Selling books – Sometimes Before You Even Order Them

selling-booksSelling Books – Before They’re Printed – and After

by Deborah Greenspan

These days, it’s easy to get a book published.  Though many authors don’t publish in order to make money, many do.  The reasons for publishing differ: to leave a legacy; to have a say; to share what you’ve learned; because the story has to be told; or just because you like writing.  The question is how do you sell the book once you have it in your hands? And if you’ve decided that a large print run is the best way for you to publish, what will you do with all those books? What’s your plan for selling books?

Let’s face it: books are not high-ticket items and the profit is small regardless of how your publisher figures the royalties, so if you’re planning to make money on publishing, you need to sell a lot of books.  If the profit on your book is $2, then you probably have to sell 400 to 500 books just to break even. You can improve these numbers by lowering the cost and increasing the profit. This means printing more books. The more you print, the lower the cost.

Many authors don’t even want to think about selling books, at least not until the books are in their hands.  Selling books is work, and many writers just want to continue writing, which is a lot more fun.  But if you are serious about selling books, and if you’ve decided that the best way to sell yours is to print an offset run, which means books will cost less per copy than POD, then there are issues to consider.  (See my previous blog on book printing for more on distributor discounts and book pricing.)

Assuming that you are contemplating the production of a large run of books, how can you sell them before you order them? This is easiest with non-fiction, but even fiction can be presold if you’re creative, have written a great book, are prepared to work hard, and can sell. Start with your topic. What is your book about?  Selling books requires that you understand and can target your audience.  For instance, suppose your book is on tropical plants.  Lots of people might want to read it, but ask yourself this: who would be interested in selling that book? Nurseries? Botanical gardens? Web sites? Bookstores of course, but everyone is going after the bookstores. Your job is to narrow down that list from nurseries and botanical gardens to nurseries and botanical gardens that feature tropical plants, and maybe even to tropical nurseries and botanical gardens. Maybe you should focus on Florida nurseries that sell books.

But what if your book is fiction about vampires? How do you go about selling books like that? As always, you start with your reader.  The success of the Twilight and Southern Vampire/True Blood series tells us that as long as your vampires are powerful, sexy, and hot, young women may be your primary audience. Assuming that’s so, the next question is how do you reach them?  Obviously, you can’t hang out in bookstores and libraries waiting for women to take out vampire books, so you can accost them and ask them to read yours.  These days, the answer is to start with the internet.  A search for vampire fans will turn up 25,000,000 hits–way too many–but if you narrow down that list word by word, you will eventually have a manageable list of sites, book clubs, and blogs who may be interested in reading and yes, selling books about vampires: in particular, your book.

Selling books is like fishing.  You can go out to the middle of bay and throw a baited hook in the water, but you’ll be more successful if you first research the good fishing sites, determine the correct bait for the fish you want to catch, and then throw out a wide net.

Selling books may not be as much fun as writing them, but for the determined author with a plan, it’s not impossible or even implausible.



Comments (2)

    Thank you for your comment. After fifteen years of publishing books for people, I know most of the questions that are asked and usually have the answers. Your cousin didn’t write this. 🙂 I’m happy to help. Deborah

  • I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your website is really nice, continue the good work!
    I’ll proceed and bookmark your website to return later.
    Good luck.


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