By Lee Foster
Every author wants to sell books, but making that happen is not getting easier. If you discuss this with your more truthful author comrades, you may find them dividing into two groups: the optimists and the pessimists.
The public may want your book content, but may not want to buy your whole book. There may be one or a few chapters in your novel that many folks love. There also may be some special sections in your nonfiction book that your fans appreciate.
Would offering your book in small bites rather than the whole enchilada be a beneficial strategy?
My Personal Example: Northern California Travel
My personal experience in spring 2019 with one of my books is an example. That book is Northern California Travel: The Best Options. It is a travel guidebook on Northern California. Sales of the printed book and ebook this spring were modest.
However, the book is 30 chapters, and each of those chapters is also available online on my website www.fostertravel.com as a discrete chunk.
One chapter is titled “Spring Wildflower Adventures in the San Francisco Bay Area.” That single chapter, 1/30th of the book, received 6,987 voluntary reads, mainly as recommended by Google Search, in the three months February-through-April.
Folks seem to want to consume one bite (byte) of my book, but not buy the whole book.
How to Benefit from Online Small Bites of Your Book
When consumers are not gorging themselves on triple-decker consumptions of your book, how do you benefit from these diet bites?
It begins with some Google Adsense ads around your content. I earn about $1 from Google for every 200 people who come to my website. This is not a land-office business, but it provides me with some incremental protein. Private ads and sponsorship opportunities have also arisen.
I think it is wise also to allow a viewer of a chapter to download it as a printout and as a PDF. I had my website design person, Jeffrey Samorano, set up a good PDF download plugin capacity for my 500-plus articles on my website. I believe we need to serve our readers, and the reader might like to “clip” the chapter article to their phone or computer and read it later.
Your book chapter online can carry links to buy your book. The purchase is just a click away when an impulsive fan reads or rereads your article and decides to buy.
When you begin thinking of how your reader likely wants your content, some other ideas may spring to mind. For example, I have this book translated into Chinese and selling in China. I get some sales each month in China. Why burden a Chinese reader to struggle with the book in English?
The Future of Small Bite (Byte) Reads in Amazon and Apple
Amazon offers consumers unlimited reads of books enrolled in its Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) program. I am not in this program because I don’t like the “exclusivity” requirement. I want my books to be available everywhere. Your strategy may vary.
It would be interesting to hear from you if you have fared well in KENP. Are you earning significant income from KU (Kindle Unlimited) and KOLL (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library)?
I want my books to be available everywhere, including in Apple iBooks. All my books are in Apple iBooks. Interestingly, Apple, if you are following the news, now pushes ahead with a $9.99 all-you-can-read Apple + menu of magazine content. Will books be added next?
The new Apple program, ironically, may “save” many magazines that would otherwise go out of business. Maybe Apple will end up saving some authors also from utter desperation.
Accepting the Difficulties in Selling Books
However the future goes, there will be dark moments in the souls of many authors as we wrestle from time to time with the optimist versus pessimist impulses in our spirit.
Not all of our books are destined to achieve a performance as glorious as Michelle Obama’s Becoming. It is reported that she now has more than 10 million sales worldwide in all formats. Michelle Obama causes hope to spring eternal in authors.
Some negative forces at work need to be factored in to expectations:
- The actual numbers of sales for the average book are rather small. Think very small, perhaps only 100-250 sales per book, and maybe that is per year or even per lifetime of book, depending on the citation.
Brian Jud, an informed observer of book selling, wrote in April 2019 that, “According to BookScan, 93% of all new books do not sell more than 100 copies. Perhaps thinking about different ways of selling your books might be necessary, or at least considered.”
Google “How many copies does the average book sell?” and you will see some variations in the answer, but the news is challenging or depressing, depending on your current resilience. Statistics can be tricky. Maybe 250 copies the first year and 3,000 copies over a lifetimes is a reasonable expectation.
- Your book, once sold, may sell again and again with no benefit to you. After you sell the first thousand copies of your book, it will pop up forever on Amazon through third-party sellers. The third-party sellers may be happy to recycle your book for $1 and postage. When folks die, their libraries with your book may go to the Goodwill, which will actively sell every book at whatever low price moves the merchandise.
- Even if you are the author/publisher, the only source of “new” books, others with used books may declare them new and undersell you. Amazon does not seem now to favor you as the publisher of record, even if you are POD with Amazon for the printed book.
My experience has been that Amazon will feature the “new” book offer at the lowest price and will not parse the word “new” in detail. Amazon will earn income on all sales. Amazon will encourage all sales. And, of course, Amazon can change its practices tomorrow.
- Your book may have been out for a while, and the low hanging fruit has been harvested. An author who wants to sell books must continue to reach for a new audience. Only some authors will be willing to accept this challenge.
- The competition in your genre of book may be overwhelming, and the genre as a book may no longer be viable. This can be a sensitive issue in some sectors, including my world of travel journalism and travel books.
For example, I have had travel photos in more that 300 books published by Lonely Planet, a leader in the travel book publishing industry. However, Lonely Planet has gone into sharp decline. Lonely Planet sold itself, starting in 2008, to the BBC for $190 million. BBC sold LP in 2013 to NCS Media, an American firm, for $77.8 million, a catastrophic loss for the owners of BBC, meaning the citizens of the UK. Lonely Planet recently suspended publication of its Lonely Planet magazine. The trend is not encouraging.