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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What Authors Will be Happy When Royalty Statements Come out in Early 2009?

The answer is the same even when the economy is good: hard working authors who never stop and never give up. This is especially true this year.

Our national bookstore chains are suffering (Borders is in deep financial trouble and is ordering new books in smaller quantities, which makes them less widely available nationwide), Barnes and Noble's business is down, and returns across the board are way up.

We have spent the past eighteen months aggressively opening new markets (specialty, corporate, and others outlets outside the normal bookstore trade channels), and our authors whose books are attractive in those venues will see the difference. Some of our books, however, are not suitable for strong specialty sales, and that means the primary revenue stream from those books is through the book trade. The returns, once fully calculated, will stagger some.

I can't wait to get the call from Author X about this. The conversation will go something like this:

"I just got my royalty statement. I only made $59.26 all of last year?"


"That's impossible! What kind of business are you running?"

I explain the numbers, the trade returns, and so forth, and then ask. "How many radio interviews did you do last year?"

"Ah, well, I have been busy. I can't just drop everything like some can."

"How many tours did you lead? How many speaking engagements did you schedule? Bottom line: How many of your own books did you help promote and sell?"

"Well, I don't have time . . ."

"That's fine," I interupt. Of course it is true that some authors are better situated to promote their own books. "There is no rule that you must work harder. But the realities of the business we are in dictates the result for authors who will not, or who can not, go the extra mile week after week. I don't control that. The rules of the free market, however, do."

So are some authors having a banner year? Yes. Who? Those authors who are actively blogging about their book, continually finding ways to sell them, scheduling and leading tours of battlefields, etc. We have many authors booking events weekly (or even more often) in local rotaries, Elks Clubs, VFWs, colleges, high schools, libraries, and even churches. Every group, large and small, welcomes speakers who have suitable talks for their members (and a creative author can always come up with an angle to address any group).

Many of our authors also work close with our marketing director to set up special events and radio interviews. Why is this good for the everyone? Because the author gets to sell his own books and keep a big chunk of the money, the buyers get personally inscribed copies, and we move inventory. It is a win-win-win situation.

There is another benefit. Showing the flag anywhere results in more sell-through in the chains, on Amazon, and direct sales here at the office, which means returns are fewer in number. Why? Because people who don't have their checkbook when an author speaks go home, go online, and buy a copy. Or drive to their local bookstore. Or log onto our site and purchase a copy.

With returns, steep discounting requirements, and a population being steadily dumbed down and turned off to history (and books in general), everyone is getting squeezed. The dirty secret is that the author is at the bottom of the food chain in this equation. Those writers who rely upon the book trade for the large bulk of their sales have a shovel in their hands are and digging themselves an oblong-shaped hole.



Mark Hughes said...

I added the line “Be on the Lookout for The New Civil War Handbook …” to my email signature. Yesterday a historian at a National Historic Site replied to an email I sent requesting information. She asked for a review copy: “We have a bookstore.”

Get the word out. Someone will be interested.

Mark Hughes - author The New Civil War Handbook - due out Spring 2009

J David Petruzzi said...

Amen, guys. So many authors seem to have the attitude "I just wait for my book to be released, and for all the customers to come clamoring for copies." There may be a handful of writers in the world for whom that happens (stupid Harry Potter books! :) but I'll never be in that handful.

Blog. Send emails. Make comments on blogs. Reply to review and comments left on Amazon and other sites. Speak. Lead tours. Mention it when you can and when you can't.

Besides those already looking for your book, you'll be surprised at those who become interested once they find out about it.

Your royalties are directly related and traceable to what YOU do for it. Not your publisher or anyone else. You have yourself to blame or pat on the back.

J.D. Petruzzi
"The Complete Gettysburg Guide" coming May 2009 from Savas Beatie

Anonymous said...


Thanks for an excellent post laying out some things that authors can do to improve sales. A good amount of responsibility lays with the publisher though, and their distributor. My first book came out in the past year...in the past half year I have given 6 talks to CWRTS, a radio interview, written articles, blogged, etc...do you kno whow many sales I've made through online or brick-and-mortar booksellers? Zero. That's because my publisher and his distributor have not acted in concert and the book is till not listed. It's very discouraging. Given your advice, I think I certainly have done my job...I'll keep doing it to build relationships, contacts, etc.

TPS said...


Thanks for stopping by. Certainly the publisher has a responsibility, but that was not really my point. My primary thrust was that given the market today and discount structures, authors (and most publishers) are the mercy of the book trade, and if writers want to earn anything worthwhile, they have to do a lot more than then did a decade ago.

Different publishers work in different ways. Some dump the books off and expect authors to do all the work. (We don't do that, of course, and have a strong record of stellar sales inside and outside the book trade.)

Does your publisher have a track record for selling into the book trade? How reliable is the distributor? I am not sure what you mean when your write, "The book is still not listed." Please explain.

It does sound like you have built the foundation for success, but there is still a lot you can do, and you need to keep doing it.

I would be curious to know who the publisher and distributor are, and if you wish to tell me, email me privately at militarybooks@sbcglobal.net.


Jim Hessler-- Author of "Sickles at Gettysburg" (May 2009) said...

Even though our 2009 books will be released during what will probably be the worst economy in decades, I echo Mark's comments that "someone will be interested" if we work to get the word out there. I would remind authors to start BEFORE the book hits the market.

While I am not a huge blogging fan, I started my website www.sicklesatgettysburg.com nearly one year before my release and it has generated some traffic. Authors can use the Web in ways beyond blogging.

Civil War authors have the advantage of using Round Tables for speaking engagements. Good economy or bad, these groups are still out there with interested audiences. Again, I have started talking Sickles now. I have had several attendees tell me that they came to hear me speak specifically because they find Sickles to be so interesting (and now intend to buy the book), so again get the word out and "someone will be interested".

Jim Hessler
Author of "Sickles at Gettysburg"
Due May 2009
Visit My Website: www.sicklesatgettysburg.com