Only a small percentage of the books published in a year--we're talking one percent or less--have sales of 5,000 or more. The rest, well, the average a few years ago was 500 copies sold. It's less today. And that's just counting traditional publishers, not the self-published folks that are my bread and butter. The POD (print on demand) outfits report that their customers sell on the average fewer than a 100 copies of their books. My customers get very depressed when they hear this, and they are certainly not alone. If you read almost any commentary, you'd swear we were in the dark ages of publishing.
So why am I excited? Because the changes in the world of publishing make it easier--not more difficult--for you to succeed with your book. You just need to know how to think about success. Here are the questions I recommend that you ask yourself.
- Did you get your book into publication? It is much easier today to get your book published than it was twenty years ago. Much easier and much faster. Sure, you have to publish it yourself--but it's not that expensive, it's fun, and you control everything about it.
- Did you make a profit? Some authors don't expect--or even want to--make a profit. If they are honest about it, more power to them. They can certainly succeed in losing money. Other authors expect to make a living on their first book. I tell them that it is good to have a lofty goal, but "don't quit your day job." The odds of being able to live on the proceeds of your first book are minuscule. (However, your odds of being able to live on the proceeds of your writing increase with every book you publish, especially if they are related.) I prefer to take the practical road and am more or less insistent that my customers expect to--and work at--making a profit. If customers follow my coaching, they should be able recover their expenses somewhere between 100 and 200 books sold. After that, it's all gravy. Nothing wrong with gravy. Nothing wrong with a lot of gravy.
- Did you further your work? A book supports your work; it is not the work. If you do it right, a book is just one way of carrying your message to your customer. If you do it right, you'll make a little money outright, you'll gain credibility, you'll create customers for new products (perhaps but not necessarily books) and services.
- Did you expand your world? Did you make new customers, new friends, new contacts? Did you get new ideas, learn new skills, gain new information? A book ought to do those things for you.
- Did you have fun? Book publishing ought to be fun. Truth be told, some aspects of publishing are, let's just say, less pleasant than others. However, publishing is hard for would-be authors mainly because they don't know the ropes. Once they become familiar with how it works, they rather like playing on the ropes. The Publishing Pro.