How to sell 5,000 books

This is what 5,000 ducks look like. This photo taken in China and from

5,000. It was the number I wanted to hit in book sales of my first book.

A publisher told me it was a respectable number for a first time author. So when my book was published in February, last year, that is what I was aiming for. To join the 5,000 club. To be one of those authors.

When my agent sent me my first royalty cheque for Losing February, she said I had ‘earned out’ my advance.

I had sold 5,000 print copies and almost a 1,000 digital books. Sounds a lot.

But 10% of a print book and 25% of a digital book less my agent’s cut isn’t a massive amount of money.

But I was thrilled. I had hit that magic number. And I was an ‘earned out’ author which boded well for my next book.

I read a blog by Annabel Smith, author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot questioning why it was so difficult to sell books despite doing everything she could to promote hers. You can read her blog On (Not) Making a Living Out of Writing here.

I must confess though, I have author envy.

Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project is hitting 100,000 + book sales and is currently travelling the US and UK promoting his book.

Like Hannah Kent with her first book, Burial Rites, publication has dramatically changed the lives of these new authors.

I have to keep the day job while Simsion and Kent live the author life I dream of.  
I met both of them at the Byron Bay Writers Festival and it couldn’t have happened to two nicer people.

You can check out their books here and here.

Back to book sales – here’s what you need to do.

1.Win an award for your unpublished manuscript.

2. Create a bidding war between publishers.

3. Sell you book to 50+ countries.

4. Travel the world promoting your book.

5. Accept a film offer on your book.

6. Give up the day job.

7. Write a sequel.

Oops, that is the list on how to sell a million books and while it does happen (a la Kent and Simsion), here is a more useful list for newbie authors.


1. Be realistic about your expectations of sales.

2.Develop your author platform including social media, your website, business card etc months before you publish. The first month after publication is exceptionally busy so the more that can be done in advance the better. Put aside time each day to be online commenting on your Author Facebook page and building followers. Tweet, tumble, pin, post your book.  But don’t be needy and desperate AND don’t tweet your book title in capital letters.  And never beg people to buy it. Do make comments on book blogs and be present in the bookish online book world in a sincere and intelligent way.

3.Watch, follow, comment on other writers’ works. Hang with your crowd, even if it is on  Twitter/Facebook/tumblr /Goodreads etc. Be generous to other authors in spreading the word about their books.  Authors Jesse Blackadder and Walter Mason are great at supporting other writers. Remember: what goes around comes around.

4. Have professional author photos taken. The publisher DOES NOT do this for you. More than anyone else you will be looking at that author shot in your book and wishing you had chosen a better photo. A professional shoot gives you a selection of pictures to send to media outlets. (and to your mum)

5. Visit as many bookshops as you can and put your book facing out front, on top of The Rosie Project if you can. (You know I can’t help it, Graeme)

6. Ask your friends to request your book at their local library.

7. Don’t wait for the media to contact you – connect with your local paper/radio etc. Think of different subjects and angles related to your book. And as a journalist, I plead with you, keep your press releases brief.  Half to one page. NO MORE.

8. Be easy to work with. Publishers don’t want to deal with difficult writers. So no tanties. The publishing world is small, they all know each other, so you will be developing a reputation from the get-go.

9. Get an agent. If your book does take off, you will need someone to take care of overseas rights etc.

10. Enjoy the ducks, all of them. Or whatever makes you happy. Have a full life that fills you and your writing. 

You are not defined by the number of books sold. But that doesn’t stop you wanting sales.


Author Malcolm Knox wrote an interesting piece on the life of a novelist. Read The Exfactor here

Be inspired by last year’s successful authors here.

More about my first foray into publishing with Losing February here

And to show the lengths I will go to- here is my five-minute Ignite Sydney talk. A terrifying and exhilarating experience. My talk on bad sex here.

This is what $5,000 looks like

This is what my book looks like.

8 Responses to How to sell 5,000 books

  1. By amanda marx, January 5, 2014 at 9:30 am

    thanks so much for this post susanna … loving the links too sweetie

    looking forward to your next book


    amanda m

    • By Susanna, January 5, 2014 at 11:24 am

      Thanks Amanda for your feedback.

  2. By Edward Smith, January 6, 2014 at 12:09 am

    First let me say it looks like you really know your stuff. Your list of things to do to sell 5,000 books hits all the right spots. I coach authors how to do their own publicity and I have one other thing you might want to consider. I believe places like bookstores and Amazon are really bad places to sell books. Don’t walk away from them, but for real volume you have to start thinking out of the box for new outlets to take your book. I have had a client sell over 10,000 books to Mary Kay to give to their sales people and customers. A large furniture retailer took over 5,000 coffee table books to use as a sales incentive, Costco can move thousands of books in a week, getting a tie in with a “As seen on TV” product can be huge. OK, thanks for your excellent advice and good luck, Edward Smith.

  3. By Joy Hopwood, February 19, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks for this. I’ll remember it when my next book gets published! I agree Walter Mason is the best! X

  4. By NeiL, March 18, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Very Timely! I’m sure all these must be carved out of stone somewhere behind the large ‘DON’T GO ANY FURTHER IF YOU WISH TO BE RICH” tablet. I am taking the risk and can’t wait to send my first copies to the press and fellow authors who have been supportive.
    Thanks, NeiL

    • By Susanna, April 12, 2014 at 10:33 am

      Good luck, Neil.

  5. By Michelle Newell, March 18, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    I’m still working on my first manuscript so I’m bookmarking this page! Thanks Susanna for these tips – invaluable for aspiring newbies :-)

    • By Susanna, April 12, 2014 at 10:33 am

      Happy writing Michelle.

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