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Best Sellers

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Best Sellers

A conversation about publishing would by nature always include a conversation about creating best sellers. As I understand, according to a great book called Book Business by industry icon Jason Epstein, publishing houses often take a bath on a major name or title as a way to boost the brand, making the bulk of income on the backlist and “smaller” titles. Two experiences come to mind: One, when I ran a small advertising business at startup we gave free ads to major names and it made our client list look great to have Outback Steakhouse and Dunkin Donuts on there. The dirty little secret was we didn’t charge them, at first. But we did get something of great value! And two, a registrar with a foundation I knew told me the great bulk of the moolah they gathered came from the ton of small donations from ordinary guys like me, and the big donors were sensational and encouraged others to give, but were actually a smaller part of the funding, albeit a vital part of the overall program.

But a small publishing house will need something sexy if it’s to get attention, I suppose, if one’s goal as a publisher is to sell the imprint. That’s not really the vision at Bimini just yet, in fact the vision is to watch talented authors grow and build platforms. Probably because Bimini sprouted from the seeds of writers first, publishers second. And I’m not in any way disparaging publishers! I am one! Kind of analogous to all the hooplah baseball players get in “the show” (the pros) and the slightly lessor known roles the support folk play, like coaches, managers, owners. If you’re in an industry you love doing something you love…

And the whole science of making best sellers comes down, really, to concentrating sales at launch. Heck, that’s why we have launches! Amazon lists are one thing but the New York Times and others are another. Amazon has lots of categories (hundreds) and the more major lists that are Neilson fed with data normally have only a few dozen. It can take apparently something like 5,000 sales in a week to spike up into a best seller list and as a result, get all the attendant attention that comes with that, and then feeds into more sales!

So it’s fascinating to watch it happen. Why don’t authors just quietly release books in the middle of the night, knowing their fans will get to it in the near future? Because of those algorithms, of course. And they snowball. It’s the art and science of publishing economics, which feeds publishers and writers alike, and makes names and so on. Most recently–very recently, like in these last few days–there’s a really amazing example. Whether you have a platform or not, you can help your book’s chances by connecting with someone who does. Well, Rand Paul, in the fresh, hot start of the political season, announced there would be news in the next few weeks that would take Hillary down, and that was about all he could say. Talk about a mystery! The news channels went pretty wild with it. Then it was announced that a new book was coming out, Clinton Cash by Peter Schweizer, that would show connections between large donations and Hillary’s choices as SOS. The tantalizing news was enough to capture anyone’s interest (unless perhaps if you’re a big Hillary fan, in which case you feel ire and/or wince), and I really don’t mean to get political here. In fact I bring it up simply because of the raw power of the sequence of events for the book! 

Of course, there’s a release date announced (May 5th, 2015), and the book is available for pre-order on Amazon, who is already touting the tome as a #1 Bestseller, before it’s been released. 

What can we learn from this? What if we, too, would like to have a bestseller? (1) Concentrate sales during a pre-announced launch week, and go wild creating mystery, attention, anticipation, and pre-sales leading up to that. The rest is tactics. If you have a base there are things you can do with them, and if you don’t have a base you can start building one at last off of the announced upcoming release. You can also start aligning with those who do have a base for some cross-pollination (I’m sorry, I love that term even more than “synergy”), and Rand Paul the week after he scolds two reporters isn’t bad, as an example, depending on your target audience of course.

Whether or not there is such a thing as “bad press” you will have to decide, and decide according to your brand and genre. There are plenty of examples of news stories where a cynic might attribute the occurrence to a lust for attention. Personally, I think it’s proportional in terms of risk and rewards. Anyone can and should build a base bit by bit, and not neglect to use books, your back list as well as news of new releases, to build it from. Big cannon publicity is a cost/benefit decision, and controversy and notoriety simply riskier, depending on your brand and your hoped for direction.

Personally, I would like to build more of a brand (of course) as a writer, so I’m deciding on a public figure to bio at present, and there are a few who I would have access to in ways, who are of great interest to me, and who would bring larger platforms for their stories. And let’s not neglect who have worthy stories to tell!

