Poor Sales Can Affect Your Future

receipts-in-a-boxYesterday we talked about how it can be difficult to get an agent or traditional publisher if you had a self-pub book that didn’t sell. But that begs the question: What if you have a traditionally published book (or multiple books) that didn’t sell very well? Will that cause problems selling future books?

Absolutely.

In fact, if you have two or three books, traditionally published, that each sold, say, 5,000 to 8,000 copies, it will be so difficult to overcome that you’d be better off if you were a brand-new, never published author.

Now, this isn’t to say it would be impossible to sell a book to a publisher under these circumstances. But it takes an awesome idea – a truly breakout book with a unique and completely saleable hook – and it takes some finesse on the part of your agent to make this happen. With non-fiction, a terrific platform can help.

Why is is so difficult? It’s not just the publishers. They often wish they could take these kinds of risks. They see a project with merit and they might really, really want to publish it. But those three books with so-so sales are their sticking point. Why is it such a big deal?

It’s the buyers – the retailers who stock books. When the publisher is telling the buyer about a new book from a previously published author, the buyer may not even listen to the pitch. They may not even be interested in what the sales person has to say about how great your book is, how this is your break-out book, how you have this incredible marketing platform. No, the buyer may just say, “Hold on,” and type your name into their computer, pulling up each of your previous books and exactly how many copies of those books they sold.

They buyer will place their order based on how many they sold before.

And if they hardly sold any copies of your previous books, the buyer may decide to pass. “Nope, I don’t need any of those, what’s next on your list?”

In this digital world, everyone has almost every piece of information at their fingertips. This is why a few books with mediocre sales can make it difficult to get more books published.

But what constitutes a book selling poorly? Obviously, this will depend on the size of the publisher and the genre of the book. But in nearly all cases, a string of books that all sold fewer than 10,000 copies will make it difficult for you to publish with a major publisher.

But like I said… not impossible.

I’m not telling you this because I want to be discouraging. Just one more piece of reality you should be aware of on this treacherous publishing journey!

Q4U: In light of this reality, what are some things you could do, in hopes of not ending up in this situation?

 

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  • http://grapevine.com.au/~nataliem Natalie

    Change your pseudonym?

  • http://alabno.wordpress.com Anna Labno

    Maybe, I should quit writing. This is not motivating me at all. I haven’t been published yet. I better read something more encouraging. :)

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Sorry Anna! You know, I try to make 90% of my posts encouraging. But the pollyanna routine has to be balanced with some reality, especially because unrealistic expectations are one of the biggest problems authors face in this business. Don’t mean to get you down! I’m simply trying to give you what you need if you’re going to navigate a successful publishing journey.

  • http://alabno.wordpress.com Anna Labno

    Natalie,

    I think that’s one of the solutions.

  • http://www.thejellybeansofwriting.blogspot.com Krista McLaughlin

    Ugh… not encouraging at all. We can do all this work and still if we get published and our book doesn’t sell well, we may never get another book sold. Writing is a difficult choice.

  • Taz

    My GF who is a prolific fiction reader always says, “Make your second book and especially your third book as good as your first. Don’t write something for the sake of getting it out there and it’s rubbish.”

    This theme begs the question: How much pressure are writers under from the Publisher when there’s a contract telling them when the time’s up to get that pledged story in? And also: Do writers in certain genres really get trapped by stereotypes? Could this be the reason for reader disappointment?

    Keeping the pages turning from the get-go is the absolute key.

    • http://www.shortstoriesexpert.com Erica

      Taz,

      I was so naive about publishing when I took my first fiction writing class in undergrad. I would think, “My favorite authors have shelves of books. I bet they make lots and lots of money.” It was only years later that I understood why. At best, they were probably making about $5,000 per book, which does not a living make! Hence, the 4 books per year.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      How much pressure are writers under from the Publisher when there’s a contract telling them when the time’s up to get that pledged story in?
      Pressure? Well, a contract’s a contract. If you’re contractually obligated to do something, you do it, or things fall apart rather quickly.

