Posts tagged: selling books in the great recession

Selling Books in the (Continuing) Great Recession by Edward C. Patterson

Lord John Maynard Keynes, the Father of Modern Economics. "What goes down doesn't necessarily go back up."

A while back, I began a series on selling books in the Great Recession. We’re in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It affects everything we authors and Indie publishers do. (Not to mention causing the demise of major brick-and-mortar retailers such as Borders.) I ran a few articles in the series, but stopped when it (briefly) looked like the recession was lifting. But, goldurnit, it didn’t. As we face a double-dipper economic flop, we need advice on marketing more than ever. 

Today I welcome another guest speaker in my series, Selling Books in the Great Recession. Edward C. Patterson is an incredibly prolific and talented author who captures the emotional truth of everything he writes. He’s also one of the most effective––perhaps relentless––marketers I’ve met.  I know Ed from participating in a very popular Amazon forum, Shameless Self Promotion. He shines at extremely tasteful promotion that makes you want to buy his books. I have several of Edward Patterson’s books and love them. It’s my great pleasure to introduce Ed Patterson to Your Shelf Life.

Sandy Nathan for Your Shelf Life

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Edward C Patterson, author & founder of Operation eBook Drop

In today’s economy, there is a need to focus on books in eBook formats, while relegating the print formats to a backup. Sounds a bit dire, however, as an armchair publisher and Indie author, the cost of toting your books about to bookstores and managing inventory returns will make you tired and frustrated. Meanwhile, using online Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony as distributors and leveraging their easy accessibility, an author can break through the morass of the collapsing Book Industry hurdles. Your works can make it to a reader on such things as a Kindle. With lower overhead (zero is a nice number), an author can afford to price works between $ .99 and $ 3.99 and attract attention. Of course, you must have the goods and you still need to market your work, which means getting the word out over the online networks, getting feedback and spinning that feedback to keep the work in motion. Print copies are still functional for readings, speaking engagements, donations, and your ten favorite friends and, dare I say it, as a foil to show how much readers are saving when they buy your work electronically. Heck, I hawk a Cherokee poetry book at Powwows.

I keep my print version costs down by using a POD. (Print on Demand printer) If an author’s aim is to get rich, the current recession has little bearing on it. It’s actually easier to sell books directly to the public over the web through now than it was in boom times, when you needed to follow stuffy industry rules — rules that the traditional publishing houses are now realizing are their Achilles’ heel. The problem is, most authors are poor marketers and, in good times or bad times, that means that some great reads will not find eager readers. It means that authors must wear another hat to engage potential readers in the online fray. However, it’s a heck of lot better than carting a carton about to an Indie bookstore. It’s a sight more productive than fishing for an agent and lighting a votive candle at an acquisition editor’s altar. These trends were in progress before the recession, but I predict that the downtrend and the inevitable recovery will leave the Book Industry significantly and permanently changed — a far better place for those who author and for those who read.

Edward C. Patterson

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The Works of Edward C. Patterson

Edward C. Patterson has been writing novels, short fiction, poetry and drama his entire life, always seeking the emotional core of any story he tells. With his eighth novel, The Jade Owl, he combines an imaginative touch with his life long devotion to China and its history. He has earned an MA in Chinese History from Brooklyn College with further post graduate work at Columbia University. Born in 1947, a native of Brooklyn, NY, he has spent four decades as a soldier in the corporate world gaining insight into the human condition. He won the 1999 New Jersey Minority Achievement Award for his work in corporate diversity. Blending world travel experiences with a passion for story telling, his adventures continue as he works to permeate his reader’s souls from an indelible wellspring.

His novel No Irish Need Apply was named Book of the Month for June 2009 by Booz Allen Hamilton’s Diversity Reading Organization. His novel The Jade Owl was a finalist for The 2009 Rainbow Awards.

This link takes  you to Mr. Patterson’s Amazon Author Page, which provides links to his books and information about them. Published Novels by Edward C. Patterson include No Irish Need Apply, Bobby’s Trace, Cutting the Cheese, Surviving an American Gulag, Turning Idolater, Look Away Silence, The Jade Owl (Jade Owl Legacy Series Book I), The Third Peregrination (Jade Owl Legacy Series Book II), The Dragon’s Pool (Jade Owl Legacy Series Book III), and Southern Swallow Series (Book I – The Academician). Southern Swallow Series (Book II – The Nan Tu)

Coming soon: Southern Swallow Series (Book III – Swan Cloud; Book IV – The House of Green Waters), Belmundus, The Road to Grafenwöhr, Oh, Dainty Triolet and Green Folly.

Look also for The People’s Treasure (Jade Owl Legacy Series Book IV) and In the Shadow of Her Hem (Jade Owl Legacy Series Book V).

Operation E-Book Drop: Providing Our Troops with Free eBooks

Operation E-Book Drop: Providing Our Troops with Free eBooks

Edward C. Patterson is a proud founder of Operation eBook Drop, a member of Amazon’s Shameless, Kindleboards, Publetariat, The Independant Author’s Guild, The Gay & lesbian Writers and Readers Group, and has guest blogged extensively. He has also appeared on the Bobby Ozuna – Soul of Humanity Show.

