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Episode 19, Part 2: No One Sells a Million Books…

September 1, 2012

Steve Scholl, founder of Ashland, Oregon’s White Cloud Press, began the seminar by delivering his resume. 25 years in the business of books: publisher, book agent, editor—a publishing pro. He asked each of the attendees to state their genre, topic, and experience. First attendee: Writing teacher and coach, 1 published book, women’s issues, 10 years. Next: Poet, 5 years. And it continued on…poet, fiction, poet, poet, fiction, self-help; 10 years, 5 years, 4 years, 15 years. Then it came to me. Genre: How-to. Topic: Dating and relationships. Experience: 8 months. I was only non-writer in a room filled with experienced writers.

Steve then proceeded to tell us about the harsh realities of the publishing world:

  • Publishing is a business. If you don’t make money, you’re out of business.
  • Publishers don’t print poetry books. It’s a super-saturated genre, therefore making money is impossible. That single statement deflated at least half of the attendees.
  • Unless you’re already well-known, it’s unlikely your fictional book will find a publisher. Fictional works require a book agent to pitch the book to publishers and you probably won’t land an agent if you’re an unknown. That probably killed the remainder of the group.
  • *If* you happen to find a publisher for your book, the economic realities are poor. Most books sell an average of 800 copies. If you happen to sell 4,000, you’ve done extraordinarily well. You might even make a little money. Forget selling a million. No one sells a million copies. It’s a unicorn. Yes, it happens…and you probably have better chances of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning.
  • A book gets sold 4 times in the publishing chain. The author sells the book to the publisher. The publisher sells it to the distributor. The distributor sells it to the bookstore. And, finally, the bookstore sells it to the consumer. The author’s cut of a $16 final price ends up being around 73 cents.
  • With these economics, a book must support some larger purpose. It must build a platform for some other business. If you’re writing a book on yoga, the book’s purpose should be to increase your yoga business. If you’re a public speaker, the book must be written in a way that increases your speaking engagements. A book is essentially a very expensive business card.
  • Your business platform must be synergistic with the book. The book must sell the business and the business must sell the book.
  • Whatever your subject matter is, it must cater to a large audience. Still, you won’t sell a million books.
  • Yes, you can certainly self-publish, but there is a stigma. The quality standards of self-publishing are lower. It’s great that everyone can publish, but not everyone who does publish, should. With the economic realities, the hurdle to traditional publishing is much higher. Content will be better, quality will be higher; therefore credibility will also be higher. If you require credibility, then traditional publishing is the only way.

    As I looked around, it was obvious that Steve’s laundry list of barriers to publishing was throwing daggers into the hearts of most of the other projects in the room. In my mind I was screaming, “yes.. Yes…YES!” Steve’s laundry list was perfectly aligned with what I already had planned, before I even started to write the book. I was certainly not omniscient, it just happened to work out that way. Call it kismet, fate, destiny–whatever it was–it all seemed to point at our project that day. Even the other attendees were pulled into the energy of our book. One by one they asked about the project and by the end of the day, it seemed to be the topic of the room.

    As part of the seminar, Steve had set aside the following day for private consultations; authors could meet with him for one-on-one guidance. Being that I wasn’t even sure I was going to attend, I had not reserved a private session. By the end of the day, I wished I had. Destiny, however, was still in our court. As everyone departed, one of the other attendees stepped up and said, “I’m never going to be published. Would you like my spot for tomorrow?” Absolutely! Then the organizer came over and said that another timeslot had become available which just happened to be adjacent to the appointment I had just received. Two consecutive timeslots!

    Judy was flying home that night. I couldn’t wait to tell her what had happened.

    Click here Episode 19, Part3: …but you just might!

    1. Talk about the right place at the right time!!!

      • You are aboslutely right! One of the key components of business is being at the right place and time with the right product. Timing isn’t everything, but it is certainly one very important thing.

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