Only a small percentage of authors sell through. What’s the solution?

In the past few days I’ve read some wonderful posts.

Elana Johnson has proven once again why she’s so well liked in the blogging world. In this post, she talks about being a midlist hardcover author and trying to fit in on the other side of the fence. No whining. No complaining. Just brutal humbling honesty.

That’s what we’re looking for in a blog, in a writer, in an author. Emotion. Exactly what we’re looking for when we’re reading a book as Wendy P Miller points out.

And in another post Elana talks about defining success and how it use to be all about blog numbers for her. But not anymore.

Jody Hedlund posted about the identity crisis that most authors endure after their first book is released. Again, no whining, no complaining. Just honesty.

Angela Ackerman guest posted at Janice Hardy’s blog talking about blogging through the hard times, picking yourself up, and moving forward. Through the rejections, the almosts, the frustrating times. And we’ve all been there. We can relate. Connect.

And my new traditionally published blogging hero is Nova Ren Suma. She seems to have reinvented her blog, taking hold of the reigns with an incredible series of inspirational posts from other authors. And she has new series coming in 2012. She’s making a real effort to reach out and make a difference. And reach potential readers. Very smart.

Maybe some of these posts will extend past the writing bubble and reach non-writing readers. Maybe not. I like these authors, these bloggers. I’ll read their books. I’ll buy their books.

So why I am bringing all this up?

Because these authors are active in social media in a terrific kind of way.

Because I see tweets from industry professionals about how traditional publishers need to combat the 99-cent book. Really? I mean really? Low priced ebooks are not the enemy. (Or they shouldn’t be.) I’ve seen it suggested that the big publishers should brand the front of their books so readers know the difference. (Sounds like a dystopian novel to me.)

Most readers don’t care. And if they do – they’ll find out before purchasing.

Readers want excellent writing. A powerful story. An entertaining story. You’ve got that and you won’t have to worry about putting a logo on the front of a book in order to sell through.

Even then sometimes there’s nothing we can do. It’s out of our control.

Be likeable. Be honest. Create fans of you. Not just your books.

Write the best you can.

Promote and market wisely. (Look to the posts and blogs I mentioned.)

Write the next book and make it even better.

So honestly. Do you think branding the front of a book with a publisher’s logo will make the difference? What would help more authors sell through their advance? Because I’d love to see that happen.

This post by Angie Frazer is a must read. How do these midlist authors get noticed?

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47 Responses to Only a small percentage of authors sell through. What’s the solution?

  1. Sarah Fine December 14, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    The publisher’s logo/support does certainly make it easier to get distribution in bricks-and-mortar stores, and really, I do see it as a way to know the book I’m buying has actually been edited/vetted. However, so many good, independently published books are out there now, and so many options for authors in terms of reaching out to readers. As for me–I’m off to read all those posts you linked to. Thanks!

  2. Stina Lindenblatt December 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Traditional publishers already have their brand on the book. But it’s on the spine, not on the front.

    When I find a book on Amazon because of a link on a blog, the first thing I do is see who the publisher is. But before I do this, if I see a book mentioned on a blog, I look it up on the website for the major book chain here in Canada. If it’s not listed, then I know there’s a good chance a traditional publisher didn’t publisher it.

    Write a great book and readers will spread the word about it. That will help you sell through your advance.

    The toughest part is when your book isn’t available in the bookstore when potential readers are checking out the shelves. That’s a lost sale.

    • Laura December 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

      I rarely look to see who the publisher is. I can tell if it’s self published by the price. But really it’s the first few pages I care about. I have begun to notice that certain imprints produce similar types of books and I’m usually drawn to them. But before I was a writer – I never noticed these things, never mind name a publisher other than Scholastic or Random House.

  3. Heather Sunseri December 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    I’ve read most of these posts, and I totally agree with you. I think it is important for writers to create a likeable, approachable person when thinking “brand”. And I love that authors are finding ways to be honest without complaining. We need more honesty in blogosphere! (And it’s not that I think people are lying, I just think there’s a lot of fear amont bloggers to be true.)

  4. Barbara Jean Byrem December 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    Thank you for pointing out to me that it is honesty and emotion that makes writing great.

