5 Questions to Ask Yourself After Hearing: We Can't Sell Enough to Justify Publishing It

I’m often asked what to do if editors/agents love your work, but
respond with a rejection saying that the market is too small. Here are
5 questions to ask yourself.

1. Is there a smaller publisher that
would be interested because they have a lower threshold of sales to
meet? Big houses may want to sell as many as 10-20K copies in the first
year to justify publication; smaller presses may be fine with 3-5K

2. Is it possible to make your subject/topic/book more
marketable by employing a sexier hook? Many times, writers aren’t
looking at their work with a marketer’s eye, which is understandable,
since most of us aren’t marketers. But think about how you might
interest a perfect stranger in your topic. Have you really tapped into
current trends and interests when it comes to your book project, and
are you framing it in an exciting way for a publisher (or agent)? Just
because you’re fascinated by your subject doesn’t mean other people
will get it. You have to know how to sell it.

I heard some excellent advice from Lisa Earle McLeod at the Foothills Writers Guild workshop last weekend, which she heard at the beginning of her career: Many
talented writers will never be successful due to mediocre marketing
skills. Many mediocre writers will be successful due to marketing

Need to brush up on your marketing skills and talent—in a way that’s authentic and makes sense for the new media world? Look to Seth Godin and Chris Brogan.

Do you have the platform to market and promote your book to the target
audience? If a publisher can be convinced that you have the power to
sell your book based on your reach to the primary readership of the
book, they’ll be more likely to take you on. What does a platform
consist of? Primarily:

  • Your online following (via your
    websites, blogs, social networks, newsletters, regular online writing
    gigs, podcasts, videocasts)
  • Your offline following (via
    professional or personal organizations, speaking engagements, events,
    classes/teaching, city/region presence)
  • Your presence in
    traditional media (writing that you do for newspapers/magazines, any
    coverage you’ve received, gigs with radio/TV)

You can find out more about platform building in Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz.

If the market is truly too small for a publisher to be interested, then
does it make sense to publish and market the work yourself? Especially
if you have a following or a way to reach your intended readership,
sometimes you can profit more by going this route. You can make work
available digitally through services such as Lulu and Smashwords, with little or no starting cost.

Does your work really deserve book or print treatment? Some nonfiction
topics actually work better when presented on blogs, websites, or
communities/forums—where an interactivity and ability to freshen up the
content at a moment’s notice has more appeal to your audience.

houses will only become less and less likely to take on very
niche/specialized work, because producing anything in print is a
significant investment and a significant risk, without knowing there’s
an audience waiting to buy. Even university presses, known for niche works, are moving their efforts to digital-only platforms.

will have to change their thinking about what it means to have a book
in print. It is not the first goal or the end goal, but merely one
channel, and not usually the best channel.

Photo credit: Zevotron

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0 thoughts on “5 Questions to Ask Yourself After Hearing: We Can't Sell Enough to Justify Publishing It

  1. Tony Comstock

    Everyone told us our first film was a distribution-proof curiosity. Seven years later, our first film is in its fifth pressing and still going strong, we’ve just released our sixth film, and we get "distribution offers" every other month or so, but none of these distributors can do for our films what we can do for them ourselves.

    If you believe in your book, make a thousand of them and see what happens!

  2. April L. Hamilton

    I believe that increasingly, yesterday’s midlist author is today’s indie (self-published) author.

    Now that big publishers can’t promise an as-yet-unknown debut novelist a sizable advance, a large promotion budget, nor even a spot on brick-and-mortar store shelves, the advantages of signing with a big imprint have dwindled to little but bragging rights. And if you *do* manage to land a book deal with the big boys, your book had better perform or you’ll have more trouble selling your second manuscript than you did selling the first.

    Publishers used to have a stranglehold on the brick-and-mortar distribution piece, but no more. Now that Amazon has eclipsed all other booksellers worldwide, chains like Borders and B&N are reducing in-store stock, and the returns-based business model of traditional bookselling doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, brick-and-mortar store presence is rapidly becoming an entirely optional proposition that stands to do your book (and royalty checks) as much harm as good.

    Authors finally have quality, affordable tools at their disposal to produce, distribute and promote their own work—often on a shoestring budget. Better yet, those who go the indie route retain control over their work and all publication rights as well. 10K copies sold in the first year is scarcely a break-even proposition for a big publisher, but for an entrepreneurial indie author who doesn’t have to cover a big publisher’s overhead costs, a book that sells 10K copies in its first year is a very profitable smash hit.

    Authors who’ve gone indie, or are considering doing so: come on over to Publetariat dot com, an online news hub and community for indie authors and small imprints.


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