Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Not All Sales Are Created Equal—What Your Writer Friends Wish You Knew But Are Too Polite to Tell You

by Sophie Perinot

Do you know a writer with a book coming out via a traditional publisher? Even if you are a writer yourself there is something you many not know if you have yet to be published. Something you should know if you want to support published friends.

All sales are not created equal. Even if they are sales of the same title, in the same format for the same price. This is something I didn’t know this time last year.

In the hierarchy of power purchases the pre-order is the heavy hitter. Why? Because print runs (the number of books initially printed) for books coming out in hardback or paperback are set, in part, based on a title’s pre-order numbers.

Setting print runs is a tricky, tricky business. Too many copies of a book and the publisher ends up with some rather expensive pulp. Too few and sales are lost. (If a book isn’t on that front table at Barnes & Noble the day Rachel-Reader walks by how is she going to impulsively pick it up and take it to the register?) Authors want to sell books (heck, when nobody is looking we fantasize about hitting a bestsellers list) but if our publishers only run 5,000 or 10,000 first-run-copies (numbers I’ve picked from the air because trying to find out the “first run printing” for any book is harder than getting someone to confess to the most personal details of their sex life) then scoring high sales and earning out our advances (both critical to a next deal) become more difficult.

When Publisher-P looks at pre-order numbers for your author-friend’s book-baby (usually a couple of months before its release date) your author-friend wants them to see a number that makes them sit up and take notice. Your author-friend wants Publisher-P to think, “Hey, this book is generating interest. People are already looking forward to it. It could be a hit.” Unless your author-friend is spending his advance pre-ordering his own novel, there is only one way this can happen—if the people who are absolutely committed to buying his book anyway (his mom, the best man from his wedding, the authors in his critique group) order early.

So, if you know an author with a book currently available for pre-order—a book that you definitely plan to purchase and read—WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? ORDER IT NOW. (Yes, right now, I’ll forgive you for not reading the rest of this blog post.)

If the pre-order is the Miss America of book purchases, the “first two weeks after release sale” is first runner up. If you have an author in your life but are not, by nature, an order-on-line person you can still purchase your friend’s book in a way that will help that author-friend (or author-family-member) succeed in this tough business by marching down to your local bookstore the very first week your friend’s book goes on sale and buying it.

Why are early sales so important? Even as an author’s book is on the launch pad chances are he or she has another book in the production-chain (remember with a major publisher the time between turning in a finished manuscript and having a book on the shelves is commonly a year or more). Whether the book currently launching comes out of the gate strong can impact many of Publisher-P’s decisions about your friend’s next book—from what type of marketing support it will get to how many copies will be printed. If your author-friend is finishing up a book contract with her current release and looking to negotiate her next contract, how well the current book-baby sells early can determine what that new contract will look like or, gasp, whether she gets that new contract at all (as opposed to being a one-book wonder).

Bottom line: In an ideal world (and in bygone days, by which I mean a couple of years ago) authors should be given time to “build an audience.” Even, and perhaps especially, new authors. But in the increasing “here today, gone tomorrow” world of publishing and bookselling, an author’s book (especially a newbie or relatively unknown author’s book) may only be “in stores” for a very short time and after that those interested in buying it will have to: a) know of its existence, and b) be persistent enough to order it. In other words, the period during which relative strangers might just spot the book and impulse buy it is very short indeed. Books that start their lives with strong sales are printed and distributed in larger quantities and stay on shelves longer (leading to more sales).

So do an author you know (and possibly love) a favor. If you plan to spend $ to support said author-friend anyway, spend that money when it makes the most impact by ordering/buying early.

32 comments:

Rachel said...

I had no idea that pre-order and "out-of-the-gate" sales were so important!
Thank you for this post!

Sophie Perinot said...

Neither did I Rachel until one of my closest friends published her first novel. Still, I am not sure I understand her urgency to rack up early sales until I got a contract of my own and started counting down to my release date.

Yvonne Osborne said...

I didn't know this! Thank you. This is so important, I'm linking to it....today! No more procrastination.

Christopher Hudson said...

I could deal 'gone tomorrow' if I could only get a whiff of 'here today'.

Sophie Perinot said...

Christopher you might think so now, lol but once you have a whiff of "here today" you become very fixated on staying in the industry -- believe me.

~Charity~ said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea!

Jemi Fraser said...

You always know the coolest stuff! I've never preordered a book before - but I'll be changing that! :)

Leslie Rose said...