      Do writers in certain genres really get trapped by stereotypes? If writers get trapped by stereotypes, they do it to themselves. Publishers and readers want writers to keep delivering books in a specific genre. But within a genre, there are worlds of possibilities. If a writer chooses to write in stereotypes and fails to deliver original works within that genre, it’s the writer’s doing. You can’t blame the publishing industry for “trapping” writers.

  • http://www.markwilliamsinternational.com mark williams international

    According to APP figures ninety per cent published books anyway barely sell a thousand copies. Those writers will likely never be heard of again.

    The big problem is shelf-time. Once the retailer invites your book into his store you have a short window (three months or less) to impress, or it’s game over.

    Self-publishing first gives you a far better chance of proving yourself. The shelf-space is limitless, there’s plenty of time to promote, and there’s plenty of time for readers to actually buy and read the book and pass on their enthusiasm to others.

    We self-published and for the first three months sold almost nothing. Had we been a paper book in B&N it would have been the end of our career. Remaindered or pulped, and no future.

    Yet in the next six months that same book suddenly grew wings and sold 100,000 copies.

    Unless a publisher is giving you the plinth and all the resources of their marketing team, then chances are your published book will never have time to find an audience.

    A compelling argument to self-publish first, find and prove your market, and then look to traditional publishers to help you reach a wider audience.

    If you can’t sell your own book, why should they do any better?

    • http://www.shortstoriesexpert.com Erica

      Mark,

      I like your comments. They hit close to home as I have been back and forth debating about self-publishing vs. a publishing house. When you factor in the middleman (agent) and all of those things, it just seems like a headache, especially if you only end up selling less than 10,000 books.

      • http://jomurphey.blogspot.com Jo Murphey

        Erica, The “middlemen” like agents, publishing houses, promotion are all areas covered under this “middlemen” category. You get what you pay for. They have umpteen dozen years of experience behind them. How much do you know about publishing? Now, I’m not razzing on you, honest. It’s a fact. Do you want to become the unknown salesman who goes door to door selling your vaccum cleaners? That’s about what self-publishing amounts to. Yes, the internet helps.

        I made the choice to self-publish my fiction. I wear all the hats and have my fingers in every pie. I love the idea of limitless shelf life. I tread water most of the time, but this is my choice.

        Yes, with self-publishing you can go from final manuscript to published in a matter of hours and then the REAL job sets in…getting the public to notice you and buy your book. It isn’t for everyone although lately it seems that everyone is jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon. Most do not know how to sell themselves or their product.

        In self-publishing and in standard publishing YOU are the product. It is how well YOU write, it is how YOU present yourself, it is how YOU promote yourself.

        Just my two cents or with inflation…a dime.

        There are thousands of authors out there in self-publishing who have not made a cent. I make a medium income by self-publishing. The initial

  • http://www.shortstoriesexpert.com Erica

    As of late, I have really been hearing some discouraging things about the publishing business. However, new and aspiring authors should understand the realistic aspect of publishing. Those authors that gain big advances and sell lots of books are rare, but definitely had a long hard journey to get to their successful place.

  • http://emmawilhelm.com Emma

    One strategy is to market the pants off of your first book to increase the likelihood of strong sales. For instance, it may help to hire your own publicist (in addition to the publicist assigned to your book at the publishing company).

    • Leila

      But if you are only making $5000 per book, (realistic) how can you afford to hire a publicist?

  • http://esthersdestiny.blogspot.com Sherri

    Does this include e-books, as well? If you can show strong sales with e-books are you more likely to convince books sellers to order that book if it’s traditionally published. This may sound like a no-brainer but I don’t want to assume anything here. I’ve been thinking about e-books as a way to get my name out there…?

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Sherri, did you read yesterday’s blog post?

  • http://bethvogt.com Beth K. Vogt

    My nonfiction book came out the same year I struggled with a life-threatening illness. This was not a smart thing to do when it came to marketing my book.
    I have a May 2012 release date for my debut novel–so the lack of bestseller status didn’t keep me from landing a contract. What’s my plan?
    I’m remembering I’m not in control of everything, as much as I’d like to be.
    I’m learning as much about social media as I can (reading books, browsing blog posts.)
    I’m building mutually beneficial relationships, not just using people for my gain.
    And I’m taking my vitamins.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Beth, your non-fiction audience is/was pretty much irrelevant in selling your fiction, so your novel had to stand on its own as if you were unpublished. It worked!

