This post is coming on the backend of the 2023 Year In Review Post. It’s the entire discussion on year in review that had me thinking about what it is to define success and to review what we’ve been doing as a business. I’m going to write about defining success here in terms of an individual book and it’s launch.
A Cost Based Approach
So, one approach to looking at a book and it’s launch was to consider how ‘successful’ the book is by the cost equivalent of the book and whether you made your cost back. Now, at the base level; we’re talking about money spent (covers, formatting, ISBNs, any software you might have had to buy for it, etc.).
Lots of cost, often that can be directly traced back to the individual book, that are spent. It could be said that a successful launch of a book then is when you have broken even off the cost. Let’s say it costs a $1000 (you could do it cheaper, you could do it for a lot more, we’ll go with $1000).
Another cost though that isn’t included in here is the time it takes for the book to be written, edited and formatting before it’s published. If you can write and publish a book in a month (and this is your ONLY source of income, or you track your hours by the hour) you could then work out how much it ‘cost’ you in time. At the base level, if this was your ONLY source of income, then at the minimum you might want each book to cover your living cost for this time taken.
So, if it takes you 3 months to write and edit and publish a book, you need the book to cover your living expenses for 3 months (we’ll call it $2,000 each month) and the production cost of a $1000. So a successful launch at the least is $7000.
Now, how fast do you need that to arrive? All in the first month? That’s unlikely. You’re probably wanting that $7k in say, 3 months. Maybe you’d get $4, 2, 1k before it becomes a dribble.
That’s one way of looking at it, a cost basis.
I’d call this more a sub-class of the above method, which is about chasing trends. Here, the goal is to chase the hottest trends. Perhaps the easiest example is by watching some romance authors, who build their business by chasing the latest trends. They find the latest tropes that are popular or on the rise, write a book very quickly and put it out to market. They often get the book done in a month, release it and move on.
This keeps the cost of the book itself pretty low while banking on the ‘hotness’ of the trend to do the marketing. The launch is often relatively successful, though the book itself might not have a long shelf-life.
Big 5 Traditional Publishing Rollout
Now, this is another interesting option I think to look at the work. This works better for publishing companies; where they have a wide variety of books coming out and deep pockets; but they pick ‘winners’ in the books and push them as hard as they can. They plan the rollouts a year or two in advance; doing everything from hitting up trade publications and librarians and taste makers just so that they can ‘guarantee’ a hit.
It isn’t ever a guarantee of course, but they try to weigh it in their favour as much as possible. In this case, their release as a publishing company is very busy; but for the author might only come once every two years.
One thing that is remarkable about trad pub rollouts too is that it all happens in like 90 days. Once you are out of those 90 days, the marketing machine falls back asleep for the specific book until the next book in the series comes out.
In this case, a success could be considered a rollout for a work that becomes an evergren hit. You know the ones – the books that are still in the bookstore a year, two years, five years after their release. Megahits, of course, stick around for decades; but for tradpub; I’d say they want something in a few years if they can manufacture it.
A smaller consideration is a cost based approach too (just that their cost are much higher and include advances).
The Income Generating Asset Method
So, another option to look at the launch of a book is not to see is an individual launch; a disposable item but an income generating asset. In this case, the success of the work is not as dependent on the launch month(s) but over a time period. When / how long that time frame for income generation will differ, based off how you see it.
The Series Model
So, in fantasy and scifi in particular; the use of trilogies is very popular. A lot of people talk of seeing an increase in sales on the third book, and we certainly see that happen at times. It’s not always guaranteed, there are a variety of factors in there; but the third book launch in a ‘good’ series can often make or break it.
These days, as advertising costs go higher and marketing channels grow more busy; three books are just the minimum to breakeven. 4 to 5 books is where you make a profit, but you can’t tell if you have a lasting series until book 3 is out (at least in this model).
With 3 books, you can create an omnibus and sell that. With 3 books, you often have a ‘big’ audiobook that can sell to those individuals looking for a deal with their credit, With 3 books, you can tell readthrough better and see if you can make it to 5 books.
A series model looks at the return of the series as a whole, and whether it can generate income as a series – over all the books, when marketed to a not as easy to reach or regular audience.
With the biggest or most successful series, each book launch aftewards actually builds income for the series; as you gain more readers than you lose with the increased publicity.
The Blooming Tree Model
It’s not a good name. It’s fine. The idea is that your work / book is something that you plant in the ground, that will take a long time to grow in readership and, of course, income. You don’t expect a tree to bear fruit immediately, but that it will eventually flower. Now, this model almost begs for great writing – because your fruit are from readers who find the book organically or through your promotions – and who tell others.
Word of mouth is what drives the growth of this book, though you obviously need to water it once in a while. But here, you have a timeframe, you know it’s going to take 6/12/24 months of careful watering and driving to slowly grow your business and income. You don’t expect it to come anytime soon; so you keep planting other trees; so that eventually each tree will flower and bear some fruit.
It’s a long-term view; and you might find that none of the various trees you plant at first bear any fruit. Maybe you’re planting the wrong trees in the wrong soil, or maybe you just don’t know how to plant them. It’s always a possibility.
In either case, the goal is never the short-term launch. It’s always about what fruit it will bear in the future, whether it’s small dribbles or large amounts, it’ll keep bearing something.
The Craft Approach
When I started writing this, I was thinking in terms of cost / assets; the balance sheet business hat. There’s another way of looking at success – and that’s the writer / craft side of it. The simple question and answer, that drives a number of authors to put pen to paper. Did they write a good book?
Did people read it and like it?
Did we do what we want with this book?
Sometimes, some stories aren’t written for money’s sake. Sometimes, they’re written because the person involved has a book or a story to tell, something that needs them to tell it. In this case, there are no financial considerations in terms of whether it made money or not.
For the author, the goal is to if they wrote it well. Maybe if they won awards for it. Maybe if they got great reviews. The publishing is a side-effect of the writing, something they have to do to get the book out there. It’s not the point of the writing.
There’s not much I can say about this approach, because it’s so personal.
This isn’t a super well reasoned business post. I’m sure other people have ways of deciding on what a good launch is. I’m just writing this because, well, I figure I wanted to talk about launches, because I’m considering how Climbing the Ranks and other launches did, and trying to square it away in my own mind.
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