How to Select Books That Will Sell
by Davida Breier
So, you think you’ve got a possible winner on your hands. While the embryonic title may well have scholarly, intellectual, or artistic merit, what about actual sales potential? Channeling a passion for books into a thriving business obviously requires considering the bottom line. Certain sales and marketing questions need to be asked before you take the plunge into print.
Focus First on the Audience
? Does your author clearly know who will read this book? If the author has written the book without thought beyond family and friends or for a niche so small you can carry it in your back pocket, you will be funding someone’s hobby. On the other hand, your author may be your greatest source for marketing advice and know exactly who the prospective readers are and—better yet—how to reach them. If your author says the book is for “everyone” or mentions “Oprah” it is probably time to find another author. One writer’s delusions are the publisher’s second mortgage.
? What is your plan for reaching the prospective audience? Can you handle this without your author? Make sure you have a plan B, just in case the author is not willing or able to market as expected.
? Consider the category: niche books tend to be easier, but to reach readers with titles in a competitive category like fiction or children’s books, you are going to have to market long, hard, and probably very creatively to get any attention.
? How large is this audience? Do some market research about targeted readers, how many you could effectively reach, and their buying habits.
? If you estimate your audience size to be small but dedicated, can you break even or make a profit selling 500–1,500 books?
About the Author
Your author can be your greatest ally or your worst enemy, so choose wisely. You are going to need your author not only to deliver the book on time, but then to start promoting it, a job that requires as much (if not more) work than writing did. Does your author consider the job done when the manuscript is delivered?
? Will your author do signings or other promotional events?
? Is this the author’s first book? If so, consider that you will likely be schooling your author about the wacky world of publishing. Are you up for that? Your willingness to teach and share knowledge will also be reflected in the final product.
? If it is not the author’s first book, look into the sales histories of previous titles. Why is the author not working with previous publishers? This is a good place to discover red flags as well as decent sales potential. Consider reaching out to the previous publisher(s) if things don’t seem to add up before taking on a possible problem author.
? Does your author have any media experience, or at least show signs of being able to handle the pressure of print, radio, and TV interviews? Were you impressed with the pitch you received?
? Realistically—can you work with this person for at least one to two years?
? What is your marketing budget for this title?
? Will this title require special marketing support? Can you afford that? Or, is a built-in audience already looking for the book?
? Do you see the potential for free media?
? Is the book’s topic timely?
? Does the author have old-media connections and/or a strong online presence?
? Will your author provide content to magazines, newspapers, and Web sites that can effectively promote the book?
? Is the book likely to get reviewed?
? Where do you plan to sell this book? I always advise publishers against putting all their faith in one segment of the market. In my experience, the chains can be like a lottery win if the book hits, but realists will bear in mind that only 7 percent of books sell more than 1,000 copies per year in the trade market. If you are counting on the chains to keep a young publishing company afloat, you are going to be eating a lot of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
? How can you diversify? Independent bookstores? Schools? Libraries? Special sales to gift shops, boutiques, niche retail stores? Sales direct-to-consumer? To catalogs? To corporations?
? Can this title cross over among several of those markets?
? How many copies do you need to sell to break even?
? How many to turn a profit?
? Are you looking to build your publishing company?
? Will this book flash and then fizzle, or will it become a decent backlist title?
Since most sales come from backlist, you want to look for books that will have long shelf-lives and that can eventually build their own following as well as provide a platform for future titles from your author and company. As I review our existing publishers, the ones with what I consider no-hassle backlist (NHBL) are often the most financially solvent. The returns for NHBL also tend to be lower, adding to the overall health of a publishing company.
The more questions you ask at the outset, the greater chance you have of choosing the right books and authors to lead your publishing company forward.
Davida Breier is sales and marketing director for Biblio Distribution, Inc., an NBN Sister Company. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bibliodistribution.com.