Thursday, March 5, 2009


~Sia McKye~
As an author, nothing can be quite as exciting as receiving word you’ve sold your book and it’s going to be published. You are over the moon and flying high. Maybe even dreaming of the NYT Best Sellers List. Finally, you’re getting validation for all your work and hours of writing. Everyone you know hears about it. You’re discussing galleys, Arc covers, the artwork, blurbs, and author endorsements on your cover. Tossing terms around like Pub dates, Arc mailings, targeted print campaigns, web promotions and Reviews, library marketing, and author events. Your book finally hits Barnes & Noble and you find yourself going in just to look at a book with your name on it. You take pictures. You start being obsessed with Amazon figures on your book’s placement of the day or week. You’ve got it made, right?

Keep in mind that just having your book in print doesn't mean it will automatically sell—books don't sell themselves, even if they are listed on Amazon—or on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. As a friend of mine recently reminded me: “Over 195,000 new novels are published by publishers in the U.S. every year. Of those, 70% sell fewer than 500 copies. A sobering thought.

Here’s another reason to aggressively promote yourself and your books and the importance in building a reader base.

Debuting authors are lucky enough to get a first print run of 10,000 for their book, depending upon the genre and your publisher’s confidence in your work (some can be as high as 25,000). You might think 10,000 is a big number until you start calculating book stores and Amazon. It’s really a small run and it’s not going to hit the best sellers list with that number. If they sell only 500 copies or less, then the publisher eats the cost of having the other 9500 shipped back to them, at full cost, and made into pulp. Publishers are not happy when this happens, but they have a contract with you, maybe for a three-book deal. Maybe they’ll recoup their losses on the second book? If they don’t will they take another three books from you? Or drop you like a hot potato? Can you see where active promotion and publicity is vital?

On the other hand, you’ve worked your butt off with promotion. You’ve built up name recognition on the Internet through Facebook, Wordpress, Twitter, and Gather, MySpace and other social networks. You’ve worked hard at blogging and building presence and attracting your consumers—readers. You started this long before your book was even sold. You continued even after your book was sold. You’ve written book reviews on books similar to yours, written anything and everything related to your books and also to you as a person. You’ve made yourself a personality, with likes, dislikes, and interests. In other words you’ve become a real person to your readers. They see you share the same interests as they do, you chat with them. You build characters in your books; surely it isn’t that hard to project yourself to your readers?

Because your potential readers like you and have gotten to know you somewhat, they do name-dropping about their “good friend, the author.”

“Oh yeah, I know Anna Campbell and she just released TEMPT THE DEVIL. Highlanders, honey, you have to look for it.”

“I just read the best suspense/thriller recently, A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE, by my friend Pat Bertram. We’re talking danger and a story of ordinary people becoming extraordinary to survive. You’ve got to order it.”

“My good friend Judi Fennell wrote this cool series about sexy mermen and a kingdom under the sea. The first book is called IN OVER HER HEAD, you gotta read it!”

Cheryl Brooks is just the nicest person evah. She writes some real sizzlers, we’re talkin’ hot and sexy. She writes The Cat Star Chronicles and just released ROGUE.

It’s that simple and any debuting or popular author’s name can be slipped in there. Why? Because you’ve worked hard to be assessable and real to your readers. Because once you knew your release date, you started building anticipation for your book. So now, your book is released and sells through at 80%, or 8000 books. Your publisher is very happy and is patting him or herself for their ability to find talented writers. They decide a second print run is good business. Because you’ve built a buzz you probably will do well on the second run. Your publisher decides for your next book (for a debuting author that can be as soon as two-three months later) to start out with a first print run of 25,000 and a much larger presence on the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble and more pressure for the staff to push your book.

By the way, to hit the NYT best sellers list? The book needs a first print run of at least 35,000 plus. Maybe Nora Roberts or Christine Feehan may get first runs in the 1-300,000 book range but look at all the time they invested in marketing and promoting themselves and their books. As a debuting author, you’re not going to get that with a first run.

