Book Sales Expectations

Q: What kind of sales can I expect from my books? How well do Sunbury Press’ best sellers do?
A: Sunbury Press, Inc. is a privately-held corporation. Information about company performance is not made public to protect the privacy of the shareholders. Likewise, the performance of individual titles, except where available through information aggregators like Nielsen Bookscan or Amazon, is tightly-guarded so as to respect the privacy of our authors. Information from those aggregators does not capture 100% of the market. They completely miss Sunbury’s direct sales to readers and direct distribution to independent bookstores and other venues.
Book sales for individual titles range widely from near zero, to the many thousands over the life the book. About 80% of our titles do not break even over their lives. It is the 20% of successful titles that carry our business. Of that successful one-fifth, only a small portion of them do exceptionally well.
Nonfiction generally performs twice as well as fiction in our experience. Generally, only about 30% of nonfiction titles break even or better while 15% or less of fiction titles do so. Nonfiction has the benefit of SEO discovery and is more likely to be of interest to the media so as to gain earned media opportunities. Fiction success is more unpredictable.

Keys to success with fiction:

  1. The author is actively selling books – making appearances at conventions, bookstores, and other events – (as long as the author is not too shy and unable to connect with readers)
  2. The cover, description, and subject matter align with the book’s categories and quality expectations.
  3. The author is active on social media on at least one platform.
  4. The author has a website, is actively promoting themselves as an author, is building a following and an email list
  5. The author has a presence on Goodreads and Amazon Author Central and uses the features and functions of the sites to their advantage.
  6. The author is writing a series or the body of work is related in some way.
  7. The author is releasing new books at least once a year, preferably every six months.
  8. The author and/or publisher is actively seeking film or television opportunities as well as foreign translation opportunities.
  9. The publisher has placed the book(s) in the major marketplaces and channels of distribution, has priced the book in alignment with the category, and has produced the book in the demanded product forms (print and ebook at a minimum).
  10. The book wins a legitimate award or receives significant endorsements or accolades.
  11. The author is putting out content that entices readers to read the whole book and invites readers into the story

What doesn’t work well for fiction:

  1. Paid print advertising.
  2. Paid television or radio advertising.
  3. Paying a publicist.
  4. Sending press releases.
  5. Most SEO-oriented pay-per-click or (worse) pay-per-impression advertising.
  6. Most Facebook ad boosts. (If the author has a medium to large following, boosts can help)
  7. Most blog tours. (unless the author finds very relevant blogs and is choosy)
  8. Most BookBub or other free giveaway campaigns. (we’re still trying to figure out how this might work for our authors, but so far it hasn’t done much)
  9. Most book signings at Barnes and Noble or other big chain stores.

Marketing activities for 2019

Last month I covered our plans for imprint-specific author meetings and marketing activities. We’d like to pull together each imprint’s authors about twice a year. I had initially thought we could do this quarterly, but we just can’t handle that many meetings! Rather than two meetings per month, we will be focusing on one imprint per month.
So, we have the Hellbender Books meeting scheduled for next week and I am really looking forward to helping the imprint get some traction. This being a smaller group, it also provides a model we can experiment with regarding these meetings and what is possible. I will report back on what we discussed and decided.
In the meantime, we are currently negotiating increasing our Cision contract to include global media contacts — not just US. Many of our books are selling in Europe, Australia, and other far-flung places. I know our Amsterdam book would perform better if the Dutch and British media were aware of it. The key question is whether or not we will see sales growth in these places due to more media outreach. We also need to be able to actually use the tool and make the effort. In other words, paying for a tool you don’t use is wasted money! I will let you know where we land.
In recent weeks we are seeing an uptick in collaboration among authors. This is great! Specifically, the most helpful thing you can do is review each other’s books. You can post your review online. If it is in a longer form, we can always post it as a blog entry. Ideally, we can find some snippets for the book’s product page or cover. There is also the side benefit of being able to mention your own work, though we recommend this is done subtly.
If you purchase the other author’s book from Amazon, you will be able to enter a review as a verified purchase. This seems to carry a little more weight than unverified reviews. You can also purchase the books from the Sunbury Press store and use your author (A50) discount — yes — you can buy any of our books at your discount. So, why not throw another author’s book on your next order and do your colleague a favor?
Last, but not least, contests are top of mind as we enter the new year. I personally was nominated by SABR for the Larry Ritter Award regarding my recent baseball biography of Eddie Plank. I was surprised by the nomination and immediately complied with their request for copies. I have no idea who nominated the book — someone at SABR — but I am honored to even have the chance. (I am nearly 100% sure I will not win!) Many of you have asked about contests over the years. You are always welcome to enter contests you think you have a chance to win. We will support you if the contest requires the publisher to enter. We try to avoid contests that have fees. Usually these are set up to be money makers for the organizers and have little marketing value. It seems the best contests — the most meaningful — only require copies to be sent. Of course, from time to time, we, as publisher, nominate your books for awards. You might not always know this.
This year, I’d like to set up something different — something more formal and with better tracking. We will be discussing this in our imprint meetings, but there is no reason to wait until then. Here is what I am asking — if you are aware of a contest that might be of benefit to you or one of our other authors, please send me the link. We will be developing a master list of contests and the schedule associated with them. Rather than an ad hoc activity, we will incorporate this into our planning.