Lawrence Gooley: Advice for Aspiring History Authors


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RegionalBookImageNYHMany self-publishers offer plenty of encouragement to both capable and less-than-capable writers, and for good reason. Their business plan is not unlike the NYS Lottery’s “Hey, you never know” program: highly successful by playing your emotions against overwhelming odds. I’m not saying the lottery isn’t fun, but here’s a heads-up: they do know. Both the lottery people and publishers know that nearly everyone who pays into their systems will receive no return other than a few anxious moments.

To begin with, e-book publishers would rather we didn’t know that the great majority of e-titles sell only a few copies—usually to the writer’s family and friends. Several years ago, self-publisher Lulu’s average book sold 1.8 copies. Obviously, sales statistics provided by such companies are skewed by the occasional breakout title that sells hundreds or maybe thousands of copies. Most of them don’t.

To attract customers, some publishers guarantee that relatively little cost will be incurred, and your book will be available to retailers around the world. All true, but very misleading. Technically it will be available, but without information and enticement to lure buyers, sales are highly doubtful.

You won’t be informed that, even with the phenomenal rise of e-books, the heart and soul of book sales is brick-and-mortar locations. If a book isn’t available in physical stores, it has little hope of selling beyond a few copies. With all the hype about e-books in recent years, it’s important to know that independent bookstores have made a strong comeback from difficult times.

For regional writers who are thinking of publishing, there are decisions to be made. Consider the e-book format, but remember that 75 percent of all book sales are printed books. Ignore the printed format and you’re potentially missing out on the majority of sales. By the same token, if you go with traditional print, remember that 25 percent of book sales are digital. In some cases, a combination is best.

Remember also that genre matters. Thus far, e-book success has been confined mostly to romance, mystery, and general fiction. Another surprise: owners of e-readers actually purchase half of their reading materials in print and half in digital format.

Don’t necessarily be discouraged by certain facts, but be aware of them―like this one: the whispered secret among self-publishers who sell hundreds of thousands of books is that their average book sells only 5 to 120 copies. Those are the odds you’ll have to beat. It can be tough, but if your book is well written, professionally edited, nicely printed, and you work hard at selling, it’s doable.

The only people who can even consider buying your book must first know that it exists. How will you accomplish that in America, let alone worldwide? Better yet, narrow it down. If you’re in the Adirondacks, begin by asking yourself: how will I inform people in the region that my book exists? Will newspapers welcome my story with open arms? If not, what will I do? Will stores want my book? Craft a plan after asking lots of questions of yourself and others.

Be conscious of the fact that POD (print on demand) promises a low-cost alternative: they’ll publish and/or print your book and you won’t need to stock thousands or even hundreds of copies. In fact, none at all. When an order comes in, they’ll print even a single copy and ship it. But beware.

Though it sounds good in theory, it doesn’t work in the vast majority of cases. Why? Because customers won’t find you: you need to find them. A simple rule of selling is foot traffic: if your book is placed where hundreds of people will see it in a day or a week, a few customers will most likely buy it, and the process will continue daily or weekly. That’s the general plan for selling in a physical store.

But if you go strictly digital because it’s inexpensive, how will you get hundreds of people to see your book online every day? How about even for one day? How will you maintain a flow of new visitors to a website where they will view your work?

That’s what brick-and-mortar stores offer. No one knows the future, but independent bookstores are a critical part of the sales process, and to work within that system, you need books in hand. Hypothetically, let’s say Hoss’s in Long Lake wants a dozen copies of your Adirondack book. If you’re using POD, the store must wait for books to be printed and shipped. When those sell, they’ll be left waiting again.

And that’s just one store. If your book is in 25 or 50 stores, you’ll need to supply all of them promptly, which requires hundreds of copies, and for that, POD is usually not cost effective. Simply put, you can’t sell it if you don’t have it.

In self-publishing, it’s necessary to invest financially in your own work if you hope for a reasonable return, and doing so shouldn’t be that scary. After all, if you believe enough in your book to write it, it stands to reason you believe it will sell.

Be careful of assurances that it will be quick, easy, and inexpensive to produce your book. With modern technology, yes, it’s now quicker, easier, and less expensive than it was in the past. But remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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