    My blog posts are sheer ‘light bulb rambles’,some are more chaotic than others. I do try to be clever,sometimes I try to hard. I’m participating in a Deja Vu Blogfest so, I was looking over my posts to see what I wanted to put out there AGAIN. There are only two I’m really proud of and both are a little embarrassing because they are filled with honesty and emotion. Maybe I need to just GET OVER IT, and go with the honesty and emotion. That’s what I like to read.(Imagine that!)

    It is SERIOUSLY not about the publisher. Yet,we all want the credibility of a “Legacy Publishing House’ thinking we are GOOD ENOUGH.

  5. Lindsay December 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Fantastic post and yes, I agree with everything you said. I have to admit that I do look up books on Amazon to see who the publisher is and I also tend to prioritize my buying. For example, if I see book A that looks wonderful and is written by a blogger or someone else in the writing community that I know and love, their book gets bought first. I’ve heard so much lately about books having a terrible time selling through their advances and it’s really kind of scary to me – not something I have any idea how to solve but I think you’re right, it’s a reality.

  6. richard p hughes December 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    I kind of like the idea.

    Even though I’ve only self-published one book, and had nothing else published, and plan on self-publishing in the future, I like the idea of knowing who the publisher is right away. It certainly, for the most part, lets you know there has been good editing and a good enough read that the “professionals” think it’s worth reading. Self-published books can be anything from a total mess to a masterpiece. Of course, word of mouth will eventually separate the dross from the grain in the self-publishing world.

    • Laura December 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

      Richard – I don’t mind if the publisher’s logo is on the front I just don’t know if it will solve the problem, the one the writer cares about.

      Lindsay – I still don’t really look at the publisher. I’m more aware but I don’t actively look for it.

      Barbara – I think writing entertaining post with no emotional honesty is fine too. Humor can go a long way!

  7. Natalie Aguirre December 14, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    I read Elana’s and Angela’s posts too. And I got a lot out of them. I do think having a publisher helps get the word out about your book. But I’m not sure how we can control if we make our advance. There is so much out of our control even if we do write a good book. I do think we have to promote wisely, as best we can, to help get the word out. It seems all we can do.

  8. Ansha Kotyk December 14, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    I think you’ve posed a great question. Does creating a great/likeable/approachable author brand help sell your book?
    I think there’s a lot more ambiguity to the purchasing process for readers. Something we can’t take a qualitative or quantitative picture of. If we could I think we’d all reproduce it!
    I’ve seen some writers call it LUCK. Write a good book and with a little of the luck you’ll sell. But I think what it is is a combination of variables that outmatch our reasoning skills.
    The book stands out foremost because that is what is being purchased, is it well written? Is it the subject matter the reader is interested in? Does the style match the reader’s personality? Is the book priced reasonably for the reader to purchase? And was the reader able to find the book in order to purchase it?
    Having said all that, if the writer is a jerk, even if all of the above is satisfied, I’d probably pass. If you’re not a jerk, you could have the personality of a toad and I’d still read your novel.

    • Laura December 14, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

      Ansha – I think you’ve got it. We can’t control how well our book does. It’s not all about the publisher’s push – some of those books flop. I know publishers are the gatekeepers but I think readers always have been and will continue to be!

      Natalie – Yes. All authors can do is the best they can!

  9. Susan Sipal December 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Great questions and discussion, Laura. Like you, before I became a writer, I never paid attention to who the publisher was. But, back in those days, my options were limited to what was available in brick and mortar stores, so it was all traditionally published.

    Now, there’s so many options it makes me feel overwhelmed. When I go grocery shopping, I tend to choose the smaller stores with the more local/organic options. I think this is what we’ll be coming to as readers. Smaller online bookstores that specialize in the niche we prefer to read so that we’re not so overwhelmed by all that we have no interest in.

    Or maybe that’s just me. 🙂

  10. Ava Jae December 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    You have some really fantastic links here, Laura. Thanks so much for sharing them! I hadn’t come across them yet.

    As for the logo, it personally wouldn’t make a difference to me. If you ask me, just the fact that a book is published in a paper or hardback version is usually a pretty good indication that it’s a traditionally published book. Even self-published on-demand print books are in most cases pretty easy to tell apart (and if you can’t tell the difference, then it shouldn’t matter anyway).

    People are going to read what they want to read. Period. It shouldn’t matter what format it is or how a book got to be published.

