Friday, June 24, 2016

more on sales figures on your "permanent record"

You've said an author is tainted by poor sales and therefore unlikely to find an agent willing to represent them. But is this true across the board, with no consideration given to who the publisher is or whether an advance was given? There are so many small publishers out there and most offer little to no help in the way of marketing. I can see if an author signed with a big house and didn't earn back the advance. But what of an author who signed with a small boutique publisher and received no advance and little to no help with marketing? Are those kinds of circumstances considered at all, or is everyone thrown into the same you'll-never-find-an-agent pot, gooses cooked?

It's all so relative it's hard to make a blanket statement.
Sufficient unto the day to say, no matter the circumstances, it's easier to shop an author with no sales figures than to shop one with sales figures that need to be explained.

And it hasn't eluded me that "shopping" someone in the parlance of spy fiction means to inform on them.

When you sign with a "small, boutique publisher" you should know what you're getting into. Of course there isn't going to be marketing or publicity help. There are (most likely) not going to be books in stores. You're going to need the online retailers to reach your target audience, and you're going to have to do it yourself.

Expecting anything else is wearing rose-colored glasses and renaming yourself Pollyanna.

It's worse with digital publishing because I used to be able to say "he sold all the books they printed" but with ebooks, there is no limit to the number available for sale. And ebook sales are assessed the way mass market paperbacks used to be. Because of the lower price (compared to hardcovers) you have to sell MORE to get attention.  300 ebooks is a blip. 3000 ebooks is ok. 30,000 ebooks is more likely to get noticed.

This is your career, and you get to do what you want but you need to know before you sign with any publisher what it will mean long term.

Everyone thinks they are going to sell more than they do. EVERYONE. If you think you can sell 10,000 copies, you'll be astounded to find you only sell 100. I won't be surprised in the slightest. Getting people to buy things is a VERY tough job.

Selling is hard work. It's not just a matter of saying "hey, here I am, aren't you glad to see me?"

Think of it like Miss America. Those ladies walk down the runway in Atlantic City and they look effortlessly beautiful don't they? Tall, slim, fit, talented, poised (ok, mostly).  Yet, it's not effortless in the least. Those ladies have spent YEARS honing their talent, practicing their walk, learning how to apply makeup, and entering local and regional pageants to practice.  They've worked hard to make it look easy.

Book sales are exactly like that. You spend months gearing up, building your mailing list, making friends, learning terminology, figuring out where your buyers are. And then you spend months actually doing the marketing and publicity.

It looks easy when the other guy is doing it.It's never easy when you're doing it.

To answer your question: while it's certainly easier to explain low sales numbers if your publisher is Podunk, Puny and Smalls, LLC, what any future publisher sees is a book no one wanted to buy. Publishers are risk averse by default. Telling them not to be afraid of low sales numbers isn't as persuasive as saying there are no low sales numbers.

What does that mean for you: if you're published by a small press prepare to become a salesperson for your book.

30 comments:

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Janet's words, "Worked hard to make it look easy" makes me think of Donnaeve and the process she's been going through, at least, the bits and pieces she's shared here and on her website as she prepares to launch her debut.

And 30,000 ebooks? That's more than a social media platform.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

argh, more caffeine. Sorry for the grammar errors in that 1st sentence.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Publishing as a business is not for the feint of heart. Reality is parameterized and harsh. It makes sense that low sales figures work against an author like bad credit can hurt someone applying for a mortgage. However, like getting a mortgage, getting a new book through the gauntlet after a false start is possible. It's simply harder.

i hope I avoid this pothole but who knows? Even with top rate agent and publisher, public mood can change in a dime and leave your book out in the cold. The only thing Woodland creatures can do is write the best book possible. Then follow this blog and seek all measure of available resources to promote that book once it is published.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Way, way back in the recesses of our wants there is not a one-of-us who hasn't imagined our novels becoming ballistic ball busting best selling life changers. That the least of efforts will propel even the smallest of boutique publishers, the most unknown of agents and least recognized of writers (us) into the stratosphere of writing wonders is what flits through our minds at 2AM when commas and structure overwhelm.
Oh...you can say I never thought that, never imagined. Not in a million years would I even think my book would sell big, sell well, sell a few more than to my family and friends.
If all you imagine is a title page between two covers and the rest will take care of itself, you're delusional. If you think your trip to success is a short road, you are out-of-whack and haven't studied the rules of the highway.
For those of us who are published in one genre and yet continue to reach for the same, and much greater results in another, maybe the consolation prize, after a lifetime of effort, is simply those 2AM mind movies about success. I'll let you know.

Elias McClellan said...

