Written by: Connor Judson Garrett
One of the biggest problems authors face is their own expectations for what a book will get them.
So many authors fantasize about the things that will come from their book, which leads to making poor decisions regarding the money and the time that goes into creating, publishing, and marketing one.
A book is a great thing that can bring value to you and your readers, but you won’t feel that sense of reward if you have unrealistic expectations about the return on your time, energy, and monetary investment.
I’m going to dive into some common misconceptions writers have, then explain how you can take a positive, more realistic approach for each of them. That isn’t to say your wildest dreams won’t come true, but the things I’m about to say are to help you make smart decisions from a business perspective.
First Unrealistic Expectation: My book will sell millions of copies
This is most common with first-time authors, but even experienced authors believe their book will sell millions of copies. It is possible, but it’s always better to be pleasantly surprised than to be disappointed.
“Never tell me the odds” — Han Solo
Okay, that’s a great movie line. However, here’s a breakdown by the numbers:
- The average non-fiction book is selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime
- In 2015, there were roughly 1 million new books published (total books)
- There were 300,000 books published in the United States alone
- Additionally, there are already more than 13 million books in print
- Only 250 books per year exceed 100,00 copies sold
- There are roughly 20 books per year that sell over 1,000,000 copies (almost all are fiction)
If you sell even 10,000 copies of a book, that is impressive, and you’ve already beaten the odds. If you focus just on book sales, the return on time invested is actually deadful for most authors. The odds of selling 1,000,000 copies are actually less likely than winning the lottery.
Professional writers are the only ones who should be that concerned with book sales because book sales are their primary revenue stream. However, most authors have other ways of making money — it’s just about identifying what they are and monetizing them.
A book is ultimately a multi-purpose marketing tool with the unique ability to create visibility and authority that authors can profit from. There are some parallels with the music industry. Streaming and downloads aren’t enough to make a musician wealthy, but merchandise sales and ticket sales can go a long way.
For example, if you’re a marketing professional or have a skill or possess knowledge of high value, the best way to get more clients and up your fees is by writing or co-authoring a book about what you know.
Writing a book gives you a consistent pipeline of people looking for the exact type of skill and experience you offer, as well as the authority and credibility to boost you as a thought leader. A book can secure clients, paid speaking gigs, raise money, launch a brand, and promote your company.
Second Unrealistic Expectation: A book will make me into a household name
Tons of people strive to be famous. They believe a book is the path. It usually is not. Very few authors ever become famous. Most of the names you remember are the dead writers (Shakespeare, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain, Plath, Tolkien). Someone like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling is the exception to the rule.
The other authors who are famous were typically famous for something else first. Celebrities may become authors, but authors don’t often become celebrities. Their celebrity sells books. It’s just less likely that book sales will transform a writer into a big name.
A book can increase your exposure. That is a fairly realistic expectation. If a media outlet wants an expert opinion, they’ll go to an expert. Well, one of the first people who is considered an expert is the one who has written a book on the subject.
Being an author grants you access to lecture halls, television studios, boardrooms, podcasts, special events, media pages, and the mind of the general public.
If you want increased visibility in your field, being the authority or expert is key, and if you want to build a brand, a book is a great way to get started.
Third Unrealistic Expectation: I want to live the writer life
People have a lot of fascinating ideas about what writers do day-to-day and what their lives look like. In many cases, the expectation does not match up with the reality at all. Almost zero overlap.
Half of the people who embark on the journey of writing on a book don’t necessarily have a unique insight or anything particularly interesting to say — let alone, a developed voice. They think writers smoke pipes, pontificate under the stars, float from conversation circle to circle at parties injecting witty banter, or fall into drunken stupors between the pages.
Everyone likes the idea of having a business. It sounds great inventing the next Facebook, but the problem is you’d have to invent the next Facebook…from scratch. Meaning, you’d have to get to work and put in the insane hours it takes to build something from the ground up.
The same goes for writing: everyone likes the idea of being a writer. It sounds great writing the next Harry Potter series. The problem with that is you’d have to actually do it. Putting in the time and commitment and treating it like a full-time job and then some.
It might seem glamorous, but the reality is writing doesn’t have the same guarantees as many professions. There is no sure thing. You do it because you love it and have the right expectations. Any other reason is faulty thinking.
Writing a book can open doors and create new opportunities. That is a more realistic expectation than the idea that once the book is done you can move to Key West and drink booze all day and go deep sea fishing and smoke cigars and then clank away at the typewriter when the mood strikes.
Amazon is the third-largest search engine in the world after Google and Youtube. More importantly, it’s the #1 search engine for products and service searches (with 44% of searches for products and services starting there). This means that one of the most author-heavy platforms is the hub of commerce and professional searches.
People have a problem, so they go to a book to figure out how to solve it. That’s how the author is discovered. A book becomes a funnel pointing them directly to you.
Why having realistic expectations for your book matters
Unrealistic expectations impact your decision about what book to write and if any component of your marketing is self-financed, then it can also lead to some pretty ambitious spending that you might not have the means to recoup through book sales alone.
If you believe you have a concept for a book that will sell millions because it’s a broad topic, you might end up pandering and in doing so, lose out on a niche you could thrive in. Establishing a niche is vital to becoming an authority on a topic.
If you write a book simply to become famous, your focus will be on yourself and your appearance rather than on your audience. The writing itself will inevitably suffer for this.
In business, a great entrepreneur is likely to tell you that they simply identified a problem and worked to create a solution, or a better solution than any that had previously existed. A great book does the same thing: it solves a problem your readers have.
Focus on a problem you’re looking to solve for yourself. Chances are you are not alone. There are people searching right now for the answer to the problem you will solve.