  11. Susan Kaye Quinn December 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Interesting question. No, I don’t think publisher brand will solve anything – if you think about that for a moment, what is the publisher doing? Putting lots of time and effort into branding themselves? Their job is to sell the author/book, right?

    This is the prime reason that pub branding will not be effective – people become fans of an author, not a publisher. This dynamic is because of the connection between the author/reader – the publisher trying to become “more visible” isn’t adding value to that relationship.

    So if publisher branding won’t help trad-pub authors sell through, what will? First of all, lower expectations would automatically help them “sell through” – i.e. less advance, more profit share. This is the model that small and self-publishers already follow – small initial investment/no advance and a larger royalty. I think this model HAS to change for trad-publishers, but I don’t see it changing soon.

    But the real question beneath your question isn’t how to sell through, but how to sell MORE. For that, authors having a social media presence is one key aspect, especially for small/self-pub authors that don’t have as much access to print distribution channels (bookstores) or traditional reviewers (trade journals). For trad-pub authors? I think it depends on how much marketing support they get from their trad-publisher. If they have a lot, then social media is less important (unless they’re a jerk, then it’s a negative effect). If they have little/none, then social media is just as important as it is for small/self-pubbers.

    Whew! That was practically a post! 🙂

  12. beth trissel December 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Very thoughtful post. Thanks. I knock myself out with social media and blogging because as an author with a small press most of the promo lies with me. This can get wearing though and detract from writing time. It’s a quandary many authors deal with these days. How to stand out from the crowd when there are so many authors/books competing for notice.

  13. Elle Strauss December 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Thanks for the great links, Laura!

    • Laura December 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

      So many great answers.

      Beth – It is hard to stand out from the crowd. But what Nova Ren Suma is doing is practically the most I’ve seen a traditionally published author do recentlly.

      Susan – I can see how lower advances and higher royalties would help but I’m not sure that’s going to happen with NY. It amazes me that some trad. pubbed authors don’t realize they need to market like a self pubber. Maybe it’s b/c I’ve done enough research but the author cares the most about the book being successful!

      Ava – It doesn’t matter to me. And yes I can usually tell just picking up a paper back if it’s been POD, which usually mean self pubbed. But I don’t care if the words hook me.

      Susan – It can get very overwhelming yet I usually always know what I want to read next. Usually a mix of traditional and self pubbed.

  14. Laurel Garver December 14, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    I think what Susan Q. said about changing the model slightly–smaller advances, more profit sharing–is something legacy publishers may be forced to consider in the current marketplace. If the current model is consistently losing them money, everyone loses, because they’ll be all the more reluctant to pick up books that take risks. We’ll have nothing but bland knock-offs of other bestsellers.

    • Laura December 14, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

      Laurel – Print books are losing money, but the publishers aren’t. Kris Rusch on her blog, recently explained that publishers are making money and plenty, off ebooks. The people losing money are the authors b/c most of their profit comes from hardcovers, not ebooks. That’s what needs to be fixed.

  15. Donna K. Weaver December 14, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    Great post. I read Elana’s comments, and they were so true. I’m sure there’s at least a part in all authors that they could be the next break through best seller. Accepting reality and moving on to your next book is the way to go.

  16. Stacy December 14, 2011 at 7:20 pm #


    I don’t usually look to see who the publisher is. Frankly, the big houses have published plenty of books that leave my scratching my head. I don’t necessarily trust their judgement. I read the first five pages and if the book catches me, I’ll buy it. I don’t care if it’s self-published or a special edition. I just want good writing.

    And thank you for the links. Can’t wait to check them ou!

  17. J. R. Nova December 14, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    Well said!

  18. Karen December 14, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    I never look at the publisher. I just read the synopsis of the book and look at the ratings. Ratings are a big thing for me. Of course, word of mouth. But, no, I guess I don’t care who the publisher is, just the author…

  19. Alex J. Cavanaugh December 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    They can brand it, but I probably won’t notice. I’m glad I’m with a small publisher though – at least that’s something.
    There is a bit of a letdown after that first book. But one needs to just keep moving forward. I just kept doing what I was doing and hit a miracle spike. But it wouldn’t have happened if I’d slacked off and quit.

