Published Once, Sold Forever After

Successfully articulating the publication of a big book is the test of good publishing, involving the ability to keep in one’s head not only the numbers and their daily fluctuation but the harmonious synchronizing of publicity, manufacturing, advertising, and sales—departments often run as independent fiefdoms.


As publishers shepherd books from writers to readers, they face the challenge of sustaining the enthusiasm of the editors who convinced the house to buy the books. Your book will be sold many times as it makes its way to your readers.

  • You are the first person to sell your book. First you sell yourself on the idea for it.
  • Then you pitch the idea to your professional networks for feedback.
  • Then, assuming you want an agent, you send your proposal or manuscript to prospective agents.
  • Your agent sells your book to a publisher.
  • To buy your book, editors must first sell it to others in the house whose support they need.
  • The editors use that support to sell your book at the house’s weekly editorial meetings. Depending on the makeup of the editorial board, your editor may need to convince the house’s publicity people, sales and marketing staff, and executive officers to take a chance on your book.
  • Your editor meets with the sales and marketing departments to decide on the size of the first printing and the marketing plan that will be presented at sales conferences and in the catalog.
  • Your editor presents your book to the publisher’s sales rep at a sales conference. This may be done via a Web conference to save the cost of bringing the reps and in-house staff together.
  • The sales reps return to their territories and use the publisher’s catalog to sell your book to independent booksellers. Special reps sell to the chains, the two largest wholesalers—Ingram and Baker & Taylor—and other large customers.
  • Pre-publication reviews in periodicals such as Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews sell your book to libraries.
  • The art director decides how best to create your book’s hardcover jacket or paperback cover to sell your book to bookstore browsers.
  • The production department creates or farms out the design of the interior of your book. The goal is to come up with the most effective design, paper stock, and typeface for selling your book.
  • The subsidiary rights department tries to sell the publisher’s subsidiary rights, such as book clubs, first- and second-serial rights, and film and foreign rights. If your agent has retained any of these rights for you, your agent, usually helped by co-agents, will try to sell them.
  • The publicity department decides how they will publicize your book to the media, which helps to sell your book to the public.
  • When your book is published, booksellers sell it to their customers. Where your books are stocked in bookstores and whether they’re shelved face-out or spine-out makes a big difference. Independent booksellers use shelf-talkers—handwritten notes taped to the shelf below the book—to push the staff’s favorite books.
  • For literary books, especially novels, the eagerness of independent booksellers to hand-sell books can make the difference between a failure and a best-seller. Competition from the chains and online booksellers is destroying this path to success by putting independents out of business, at the rate of three a week.
  • The first group of readers reads your book, and if they love it as passionately as you want them to, they sell everyone they know on reading it. Through the comments they write for online booksellers, your readers can also help sell your books online.

The ultimate challenge your book faces is arousing enough passion in your readers that their recommendations cause whoever hears them to buy your book, swelling the size of your unofficial but unstoppable word-of-mouth sales force.

Best-selling authors have an army of such readers. That’s why they’re best-selling authors. The most clever, heavily financed promotion campaign can’t make a book sell if it doesn’t provide the benefit—whether it’s information or entertainment—that book buyers expect.

If your books don’t require revisions, you only have to write them once. But because of the endless book chain between you and your readers, your books will continue to be sold.

Even after books go out of print, libraries continue to lend them, and used bookstores and online booksellers continue sell them. Print-on-demand publishing can continue to make books available around the world until a better technology comes along.

Reprinted from “Rick Frishman‘s Author101 Newsletter”
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