  • http://byline.peterdehaan.name/ Peter DeHaan

    I am tempted to declare that my solution is to simply stop writing. But that would not be possible. I am compelled to write — and would die if I stopped!

  • http://www.peaceforthejourney.com elaine @ peace for the journey

    A lot to chew on, and if I’m not careful to measure it in light of the bigger picture, a potentially discouraging consideration in the midst of my writing odyssey.

    I must keep to the message of my story, keep tending to the pulse beneath my words. Keep writing and keep believing that my work will find the right home, whether through traditional publishing, self-publishing, or simply to rest as a witness on the canvas of my blog.

    Having the “bigger picture” as my backdrop frees me up to write my words and to release them in trust. God will take care of the peripheral rest of it. It’s taken me a while to arrive at this conclusion, but it’s a beautiful vantage point from which to view my life–to write it as well!

    peace~elaine

  • Bryan Davis

    This is a bit pedantic for a comment here, so I apologize for that, but: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/begs-the-question.aspx

  • http://www.artesianministries.org Donna Pyle

    Tying your book to a cause gives the readers a tangible reason (along with an excellent read, of course) to purchase when they know part of the proceeds (however large or small) will go to help people somehow.

  • http://www.rickbarry.blogspot.com Rick Barry

    Interesting insight here. Rachelle, you mention that the size of the publisher makes a difference. I sold my first 2 novels to a smaller publisher, one that specifically targets Christian schools and church bookstores, and seems content with those outlets. To my chagrin, they don’t seem particularly concerned about getting into bookstores (although some stores carry their titles anyway). Would those factors be taken into account as I try to move from YA books with that small publisher to adult suspense with a larger publisher?

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Rick, you’ll want to downplay those YA novels when trying to break into a larger publisher with a different genre. You’re an experienced writer who knows how to write to deadline and knows how to deal with being edited; yet a new writer when it comes to your audience and your genre.

      • http://rickbarry.blogspot.com/ Rick Barry

        Rachelle, just a quick thanks again on behalf of the many who visit you regularly to receive information, insight, encouragement, reality checks…and often even personal advice. Not sure how you do it, but we’re glad you do. Blessings to you!

  • http://heathersunseri.blogspot.com Heather Sunseri

    These past two posts are really something to weigh when thinking about the whole traditional publishing vs. self-publishing arena. We writers have to make smart decisions. Don’t jump too quick into self-publishing. Weigh the risks and be willing to accept the worst-case scenario.

  • Else

    Rachelle, I am already in that situation… and my next book will come out under a pseudonym. The same thing has happened to friends of mine.

  • Rachelle Gardner

    The best answer to the question I posed is this: not only do your best to find your own audience through well-thought-out author marketing strategies, but also write the very best book you can.

    CONTENT is the #1 single most important factor in sales… not marketing, not buzz.

    • Sue T

      Rachelle, you mentioned that Content is #1 as in writing the best book you can. I agree with that. Do you think the number of books matters? I’ve had this debate with some friends of mine. They are self-published and believe they need to get a bunch of books up there; however, they are doing little marketing. I think you have to do both. If content is important, how about the number of books an author has available?

      As always, very thought provoking blog postings. Thank you.

  • Julia

    What’s the word on this if you did work-for-hire that didn’t sell well? I edited a trade book, and before the pub date the publisher decided they didn’t want to be in that business any more. So they cut the marketing budget to zero and adjusted the print run to 7,000. It’s been out for six months and they’ve sold half the books, and it’s the kind of thing where they could eventually plug along at 500 books a month without doing much. But it grates on me that my name is on a book that’s not technically mine — I have zero say or influence in marketing it — and that in the long run my good work could actually harm my chances of getting a book contract for something else.

