This week I received an email from one of my clients, Chase Replogle, whose first book, The 5 Masculine Instincts: A Guide to Becoming a Better Man, released on March 1. I’ve asked his permission to share our email thread since he raised a question I’ve heard many times from clients after a book launches.
“There are so many good articles and conversations about getting a book published,” Chase wrote, “there needs to be some resources to help authors navigate those first few weeks after a launch. It’s hard to know what to think or expect.”
The Hard Parts of Book Launches
He then lists some of puzzling moments he encountered:
- “I’ve been asked multiple times every day how the book is doing. I have no clue how to answer that question.
- It can be hard to know what to work on because you don’t know what is working.
- In some ways it would be easier if you knew nothing about results, but it is confusing to navigate Amazon ranks, BookScan data provided by Amazon, review counts, etc.
I attempted to put Chase’s experience into a context to help him understand the weird landing authors experience when the book, at last, is offered to readers.
“All the activity you’re seeing are good signs about how the book is selling. The weird part of launching your book is that, after all that fanfare, everything gets very quiet. The author is left with almost a post-partum feeling…all that build up and suddenly it’s over? I’m left to care for the baby and get no sleep? No one is sending me regular updates on how well baby and I are adjusting?”
Seeing Your Book Launch in Context
For those of you who haven’t had a book traditionally published, you’re likely surprised that the release isn’t the most joy-filled moment imaginable. After all, the author has been working toward this goal for YEARS, if not decades.
As the book is being produced, the author is intensely involved with the publishing team–first the editing staff, then the marketing and publicity people. Plans are laid for how the publishing staff and the author will mutually promote the book. All eyes are fixed on the release date.
That’s followed by a flurry of orchestrated activity for the author–interviews, social media posts, writing articles and guest blog posts to promote the book, etc. Sometimes the author will have a book release party or a signing at a local bookstore. Friends and family celebrate with you.
But then they expect you to immediately know if the book is selling well. That’s when it gets awkward. As Chase noted, you don’t have an answer to the question: How’s the book doing?
Why an Author Doesn’t Know How the Book Is Selling
While how many copies a book has sold so far seems like a straightforward question, it actually isn’t. Here’s why.
First, for Chase, his publisher sends out royalty statements at the end of February and the end of August. With a March 1 release, that means Chase won’t see a report until August.
As I wrote to Chase, “That doesn’t mean, I hasten to add, that we’ll be left in the dark until the end of August. I can ask about book sales any time you get anxious to have some idea. Obviously we don’t want to ask every week, which would be super annoying to the accounting department, and we would see little change week-to-week.”
The Crux of Why It’s Hard to Know about Sales
But then I wrote about why even seeing a royalty statement early in a book’s life won’t bring a lot of clarity:
“The author needs to keep in mind that, even though the book sells well into retail outlets, those aren’t final sales. That’s the first sale the book needs to make; the crucial one is the next sale: to the customer.
“The first sale just means that the book is available for purchase. It takes about six months to know just how strong sales were because the retail outlets that bought several copies will return the ones that didn’t sell through to readers. After the first six months, the ding that comes with returns will mostly be accounted for.
When Does an Author Know if the Book Launch Succeeded?
Like almost everything in publishing, it takes a long time to know what the real sales. Ultimately a book’s first year pretty much determines what its future sales will look like–flash-in-the-pan bestseller with significant returns, strong seller that’s gaining momentum, strong seller that probably peaked in the first six months but still doing well, low sales from the get-go and now nothing is likely to move the needle. (There’s always the slow-builder, but that’s the vast exception rather than the rule.)
Why Selling a Book Is Complex
Obviously these are generalizations, but it gives you an idea of what happens after a book launches. Publishing is a complex business. Every book is a unique product. Millions of books are published every year. Yes, millions. Discerning how to make a book succeed isn’t a science; it’s an art. Ultimately, while a publisher knows how to smooth the road to success, no one knows how readers will respond to a book. Many unforeseen detours, potholes, and incorrect signage along the publishing road are part of an author’s experience. It can get bumpy and even downright erratic.
Final Thoughts on Book Launches
If a formula existed that would always–or even almost always–result in a book being successful, publishers would employ it for every book. No such formula exists. And if it did, the ever-shifting road conditions would require the formula be adjusted.
A writer needs to be able to embrace the mystery of book sales, or the unknown will be hard to bear.
What insight do you want to keep in mind as you press forward in your publishing venture?
What happens after a book launches? Click to tweet.
What to expect when your book launches. Click to tweet.