Understanding the Publishing World – Expectations: Part 1

Bookstore shelves by Julie Gebhardt. Photo stock - Snapwire

I’m excited to start this new series. Here, I will examine the publishing industry in parts and discuss how things work for authors.

Many of the authors that I work with don’t know much about the publishing industry at all, and having a good understanding of all this is critical when you begin.

We can all learn as we go, but there are some things that are much better if you know them before you begin your journey.

So, here we go.

The first thing I want to address is the expectations of the author. And there are a couple of areas to manage here, so I’ll start with sales.

First, and very important, is your competition. Forbes Magazine estimates that between 500,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year.

Let that sink in for a second.

Not only will your book be competing with, potentially, a million others in any given year, it will face those numbers each subsequent year after publication.

That’s a LOT of competition. Think about the choices consumers have to make. Even us book nerds can’t buy a million books a year, as much as we’d love to.

So, that gives you an idea of the world you are diving into. There are a lot of people like you. I don’t say that to scare anyone away from publishing. Quite the opposite. This shows that there is plenty of room for lots of voices out there. So, don’t be shy. No one else is!

But that also lets you know the world you’re about to navigate.

Second, we need to talk about sales.

I know we all think everyone wants to read our books, but they don’t. It’s a sad reality.

Scribemedia reports that most traditionally published books sell around 3000 copies in their lifetime. That’s the average. Of course, there are books that sell far beyond that, but laws of averages tell us there are lots more books that sell a LOT less than that.

That isn’t an indictment of anyone’s work, necessarily. While a badly written book probably won’t sell well, there is just a ton of competition out there.

The numbers are even lower for self-published books. According to the same report, a self-published, digital only, book will sell an average of 250 copies over its lifespan.

So, what do these numbers mean?

They mean you must taper your expectations on your project. Of course, you should write your book as if you’re writing a best-seller. But, once that is done, you should put on your editor cap and realize what you are up against in the market.

You must know this going into the process, so that your expectations aren’t unreasonable.

This also puts the impetus on you as a writer to know your audience very well. And by knowing your audience, I mean knowing your audience.

As an acquisitions editor, I work with many first-time authors who list their audience as “worldwide.” That’s not the best way to tackle something like this.

You need to be very specific about who you audience is. WHO are YOU talking to?

The more specific you can be about that, the better. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but that’s how it works. You need to know your audience very well and be specific about who they are.

Here’s an example: If you’re writing a book on caring for someone with terminal cancer, your audience will be people who have or are or may soon do that. Your audience will not be someone like me who has been lucky enough to not deal with that.

Sure, there will be outlier sales of folks who just want to read that particular story, but those numbers will be negligible from a sales standpoint. Your bread and butter audience are people who have or may experience what you experienced.

If you write a book on baseball, you aren’t going to steal a tons of sales from people who don’t like baseball. And so on.

So, this all tells you two things: taper your expectations for sales, and know exactly who you’re talking to and trying to sell to. And make both those as specific as you can.

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