On Writing,  publishing

Think Like a Publisher 2013: Chapter 6: Sales Plans

This chapter is a pretty extensive revision of an early version of Think Like a Publisher. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put this chapter and the next few here on the web site. I didn’t in the 2012 version, but now figured why not, a good discussion can always help if anyone is interested in having that discussion on the topic of this chapter.

And honestly, this chapter tends to scare people something awful. So hold on.

Think Like a Publisher 2013 is an updated version of the book from about a year ago, including some of what has changed and what I have learned over the last year or more. And some new chapters such as this one. I’m sure in another two years I’ll do a fourth edition. 

Every week or so I will post a chapter for free here with a link under the tab above. The 2012 edition is still available in book and electronic form. After I get done with these posts and reformatting the book, this edition will appear replacing the old one. But that will take a month or so.

Comments on each chapter are welcome and help us all learn, but keep the comments focused on the topic of the chapter, please.

I hope these chapters help you get a jump on learning how to be a publisher. And on finding an audience for your writing.

Sales Plan: Some Basics

This last winter Kris had a book dealer complain to her. The dealer said that in the old days it used to be “Push, push, push, now it is pull, pull, pull.”

Not a clue what that means, right? But Kris instantly understood it and when she told me the dealer’s comment, so did I.

Back in the old days, in Pulphouse Publishing, we paid for the two-story office complex and nineteen employees and all the expensive leather book production by getting indie bookstores and specialty stories to buy our books.

Did we just sit there in that two-story building and wait for bookstores to find us?  Of course not. We pushed our books to them. There often wasn’t a month that went by that the bookstores didn’t get a mailing from us. We did major catalogs every three months and we put ads in every product we did for our other products.

We pushed the books to the stores. And to readers.

And we did it in a way that would help the dealers buy the books.

I’m not saying you need to do all that. But for some reason now, indie and specialty publishers think that just because they produced a POD book, bookstores and readers will flock to them. Or find their book in the tiny print in an Ingrams’ or Baker and Taylor catalog. The poor bookstores are reduced to pulling the books they want for their customers from the indie publishers, when they finally realize the book exists.

Push, push, push vs pull, pull, pull.

So, without the stupidity of going to fifteen different cities and trying to do signings and sending useless bookmarks to five hundred stores or doing blog tours that take weeks of time and gets you no readers, I’m going to try to describe some ways to promote and push your indie-published books to readers and bookstores in a sane manner.

And cheaply. In ways that work. Just as publishers do.

Is This A Change For Me?

Since the romance writers started the stupidity of authors needing to self-promote their own books, I have openly laughed at any author who does any self-promotion beyond a web site, Twitter account, and Facebook. Let me say this clearly again: If you are selling your books to traditional publishing, don’t waste your time with anything I am talking about here. This is for publishers. For writers selling all your work directly to traditional publishing, most of what I am about to talk about really is a waste of time.

So I haven’t changed at all in that opinion. Self-promotion for traditionally published authors beyond a basic web site and social networking is a complete waste of time. I have always said that and that hasn’t changed. If you are selling traditionally (meaning to New York publishers), stay home, write the next book. Hit your deadlines and let your publisher alone.

But now, as an indie publisher, you have changed hats from being a writer to a publisher. And you need to learn to think like a publisher. So you need to know what kind of promotion works for publishers and what doesn’t.

Basics of Publishing

Most indie writers just take a few old short stories, maybe a novel or two, toss them up on Kindle and sit back and watch the numbers every day. And then, for the most part, are disappointed.  Let me simply say: Duh!

The major part of a publisher’s job, either traditional or indie, is to sell books to readers and into the distribution system that will get those books to readers. And that takes some thought and planning. And an understanding of the distribution system to begin with.

So let me lay out “A Basic Course in the Publishing Business Structure.”

Since forever in the publishing business, the exact same structure has been in place. Nothing has changed or will change in these four elements. (Imagine from top to bottom arrows leading downward following the track of the story through the system.)

1…Writers create stories

2… Publishers take the stories and produce them and get them into the distribution system.