    • Rachelle Gardner

      Julia, this is why I’ve chosen to keep my name off of the eight books I ghostwrote during the decade before I was an agent. While every word of the actual writing was mine, I did not want my reputation attached to content or sales that I had no control over. When you ghostwrite, you can use that experience to help you get other collaboration jobs – even if your name isn’t on the book (the editor at the publishing house can confirm that you wrote it). It’s less likely that the ghostwriting experience will help you sell books of your own, so it’s important to weight the decision to have your name on those books.

      Having said all that, my advice is this. If the ghostwritten book is on a topic and in a genre that’s different from what you’re trying to write & sell on your own, then don’t give it too much credence. You can mention it to agents/editors as writing experience, but try to avoid using it in a way that causes someone to ask for sales figures and actually use it to create an “author sales history.” Act like you have NO sales history.

  • http://www.sarahanneloudinthomas.wordpress.com Sarah Thomas

    Thanks for the reminder that everything ultimately comes down to a good story well told. I think we unpublished authors tend to keep looking for the magic pill that will guarantee publication and success–a snappy query, the perfect proposal, the ideal marketing plan, knowing the right people . . . and so on. All important stuff, but not worthy doodly-squat without a good book.

  • http://marlataviano.com Marla Taviano

    Here’s to the finesse of my agent and achieving the impossible!!

  • http://babblefromtheburbs.blogspot.com/ Kathryn Elliott

    I hear my grandmother’s voice whispering in my ear on this one – “Look before you leap! Investigate all your options and evaluate your personal and financial goals before jumping into anything.” Rachelle, please pardon my Pollyanna-esque question, but can you recommend any helpful sites or books aimed specifically at aiding debut writers in assessing individual publishing goals? Between writers groups, web advice and Betas – I’m completely losing sight of what it is I truly want for my work. I suppose what I’m looking for is akin to those dreaded career placement tests we were subjected to in high school. Maybe I’m searching for a magic wand – but the aimless wandering is driving me mad. Thanks.

  • http://www.proverbs31gal.blogspot.com/ Debbie Baskin

    I guess the best way to avoid this situation might be to never publish. Ha!

    Actually, marketing seems to be the key. Last night, I spent hours reading up on non-fiction proposal letters. Ugh and double ugh. In the proposal, the author has to research who would read his book and how he would market his book.

    Figuring out your audience is probably one of the most significant items because I think that would dramatically dictate how you would market your book. If publishing houses want to know this information, it just might be important.

    So, if you are self-publishing, I think that you would spend as much or more time on these two issues which seem overwhelming to me right now. A beautifully written, life-changing book that would benefit the masses cannot call your media contacts, set up speaking engagements, and get involved with social networking. The author has to be willing to sell his story or message. Often the best medicine to any situation is prevention.

    This is probably going to be the most difficult part of the *writing* process for me. Mark and I have spent years trying to stay out of the media. We turned down being on Oprah two years ago because they were interested in simply sensationalizing our lives.

    Mark and I have never wanted this type of attention. Our earnest desire is to promote how God and His church wrapped our family up and gave us the strength to live with joy when the world would have said, “Impossible.”

    • Sue T

      Debbie, I love what you said here – “A beautifully written, life-changing book that would benefit the masses cannot call your media contacts, set up speaking engagements, and get involved with social networking.”

      That seems to be a pretty key message

  • http://www.girlswithpens.com Marcy Kennedy

    Thanks for another great post.

    I learned a lot about needing to know my audience when I was recently faculty at a writer’s conference where Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press was also teaching. Because of his experience with Christian speculative fiction tanking in a traditional setting, he emphasizes knowing your market–not just knowing who they are, but also knowing their shopping habits and interests.

    One of the reasons Christian speculative fiction historically fails is because the people who shop in the book stores aren’t looking to buy it (they’re mostly women of childbearing age who’d prefer Amish and sweet romance). And the people who are looking to buy “weird” have learned that they can’t find it in traditional bookstores, so they don’t look there, and when a “weird” book does get placed, they’re not there to buy it. They buy online or they download as an ebook (science fiction being the highest selling ebook category). Catering to their buying habits is one of the things Jeff credits the success of Marcher Lord Press to.

  • http://jennkelly.com Jenn Kelly

    I wonder if those sales figures are for one year, or overall?

