Writing books is a tough gig. You might spend a year or so writing. Then rewriting and editing. You will spend a ridiculous amount of time looking for errors. You may have spent years, as I did, acquiring the knowledge. You can put everything you’ve got into producing an excellent book, but then what? The average book only sells around 300 copies in its lifetime. For the average self-published book, the figure drops to just 100. Oh, and self-publishing doesn’t mean you get to keep the money instead of the publisher taking it. By the time you pay the printing costs out of your cut, then taxes, student loans, and distribution, you’d be doing well to ever cover the cost of producing the book in the first place. Even self-publishing can get expensive if you employ editors, proofreaders, and cover designers.
Why don’t books sell?
I think there are a number of reasons.
Firstly, there is a hell of a lot of competition, so if you want to sell, it helps to be known by the general public. Sure you can sell a few books to your Facebook community, but if you want to go on selling, you need to be well-known, or have a lot of people promoting your brand. Many of the best-selling dog books are actually not very good books, but people buy what they recognise, or they think it’s good based on the fact the author has been on TV. My books will never sell in high volume because, outside of a few Facebook communities, I’m completely unknown. I have three degrees in dog and animal behaviour, but they are virtually irrelevant when it comes to selling books.
Secondly, with the advent of social media, people often want an instant answer to their questions. Researching which book might be appropriate and actually reading it is far too time-consuming for many when they can just google or ask on social media. Indeed, it’s very handy to be able to get ideas in this way, but the problem is that without a reasonably good base knowledge of a subject, it becomes difficult to evaluate what social media is telling you and amending that info to your own situation is difficult, if not impossible. So I actually strongly believe that a good book or course is vitally important, even in the modern era, and for the knowledge you’re getting, the price is unbelievable.
A third problem is pricing. People seem to expect books to be almost free. Only textbooks demand a high price, and they almost never sell in large numbers. As an author, your book will usually sell for less than a packet of cigarettes or one mixed training class. People are usually willing to pay more for a coffee and a sandwich than they are for your book. And most of the little money there is will go on production costs.
I speak to lots of people who want to write a book. I’m asked about it almost daily. By all means, if it’s a passion, write it, but don’t expect it to pay the rent – for that, you need to sell a hell of a lot of books.