I have a scribble sib who shopped a MS for a hot minute. Writer became discouraged and self-published. Writer did it right, (puns?) hiring an editor, professional cover artist--everything but a marketing person or a development editor, or a book designer, I can go on. Writer fears social media tarnishing the day gig and has NO SM presence. Writer did take this scribbler's tips and paid for an ad in the trades and a submission to the Kirkus critics, which resulted in a starred review. Writer even sent a copy of the tome to the HERO who inspired said writer--and the HERO sent a beautiful letter of praise with permission to use in promotion. That was four-ish years ago and to date, writer still has no SM presence. So, no blog tours, no interviews, no cadre of fellow scribblers lending a hand--because reciprocity is cornerstone of all fellowships. I think writer has sold maybe, maybe, maybe 2K books. Maybe.

Karen lee Hallam said...

My small press has been great at getting online blog tours and interviews.(Leap Books) I always knew no matter what I'd have to pull my weight to promote my book(s). So far, they've really helped direct me to resources to do this. Thanks for this post. I'm now looking for an agent.

Dena Pawling said...


>>What does that mean for you: if you're published by a small press prepare to become a salesperson for your book.

My understanding is - if you're published, prepare to become a salesperson for your book. I understand that it requires more work at a small press, but unless your name is Nora Roberts or Stephen King or James Patterson, and maybe even if it is, don't all authors have to be salespersons for their books, no matter which publisher they have?

Jenny C said...

" if you're published by a small press prepare to become a salesperson for your book." And this is where your local Indie bookseller can help. The one you shop at regularly. The one where the booksellers know your name. The one where you buy gift cards for your kid's teachers. The one whose events you attend to meet other authors to support their books.

Booksellers love to sell books! And they really love to sell their friends's books.


Donnaeve said...

"it's easier to shop an author with no sales figures than to shop one with sales figures that need to be explained."

Posts like this make me nervous. As if I wasn't already. It's wonderful DIXIE DUPREE has caught the attention of the publisher, but all you have to do is participate in a Goodreads giveaway and watch your book against others also in these giveaways. In my mind, it's almost like a precursor to how it might compare against another on a bookshelf in a store. Very revealing.

"It's worse with digital publishing because I used to be able to say "he sold all the books they printed" but with ebooks, there is no limit to the number available for sale."

What if, for instance, an author is paid an advance, and depending on the price point of the ebook, they sell enough to pay it back...that would be good, right? Couldn't you say they sold enough to pay back their advance?


True, what Dena said. Regardless of publishing house size, you do have to prepare to become a salesperson for your book. You just might not have to do quite as much on your own, if it's not a smaller type press.

And Lisa's right too, in that there are things I'm doing I haven't talked about. The good news about all the work is I feel like I've got a team behind me, and I know I'm not the only one stumping for DIXIE.

Colin Smith said...

Don't forget, the best way we can help our writer friends sell books is to talk about them. I am genuinely excited to read Donna's novel, and I will share that excitement. But also as a friend, I want to see her succeed, so for that reason too, I will share my excitement about her novel.

If anyone has bought a Gary Corby novel because they saw me rave about them, then I feel good about enriching your life, and I feel as if I've done something to help keep Gary in publication. I need to get up the gumption to tell my local B&N to stock his books, and hopefully one day I will. My personality is such that I wouldn't normally do something like that. But I know one day I'll have to do things of that nature to promote my own work, so I may as well get used to it pushing the work of others.

One last thought: this is why you MUST love your novel. Experience tells me that genuine enthusiasm is infectious. If you don't love your novel, if you don't get excited when you talk to people about it, if your eyes don't light up when people ask you about it, then you will have a really difficult time selling it. If you're working on a WiP for any other reason than it's the book you want to write from the very depths of your soul, then stop and work on something else.

That's my 2 cents. :)

Dena Pawling said...


Because of budget and space limitations [my two middle boys are graduating high school today!], I get most of my books at my library. When I see people here on this blog, and elsewhere, raving about a book, I check for it at my library. If it's not there, I request it. So far my library has purchased two books I've requested.

Fire update - 30% contained and now burning away from homes, thankfully.

Timothy Lowe said...

* shameless promotion *

Speaking of sales, a college acquaintance of mine has a book coming out June 28th. I read the first few pages on Amazon and I just placed my order for the book. Here's the link:

https://www.amazon.com/Hundred-Thousand-Worlds-Bob-Proehl/dp/0399562214

Nice to see people doing well!



julieweathers said...

THIS is why I haven't gone with the small publishers on Far Rider. I know I don't have what it takes to promote the hound out of it and keep writing and researching at a heavy pace. Plus,to be honest, I think with the revisions Super Agent suggested, it can be a far better book and I'm willing to let it sit until I have time to invest in the rewrite.

You have to pick your battles.

As Janet said, winners make it looks easy. They spent a longtime getting there usually.

Most good bullriders started out as mutton busters.

