Posts Tagged ‘book business’

Authors love women

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on June 23rd, 2011

Two fascinating articles on who drives books sales. Would love to see original reports.

September, 2010

I arrived back at work, along with 2,000 e-mails and about that many incoming books, I got a report from Bowker, a global firm that tracks people’s book-buying habits. Here are some of the more interesting bits from 2009:More than 40 percent of Americans over the age of 13 purchased a book; the average age of the American book buyer is 42.

Women make 64 percent of all book purchases, even among detective stories and thrillers, where they buy more than 60 percent of that genre. [see, they act all touchy feeling, but most women like to see someone kick hiney. Except I suspect a lot of that 60% is driven by mysteries; or are there a lot of women that like, say, Lee Child?]

Thirty two percent of the books purchased in 2009 were from households earning less than $32,000 annually. A fifth of those sales were for children’s books.

The biggest nonfiction genre is biography and autobiography.

Whoa. Go gals.

June, 2011

Surprise, surprise: the hardcore power users in the eBook world are the same demographics as the hardcore power users in the physical-book word, as a report called Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading from the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) indicates both hardcore groups are dominated by women buying fiction.

No surprise, really. The BISG says most eBook power buyers – that is, someone buying an eBook at least once a week — are by and large women (some 66 percent), who mostly buy fiction. Out of the entire eBook market, power buyers make just 18 percent of all buyers, but they buy 61 percent of the eBooks. [Holy crap! 18% are driving the sales–who are these people?! Of course, this is just the old 80/20 rule showing its face again.]

In terms of exactly what is selling: literary fiction, science fiction and romance lead the way, each with over 20 percent of the market. [Go SFF!! and those are not the normal breakdowns, SFF is usually under 10%] Overall, eBooks comprise 11 percent of the total book market, with 13 percent of print book buyers also downloading eBooks.

That evolution of the market isn’t surprising: early gadget adopters tend to be men, but as eReaders become more mainstreams, its userbase logically would look like the book market as a whole. And that’s exactly what happened: If women buy 64 percent of all books, it’s no surprise they’re buying 66 percent of all eBooks. [Except I think you got your math wrong; they’re 66% of power buyers. You didn’t say what report said of total sales]


Seems women have been driving entertainment in a lot of ways for a long time. Watch a few minutes of this interview with Hitchcock back in 1964.



How libraries select books

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on September 24th, 2009

Back in May I wrote about a Gallup survey that shed some light on how US adults select books to read. That poll revealed that book reviews only play a role 7% of the time with readers. The most important things to readers are prior experience with an author and recommendations from someone they know.

But there’s another important block of buyers that don’t buy the same way. In fact, for them reviews are KING.

Who are these buyers?

Public libraries.

And the library market isn’t small. According to  a fascinating Library Journal article, “there are more than 9,000 in the US, and that’s not counting branches.” Furthermore, “library purchases account for over ten percent of the $27 billion industry (excluding print textbooks for K–12 and higher ed). In contrast to consumer buying, which relies on discretionary dollars, the library market remains a consistent sales channel for publishers.”

When looking at how many books average authors sell and what it takes to make a living writing, it becomes very apparent that libraries can have a huge effect on a midlist writer’s career.

Of course, we all know there’s more to it than sales. The article points out:

Libraries are far more than a market, however. Libraries create readers. They are the test bed, the petri dish for books, a place where people can discover a passion for reading as children and indulge it as adults and where passionate readers can sample new authors. Librarians are the ultimate handsellers of books (though they call it readers’ advisory), and increasingly they put their considerable technical skills into making library web sites rich interactive social networks for book lovers.

I love libraries for this very reason. And because there’s no way I could purchase all the books I read. No way in heck. So how do they find the books for their collections? I mentioned above that they used reviews. But I didn’t know how much until I saw the data. Holy schnitzel (click on the graphic to see it full size).


This only makes sense. Study after study has shown that buyers don’t want unlimited choice. Readers use prior experience and recommendations from people they know to manage the chaos. Libraries use reviews and then patron recommendations. Of course, this use of reviews has other implications as shown below.

I get a lot of requests from self-published authors asking me to buy their books, and I have to explain that with limited resources and only so much space on the shelves, we have to go with books that are reviewed, that have been professionally edited. With nearly half a million books published each year—maybe half of them self-published, and most of those pretty awful—I just don’t have time to go beyond trusted sources. This usually doesn’t go over well.

About 9 months ago I wrote about how cumulative advantage can drive product popularity–products that get early positive notice tend to get more notice. It appears that cumulative advantage is at work again. It’s just that with libraries the method isn’t a download counter. The article’s author concludes, “the best way to reach the library market is indirectly: by publishing books that people want to read and having them assessed objectively in reviews.”

