While many entrepreneurs have at least one book published under their name, it doesn’t mean all of those books are successful.
After all, as many as 2.2 million books are published worldwide every year (1). And most never manage to sell over 1k copies (2).
That’s why we decided to go through case studies of how some authors manage to sell their books in six figures.
Book publishing is on the verge of its biggest shift at the moment, considering the rise of self-publishing and Amazon. We aim to help you choose the best publishing path for you and how you can launch your book once you decide your publishing path.
This post will go through some foundational marketing tactics followed by almost all successful book projects and other insights to boost book sales.
Keep on reading if book publishing is something you are looking forward to.
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The Present Scenario of the Book Publishing Space
There are two basic options at the moment if you wish to publish a book: traditional publishing and self-publishing (3).
While there are many differences in these two approaches, the major ones include:
- Profit and Royalties
- Creative Control
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With the traditional publishing model, you sell the rights of your book to a publishing company. Meaning, the publisher will get the biggest pie piece of the royalties.
In most common cases, authors get 15% of hardcover, 25% of ebook and audiobook, and 7.5% of paperback (4). And publishers also get full creative control over the book.
Now, you may wonder why any author would give up everything? Well, it is because publishing companies give you money upfront and mostly do a competent job at publishing and distributing the book. Notably, in almost all cases, publishing companies do little marketing of the book.
Companies like HarperCollins, Hachette, and Penguin, and Random House, which recently acquired Simon & Schuster, are prominent names in the space. Several other smaller publishing houses are lesser-known but work on a similar model.
The process for traditional publishing non-fiction books (5, 6, 7):
- You ask for a book proposal which can take from months to a year in some cases.
- The step mentioned above is for non-fiction only; you will need a finished manuscript before beginning the sales process if you write a fiction book.
- You will also need to find an agent since most traditional publishers don’t even take submissions unless they are book agents.
- Next, the agent takes the proposal and pitches it at several traditional book publishing companies to buy it.
- Remember, most agents are good at their jobs and don’t take books out to conventional publishers unless they get one offer.
- Next comes the big negotiation point in most publishing deals is the “advance against royalties.” It is the money the publisher will pay the author upfront for the publishing rights to the book.
- Notably, several traditional publishing companies provide smaller or no advances and instead offer better-than-standard royalty terms. It is becoming more and more common.
- Once you accept a deal, then the writing process starts. You may get marginal content editing help from the publisher though it depends from publisher to publisher.
- And once you are done with the manuscript, you can turn it to the publisher, and the publication process starts.
- The publication process commonly includes content editing, copy editing, cover design, book layout, etc.
- Your publisher will also handle the printing and distribution of your book, like getting the book into bookstores and on Amazon, managing payments, and everything else.
- In most cases, you will need to do the marketing of your book yourself.
Pros of Traditional Book Publishing
- You get paid before publishing.
- Most eminent prestige option
- Access to higher bestseller lists
- Higher chance of bookstore places and better distribution
Cons of Traditional Publishing
- Unless you have a built-in audience for your book, there is almost no chance to get a deal with a traditional publisher.
- Traditional publishing moves very slowly.
- There is limited financial upside since even though you do get your money upfront, it is commonly an advance against royalties.
- There is no marketing support or control such as discounts to drive sales or give away some spoilers to drive interest or even a book give away. Consider yourself lucky if you ever came across a publisher who understood and helped you with your marketing efforts. Notably, most publishers are upfront that they don’t do much with marketing.
- Understand that you won’t have the final say about anything in your book once you sign the deal with any publishing company.
- When you finalize the publishing deal, the company owns the book and not you.
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If you want to keep all the ownership of your book, meaning you get to keep all royalties and keep full creative control, self-publishing is the path you choose.
While it sounds great, there is also some major downside. In this path, you will need to find out how to complete all the work needed to publish a book. Know that a lot goes into publishing a book, especially if you want to do it professionally.
It was only possible almost two decades ago if you spent huge sums of money to get your book published. However, everything changed with the digital computer revolution, making it cheap and easy to write books. And Amazon made it easy and cheap to distribute them.
These two changes gave rise to a whole new market for self-publishing.
And since then, self-publishing has thrived.
Thousands of authors have written millions of self-published books over the past few years. Many have been huge successes (If you don’t already know, famous books like The Martian and Fifty Shades of Grey were self-published) (8, 9).
Here is the basic process of self-publishing:
- You write a book.
- You find and pay an editor to help you edit the book; you can also edit it yourself.
- You find and pay a proofreader, or do it yourself.
- You can find and pay a cover designer to make your book cover or do it yourself.
- You hire an interior layout designer for your book or do it yourself.
- You get a copywriter on board to help you write the book description, your bio, and other assorted copy for the book, or do it yourself.
- You hire a distributor to distribute the book via a service like BookBaby or Amazon.
Pros of Self-Publishing
- You get to keep all royalties. However, there will be distribution costs. But, you can always choose to sell your book on your website directly to your readers.
- You will have creative control.
- You can get to marketing fast.
- You will get complete freedom and ownership.
Cons of Self-Publishing
- There is a potential risk of unprofessionalism. You won’t be able to build your reputation with an unprofessionally made book. Hence, make sure you only decide to self-publish if you are confident that you can do a professional job with your book.
- It may be challenging and time-consuming to get everything right when it comes to self-publishing the book.
