Sunday, 1 January 2012

Have You Sold Enough? The Book Sales Saga.



No point beating about the bush- How many copies of your books have you sold so far? What's the future of your book seems like? What plans have you followed in ascertaining that you and your book meet a fair number of readers? How helpful has been your publisher?


 All the writers who read this blog currently and those who'll stumble upon this in near future ( or a distant one) will not generally like what I have to say in this post. Of course this doesn't apply to ‘established’ authors writing in English in India. But again, can we not name those even faster than this sentence ends. Yes, merely a handful. That's exactly the point. Despite having one of the largest English-speaking populations in the world our English writers sell poorly. Not that there is a dearth of talent and creativity in India.

Chetan Bhagat may be the master of controversy but not necessarily one of the best literary artists we have presently.(No offence meant Chetan). Sales figures tell a different story. Any lessons? I'll point you to some-
  • ·         His books are very accessible- in terms of price, content (both the language and subjects explored), and, size.
  • ·         He gets out and builds his own brand.( let’s not even start the ‘3 idiots’ and other controversies)

A lot of books and manuscripts that I review that I generally don’t like on first instance  ,and, those that sell poorly have some things in common-

  • ·         Complex stuff- language, content and style of writing. Most first time authors feel like showing off their literary/linguistic prowess. KISS is a golden rule that applies here as well.
  • ·         Price- Bhagat’s books sells for an average of under Rs 100. You go to any book shop you’d struggle to find good books for a similar price. In India pricing matters.
  • ·         Author’s brand-  People don’t buy books, they buy a piece of the author. First-time and lesser known authors don’t sell well simply because of obscurity. You have to build a tribe behind you. And, unfortunately, your book alone cannot do it for you. So, get out there and connect.

How many of you have a cool author site? How many of you connect with your local media? How many of you go around organizing book signings? Have you ever done guest lecturing in colleges around you? How many blogs do you read and contribute to everyday?

If you seriously think your publisher is responsible to make things happen, you are solely responsible for sending your book inventory back to the paper mill.
If you think we are talking about sales-figure alone, you are missing the point. It’s about brand ‘you’ as an author.
So, how many books have you sold in last 6 months? What have you done to improve your brand? Let’s be honest.

3 comments:

SURY said...

So, what does a new author, whose books have not sold a single copy do? Advice please.
vssury@rediffmail.com

Hersh Bhardwaj said...

Sury,

I'll start by asking the questions I have asked in the post---
what have you done so far? What do you intend to do?
See ,I am trying to attack that mindset of authors which believe that 'selling' is someone else' job( maybe publisher's).

So, what have you done so far? Have you been looking for ways to spread your brand online/offline?

Sana Rose said...

The fact is in today's book industry, the author is the real seller. My publisher was basically a marketing company which just began a small publishing department. And they were marketing experts. And always had tips to the authors. And the points Hersh included in this post are the same ones the American marketers advised too.
The online marketing is a huge power area. My book hasn't sold much because of the issue of its cost. The imported editions are pretty costly for an Indian reader. Especially when it's poetry. But the small number of copies I sold were because of my sole effort, I'm proud to say.
And I have hopes that that wouldn't be the case if my book is a novel and if they are published in India. I have more than 300 people on my fan pages. But what we have to keep in mind is that even half of these members won't read our stuff. That's the hard truth of it. But there has been improvement of course.
But still, I have made better plans like republishing my first book in India as a low cost edition with improvements in the content, so that its affordable to the mediocre groups. And I have already started campaign for my next poetry book on social networks, though it's only in edits.
These things are actually easy to do. And my blogging has got me a few buyers too. The publishers don't do marketing for poetry books. It's as simple as that.

As far as fiction is concerned, even then, the authors are required to build up followers.
Chetan Bhagat's strategies might have been successful but his books have clearly disintegrated the reading standards of Indian Youth. I never read him, to be frank.
But what he does to reach his readers are good plans. He didn't pass IIM for nothing.

We have to meet more people - in media, in networks and all. I have an interview booked at another blog that has a huge number of followers. A poem from my book has already been posted there. And I built a good friendship with that blogger from UK and it's good to know what's going on around the world in the books department. :)And a local newspaper is giving a write-up about me and my book. It took some time and much contact between people to get this around. But in the end, it pays off.

In another time and place, authors used to think they only had to write and the publishers marketed their books. It was true for their time. But today, the authors step out for themselves. Book-signings, visits, meetings, speeches etc. The publishers distribute the books, but the books sell, because the authors have done their homework before and after publishing a book. They are their own brands.
It's not about being known by everyone. It's about being read. When we read the name Arundhati Roy, everyone knows that person, that she wrote one novel and won the Booker prize in '97 and even those who don't read books have heard about her. But when I say the name Kristin Hannah, only her readers know her. That's what is a brand. And the fact is her readers WAIT for her books.
But Chetan Bhagat has managed to attain both. I won't agree that he is a writer, but he is a good story teller and a good marketer. But good writers must be ready to do what he has done for his books. Making noise is much needed. And it is wrong to believe that a writer can only write the book, not the fate of the book. The book is written when it's written. The fate of the book is written before, while and after writing the book.