A Question for those in the Publishing Industry: Publicists, Authors, Agents, etc.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I only recently learned/realized (in the past several years) that the sales of a book don't necessarily depend on each and every reader buying the book. When I buy a book, the author isn't notified that one more book sold off the shelf. I feel naive admitting that it took me a long time to realize that the sales of books were related to how many each bookstore ordered. That's how it is, right? Quick aside: is this why pre-sales are so important? So bookstores have a better idea how many they will need?

Anyway, I thought I read somewhere once that the deciding factor on how a book does in the market is how it sells in the first week of its release. That everything after that doesn't matter. That the first week sales will determine if the author is offered a deal on a second book. It will determine the size of the advance on your next book, etc. So now that I review new books fairly often, I am obsessed with ensuring the review is done on the release day so that I can say I reviewed it in time for buyers to buy the book on the first week. But, of course, as this is a hobby and I have a full-time job (and more) I don't have time to do this for every book and this leads to me feeling loads of guilt for all those books I don't review "in time". AND THEN a part of me feels that if I don't get it done by then, it's no longer worth it (well, except for reviewing it because I just plain want to read it... but it feels too late if I'm specifically reading it TO review it). There is a part of me that says this can't possibly be and I need to realize that and stop feeling guilty. The problem is... I don't know! And this is why I need help understanding how this all works.

How are book sales determined? What determines a book's success? If I can't post the review right away but, say, can do so within a few months, does this have any affect? Not that any one review would affect the sales of books, but if a book doesn't sell well for a month or two but then picks up later, does this make a difference?

Please help me understand how this all works!! Thanks in advance to anyone who can help!

11 comments:

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

AWESOME question. I can't wait to see what you learn.

My 5 Monkeys(Julie) said...

great questions and I have been wondering more about this now too. I hope you find out all your questions get answered.

Trisha said...

I hope someone answers this for all of us.

Zibilee said...

I would be interested in the answer to this question as well. I will have to check back!

Carin said...

An author is paid on sales from the publisher, and publishers don't sell to readers so yes, they are paid on sales to bookstores, libraries, schools, etc. However, books are returnable, so a "reserve against returns" is held back, so the author is paid part of their sales such as 70% (it depends on the contract.) (Yes, there is a clause that down the road if none of the books ever come back they'll get that other 30%.)

It's not just based on first weeks' sales. In fact an author will be getting a royalty check every 6 months until the book is out of print. Sometimes it will be for pennies, but as long as 1 copy of the book has been ordered from the publisher in the last 6 months, there will be a royalty check.

Where the big initial push counts is for 2 things: bestseller lists, and staying in a bookstore. Obviously, only a super-limited number of books will ever be "bestsellers" and they usually are bestsellers right out of the gate. That's why publishers do "strict on-sale dates". Normally a book comes out gradually - it might have arrived at your local bookstore but not your library yet. It might be in stores in New York but not in California. BUT if you collect all the purchases over the first month and compress them into 1 week, your sales can look bigger, and have more of an impact with the New York Times.

Also staying in a bookstore. Bookstores start shipping books back after 3 months. Unless it's selling. (This is for a new book, not a classic obviously.) So reviews in the first 3 months are in some ways more helpful. But not exclusively. Even down the road a book can have a resurgence. And there are plenty of examples of books that did not hit any betseller lists out of the gate, but did way down the road - The Help, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

It's good for the bulk of reviews to hit just when the book comes out. It helps with buzz. But reviews later aren't by any means bad.

Pre-sales are important so the publisher knows how many to print. Also, it can help with buzz. If the first print run of a new novel is over 100,000, that makes people take notice.

These days a lot of authors have multi-book deals, so the sales the first week of their first book shouldn't impact their advance. But even if they don't, it depends on when their second book is submitted. If only 1 weeks' sales are in for the first week, well that's what they have to work with. Most publishers would actually prefer to wait until about 4-5 months to see what the returns are going to look like, and sometimes it can take an author years to write a second book. There are a lot of variables here, and I've never heard of anyone only looking at first week's sales unelss that's the only info they have.

I was an editor at MacMillan in NYC 2000-2004, in case you all are wondering where my info is from.

Jamie said...

Good question! I can't wait to see what the answer is!

Jenny said...

Carin, thank you so so much for taking the time to type out your response!! It was very helpful and great to know! It definitely makes me feel better b/c I thought the first week thing was so ridiculous, lol. I had no idea places could send books back!

Carin said...

Yep! With a few rare exceptions, retail stores buy books "returnable". They get a lower discount on books than on all other items (which are "nonreturnable") but there's little risk. The store might have a percentage limit (they can return 20% of their annual purchases) or might not, and there's also no real time frame usually, so long as the book is still in print. So returns keep trickling in for years. It makes that "reserve" really important!

zoezolbrod.com said...

Last month, my first novel CURRENCY was released by Other Voices Books, a small independent press. Although small presses like mine don't have the resources to get books placed prominently in a lot of stores, my editor assures me that what they do have is patience to let a book develop its audience over time. They will not rush to judgment about the novel's success based on the first few month's of sales. Any review of an indie book would be a boon at any time that it appears. Please consider us! (CURRENCY is a literary thriller about a Thai man and an American woman backpacker who get involved with an endangered animal smuggling ring, btw.;) )

zoezolbrod.com said...

Last month, my first novel CURRENCY was released by Other Voices Books, a small independent press. Although small presses like mine don't have the resources to get books placed prominently in a lot of stores, my editor assures me that what they do have is patience to let a book develop its audience over time. They will not rush to judgment about the novel's success based on the first few month's of sales. Any review of an indie book would be a boon at any time that it appears. Please consider us! (CURRENCY is a literary thriller about a Thai man and an American woman backpacker who get involved with an endangered animal smuggling ring, btw.;) )

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

Thanks to Carin for that helpful info. Having worked in bookstores only I only knew how it worked on that inventory side of things.
I didn't know much about advances or sales or what not.
Thanks Jenny for posting this and getting some great answers for us. I agree with you on trying to review around the release date but it's not always possible. I've thought about reposting reviews a few times to keep the buzz going on some. Just a thought I had.
:)

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