print runs are based on orders. The cover flats go out, the publishing brochures go out. Orders come in. Say the print run of your first book is 100,000, and you sell 60,000. 40,000 are stripped. (I'm only talking paperbacks, and i'm really simplifying things here.) That's a pretty fair sell-through and above average. But here's where the inescapable downward spiral begins. Buyers for your next book simply check to see how many copies of your last book sold and base their orders on that, usually ordering less and almost never more. So the print run for books 2 will be 60,000. Let's say the sell-through for book 2 was 50%. 30,000 copies. The print run for book 3 will be 30,000.
The only chance you have of breaking that is to somehow impress the marketing department within your own publishing house. They will then promote your book more, promise their buyers that they're putting more money behind it so please buy more copies than the last book. They might throw in nice incentives, but all of this is rare and a little like winning the lottery. Fat chance.
Marketing liked my first thriller and wanted to back it, but they wouldn't get behind it unless I change my name. They didn't want orders tied to previous sales. My previous sales figures weren't bad, but marketing was thinking blockbuster. I was told not to tell anybody about the name change. Only my family knew about it. I didn't want to lie, so I avoided other writers and writing groups for a year. My real name wouldn't even be on the copyright page.
The downward spiral is inevitable for everyone, so even before orders and sales figures for book 1 were in I was asked to go a different direction with book 2. I was told this was in hopes of making some kind of impact on the marketing department the next time around. At this point, a writer is no longer writing for readers, she's writing for the marketing department within her own publishing house. All plot discussions had to do with pleasing the marketing department and what might possibly get their attention this next time through. From day one I've been against all this jumping around. Seemed like a really bad idea to me, but I was told it had to be done to stay ahead of the numbers.
My downward spiral wasn't massive, but over a span of books it becomes a bigger issue. The plan for my latest was to make a shift to a different genre in hopes of wooing M. The video I made wasn't so much for readers, but for the marketing department and reps. See, she's doing something different. See she's writing the kind of book that's hitting the Times. She's holding up her end and more. She's getting her name out there. She's involved, networking, featuring contests of her blog, going to conferences. (oops.)
So after all of this I got my print run figures yesterday. They exactly match the sales figures of my last book. What this tells me is none of what I did mattered. Nothing. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I don't know if there's a moral to this story. Maybe that numbers are numbers. Maybe that it's time for publishers and writers to focus more on readers rather than trying to please and trick a computer.
The interesting thing about all of this is that my first book, Hush, is in its sixth printing and I'm still receiving royalty checks. It's the only book that was really mine and written without restrictions and dictates. The anticipation of the spiral is what screwed things up.
Of course this isn't the end of the story. It will be interesting to see if the work I've done on the publicity side will have any impact. I'm guessing not much, but we'll see.
this is something writers aren't supposed to talk about and most don't talk about, but i see it as a massive problem within the book industry. talking about it is just going to get me in trouble and not solve a damn thing. my big mouth.