Wow. This is an eye-opener. I'll pull that trigger much faster on pre-orders now.

HelenL said...

This is such GREAT information, Amber. I wish I had known all this before my book released!

Hannah Kincade said...

I totally agree! Working in a bookstore for a dozen years has made that painfully obvious to me. That's why I'm a huge fan of asking booksellers what they're reading that's NOT on the bestseller list.

Though I do get distracted by shiny things, so I'm a huge fan of reminders and more reminders and HEY HANNAH GO BUY MY BOOKs.

RSMellette said...

I was going to wait to buy your book - and now, so many of my friend's books - but I just pre-ordered The Sister Queens on Amazon.

And I fully expect you to sign it whenever we're in the same town!

tadkershner said...

Great to know! Two follow-ups:

1) Bookstore has two copies on the shelf. If I buy one, will I encourage them to get more or just use up a copy that someone else might buy?

2)Are Kindle/e-Reader buys added into total sales figures? Does it matter for the author if I buy eBook or paper?

Thanks again!

Matt Sinclair said...

I was aware that it was important, but not aware quite how important it was! This is a very helpful post!

Sophie Perinot said...

Tad, I don't know the answer to your question. I DO know that if your publisher has strong pre-order or early sales figures to show accounts it can influnce their buy in. So a book that looks like it's coming on strong will likely have more than 2 copies in place.

RS, thanks!

Matt -- I wasn't aware either but now that I think about it, what was I waiting for? Even if ordering early is only slightly helpful to my friends the book costs the same $ (heck at Amazon they have pre-order price guarentee).

R.C. Lewis said...

I'm sure eBook pre-orders/early sales are factored into the equation--it's all a gauge of the book's popularity.

Great post, Sophie! :)

Rachel Morgan said...

I honestly had never considered this. I always just think things like, "oh, it's not available yet. I'll wait and order it when it's available." I never thought about it making a difference WHEN you order a book!

Roberta Trahan said...

Another reason why it's really never too early to begin building a relationship with your potential readers! Thanks for sharing, Sophie. This sort of industry information is so helpful--especially since there has yet to be established an accredited 'how to become a career author'school ;).

Christauna Asay said...

Very interesting. I never thought of it that way.

Margo Kelly said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing the info! :)

Sarah Skilton said...

I'm going to echo the above comments and admit I never knew this. Very good info; thanks for the scoop.

TSquared said...

Another great thing about buying early: you're in the first wave of readers/ tastemakers! Then you can go back and buy another copy for a friend and talk it up in the bookstore as you do so. You'd be amazed how customer feedback influences bookstore's restock-- and other customer's choices.

Samantha Clark said...

Wow, I didn't realize pre-orders were this important. I usually pick up copies at signings. But this is a good idea. I'll start pre-ordering now.

Thanks for the insight.

Paul Dillon said...

Yet another thing about publishing that I wasn't aware of. Many thanks for sharing.

E.B. Black said...

I love this post, but it's one of those things that frustrates me about the publishing industry.

Sophie Perinot said...

E.B. -- I think it frustrates all writers. We work so long to get to "publication" and by then we love our book-babies. We want to think they will be given a chance to succeed on their merits but in order to do that they need to be given a fair chance/look. The way thinks work now it could work out that your baby (who has been practicing for months) hears "next" during the opening chord of her performace at the school (publishing) talent show. Heartbreaking!

Angela Solano said...

Like everyone else, I had no idea. It makes sense, even if it does suck that it works that way.

Going to link this post on my blog. very interesting. Thanks!

Any name said...

Great information. Does the same hold true for pre-ordering ebooks? Obviously not the tactile impact of printing, but I would assume e-book pre-orders could impact an author's future contracts.

Sophie Perinot said...

Any name, I suspect so because the idea is to come out of that debut gate as strong as possible.

just out of time said...

This is really helpful!
I've been wanting to know about this kind of information for a while =]

Thanks for summing it up so nicely!!

Ariel Lawhon said...

I'm curious what constitutes a "good" number of pre-orders. Hundreds? Thousands? More? And how far in advance do these sales need to occur before a decent print run is set?

It all makes my head spin.

Jenni said...

Gotta go pre-order so many books now :D

Berls said...

So informative! I had no idea that when you buy a book matters. I typically do pre-order books that I REALLY want to read and at the least buy them immediately after they are released... but know that I know how much it matters, I'll be sure to make sure I do it. Great post!