The economics of a book signing don’t add up. You can easily spend more on travel than you’ll receive in royalties from book sales (only the mega-sellers have expense-paid book tours). So, it begs the question, “Why do it?”
Primarily, for the “free” PR that comes with it, that is, the notice in the local newspaper, the signs at the bookstore prior to the actual signing, and the signed copies you leave behind. But the fact remains, it’s an old-fashioned vestige of a rapidly changing industry.
Author and Publisher have a strange, semi-synergistic relationship. To their common benefit, the author expects the publisher to go to extraordinary lengths to promote the new release, while the publisher expects the author to be the primary motivator of sales. Both benefit by the other’s actions, but usually the fingers of blame point away from one toward the other.
“Over a million copies sold” might be what you remember best when reading about successful books, but those are few and far between. Depending on the genre, a small publisher might be happy with a few thousand in sales. The author’s cut with a standard royalty publisher is 15%, give or take. That’s a few bucks per book. When you consider the time spent writing the book and then finding a publisher, followed by production and promotion, you can rest assured the income generated is going to be less than a dollar per hour. Or, approximately the same that I made mowing lawns in 1962 when I took the pioneering selfie (above) with my Kodak Brownie Starflash, one month before turning 13.
Even a successful book can be a shock to the author looking at his or her first sales report. I had the good fortune to hit a home run with my novel Flatbellies, published in 2001. On paper, the royalties should have matched nicely to the nationwide sales figures…except for an innocent little clause in the contract that stated that when the books were sold at “deep discount,” no royalties would be paid. In my naïve mind, I thought this meant that after all routine sales outlets and bookstores had their field day, and when only a stack of rock-bottom-remainders was left, there would be no royalties. But no-o-o-o. Deep discount sales were routine and common from the start, so for the majority of Flatbellies sales, I received exactly nothing. So much for earning one’s living by writing (even successful writers usually keep their day jobs).
Today, writers have the option of self-publishing with far more efficiency and hope for success than in the days of old where the self-publishing author had to buy a minimum of 1-3,000 copies of his or her own book, then store them in the garage upon discovering that bookstores rarely stock self-published books. With print-on-demand now available, there are self-publishing success stories, especially among those who know how to use social media to maximal benefit. The author retains a much larger cut, but since there’s no distribution access to bookstores, the emphasis becomes online sales, theoretically to an established and loyal readership.
But for those of us who see the traditional royalty publisher as the only measure of validation for quality writing, we have one option – promote your book. Not because of the financial windfall, which is most unlikely, but to generate sales figures that become part of your writer’s résumé. That is, when you pitch a book idea to a new publisher, first and foremost they want to know your track record. What have you published in the past and what were the sales figures? And that’s why you do everything possible to jump-start sales.
In spite of the changes in publishing, one thing has never changed. Without a movie to accompany a book (and excluding celebrity tomes), success comes through word of mouth. Today, “word of mouth” is greatly facilitated and magnified by social media. But the usual approach by publishers is to send out a blast of PR upon releasing the book, then after that brief blast, the book is on its own. The working premise is: Word-of-mouth will generate sales if the book is received well. If not, the publisher won’t throw bad money after good. The author might hang on a little longer, pitching the book wherever possible, to get that exponential sales curve going, but without word-of-mouth (including all forms of social media), sales will stagnate, the run will be over, and the track record will make it even that much harder to find a publisher for the next book.
I’ve had the wonderful luxury of writing a novel under contract wherein I knew it would be released by a major New York publisher upon completion. I doubt it will ever happen again. (University Boulevard was a contracted deal as a sequel to Flatbellies.) Nevertheless, this doesn’t keep me from trying. I have a “nearly completed” trilogy with the first book of three being a stand-alone novel with which I hope to get my foot in the door, allowing the trilogy to be published later. It took from 1999 to 2010 to write the trilogy, and I didn’t quite finish due to medical writing and then my shifted focus toward Killing Albert Berch. However, I’m back to putting the finishing touches on this trilogy, while working on two other non-fiction projects at the same time. There is a fairly high chance that none of these books I’m working on will ever go to print.
And that’s why I shamelessly promote Killing Albert Berch, along with my prior books that are still available on Amazon. And, it’s why Amazon customer reviews are important, it’s why Barnes & Noble customer reviews are important, and it’s why a serious reader should participate along with a million other readers at sites like www.GoodReads.com where customer reviews are welcome as well.
So, it’s simple really. While I’m promoting one book, I’m actually saying, “I have three completed novels and two other non-fiction books in the works. Nearly every free minute for the past two decades has gone into this body of work, and I’d really like to get these things in print before I drop dead.”
Truth is, of course, Killing Albert Berch was a labor of love to finish what my grandmother and mother started. I had no great visions of its sales potential when I began. I didn’t even know if it would be worth publishing at all. It was surprising to me, as much as anyone, that I would discover so many odd twists in the story that it morphed from an interesting family plot to a Grade A soap opera.
So now, let me tease you with the title of my three novels that may or may not ever be published, collectively called – The Brainbow Trilogy. Book One is called Nutshell. Book Two is Cannibal Club. Book Three is Heavenly Blues. Setting: a medical school located next door to a mental institution in the 1970s, in a desolate spot in far west Texas. The school is known for its cutting edge mental health program and experimental psychosurgery. Plot: A mad scientist insists on doing good in spite of himself, and the greater his deterioration and the wider his path of destruction, the greater the good.
But to get there, it’s Killing Albert Berch and my backlist of prior works for now. Visit: www.KillingAlbertBerch.com and if so inspired after reading the book, I’d certainly welcome a customer review, somewhere.