You Won't Sell a Lot of Books, But That's Totally OK
Last month’s release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman sold 1.1 million copies in its first week. Envious? Frankly, it wasn’t even that great of a book, according to many people. But it still set records.
The author’s only other book, To Kill a Mockingbird, was one of the bestselling books of all time and a beloved classic. But you were still probably envious, I’m sure. That’s because you'd liked to sell a million books too. You want to be a successful business author, see your face in magazine ads, appear on the Today Show and be feted by the literary world. You’ve got things to say and advice to give. You know stuff. You’re smart. Why not you?
Related: 7.1 Steps to Writing Your Book
Don’t be envious. You too can sell a million business books, just like Harper Lee. All you have to do is follow these three easy steps.
1. Be famous.
Have your own TV show or star in a bunch of movies. Serve as president of the U.S. (or be a close confidant to the president). Marry Kim Kardashian. Become a beloved baseball player or a successful pop star. Create a product or an industry and build a billion-dollar company, or become so addicted to a drug that your story of going in and out of rehab is crazy, fascinating and uplifting.
2. Have a huge audience.
As you do step 1, build a following of millions of people. Make sure that that you are so interesting and successful that these people will want to read whatever you write.
3. Time everything exactly right.
Release your book at the very height of your fame or tie it to the next economic recession or a big news event that hasn’t happened yet. You could become close friends with a famous author or someone high up in the publishing industry. Or maybe you can write about a famous person and arrange for his death around the time your book is published.
Got that? Great, I guess my work here is done. Go ahead, now you know what you need to know to sell a zillion books.
You don’t see yourself being able to accomplish any of the above steps? Then join the crowd. According to a Wikipedia entry, there are more than 300,000 books published in the U.S. alone each year, or a little less than a thousand books a day. That should give you an idea of what you’re up against. Only a fraction of a small percentage of these books become best sellers.
I’ve written six books and none of them have sold more than 20,000 copies each. Unless lightning strikes or I’m asked to take over for Jimmy Fallon, it is highly unlikely that I will ever retire on my book revenues. I’m barely able to pay for a year of my kid’s college with them.
Neither will you. You will never sell a lot of books. You will never be a successful author. Even if you’re fortunate enough to sell your book to a publisher, you’ll be one of hundreds of non-famous authors in their stable and the publisher is not going to spend a lot of time marketing your book unless lightning strikes. You’ll be forced to peddle it on your own without the resources to compete against the big boys. And if you decide to self-publish you’ll easily sink $10,000 to $15,000 into getting the book and its cover formatted professionally, edited, designed, photographed and registered.
But there’s good news: You can still make money from writing a book.
That’s because your book is a great marketing tool for your business. Writing a book is hard -- you have to spend many, many hours doing it and you have to be very disciplined and dedicated (not to mention spending a few bucks to self-publish if you go that route). This is why not many people (relatively) can write a book. It’s still a unique and respected thing to produce.
You may sell a handful of copies on Amazon. But your real money will be to use your book as a credibility platform to show current and prospective customers just how much of an expert you are in your chosen field. It is something your competitors don’t have. It sets you apart in the sales process. It reinforces your existing customers’ decision to work with you.
You can “give” it away at your company’s marketing events. You can create an image that you’re famous in your chosen field because you’ve written a book. And look, you and I know that no one bought it but let’s just keep that a secret between us, OK?
So go ahead, write that book. It’s not going to sell. But if you use it the right way, it can still be a huge benefit to your business.
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