So what are the major sources for pre-publication book reviews? The article lists five big ones:

  • Booklist
  • Kirkus Reviews
  • Library Journal
  • Publishers Weekly
  • School Library Journal

But what can an author do with this information? Authors can’t control reviews. Heck, according to the article the Library Journal itself only reviews about 10% of the books they receive.

We all know the answer. Authors can control one thing: they can strive to write the best holy freaking heck book in their power. After all, what’s a review but a recommendation? Besides, patron recommendations were #3 on the librians’ list anyway. Nevertheless, it DOES help to have a publisher who sends your book out to the reviewers and their catalogs out to libraries. It helps to have a team that’s connected with librarians.

The article ends by saying publishers and libraries are actually working together. I liked how the author summed it up.

What publishers offer:

  • Discovery of talent
  • Shaping and refining books
  • Design, distribution, marketing, and promotion

 What librarians offer:

  • Discovery of books
  • Nurturing of diverse reading communities
  • Selection, distribution, marketing, and promotion

Here’s to libraries! (And good reviews. And grandmas. And the little house trolls that give writers fabulous ideas.)

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How many copies do average authors sell?

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on August 29th, 2009
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I posted earlier about the sales number for best-selling authors. What about the average author?

Here’s Patrick Nielsen Hayden, an editor at Tor Books, in an interview on about the future effects of e-text on publishing:

io9: Does it make a difference to you if an author has an online reputation? Does that go into your decisions to acquire books?

PNH: Obviously it makes a difference if an author has a public online profile of some sort, even just down to the level of having a moderately popular blog. Most books sell 5, 10, or 15 thousand copies. Most are midlist books. With those people, even a modest online presence can make a difference in sales.

The whole interview is interesting. In fact, he says something that I think is important to note about what today’s novelists and, to a lesser degree, short story writers are actually providing:

One thing I’m sure of is that we’re [Tor Books] going to be in linear immersive narratives that produce the reading trance. We won’t be moving towards a “choose your own adventure” thing. People will do those things, but those are different art forms. There’s something about immersive text that you can read in order – it’s persisted through many technological changes. This fiction stuff works pretty well. It’s been around a long time

I think he’s right. The EXPERIENCE you get in the reader’s trance, similar to the one you get in a movie, is a strong experience. The media used to convey that experience doesn’t really matter as long as it makes it easy to get into the trance.

Check out the whole interview.

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Which cons should an aspiring author attend?

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on July 30th, 2009

You want to meet editors and agents. But how? Where?

Writing Excuses recently held a great podcast listing the types of events aspiring authors might want to attend–conventions, conferences, workshops, expos, etc. But knowing the types still doesn’t tell you which events to go to.

If you’re looking to meet editors and agents, here’s a way to figure out precisely which events you should attend.

1. Instead of taking a random scatter-shot approach, get some laser precision. Do this by first identifying the specific editors and agents you’re interested in. Then find out which events they’re going to attend. Forget all the other events–these are the ones you want to go to.

These folks will often post their schedule on their websites. The workshops, conferences, and conventions will also often post guest lists. You can also query the agency or publisher itself and ask which cons so-and-so will attend (just contact the receptionist, you don’t need or want to contact the editor or agent specifically).

Now even if you don’t know exactly who you’re interested in, you can still narrow down your focus. Event X might at least have some agents or editors attending (even if they’re not in your genre) while event Y does not. So go and see if you can’t get tips from those agents or editors

2. Research each of the events. Some provide meetings with editors, some provide pitch sessions, some will require you to track the person down. Select the events that look the most promising to you.

3. If you feel a bit nervous or shy, develop a short script for what you’ll say and how you’ll approach these folks. Or make a list of potential talking points. Run it by some friends and other writers to  make sure you don’t sound robotic, dweebish, pushy, or pleading.

You have to remember that agents and editors are looking for new talent constantly. If they don’t find new talent, their income stream soon dies. They want and expect people to find them. They WANT to talk to YOU. They just want to be approached in a friendly and business like way. 

So you have your script, talking points, and plans and will probably end up deviating from them. However, just having that in your head when you go to the con and approach the person you want to talk to (even if it’s only two sentences) can go a long way to calming your nerves.

4. Attend the con and make adjustments to your plan as necessary.

5. Don’t miss unplanned opportunities. Writing is sometimes a lonely business. When I go to cons I have folks I want to meet and catch up on. But I also make sure I engage other con goers. I smile, I say hello, I ask things like “so are you here as a writer or a fanboy?” or “what did you think about panel?” or “Your Klingon ridge is looking mighty today.” We chat.

I do it because I learn a lot from others and its just plain interesting. And sometimes you make an acquaintance that can develop into a working relationship. For example, I met Larry Correia (new author with Baen) at a local con I just attended. He had a fascinating  story about his breaking in. We chatted for a while. There was no ulterior business/network motive. Just a great conversation. A month or so later a business opportunity arose and I thought of Larry. He’s now going on tour with me and Dave Farland this fall.