  • http://theravenslanding.blogspot.com/ Abigail Cossette

    So if they take size of publisher into account when looking at sales why the big deal if a self published novel doesn’t sell much? You don’t get much smaller than that…

  • http://www.kathleenbasi.com Kathleen Basi

    I would like to know how a publisher’s initial expectations factor into this. And if different types of books (novel vs. NF, for instance) have the same pull on each other as they would on others within the same area. For instance, I sold a book (booklet; it’s less than 100 pages small form) to Liguori, a religious publisher, on Advent traditions for families. They printed 4000 copies, expecting them to last 2 years, and sold over 3000 of them in the first year. Now, that’s way below the numbers you quote, but it was clearly a sales number they’d be very happy to see again. Is this a difference in the market, or are #s like these likely to make me a hard sell when & if I have a fiction project that another publisher might be interested in?

    • http://www.kathleenbasi.com Kathleen Basi

      I see that some others have asked similar questions–looks like a number of us will be interested to hear your take on this!

    • Rachelle Gardner

      It has everything to do with publisher expectations. And like I said in the post, it depends on the publisher and the genre.

      • http://www.kathleenbasi.com Kathleen Basi

        I guess my question is whether a NY publisher would look at sales figures from a small St. Louis publisher and see them as inadequate, when they are actually quite good. Does that make sense?

  • http://www.thecolorofsound.edublogs.com Michael

    I’m constantly amazed by all the pitfalls in the world of publishing. But I guess the more knowledge you are equipted with, the better you can engage the fight.
    thanks,
    Michael
    http://www.thecolorofsound.edublogs.org

  • http://amyjarecki.blogspot.com Amy Jarecki

    This stresses the importance of marketing. Now more than ever, authors have to market their books to gain readership. I have a book coming out at the end of the year by an independent publisher. As soon as it’s available for pre-release orders, I’ll post my book trailer all over the internet. Because it’s a Native American historical novel, I’ve already set up signings and readings in State and National Parks, and the local Wal Mart has agreed to put it on their shelves. Authors need a marketing plan, and it’s got to start before their book is released.

  • http://www.examiner.com/childrens-literature-in-chicago/elizabeth-mackinney Beth MacKinney

    Ew! That’s a sobering thought.

  • http://www.ginnymartyn.com Ginny Martyn

    wow, that is major. Thanks for this info.

  • Reba J. Hoffman

    Very good post today, Rachelle. Judging by the comments, it really struck a chord. Writing a breakout story is a daunting task. Marketing it, even more. The way I see it, if we wait until our book is published, it’s too late. We must build relationship and a following before the book is published. I believe that will go a long way toward having readers buy that book, read it, love it, and recommend it.

  • http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com Glen Strathy

    The trouble with the “self-publish to find your audience” argument is that in self-publishing you will do everything you would do if you were traditionally published, but you won’t have the clout, distribution, and marketing efforts of the publisher. That makes it harder, not easier.

  • http://www.MayraCalvani.com Mayra Calvani

    Hi Rachelle,

    What about writers like me who are small press authors with micro publishers? Don’t they keep into account that micro presses don’t have the reach nor budgets big publisher have?

    I have two agents now and I hope to make the leap to the big houses. So far, none of my agents have mentioned anything about this.

    As an agent, how would you pitch an author like myself to a big editor? Would you mention that I’m a small press author trying to make the leap and also the fact that I’m open to using a pen name?

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    Mayra

  • http://www.lynmillerlachmann.com Lyn Miller-Lachmann

    From what you’ve said, it sounds like publishing with a small press or university press–where sales of 5,000 would be considered impressive–is a really bad idea, unless you want to spend the rest of your career there.

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Caleb-Bartholomew/190010227705181 Caleb Bartholomew

    For all the discouraged folks out there, you have to be determined, as Nathan Bransford said today. As with any dream job, you’re going to be told no way more than you are going to be told yes. Many authors are told no a lot more than they are told yes. I am not discouraged by any of the last two days, but more motivated to make my books work. Like Ms. Gardner said, not impossible. As long as something is always possible, keep trying. Don’t give up.

