Most authors have the same goal: to sell books! And unless you’re an established author with a large following (e.g., Stephen King, John Grisham), YOU must get out there and sell YOUR book. We see many publishers, especially self-publishers, make wonderful statements about how they will place and list your book in all sorts of locations accessible to buyers all over the world. Heck, many of them would lead you to believe you can just sit back in your easy chair while your book sells like hotcakes around the world and the money just pours in.
Well, we’re here to bring you to back down to earth. The hard part wasn’t just writing your book. Now that your book is published, the really hard part—selling your book—has only begun.
We’re not saying it’s impossible to sell your book, but it is significantly more difficult, and requires significantly more effort on YOUR part, than most self-publishing companies would have you believe. They make promising, exciting statements such as the following:
Sell your book all over the world!
Your book will be available on Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com!
The statements above are not false, but you should consider some important points—points that are rarely mentioned by self-publishers trying to get your money. Read on …
If your book has been assigned an ISBN, it is eligible to be sold in retail stores (both online and brick-and-mortar) and listed in Bowker’s Books in Print, a massive, searchable, bibliographic database used by librarians and booksellers in the US and several other countries. Having your book appear in these venues certainly means it is possible for people around the world to find it, but is it likely?
Is it likely people will simply stumble upon YOUR book among the millions of books out there? Sure, it’s a thrill to show all your friends that your book is listed on Amazon, but who else is going to see your book there? Again, if you’re an established, popular author, people may be looking for and buying your books on a regular basis. However, most authors need to publicize their books to prompt potential buyers to look for and purchase them. Even well-known authors embark on tours—interviews, signings, readings—when they release new works, and you also must participate in various events and other endeavors in order to promote your work and encourage people to buy.
The statements above are not meant to discourage you. Their intention is to make you aware that traditional and self-publishers will provide various services to help promote and sell your book, but there is simply no substitute for YOUR involvement and effort in the process.
Marketing and Promotion
You may have a great book that many people will love, but they won’t look for or buy it if they don’t know it exists. You will need to promote your book to get the word out. Traditional publishers will likely produce various promotional materials (e.g., bookmarks, mailings, catalog inclusion) as part of the publishing process. Many self-publishers also offer marketing services at an additional cost.
You will more than likely wish to engage in promotional activities yourself regardless of whether your publisher performs any such services. If you’re on a tight budget, try creating and producing materials—flyers, mailings, business cards— yourself. Make sure you keep a supply with you at all times so you can place them wherever and whenever you see an opportunity.
Paid advertising is another option, but can be quite expensive. Make sure to explore your options carefully and consider just how many books an advertisement must sell just to pay for itself. Also consider your book’s target audience. Are they more likely to read a newspaper, listen to the radio, or surf the internet? You’ll want to choose the most appropriate medium through which to promote your book.
If you have a website, consider online advertising. Services such as Google Ads have become quite popular and give you more control over cost and placement.
Signings and Appearances
Making personal appearances is an extremely important part of promoting your book. A traditional publisher may arrange events for you, but regardless of how you publish you, make sure to seek venues at which to appear with your book. Schedule signings at bookstores and libraries and watch for book fairs (and even flea markets, craft events, etc.) in your area. Seek venues—libraries, community halls, colleges—where you can give a PowerPoint presentation about your book. You may even receive a modest honorarium for doing so.
Again, remember your book’s target audience here. Try to travel to the areas and venues that members of your audience would likely visit.
Having others say positive things about your book can also help in promoting your work. Don’t simply blanket area newspapers with free books, though. Due to budget cuts, many newspapers are understaffed and may not even employ a qualified reviewer. However, they are still more than happy to accept a free copy of your book. There is usually no guarantee of a review when you submit your book, but you should at least contact prospective newspapers beforehand to see if a qualified reviewer is on staff.
If you have any connections to people of respect and authority, use them! Ask that college professor or newspaper editor friend to write something about your book and then place his/her comments on the back of your book, on your website, etc. If you have a website or blog, post positive comments from friends and others who have read your book.
You will likely have many options for distributing your book (i.e., placing your book in stores and other sales venues). The options that work best for you will depend on how much time you have to invest and how much profit you need or want to make. Most traditional publishers will take care of distribution for you, but they will also keep most of the sales proceeds. Self-publishers typically perform some basic tasks, such as listing your book on their websites and possibly on other websites with which they are affiliated, as well as in Bowker’s Books in Print. You will likely take on more of the responsibility for distributing your book, but you will also keep all or most of the sales proceeds.
Regardless of how you publish your book, you may have the option of placing it with a distributor, a company that specializes in placing books in stores and fulfilling store orders. Distributors purchase books from authors and/or publishers at a substantial discount (typically 50%–70% off retail), and then re-sell to stores at a lower discount (typically 40%–50% off retail). The level of distribution services varies among companies, but distributors may promote your book in addition to simply placing it in stores that request it. When considering a distributor, make sure to study the company’s policies carefully. Important factors to consider include:
- Distributor’s discount rate
- Distributor’s return policy: Many distributors allow stores to return books that don’t sell in a given time (usually 30–90 days). In addition, the stores aren’t normally required to ensure books are in mint condition in order to return them for a full refund.
- Distributor’s shipping policies: You will likely have to pay to ship your books to the distributor. You may also have to pay for the distributor to ship returned books back to you.
You may also decide to handle distribution yourself. If so, you will need to invest a fair amount of time persuading retailers to carry your book, as well as in shipping and transporting your books. You may also find it difficult to get your book in large chain stores because many will only work with a handful of distributors. If you have the time to spare, though, the profits you keep for yourself may well be worth it. If you use a traditional publisher or a distributor, you may still want to do some marketing and distribution on your own as long as your publisher/distributor allows you to do so.
You will likely want to place your book in as many sales locations—bookstores, gift shops, pharmacies, online stores—as possible. Again, a traditional publisher or distributor may take care of this for you, but you will likely have little or no say in where your books are available. If this is the case, check the company’s policies to see whether you are allowed to distribute and sell your book on your own as well.
NOTE: If you do sell any books yourself, make sure you follow applicable rules and regulations regarding sales tax, income tax, and being a vendor. You can read more about vendor requirements in our Legal and Tax Requirements section.
Bookstores and other retail outlets will expect to buy your book at a wholesale discount. They may even wish to return unsold books for a full refund, regardless of whether or not the books are damaged in any way. Different stores may have different terms and requirements. In general, larger chain stores will be less flexible than smaller stores. If you are handling sales yourself, you may want to target these smaller stores. You may even find they are willing to accept a lower discount.
The best way to maximize profits is, of course, to sell your books directly to buyers at the full retail price. This cuts out the “middlemen” (e.g., distributors, stores). Unless you happen to own your own store, your best option for direct selling is your own website. If you have just one book to sell, a small website would be inexpensive to both design and maintain. If you have some web design knowledge, you can perform the work yourself; otherwise you should hire an experienced designer (not necessarily a large firm, though). Keep in mind that you will also have to plan how your customers will pay through your website (PayPal is a good option for small eCommerce sites) and you will need packaging materials and labels for shipping.