Quality, Marketing, Money – You need at least two of the three to publish a commercially successful (profitable) book.
Quality refers to the quality of the book itself. Is it well written? Does it have an appealing cover? Has it been well edited? A book being well written is simply not enough to make it a commercial success. You may have written the best book in the world, but if the book is not available where people normally buy books and no one has heard of it. You will not sell very many copies. This was true when large publishing companies controlled distribution and it is still true in the age of the eBook where everyone has access to distribution.
Marketing describes the set of activities that one engages in to develop and sell a product to a consumer. For an author this includes; identifying the target audience, determining the book’s sales price, promotion, advertising, and more. Often writers do not ask a very basic question: Is there an audience for my book? A careful examination may reveal that there are not enough potential buyers for the book or the or the effort to reach them would be too costly to make your book a financial success.
Even if there is a market for their book, many writers lament that they have exhausted all of their funds producing the book and do not have the any money left for promotion or advertising.
An author with a ready-made audience, a marketing platform, or a willingness and personality to hit the road and meet with booksellers, book clubs, and sell books out the truck of their cars have an advantage. However most people don’t have the ability or time to aggressively hand sell their books.
Marketing by itself is not enough to generate a successful book. Even if you have have correctly identified a large audience of potential readers and no other competing books; if you book is poorly written or you have no money to execute your marketing plan. You book is dead in the water.
Money, authors with a great deal of it can hire professionals to perform many of the tasks necessary to make a book a success. They can buy advertising on all media platform, they can hire writers and book doctors to turn a mediocre manuscript into a potential best seller.
Money does not have to mean hard currency. Some writers have non-monetary capital that is the equivalent of millions of dollars. They may have powerful and influential friends, or they many have been recommended by Oprah.
Again, as with the other two points money alone is not enough to make a book a financial success. If there is no one interested in the story or subject, or the money is spent unwisely, the book will not likely make any money.
Troy’s Triangle at Work
Over the last few years as changes in the publishing industry have accelerated many in the industry have blamed one thing or the other for poor books sales. Whether it was the loss of independent book stores, the growth of the Internet, the bankruptcy of the super brick and mortar store Borders, increased competition from self-published authors, or the explosive growth of eBooks; everyone from self-published authors to major publishing houses have seemingly lost sight of some very basic business principles.
How Mediocre Books Succeed
Often I hear complaints from people about the success of mediocre books. Using “Troy Triangle” we can see that a book with ample financial resources and marketing behind it can do quite well. There are many examples of poorly edited self-published books that have had moderate success due to strong marketing and investment of financial or equivalent resources.
Interestingly, this also explains why those very same self published books fail miserably when they are published by a major house. The marketing strength behind the book goes away as the author expects the publisher to pick up where they left off and publisher expects the author to continue “hustling”.
Sure, the publishing environment is rapidly changing, but business principle rarely change.
Here is another thing to keep in mind:
The vast majority of book buyers are rational consumers
- Buyers will usually seek the lowest price. Sure store location, reputation of seller, shipping costs, delivery time, convenience are factors in the buying decision, but all things being equal buyers want the cheapest one and therefore price is a major factor.
- Consumers buy books they actually want to read (or own). If someone does not like poetry they are not not going to buy very many poetry books.
- Your book must be available where people actually buy books. If the world is embracing eBooks, then your book better be available where eBooks are sold.
Finally I rank the importance of the three points as follows:
If I had to pick two, I would pick Quality and Marketing. If you have a really good book and an effective marketing plan, you have a great chance of having a profitable book.
Money can be wasted on poorly placed advertising, national tours to poorly attended signings, paying print of demand companies who force you to set you book’s sales price too high, and so much more.
But don’t get me wrong, money spent wisely is a tremendous benefit. Again, if I only had to componets of “Troy Triangle” I would prefer to have a quaility book and a good marketing plan to help me efficently connect with potential readers.
The unfortunate reality is that the vast majority of books published are severely deficient in all three categories and, as a result, are doomed to failure – right out the gate.
Of course the sweet spot of publishing success would be to have all three in great quantities, but the reality is that most of us do not have infinite resources and we have to make trade-off in our business decisions. Again, my position is you better have at least two of the three points on “Troy’s Triangle” covered before you expect your published book to become profitable.
In today’s environment where over 3 million books were published in 2010; there is an unprecedented amount of competition. Adhering to some very basic business principles is even more important than ever.
Here is to your success!
1 – New Providence, NJ – May 18, 2011 – Bowker, the global leader in bibliographic information, released its annual report on U.S. print book publishing, compiled from its Books In Print® database. Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that despite the popularity of e-books, traditional U.S. print title output in 2010 increased 5%. Output of new titles and editions increased from 302,410 in 2009 to a projected 316,480 in 2010. The 5% increase comes on the heels of a 4% increase the previous year based on the final 2008-2009 figures.
The non-traditional sector continues its explosive growth, increasing 169% from 1,033,065 in 2009 to an amazing 2,776,260 in 2010. These books, marketed almost exclusively on the web, are largely on-demand titles produced by reprint houses specializing in public domain works and by presses catering to self-publishers and ”micro-niche” publications. Read the entire Bowker Press release: http://aalbc.it/3mbooks
2 – I’m well aware that a great many writers publish books without a profit motive. This article was written for people interested in making money with their books.
3 - “Troy’s Triangle” is based upon a model I learned about while taking a computer design course over 20 years ago. The triangle in this case was called “Truman’s Triangle”. The three corners of “Truman’s’ Triangle were labeled “Fast”, “Cheap” and “Good”. The idea was that if you were going to design a computer the engineering tradeoff was that you could only pick two characteristics – you could not have all three.
Your computer network could be “Cheap” and “Fast”, but it would not be “Good”. Similarly you could build a computer network that was “Good” and “Fast”, but if would not be “Cheap”.
In “Troy’s Triangle” you can have all three and that will virtually guarantee a successful book, but it is increasingly rare in today’s environment.