Does it matter whether your first book is in print or digital-first? Some #thingstoconsider
A print run is different than Print on Demand (POD). POD makes each copy to order. Print runs mean a high volume of copies were printed to place them in physical bookstores.
Print runs are enormously expensive. If your first book is given a print run, you and the publisher agree that your book will sell enough PRINT COPIES to not just earn back the cost of the print run but turn a profit for everyone.
Note what I put in all caps: PRINT COPIES. The publisher isn’t just assessing whether the book will sell but in what FORMAT it will primarily sell.
If a book will primarily sell in print (with a minimum sales volume to recoup the print run cost), the publisher will give it a print run.
But some books are more likely to sell as e-books/digital first (why is a whole other conversation, but basically, publishing is based on guesswork and magic).
If a book is more likely to sell as a digital-first title, the publisher is unlikely to give you a print run. And while I know most of us dream of a print run, in this case, you’re better off not getting one. Why?
This is where we now have to talk about acquisitions. Editors primarily want to acquire your book because they’re in love with it. We spend hours and hours and hours with your book. We read it multiple times. We discuss it with colleagues and assistants and interns.
Editors want your book to sell as many copies as possible. They want you to win awards and hit lists. They want THIS book to be the book that catapults you into impossible success. But before any of that can happen, they have to get the book through the acquisition board.
That’s right. Most of the time, an editor can’t just say, “I want that.” They have to convince an entire acquisition board.
The acquisition board has NOT spent that much time with your book. Certainly not as much time as the editor. How much time varies by publisher and board member.
Some read everything: book, synopsis, proposed selling copy. Others don’t even read the synopsis or sample pages (if that) until the editor pitches the book.
Some acquisition boards will look at your proposed cover copy and go off their first instinct. If they’re hot for it on the spot, acquired. If not, you never had a chance.
But let’s assume they give your book the consideration it deserves. Let’s say they agree that it should be acquired. Now they will strategize what publication channel best fits it. Print or digital?
Some (most) of this is guesswork and magic, but here is where they’re also thinking of your career. If a book is given a print run and it BOMBS, the author is in trouble. Remember our discussion about acquisitions?
It’s easy to have lofty dreams for a debut, but once you’re published, you’re a known quantity. The publisher will look at your ROI (return on investment). Did they or another publisher invest heavily in print and lose a bunch of money? Eek.
A modest-selling digital-first title is easy to frame as an author who just needs a bigger platform, but a disastrous print run shows publishers that when given the biggest platform, the book failed.
I’m not making a moral judgment, just noting what I’ve seen over and over. Publishers will hesitate to acquire anything else from the author, even a digital-first title. The author may have to essentially start over with micro-publishers and prove themselves all over again.
Or the author may need to totally reinvent themselves, and that’s an obstacle that’s been hashed out aplenty. Many authors simply can’t afford to reinvent themselves. Sometimes, unfortunately, because gatekeepers won’t let them. The ones who make it went on a tougher journey than Batman.
Enough worries, we’ve got enough of those. What’s the takeaway? I mean, what I’m really getting at is that if your debut is digital instead of a print run, DON’T WORRY. Here’s all of the good stuff about a digital-first debut!
Let’s say you want to shake your first and tell everyone why your publisher is wrong not to give your debut a print run. Here’s the good news. Some books sell better in print, but it’s a rare book that would sell better in print but doesn’t sell well in digital, too.
Point at the digital sales. Point at the POD sales. Point at the reader response. I’ve seen a nice share of books that started digital and then were quickly given a print run. A publisher is *delighted* for you and your editor to get to say I TOLD YOU SO.
This is the opposite of a disastrous print run. A DYNAMITE DIGITAL DEBUT PROVES YOU DESERVE A PRINT RUN.
Now I’m not making a secret here that some of what I’m saying is partly about making the best out of a potentially disappointing offer. If it were up to me, you’d all get the biggest platform possible for your stories.
There are some pros and cons, risks and rewards. And if you experienced a disappointing debut, there’s still hope. You have options.
Publishing is a marathon. I hope this helps you take the next step, whatever that is for you.