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.