  • http://crowproductions.com joan Cimyotte

    Yeah, hit a dog when he’s down. My dream filled clouds have burst. Reality bites. Fortunately these are things I’m aware of. The odds are so stacked against us. Rachelle, thank you for reminding us of the pratfalls.

  • http://www.sally-apokedak.com/whispers_of_dawn/ Sally Apokedak

    Rachelle, do you think it going to change a bit as more and more sales happen online and not in bookstores? I mean, if the publisher wants a good book they think will break out but are afraid that the bookstores won’t stock it, do you think they might be willing to buy the book anyway and do a big online publicity push for it? Or do most of their sales still come from brick and mortar stores?

    Good post though. Thanks. I also appreciate you remarks about honoring contracts and trapping yourself in stereotypical writing.

  • http://www.christianmamasguide.com Erin

    This is kinda depressing. I guess all we can do is do our best to market our books as well as we can!

  • http://www.claricejames.com Clarice James

    I recently sent out a proposal (to agents only) for my first novel and am waiting to hear back. The section on author promotion included my founding a club based on the main premise of the book. I planned to do this after my book was published. Now I’m wondering if I should reverse the process: promote the club first (eventually on a national level) to catch the attention of publishers. Thoughts?

  • http://www.catherinejwest.com Cathy West

    Ah. Just one more thing to keep me awake at night. :) I probably shouldn’t have read this. Marketing is extremely hard, much harder than I imagined it was going to be. Unfortunately once the ‘honeymoon’ feeling of having the first book in print is over, it’s a constant feeling of trying to keep one’s head above water to try to keep your book catching readers’ attention. I think this is something a lot of unpublished authors don’t think about beforehand. It’s even harder when you’re with a small publisher. But the truth is, you’re right. The numbers are more important than the amount of five star reviews you get, I suppose. Such is life.

  • http://kristinlaughtin.blogspot.com Kristin Laughtin

    Ahh, I’m glad you included the bit at the end about major publishers. If you’re writing a niche book for a small press, total sales might not be expected to be 10,000, after all.

    …Which isn’t what I’m hoping to do, so I better promote my books like crazy if/when I get published. I’d rather not have to start over with a new pseudonym…

  • http://www.susanspann.com Susan S

    My response? Work on craft. Write the breakout novel, if possible, every time.

    As Donald Maass says in his book, “Writing the Breakout Novel,” (and as I said even before I read it) – Don’t settle for merely good.

    Be great.

    Objectively great, however – not great in the vaccuum of your computer. Get honest critiques. Listen to them. Read good books. Analyze them. Read blogs like this one and recognized books on craft.

    No Olympic gymnast became one overnight. If the first book didn’t sell well, read the reviews and figure out why.

    Then write a much, much better one.

  • http://www.nebraskagraceful.blogspot.com Michelle DeRusha

    So here I am thinking 5,000-8,000 books sounds pretty good — boy, do I have a lot to learn!

    I do appreciate the hard truth though…

    • http://www.catherinejwest.com Cathy West

      LOL, Michelle – me too!! Ha. Selling a thousand books sounds like a lot to me – but oh well, I guess I still don’t know much about this business. Ignorance is bliss, right?! While I would love to see those sales numbers sky-rocket, I’m still trying to figure out how to get my book into the hands of readers.

  • http://www.courtneywalsh.typepad.com Courtney Walsh

    How do I hope to avoid this situation? This is the question that keeps me up at night! The only answer I have so far is market my butt off…

    Would love to hear what YOU would say to us to prevent us from being in this situation!! :)

  • http://www.mikaleebyerman.wordpress.com Mikalee Byerman

    I know it’s tempting to feel frustrated with the reality presented here, but I personally find myself feeling grateful; better to know the truth than to approach such a critical endeavor without a clear understanding of its parameters and expectations.

    In response to the Q-4-us, I’d say there is one critical gut check we can all perform: Make sure we have passion, a fire in the belly or whatever contrite phrase describing “drive” we prefer. Because that passion will ultimately lead to an amazing book (since content is king), and it will also inspire the stamina needed to sustain a smart, effective marketing campaign.

    Thanks, Rachelle, for the inspiration and the reminder that I am crazy passionate about my topic, my writing and my book — and I can DO this!

