Unlike the record industry, the book industry is extremely tight-lipped about the number of sales it makes. As a result we have little data on which to estimate our own future sales.
Because publishers and bookstores are so secretive, I suggest we start with a conservative rule of thumb that community organizers employ—if you get one-percent of your potential audience to buy your book, you’ll be doing well.
Get two percent to purchase it, and you’ve done great!
Imagine you’re at the library researching the book you’ll write and market. For example, we’ll use our hypothetical cookbook, Croatian Cooking for Catholic Holidays; Meals for Family and Friends to Enjoy Together.
Perhaps you’ve started by gathering a list of Catholic churches in Croatian neighborhoods from a directory or other kind of reference book or database. While you’re in the library, look too at US census or other kinds of statisical compendiums for data about the populations in your local area—and for the country as a whole. Many libraries, even smaller ones, have US government documents depository collections that might aid your search.
Estimate how many prospective buyers your book might have (i.e., in the case of our hypothetical cookbook, buyers might be Christians or people of Croatian descent). Then figure out how many of them one or two percent would amount to.
This figure will give you some idea of the size of the potential market for your book. If you need help finding statistics or other information about potential buyers of your book ask librarians at the reference desk for ideas.
Your research should also give you a picture of your potential advertising and marketing expenses. That information can help you make the final decision about which format(s) you wish to use for your book, and format(s) in turn will affect costs of distributing your book.
Here’s a mistake to avoid – don’t just look at only one type of cost to create your book budget!
Look at all of your costs of creating, distributing, and marketing your book, as well as the cost for your own labor if you do any production or promotion of your book yourself in addition to the cost of your labor in writing it.
A book format that may seem inexpensive could turn out to run you a lot more than you expected. So, be sure to consider all the ways you will promote your book before deciding upon a format.
For example, ebooks are much less expensive and time-consuming than print books to produce and distribute. But if you’re giving a lot of book talks to groups to promote your book, you may prefer the cachet of authority that a print book gives you.
You may also want the immediate sales you can make by having your print book on a table in the back of the room when you give a talk.
On the other hand, if you have a Croatian cookbook for sale, you might find that a free downloadable PDF booklet with just a few of your recipes just might give potential buyers enough of a taste to induce them to buy a hardback version of your cookbook. Just remember that the PDF (and the web site that advertises it) is free for them, but not for you.
You will need a web or blog site and/or newsletter to promote your PDF booklet. In addition, you’ll find that a shopping cart, such as e-junkie or DPD: Digital Product Delivery makes your “sales” of your free PDF easier. These sites will charge you a small fee per transaction or a monthly amount.
In addition, you could have additional expenses for promoting your cookbook with your free booklet if you also offer it through a newsletter you publish using a newsletter subscription service such as MailChimp or AWeber. Or if you “sell” your free gift on Facebook. Or you use the PDF as part of a targeted direct-mail campaign to businesses and other organizations likely to be interested in the book.
Even if you use Twitter to distribute your free PDF recipes, you might need to use Twitter management systems like Tweepie or Hootsuite. These cost money as well. And then there is the cost of the time you’ll need to spend to identify the promotional services that will be best for distributing your booklet.
If you need help with costs, look for a freelance professional to assist you with your budget. If you haven’t read it yet, please see my article, “How Much Will it Cost?” for reasons to hire professionals.
NOTE: Once you’ve created a budget for your book, you’ll be ready to consider the question, “Pricing Your Book Yourself?”