This type of marketing/promotion also works for POD authors. True, you don’t have to deal with print runs and costly returns, but if your books are on the shelves in bookstores, the return cost are still a bite and one you as the author have to foot. In reality, most Print On Demand books are not on the shelves of National bookstores. You can order them from Barnes & Noble, or Borders, but due to the higher price for the average trade paperback, they aren’t always carried physically.

It’s smart business; again it’s your business, to have these books sell through. You want to be successful and to do that you need a solid reader base as much as, or perhaps even more than, a traditionally published author. Collecting dust is not the image of your books you want in the bookstore management’s eyes or your own, especially if you want them to continue to carry your books. Shelf space is not a guarantee of sales any more than having a book with your name on it is.

Stirring up publicity and marketing yourself as an author and promoting your book is, many times, the least favorite task for an author. The point is if you want to be a success as an author then it’s going to take hard work. A third of your time is spent in writing the story and the rest is spent in selling it to a publisher and then promoting the book and yourself as an author. Building that all important reader base. It’s a necessary part of business.

Writing is a business. The author is the proprietor of that business. Products have to be promoted to be a success. It’s as simple as that. Once we realize that, we put ourselves in the right mindset to be a success.
There are no magic wands, treasure maps of shortcuts, or guarantees to be a successful author. Or to being published.

Just a dream and a lot of hard work.
Sia McKye has spent over twenty years in marketing and promotion. She's written and published various articles on writing, marketing, and promotion. She's a Marketing Rep by profession and also writes fiction.


Kenna Coltman said...

Great article, Sia! The more I read author blogs, the more I hear about promotion. In the end, it's just like any small business - you need a solid business plan, including marketing and promotion, and the desire and drive to see it through.

Hubby and I have been working on our little retail market for 3 years, now, and we might see a slight profit this year - it's been a lot of hard work, but in the end, when you can look at it and say "I built this" it's all worth it!

Have a great day!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kenna, that's the point. As a writer/author writing IS your business. You have have to build it from the ground up. First with a good product and then promoting you and the product.

You're so right. It takes time to see the results but when you track it--where were you 6months ago, 12 months ago compared to now? It gives you pride in your accomplishments.

thanks for stopping by. :-)

Anonymous said...

"As a friend of mine recently reminded me: “Over 195,000 new novels are published by traditional publishers in the U.S. every year. Of those, 70% sell fewer than 500 copies.” A sobering thought."

Yeah and completely false. Now if you applied that to vanity presses like the one you are affiliated with it would be closer. This is just more vanity propaganda. Cite the source. Anonymous sources are the scourge of reporting.

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks Sia. Still dreaming of getting published, but I know there'll be much more I need to work for and dream after that.

Anonymous said...

Sia, another good article. Unless you're Thomas Pynchon, there's no way to dodge being involved in marketing as an author. Thanks for offering your thoughts on what to do about it in this series. James

ML said...

Hmm, says mr "anonymous" commenter.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Anonymous Mark,

One of my sources is

Theses were the latest figures are for all hardback and paperback books produced as of 2005. Bowker has been providing the stats since 1872. I would have to pay for stats after that. There is some school of thought that the figures after 2005 may not be as reliable due to the reluctance of publishers to fully report given the businesses problems since then.

I hope that helps.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia,

Great article. I agree- writing books is a business- and you have to know what you want out of it before you get into it. Do you just want to see your name in print? Do you want to write what you want-when you want? Or do you want to be able to pay your bills? Or do you dream of NYT- once you know what you want-then you can figure out what path you need to take to get it. Each of these wants have different paths- kinds of writing-amounts of marketing... so, I always advise people to really know what it is they want out of the business. Then go about getting it.

Again- good solid article. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

RE: Bowker. Fiction 2005: 20,865 for hardback and paperback. That doesn't sound like 195,000 new novels by "traditional" publishers every year does it?

The quote is bogus. 500 copies is a vanity press figure passed round by POD novel marketing Web sites. Facts are stubborn things.

Judi Fennell said...

ooh, ooh! I see my name! THanks, Sia - this popped up in my google alerts - great viral marketing and I soo appreciate it!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Mark, it says US Production for ALL hardbacks and Paperbacks published as reported by publishers, and yes that INCLUDES Print On Demand, and Vanity Press books assigned an ISBN. That's what Bowker does. This is only one sheet of many listed they also do Global figures as well.

