I just had another royalties statement for my fourth book, Honeymoon Heist, and to say that the sales figures are not good is stretching understatement to the limit. Not that I'm not grateful to both the people who bought it, but after all the effort and time I put into that book - and especially the work I did in promoting it - it's easy to feel disappointed and discouraged.
My first book sold 2,000 copies which made it a bestseller for its market, but that was ten years ago. What has changed? Is my writing getting worse? Should I hang up my keyboard and take up gardening instead?
The internet was still relatively new in 2001, so Haven was widely promoted the old-fashioned way, with posters for bookstore windows, adverts in book catalogues, a radio advert and bookmarks. When my third novel (Easterfield) was published in 2008 my publishers told me to set up a website, blog and Facebook page, to contact other authors for reciprocal reviews. In a nutshell, to do all my own publicity. I was a little taken aback at first. I wasn’t self-publishing, so surely publicity and marketing was their job?
Promoting a book is often prohibitively expensive for the publishers. Those end-of-shelf displays which showcase a particular new release are paid-for placements, and it's the publishers who pay for them. Likewise it costs money to have a book featured in a catalogue, and publishers work on narrow margins. So my latest books aren’t in catalogues and have never been advertised. Sales of these books rely on shoppers picking them up and being intrigued by the back cover blurb, or perhaps reading a review or hearing a recommendation from a friend. Buyers are no longer "primed" by having my books placed before them in a catalogue, on a poster or on a bookstore display.
But there are other reasons why sales may be dropping not just for me, but for my fellow authors. The global recession has meant that people have less money to spend on books, and since a book is one product you can't take back to the shop if you don't like it (believe me, I’ve tried) it's something of a risky investment when money is tight and TV entertainment is free.
The market is also growing. With the huge growth of “indie” publishing anyone can publish almost anything, and the market is flooded with cheap and appealing fiction by new authors. With a larger number of books available the finite number of readers are spread thinly.
What all this means is that if I want sales of Honeymoon Heist and No Escape to rival those of my first two books, I have to put in more work, write better books that people will talk about, and do my own publicity as much as I possibly can.