Breaking into the field of publishing as a writer has been an enlightening yet somewhat sobering experience. Fresh out of a bachelor’s program in Creative Writing with a previous career in Public Relations, I understood how to make my voice heard on any subject and positively influence public opinion on my work but was lacking in knowledge on the tedious process of publishing that begins after a manuscript is accepted by a publishing house. These truths that I discovered are intended not to discourage, but to eliminate the element of surprise from your publishing experience and allow you foresee potential problems before they become detrimental.
Reality Check Number One: 200,000 new titles are published annually.
It is a safe bet that the tattooed bookstore clerk, the person that is directly responsible for the sale of a book, doesn’t even know your book exists. A book has to be registered in almost a half a dozen different databases six months prior to publication for it to come up on the clerk’s computer screen when they “look it up”.
Reality Check Number Two: You must sell a book five times.
- You sell your manuscript to the publisher.
- The publisher sells your book to a distributor.
- The distributor sells it to a wholesaler.
- The book is then sold to a bookstore owner.
- The book finally reaches the hands of the customer.
Reality Check Number Three: Distributionand feedback are inefficient.
A bookstore may not have just any particular title on hand when approached for purchase. Imagine there are five million books in print. What bookstore carries multiple copies or even one copy of each title? A bookstore has to have a reason to have your book take up space in their store while they pay the overhead.
Reality Check Number Four: Book publishing has no test-marketing apparatus.
You test market a book by publishing it. Unfortunately, there is no data tracking method that gives you information on who is buying your book, what convinced them to buy it, or if your marketing efforts were influential concerning their decision. Your publisher has to make the business decision of putting marketing money into a book only by sales results.
Reality Check Number Five: Books are not technically “essentials”, i.e. water, clothing…
You must convince a consumer that they need this book to learn something that they need to know, or that this will be more entertaining, thought-provoking, or enthralling than the latest film.
Reality Check Number Six: A massive promotion budget won’t buy thirty seconds on any prime time sitcom.
Most books are sold by word-of-mouth networking. Who should be the most passionate person about the value of the book? The author.
Reality Check Number Seven: Most books have little staying power.
If a book does not sell in 4 to 6 weeks from the time it hits the shelf, the bookstore will pull it to make room for the next book that might sell. That is after you have put many hours into marketing and had your distributor convince your wholesaler (and in turn, your bookseller) to put your book on the shelf to be carried for potential sales.
Reality Check Number Eight: Every book is unique, but almost none can be treated as such.
Most books are promoted, displayed, and treated in much the same manner depending on the marketing budget you can afford to do for each store. The campaign usually consists of a cardboard display, category display, or just spine forward on the shelf.
Reality Check Number Nine: Bad air drives out the good.
Publishers and/or bookstores tend to jump on the same bandwagon, i.e. when a topic is hot you will see numerous titles about it and they will be displayed in the most prominent places. Meanwhile, better quality books on the same subjects are removed from the shelf as room is made for the latest hype subject.
Reality Check Number Ten: The bad gets worse.
Mistakes can happen in an overloaded system, especially when monopolies form and the companies have no reason to move faster, make fewer mistakes or improve customer service. That is why you wonder why they can’t get the author’s name spelled right, the subject is about a totally different book and it takes six to eight weeks to make a minor correction.
By Amy Welsh