HomeSelf-PublishingNot Selling Books? Did you do the Math?


Not Selling Books? Did you do the Math? — 17 Comments

  1. Great article, Dave. I’ve taken your advice from your articles and went the extra mile to make my print book look great. The feedback I have gotten from buyers is that the book was easier to read and thus more enjoyable.

  2. You seem to be one of the few people offering opinions who actually seem to have a clue what they’re talking about. Thank you.

  3. I’ve done most of your suggestions on selling and found them all to be valid. The first thing a “self-publisher” has to reconcile themselves to is: you’ll be selling your book(s) one at a time. I’m working on my fifth novel. Recently, I associated myself with a semi-traditional publisher (Inkwell of Scottsdale, Az), but for my first two books, I recovered all of my costs by talking to service clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis), library and book clubs, etc., selling 10 to 20 copies at each appearance. I found the biggest waste of time for my particular books was sitting in a B&N bookstore, hoping someone would stop by and buy a book. I’ve appeared (with good publicity), at five different stores and sold a total of three (3) books…no fault of B&N…right now, in addition to public speaking, I find my weekly blog on “history” helps sell a few books. (My novels are historical-based, primarily World War II). I recently ventured off into murder mysteries, which an entirely different reader world all together.
    The biggest point all writers have to understand is there’s usually no money (profit) in publishing.

  4. I never was any good at maths,which is why I am in trouble covering my costs as an Indie publisher. I had a most interesting story to tell, and is well written, I am told. But have failed to attract the newspapers, TV talk shows or radio, with a few exceptions. Have almost died twice in the past five years,but am still plugging away with my efforts to bring the book to a wider audience. In October last, I gave a talk: GOD: Myth or Reality? It attracted 148 people but sold only 12 books. I am due to repeat this event in Dublin, but this time with Ireland’s leading atheist alongside me. Will be interesting if the national newspapers pick it up.

    • Having a great story is not the equivalent of having a great product. Newspapers want to sell advertising, not chase great stories. Obviously, when the two coincide, that’s ideal, but without a business plan, a reachable target audience, a budget, access to “the machine,” and some luck, writers face an uphill climb. I hope you sell some books but I hope as much that you’re grateful to have a “good story”; many people spend their lives eating chips in front of the TV.

  5. One of the simpler, yet more complete answer on this business of writing and publishing. I am grateful I stumbled into the best way for me. Finding a good book can be like going to a party. You meet a lot of people who talk much and little to say. Every once in a while, you meet the person (or book) which Kafka described as an ice axe to break up the frozen sea inside us. Thanks for cutting through the bologna with a smile.

  6. Dave,

    An excellent article from you. I think I can tick every point you make. It might be hard for many writers to understand it, but publishing may be one of the lowest margin businesses it is possible to be in!

    One good question that rises from this, which you refer to, is “which are the selling subjects?” Now, if you could answer that :-).

  7. In all of our examples at the beginning, you are using not traditional publishers (although they do love to call themselves that) but organization who have figured out how to make money whether the book is good or not. It is all about paying people for profit –then charging them AGAIN per book! I know a scam artist who compares models and says that traditional publishers will put you 25,000 in the hole because they will make you buy 50,000 worth of your own book and then give you a $1,500 advance.

    Then there are the typical complaint about traditional companies: It TAKES too long. Does this matter unless you’re writing about a pop star. They might use a different over–UNLESS you specify other in the agreement. The intelligence seem to be that publishers know NOTHING from sometimes decades of publishing books that you will know all about the first time you write.

    I like the points you made about doing the math. But isn’t the first thing you ant to do is count how many people exist in your target market? My audience for book 1 was 35K. There were no other books because the problem was “too hard.” (I figured about the answers and sold $600,000 copies in 13 languages. I wanted to switch topics and found my population was one million and most people had absolutely no money to either to buy the book or go on the trips I recommended.

    I have been able to quit my agency PR/Marketing job simply by doing the things every marketer would do when developing the product (90 percent of the work done there) with readers {Plenty of reader input (I created a listserv of 20K people), doing formal and informal work and hooking up with the best publisher out there who sent catalogs to therapists. There seems to be much more out there about choosing the right type face than choosing a salable topic. Coming from marketing hotels, mortgage products, city recycling and a million other things I am astounded how little before know before risking all their money on a hunch without even looking at the competition. This is the make it or break it time. The only thing that will matter is, “Is this a story/topic I want to devote the time to reading, or is this just something that is important to me to write whether or not anyone reads it and I can help make other people richer. Good luck.

    • Actually, I’m talking about Big 6 Publishers. The fact that they have “fig­ured out how to make money whether the book is good or not” has nothing to do with whether they’re traditional—and I’m not talking about vanity presses that are, as you say, scammers. Advances from major publishers are shrinking. But I did specifically state my admiration for traditional publishers and what they accomplish. Their approach isn’t for me but you won’t hear me complaining about them.

      And I would definitely certainly consider “counting how many peo­ple exist in your tar­get mar­ket” as a part of doing the math. From the sound of it, you’ve done exactly what I recommend and more. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  8. “Big pub­lish­ers are not hold­ing you back.”


    Your comments regarding “it’s not your choice to make as if it were a fork in the road” are, as always, spot on. A writer is going to spend enormous amounts of time, either chasing the publishing deal, or making it happen themselves. I prefer the latter because I know that more work = job gets done, whereas with trad pub, more work might just mean being ignored for a longer time.

    Your ability to present a balanced perspective continues to impress. Especially since I tend to rave maniacally about “the only way” to do this, that, and the other thing.

  9. I do appreciate this post! It makes me feel somewhat better for the lack of royalties I receive for my self-pub debut novel. I told my husband from the beginning that it probably wasn’t going to be an investment with a return, but I wanted to do it anyway. I had a story to tell! And I don’t regret a minute of the whole process. It was fun and satisfying and I’m going to do it again. Next time, I’m going to pay more attention to marketing.

  10. This is how its done. Publishers compare the cost of publication with an estimate of how many books they’ll sell giving them a potential profit before publishing any book. Anyone wishing to self-publish should do exactly the same calculation unless, as stated, its an artistic exercise and you’ve got a lot of money to throw away.

    • Giving away free books in the hope that people will read them does not strike me as a lucrative way to do business. I can think of people giving away perfume and Mrs Field cookies. Bu that; not a whole book! I will tell you what I did. I published someone else’s memoir because I knew it would appeal to me and my 20K audience. The bought it in my recommendation and it was wonderful. I let some time go by, but then I was getting too many requests from bookstores and had no interest in being in the book fulfillment business. My agent had told a peer he knows at Hazelden publishing about this book and Hazelden bought it from me. The title sold now is 80,000 and I get half the royalties. If you have a brilliant book, they will find it. Sell hundreds at a time, not one at a time. It’s called Get Me Out of Here. The original title was I’m Not Supposed to Be Here, but they couldn’t use that as it sold so poorly under that isbn.

      • Give away books? Whoever mentioned anything about that? Not I.

        But “If you have a bril­liant book, they will find it” is a very dangerous assumption. Plenty of brilliant books never get found. Plenty of junk finds the spotlight. A “brilliant book” is only a starting point—and it’s not necessarily the ideal one if your goal is to sell books. Why write a “brilliant book” about movie stars’ lives? Or, if you write a “brilliant book” about molecular biology, why expect it to sell?

        So you have an agent who found you a publisher, the publisher bought your book, and it sold. Good! Sounds like you did the math and you’re happy with the result.

        Are there any points you disagree with that were actually made?