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 Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors

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Shelagh
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PostSubject: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 6:57 am

On forums all over the Internet, a great deal has been said and discussed about books by first-time authors. There seems to be almost as many opinions as there are those discussing the problem.

Many unpublished writers, who are still honing their stories before submitting to Baen and the like, hold the opinion that anything vanity press published will only sell an average of 77 books. The reasons they give include: only family and friends will buy the books; vanity published authors have to buy and sell their own books; bookstores don't stock POD books; self-published and vanity published books are inferior -- they are slush pile rejects.

While some or all of these reasons may or may not be accurate, the underlying reason why books sell is never really addressed. So why do books published one way rather than another sell while others never make it past the 200 mark?

The main reason, as I see it, is that readers like to share their thoughts and enjoyment of reading a particular book with other readers. The advent of the 'net has made it even easier for readers to join groups and discuss their favourite books. Buying a book by an unknown author is a solitary experience. Finding someone who has read the same book is unlikely.

By human nature, readers, listeners, film goers like to read/listen/see the same things. Success breeds success. Without a proper, costly, marketing campaign, no product will sell on a large enough scale to generate the kind of interest that produces a bestseller.

It is time for all writers to take stock and decide whether seeing their books published is enough and to put aside the desire to see their books selling in the thousands. A small percentage of writers will be able to sign contracts with the major publishing houses. The rest should learn to be content with seeing their books published even though it means making very few sales.

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Malcolm
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 8:06 am

Shelagh,

This is well said and right on target.

Buying a book by an unknown author is definitely a solitary rather than a group experience. When you finish reading it, there's usually nobody to talk to about it; and even when you post a review, people will glide right past it because they haven't heard of the book or the author.

I haven't seen much commentary about the percentage of self-published authors who don't try the mainstream route first; or, if they do try it, what the average number of query letters is (over what time period) that gets sent out before the author goes the self-published route.

My feeling is that a lot of people don't have the patience to try mainstream for a couple of years first, and that's a pity.

Malcolm
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LC
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 10:10 am

I don't see a relationship between "number of sales" and "unknown author." Most authors in a bookstore are unknown to me. My buying their books has to do with 1. me being aware the books exist (the easiest way is to see them on a retail shelf) and 2. Reading the back cover blurb and flipping through the pages.

Self-published books don't have #1, and POD'ers don't even have #2. Most people outside the author's friends, family and email spam list don't know those books exist. Fewer yet have interest in that particular subject matter. That's why they only sell 77 or whatever it is, copies.

Unknown authors who get a traditional book contract with a company that markets their products and has relationships with retailers and newspaper reviewers sell a lot more.
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LC
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 10:19 am

Malcolm wrote:
Buying a book by an unknown author is definitely a solitary rather than a group experience. When you finish reading it, there's usually nobody to talk to about it; and even when you post a review, people will glide right past it because they haven't heard of the book or the author.

I don't understand this at all. I read plenty of books by people I never heard of, and if I think the book is good I'll recommend it to friends who read in that genre. What those books have in common is that they were all on the B/N bookshelf when I was browsing that category. Or they popped up as an "also bought" on Amazon.
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dmondeo
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 10:54 am

I sense a depression coming on........
No I've decided not to let it get to me.

The problem all of us unknowns face is getting known.
Jk Rowling was unknown and her first print of 300 HP went straight to schools so I'm told this helped to get her known.

Because the market place for books is changing and the technology behind the printing industry is changing rapidly, things are in a state of flux in publishing.
Print On Demand now is able to print one copy of a book in good quality. Books that come from Legend press for example are of a quality on par with any other book you can buy from Borders. Quality is no longer an issue with POD.

Amazon and other online retailers do stock copies of some POD books simply because now they are no longer obliged to order bulk copies requiring a large financial outlay.

Lets just wait and see and not give into this depressive outlook


Last edited by dmondeo on Fri Jul 31, 2009 2:30 pm; edited 2 times in total
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LC
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 11:02 am

dmondeo wrote:
I sense a depression coming on........
No I've decided not to let it get to me.

The problem all of us unknowns face is getting known.
Jk Rowling was unknown and her first print of 300 HP went straight to schools so I'm told this helped to get her known.

My intention is not to be depressing, I'm just commenting on the thread. I don't see the relevancy of JK Rowling's books going straight to schools. Who got her books in the schools? Her traditional publisher, correct? A self-published person isn't going to get 300 copies into a school. A traditional publisher will have that relationship and clout.

