The Book Industry Is Still Strong

Selling books is big business. According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP) 2018 StatShot Annual Report, 2.72 billion book units were sold in 2017 generating $26.23 billion in net revenue.

Book Sales Hold Steady

Book sales held fairly steady from 2016 to 2017. The report revealed the following about book sales:

1. Paperbacks still reign.

Paperback books were the number one selling format. More than 1 billion paperback books were sold in 2017. Paperback sales made up 36.9% of all book sales.

2. Nonfiction book sales grew in 2017.

Nonfiction book sales saw an increase of 5.4% in publisher revenue from 2016 to 2017.

3. The number of Children and Young Adult books sold is growing.

Both fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults saw more units sold in 2017 than in 2016. Fiction sales grew by 1.1%, while nonfiction book sales in these categories grew by 4.4%.

4. Book sales through physical and online retail channels are now equal.

For years, book sales through physical stores were higher than book sales through online stores. In 2017, this pattern changed. Now sales through these two outlets are just about equal. In 2017, $7.6 billion dollars worth of books were sold through physical retail outlets while $7.5 billion dollars worth of books were sold through online retail channels.

Interestingly, for online sales of books, the breakdown is as follows:

  • 43.2% Print Books
  • 27% eBooks
  • 16.3% Instructional Materials
  • 10.5% Downloadable Audio
  • 3% Physical Audio or other format

In case you did not catch it, 70% of online sales of books are print and ebooks. Print books are still the number one format for book purchases. Print books engage more of our senses. We see them. We feel them. We smell them.

Flipback Books

Credit: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

The book industry is constantly innovating to keep books fresh. The newest type of print book to hit the market is a tiny flipbook. These new books, the brainchild of Penguin Young Readers, are designed to be small and easily portable. Made with extremely thin paper (think Bible pages), the books are read horizontally with the pages flipped up rather than across. These books are meant to resemble reading on a screen.

This type of book has been sold in European countries for almost ten years. In Europe they are referred to as Flipbacks or Dwarsliggers. Whether these new tiny flipbooks with a full-length novel inside will be widely accepted with U.S. readers is still to be seen. The first ones do not release until October 23 and feature three books by John Green: Looking for AlaskaAn Abundance of KatherinesPaper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars.

Would you read a Flipback? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

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Photo credit: MegMoggington on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

One Solution to a Challenging Literacy Issue

The challenge: Getting tech-savvy kids interested in reading books.

One solution: Novel Effect

Good stories have always had the ability to captivate—to hold our hearts and imaginations—but today, books often lose out to flashier forms of entertainment. In an effort to make reading engaging for children, Melissa and Matt Hammersley developed the Novel Effect app for IOs, available for download in the Apple Store.

Novel Effect was featured on Shark Tank last fall. The company has won a Webby Award for the Novel Effect app and are now working with the Alexa Accelerator program to develop the growth of this voice-enabled storytelling platform. The Novel Effect app uses voice recognition technology to automatically add music and sounds to the book reading experience.

Novel Effect’s offering is built around children’s books. The company has created sound effects and other audio integrations for dozens of kids’ books, which get triggered when someone reads the books aloud. More than 150 audio “soundscapes” are available for free if a user owns a print book; these soundscapes can also run in the background with ebooks.

You can watch this video to get an idea of how this app works with reading a book:

Not surprisingly, the books that Novel Effect has created “soundscapes” for are all general market books. Hopefully, they will add Christian-themed books soon, or maybe someone else will come up with a similar app for Christian books for kids.

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What Every Children’s Author Needs to Know

The most important question every author most answer is:

Who is most likely to read and buy my book?

The specific answer to this question defines your target audience. Knowing how to speak to and reach your target audience is essential for success in writing and book promotion.

children's authors and generation z

If you are a children’s author and write for children, then your target audience is in the Generation Z group. Generation Z is very different from the children of previous generations. As a children’s author, you need to know what is important to these children so that you can reach them with your messages.

Generation Z are those children born since 1996 (aged 22 and younger). This generation makes up almost one-fourth of the U.S. population. Experts predict that the population of Generation Z will soon outpace the other generations.

Some key characteristics of this age group include:

  • These kids are true digital natives. Technology is central to every aspect of their lives, from socializing to schoolwork, entertainment to exercise, relaxation to reference.
  • Tuned in and connected, this generation experiences almost no separation between online and real life. These kids are online 10+ hours each day.
  • This generation prefers to communicate through images rather than text.
  • Generation Z is the least churched generation in American history. They are growing up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where many of them have not even been exposed to Christianity or to church.

Did you notice the characteristic that Generation Z individuals prefer to communicate through images rather than text?

Not surprisingly, the same is true for this age-group’s reading habits. These children are huge consumers of graphic novels. According to NPD Bookscan data from global information provider the NPD Group, the comics and graphic novels category in the U.S. trade book market has experienced compound annual unit sales growth of 15 percent over the last three years, making it one of the highest growth categories in the trade book marketplace.

graphic novels

As Barnes & Noble struggles to remain viable in a difficult market, this trend has not escaped their attention. In an effort to boost sales and gain more customers, the chain has announced plans to create dedicated sections for middle grades (ages 7-12) graphic novels in their stores this summer. These sections will be labeled with “Graphic Novel” signage and located adjacent to the Young Readers areas in each store’s children’s department.

