As a rule, you should always be evaluating your publishing efforts to identify when and where a problem may exist. By setting up a system that quickly points out where problems exist, you can determine their cause and take steps to solve them.
What to Measure
You'll want to conduct a quantitative audit of your publications, which is objective and compares numbers that were forecast with numbers that were actually achieved. In order to do this, you'll look to key result areas such as number of units sold and revenue achieved and measure the difference between their current status and where you wanted them to be up to this point. Are your book sales on target? Is your revenue where you want it to be? Are profits up to par? If you have more than one title, for now, you can ignore the ones that are on target and attend to those below forecast instead. Here is how to do that.
Determine the Cause(s) of the Shortfall
Let’s say your analysis shows that book sales are below forecast in bookstores, libraries, and associations. In each segment, seek possible causes. Here's what that may look like in regards to each segment.
- Product. Your product quality may be the problem if you cut too many corners trying to save money in the production stage. Your book must have an intriguing cover, an ISBN, barcode, title on the spine, price on the rear cover and high production quality.
- Place. Don’t be too quick to blame your distributor if bookstore sales are awry, but you may be working with the wrong distribution partner. Distributors have strengths and weaknesses just like any other company. If the distributor you're working with doesn't make ordering easy for booksellers, you probably won't be seeing many of these book sales.
- Price. Is your title(s) competitively priced? The prices of adjacent books on bookstore shelves are compared immediately. If yours is priced significantly higher than neighboring titles—and does not give sufficient reason for that difference—buyers will naturally choose the lower-priced book.
- Promotion. Are you promoting your titles properly and sufficiently? Landing a television or radio slot is fantastic media coverage, but not if the show’s audience isn't in your target market. Similarly, you may be sending hundreds of press releases weekly, but what if they are poorly written or sent to the wrong person? The effects of book promotion are cumulative and are more likely to succeed if you communicate the right message, at the right time, to the right people over an extended period of time.
- Product. Acquisition librarians may choose not to buy your book for any number of reasons: bindings that are not durable enough to withstand repeated use, missing CIP data, if there is no index or if the topic does not fit their core or patron-driven collections.
- Place. Did you properly segment the library market? There are many types of libraries (public, prison, academic, law, religious, corporate) that purchase books for different reasons.
- Price. Is your book priced properly for this segment? Is it priced competitively with similar titles?
- Promotion. Did you get reviews in the proper journals? Does your promotional material appeal to their buying motives? Librarians want to help their patrons, and an appeal to profitability or increased inventory turns will not persuade them to buy. Making sure your book fits their local community and helps them achieve a higher circulation will.
- Product. In general, the same characteristics that would make it sell well in bookstores are essential for sales to associations.
- Place. Did you reach the appropriate people for selling your book in the association bookstore, or for using it as a premium to build conference attendance or as a reward for renewing membership?
- Price. The primary buying criterion is price, particularly for charitable organizations. While there is little preference for soft- over hardcover books, softcover may be preferred because of its lower price.
- Promotion. There are many ways in which you can work with an association. You could sell your rights to it. You might donate a percentage (or fixed amount) of each sale to a non-profit organization. The association may be willing to co-promote your book.
Interpret Results and Make Changes
Do not be too quick to make adjustments until you have sufficiently analyzed possible causes. Maybe you are not reaching your author goals because they were unrealistic. Was your plan ill conceived or was poor implementation the guilty party? Try to pinpoint the cause by evaluating your results halfway through the year, make changes in your strategy and/or implementation, and then try something different and measure the resulting sales at the end of the year to see if your changes worked.