Thursday, October 30, 2008

Building My Publishing Harem, One Book At A Time

(image from Crafts from India)

Sales of Traveling Blind : Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers were way down in the third quarter. During those three months we only sold 69 books, down from 108 copies sold in the second quarter and 142 sold in the first quarter. When the book launched, we sold 141 copies in the first month.

Although this is part of the normal sales cycle and should be expected, especially in the book industry, this is also the time publishers start to panic. Everyone sells more books in the few weeks after a book's launch, especially if you created a strong marketing campaign to garner enough attention. But then, after everyone who heard about the book has bought a copy, which includes the author's family and friends, sales decline, sometimes rapidly. What's a publisher to do?

Should you dump the book and move on to the next project, or give the book time to regain some sales? I say, stand by your book.

It's like when you first get married and everything is new and wonderful and you're so high on each other you can't stop kissing. But after a year the glow wears off and you stop feeling tingly when you gaze into your spouse's eyes. Does it mean the love is gone? Of course not, it just means you've transitioned into a new phase of your marriage, a time when your love is more constant and certain.

When you publish a book, you've made a commitment to that book. If the honeymoon appears to be over, it doesn't mean you should dump the book in search of a new, fresher manuscript. I'm in it for the long haul, which means when sales start to slide, I look for ways to develop that constant and steady part of the relationship. A press's backlist, those titles that were released years ago and keep selling, is the press's strength. Devote energy to every title and those titles will return the favor with profit, year after year.

Some publishers prefer a monogomous book relationship, especially if they are self-publishers. They publish only one book, but devote every bit of their talent and resources to promote sales and revising the single book when new information is available. Other publishers enjoy serial monogomy. They publish a book, give it lots of attention, get everything they can from it, and then when sales start to decline they move on to the next project without a backwards glance.

I take a more polygamous approach, as if I'm building a book harem. When I sign the contract with my author I'm agreeing to support that book as long as it remains in print (what staying in print exactly means is something you agree upon with your author), through the good times (sales) and bad.

Traveling Blind: Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers is still a strong seller, especially when you consider most books from small presses only sell about 100 copies total. Traveling Blind has sold over 630 in less than one year.

I think we will have a wonderful relationship for many years to come.

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