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Estimating Your Sales Volume

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“How many books can I reasonably expect to sell?” That is a question which besieges publishers; we know it is essential to budgeting and planning, but we aren’t sure how to answer it. Trying to estimate our future sales volume can be like trying to catch a will-o’-the-wisp.Estimating sales volume is a bugaboo due to the simple fact that sales volume can vary greatly. This is due to the four basic factors below, as well as the size of the market.

How Well Have You
Targeted Your Market?

Without accurately identifying who will be interested in your book, you will inevitably waste time, effort, and money reaching the wrong people. This will result in a decrease in your sales volume per marketing effort, with a corresponding increase in your cost per sale.

How Well Have You
Targeted Your Advertising and Promotion?

Even if you know who your market is, if you don’t find out which marketing channels these people actually can be reached through, you will again be wasting your time, effort, and money. To be successful, you must use a marketing channel (i.e., the specific magazine, review column, direct mailing, etc.) which reaches your specific target market/sub-market; it must also be a marketing channel which they respect.

How Good Is Your Approach?

Without a good approach to your market, your sales efforts will be seriously hurt. In general, advertising and promotional materials must meet certain criteria in order to be successful at generating sales. These are clarity, appeal, demonstration of need, ability to draw attention, and continued exposure of the book to the market.

How Much Does the Market Need or Want
What You Are Offering?

To ensure good sales, this need or want must exist strongly in your market.. However, if your audience can fill that need or want somewhere else, especially if at a lesser cost, your sales potential will suffer. In other words, the greater the need and/or want and the fewer the other options, the more likely it becomes that the market will buy your particular book.

What Is the Size of Your Market?

How many sales you can expect has a direct, albeit complex relationship with how many reachable people are in your target market. In general, the number of sales tends to fall between 0.01% and 10% of the reachable market. So let’s say you have a total market of 750,000. You plan on using a variety of marketing channels, but you will only be able to reach 250,000 of those people. In this case, you should expect to see between 25 and 25,000 sales.

Assessing Your Findings

As you can see, we ended up with quite a range. However, when you merge the size-of-reachable-market statistics with the four factors above, you are much more prepared to set a reasonable estimate of sales. The weaker the four factors are, the more likely it becomes that you will fall towards the 25-copies (0.01%) end of the range. The stronger the four factors are, the more likely it becomes that you will be able to sell up towards the 25,000-copies (10%) end.A word of caution. Although Cinderella stories abound, there are hundreds more, though less publicized, Wicked Witch stories. It is best to be prudent when setting an expected sales volume. Overestimating your sales can lead to serious debt and/or overall lack of capital. Therefore you may want the estimated sales volume to equal no more than 1% of the reachable market. This estimated percentage can be adjusted downwards if there are weaknesses in any of the four factors.Making a reasonable estimate of sales volume can be tough. Even so, by using the statistics and an objective evaluation of the book’s strengths and weaknesses in light of the four factors above, it can be done. Oh, reality might still throw us a few curves, but at least we’ll be somewhere in the ballpark.Beth Peterson co-owns Cattails Publishing along with Alex Stevenson. She can be reached at 2501 W. 12th St., #116, Erie, PA 16505, 814/838-7029, or cattails@velocity.net.


This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor August, 1999, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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