    • Laura December 14, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

      Alex – I imagine there is a bit of a let down. How could there not be? So much energy and thought building and put into a one day/week release and then…. no where to go but down.

  20. Karen Strong December 14, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Thanks for these links Laura. I’ve been hearing buzz about them but have been stuck in my software geek cave.

    Do publishers realize that readers don’t even care about the “publisher name”? I only started to look at the publisher name when I starting writing. Before that as a reader, I only look the AUTHOR’S name.

  21. Donna Hole December 14, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    I think the only thing that helps an author “sell through” is to have readers purchase the book. End of story.

    To get more readers, of course you need viable marketing strategies, and I think all this social media is an excellent marketing tool. In today’s online environment, where everyone is researching/purchasing on-line, having a strong internet presence is important.

    Not the only way to market yourself or your books, but I’m sure it could hurt your sales not to.

    Thanks for all the links Laura.


  22. Botanist December 15, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    Regarding the publishers brand, I had to stop and re-read, then read some of the comments, to see if I’d totally misunderstood.

    Firstly, as someone else commented, the publisher is already somewhere on the cover.

    Secondly, I’m not sure what this would achieve in terms of marketing. When I look at a book, I’m looking at the genre, the title, the author, the blurb, the first page or so. The publisher doesn’t even register as a factor in selection.

    To me, the book is the most important thing. The publisher is irrelevant.

  23. becca puglisi December 15, 2011 at 2:49 am #

    Laura, you’re my hero. These are really interesting links. I’ve been a tweetin’ fool and found a few new blogs to follow. Keep ’em coming!

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  24. Anita Miller December 15, 2011 at 4:57 am #

    Readers don’t care about publishers. If it was some group readers thought ALWAYS recommended good books, they might like that branding.

    My favorite read of the year was Ann Patchett’s STATE OF WONDER. I have no friggin idea who published the book.

    I think readers will go to Amazon (or the B&N Nook store), search in the category they’re interested in and then search by price lowest to highest. UNLESS they’re looking for a specific author or book that they’d heard of.

  25. Mark Koopmans December 15, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    Aloha Laura,

    Mahalo for the other blogs (to be checked out) and for such a great, detailed post.

    I wouldn’t care about the extra branding on the novel – I’ll just be happy to hold *my* book in my grubby little hands.

  26. Anna Staniszewski December 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Great post. It’s so hard to balance everything (writing, blogging, promoting, life) and sometimes we make mistakes or let things slide. But I think ultimately writing good books and connecting with other awesome people are the most important.

  27. Marcia December 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    “Create fans of you” is so important.

    The publisher’s logo is already on the spine…would it really be so much more informative to put it on the FRONT? I don’t think a lot of readers who aren’t also writers care who published a book. Some do, but not that many.

    I get where the proponents are coming from, though. I know too many people/students who believe that writing a rough draft, fixing the “mistakes,” and throwing the result up on amazon with no money invested and nobody telling them what they have to change is what it means to self-publish. I have to be honest: I’ve no incentive at the present time to start sifting through e-slush as a reader/consumer. I respect those who are doing it right, and I really hope they’ll be able to get their books noticed by their target audience.

  28. Angela Ackerman December 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    I’ve read all of these links (thanks for the inclusion) and it was a real eye opener for me to really think about the other side of the fence. I think we often have blinders on for self-protection: to keep an eye on the goal (to sell a book, to get a best seller, to sell foreign rights or whatever it may be) in order to keep us motivated and to stave off depression. But the reality is, by having such an absolute for a goal sets us up for failure.

    I completely agree that we need to adapt our thinking as to what our ‘goals’ are to avoid disappointment. If we love what we do and love to write, this should drive us. If we love to strive and improve, this should be our goal. These are things within our control, and so achieving them will always leave us satisfied. 🙂

    Great post, Laura! 🙂

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  29. Roni Loren December 15, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    I do look at publisher, but that’s mainly since I’ve been writing. Though, I will say, I do become a fan of a line. For instance, in erotic romance, I know that I typically enjoy some publishers more than others.

    However, as for sell through, I think it takes way more than a well-written book. I’m less than three weeks away from my debut coming out with Berkley (Penguin) and I’m freaking terrified that I’m not going to earn out, lol.