Maybe at this point you are scratching your head and thinking, “What does this have to do with me? I write and publish children’s books?”

Knowing your target audience is key to success. Here are just a few takeaways from Generation Z characteristics for Children’s authors:

1. When communicating with children, include more images than pictures.
Even if you have written a chapter book, use pictures in your marketing messages to draw this generation in.

2. Rely almost exclusively on technology to reach this audience.
Remember, these kids spend 10+ hours online every day. They hang out on Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube.

3. Consider converting your book to a graphic novel.
If you are struggling with sales for your children’s chapter book, consider converting it to a graphic novel. You can break a larger book into sections and publish a series of graphic novels, or you can publish a web comic (an online graphic novel) that ties back to your print book. If you are unfamiliar with web comics, check out WebToon.

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Photos courtesy of Americanvirus and Enokson.

Does Your Book Have a Firm Foundation?

You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. A building requires a firm foundation to withstand nature and hold up under use. A cracked or insufficient foundation results in a structure that is unsuitable for habitation.

Everything we build requires a solid foundation to survive. Books require a firm foundation to stand against the competition. This firm foundation begins with your writing and the promise you make to your readers. It extends to the physical package of your message (layout and design of the book) and includes the price readers pay for the book.

To ensure your book has a solid foundation from which to launch, ask yourself the following six questions.

1. Is my book well-edited and free from grammatical and spelling errors?

A poorly written book or one that contains numerous grammatical and spelling errors will not gain readers’ approval. Books that are not well-edited do not become solid fixtures in the book industry. Instead, they tumble and fall into oblivion.

2. What promise does my book make to readers?

Does your book promise something that readers’ value and need? Do you offer a solid promise for information or entertainment that is not readily accessible elsewhere? Your book’s promise is an important piece of your foundation.

3. Does my book deliver on this promise?

Information or entertainment that fills a need is not enough. Your book has to deliver on its promise. It has to live up to what the reader is expecting.

4. Does my book speak its target audience’s language?

To reach people, we must speak their heart language. This is the language that they hear the best. Your book must use the lingo your target audience knows and share stories or examples that they can relate to.

5. Does my book look professional?

In the book world, books that look vastly different stick out like sore thumbs. Books must conform to basic requirements for them to look professional. If you are unsure what elements a book needs to look professional, I encourage you to learn. Members of Christian Small Publishers Association have access to a “Checklist for Publishing a Professional-Looking Book” as well as on-demand seminars that teach them how to produce a book that meets industry standards.

6. Is my book priced competitively?

Pricing is an important part of a book’s foundation. A book that is priced much higher or lower than the competition will not do well. Your book must be priced competitively to stand strong.

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells his audience:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Your book is like a house. It needs a firm foundation to withstand the assaults from the competition and from critics. Is your book’s foundation firm?

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Selling Thousands of Books

I recently read the following statement made by author Tom McAllister:

“I don’t think there is any way to convince all the people in your life to buy your book, let alone care about it half as much as you do. Though their validation feels great, it’s important to remember that it’s also not the point. As a writer, you need to approach every project with the understanding that you’re doing this work for yourself, and everything that happens once it’s in the world is out of your control.”

I think what he says is very true. Most people are not going to care about your book half as much as you do. After all, you birthed your book. Just like you love your children more than your neighbors do, so too, you care far more about your book than anyone else.

However, for Christian authors, I do not fully agree with Tom’s last sentence. As a Christian writer, you should approach every project with the understanding that you are doing this work for God. God has called you to write and so, you are doing everything for the Glory of God. Yes, everything that happens once your book is in the world is out of your control, but it is in God’s control.

Your job is to produce the book and spread the word that it is available for those who need the message. God’s job is to take that message and touch people’s lives with it. Remember, God does not allow His Word to return void. He will accomplish the purpose for which he asked you to write the words.

Sometimes a book has a big purpose to accomplish, sometimes it is a smaller purpose.

A Member of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) recently shared with other CSPA Members in CSPA’s monthly newsletter the steps she took to sell thousands of copies of her self-published Bible Study. Karen Finn will tell you that she exerted much effort and time into the planning and preparation for her book, the writing of her book, and the publishing and marketing of her book.

Her efforts, blessed by God, have paid off. She has sold over 7,000 copies of her Is Your Fruit Sweet or Sour?: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Christian Living Bible Study book. In her article, Karen states:

Membership with Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) has been a worthwhile investment. I am able to keep abreast of the ongoing trends in the publishing business and obtain additional support and information specifically relating to my marketing efforts.”

Membership in an author or publishing association is an important step to selling thousands of books. Associations provide their members with:

• A level of professionalism
• Cutting-edge information
• Cost-saving benefits

Right now, Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) is offering our Summer Membership Special! For just $120 indie authors and small publishers can receive membership through December 2019. It’s a great deal. I encourage you to join today if you write and publish Christian books.

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Photo courtesy of paulbence.