    And to all of us with the fire to write incredible content and promote it accordingly: Ten-k books, here we come! ;)

  • Gail J.

    I don’t see why this information should be a surprise. Publishing is a business and like any other business the main goal is to make money. No business is going to invest in something that doesn’t fulfill that main objective. If they did that on a regular basis, they’d be out of business.

  • http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/ Bob Mayer

    Actually, this points out a fundamental flaw in the consignment model used by publishers. As they push for higher sell through (used to be 50%, now they want 80%) the easy solution for the stores is to order less copies. Higher sell through, but equals lower sales. And thus the spiral begins. This is destroying the midlist. The result will be the long tail and accepting that the eBook is the new mass market paperback.

  • Sylvia Olson

    10,000 books! Wow, that’s a tall order. What about a small press author who is expected to sell several boxes of her books privately. Do those cash sales get added to the total count of books sold?

  • http://reflectionsbykrista.blogspot.com Krista Phillips

    My solution: Beg everyone I know (and don’t) know to buy my book (obviously after a book actually comes out.)

    Seriously though, I think writing the BEST book we can, networking before hand and after the fact, and quality, diligent marketing on the author’s part are the controllable things we can do to prevent the situation. 10,000 books… Hadn’t really seen a number put to it before, but it’s nice to know a “10k+” target of sorts.

    As a note, I didn’t really find this “discouraging” as some had noted. I think if you are going to accomplish something, knowing the things that could go wrong BEFORE going in is essential. It’s those who do NOT know that are most likely to fall on their face.

  • Karen

    How interesting that 10,000 books is considered barely acceptable. Here in Canada, 5,000 is considered a best seller. Of course, it’s a much smaller market, hence Canadian writers’ interest in US agents and publishers.

  • http://karencioffiwritingandmarketing.com Karen Cioffi

    Great post and comments, although didn’t have the time to read them all.

    Self-publishing is a viable alternative to traditional publishing. Unless the publisher has the resources and uses them in your favor, you’ll be promoting your own books anyway.

    The key is to learn marketing strategies that are effective for your book.

    And, most writers won’t earn an income from book writing, but it does open doors to other writing and writing related opportunities.

  • http://christinabaglivitinglof.com Christina Baglivi Tinglof

    After I sold my second book (non fiction), I remember immediately pitching another idea to my agent. To me, my second book was “done” and time to move on. Her advice was similar to yours–forget the “next idea” and focus instead on marketing the hell out of the two books I had out there. Good advice, indeed.

  • http://laurenspathtopub.blogspot.com/ Lauren F. Boyd

    Rachelle, I am interested in hearing the truths about the publishing industry, so I enjoyed reading this post.

    I said, “Wow”, outloud when I read this:
    “In fact, if you have two or three books, traditionally published, that each sold, say, 5,000 to 8,000 copies, it will be so difficult to overcome that you’d be better off if you were a brand-new, never published author.” It’s scary how much of a writer’s fate seems to be in the hands of the public.

    My suggestion of how to still be able to be published after having low sales is what a couple other commenters said: use a pen name. I know of authors who are e-publishing on Amazon under pen names. I can only imagine that it’s so they can “disappear” if need be (among other reasons).

    Luckily, there’s no shortage of name combinations for authors who didn’t make it the first time around.

  • http://differentcornersinmylife.blogspot.com/2011/08/questions-questions-questions.html karen

    I personally love your blog. It encourages me to grow,do research and follow my own instincts. My first novel is actually the third book in a series of three. If it comes down to which one do I want published, it would be the third. Maybe because I am really into it at this moment and I really haven’t even started on the first two, except in my head, but I think it is because the third one actually sums up everything, but still leaves the reader wanting to know more about the main characters life and how did she get to where she’s at. Maybe I’m doing it backwards, but I feel the third to be the strongest out of the three. As for “If” sales are low, Yes, there would be a possibility I would use a pen name, but feel I’d have to have a really amazing story to go with it.

  • http://amandalapera.com Amanda LaPera

    Rachelle, Thank you for sharing useful information with us. I heard it was a good idea to line up endorsements before the book is published, at least for self-published books. If an author is going traditional, will a large publisher agree to print all of the endorsements that the author has already lined up, along with the book?