3… Distributors (including bookstores) transport the book to the reader.

4…Readers, who are the point of the entire business.


I need to repeat that.


This entire indie publishing and electronic reading boom is just going on inside of the two middle areas (publishers and distribution). When a writer puts up a book on Kindle, the writer takes over the publisher duties, which is why the writer can make more money. Duh! The writer becomes the publisher.

Kindle is a bookstore inside the distribution area of the system. Readers buy the book from Kindle. Nothing different in the fundamental structure of publishing.

So now, if writers are going to take over the publishing duties and make the big bucks, they are going to need to understand how to get the books into the distribution system in a more efficient manner beyond just listing them in three places and hoping.

The Basics Required in a Sales Plan

1…You need good, professional-looking covers with a “publisher look.”

2… You need numbers of products. (And ideally, a number of author names, but not critical at first.)

3… You MUST go after every outlet you can find. Both electronically and POD books.

4… You must set your price structure so that you can give discounts to regular stores. Both electronically and POD.

5… You must know what discounts work for stores and what do not.

6… You must know how to produce quality sales material that grabs a book dealer and readers. (Bookmarks, flowers, and buttons do not work…sorry. But knowing how to write a top pitch, a great active-voice blurb, and a grabbing tag line will sell more books than you can imagine.)

7… You must have a web site for your publishing house that works as a catalog for your products. And that can eventually sell product directly to readers through a shopping cart. It can not be your own author site.

Those seven items cover a lot of data and over the next few chapters I’m going to be expanding these seven points and adding in a few other minor ones as well. So hold on, I will get to each area as quickly as I can. But there are a few more basics to cover in this chapter first.

A sales plan is basically a PLAN that details how you will sell your books.

Planning takes some thought. In fact, most of this series has been about planning.

The first five chapters I helped you set up a publishing business and then do some production to get a product up. So now, thinking like a publisher, how do you plan to sell your product that you have produced for the business? Over the next three or four chapters I hope to help you form that plan.

And decide what is right for your business and your time.

Some elements might be long-term plans, some you might be able to start tomorrow.

But for the moment, start the basic plan. (Write out your plan. Helps.)

Common and Usual Ways an Indie Publisher sells books.

(Make sure to include these in your plan.)

— Electronic: Kindle, PubIt! (B&N), Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords, and numbers of other smaller outlets.

— POD: CreateSpace or LightningSouce or both.

— Promotion: Tweet, Blog, and post on Facebook when a new book is posted. Tell mother and friends. Only do this once or maybe twice. Leave your poor friends alone after that.

That’s it. That’s what most indie publishers do in these early days of this movement and nothing wrong with that at all.

But there are two things wrong with the above sales plan if that is all you do.

1… It completely misses about 80% of all readers.

2… To make it work at any large numbers level, it depends on luck and market timing, meaning that you have the right book, right topic, right time, or right author name. Most of us don’t. I’m just not that lucky, so I have to work harder to make my luck and my book sales.

Now you have the basics of the plan down. To start adding more to the plan, you first need to change some thinking.

Instead of hoping to sell a thousand copies of a book every month at one place, sell 10 copies a month at 100 places.

Sure, no publisher is going to turn down selling a lot of copies over Kindle. Or to one chain. But the foundation, the structure of publishing, is to sell a lot of different books two or three or five or ten copies at a time at hundreds and hundreds of different outlets. That’s the structure that paid for those huge buildings in New York.

We all want what I call “a home run” when suddenly a book springs to selling a thousand copies in a month on Kindle. We all do. But you can’t plan on that happening. Sorry.

But you can, without hitting a home run, plan on selling a thousand copies a month total of ALL your books. And more. If you act and think like a publisher.

Here is what can you plan on…

— Selling ten copies average per title in a month across all stores and sites and have 100 different book titles available. That will get you a sales number of 1,000 copies in a month.

So you can keep hoping for the “home run.”  But start working toward putting together as many outlets as you can that will sell your publishing company’s books.

But there aren’t that many outlets!!!

Excuse me while I stop choking from laughter. Yeah, I know, that one hundred outlet sounds like a lot. But it is not, actually. Not at all.