The problem unknowns have is not getting known, it's getting a traditional contract. That contract will GET you known. Or at least as known as their sales staff can manage. Discussing the merits of POD here is irrelevant. Schools don't buy and will never buy self-published POD books in any quantity. Schools that are ditching books are just getting a different content delivery system, such as CourseSmart. That is, they're buying online subscriptions of traditionally published books.
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Shelagh
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 11:34 am

Shelagh wrote:
A small percentage of writers will be able to sign contracts with the major publishing houses.

...and the rest can go hang?

LC, the forum is for members to discuss all forms of publishing. You tell me, what makes a bestseller?

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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 11:43 am

LC, I also read a lot of books that the general public doesn't know much about.

However, most people never buy a book unless their friends are talking it up already or unless it's by an author they already know and love. Publicity and author name recognition are what move most fiction.

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Dick Stodghill
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 12:00 pm

True, L.C., but it has changed remarkably in the past few years. Sales managers are playing an increasingly large role at many old-line trade publishers. They and their work force are more demanding of the certain sale. Advertising budgets have shrunk. Little of it goes to promote new writers unless the people at the boardroom table feel they have a sure winner and that rarely happens with an unknown.
Demondeo is correct in saying the entile industry is in a state of flux. Layoffs have made a sizeable dent in the staffs at many of the biggest publishers. In MWA publications in which editors are interviewed one question always appears today: how do you plan to market your book?
Yes, there are books by new writers at Borders and B&N, but sales are often miniscule. Getting a second contract has become as difficult as getting the first, or more so for many. The days when a publisher was willing to slowly bring a writer along in the belief that eventually it will pay off are over. Tomorrow's sales have faded in importance; what matters is today's sales. What publisher in 2009 would work for two years editing Harper Lee's lone book because of its potential? None.
None of this is true with non-fiction. Publishers compete for the tell-all book of a celebrity or a compelling book by a person of merit. They know there is a market for important reference works and technical publications.
Fiction? They want the sure thing or a print run of 5,000 for an unknown writer. All too often they are getting 4,000 or more back and that is why some of the biggies are making increasing use of POD. It's cheaper to print a few hundred and see what happens. The day may come when offset will go the way of hot metal except for the certain winners.
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 1:18 pm

Shelagh wrote:
Shelagh wrote:
A small percentage of writers will be able to sign contracts with the major publishing houses.

...and the rest can go hang?

LC, the forum is for members to discuss all forms of publishing. You tell me, what makes a bestseller?

Who said the rest can go hang? Most publishers are not "major houses." Yet they can, and do, market their books and get them on retailer shelves.

What makes a bestseller? From what I can tell, a good story and a publisher that promotes it. What's your point?
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 1:23 pm

Malcolm wrote:
LC, I also read a lot of books that the general public doesn't know much about.

However, most people never buy a book unless their friends are talking it up already or unless it's by an author they already know and love. Publicity and author name recognition are what move most fiction.

Ok, so are you just discussing fiction in this thread? Because otherwise, fiction is really just a a small percentage of books sold, at least from what I can tell from my local B/N. It has about 10 shelves devoted to fiction and the vast rest of the store is nonfic of all types: religion, biographies, history, computer, politics, homeschooling, self-help, cookbooks, dieting, ethnic, crafts, art... When I browse those shelves I wouldn't know most of the authors from a load of hay.
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Shelagh
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 1:34 pm

Two bestsellers from the UK are media generated. One is a biography of a woman, Jane Goody, who became famous on a reality TV programme and the other is a romance novel ghost written for a topless model, Katie Price (Jordan).

It doesn't matter to me if my books sell one hundred copies or one thousand copies. Who cares how many copies of my books have sold? Will the number of sales affect the quality? Will I earn enough money to support myself in the manner to which I have become accustomed? If I said I'd sold fifteen thousand copies, who would give a damn, apart from a small group of people who would call me a liar and goodness knows what else? Should I care what these people think of me? Do I need their good opinion?

Does the fact that you have sold more books than I have make you a better writer than me? Read my first chapters (The Power of Persuasion) and tell me like it is. Tell me why my work isn't good enough and why yours is better:

http://www.publishedauthors.org/first-chapters-f12/

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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 1:51 pm

Ahh... I like the attitude Shelagh Very Happy
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 1:56 pm

Shelagh wrote:
It doesn't matter to me if my books sell one hundred copies or one thousand copies. Who cares how many copies of my books have sold? Will the number of sales affect the quality?

Again, I guess I don't know what your point is ...if sales was not a goal, you're right, who cares? Everyone has their own motive for writing a book, I'm sure.

Quote :
Tell me why my work isn't good enough and why yours is better:

Was this rhetorical? I never said my own work was better than anyone else's.
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 2:06 pm

Dick Stodghill wrote:
Sales managers are playing an increasingly large role at many old-line trade publishers. They and their work force are more demanding of the certain sale. Advertising budgets have shrunk. Little of it goes to promote new writers unless the people at the boardroom table feel they have a sure winner and that rarely happens with an unknown.

