There are a lot of things about the publishing industry of which most authors are not aware. By learning about what goes on behind the scenes with your publisher, and in the industry as a whole, you will be better equipped to understand the environment in which you are trying to sell your book.
Here are a few facts.
Average book sales are shockingly small, and falling fast
Combine the explosion of books published with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. According to BookScan—which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books (including Amazon.com)—only 263 million books were sold in 2011 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined (Publishers Weekly, January 2, 2012). The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime. And very few titles are big sellers. Only 62 of 1,000 business books released in 2009 sold more than 5,000 copies, according to an analysis by the Codex Group (New York Times, March 31, 2010).
A book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore
For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. For example, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to approximately 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are 250,000-plus business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space.
It is getting harder and harder every year to sell books
Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with a surplus of books on every topic. It is increasingly difficult to make any book stand out. Each book is competing with more than ten million other books available for sale, while other media are claiming more and more of people’s time. Result: investing the same amount today to market a book as was invested a few years ago will yield a far smaller sales return today.
There’s little agreement among publishers about what advertising does, other than make the author and the author’s agent feel better, and demonstrate that the house is capable of spending money on ads.
If you’re lucky enough to publish with a house that has a publicity and marketing staff so much the better. You’re one of the lucky ones. Advertising and marketing are some of the gambles that make trade publishing so risky.
Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities
Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.
Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers
Publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors, to cut costs and prop up sales. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from experienced authors now have an extensive (usually many pages) section on the authors’ marketing platform and what the authors will do to publicize and market the books. Publishers still fulfill important roles in helping craft books to succeed and making books available in sales channels, but whether the books move in those channels depends primarily on the authors.
No other industry has so many new product introductions
Every new book is a new product, needing to be acquired, developed, reworked, designed, produced, named, manufactured, packaged, priced, introduced, marketed, warehoused, and sold. Yet the average new book generates only $10,000 to $20,000 in sales, which needs to cover all of these expenses, leaving only small amounts available for each area of expense. This more than anything limits how much publishers can invest in any one new book and in its marketing campaign.
You may have noticed that the numbers of bookstores have decreased significantly over the past decade. Most notably was the demise of Borders, which had a large market share. You have probably also seen that the ranks of publishers are thinning.
As you understand the risks and responsibilities of publishers you will be much better able to interface with them, your expectations will be significantly refined, and your project is much more likely to succeed.
Lyle Mortimer and Lee Nelson started Cedar Fort in 1986. Lyle has been an active participant in the company for over 25 years. Cedar Fort’s vision is to publish uplifting and edifying books. You can connect with Cedar Fort at the website, www.cedarfort.com.