Commercial publishers achieve their high sales levels by ensuring that they have a good stock of books and an efficient distribution system which will get their titles from warehouse to bookshop shelves as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
This backs up the efforts of their sales teams, which use a combination of telesales calls and store visits to take orders from booksellers across the country.
The sales staff are supported by the publisher's marketing staff, who produce full-colour catalogues for the sales teams to refer to. These catalogues list all titles from backlist to front runners, including books planned for publication in the future, and are sent free of charge to distributors, wholesalers, bookshops and anyone else in between. The marketing staff advertise books to the book industry via the trade press, and promote the books to potential readers by buying advertising in national and niche publications; by producing promotional goods like posters, postcards and dump-bins; and by arranging special promotions and book signings. On top of that, the marketing staff also supply all and any relevant publications with advanced reading copies (ARCs) months before each title is published, in order to tie in with the periodicals’ own publication schedules and allow the reviewers plenty of reading time.
Together, the sales and marketing teams operate a double-sided attack which ensures that just as a book becomes available in bookshops across the country, its potential readers will become aware of it, it so maximising its sales.
When I consider the huge orchestrated efforts that commercial publishers make to promote and sell their titles, and compare their sales figures to those of most self-published books, I am surprised: not by the gulf between the two different levels of sales, but by the fact that so many self-published books, none of which have anything like the same level of support that commercially-published titles receive, manage to sell more than five or ten books each. Such sales figures are a testament to the cleverness, creativity and determination of those self-publishers, and should be applauded.