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The Author Business

by Mary Morris, Co-author of Web Page Design

Being an author is a lot like going into business for yourself. Like any other business, everyone isn't successful.

MLMs can claim that they have more millionaires than any other business strategy (including Microsoft). However, 90% of the people that take on an MLM business fail or drop out.

According to ActivMedia, only about a third of all web businesses are successful. Sheila Danzig says 95% of all direct mail businesses fail.

By the same token, new businesses fail pretty regularly too. However, in the case of a large corporation, new businesses don't get spun off until they are already a success. Thus, you can't accuratly measure the success rate of new parts of large corporations. I'll bet that their figures are just as dismal - just better hidden.

By the same token, authors that sign up with big publishing houses aren't guarenteed success either. You do get someone else to take care of the production items and deal with distribution headaches, but most authors aren't given marketing treatment until they have proven themselves.

Being an author requires the same things that it does in any other medium. An audience that is aware of the product or service that the business is offering. A demand or need for that product (creating demand is often harder than filling a current need). And most importantly, the sales channel used is the optimal way for the buyer to acquire the product or service.

I am an author. Authors (like many other businesses) rarely make much money. A rough ball park figure would be that the average technical book author sells about 10,000 copies of a book over its lifetime. An author usually makes about 8-12% of the wholesale (not retail) cost of a book (Wholesale cost is ~45-65% of retail - Thus a $30 book wholesales at $13.50-$19.50) Thus the author can get as little as $1.08 to as much as $2.34 per book. 10,000 copies of a book will therefore net $10,800 - $23,400. Thus the average author is a success when they break the $10,000 marker. Of course, most of us can't live on $10,000 so we have a day job.

Now getting a really successful book is a one in a thousand occurrence. You are competing against 50,000 other new books for that year, and over a million older books. Of course the fact that the average bookstore only stocks about 50,000 titles doesn't help either. A Barnes and Noble superstore stocks more like 100,000 books, but trust me, it takes forever to actually get a book through their distribution channels and into the store.

Anyway, to have a really successful book requires many things. Trust me here, I speak from experience. (I've had one bestseller and two "average" books to my credit - I'm learning to tell the difference). Of the things that are required are:

  • Unique selling point - You MUST be differentiated from the crowd. A minor differentiation doesn't count, you must be an order of magnitude different. Take a look at the number of web books on the market if you want to know what I am competing against.
    Note: As an author it behooves you to do some market research before embarking on any book project. Figure out where your book will be shelved. Take a look at the competition and try to find ways to make your book stand out at a glance.
  • The willingness to do what it takes to generate awareness. Authors that sit back and let the publisher do the marketing rarely ever make the bestseller list. Promotion will set you apart from the others. If I have learned anything, book signings alone will not be enough promotion. Serious aggression is called for here.
    Note: There is a book called 1001 Ways to Market Your Book - I recommend it highly for anyone promoting any business, not just selling a book
  • The ability to build upon your successes rapidly. I blew it in the HTML market. I had a book equal to Laura LeMay's albeit for a different audience. I failed to follow up with another book within 9 months and became a has-been. I failed to revise my book as often as she did. (She has 6 revisions to my 2) I had a wonderful early lead and now I am toast.
  • Early leadership - Laura, myself and only two other people could have been contenders for the big stuff because we were the early ones out of the gate. None of the later folks can gain as much mindshare. I'm not crazy enough to stay in the same market anymore, I'll never hit that peak again. So I'm moving to a new area of book writing.

It's important to note here that I'm not quitting writing. I have another book coming out in March called Cybercareers. I'm going to market this book really well, and make another bestseller.

It is possible to do great things, but it is up to you to make them happen. The day you put the book to bed, is the day you really start working, not the day you stop -- at least it is if you want to sell many copies.

Mary E. S. Morris, Author of HTML for Fun and Profit, Web Page Design: A Different Multimedia, Solaris Implementation: A Guide for System Administrators



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