One Book At A Time

It came to me Wednesday night, on the long ride home from Mississippi that most of us writers talk about writing, publishing and marketing like it was all one thing, and it isn’t.  Let’s rethink the whole thing for a moment and come up with some definitions.

To have a business, there must be a product or a service to sell.  In the book business, there is a single product.  That product is a book, or books.

Every product/service has a manufacturer or, in the case of services, a producer.  Thinking of the book business in that light, writers are manufacturers.

Manufacturers must have a method of distribution in order to sell their products.  In the past, books were primarily sold in book stores.  The contact between books stores and manufacturers were publishers.  In those days, manufacturers (writers) had to sell publishers, not bookstores.  However, the process wasn’t that simple.  Publishers had so many products offered to them they inserted a buffer between themselves and writers – that buffer was agents.  The process, from the writer/manufacturers perspective was:

Write a book > “Sell” the book to an agent > Agent sells the book to a publisher > Publisher sells the book to bookstores.

To get a book in front of a customer, three individuals were required – writer + agent + publisher

This was the model for the book business from the invention of the printing press in 1440 until four years ago.  There were many inequities in the system, from the manufacturer, or writers, point of view – major among them (after writing a good book) was the task of finding an agent.  It is understood that the agent must find and sell a publisher, and the publisher must sell a sufficient number of bookstores on the idea of carrying the book to make the effort of writing it profitable.  I should note here, that a writer’s success in this equation depends not only on everything happening as noted, but also on the terms of the agreements reached with the agent and the publisher.

There are so many unknowns and variables in that system that it’s a wonder any author turned writing into a profitable pursuit.  The fact that some did, makes me to wonder how many didn’t – but since there is no way to know, I won’t go any further down that path.

Now, let’s talk about the state of the business today.  Before I do let me state absolutely  – the old book business model, the one I just outlined, is dead.  I don’t mean it’s wounded, and it’s going to revive itself and make a comeback – I mean, it is in the ditch dead!  No matter how many indie writers sign with legacy publishers, no matter how much you love large bookstores, no matter anything – the old way of doing the book business is history.  Paper books will continue to exist but only in limited and print on demand copies.  You can still buy a horse and wagon but if want transportation, you go to an auto dealer for your personal transportation – if you want a cassette tape, or even an eight track, you can find one on e-bay, but if you want music you go to iTunes or some other seller of MP3s – that principle applies to books, and there is no way to roll back the clock.

What does that mean for book manufacturers – writers?  It means the book business model has changed.  Instead of this:

Writer writes a book > Writers “sells” the book to an agent > Agent sells the book to a publisher > Publisher sells the book to bookstores.


Writer writes a book > Writer Publishes a book> Writer Sells Book

The good news about the new model is –

  1.  We’ve cut two people out of the deal – no more agents, no more publishers
  2. We make more money on each book sold

The not so good news is – No one, and I mean no writer, knows how to sell eBooks.  I didn’t say there aren’t writers selling a lot of eBooks – there are, and you know them as well as I do.  Not only are they selling a lot of eBooks, a number of them have sold a lot books telling other writers how they sold their books.

Therein lies the not so good news.  What they did last year, or six months ago, or even last month, probably won’t work today – at the very least it won’t work the way it did for them, at the point in time they did it.  What will work?  I have the answer – we have to sell one book at a time.  That’s the way I sold my first, self-published book, and it’s the way I’m going sell every book that I write.

When I published that book, Remember – An Encounter With Jesus Christ, I was a professional speaker.  An hour or so into every speaking engagement I called for a break, and before the break began, I held up a copy of the book, told a bit about it, and explained that it was available in the room near the coffee and soft drink table.

Now days I’m no longer on the speaker’s circuit, so I can’t hold up the book in front of a live audience, but, I can hold it up.  I can hold it up on Facebook, twitter, my blog, my website, and in email.  There is a key to holding up a book and offering it for sale to a prospective reader.  The key is – don’t hold up the book until your audience knows who you are.  By that I mean, don’t direct message new twitter followers with – “Buy my book at *****” or tweet your book ten thousand times a day.

Introduce yourself before you hold up your book.   If you are someone that your audience likes, they will buy your book… one book at a time.

So click here to go to my Amazon Author’s Page – that’s where you’ll find me holding up three books (number four is almost there)

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14 Responses to One Book At A Time

  1. Bert, you are so right. When you are in a room with people, you can make those subtle connections that win their trust and communicate your sincerity. The same thing happens for a lawyer with a jury. But in the virtual world it is much harder to let people know who you are and to build trust. What takes a few minutes, or even a few seconds, in person may take months online, if it ever happens at all.