According to his mother, multiple world champion Ty Murray walked many a mile on rails to develop his balance at race tracks where his father was a trainer.

There's no easy way to become a champion. Natural talent won't get you there without the work and all the work in the world won't get you there without some talent, alas. I loved my pony Bimbo, but he was never going to win the Preakness no matter how many times we raced down that dirt road.

I'm in a love hate relationship with all social media at the present. I really want to just get rid of facebook. Block twitter. I don't know what with my website. It was supposed to be easy to transfer my site. Apparently it isn't. It's still down.

Colin Smith said...

Timothy's link: https://www.amazon.com/Hundred-Thousand-Worlds-Bob-Proehl/dp/0399562214

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Making it look effortless is incredibly difficult. But I have to add that I do occasionally come across a paragraph or two in a book and think, "You had to really work on that one, didn't you?" It's not a bad thing - as a writer, I actually enjoy it. But it can pull a reader out of a story.

I'd also like to nominate Colin for that potential subheader: This is why you MUST love your novel. Experience tells me that genuine enthusiasm is infectious. That's my daily dose of inspiration! :)

John Davis Frain said...

Backstage is where the real work gets done. The more time and effort you put in behind the scenes, the more it'll show on stage. Pick a profession, bull riding to fiction writing, and you'll find those who excel worked tirelessly without anyone noticing.

Don't worry if there are exceptions to the rule. Assume you won't be an exception and keep working.

Joseph Snoe said...

This is all so scary.

Is there a way trade off something (like a smaller advance) with a publisher in return for a two or three book guarantee even if the first book does not generate decent sales?

Completely off topic but I’m excited to have tickets to the Guy Clark Tribute at the Ryman Auditorium featuring Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Jack Ingram, Steve Earle and Joe Ely (and I hope Verlon Thompson). I can’t begin to tell you how much Guy Clark’s songs and shows have meant to me over the decades.

Beth said...

Some people enjoy living in their heads. They spend long hours alone and turn out lots of books. Some people love to interact socially, and make great salespeople. Only occasionally are they they same people. But we try.

Mora Green said...

I'm applying to medical residency this year, and a lot of discussion in my class (and every graduating class before it) looks exactly like that. We all worry about black marks on our permanent records, and we all have good explanations for them, and it's not fair. There was a woman who was all "Woe is me!" online after she failed to match into surgical residency with several significant black marks AND she interviewed while pregnant. Is it fair that she should be discriminated against for being pregnant? No, it's not, but that's just how it is. Surgical residents work insane, inhuman hours, and when one is out on maternity leave for 2 mo, everybody else has to increase their already unmanageable hours to pick up the slack. Meanwhile, they have 20 more candidates for the same spot, not pregnant and without a single black mark.

Well, same with writing. There are lots and lots of great books and talented authors who are not asshats. Publishing industry is not our auntie; it's a business. It's not their responsibility to make sure we're all equally treated and happy. It's not fair. A black mark may not be your fault, but the fact is, there are lots of other candidates out there without any black marks. You have to be that much better, where it's overlooked. But certain black marks you just can't afford to have and still expect to be published/to match into residency. And I feel like we keep asking the same question over and over again, phrased differently and with different modifiers, because maybe the answer would sound more hopeful and not so heartless. It's not fair but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Elissa M said...

The need to promote myself and my writing is just about the biggest thing holding me back. I completely understand the necessity. People have to know your book exists and why they should buy it. Heck, I majored in commercial art and advertising (back in the day when they still used Town Criers to get the word out). I totally get it.

And yet, putting myself out there absolutely terrifies me. It's a major accomplishment when I manage to comment on a blog like this. I'm certain there are many other writers who feel the same, and probably all of them write better than I do.

It saddens me to think of the books that may never come to fruition because the authors really truly aren't social beings and have decided the desk drawer is the safest place for their writing. This is no one's fault, really. It's just how things are. But it's still sad.

Colin Smith said...

Mora/Elissa: Janet has mentioned before people who, for various reasons (social anxiety, physical disfigurement, etc.), don't do personal promotion, and yet manage to have a publishing career. I daresay they write awesome books, so ultimately, again, it comes down to the writing. But I mention this to say it's not impossible to publish without personal promotion. If you gather a team that will do the promotion for you, that could work, I suppose.

Craig said...

In the current and probably many future worlds anything worth doing is a risk. There are too many people for the amount of jobs being offered.

Recently a company down here announced it was going to add 30 jobs. Over two thousand people applied. This was just a shit type job and not something satisfying psychologically or in a monetary manner.

All you can do is your best. Do your due diligence and research. Learn how to apply that to whatever you wish to do. If you get a contract do all you can to make it work. If you feel that self publishing is the way to go make sure you have studied some marketing to give yourself a chance.