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Book Sales Broken Down (Early 2015)

Hey, this is pretty fascinating, if you ask me. When I started creating books for clients a few years ago my understanding was Amazon simply owned like 80 to 90 % of the e-book market, and print sales were rather untouchable for self-published writers. Therefore, the books we produced and helped other self publish were simply limited to creating a MOBI file with Calibre and uploading the thing to Kindle Direct Publishing, and kind of leaving it at that. There were instances where we would also create a print version of a book, depending on a client’s purposes, and generally went with CreateSpace, which I do still recommend if your intentions are limited because it’s very user-friendly and basically free to set up a book, save the effort and skills needed to create the proper PDFs but if you’re more serious it’s Ingram all the way).

In fact, if you look over the LIST currently published by me and under the Bimini imprint this is reflected: all are available on Amazon and some are available in print. Thus far I have used CreateSpace almost exclusively for print but all of this is about to change.

Fast forward from paragraph one to about a month ago, and on a weekly call with my colleagues at Perfect Analogy Publishing (another house I am involved in and excited about) it came up that book sales no longer broke down as only a few years prior. I had gleaned from somewhere (probably my regular emails from PW/Publishers Weekly) that print book sales accounted for about 42% (?) of all book sales, and Amazon’s e-book sales were growing, but they were losing market share. This means, of course, that more and more volume of e-books are being sold, but that Amazon was no longer the only game in town. I had previously, after reading David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital decided that given my current resources at the time and the fact that e-book sales outside of Amazon were scant, to simply focus on KDP alone until such a time as I had more resources (time especially, but necessity as well) or the market had changed. All eggs in one basket…

And it’s changed. A pure self-published author, as I understand, has no chance of being looked at by Barnes & Noble but a small publishing house–well, they have a whole division that handles those. And the percentages are shifting. What makes all of this really nice is to be on the other major platforms (iBooks, KOBO, B&N) all one need do is upload an EPUB file to Smashwords. SO here’s what I found out today about how book sales currently break down:

And behold, I give you Neilsen…

If you’re involved in writing or publishing for teens, though counter-intuitive, they seem to prefer print: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/dont-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-tech-savvy-teens-remain-fans-of-print-books.html

And according to PW, “E-books’ market share of new-book sales increased slightly in 2014 over 2013, while the share of all book sales made through online retailers and bookstore chains dipped in the same period (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/retailing/article/66048-e-books-gained-online-retailers-slipped-in-2014.html). It goes on to say that book sales right now seem to be divided as follows:

  • 15% e-book, on a slight rise
  • 70% print, on a slight decline

The article cited was printed only days ago. While one could conceivably make a nice living in e-books alone, cracking print sales would seem, well…   The problem is expense. Offset runs cost moolah. Uploading to KDP and Smashwords is practically free. But for Bimini, as with any fledgling publisher, print sales is clearly on the list for the near future. Deciding what titles to invest your time and treasure in for print comes down to one of the two basics that comprise an actual career as an author: platform and backlist, the real determining factor and predictor of success in print being platform.

Things are so different today. No longer does some publisher make a calculated risk on investing in your manuscript. In fact it’s been said, “The e-book is the new query,” so no matter what direction you want to go, self or traditionally published, you need to constantly work on your platform and your LIST of titles. They say SEVEN is a critical mass number for backlist titles, maybe FIVE in romance or mystery. And you build a platform by writing not only books but all the behind-the-scenes stuff you can, and when you think you’ve given too much away, keep giving more.

Until you have something of a platform growing you probably do best to focus on e-books, but what a fantastic way to launch a writing career! It’s never been better for writers, in my own opinion.

And finally, according to a late 2014 PW article (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/64170-e-books-remain-third.html):

  • E-book sales account for 23% of “all” book sales,
  • Paperback accounted for 42%
  • Hardcover 25%

An up and coming author should probably use e-books and blogs and other social media to steadily build a platform until it makes sense to offer a limited edition hardcover as part of a launch, and then settle in to well organized sales of e-books and paperbacks. Selling the paperbacks is the trick for the little guys (self published authors and small pub houses), but hey, were it not, we’d all be doing it!

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