Selling Books

Although writing and publishing your own books can provide a sense of achievement, most people will also want to reach a wide readership and generate an income stream from their work. In this section, I will look at some of the activities and costs commonly associated with selling books. Finding the best channels through which to sell your work and the most effective strategies to employ will likely involve considerable trial and error. However, you will be in the same position that most other people are in when they try to sell the books they have written and published.

Selling Books

The topics listed below describe activities commonly involved in selling books. I have placed the information in what I consider to be a logical sequence and I hope that you will find what I have written useful.

Author Income
The Business of Writing Books
Book Selling Platforms
Self-Publishing Costs
Print on Demand


 
Author Income

Millions of people across the world dream of earning a primary or secondary income from writing and selling books. However, the harsh reality is that most of them will struggle to earn enough to cover costs associated with the time and resources needed to write and publish a book. Before the advent of digital publishing books were only available in physical formats, which the reader could either purchase or borrow, from a library or another person. Although there is still a market for printed hardback and paperback books, millions of people now prefer to download and read ebooks. Changes in the publishing industry have led to many professional writers seeing their earnings from writing fall, forcing them to seek alternative employment so as to pay the bills. With less time and energy to write, authors might create fewer books, some of which could have been both successful and culturally significant.

There is much debate among writers about the difficulty of earning a living and what can be done about it. Traditional publishers are often less inclined to take a risk on developing the career of new writers and they might offer established writers lower advances than an author could have expected in the past. Though looked down upon by some, the growth of self publishing has enabled anyone to write and publish their own book, without the need for an agent or a publishing deal. However, this has also contributed to the lowering of book prices, as people have grown accustomed to inexpensive or even free ebooks. If an author takes greater control over their writing career and defines success on their own terms, they are less likely to feel that their efforts have been wasted. In addition to writing books for which there is sufficient demand, authors should build their own author platform, establishing a following of loyal readers.

Each year more than a million books are published, joining the millions already available, many of them self-published. Potential readers not only have many books to choose from across wide range of genres, but also many other available sources of information and forms of entertaining. This competition can make it difficult for new authors to attract a significant number of sales and even established authors often struggle to earn a living from book sales alone. Increasingly even authors with book deals are expected to carry out most of the marketing, which might involve them developing their own author platform and brand. Engaging with their readership can help an author to build a following, so that when they publish new books their work will attract sales among their readership. This can help books to stand out from the competition and might lead to an author finding additional sources of income, such as running workshops or being invited to speak at events.

People hoping to increase their financial security and independence are often advised to acquire income generating assets and reduce their liabilities. This could include looking for passive income streams that have the potential to earn money while you sleep. Writing and publishing your own books could be thought of as having assets, which have the potential to generate additional income. Few people are able to earn a full time income from writing alone. However, when combined with other sources of income, self-publishing might provide you with the additional income that can bring greater freedom to live and work the way that you want today and save for the future. The time and resources spent on self-publishing could be thought of as an investment in your personal, professional and financial well being. This could be of particular relevance for those publishing non-fiction books related to their career or business.


 
The Business of Writing Books

A book is a product and publishing a book that other people will want to buy requires considerable skill and effort. Although you might like to think of yourself as a creative artist, if you decide to become a self-published author you should approach the selling of your books in a business like manner. Failing to do so could mean that books you write remain undiscovered by their potential audience, leaving you without the personal motivation or financial rewards that would encourage you to write more books. Serious thought should be given to the work that needs to be done to produce professionally published books, where and in what format they will be sold, how much they will be sold for and the costs associated with bringing them to market. Whether you want to build a career as an author, raise your profile as an artist or maker, or supplement your income with additional earnings, the success of your endeavours rests with you.

It is important that you understand the competitive book selling market and what motivates people to purchase a book, rather than another which might be just as well written, informative or entertaining. Visit online platforms such as Amazon, where you can read reviews of books that appear to be selling well and ask yourself why that might be. Consider elements such as the book title and subtitle, price, category, description and sample content. If you feel yourself drawn to particular books, ask yourself why that might be and try to get a feel for what is likely to attract readers to books that you write. Your findings could help you to develop a marketing strategy for use before, during and after publication of your book. You should also register as a self-publisher with online platforms and learn how to use the tools they provide that are intended to help you publish and promote your books.

To be a successful author you will need to attract a loyal readership and you should therefore be prepared to make some of what you write available for free. This is particularly true for new writers, but something that even established writers have done. By removing a possible pricing barrier for some of your work, you could attract new readers who might provide useful feedback and possibly go on to purchase your books in the future. For example, you could write a regular blog or submit articles to online publications, in return for a by line and some publicity. The comments and feedback that you receive regarding your work will help you to improve as a writer. Before devoting time and effort into publishing a book on a particular topic, you could write a blog post or article as a form of market research. You might notice that particular topics receive most interest, highlighting subject matter that is most likely to attract people looking for books to buy.


