Tracy Higley

Tracy (T.L.) Higley here, posting another marketing lesson I’ve learned from my years in online retail sales. As I’ve mentioned in previous months, I’m currently in the midst of an experimental year, applying principles from my retail business to the marketing of my fiction. If you’ve missed earlier posts, and would like a better explanation of my background and what these posts are about, please see Principles #1-#9 here.


So, on to Principle #10… Give yourself a reality check.


Writing is hard. Making money at writing is even harder. There is considerable discussion and debate these days about what it takes to grow your readership, whether social networking efforts translate into book sales, etc. It’s not my intent to weigh in on that issue in this post, but to give you some real numbers to think through, that may help you as you make your own decisions.

The #1 problem in making money writing books is this: you have an extremely limited product line, with new products being released very infrequently. One book per year is probably average. Think about this. One low-profit product, released once per year.

Stick with me here, as we dive into some realistic numbers.

In my online retail business selling craft supplies, the average order is about $45.  And about 20% of my customers purchase from me repeatedly in a year. My bottom-line profit on each order (after purchasing the wholesale products and paying for overhead) is probably about the same as a book royalty. But my average order is much higher than a book price, and I get more repeat business. By my calculations, one of my retail customers is worth about 8 times more than one book-buying reader. This means I need to sell books to 8 times more readers.


Let’s look at it another way. What is the annual salary you would be satisfied to take as a full-time writer? Figure about $1 in royalty/advance for every book-buying reader per year. In other words, an annual salary of $50,000 would require 50,000 book sales per year.

How many authors come anywhere close to this number? Not very many. Depressing? But reality.

You have three options, as I see it.

1.   Do what it takes to build your readership to the point that you have as many book-buying readers as dollars you’d like to make. Only you can answer what it takes.

2.   Develop multiple streams of writing-related income. In other words, get yourself more than one “product” to sell. This can take many forms – article-writing, writing and selling e-books, editing, book-doctoring, developing a successful blog that sells ad space, and a host of other options. Some of these can even build passive income.

3.   Have another stream of income that is not writing-related, and do not expect to make a full-time salary with your writing.


Remember, there is nothing wrong with any of these options!

Perhaps you are willing to put your heart into #1 – developing a broad reader base. I’d suggest implementing the second or third option while you do. Expect to be busy for awhile. Realize it’s a difficult task. But then go for it.

If #2 seems attractive to you, there are so many options, and you can find lots of great information online to generate ideas and get started.

If you choose #3, then do the things that make sense to build your readership, but release yourself from frantic, burdensome marketing efforts driven by a desperation to make enough money.  Yes, there are many things you can do to increase your success. Choose them wisely, as your time may be limited. Be realistic in your expectations.


Hopefully I have not discouraged you. As a novelist myself, I’m taking my medicine here this month, too. But marketing that is not based on realism will lead you to wasted efforts and even more discouragement.

Take an honest inventory of your desires, goals, and current situation this month. A reality check is a wise marketing principle.



One Thought on “Marketing Lessons from the World of Retail

  1. Hi,
    very nice blog you have created your blog is full of information and very helpful for us.
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