The average number of self-published print-on-demand books that get sold is about 100-150 copies. That’s according to a variety of facts and figures coming from the self-publishing industry’s leaders. The average person who self-publishes a book, then, is not serious about publishing. It may be for a variety of reasons. Many people these days are publishing photo books to share with family and friends. Others I’m sure are publishing scholarly books directed at a highly specialized and limited audience. There are writers, however, who are serious about their writing, who may decide for various reasons to publish their own writing. I went over some of those reasons in last week’s article Own What’s Yours. In that same article I included a resource list which included a link to a very informative article worth reading, “PRINT ON DEMAND” about what to be aware of when considering Print on Demand publication of your own writing.
One argument that the publishing world puts forward against the idea of publishing your own work is that there is a stigma attached to “vanity publishing.” The truth may very well be that most self-published authors are just desperate to get published, hopelessly naive and/or bad writers. But that doesn’t mean that you are one of those writers if you decide to self-publish. However if you don’t have an understanding of what you are doing, beyond creating a richly imaginative and beautiful book, then you probably won’t sell more that a hundred copies or so either.
If you believe in your creation enough to go to the effort to publish it, then you will also have to believe in it enough to sell hundreds of copies, and imagine selling thousands of copies. A friend who read a lot of “becoming rich and succesful” type books said that one way to become successful is to sell a million copies of a book by you, because then “there’s a million yous” out there. If you’re writing poetry, or experimental fiction, and especially if you are a performance poet or storyteller, having a book to sell at your performances is a way to make a few extra dollars each time you make an appearance. It also works as “you” wherever it travels in the world, opening virtual doors that you can’t foresee, foretell and shouldn’t forget about.
Even for those authors who don’t “perform” their work, there must be a willingness to read from it, sign copies, and yes, set up those readings and signings from your phone, sitting at your desk. Vanity publishing indeed, you will have to really believe in yourself. You have to believe in the quality of your work first. Then you have to believe that people will want your book if they know about it. THEN you have to make sure people do know about it. Every self-published author taking him or herself seriously, should have a press list, a mailing list, an e-mail mailing list, a website, an easy way to be contacted, an easy way to order your print on demand books on-line, a list of quotes and reviews, and a calendar of reading/signing dates scheduled for as far-reaching geographical and even virtual area as possible.
Even if you have a publishing contract, without an accompanying publicity campaign, reading and signing tour, and an effort to get reviews and quotes, only your closest one or two hundred friends will ever know about your book. Your book may not be chosen to be promoted by the company that published it. If that first book that isn’t self-sublished doesn’t sell more than a thousand copies, you might very well be stigmatized by the publishing world for a lack of impressive sales. So what goes for self-published authors is good for first-time authors to remember too. The first best selling book of all time was probably “The Witches’ Hammer.” While it might have been considered a reliable reference book at the time by the people in power at the time, these days it’s not at the top of the list of great literature or even great intelligence or even common sense. Conversely, what’s stigmatized today by those in power in publishing may very well be tomorrow’s genius who never had a book contract in her lifetime.
An author needs to determine what is a reasonable goal for book sales and then do their very best to reach that goal. So, regardless of the price, if you sold an average of one book a week it would take ten years to sell about 500 books. Two books a week would take five years to sell the same amount. If you took a year to sell 500 books, you would have to sell an average of about ten books a week. If you did that, you would be a print-on-demand best seller author. If you have a good print-on-demand agreement, you’ll get your fair share of the sales and you’ll make some money. Your bank account will grow with money in it, whether or not you have been stigmatized. But there is a reason why most people don’t sell ten books a week. It’s not easy!
Below are some suggestions for poets and other types of creative writers. As I progress with my own foray into print-on-demand publishing, (I’m still in the research phase right now,) I will be sure to report back to you on the success or failure of these various methods. Those with successful experiences (or otherwise) are encouraged to leave your comments and links to good resources.
- Make a list of people you know and people you admire. Write them nice letters and give them an advance copy of your book to read. Ask them to write a review, or even just a quote that you can use to help you promote your book.
- Make a schedule of open mics in your area and go to each one at least once. Read from your book and make sure to announce that you have copies available.
- Make contact with a person at each bookstore in your area, and request a date for a reading/signing.
- Do your research and put together a lengthy press list of all news outlets that might take the slightest interest in your book. Get e-mail, snail mail and fax numbers and names of people to address press releases to.
- Write a press release about the publication of your book with all the dates that you have scheduled for your appearances and a website address where the book is available. Include a picture of the cover of your book, a picture of you, and your willingness to be interviewed for newspaper, radio, print and tv news outlets in your area, and/or send out review copies of your book.
- Periodically send out new press releases about newly scheduled dates or even new reviews and quotes about your book. Don’t forget about on-line news outlets for press releases.
- Take advantage of new technology on the internet to reach an international audience for your book. Don’t forget about web radio interviews, chat interviews, video chat interviews.
- Work on yourself. If you are not a very good reader of your work, get better at it. Practice your diction and take a look in the mirror. Make sure that your appearance says that you are self-assured and believe in the book you are holding in your hands and reading from.