We regularly see celebrity authors and influencers have national and international book launches and their books on shelves with major bookstore chains. This has become the ultimate standard of success for new authors. But what many new authors do not realize is that this vision is not only unrealistic, but even undesirable—and expensive.
Being a published author is a business, and business owners seek a return on investment. They know that it’s a long-term game of sorts, and they plan accordingly. Reputable publishers have the same outlook but know more about the details and facets of that type of distribution. You should study these, as well, if you want to be a profitable author.
Why do most traditional bookstores and notable national and international bookstore chains rarely carry the books of self-published authors? Traditionally, publishers’ book placements in chain stores are based on the fees they pay. Books from the publishers with the deepest pockets are front and center, and everyone else falls into place based on what they can afford to pay.
If your goal is to be in all the national chain bookstores, think about how much the initial fee would be. Even if you are traditionally published and not the one paying the fee, trust me—it is costing you on the back end, as most traditionally published authors’ royalty payments are mere pennies on the sale-price dollar.)
If the price tag doesn’t scare you, the fact that readers’ tastes vary geographically should: what might be a bestseller in one part of the country could turn out to be an absolute flop in another.
Publishing is more of a consignment business—especially when it comes to distribution to bookstores. Retailers take a gamble, sell what they can, and, if they project wrong, you pay for the loss. Your royalty statements can go from in the green one month to in the red the next, which is perfectly normal and part of the business of being an author. In all fairness, if many bookstores are going bankrupt, it is imperative that authors plan accordingly and continually equip themselves to deal with the ever-changing nature of the publishing industry.
Even nontraditional publishers—including self-published professional authors who use print-on-demand services to have their books distributed online at major book retailers and libraries—must weather these changes. When notices were sent out recently that many of these print-on-demand service providers were increasing their printing fees, some authors and publishers received notices that their book royalties would be in the red if their book prices stayed the same.
Seasoned authors know the importance of preorders, marketing, and sales online and offline. The proper strategy will yield a high return on investment; an improper strategy or no strategy at all can leave you broke. Traditional publishers plan for about 30% of their books to be returned by retailers. Can your monetization plan afford this percentage of returns?
This would also be an excellent time to point out that just having a book in the bookstore is not enough. Just like the celebrities and influencers whose lavish national book launches they often marvel over, self-published and new authors must advertise and market their books’ availability, especially in these stores.
Even if your book is only available in online bookstores, you need to share this with your following. When Target offered a free book with a certain number of book purchases, did you promote your book and encourage your audience to buy before the sale ended? Keep track of when retailers are offering sales and encourage supporters to buy your book then.
How often do you, as an author, google your published work to see where it is being sold and at what price? Based on how long your book has been available and which publishing platform you used, you may be surprised at the various online retailers that sell your book.
Reminding your audience of the multiple places online and in person where they can purchase your book is one way to increase your credibility and profitability as an author. And here’s a bonus tip: authors should be researching and strategically pitching various bookstores to carry their books and to host their personal appearances. (Book tour, anyone?)
Just think of the money that you are leaving on the table by not creating relationships with book clubs, organizations, and event planners for speaking engagements and book readings. Now imagine if you were making an appearance at a local conference or event and you did your due diligence to market, advertise, and secure media attention in the area before your arrival. Do you know the amount of money you could make from these efforts versus just aiming to be in as many stores as possible?
Just like financial investments, authors must learn to diversify their book placement and distribution. In all your monetization planning, consider the costs, risks, and return on investment. And never be upset at the results you did not get from the work you did not do. Celebrities and influencers have teams that spend copious amounts of time planning successful launches. You may have to do much of that work on your own. None of us is exempt.
Alesha Brown is an entrepreneur, a book and magazine publisher, a consultant, and the CEO of Fruition Publishing Concierge Services.