Have you ever managed expectations for a particular project? It’s often a wise management principle. Rather than promise something you can’t deliver, it’s much better to deliver an excellent product ahead of schedule.
I was reminded of this principle when I was listening to a series of tapes from a writer’s conference. I’m not going to identify this particular speaker but he’s been in publishing many years and has a high position within a well-known book publishing house. I was impressed with his honest evaluation of publishers when he said, “Publishers are great at manufacturing product. You should act like they are only going to manufacture the product—not sell it. You should expect their sales potential for your product is zero—and all of the sales and marketing will be on your shoulders.” Now, this executive admitted, the publisher has plans and expectations to sell your book. Just imagine if every author had this perspective about their book and what a difference it would make—in their expectations and also into the energy they pour into personally marketing their books.
Instead most authors have the opposite expectation. They expect to write a great book, send it to the publisher and depend on them for all of the sales and marketing efforts. Then six months or a year after the book releases, the author receives his royalty statement and an accounting of the sales of this book. The author is extremely is disappointed and he is operating from the wrong expectation. I’ve had to field those disappointed calls from authors when they receive their royalty statements. It’s no fun as you try to express empathy yet balance it with realism.
I like what Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry say in their book Putting Your Passion Into Print, “We often advise authors to pretend their publisher is their printer—and that’s all. That way, they won’t be disappointed when their publisher disappoints them.”
If you take this type of attitude, it will propel you into marketing your own book. You aren’t sitting back and counting on the publisher’s sales force or marketing team. Instead you are walking to a different beat. I guarantee this stance will make you stand out to the publisher because so few authors understand this element. It doesn’t matter whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you’ve got to be involved in the marketing of your book.
Several weeks ago I interviewed Karen Kingsbury for a Writer’s Digest article. On her own initiative, Kingsbury began to target a particular sector of the market—the retailer. Her efforts were not a one time experience but repeatedly Karen Kingsbury has reached out to this retailer with contests and other means. Long before anyone was doing it, Kingsbury purchased some writing pens and had her name and website imprinted on these pens. Then at book signings and other events with retailers, Kingsbury made a gift of these pens. It wasn’t cheap and involved several thousand dollars of her own earnings. I included some of this information in my magazine article and my editor asked me if it had paid off. Has it? Yes, I shouted to this editor (not really but I felt like it). Even Now, Kingsbury’s most recent novel, released in December and has been back to press five times with over 200,000 copies in print. (You can read my review to see what I thought about it.) Even Now has been perched on the Christian fiction bestseller list. It’s an excellent book. Kingsbury genuinely cares about these retailers but she’s also wise in understanding the necessity of marketing. Also about 70% of Karen Kingsbury’s sales are not in the Christian bookstore but in the general market.
It is great to be motivated and have goals for your own writing. But make sure in the overall big picture that you are planning to market your own books—and managing your expectations regarding sales. Then if your book takes off like a rocket, you will be pleased and surprised. Or if you book doesn’t have the level of sales you expected, you will not be disappointed—instead you will grow more determined to reach your audience for the book.