There are thousands and thousands of book outlets to get books to readers. Just in this country. And to really expand that number even more, you must expand your thinking to 100% of all readers worldwide. You want your book to have a chance to be in everyone’s hands, don’t you? (Yes, I will talk about translation later.)

And don’t forget audio as well, the fastest growing area in publishing.

Notice I said worldwide? Start thinking that way.

(Side Note: For those of you who sold North American rights to a book to traditional publishing and you don’t have those rights back yet, why not do an indie book and sell it electronically outside the States? It’s very easy these days.  Just a thought.)

So how many sites do you sell to now if you are an indie publisher and put your work on Kindle, PubIt!, Smashwords, and CreateSpace???

If you answered “four” you really need to open your eyes and look at where your books are going. And you need to start expanding your direct distributors and not just count on a company like Smashwords.

Just look at Kindle. By clicking the “Worldwide Rights” button on the second page of the submissions sheet, you are giving permission to Kindle to sell your book around the world in English. That means you have the US store, and the UK store and their other direct stores. (There’s a bunch at the moment and more being added on every month.)

But have you noticed that your 70% book sometimes is sold at 35%? That means it was sold on a Kindle store outside of the direct stores that gives you 70%. But for the sake of this total, let’s just say Kindle is ten outlets.

PubIt! is mostly just one store, even though it also has some worldwide reach. It has moved into Britain lately, so make that two total for PubIt!. Total of 12 stores

Smashwords is a distributor with a small store as well, so count Smashwords store as #13. They distribute to DieselBooks, which is another small store, so that’s #14. And they go to some library jobbers, so make that #15.

Kobo gets interesting, because they are a worldwide general store. They have major outlets now in 50 countries or more. And they power more electronic bookstores than I can count. And they are going direct into brick and mortar stores in the states with a new electronic sale at cash register system. So for now let’s not count all the brick and mortar stores, so they add in 50 worldwide major stores making the total we are at now 65 stores.

Sony (through Smashwords) is small with some reach, but not a great deal Sony. Count them as 1 worldwide at the moment. Total now 66 stores.

iBooks sells also around the world and is very strong in Europe and Australia. They have major stores in over 50 countries as well. That brings us up to 116 outlets.

So just by putting your books up on Kindle, PubIt!, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords, which goes to Sony and the other small ones, you have 116 outlets for your electronic work worldwide.

Now add in CreateSpace and you get your book listed in Amazon and in the fine print in Baker and Taylor distributing catalog and Ingrams catalog. That’s 3 more. And if you used a CreateSpace ISBN, or did a separate library edition, you can go into their library distribution channel as well by doing almost nothing. That’s 4 POD outlets total. And they sell in both Great Britain and in Europe, so there is two more.

So just by doing the standard, an indie publisher basically gets to 122 major outlets worldwide.

Already over the 100 outlets and you haven’t even started into getting the bookstores on board or the new distributors coming in that will also help you get your paper books into bookstores and gift shops.

And I didn’t mention at all any of the growing new electronic stores that are worth getting your books into.

When I shut down Pulphouse Publishing, I had a network of 237 outlets for Pulphouse books. I built almost all of that in less than two years.

Stay tuned to the coming chapters and I’ll show you how to build a network of outlets for your company with very little work. And in a few weeks I’ll do an article about the new distributors coming up for paper books, one of which I am a partial owner of.


There are ways to get a ton of sales and money in return without hitting any home runs. And honestly, with very little extra work.

You need to think like a publisher. You need to celebrate every single sale and work to get single sales from many outlets.

And of course, you need to make writing your first priority because without product to sell, none of this much matters.


Copyright © 2013 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover Photo by Edward Fielding/Dreamstime.com


Speaking of writing new product, these chapters took me time to write. This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  I’ve talked about the Magic Bakery a few times in various posts, but just think of this column as a pie and I am allowing samples of the pie here. Understanding the Magic Bakery is critical to making good money as a publisher. So I will talk about it in these chapters coming up as well.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery. That will help me with a better return on my investment of time and keep me going on these.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

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