The following was posted by a respected fellow Ellora’s Cave author in response to my questions about print runs and sales.
I hope you find it as informative and insightful as I did!
Basically your print run is determined by your orders from wholesalers, distributors, and booksellers. Your book is sold to these people via your COVER and whatever blurb/info you and your editor have given them. Orders are done about 4-6 months in advance of release.
This is 1) why your book covers are done way in advance (in some cases before the ms. is even turned in), and 2) why your editor bugs you for a good synopsis because you might still be working on your book while the reps are out peddling it.
So your cover design is important, unfortunately, because this is all the buyers actually see. The people selling your book never read it, and the people buying it haven't read it either. Therefore you need your cover to SELL your book, whether or not those people on it look anything like your characters.
The biggest factor in how many orders come in for your book has to do with where you are on the publisher's list. If you are a lead (also known as the A or first position), you are in the best place for sales. (If you wonder who lead authors are, think of a romance author you hear about a lot, and she's very likely a lead.) Anyway, lead authors usually have the most expensive covers (foiled, raised lettering, best designs).
The publishers also offer booksellers $$ incentives to buy lead books. Publishers can offer what they call "co-op dollars", which can be very confusing, but a simple example is that the publisher offers the books 2 for 1 to the booksellers/distributors/wholesalers. For example, every time the bookseller buys one of, say, Nora Roberts' books, they get the second one free. So of course they purchase quite a lot.
Also the lead authors will get the largest share of the marketing budget—the publisher knows they'll probably make back the money they spend on marketing these books, so why not? The author gets full page color ads in RT and other trade publications, printed ARCs distributed to reviewers, including big reviewers like Pub. Weekly, partial ARCs passed out at book fairs (like Frankfurt, BEA, London).
Plus, you will likely get prominent display in bookstores. Publishers can offer incentives to place your book in good positions, such as end caps, table displays, by the register, in a book tower. If the publisher really loves you, you get a standing
display all by yourself (those cardboard displays that have a cover on them and books inside).
If you are in second or B position, you're still pretty good—you get good covers and some marketing incentives. Like leads, second-position books will more likely get picked up beyond the bookstores, meaning Target, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, grocery chains, etc. Also you might get some good display space in bookstores (front of store
tables, face out on shelves, end caps).
If you are in third or fourth position, then you will probably be bought only by the bookstore chains (Waldens, B&N, etc.). You might be included in a group ad in RT. Very likely each store will buy 2 or 3 copies of your books and display them spine out in the stacks. Unlikely that your publisher will send out ARCs on your behalf. This is the "midlist" and where many beginners start.
Still with me? OK, next factor is the market. What's hot and what's not? If booksellers are all excited about erotic paranormals because Sherrilyn Kenyon and Christine Feehan and Laurel Hamilton and others are selling big time, they will be much more excited about buying erotic paranormals than they will be about buying sweet Westerns. So, even if you're a only midlist author but you have an erotic
paranormal, chances are you'll get more orders than if you're a midlist with a sweet Western (or whatever, I'm making up these examples!). And if you're a lead author writing the hot trend, woo hoo! You're on your way.
There are a few more factors like name recognition vs. newbie and previous sales (hoo, boy, that's important—if your previous book tanked, the booksellers will order less). Plus how excited the publisher is to push the book (they might offer incentive after incentive for one lead author and not as much for another).
All right, after all those factors are added up, the orders come in. Say Lead Author gets 100,000 of her books ordered. The publisher will probably pump up the number to about 125,000 so that reorders can be covered after the book ships. So her print run is 125K. On the other end of the scale are the lower midlists-- orders were 18K and the publisher printed 20K.
A BIG thank you to Allyson James/Jennifer Ashley for giving me permission to post this!
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