Dick, the larger point is that at least the new, unknown authors are in the publisher's catalog. The sales people give a catalog of new titles each fall and spring to their retail accounts. Sure, they'll promote the big names heavier and point them out in particular to their customers, but if you're not in a catalog at all, then the book is dead in the water.
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 2:18 pm

LC wrote:


My intention is not to be depressing, I'm just commenting on the thread. I don't see the relevancy of JK Rowling's books going straight to schools. Who got her books in the schools? Her traditional publisher, correct? A self-published person isn't going to get 300 copies into a school. A traditional publisher will have that relationship and clout.

The problem unknowns have is not getting known, it's getting a traditional contract. That contract will GET you known. Or at least as known as their sales staff can manage. Discussing the merits of POD here is irrelevant. Schools don't buy and will never buy self-published POD books in any quantity. Schools that are ditching books are just getting a different content delivery system, such as CourseSmart. That is, they're buying online subscriptions of traditionally published books.

I do apologise LC I was not commenting on your input but like you the thread topic in general, perhaps I should have quoted from the opening post my error sorry.
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Shelagh
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 2:38 pm

LC wrote:
Shelagh wrote:
It doesn't matter to me if my books sell one hundred copies or one thousand copies. Who cares how many copies of my books have sold? Will the number of sales affect the quality?

Again, I guess I don't know what your point is ...if sales was not a goal, you're right, who cares? Everyone has their own motive for writing a book, I'm sure.
Why do you see sales as a meaningful goal? In 1985/87/89, my husband taught "Functional Anatomy" at summer school in Victoria, B.C. The students asked for a set textbook because there wasn't one for the course. They were already familiar with one of his textbooks, An Introduction to Mechanics of Human Movement and asked if he would write a book for the course. He said he would and it took ten years to write. It also took the publishers two years to "craft" the book. In the first two years the book sold just over 4,000 copies. That is 4,000 copies over a fourteen year period (10+2+2), which gives average sales of 286 per year. So, does he claim to have sold 4,000 books or does he say that he averaged 286 sales for every year spent on producing those sales? I could write a novel a year over the same time period with the same yearly sales of POD books. I would have made as much money as my husband and probably spent a lot less hours researching/writing/editing my work.

LC wrote:
Shelagh wrote:
Tell me why my work isn't good enough and why yours is better:

Was this rhetorical? I never said my own work was better than anyone else's.
If your work isn't better than mine, how is it that you are published by a mainstream publisher and I'm not? Why was it possible for you and not possible for me?

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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 2:55 pm

Shelagh, I don't believe L.C. writes fiction so it would be difficult to compare.

L.C., you are correct about the catalogs, but how many store buyers actually purchase a book of fiction from an unknown writer that way? The sales force does what all salesmen do, push the hot items. In the case of books, that means the bestselling writers. That doesn't mean it is impossible for a new writer of fiction to become a bestseller, but only a tiny percentage do. That's one reason why some popular writers of fiction depend on a spouse's income to enable then to work full-time. Others, and there are quite a few, continue working as lawyers, doctors, priests, and a number of other jobs. Professional writers who can depend upon a steady income from nothing but the sale of books of fiction are a small minority.
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 2:58 pm

To me this is all quite relative. It's a bit like asking: "Is the TV series Friends a better and more ingenious piece of creative entertainment than George Lucas' Star Wars?"

The majority will probably say "No" because the latter is a movie... a "motion picture"... that delivered world-dominating box office sales spanning 30 years. Whereas the former is a tiny, one-off television comedy series.

Try arguing that one out with a Friends fan who loathes Star Wars and anything to do with sci-fi! Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors 921805
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 3:08 pm

Dick, the bestseller examples I gave are not the same, one is fiction the other non-fiction. They were both accepted by their respective publishers for the same reason. L.C. pushes the idea that every writer should only sign a contract with a commercial publisher. This is unrealistic. Not everyone is capable of doing that and those who are may be submitting their work at entirely the wrong time. Mr. Planemaker's Flying Machine was released nine days after the sixth Harry Potter novel (July, 2005). Would it have mattered who had published this book by an unknown author? The only books publishers were prepared to publish at that time were by known, established children's fiction authors.

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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 4:00 pm

Shelagh wrote:
Why do you see sales as a meaningful goal?

Do you mean for me? I didn't say sales should be meaningful for anyone else. I realize everyone has their own goals with a book. But if you're asking why they're meaningful to me, it's because they're a validation of my work and earn me money. If I didn't think I'd earn any money I wouldn't have written them. I don't write for fun or personal enjoyment.