I went back into my research files for this article, Mark, and according to Laura Miller, of The New York Times, in her article, The Last Word; How Many Books Are Too Many? July 18, 2004, the figures were 175,000 new titles published in 2003 (19% rise from 2002) as reported R. R. Bowker, the company that compiles the Books in Print database and assigns ISBN's (International Standard Book Numbers) to new books and editions. In 2006, blurt IT: shopping said that there were approximately 130,000 new books a year published in the UK, and 190,000 in the US. That is ALL books published that require an ISBN. I can only guess at what the figures are today.

The point is, the competition for all authors is daunting.

The quote came from a friend who also looks at Bowker and many other sites and loves crunching numbers. BTW, this friend is not Print on Demand author or publisher. I'm not sure where you get your source for the allegation that this is exclusively from POD websites. This article has posted to various web-sites since I wrote it.

If you have more current information please feel free to share it with me via FB email or Gather email you have both addresses.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Judi, You're quite welcome. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Nancy, that's a good point. Makes sense to determine what you want to accomplish and then calculate how to accomplish it.

Thank you, I try to make the articles as solid as possible.

~Sia McKye~ said...

James, I agree, there's no way to avoid marketing or promotion if you want to succeed as an author.

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

You need to read the claim made in the banner.

Over 195,000 new novels are published by traditional publishers in the U.S. every year. Of those, 70% sell FEWER than 500 copies.”

This would exclude nonfiction and vanity published POD's. That's the point. Commercially published novels sell 3 to 5000 copies at a minimum and that's fairly dismal by their standards.

POD's are daunting to sell. I agree with that. That's why very few of those ever sell 500 copies.

Kat Sheridan said...

Sia, as always, a truly informative, well-researched, well documented article! The promotion part is a hard thing for writers, who tend to be solitary, dreamers, and crative types. We're all learning to wear new hats and adopt new paradigms. Well, most of us. The world is changing and we all need to be flexible, innovative,and creative in new ways. Articles like this help so much! Arguing with Anonymous? Pointless. Thanks for really useful information!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat, thank you for your comments. It is a changing world. It's funny, I found some figures from Bowker for '07 and the figure they are quoting for all ISBN books in the States as being 411,000 new books. 285,000 out of that is traditionally published books. Mind boggling. Competition for readers is fierce. Promotion is the only way to get your slice of the pie. That and putting out a good product.

Anonymous said...

Now now Sia, you can't go and use logic. Next thing you know someone will start spouting things like mosquitoes being only in certain areas because you don't have a river like the Mississippi and the inability to grasp a basic epidemiology model for comparing disparate populations for disease severity and competency.

Anonymous said...

It's funny, and predictable, but it was my logic that held up. I see no one has applied it to the statement in question? That 70 percent of "traditional" novels sell 500 copies or less is false. Period. What kind of inability is that?

Anonymous said...

Most of those 285,000 books are nonfiction too. The statement says 195,000 novels per year.

Sun Singer said...

Great post, Sia. However, I still think that I can cut down on some of the hard work by claiming Madonna was my date for the prom.

As for the stats, they're bad no matter who says them; the average number of units sold for self-published POD books is purportedly less than 100. Nonetheless, we all do our best to beat that number.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Malcolm, Madonna, huh? And this works? I'll keep that in mind for when I'm published. I have a few stars in my family, lolol!

Unfortunately you are correct in your assessment of sales for self-published. Independent Publishers that use Print on Demand technology to publish their authors fare a little better but not many go over 500 copies. A determined author, with a well written, well edited story, professional looking cover, can use those figures to as an encouragement to push beyond that. I do think promotion is the key. But the product (your book) has to be be very good.

The focus of this article isn't just about those that publish using Print on Demand technology, but all authors. Competition is fierce to find a readership base regardless of the method of publication and it takes dedication and work.

Thanks for stopping by. :-)

Anonymous said...

If it was easy, it wouldn't be worth doing.