Be flexible. I’ve been invited and have invited others to go do lunch or dinner. And those have always been great chats. And sometimes business ops have arisen later because of them. But even if they hadn’t, it just makes the experience so much better. Good conversation is its own reward.

6. If all of this is too scary, bring back up. Get a friend or family member to go with you. :)

And if you stumble a bit, maybe stutter, maybe even feel like you’ve made a fool of yourself, do not stress. It’s to be expected the first few times. No big deal. Most poeple are shy and will either give you a break or be so worried themselves they won’t notice. With a few tries you’ll learn. If yo do make a fool of yourself, the good thing is that editors and agents meet so many people that your face will soon be forgotten, and you’ll be able to reboot and approach them next year with a clean slate (just remember to not wear the same belly dancing costume).

Of course, this doesn’t tell you what to do and not to do when approaching these folks. But as far as deciding where to go, this is one method that works.

Added 7/31/09

SFWA has some great articles on conventions and networking by Diana Rowland.

How to Network at a Convention

Networking 201: How to Work a Room

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What does an author earn per book?

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on July 29th, 2009
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People are always curious about this, so I thought I’d post it and refer to my previous post about what kind of sales numbers it takes to make a living as a fiction author in the US. Of course, the royalty rates depend on what’s in your contract. Many contracts have sales volume break points. For example, an 8% royalty on the first 50,000 paperbacks sold, 10% on anything above that. But this should give you a good feel.

Earnings per book

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Is book marketing bad?

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on May 27th, 2009

At CONduit I spoke with an author friend who thought that marketing was indeed a bad thing, especially marketing for YA, because said author felt it didn’t build an audience based on the merits of the book. It built one based on hype and buzz.  Instead of buying a book because it delivered a wonderful experience, readers would be buying only because it was what everyone else was doing. Furthermore, publishers only have so much money, and by choosing to put the dollars behind some books, they choose to let other books, which might deliver a better experience, languish.

I understand wanting to build a readership that’s based on love, not hype. But what I think my friend is overlooking is that you can’t love something if you don’t try it. And you won’t try it if you don’t know it’s there. Marketing and PR help make sure people know the book is there.

Yes, some readers might try it the first time because it’s what everyone is doing. But if the book is really that good, i.e. it actually delivers a wonderful experience for the target audience, then those readers will come back for another serving. They might look initially because everyone else is, but they’ll stay for love.

One of my editors just forwarded a link to “Not Quite a PR Campaign” by Sherry Thomas. Lots of interesting details there about what she does for PR, but probably one of the most important ideas she shares is the fact that marketing & PR don’t build an audience. A great story experience does that. However, marketing & PR can get the book in the audience’s hands.

What we all want to happen is word-of-mouth. PR doesn’t really create word-of-mouth, love does. But readers won’t read a book until they know it exists. So then the point of a PR campaign, if a PR campaign has any point at all, is to create awareness and hope that awareness will translate into love, once a critical mass of readers have read and enjoyed your book.

Readers may miss many high quality (i.e. they deliver a great experience to the intended audience) books because the lion’s share of the publisher’s marketing budget is being spent on a small group of books, and the author who gets the leftovers just doesn’t have the cash or know-how to do it themselves. But that doesn’t mean marketing is bad. It means that getting a big marketing push is like any other lucky break or opportunity.

I just started reading Guide to Writing Fiction by Phillys A. Whitney (a huge seller in the 1970’s and 1980’s). It’s a wonderful, slim, down-to-earth volume. She opens the book with a chapter called “Opportunity is Like a Train.” She maintains that her success did not come from starting with loads of talent. In fact, she says her ability was “modest.” She certainly wasn’t as gifted as many other authors she’d worked with in the writing groups of her youth. Nor did it come from immediate initial success. It came from being ready when opportunity knocked. 

Of course, I have been lucky. I’ve had extraordinary breaks come my way–along with some pretty bad blows and disappointments. There’s been bad luck too, but that doesn’t always show. Good fortune and unexpected opportunities are always coming along. Perhaps opportunity is like a train on an endless track. Now and then it makes a stop at your station, often without fanfare, and without warning.

…What is important is not the lucky break, the stopping of the train–that’s only part of it. Life is full of trains that stop. What counts is what we are doing with our lives when there is no opportunity and not a train in sight.

James Dashner is someone who is getting a big promo budget from Random House this year for Maze Runner. A very big one. But if you read his story about how he got published (links to all nine parts of the story are in his sidebar) and what got him to this point, you’ll see this promo train was a long time coming. 

Meanwhile, if the big promo budget ever stops at my station, I’m going to hop on. Until then, I will keep writing the best stories I can and make my current marketing budget (part publisher, part mine) go as far as possible. I’ll do the one for the love, the other because I can’t share the love if nobody even knows it’s out there.

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