Mr. Patterson’s website is Dancaster Creative.

Publishing Bloopers: What I Did with my First Book that I Wouldn’t Now: 5.4 Selling Books in the Great Recession

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice

STEPPING OFF THE EDGE: A ROADMAP FOR THE SOUL has a new 2014 edition, linked here. The discussion below refers to the production of the first edition. While easier and accomplished more economically, the second edition was no picnic, either.

by Sandy Nathan

Stepping Off the Edge was my first book. I will never produce a book like this again. See the article below for explanation.

My first book, Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice, is drop dead gorgeous and top of the line all the way, with exquisitely designed interior and a killer cover. It has won––to my ecstatic surprise––six national awards in major contests.

Furthermore, T. Terry Whalen, in his book, Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams, reports Bookscan sales through bookstores. (Bookscan US provides continuous measurement and analysis of book sales in and through bookstores.) According to Whalen’s reports (ibid pg 46), the average sale per ISBN in bookstores is 15 books. (Yes, you got that right.) Close to 80% of the books tracked sold less than 99 copies. More than 95 percent sold less than a thousand.

According to this data, Stepping Off the Edge has sold very well compared to titles put out by the majors or anyone else. It’s a success.

So what’s the problem? It cost way too much in time and money to produce. In this Great Recession market place, there’s no reason for a publisher to do an offset print run for a title that may have limited appeal in the market place––and let’s face it, a title about spiritual practice by an unknown author is a long shot. (An offset print run is a traditional publishing run resulting in 500, 1,500, 10,000, or more books being produced. This type of printing is often used by traditional publishers who expect large sales for their books.)

A sensible way of producing a book in this market is to use a POD (Print On Demand. With POD production, books are created as they are needed to satisfy sales orders.) publisher like Amazon’s free set up or LightningSource, with its distribution capabilities. (Check out the POD printers before committing. Books are available that evaluate them. I like

Go digital. No successful publisher, small press, or self-publisher can afford to ignore the eMarkets. I’ve got Stepping Off the Edge on Kindle now, and I’m working on the Sony and other eBook distribution. I missed those sales for years.

Get a good production team and stick with it: Don’t change editors, designers, or anyone else midstream. If you do, you open yourself up to multiple charges, production delays, and chaos. Of course, if you haven’t worked with a team before, you won’t know how well you work together. Life is risky.

Do not “do it yourself.” Owners of small presses and self-publishers–– have your books professionally designed even if you’re going to produce them on If you submit an amateurish piece of ugly, poorly formated garbage to or any POD printer, it will come out exactly as submitted. Use professional designers. The Blogroll on my blog for writers, Your Shelf Life has tested professionals on it. It’s on the right hand column, scroll down and check ‘em out for yourself.

What other bloopers did I make with my first book? I’d make sure someone in my LARGE team of editors and proofreaders knew how to spell “acknowledgment”.  (Yep, the word is misspelled in the TOC, section front, and page header. A judge in the Benjamin Franklin Award pointed it out in my feedback form.) Too late to correct if you’ve done a traditional print run.

What else? I’d spend the money saved on book production on marketing & publicity. There’s a slippery shore. People spent money on publicity and often have no tangible results from it. In that case, the smart author will research low cost publicity avenues. The ‘Net, blogs, social networking sites, on and on.

Looking over the whole picture, what I’d do is budget book production carefully and stick to my budgets. I’d firm up my design team and their cost estimates before doing anything.

And I’d acknowledge that writing the book and producing it are only the beginning: The real work in the book world is selling books for a profit.

Sandy Nathan

Sandy Nathan––Before publishing in the Great Recession


Sandy Nathan after publishing Stepping off the Edge, ed. 1. Edition 2 wasn't much better.

5.2 Selling Books in the Great Recession: The Only Equation Book Sellers Need to Know

Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate and Guru of Conservative Economists

Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize Winner and Guru of Conservative Economists

P = TR – TC

The economist’s traditional way of putting this equation is:

pi = TR – TC

What is this? It’s the equation for profit, which is what runs your life if you’re in the book business, and most others. (Economists use the Greek letter pi to indicate profit.)

Profit = Total Revenue – Total Cost.

I’m posting this article before putting up the words of my guest bloggers because my guests are are old hands in the publishing world. They jump in running with their comments. What they say might be a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with the background. I’m setting out a few basic economic formulas to establish a framework for thought.

Total revenue is all the money coming in to your publishing endeavor as a result of your books, eBooks and whatever else you sell. That might include revenue from speaking or seminars, whatever. How you define your business for tax purposes is up to you, your CPA, and your tax attorney. Whatever: TR includes all remuneration from your endeavors, however broadly you define them.

From TR, we subtract Total Cost. This means the cost of everything from editing and proofing to stamps on the promotional postcards. Costs of all consultants, printing. Rent, electricity. Everything.

