9-ways-to-increase-book-saesThanks to book publicist Claire McKinney for this guest post!

I’ve been thinking about a client of mine who came to me with a lovely novel that he decided to self-publish.  In our initial conversations he expressed knowledge of how he knew this was a venture that might not yield a lot in the way of money, but for a man in his position it wasn’t a major concern.  In a few words, he had resources.

With the ability to pay for a well-conceived package for the book, an editor, a web designer, and of course a public relations and marketing team, he was off to a really good start.

My client had a great idea for a book.  It was a story about a single mother and her sons, one of whom was really good at sports, especially baseball.  Throw in some flashback scenes with a few old-time famous players and you have the perfect combination of adult/YA crossover with a sports theme. His book had the opportunity for different targeted markets.

Our planning started in July and August with a fully fleshed-out timeline.  The production aspects related to the book were completed by October including the edited copy, interior design, and jacket design/copy/etc.  In September we started kicking off the marketing with a two-tiered plan of big-mouth and bookseller outreach as well as setting up and starting the social media.

We encouraged our author to blog; we handled his tweets; we advised on Facebook posts.  We also connected him to some online outlets that wanted original blog entries.  We did a customized press kit with peanuts, cracker jacks, a baseball card, and a copy of the book to select retailers and media people.  We helped manage the first event, which took place near his home and was in a perfect location–a gated community with a captive audience that added to the friends, family, and other contacts who were able to attend.

In December, shortly after the official “launch” of the book, he sold over 500 copies.  In the months following up until March/April he was selling as few as 20 per month to as many as 80 (approximate numbers here but in the correct range).

We set up a blog review tour leading into the winter months, which certainly helped with the sales, but it was slow, especially after the initial blast of December that had been made possible by the marketing lead up and tapping all of those friends, family, and contacts.

Was he happy?  No.  He was looking for a steady sale of around 800 copies a month.  In the publishing industry in general (traditional and non-) that is not an easy number to reach, especially for a novel by a new author.

So, here’s what happened.  He was asked to blog and write pieces for a couple of websites, which he didn’t really see the value in doing.  He wasn’t motivated to keep up with social media, and it really wasn’t his thing (which is fine, not everyone loves the 140 character story).  He decided to work with an ad agency to put notices on some of the higher end literary websites, which we didn’t recommend because the book itself wasn’t right for that market.  Eventually, I think he gave up.

This was a hard one for me because I really liked the book and thought it had a nice slow burn happening with additional opportunities to feed the fire.  As anyone who self-publishes knows, overnight success is rarely possible. Usually you have to be willing to keep your day job and work at marketing in the off hours.  Will you make money from your first book (or any book for that matter)?  According to a survey from Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest, most authors (both traditional and non-) are making less than $10,000 a year.

The biggest lesson here for me was to make sure that everyone I work with understands the realities of the publishing industry.  Sometimes having an alternative goal to selling books, like raising your public profile or getting pitched to do speaking engagements, helps authors because it is part of a bigger plan for their careers.  With fiction this is a bit more difficult.  

The whole process is a journey and although experts can advise and predict based on their experiences, there are many factors that go into the success of a book.  But when your book is selling, even just 20 copies a month, it is something to be proud of and it means there is potential there.  It’s a question of tapping into it, nursing it along, and not letting it go for anything.

The short answer is yes, it is possible to get brick and mortar bookstores to take your self-published books, but it isn’t an easy option. The simplest course is to hire someone to get your e-book set up on every available platform including Nook, iBooks, Kindle, Kobo, etc., and then market like crazy online!

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8 thoughts on “Self Publishing Case Study #2: How many books should you be selling?

  • October 5, 2014 at 3:48 pm
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    Claire,

    Thanks for sharing the case study about your client who enjoyed some success, but then ran out of steam at the prospect of staying engaged with social media.

    I’ve had clients who even bristled at the idea of getting started with social media and investing the time and money to launch their books assertively as you did for your client. It’s no surprise that they didn’t get the sales they had hoped for because they didn’t understand that publishing is a business.

    What amazes me most about your client and others in the same mindset is that they think shelling out big bucks to an ad agency will bring sales, without them having to engage with readers. Even established authors must reach out and interact with their readers in a variety of ways. Why the newbie thinks she can come by success without this is unbelievable.

    I enjoyed the DBW survey results which shed light on the experiences of the self-published, traditional and hybrid authors.

    Since few authors will enjoy that kind of phenomenal success that makes the headlines, I like your idea that a successful book can be one that has ” a nice slow burn happening with additional opportunities to feed the fire.” Selling 20 books a month is indeed something to be proud of, and can with ongoing marketing, feed the ego and bank account for many months and years.

    • October 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm
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      Great points, Flora! We have folks who ask us about tweeting, etc., for them — to which we have the same “engage w/ your reader” discussion — Do readers go to book signings to hear their favorite author’s mmarketer or publicist? Heck no! Pat Conroy remains a personal favorite author of mine for that engaged reason — No matter how often and how popular, when Pat’s signing books, he introduces himself to each and every fan who approaches the table and MEETS them… listening to each of their own family stories and anecdotes… An author who is truly appreciative of his fans and so they adore him, too!

  • October 1, 2014 at 5:36 pm
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    Good post! Indie authors need to be realistic. Their books may be as good as many of the best sellers, but without the name recognition and the mega-promo, a steady several copies a month is not bad. And even for that, you need to keep on reminding folks that you and your book(s) are out there!
    I check my Amazon rating every couple of weeks, and when it dips into the couple-hundred-thousand range, I realize a few people have bought that book recently.

  • September 30, 2014 at 1:32 pm
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    It’s easy to find advice online, but the case study adds great context. I’m working on the 2nd draft of my novel and thinking through publishing options along the way. Thanks for sharing!

  • September 29, 2014 at 7:20 pm
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    Thanks Claire for this post. It is both informative and encouraging. As a self-published author of three books, I know how important it is to not give up. When I put the work into promoting my books, I was successful in that I would sell at least 15 to 20 per month. I put the promotion on hold for almost 18 months and I doubt that I sold 20 books over the 18 month period. I am back to promoting now and have 2 workshops lined up already, with more prospects in the making. So this story is confirmation that when you don’t give up, things happen.

    Thanks again for the encouragement!
    Myrtle

    • September 29, 2014 at 10:31 pm
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      Yay, Myrtle! Go get ’em… That’s the great thing about books — they live on ’til their message (hopefully) gets to all the readers it can 🙂

  • September 29, 2014 at 2:55 pm
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    Hi Claire,

    This is a wonderful post which I hope authors will embrace. It comes down to managing author expectations.
    Being ‘found’ is ever more difficult in today’s world. Readers can pick and choose what they want and ignore the rest. It’s why I impress upon my authors that small is the new big!

    The fact is that only 2% of writers become best selling authors. And it didn’t happen right away for them, either. Did they ever think about giving up? YES! The difference is that they didn’t.

    A good dose of luck is involved in the evolution to being discovered. Who knows what may have happened if your author if he’d hung in there! If writers don’t value their own work – why should others?

    Yes, it IS tough to rise above all the noise, but one book in the hands of an admiring reader, editor, book seller can lead to unimagined success!

    • September 29, 2014 at 10:32 pm
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      So true, Lynda! Like Oprah says, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity!” If an author is doing the footwork and remains prepared, opportunities can and DO happen…

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