When a book is launched, there are high expectations from every part of the publishing house. Yet the reality is that with 190,000 new titles entering the market every year, some people are going to be disappointed in this process. At times, it’s been my role to have these discussions with authors about their book sales. It is not anything that gives me pleasure to have these serious conversations about sales for a particular book—yet it is a reality of the publishing world. Not every book finds it’s audience and sells into the marketplace. There are many reasons along the journey as to why sales have lagged for a particular book. Possibly the publisher is going through huge transition and their marketing or editorial staff is changing and no one has your vision for the book. You’ve lost your internal champion. Or maybe some book came into the publishing house which absorbed the majority of the focus of the publisher and your book was simply “on the list.”
I’ve learned there are many factors outside of the author’s control with a book. My encouragement to you as an author is to look at what you can control. Too many authors have assumed their publisher will market the daylights out of their book and they have to do almost nothing (other than produce an excellent book which is a given) for that book to reach the audience. Often this assumption will lead to poor sales and disappointment. Not every book immediately finds its audience. Some times it takes a slow ground swell for a book to get on the bestseller list. There are many examples of this happening within publishing but here’s one that comes to mind:
Donald Miller’s first book, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality released in July 2003. Today more than three years later, the book is on the bestseller list and one of the publisher’s brands. It has only been on the bestseller list for a few months. I have no idea but I suspect the sales numbers were modest for the first couple of years. Everyone is looking for the quick fix for their particular book. Often there is no quick fix.
Or if you write fiction, consider the innovation of John Shors and Beneath a Marble Sky. He had modest book sales but in the paperback version the book sales are taking off. Why? Because the author had passion for his book—and a vision to reach out to the audience. In the paperback version, he offered to speak to book clubs and included his email address. The sales have taken off and he’s made appearances on different national talk shows and print publications.
In the October 30th issue of Publishers Weekly, John Shors writes the “Soapbox” or final article in the magazine called “Making the Connection.” In this article, Shors talks about connecting with readers. He never mentions sales—and he is wise. Yet I know as the author connects with readers then the sales increase—and the author disappointment disappears. Shors has a goal of reaching 1,000 book groups. He writes, “As I have witnessed more than 200 times, book clubs are catalysts for meaningful reader-author exchanges. A recent Saturday night call with a 20–member club in Jacksonville, Fla., provides a great example. Throughout the lengthy call, I answered questions about my novel’s genesis, how much of it was fact and why I’d chosen a woman as my narrator. We laughed a lot, and I was delighted to hear that the participants were wearing Indian clothes and eating Indian food. They had even hired a belly dancer and a henna painter, and the next day I received an email from the group, with photos of the members dressed as the characters in my novel. I hope that through experiences like these, I’m cultivating readers who will follow me from book to book.”
“I believe my book club program works for several reasons. First, people are curious about many aspects of my novel. Second, readers are flattered that I am willing to spend time talking with them. Third, and most important, I think readers long for such interaction. They long for it in a similar way to music aficionados’ applause in hopes of an encore. They want more than just the announced performance, and musicians commonly oblige. Why shouldn’t writers?”
Ok, your published novel doesn’t have a reader’s discussion guide. Can you create one after the fact and gain readers in your novel? It’s possible but it will take passion and effort on your part. If you have a good book and believe in the book, I’d encourage you to take your disappointment and funnel it toward increasing your audience. Your publisher will thank you and your royalty statement will thank you—and you can become a proactive author (which publishers love) rather than someone with disappointment. Another idea is to take these ten tips from Lissa Warren and use it to stir some ideas for your readers.
And if you don’t have a book in print, then build these ideas into your book proposal from the start.
You never know where it can take you if you don’t try it.