Indie Authors: Tracking Book Sales

Earning a living as an indie author is very difficult. There are no advances, and books compete with well-known authors as well as other forms of entertainment, such as movies, TV shows, and music.

A couple years ago, many people claimed that most self-published authors earned less than $250 (even only a few traditionally published authors sell enough books to be rich). Now, more people are claiming that indie authors are often much more successful. Continue reading


BookStats, What Happened in the Publishing Industry in 2011

BookStats, the annual survey conducted by BISG that captures the size and scope of the publishing industry, was released today. See the press release below; there are some interesting factoids, particularly for anyone working with ebooks.  Continue reading

DBW12 – eBooks for Everyone Else

The second day of DBW12 had a few interesting on-going series. The one I chose to listen to was eBooks for Everyone Else, which had panels for design, marketing, and distribution. Continue reading

Writers, Readers, Publishers: Present Tense, Future Bold

Tonight I went to a talk about ebook marketing. I’m part of a group, called Writers, Readers, Publishers: Present Tense, Future Bold that meets once a month to hear guest speakers talk about the state of the publishing industry.

The first meeting was a talk with Robert Gleason, Executive Editor at Tor Books, a division of the Macmillan publishing group.  Mr. Gleason acquires books and is a successful author of apocalyptic fiction.  He talked about acquisitions and the impact on traditional publishing of developments in the e-book market.

“We’re in an anti-intellectual culture,” he said. “The U.S. as a democratic culture is at stake […] We’re not a book-loving culture […] To lose the book industry would be a national catastrophe”

This might sound like a grim view of culture and publishing, but I’m sure many traditional, print publishers feel this way.

Some stats:

  • Since 2008, paperback sales have gone down 30%
  • 60% of book purchases are impulse buys, according to Nielson/Gallup
  • 16 years ago there were almost 200 paperback wholesalers. Now there are 2, and they are hemorrhaging money

Plus, Borders went bankrupt last year, and some publishers believe that if Barnes & Noble goes under, the book industry might go down the drain (although my personal feeling is that indie stores are really stepping up so that won’t be the case).

On the bright side, content is still queen. Plus, there are a few cool things marketers can do digitally that they couldn’t before.

According to Robert, in electronic marketing, the value is the content and early access to it. Although it is still effective to book authors on TV and radio shows, as long as they are good speakers and sellers, Twitter and Facebook have made it possible to build new communities and sell books to them. Facebook especially is good for blurbs, events, and exposure, and with enough fans, you can shamelessly plug and link to your sale page. Even radio shows are easier to book. You can use email to contact someone, but you should still close the deal over the phone.

Amazon, of course, is the biggest ebook seller. So it’s important to market well on Amazon. One thing to remember is that Amazon cares about the velocity of sale, according to Robert. If Amazon sees potential, they will blast your book in their newsletter to 500,000+ subscribers. One way to do this is to get 50 5-star reviews from friends when your book is first released. (NOTE* You want genuine reviews, so ask them to only give 5-stars if they really feel that way. Otherwise you’re “gaming the system” and could potentially get kicked off Amazon, not to mention potentially have book buyers, disappointed due to inflated ratings, give you low reviews and question your integrity.)

Carolyn McCray also emphasizes that on her post on Digital Book World. She says 10 is good, but you also need to make sure you have a great cover, an enticing book description in the product description section, and you should categorize your book in less competitive sections, so that you can make it to the top 100 books and sell more that way. For more tips, read her article, Maximizing Digital Book Sales.

Lastly, Robert touched upon some publishers concern about the durability of ebooks. How  long will they last? Will they break down? While there are some legitimate concerns about whether or not devices will always be able to read current ebooks (especially since there are so many devices with their own proprietary formats that may one day be outdated), there are fallbacks and workarounds (at least for now). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Inside Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble in Union Square

Last week I got to go to Barnes & Noble before the store opened and listen to two of their book buyers discuss how they decide which books to buy for which stores across the nation. Not going to lie, it was pretty sweet (even if I did have to be out of my apartment by 7 a.m.).

