Authors write for a variety of reasons and why you write greatly determines what you should do—if anything—for book sales. For example, some authors write simply for pleasure or to process their own thoughts. Writing can be cathartic, especially when writing one’s memoirs or musings about life, relationships, work environments and other factors that may influence their existence. It’s important to note that just because you wrote a book or booklet it doesn’t mean you need to publish it. In fact, many write simply for the release or the pleasure without any ambition to publish. If you are contemplating whether your writings should be published, consider that having a book published opens the author to a challenging role in marketing and sales and you should be prepared for that.


Family PhotosOther authors write for a small or niche audience. This includes authors of family history or genealogy as well as highly scientific, medical or doctoral works. With the latter, you should approach university presses and niche publishers. With family histories, you should weigh whether you intend your audience to be primarily members of your own family or extended family members. If your book is against the backdrop of historical events or your family’s experience resonates (such as Roots by Alex Haley) then your book could have more widespread appeal.


Still other authors write for the literary community in a style reminiscent of the classics. These books may have broad appeal and the Big Four publishers (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Hachette) are most likely to publish such works as well as other publishers with niche markets. Be aware, however, that the Big Four require that works are submitted through literary agents except in the most rare of circumstances. However, some authors of literary works have decided against traditional publishers and would prefer to self-publish.


Spooky FacadeThe majority of published authors write commercial works. These are books that may never be considered classics but can most definitely earn top dollar, as they appeal to a broad range of readers. This is also where you’ll find very specialized genres and sub-genres. For example, suspense can be considered medical (Patricia Cornwell, Michael Palmer), legal (John Grisham, David Baldacci), techno (Tom Clancy), political (Tom Clancy, Brad Thor), romantic (Linda Howard, Sandra Brown), psychological (James Patterson), or even cozies (Janet Evanovich, Robert B. Palmer) or a combination of these. Publishers from micro presses to the Big Four publish these works, and many authors have also opted to self-publish in lieu of going the traditional route.


escalatorThe traditionally published author may or may not receive an advance upon the signing of a publishing agreement, but they will receive royalties based on sales. They do not spend any of their own money on editorial work or the production of the book (cover, graphics, formatting) but they may be expected to pay for some or all of the marketing and promotional efforts. Unless you are in the upper echelon, you will also be expected to pay your own transportation costs (automobile mileage, airfare, hotels, meals) when you travel.


The traditional author earns less money on each book sold but might have higher book sales if they are published by an established mid-size to large publisher. The largest publishers have well-established footholds into the book store chains and largest independent stores as well as other venues that include warehouse stores, department stores, niche chains and drug stores. However, there are many more publishers in recent years that do not have these relationships so being traditionally published does not necessarily mean you will reach more readers.


BookIn recent years, many authors have grown weary of the long and often depressing path of submitting queries and receiving rejections—or no response at all. These authors may decide to try the self-publishing route. (John Grisham with his debut novel, A Time to Kill, was originally self-published.) Other authors have been with traditional publishers and found their management styles or methods less than compatible and wish to take their careers into their own hands (Brad Meltzer). And still others have decided not to try to attract a traditional publisher at all but go straight to self-publishing (Carol Dean Jones).


It has only been within the last decade that self-published authors have begun to shed the negative cloak placed on them by others, who at one time considered their works to be substandard or “vanity” works. The material being published by several self-published authors has been high quality and has found varying degrees of success, including places on coveted bestseller lists. The keys to self-publishing success almost always involve:

  1. The best book an author can write
  2. Professionally edited
  3. Professionally formatted, including a professional cover design
  4. Marketing and promotional savvy

calculatorAnd within the last few years, hybrid authors have come into their own. These are authors that are both traditionally published and self-published. In many instances, their traditional publishers stopped printing their work due to low book sales but the authors saw continued potential. For example, one of the Big Four might consider a book with sales of 100,000 per year to be a poor performer, while a self-published author, small or medium-sized publisher would be thrilled with those figures. In other instances, the publisher retains the rights to a particular format—such as hard cover or paperback—and the author is free to publish the book in foreign markets, audiobook or ebook format.


There are exceptions to every rule and authors like to point out success stories in which a self-published title performed phenomenally well, despite poor editing or a poor book design—or even without any marketing efforts at all. But these are the exception to the rule and that’s why they become newsworthy. For the vast majority of authors, a lot depends on the presentation (formatting, cover and lack of mistakes) and the marketing push.

printing pressAt one time, books were published in the spring and in the fall. However, in today’s market books are published every day of the year, thanks to automated services such as amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Lulu, CreateSpace and others.

The promotional campaign at one time was narrowed to six months—three months prior to the book’s release and three months after. After six months the book’s performance was reviewed by a team of editors who declared the book either a success or failure.


That has changed as well. In today’s market, an author can—and should—promote their books throughout their entire life cycle. A book that takes place during a major holiday, for example, can be promoted every time that holiday comes around. A political thriller can find new readers during each election cycle. Still other books should be promoted throughout the year, year after year, as long as it is finding a new and widening audience.

If you haven’t yet seen this video on Marketing Plans (below), it’s worth noting some of the things that can make the difference between failure and success—whether you are traditionally published or self-published.


To enroll in The Marketing Plan 52-week course, visit this link:

52 Weeks of Marketing Success


Trish Terrell

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of more than 20 books in several genres. Her first book was published in 1984 and she became a full-time writer in 2002. She has mentored authors for more than 15 years and is the co-founder of The Book ‘Em Foundation and the founder of the Book ‘Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair. For more information, visit