  • http://jfhilborne.com Jenny Hilborne

    In most cases, building a business takes time, unless you’re already well-known. For most unknown authors with only one or two books out, selling 10,000 copies seems tough, however, I don’t think it should automatically compel an author to self-publish, unless they’ve already decided to go this route for other reasons. This almost feels an easy way out, as in “I can’t get a publisher, so I’ll do it myself.” I’m not against self-publishing at all. I’ve found so many excellent self-pubbed books by these fantastic new authors. My point is only that authors shouldn’t rush into it believing it’s their only option. We need to be patient and not expect instant gratification. Rachelle is correct about content. If we have the best content, the buzz will eventually reach the right ears. Word of mouth is the best form of marketing (and leaves us authors more free time to write while readers do the marketing for us). I’m not at the 10,000 yet, but I’m not put off by it. I find this post rather encouraging. If it were easy to snag a main publishing house, we might see a major decline in content.

  • raballard

    I have purchased several books from Amazon Kindle, nost have been well written. Rachelle I would recommend “HOW TO GET AN LITERARY AGENT IN TWO OR LESS MURDERS” by Elle Burmeister. (I would recommend THE LAST CHANCE by me, but that would be tacky, even though it has 5 star reviews)
    You cannot judge how many books you have sold by your your ranking. I got as low as 18,000 and had sold 6 books. I am now at 248,000 and have sold 30 books……go figure.
    By the way Rachelle, hello, long time no post.

  • http://cyprith.livejournal.com Crystal Hilbert

    Actually, I think this is where the eBook trade picks up. While I’m not really a fan of books I can’t hold in my hand, with eBooks, shelf space is unlimited. So each book is judged and bought by the merits of each individual book, rather than what someone thinks the market “wants”, how well an author did or didn’t do in the past, what publisher the author placed with, ect.

    I think if poor sales are affecting an author, he or she might want to look into stealing a spot on the eBook market. I don’t believe books ever go out of print there, and to some degree, there’s more visibility.

  • http://deekrull.blogspot.com/ Dee Krull

    Thank you for the thoughts Rachelle. I keep coming back to your web-sight for the great information you have for us who are new to the publishing world.

    I think the best way to deal with your question is in your attitude about what to expect from yourself. When I started thinking about writing a book I focused on what I like to read first. Then I thought about how I could bring something new to that genre that had never been done before.

    I have researched that new something to the point of realizing what I am capable of. I was also of the attitude that I wanted to write a good book rather than just getting published.

    I am fortunate to be retired so I have the time to devote to writing, researching and marketing. I am self-publishing and fortunately the package I have chosen allows for marketing by the publisher as well.

    I also know I need to get an agent so I am working hard on making my first book a success. Is any or all of this enough? Please tell me.

  • http://www.karengrove.com Karen Grove

    I’ve been quietly reading your blog for a couple of months, Rochelle, and have been so impressed with the candid and solid information you provide to your readers. The publishing world has changed a great deal–and continues to do so–in the 27-plus years I’ve been in the industry, and the resources for authors via the Internet have exploded. Yours is one of the more honest and insightful of the batch. Your authors and readers are blessed with your wisdom. Just wanted to give a shout out to you as we all need an occasional pat on the back for a job well done.

    • http://www.karengrove.com Karen Grove

      And sorry for the spelling of your name. My Touchpad changed it on me twice despite the fact that I fixed it both times. Got to love technology for editing our words. Maybe I should read up on it some more.

  • http://www.sellingthefountainofyouth.com AW

    My first (non-fiction) book got phenomenal press and reviews– and didn’t sell. My publisher says they’ve had no luck marketing any journalist authors because it’s not what the media expects from them (they mostly publish books by PhDs). They turned down my proposal for a second book, despite the fact that my agent and I believe it’s a much better book with the potential to reach a much broader audience. It doesn’t help that the editor of my first book left that publisher. Won’t other publishers look at the whole package–the good reviews of the previous book, my track record, my following?

    I would think a lot of authors’ first books fail commercially!

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