Monday, March 26, 2012

How Hard Can it be to Sell a Book?

Article Written by Tom Blubaugh 

For years, I have gone into libraries and bookstores without a thought of how the thousands upon thousands of books got on their shelves. They were just there ready and waiting for me to come in to check them out or purchase them. They just grew there didn’t they? Much like the groceries in the super market. Let me tell you what I have found out since my novel Night of the Cossack was released. When I began writing this book, I was writing it for my heirs and me. I did not think about it being a novel or being published. It was just a story of my grandfather. I was sort of, no not sort of—I was creating a grandfather I never had. I had gotten into genealogy since most of my ancestors were gone. I knew very little about either grandfather since both died before I was born. There was always a gap in my life and I wanted it filled. I took what little information I had about my mother’s father and started researching. What I found was fascinating and I was pulled into the world of Russian history and Cossack soldiers.

Somewhere along the way, I felt that what I was writing might be worth reading. I went online in search of someone who could give me an opinion. I found Michelle Buckman, Rachel’s Contrition and others, and asked her to give me her opinion. She thought it was worth pursuing and I joined a local critique group. In the back of my mind was a question—do I want to be involved with pursuing a publisher? I pushed the question away and kept writing. When I was nearly finished, Dennis and Polly Vance asked me to help them with a website for a publishing company they were starting. Somewhere in the process, they discovered my website and read the first chapter I had posted to see if I would get any nibbles. They wanted to read my manuscript and then asked me if they could publish it. On April 6, 2011, Night of the Cossack was released. From that date, I was in constant contact with Dennis and Polly. I saw firsthand how difficult it is for an independent publisher to gain the acceptance of distributors, bookstores, and even writing groups. I can tell you it is as difficult as a writer getting her manuscript in front of an editor and accepted. Even when they were successful with some bookstores, they wanted them on consignment and some did not pay for the books they sold. What a welcome to the world of publishing.

Dennis and I had talked about my platform and I assured him I had one. I really thought I did. I knew many people, I had been doing business on the internet since 1998, I was on Facebook, I had been in business in the area for twenty-two years, and I had been doing public speaking for nearly forty years. Then the reality set in—I had done business on the internet as Grampa Tom, no one knew my real name; I sold my business in 1995, could it have been that long ago?, and all of the names and files went to the new owner; and who were all those people who heard me speak and where were they? I sold about 150 copies to my friends and family and came to the edge of my platform. 

I had a platform all right—a very weak and shallow one. For the last eleven months, I have been sawing, hammering, and building my platform. It has been interesting to say the least. One thing in my favor is the fact that I had been in marketing for nearly forty years so I knew a lot about networking. I got on Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads and other sites, set up a blog, created a business page on Facebook, been interviewed on several blogs, wrote several blog articles, redesigned my website, had a book trailer developed and did a book launch. In addition, I have asked everybody who has read my book to write a book review on Amazon. We finally got a sale, one, on Amazon in October, but they have been climbing since. We have averaged in the low teens, but this month, March, it appears we are moving to another level. I am always doing research and one of the questions I recently googled was-- average of new author book sales. 

Here is one result: 

From via mt's shared posts: Here's the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies" (Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006). And average sales have since fallen much more. According to BookScan, which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books, only 299 million books were sold in 2008 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined. The average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.

YIKES! That’s 79% of 1.2 million books that were tracked, less than 99 copies. 17% or 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. This is 96% of 1.2 million books. My novel is in the second group. Maybe that should make me feel good, but not really. It’s the last sentence that really grabbed me. Okay, we have exceeded the low end, but what if I had had a solid platform built before my book was released. I would be between three and four hundred by October and climbing higher in the last six months of the first year. Maybe we could have made it into the third level—over a thousand copies sold. Well, as the old saying goes, “there’s no sense in crying over spilled milk.” Here is the thing—it does not matter whether you are published by the largest house or you are self-published. You have to have a platform. I’ve read that agents will not even talk to a writer who has fewer than 1,000 Facebook friends. It seems to have evolved to who pays for publishing the book—you or the publisher, but the marketing is done by the author. Yes, you have the advantage of the publishing houses distributor, but when was the last time you went to the library or bookstore and just looked over all the shelves for just a book? Didn’t you look for a book by an author you heard about, read about or read before? Most likely the latter.

The other thing is this—the bookstore has nothing to lose. They can send back the books that do not sell. Have you noticed the displays in Barnes & Noble are the releases of the best know authors? Just because your book is on the stores shelf does not mean it is going to sell. One thing I keep hearing from writers and authors is, “what is a platform and how do I build one?” I think I have some answers now and I have put together a one day workshop (six hours) on building a platform. I am charging a modest $25 per registrant to pull from me everything I’ve learned about book marketing in the last year. It truly is a modest fee as I’ve spent hours researching, reading and applying strategies. Some ideas are my own that I’ve tried and know they work. One of the things I am offering those who attend my workshop is an ongoing communication of new things I find helpful. 

The minimum charge for the workshop is $125 plus expenses, so there needs to be at least five people in attendance. If there are twenty paid registrants signed up, I waive the expenses. 

Email me at with questions and, please, leave comments.


Tom Blubaugh, Night of the Cossack said...

Paulette, thank you for allowing me to guest blog.


Tom Blubaugh, Author
Night of the Cossack

Nothing But Books said...


Cheryl Rogers said...

Thank you Tom and Paulette for a great article!

Tom Blubaugh, Night of the Cossack said...

You're welcome, Cheryl.