 very possible that the amount received per book will average around eight dollars, more or less. Don’t get caught up in the details until we get down to the concept part. So if all 5,000 books are sold and not returned (I mentioned that those sold don’t always actually sell …), the gross amount for your publisher is roughly $ 40,000. Congratulations, you are a successful author. Now let’s take a look at your paycheck.
Don’t call the realtor yet, your gross royalties are $ 6,000. I’m not going to speculate what it might cost you to write your book, but I know that the clerk at the office supply store smiles every time I come by for more paper and printer ink.
If you still want to get your story or message out there, maybe it’s time to move on to marketing; really selling books.
Selling books is personal
The only way to sell books is to tell your story to people who are interested enough in the details to write a check, deliver cash, or hover your computer cursor over the BUY NOW button and click the left mouse button. .
How do you reach these people? How will they find your book? The answers are the same. You should get their attention in any way possible. Creativity is good, but persistence is even better.
Novice authors typically don’t get paid promotional views from publishers. First-time authors often get a list on the major book sites and distribution channels that will provide the books ordered by the bookstores. Note that I did not write “In Stock In Bookstores”.
The most important thing to successfully market your book is great content. Your book must be good! The words you write must somehow satisfy a need in the reader’s life: for entertainment, for inspiration, or as a source of necessary information.
What comes next is work. Then more work. As in the horse example, the real effort begins when your book is published. Finishing the final edit of your manuscript barely gets a start if your goal is a successful book.
Is this where it gets glamorous?
Sure, if you think that carrying boxes of books, tables, chairs and all the necessary supplies to create an attractive display for the clients of the book fair is glamorous. Then there’s the matter of starting a conversation with anyone who gets close to your booth’s ear. You have to be a person to sell books. Did I mention that selling books is personal? Unless you are well known, you are very fortunate to have the opportunity to tell every person who comes to your table about your book and why they might care.
The real value of book signing events is debatable. Book fairs can be long and exhausting days. Each author must take a critical look at their book and decide whether it appeals to a large 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 as a service to other authors and to let them know that I exist. This is an example of book marketing. My usual subjects have to do with horses or faith, but writing and selling books is something that I am getting to know more about every day.
The Internet is a wonderful tool. Each book has a specific market. Your challenge is to reach your market and talk to the people who make it up. My true goal is to share a message of faith. I use the written word, as well as personal appearances and video to convey the message. Once you’ve published your book and fully understand that selling copies is a marathon race and not a sprint, then it’s time to let your creativity run wild.
The reality of authorship
This is where I share my reality as an author. I am passionate about the message that I share with my readers. There was never an option NOT to share it. I’m in this for the long haul. I hope that when people close the back cover of Amazing Grays – Amazing Grace, their lives will change forever for the better.
Is your message great? Are you passionate about sharing it with others? If you answered these two questions with a strong and emphatic “YES!” Then you may need to continue after the goal of being published.
Don’t plan on paying big bills with your royalties, but you may just have one message that will make a substantial difference in the lives of others. What better goal is there?
When that first email comes telling you that your words ‘changed my life’, your heart will grow about two sizes and you will go back to the computer to do it all over again.