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Can you sell your book?

Alison Baverstock

If you decide to publish yourself, you must be doubly sure of the answer to any question a commercial publisher would want to ask. And two of the first would be: how large is the market and what proof is there that it exists? If no book on your subject already exists, it may be that you have no competition – but equally it may be that there is no market. If you are planning to publish the title yourself, you will be assuming the risk too, so your maths must be correct!

Are you confident you can sell it?

Being passionate about your subject is not enough to persuade everyone with an interest to part with money for your book; and getting the information to the market can be very hard if you have not done it before.

It helps if you enjoy the selling process. Even if you do not, you must not feel demeaned by offering the product for sale yourself. I was interested to hear recently that part of the training process for new recruits to the insurance industry is to sell a product to a member of their own family or a friend, to overcome any initial squeamishness over the sales process. Terence Frisby, playwright and author of Outrageous Fortune, his self-published autobiography, commented:

The author should never be embarrassed about asking for money for their book. I was quite resolute about this – after all, my friends know that the only time you get free seats in the theatre is when the show is no good. I was confident that the price was value for money for a good read in a high-quality hardback binding.

My second line of argument in defence of the £16.95 price (£18 with postage) was that I had invested £10,000 of my own money in the project and so could not afford to give it away. I always offered potential customers the chance to have their book(s) signed for no additional cost, or even the chance to buy one of the rare unsigned copies!

My real disappointment was the retail book trade. I felt they were utterly apathetic when it came to selling my book. Time after time friends would report to me that they had tried to obtain my book in bookshops but had been informed by booksellers either that they had never heard of it, or that it would take six weeks to order from the publisher, when in fact it was on the database and could be obtained in 48 hours from the distributors, a well-known, reputable firm. This appalling attitude merely spurred me on to greater efforts. I sold lots as a result of after-lunch speaking engagements, book fairs and theatrical groups.

Out of a total print run of 2,000 I have sold over 1,500. I did not recover my costs (I never thought I would) but the project has brought me huge personal satisfaction.

For guidance of what kind of marketing materials you will need, see chapter three in my book; how many of these you are able to produce will depend on your budget. You will also have to allow for a certain number to be sent out free to booksellers and reviewers in the hope of encouraging an order or a review/feature.


If you found this article useful, you might want to take a look at:

The power of the blog

Managing without a publisher: when to go it alone

Marketing and publicity


We also offer lots more advice on self-publishing here. If you’re looking at self-publishing your manuscript, try our self-publishing comparison engine first.