    • Bert

      I learned to tell stories by telling them to audiences (once I overcame my paralyzing fear of speaking in public). Reading a group and making adjustments based on my reading became automatic, as you well know.
      We aren’t in front of a jury or a live audience so we have to learn new ways to “read,” and we will.
      Thanks for your comment my friend.
      Bert recently posted…One Book At A TimeMy Profile

  2. Jack Durish

    I used to help a friend of mine teach SCUBA diving classes in Hawaii (and, yes, that’s another story). We only charged $25/student (a long time ago) for about 12 classes at two YMCA pools, one in Honolulu and the other in Kaneohe. Our students invariably asked us about the equipment they should buy and we sent them off to the sporting goods shop with the best advice we could muster. One day, my friend looked at me and asked, “What the hell are we doing?” Those students trusted us. Who better to sell them the equipment. So, my friend stocked up his garage and when they again asked what they should buy, we thrust it into their hands and said, “Buy this.” It was a lot more lucrative than teaching.

    • Bert

      A friend of mine who sells cosmetics once told me this. “If I’m sure it works and I truly believe in it, then I rub it on their wist and swear it works.” She was Macy’s number one cosmetic sales person.
      Bert recently posted…Birth of a bookMy Profile

  3. Jo VonBargen

    Brilliant, Bama! I was blind, but now I see….
    Jo VonBargen recently posted…Broken Eyes Keep VigilMy Profile

    • Bert

      Wow – I just read Broken Eyes Keep Vigil –
      I’m honored just to have you pause and read my scratching –
      Your words sing, reminding me how lucky I am to have pulled up
      beside your bonfire. May it forever burn.
      Bert recently posted…This I BelieveMy Profile

  4. Interesting perspective.

    There is a school of thought out there that says you shouldn’t hold up your book *at all* (WANA, Bob Meyer, et al) — that you should adopt a service attitude and a philosophy of friendship and the sales will naturally follow.

    I’m still trying to figure out exactly what works. I only know the old paradigms don’t, and I’m scraping off a lot of rust these days.


    Tracy Cooper-Posey recently posted…Friday’s MashMy Profile

    • Bert

      Like you, I’m busting it to find out what works. I do believe you have to hold up your work but I don’t believe you have to hard sell. If you do, I won’t make it.
      Bob Edwards interviewing authors sells me a whole lot of books – if they didn’t go on the show and do the interview I would never buy their books – that’s my idea of holding up the book.
      Good luck in your writing and selling.
      Nice blog btw.
      Bert recently posted…One Book At A TimeMy Profile

  5. It’s both frustrating and exciting to be on a leading edge and that is where I see indie authors on this point in time. It’s likely going to take more patience than we might care to muster to just keep going under these new conditions and see where our instincts lead us. The comparison is most helpful.
    Christina Carson recently posted…The View from HereMy Profile

  6. Nisha says:

    these days everyone seems to want publishing a book but what do the readers get , what lessons? for me its not the auther who i will be looking at only before getting any book – the title and the what is the book about

    i really liked your article :) signing up for your newsletter , thanks for sharing such valuable lessons on your blog


  7. javier robayo

    This came at just the right time, I was falling into a trap. Thank you for the guidance, thank you so much

  8. Okay, what happened to the days when I was one of only two or three comments on your blog? Oh, I guess they went away ‘One Book at a Time’…I’m very happy for you!

    I agree 100% Bert. My goal is to touch people with my experiences and words, and I can’t imagine touching 10,000 people a month (I’d need lots of hand sanitizer!) If that many people did buy my books on a regular basis, I would experience two things – a higher tax bracket, and my removal from personal engagement of my audience. Not planning on either any time soon!
    Mary Kathryn Johnson recently posted…Hitting Negative Where it HurtsMy Profile

  9. Caleb Pirtle

    Bert: Great advice. I’ll wander through life now, and everywhere I go, I’ll be holding a book up. My book. Your book. Someone else’s book. We can’t sell one unless someone sees it and wants it and tells another how good it was or wasn’t. A book is our life even when it’s not about us. It has to be the best that we can make it be. We don’t mind bragging about our children. We might a well brag about our book. If it doesn’t excite us, it certainly won’t excite anyone else.

  10. Nice post Bert. In all direct sales it is still one to one, whether in the physical world or the virtual world. Being accessible, on Facebook, Twitter and blog means answering direct messages, replying to e-mail and friending people.

    The Internet has really changed communication from mass media, to interactive direct media. But yes, it is hard work, and the personal touch can’t be farmed out.

    thanks for the article, Rachelle Ayala author of Michal’s Window

    Waving my book link:

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