Opportunity: It’s Before You

I have been reading some dismal statistics about reading and book sales lately. One statistic I ran across was reported by Brian Judd, Executive Director of APSS. He stated that according to BookScan, 93% of books published sell less than 100 copies. To be honest, I am finding that statistic a little hard to swallow.

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However, when I step back and consider the sheer volume of books self-published each year, I can almost believe this statistic. There are hundreds of self-publishing companies in the United States willing to take authors’ money to produce a book. For the most part, that is all these companies do—publish the book. Many of these companies churn out thousands of self-published books each year. That is what they do—help aspire authors achieve a dream. However, these companies often don’t do anything to create sales for a book.

On the other hand, many self-published authors only have their sights on a book. They don’t think past getting a book published to actually selling the book. When reality hits and they realize that they actually have to do something to sell the book, many self-published authors don’t really know what to do to promote a book.

Almost always, the differences between the books that sell over 100 copies and those that sell less are quality and marketing.

First and foremost, a book must be quality. Compelling writing with a unique angle on a subject that has been talked about before is a must. The book must also conform to industry standards with grammatical matter, the cover design, and interior layout.

Then, marketing is needed. Without marketing, no one knows about the book. People don’t buy something they don’t know about. Marketing takes work and time. As Thomas A. Edition said:

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

The opportunity to create book sales comes with the hard work of marketing.

Knowing that many self-published authors are not schooled in marketing, I decided almost a decade ago to write and published Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace. The purpose of this book is to teach Christian authors what to do to market their books to help them sell more than 100 copies. However, my book is not the only book providing information on how to market books.

If you are an author and want to sell more books, I suggest you read more than one book on marketing for authors. Educate yourself and then take advantage of the opportunity that is before you to lead people to your books. Don’t be part of this dismal statistic.

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Tough Times

Attending the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS 2012) last month in Florida, I was struck anew by how much the book selling industry has changed since I first got involved in it in the early 2000s.

The Christian book market, in particular, the Christian retail market, experienced its heyday in the very late 20th century and the very beginning of the 21st century. However, the physical retail industry has been on a downward slide since about 2005.

Much of this has to do with our changing culture. People read less. Technology is exploding. As a result, people buy more books via the Internet and fewer take the time to actually visit a physical bookstore.

The Great Recession has not helped matters either. Since late 2008, our economy has struggled severely. Retail stores of all sorts have gone out of business and the Christian retail market has not been immune to this. The book market in particular has been hit hard. Consider that Borders, the second largest secular bookstore chain, closed their doors last year.

At ICRS, the decline of Christian retail was evident to industry veterans. Yes, good products were still available. Yes, popular authors and personalities still made appearances. However, for those repeat ICRS attendees like me, the decreased attendance was evident.

Lines to meet best-selling authors were not as long. For the most part, vendors (publishers) were not giving away costly marketing gimmicks like USB drives, computer bags, and clothing items. However, most telling was the attendance for the Newsboys concert.

The Newsboys are a popular Christian contemporary music band. They perform concerts across the United States and have no problem selling tickets. PureFlix, a Christian movie producer, brought the Newsboys to ICRS as part of their promotional efforts for a new movie coming out next year titled God’s Not Dead from the hit song by the Newsboys. Sadly, the concert hall was not packed. My mind harkened back to a similar concert giving at ICRS in 2005 to promote a new book by Beth Moore. The concert hall at that show had standing room only.

Why am I writing this?

To remind myself and you that we are in tough times. While producing books has become economically feasible for almost anyone, selling these books has become much harder. Not only is the Great Recession still in our midst, but our country and culture are undergoing some radical changes. We, as authors and publishers, must first recognize these changes, and then adapt ourselves and our methods to this new economy and culture if we want to continue selling books.

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Good News or Bad?

Sales of Christian products have “flattened” this year. Simply put, this means Christian book sales did not increase this year. After a decade or more of growth, Christian book sales have basically remained the same the past couple of years.

Industry experts do not really know why sales have remained flat, nor do they agree on their perceived reasons as to what has led to this stall in sales growth. Here are some of the speculations the industry experts provide:

  • No new blockbuster titles (like the Left Behind series and The Purpose Driven Life)
  • A glut of Christian products
  • Products that do not interest younger Christians

I believe that there are cycles to every industry and to product sales. Many industries have experienced either a flattening or a dip in sales in the past two years due to the recession. We should not think that Christian book sales are exempt from economic impact when the economy suffers.

As for Christian book sales flattening, I think much of this is due to the economy. However, I believe that all three of the above reasons given by industry experts come into play.

Blockbuster titles drive sales of other Christian books. Often, someone will go into a store to purchase the blockbuster title and come out with an additional title or two that caught their eye while in the store. Hence, a Christian bestseller can help sell more Christian books as a whole. Since the industry has not had such a title in a couple years, Christian book sales, as a whole, have been impacted.

Interestingly, a glut of Christian products can lead to fewer bestselling titles. I believe that one reason Pilgrim’s Progress was such a Christian classic and bestseller was that, for so many years, consumers only had a handful of books to choose from. The more titles people have available to them, the more purchasing gets dispersed, and the harder it is for one title to rise to the top.

In addition, the industry has been chided for years for publishing “fluff” instead of “meaty” Christian titles. For example, a couple years ago, one of the major Christian publishers contracted with Britney Spears’ mother to write a book on Christian parenting. Now, Britney Spears is hardly a good example of what one wants a Christian parent to produce. I am sure the publisher felt that the author’s name would sell many copies regardless of the content. The publisher ended up deciding not to publish the book after it came out in the news that the mother was allowing Britney’s pregnant teenage sister to live with the father of her baby. Such a parenting book would definitely have fallen into the “fluff” category of Christian titles.

I do not believe that the flattening of Christian book sales is negative news. Rather, it is fairly positive news. In these years of recession, Christian books have continued to sell.

I believe the market is primed for small publishers willing to publish “meaty” Christian materials that appeal to those seeking a deeper understanding of and closer relationship with God. These books may not become bestsellers, but they will definitely find an audience.

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