Have you ever written a book review?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Choosing a Publisher (or, Pt. 4)

My past several posts discussed various submission issues. Here is one that many authors do not take into consideration when they submit a book: the publisher's sales program.

I know many authors are scratching their heads thinking, "Don't all publisher's have a sales program? Surely they all want to sell their books, right?" The answers are no, and yes.

Most publishers (note the word "most") do indeed have a focused, strategic sales program to sell their titles, and they would not be in business if they were not able to do so with some level of proficiency.

For the sake of this post, let's assume the house you are considering has an established sales program. I am more concerned with what that program is--and you should be, too. There are a host of markets, niches, and sales programs. Does the publisher's program match your expectations?

Here is a common, real life example. A frustrated author-friend of mine called me a few months after he published a book with a fairly well known publishing company. (His book was not something we would have published.) He was shocked when the relatively short non-reference book (220 pages) appeared with a sticker price of $45.00. The print run was small (about 800 copies is his best guess). He scheduled a few book signings and sold only a thin handful because the price was too high.

My explanation was simple: he published with a company whose primary customers are libraries. Not trade sales, not specialty sales, not corporations, not individuals. This house (and all houses like it) price their books high, often produce them without jackets, do not spend a lot of time or money on design or editing, and sell the vast bulk of a short run at exorbitant prices to institutions (usually libraries). And that is that.

Simply put, he went with a publisher (a few others had turned him down) whose sales program did not meet his expectations. There is nothing wrong with this program, and it works well for the publisher. But it was not what my friend wanted for his book. He should have asked where it sold its books, how it sold them, etc. He also should have looked up their catalog of titles and determined where they are sold, how they are priced, and what the final package looks like.

Savas Beatie welcomes these and other questions from all our prospective authors, and we happily supply author references and invite contact. We have a great military history-related distributor in Casemate Publishing that reaches deeply into the trade and specialty markets. Our distributor in Europe is Greenhill Books, which offers our titles to the trade and individuals in the UK and on the continent. While we do very well in the trade, bookstores are the worst place to sell a book (more on the next post on that).

So, we focus a lot of our energy and marketing dollars outside the book trade. Our marketing director, Sarah Keeney, opens and maintains sales and promotions of all our titles, including our very vibrant backlist, outside the trade to museums, parks, institutions, schools, individuals, and so on. She also works hard to schedule radio interviews, web interviews, signings, and print coverage.

So what does all this mean? It means as an author, you better know your publisher's sales program. Go in with your eyes wide open.


TBS said...


Great blogs from Savas Beatie. Its nice to see the inside story of how it all works.

Despite having published two books with you (Champion Hill and Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862) and working with two other university presses, I still haven't figured out all the ins and outs of publishing. Its good to read about the inside workings of the industry. Keep the posts coming.


jschmidt said...


Thanks for the great post and I look forward to more. I had always heard that bookstores were the worst places to have a book signing, but not the worst place to sell books, so I look forward to your comments on that.

I think I can guess the "unnamed publisher" in your post, and unfortunately for their authors, their pricing strategy is also getting comments in book reviews, even when the reviewer comments favorably on the book.

I actually had the opportunity to choose between them and another publisher. They both treated me very professionally, but in the end, I chose a smaller publisher that had more traditional distribution.

Keep up the great work,


Paul Taylor said...


Another insightful post that helps authors ask the right questions. I also think I can guess the unnamed publisher in your post because one of my books was published by them. Working with this company was a very, very pleasant experience and I was quite pleased with the final product's production values. Despite a healthy amount of critical praise and proactive marketing on my end, I nevertheless have little doubt that their pricing and marketing strategies have led to the book being my weakest seller, by far. Because I view my research and writing as an avocation and not an essential money maker, I'd have no qualms about returning to this house. But if sales were a paramount concern, I'd rethink the matter, just as your post stresses.