 
Book Selling Platforms

When deciding where to sell their books online, most writers will make them available through Amazon, which dominates ebook sales, due in large part to the popularity of the Kindle. Another option for self-published authors is Smashwords, which distributes ebooks through many different retailers, including Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks and Kobo. Amazon and Smashwords each require correctly formatted manuscripts and they will need to be uploaded in an electronic format, as specified by the platform you are using. An author might save money by submitting their manuscript to each retailer individually. However, one of the benefits of using Smashwords is that they will make your ebook available in the format that each of the retailers they supply requires, simplifying the process. If, in addition to text, your ebook contains illustrations, then you should be aware of the associated requirements and costs.

Some writers decide to sell their books through their own website, either in addition to or instead of making them available through other platforms. Although this has some potential advantages, such as having greater control over branding and keeping a greater percentage of the sale price, the cost and time needed to develop and run an eCommerce site can be considerable. However, a huge advantage of having your own website is the ability for you to build your own email marketing list. In addition to selling ebooks, you might also want to make your book available in a physical format, as many people still prefer to read a paperback version, rather than reading ebooks on an electronic device. Rather than spending a lot of money up front on a large print run of their book, many self-published authors choose to use print on demand services, such as those provided by Amazon.


 
Self-Publishing Costs

Each book published is competing for the attention of readers and to be successful it will need to attract a large enough audience. It is essential therefore that your book is perceived as being of a high standard, both in terms of content and production values. When an author signs a book deal, a traditional publisher will employ experienced professionals to do the proofreading, editing and formatting of the manuscript and the book cover design. As a self-published author, you will need to ensure that your book does not look amateurish by comparison. The cost of hiring professionals to work on your book might range from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds, dollars or euros, but could lead to more sales and better reviews. You can look online for people who provide proofreading, editing and design services, but you should try to ascertain the quality of their work before hiring them.

Ideally you will be able to invest some money in the hiring of professionals, who can proofread, edit and format your manuscript, design the book cover and assist with the marketing. However, if you cannot afford this, do not allow it to prevent you self-publishing your book. You could ask family or friends who possess relevant skills to do the work for free, or in exchange for work that you can do for them. Alternatively, you could develop the skills needed and do the work yourself. However, the quality of the finished book might not be as good as specialists could deliver. Regarding book marketing, even authors with publishing deals can find that they are expected to do much of the work themselves, unless they are celebrities or writers with a large established audience. You might find that you spend more time and money on the publishing and marketing of your books than writing them.


 
Print on Demand

The convenience of downloadable ebooks have led to them becoming a popular format and they are read by millions of people around the world. However, many people prefer to hold a physical printed book in their hands when they read. Not providing both an ebook and printed version of your book to readers could therefore mean missing out on potential sales. Unlike ebooks which can be reproduced and delivered at little or no cost, production, storage and distribution of physical books incurs additional costs, which will likely require a higher selling price. The two main options when printing physical copies of your book will be offset printing and print on demand (POD). Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages. The choice of which to use will depend upon your particular requirements and the financial resources that you have at your disposal.

Until the 1990s, offset printing was the only option available to those wanting to see their books in print and generally involved paying for the services of a vanity press. Minimum print runs were typically for one thousand copies, to ensure the unit costs were kept to a manageable level and provide the vanity press with sufficient profit. This led to many self-published authors having hundreds of books stored in garages, spare rooms and elsewhere, which they might struggle to sell or even give away. The arrival of POD services enabled authors to order as many or as few printed copies of their books as they wanted. POD services are now dominated by online providers such as Amazon. This enables self-published authors to provide physical copies of their books, without upfront costs, so that they can be bought online and delivered to the customer within days.

Print on demand enables a single copy of a book to be printed, as and when there is a customer wanting to buy it. POD has become very popular among self-publishers, as it minimises financial risks of paying for the production, delivery and storage of books that are surplus to requirement. Another advantage is that an author can make changes to the text of a book, such as correcting typographical or grammatical errors. Such changes will be visible in the next physical copy of a book, printed after the updated manuscript file is uploaded to the POD service. This eliminates the stress and possible cost of an author taking delivery of hundreds or even even thousands of copies of their book, only to realise too late that it contains an error.

When compared to POD, the lower unit cost of offset printing makes it the preferred option when thousand of copies of a book are required. For example, you might be planning to sell or give away many copies of your book at events, or have found a retail outlet that has agreed to stock and sell your books. However, you should ensure that there is a market for your book, rather than risk being left with many books for which there is no demand. Although good POD services can produce black and white paperback books of similar quality to those produced using offset printing, books that include images and colour might be of better quality when produced using offset printing. If you are planning to sell physical copies of your book through your own website, you should also consider the time and cost associated with packaging and posting them.

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