Quote :

If your work isn't better than mine, how is it that you are published by a mainstream publisher and I'm not? Why was it possible for you and not possible for me?

My books targeted very specific markets for which there was no, or few, books that addressed them at the time. My publishers cater to those markets. So I had that going for me. You may not have had such a specific market.

Another thing -I read the chapter you linked. I may be wrong, but your Persuasion book looks like a self-help one. At least that's the conclusion I came to after reading that excerpt. Pubs may have felt the same way. My question is: What are your credentials for writing an authoritative self-help book? Are you a PhD, a therapist, do you counsel or advise people in a professional capacity? If not, then that's why you were turned down. With nonfiction, writing well isn't enough. You must write well AND be credentialed in that field. This is not to be confused with "known." You don't have to be "known." You have to be credentialed.
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 4:03 pm

Shelagh wrote:
L.C. pushes the idea that every writer should only sign a contract with a commercial publisher. This is unrealistic.

I have never "pushed" anything. I know that commercial publication is unrealistic for everyone. I gave my opinion to your question about why self-published books only sell 77 (or whatever) copies. My opinion is that it's not because the authors are "unknown." It's because the authors don't have the resources of a commercial publisher behind them.
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 4:12 pm

Dick Stodghill wrote:
L.C., you are correct about the catalogs, but how many store buyers actually purchase a book of fiction from an unknown writer that way? The sales force does what all salesmen do, push the hot items. In the case of books, that means the bestselling writers.

Dick, I'm not a store buyer so I can't speak authoritatively about what they do. I am a customer though, and I observe books from many publishing houses, big and small, on the shelves. The big houses have the stables of best-selling authors, the small ones, not so much. Yet their books are on the shelves. But I do get the larger point about fiction being a very tough market to crack. With just ten shelves of it vs. about 200 of nonfic at my local B/N, anyone can see that.

Quote :
That doesn't mean it is impossible for a new writer of fiction to become a bestseller, but only a tiny percentage do. ... Professional writers who can depend upon a steady income from nothing but the sale of books of fiction are a small minority.

I don't know why folks here are so obsessed with "best sellers" and "writing full time." Most folks have as much chance of the former as they do winning the lottery. So what? We can write regular ol' books that will sell well even if they're not BEST sellers. As for writing full time, that seems more reachable if you want to write a bunch of things you may not be interested in (technical writing, magazine articles), but even there, so what? What's wrong with holding a regular job and making good side money with writing? That's always been my goal, at any rate.
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 4:34 pm

LC wrote:
I don't know why folks here are so obsessed with "best sellers" and "writing full time." Most folks have as much chance of the former as they do winning the lottery. So what? We can write regular ol' books that will sell well even if they're not BEST sellers. As for writing full time, that seems more reachable if you want to write a bunch of things you may not be interested in (technical writing, magazine articles), but even there, so what? What's wrong with holding a regular job and making good side money with writing? That's always been my goal, at any rate.

I agree LC. I read recently about reasons for self-publishing and many applied to me.

We each care about different things, have different goals and resources as well as different skills.

However, I'd love to work with a publisher on one of my books: helping with editing, artwork, marketing plan, etc.

I'm not sure I'm good enough for those bookshelves in Barnes and Noble.

I think it is finding a niche for one's writing, feeling good about what one has done, getting validation for our work from some professional or professional organization.

I would have credentials for writing self-help and have previously, but don't choose to now that I'm retired, although perhaps that would get me published. Getting published no matter what isn't as important to me as having written something of value, which might sound idealistic because it is.

Carol
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PostSubject: Re: Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors   Difficulty of selling books by unknown authors EmptyFri Jul 31, 2009 5:26 pm

LC, I find the viewpoint of traditional published being the only way to sucess, with the changes and challenges in the publishing buisness today, to be outdated. I know publishers have catalogs, marketing and sales that a self-published unknown does not. The self-published unknown is not without resources. Below are some of the libraries that carry my second iUniverse book Rooftop Diva:


http://www.worldcat.org/wcpa/oclc/123120941

http://encore.cabq.gov/iii/encore/search/C%7CSrooftop+diva%7COrightresult%7CU1?lang=eng&suite=def

http://66.76.26.182/aquabrowser/?q=rooftop%20diva

These were purchases and not donations. I did not include the over 330 libraries that carry the audio version that is through an audio publisher.

Included in the list of libraries are major cities like Dallas, Albuquerque, NM, Detroit, Jacksonville, Fl, Philadelphia, Pa., Portland, OR., St. Louis, MO. etc.

If everyone threw up their hands because they were not with a mainstream publisher, the business would become stale because risk taking is out of the door right now.
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