Here’s a list of some of the more interesting things I learned:

  • Just because a topic is a current affair, doesn’t mean the book will sell in stores (ex: recent crisis in Egypt–more people wanted to read about it in the news)
  • There are not enough diet cookbooks out there. Said one buyer, “I could buy 95,000 diet books and not have enough. It’s a subject born for the business.”
  • Cookbooks in general are always in the top 5 bestseller categories
  • The key to buying memoirs is making sure the author has a platform, whether it be a TV show, or some sort of access to publicity
  • The biggest drivers in the U.S. history category are the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers
  • When it comes to history, the topics that are home-based sell the best. For example, the original 13 colonies buy the most books about the Founding Fathers
  • The biggest driver in the military history category is WWII, though sales have been declining lately. The second biggest driver in the category is the Iraq/Afghanistan War (journalists covering the political/military situation and soldier memoirs)
  • Sociology books tend to be more academic, and not that popular, with the exceptions “Orange is the New Black” and “Jim Crow”
  • Buyers are more likely to purchase a book if the publisher is heavily invested in the book and is willing to do a lot of publicity
  • The personal relationship between the bookstore buyer and the publisher’s sales representative is important. The sales rep is the first one to convince the buyer to make a book nationally available, so it’s important that they know a lot about the book
  • Sales people were the first ones interested in “Seabiscuit
  • 30% of a bookstore’s business in the health section is done in January (new year, new goals)
  • Cookbooks are strong for Mother’s Day and the 4th quarter
  • Summer is for beach reading (genre fiction, narrative paperback, etc.)
  • Father’s Day and the 4th quarter are good for selling history books
  • Packaging matters a lot to a book buyer. A good jacket is colorful and vibrant (at least for health books). For some, the key is to be clear about what the book is and communicate a promise. For others, the bottom line is, will this book sell?
  • On average, people spend 3-5 seconds looking at a book on a table in the store
  • Most people go to bookstores looking for fiction. The front of the store yields high traffic and sales, but deeper in the store is reserved for dedicated readers
  • An author’s hometown is very important when determining which stores to stock with which books
  • Book prices are apparently climbing; health books on average cost $25. Still, the e-book competition for narrative books is significant (e-books tend to cost $10)
  • E-books are the “big x factor right now.” When it comes to fiction/genre fiction, e-book sales account for up to 50%, and in non-fiction, e-book sales are up to 10%. However, this will probably change as ereaders get better
  • Rarely do book buyers purchase non-returnable books (unless they are very confident about its success). Bookstores lose money when they return books, and with non-returnable books, they can only put them on clearance when they aren’t selling
  • Optimally, bookstores have 15-20% returns. If a book sells out in a month, it means the buyer missed potential customers. By not buying books, a bookstore could potentially put a small publisher out of business
  • In some towns, bookstores are the only source of entertainment. Therefore, quick changes in the industry, which this year led to Borders going bankrupt, are very difficult.
  • Interestingly, Barnes & Noble wants Borders to succeed. Said one buyer, “Bookstores are not going anywhere. Publishers are not going anywhere. If one of use becomes a dinosaur, we all go down.”

So, to sum up, “A book that doesn’t sell feels like a failure to everybody.”

12/12/10: This Week in Publishing

In Scandanavia, readers and libraries want more e-books and are getting e-books from other countries. But publishers distrust libraries, thinking they help piracy, and they are facing a dilemma with pricing and copyright protection.

SCANDINAVIA: e-Book market uncertainty

Even though there’s a lot of news about more schools using e-textbooks, a recent study shows that e-textbook sales are actually still low.

US: Despite the hype, e-textbook sales remain low

Still, e-books are making an impact. Print book sales are declining, down 8 percent in September, and nearly 4,000 independent bookstores have shut down since the 1990s. Several well-established indie bookstores had to close this week in Minnesota.

Local bookstores fall to ‘e-book revolution’

Despite what the New York Times said, publishers and BookScan figures prove that children’s picture books are still popular and thriving, representing more than 10% of the children’s market overall–which is the same as in 2005.

Don’t Write the Obit For Picture Books Yet

Just for fun, here’s a breakdown of how one writer managed to fool his editor’s into thinking he’d read and reviewed a book that hadn’t been published yet. The Onion’s A.V. Club has since apologized.

How to Review a Book Without Reading It

Lastly, Angry Birds recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, and its popularity has suggested a larger shift in entertainment and in the kinds of brands that can win wide popularity.

Angry Birds, Flocking to Cellphones Everywhere