Being a First Time Author and Selling Books – A Dose of Reality

It seems that almost every person I meet has either written a course in miracles is thinking of writing a book, or has been told by someone that they should write a book. While I am not technically a first time author, it’s been so long since the last one that I don’t think it should count against me. Certainly very few people can remember that business book published way back in 1989.

Authorship is Glamorous, Right?

The news reports of book events by authors Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, and Karl Rove have been making headlines in recent weeks. Their books were published, hit Amazon, and these authors garnered even more fame, money, and celebrity as each scheduled book event drew to a successful close.

“If only I could get my novel published, I could buy that house in the country,” one would-be author laments. “Once my work is out there I can quit my office job and stay at home and write,” dreams another. All I need is a break, and it’s New York Times Bestseller List here I come!

Well, they’re right, aren’t they?

Nope. That is, of course, unless you already have a built-in audience numbering in the millions just waiting to part with $24.95 for a chance to meet you and get your autograph. If that doesn’t describe you, then let me share the facts – just the facts, ma’am.

Publishing a Book is Like Buying a Horse

Not everyone who wants a horse will be able to buy one. Not everyone who has a story will get published. What is common in both the horse and book scenarios is that the upfront cost is the easy part. Once you bring your dream horse home the serious bills begin to mount and the real work begins.

Ditto publishing a book in today’s market. Last year there were nearly a million book titles published if you add up the numbers from traditional publishers, self-published books, and e-books. I’ve seen reports that a successful book in the marketplace today is one that sells 5,000 copies.

Do you know how hard it is to sell 5,000 copies? We’ll get back to that in a moment, first let’s talk about the fun stuff – the money.

Authors who are published by traditional means are usually paid by royalties. Contracts differ among publishers and authors, but for the sake of argument let’s assume you will receive a royalty of 15% of the price the publisher receives for books sold into the marketplace. Please note, your royalty is not 15% of the cover price, but calculated on the amount the publisher receives per copy.

Authors Make Millions

I suppose some do, just as there are folks who win the Lottery. Writing a book and buying a lottery ticket are both bad bets upon which to budget. Just for fun, let’s assume your book is one of the few that actually sells 5,000 copies. If your publisher puts a cover price of $19.95 on your book it is entirely possible that the amount received per book will average around eight bucks, more or less. Don’t get caught up in details until we wade through the concept part. So, if all 5,000 books are sold and not returned (did I mention that sold isn’t always really sold… ) the gross amount to your publisher is about $40,000. Congratulations, you are a successful author. Now let’s look at your paycheck.

Don’t call the realtor yet, your gross royalties amount to $6,000. I won’t speculate on what it might cost you to write your book, but I know my office supply store clerk grins every time I come in for more paper and printer ink.

If you’re still hankering to get your story or message out, maybe it’s time to move on to the issue of marketing; actually selling books.

Selling Books Is Personal

The only way to sell books is to tell your story to the people who are interested enough in the details to write a check, hand over cash, or hover their computer cursor over the BUY NOW button and left-click their mouse.

How do you reach these folks? How will they find your book? The answers are the same. You need to bring it to their attention in any way possible. Creativity is good, but persistence is even better.

First time authors don’t usually get promotional tours paid for by publishers. First time authors usually get a listing on the major book sites and distribution channels that will supply books ordered by book stores. Please note, I did not write, “Stocked in book stores.”

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