It is hard to tell if charging into twitter will do much. I have an alternate way. I have 7058 subscribing to the berry farm's email and somewhere between 5 and 8000 others from my other business. If this will translate into sales I don't know. I do think word of mouth is the best advertising. Maybe that is word of email.

You owe it to yourself to make the best of it. Even middling small publishers have marketing plans. Use them to their best advantage.

Brigid said...

I nominate John: "Don't worry if there are exceptions to the rule. Assume you won't be an exception and keep working."

A hard lesson to learn, at least for Young Brigid. But a good one.

Donnaeve said...

So very nice of you, Colin, to say that! Thank you!

Mora/Elissa - and others

I'm one of those that doesn't like the whole sales thing - but I love my book and it would show if I talked to you face to face. Maybe it shows out here even. I know I talk a lot about DIXIE DUPREE, but, I'm not trying to sell it (out here), I just need a place to share the stuff that means something to me with the people who "get it." I've been saying lately (to myself) shut up, shut up, shut up, about the book already! Then something exciting happens! SIBA! And I want to shout! Like I am now! :)

I sort of cringed the other day b/c every Friday I've been doing this First Sentence Friday on my blog, with a picture of the book cover for those posts. When I went out to Twitter, all my pictures are...the book cover. Ick? I can imagine people going, "oh Lord, we've seen the cover!"

When I go to gatherings (we have a big wedding in the neighborhood tomorrow) I won't talk about the book unless someone else brings it up. Then I'll answer their question/s, and maybe hand them a bookmark. And go quiet about it again.

I try not to talk about it at all - unless I'm asked. I hope I don't hear Ms. Janet bellow over that. (hee)

Colin Smith said...

Donna: So you won't be wearing that dress you made out of book covers? Or handing out t-shirts with the cover on it? ;)

Seriously, though, it's a cool cover. I totally understand why you're so proud of it.

Amy Schaefer said...

Donna, I thought it made sense to keep repeating the cover. It certainly helped anchor it in my mind. All those lovely yellows...

And, once again, we hear that success takes a lot of hard work. Gosh, could that possibly be a rule for life?

Donnaeve said...

Don't give me any ideas, Colin.

Amy, that's much appreciated - and also your use of anchor. I was worried it would come off like the Twitter folks who send and send their book stuff out. Blech. I did NOT want that!

Julie Weathers said...

Donna, you should be proud of the book and your cover. Well done and I think everyone is thrilled for you.

I don't know what the answer is for self promotion. Everywhere you look, people say you need to be media savvy. Every conference will have workshops on establishing some kind of presence. Amanda Hocking talks about how it burned her out trying to keep up with with everything even after she was successful. It's work.

While it's true people who self-publish and publish with small publishers have to do a lot of promoting, I think it's a fantasy to think traditionally published authors don't have to work at it also.

Diana Gabaldon's books sell because people like the stories and the writing, but she's also a master promoter. She connects with her readers and makes herself available. The Gabaldon army in turn works tirelessly to promote her and her books.

Colin is a prime example of a promoter for Gary Corby and who the heck wouldn't be? I think we all do.

I often buy books of authors I get to know and like I might not have picked up otherwise. I promote them and introduce new people to them. I give the books as gifts. I support them whenever I can.

Being a successful writer means wearing many hats. I like mine with feathers.

RachelErin said...

I think people who don't like marketing/promotion can still do it well, it's all about how you frame it.
The best 'promotion' is about relationships, so if you build real relationships with readers and book lovers, you have a built in network of people to help you.

My network includes high school English teachers who love to give their students untraditional opportunities (like beta-reading my book to build some critiquing skills...), local librarians who know me because I've suggested other authors I would love have visit and I get advice from them on books for my kids all the time-when I have a book to promote they will probably be happy to read and promote it. Library patrons usually love local authors, so it's a win/win.

I don't seek out these relationships because I hope to get something out of them. They form because we all love books and young adult readers. I do love brainstorming, strategizing, and suggesting. Books on my TBR list (and my daughter's) are currently drawn from the published authors in a critique group I recently joined.

So in addition to writing well, I guess I think "be awesome" is another piece of advice - and "awesome" does not mean outgoing and talkative. It means caring about books, readers, other writers, schools, and librarians, and sharing your talents (which hopefully includes your books) with them. Because of the internet, those local efforts don't stay local - and of course you can do all of those things over the internet as well.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Coming late to the party because I had a busy weekend.

I absolutely love my books. I write the kind of stories I love to read. If only I could bottle up the love I feel for my books (and there's plenty to go around), I'd give everyone who reads Romance a bottle of this love.

The trick is convincing them to drink it.

The other day someone posted a really nice review of Her Endearing Young Charms on Amazon. That totally made my day, because she loved it too.

If you read and enjoy a book, do the author a favour and tell someone.