- It can also be pricey if you hire experts to help you. While good people are worth the cost but again, that is expensive.
- Self-publishing is often limited to distribution on Amazon and other independent book distributors. Most bookstores don’t have a stock of self-published books. Though, the scene is now changing gradually.
- As mentioned, most major lists don’t acknowledge self-published books because of the professionalism issue. Meaning, there is a risk of not getting any access to the bestseller list.
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There is Another Option: Hybrid Publishing
It is the new third option for those looking for the best of both worlds.
Hybrid publishing, also known as professional publishing, is another option for you if you wish to have complete control over your book, keep the majority of the profits, and publish a highly professional book with wide distribution. And you won’t have to do everything yourself and have experts to do it (10, 11, 12).
It was not at all possible to do it in the past. However, many authors like Shane Parrish, David Goggins, and Nassim Taleb have managed to do it recently.
There are two approaches to do it:
- Build your publishing company
- Hire a professional publishing company
Pros of Professional Publishing
- You get to make all the profit
- You have full creative control
- You have full control over marketing
- You will be able to market at a fast pace.
- You get total ownership and freedom
- You get access to bestseller lists, though not the same as traditional publishing, but better than self-publishing
- A better chance at widespread distribution and placement at bookstores
Cons of Professional Publishing
- It can be very expensive.
- You will need to make upfront investments even before you publish your book.
- There are many scammers in the professional publishing space. Be sure when picking a professional publishing company because you will need to pay a lot upfront.
- It can be nerve-racking to do everything yourself.
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Which Publishing Path is Right For You?
You may find it exhausting when choosing the right publication path for yourself. And that’s why you need to figure out who you wish to be and what goals you are looking to achieve from your book (13).
There are a few useful identities and their best-suited options:
- Entrepreneurial Author: Professional publishing was initially made for entrepreneurial authors
- Knowledge-Share Author: Professional publishing
- Status-Seeking Author: A related form of traditional publishing (For example, for academics status, you will need to go with academic publishers)
- Hobbyist Writer: Self-publishing
- Professional Writer: Traditional publishing
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Top Tactics to Sell Your Books Well
#1 Word-of-Mouth Over Other Marketing Tactics
The most primary reason behind the success of any book is word-of-mouth marketing. People read books and then tell their peers to read them too. Every successful book of all time has this one factor in common.
In short, if you want to publish a successful book, be sure it is a book that people will want to tell other people about (14).
But, how would you be able to achieve that?
#2 The Right Book Positioning
The key is the right book positioning, knowing your audience, and why they will purchase your book. In other words, you need to write a book that meets the needs of your target readers (14, 15).
Yes, you guessed it right. It is no different from creating product-market fit strategies for any other product. Does your book meet the big needs of a big group of people? If yes, then it has an excellent shot of getting sold out. Otherwise, it won’t.
#3 Think Long-Term
Publishing a book is not at all the same as launching a movie in theatres. Movies are only in cinemas for a limited time. On the other hand, published books are on sale for almost forever.
And that’s why you need to think about selling and marketing your book as a long-term practice. Because when it comes to books, most people who can be your ideal audience will not even have heard of it.
And if you think about it carefully, it is quite exciting because there will always be new people who will want to read your book once they discover it.
Also, people take their time before they decide to purchase a book. After all, people look at books to help them make their lives better. Only a handful of people buy new books to read. Most only decide to purchase one if it keeps popping up as a solution to their needs.
Long-term always works when it comes to books, and the best way to do it is to take daily actions. If you look at book marketing as one big thing or try to batch it to one day a month, you will probably never achieve anything.
Instead, take small actions daily to gain compound returns and great results.
Your daily actions can be as simple as responding to emails from people who read your book or pitch podcasts (16, 17, 18).
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Common Traps And Mistakes to Avoid
- You are focusing on yourself and not the reader. Remember, your audience does not care about your book or you. Your audience only cares about what they can get from your book. In other words, you need to write a book that is beneficial and appealing to the reader (19). Or, why else would they buy it?
- If you can’t figure out why your audience will read your book, they probably won’t. While many authors believe that their book contains the knowledge they need to know, however right they may be, people only purchase books they want to know about. You need to understand the primary driving need of your readers and position your book accordingly (20).
- You end up focusing on the marketing and not the message behind it. When it comes to books, your message is marketing. Good positioning will make marketing easy, while bad positioning will make it almost impossible (21).
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Other Tips and Tricks For Effective Marketing
- Publish your book in all three mediums; ebook, physical book (paperback or hardcover), and audiobook (22).
- Use podcasts to sell books.
- Use the “Buy one, give one” promotion tactic.
- Give away your knowledge as you write.
- Target local media instead of aiming for national coverage; make sure to frame your book around a local angel.
- Use your book to build your platform.
- You can sell your book to your network if you figure out who would want to read it and how you can position it correctly (23).
- Have businesses pay in books for your speeches and training sessions.
- Give away your book as a gift to boost sales.
- Use online quizzes and trivia contests to drive interest.
- Build an army of influencers (24).
- Reach large audiences via the organizations that connect them.
- Add shareable content around other people in your book (25).
- Invest in premium store places, like airport bookstores.
- Place your book at the center of your ecosystem of services and products.
- Ask for reviews; the more reviews you will have, the more books you will sell.