Saturday, April 6, 2013

New Christian Authors Ask, "How Many Books Should I Print?"

Possibly the biggest killer of very good and potentially life-changing authors is a poor decision to the question, "How many books should I print?"

Imagine a great author with his or her first title now published. Sitting in a warehouse somewhere are four thousand copies of that title. A robot is waiting for someone using Amazon or a buyer from a bookstore or the author himself to order one or more copies. Reality of today's market suddenly hits them because the books do not move like once hoped. Frustration and discouragement sets in and this great author never publishes anything else.

I recently developed friendship with a Christian author that has fallen in that trap in the last six months. Today he is having a book signing at a local bookstore. If he is fortunate, he will sell ten or twelve books today. There remain over 3,800 copies of his title in a warehouse in Georgia. He has given many copies away hoping that someone will recognize the great work that it is. I truly wish him well.

Unfortunately, new authors simply do not understand how very competitive the market for books has become. These same new authors know in their heart that they have a very viable product and that many would benefit from reading it. In some cases it is excessive ego that over inflates the manuscript's potential, but in other cases it is the competition that does the person in. But in either cases, discouragement sets in and this new author does not attempt another. So sad!

If you don't know the potential, be conservative.
Besides an underestimation of today's market, the biggest culprits are the various subsidy publishers. Sometimes referred to as vanity publishers, these businesses feed on the ego of new authors to let them see a false potential of their manuscript. Naive pride kicks in; soon these great authors have a contract to put 3000 or 5000 copies of their great work into print. The work is probably great, the subsidy publisher does a great job getting the manuscript ready, the front cover is enticing, the marketing effort is exhausting, and the book dies on the shelf.

Christian publishers can be just as manipulative as non-Christian publishers when it comes to creating false expectations. Buyer beware!

In 2007, I was about to sign a contract with Xulon Publishing when somehow I came across an article about true self-publishing. I would have spent over $3,000 for their basic package; today my books would still be sitting in a warehouse somewhere. Excess books are eventually dumped onto the resale book market and sold for a mere shadow of their initial value.

A reviewer for Xulon stated that she thought the manuscript was well prepared and some other blah-blah-blah words that hit my pride button. Most new authors have this pride issue going on, and I certainly was one. I probably would have selected one of the middle-tier packages which would have resulted in even more books sitting on some shelf. As a result of the market forces and my resulting discouragement, I never would have authored another title.

Instead I went the self-publishing route where I am the independent publisher. No subsidy publishers or vanity publishers are involved. Instead, I coordinate all of the efforts and order only as many books as I need. I found a Christian service that would convert the title into print-ready format that Lightning Source could use. After some editing, I eventually had 250 books printed. Today I have just five left from that initial printing: 59% were sold and the remainder were given away.

I use the same print-on-demand technology that Xulon and other vanity publishers use: when someone orders that book on Amazon, it is printed and shipped within a few days after the Buy Now button is clicked on Amazon. What I don't have is boxes of printed books sitting in either my home or in a warehouse somewhere.

I now have an easier decision: am I now ready to prepare a second edition which incorporates some editing changes, or should I print a dozen more for my own immediate sales? With Lightning Source, I can order just one copy if that is what I need.

"How many books should you print?" My market is Christian non-fiction; you may wish to adjust what I suggest if you are working with another genre. I suggest that fifty may be a good number but that should be adjusted based on the number of book signings that you have already scheduled. If your church is promoting a book signing, they would know you the best so you might add an additional 20% of the average Sunday attendance (assuming a moderately sized church). If you have scheduled a signing at a bookstore, you might add another ten books. You probably don't yet know what works and what doesn't work in your market – I suggest you purchase enough for the next 45 days. At the end of a month, re-evaluate and buy more when your inventory gets low. That is the beauty of print-on-demand.

If you have aspirations of authoring a second title, please do not engage yourself with one of these vanity presses if they want you to print many copies. The result will most certainly be that you will have too many printed, you will think you are not a good author (which is probably not true), and your reading public will suffer.