    I have a good online platform that I’ve been building for almost 3 yrs and I know that helps, but how MUCH it helps is really a complete mystery still. Is it a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things? (I’m guessing that is probably some of Elana’s frustration, too. She has an awesome platform but it’s not something that will necessarily push you from midlist to bestseller no matter how hard you work.) There are so many factors that go into determining if a book breaks out or burns out. And unfortunately, sometimes, one of the smallest factors is how good the book actually is. So many fabulous books get lost in the shuffle.

    So I don’t know the answer. But I am feeling better about not having some giant advance. At least I have a lower bar set to earn out, lol!

    • Laura December 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

      Roni – I agree. Too many good books get lost in the shuffle. Writers can only do their best with their given talents, time, and opportunity. And then there’s that IT factor that no one can control!

      Angela – I love all those links. I feel for all authors and appreciate their honesty – yours included!

      Marcia – I think b/c the logo doesn’t show up on Amazon unless you scroll down. All of the self publishers I know have gone about it the right way. But they’re all my blogging writer friends who are in the loop.

      And Botanist I think you questioned this: the point of putting the publisher’s brand on the front cover is so readers know the book is not self published. 🙂 And so they’ll hopefully buy it based on the publisher’s reputation. But I’m not sure that’s how buying streaks really work.

      Thanks everyone for commenting!

  30. Misha December 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    Thanks for the links. I’m going to go check them out now.

    I think the choice between traditional and self publishing depends on your needs as a writer. Whatever those needs might be.

    So I’ll have to see which way I go once the time comes for me to make a decision… 🙂

    How have you been doing?

  31. Kelly Polark December 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    I do love Elana.
    She’s real. Honest. Helpful. True.

    Thanks for the links and lots to think about!

  32. Ms. Persevere December 16, 2011 at 2:47 am #

    I’m not as advanced as most. I still frequent my local libraries and read books made of cardboard and paper. We are told not to judge a book by its cover, but I always do. An interesting cover catches my eye, first. The library also has a display for ‘new’ books and there, too, I judge the cover, first. The deceiving thing about most covers is that sometimes it seems like the illustrator never read the book. New authors catch my eye, only because their cover introduced me to them.

  33. Sherrie Petersen December 16, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    This is a tough question because you have traditionally published people like Elana who have a huge following, but she still winnds up a midlist author. (Not that that’s a bad thing!) And you have self-publishing phenoms rising up the charts, winning readership over big name authors.

    What makes the difference?

    If anyone has the answer, they’re likely to be the next instant millionaire 🙂

  34. Julie Musil December 16, 2011 at 5:29 am #

    When I read Elana’s post, I commented that this is why we love her. She’s so humble and honest, and I truly appreciate that in a blogger. How to do the other stuff? I have no idea! But I love learning about it along with all of you guys 😀

  35. Dean K Miller December 16, 2011 at 6:05 am #

    The brand would have to be either big enough, or different enough to be noticed on the cover. Would that entice me to buy the book…nope. Would it catch my eye? Probably not, unless it’s the only interesting thing on the cover.

    Would Kellogs sell less cereal if their logo was only on the side of the box? Probably so, but they’ve invested millions, if not billions, over the course of my lifetime (50+) to ensure we know it, see it, and hear it.

    Publisher’s don’t seem to have those resources available. I’d let ’em brand the cover of my book…but hope it’s the content inside that really sells it.

  36. Rachel Harris December 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Love this post, Laura! And no, I don’t think they should put a logo or whatever on the cover. What I care about is story. Characters. Emotion. I’ve gotten that in traditional Big 6, and I’ve gotten that in self-pub. I’ve gotten that paying $16.99, and I’ve gotten that paying 99 cents 🙂

  37. PW Creighton December 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    So far, experience is saying that understanding the marketability of a project and the available marketing is one oft he largest issues. Understanding how to market yourself, your platform or your project even from the publishers is rather confusing. A cohesive plan and a full understanding of your avenues can solve a lot of an author’s issues. The larger pubs are a bit of a different story compared to the author though.

  38. Wendy December 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Wow, how did I miss this shout out?

    Laura, so cool of you. Thanks and heck yeah, I’ll read your book for the same reasons!!!
    ~ Wendy

  39. terry lynn johnson December 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    just found this wonderful post now! Awesome. Thanks for the links!


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