Profit is what’s left over after you subtract total costs from total revenue. That’s “the bottom line.” If the number is negative, you’ve made a loss.

In traditional publishing, where the publisher buys your manuscript and publishes it at his expense, this equation runs the show for a simple reason: In a capitalist society, businesses go bankrupt if they don’t make a profit.

If you’re a self-publisher or run an independent press (an Indie), the bottom line also matters, even if profit isn’t your total focus. How many of us can afford the time and expense to write and see our work in print decently (i.e., edited and properly typeset), when Mom is the only person who buys it? The profit equation applies to all of us.

John Maynard Keynes, Father of Modern Economics

John Maynard Keynes, Father of Modern Economics

Another equation that applies to the publishing world:

Y = C + I + G

This is the equation for national income––the big picture.

Y, used by economists to mean national income, usually called Gross Domestic Product or Gross National Product. GDP means the value of goods and services produced within the United States (in our case) during the year.

C stands for Consumption: everything we clever little shoppers buy from dinners at fancy restaurants to vintage wine to a whole lot more necessary things like brain surgery and clothes for our kids.

I means Investment, spending on goods and services intended in increase the size or efficiency of our productive capacity over time. So, spending on factories and new ways of making widgets.

G is Government Spending, which operates independently of consumer spending. Many of he functions of government (mosquito eradication, the military, our highway system, disaster relief) are functions benefiting society as a whole and need to be paid for by society as a whole. These are independent of private consumption, as is the cost of paying for our governmental system. (Congress, the Executive Branch, the court system … all that.)

National income equals the total of everything we spend, everything we invest, and all government spending.

What does this have to do with selling books and the Great Recession?

The definition of a recession (or depression) is that National Income is lower than it was before. Economists have means of measuring these variables and comparing economic performance over time. (The most recent measurements of economic variables say we’re OUT OF THE RECESSION! Ain’t that great? Don’t you feel it?) [This was written in 2009. Nuthin's changed. It's not Obama's fault… Really. It's the disparity of income between the upper and lower segments of our society. Trickle down doesn't work.]

Since, by definition, Income is lower in a recession, that means that at least some of the other variables, C + I + G, are down, too. In the current case, off the top of my head, I’d say Investment is stalled and Consumption is depressed. Government spending is strong, which is the whole idea behind the Stimulus Package. [Except that we called it off.]

Lord John Maynard Keynes, the father of modern economics, was the first to notice that the government can counteract what’s going on in the private sector. If C and I are faltering, G (government expenditures) can invigorate a sluggish economy.

Thorstein Veblen, Author of The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)

Thorstein Veblen, Author of The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption", which probably explains what fueled the Great Recession. That and crime in high places.



It means that overall consumer demand is off. (Duh.) Folks have less discretionary income––money they can spend as they want. That means that every friggin’ thing that they buy with that income competes with everything else for limited dollars.

Though we book producers worship books and consider them hallowed, other folks consider them just another form of entertainment. In a recession, books compete with all other forms of amusement––movies, sports events, music, everything.

Consumers rationing scarce dollars will think twice before plunking down $20 for a book (especially from an unknown author) when they could go to the movies or hit Starbucks.

Buyers may be more aware of opportunity cost, the economist’s jargon for, “Every time you make a choice, you lose.” If you’ve spent your $20 on diapers for the baby, that coffee table book fades into the sunset.

The book is the opportunity cost of the diapers. But which do you need more???


Recall the formula for profit: Profit = Total Revenue – Total Cost.

To handle today’s world, the smart book producer and seller can mess with both TR and TC. He or she can work to up Revenue and decrease Costs, or both.

This is what my guest speakers address in their comments, which begin with the next posting.

John Kenneth Galbraith, Keynesian Economist, Presidential Advisor, Prolific Author

John Kenneth Galbraith, Keynesian Economist, Presidential Adviser, Prolific Author

A NOTE: I haven’t mentioned CREDIT and CREDIT CARDS in the discussion above, treating disposable income and the other variables as though they were fixed amounts.

In reality, consumers have plastic. For years, we financed our lives using deficit spending, just like the government. We use credit cards instead of printing money.

This is fine, until the credit card’s limit becomes binding or the monthly payments of multiple cards take us such a large portion of our income that we can’t pay the rent. Or something happens. Like the loss of a job or a company going under.

The natural tendency to defer payment to some (much) later time by borrowing on future income does have a limit. Many of us have experienced that limit. Personal bankruptcies have soared along with corporate disasters. [Only thing different in 2011 is whole countries are going broke now.]

So the equations above do apply, but they’re elastic. A consumer can go a long time before the crunch happens.

Next up are some of our book marketing all stars!

Sandy Nathan

Sandy Nathan Back in the Day When I Was an Economist!

All the best,

Sandy Nathan
Winner of thirty national book awards
#1 Bestselling Author ofIn Love by Christmas 
Sandy’s Amazon Author page, where you can find ALL of her books.

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