There’s a publishing lesson in every book

1/The Atheists Guide to Xmas


Lesson: How twitter can work


Out of the 42 writers in this compilation, 36 were on twitter. Some weeks before the book was launched – on the hottest day in September – all the writers tweeted during one day and the book went from over 200k on Amazon to no.11 on the bestseller list.


The book sold 2000 in the first week – 1500 of those copies were sold on Amazon. It gave the book a wonderful headstart and shot up the rankings. The real gain here is that additional orders came from retailers who wouldn’t have stocked it otherwise.


Scott will do the same thing for the paperback this year.


He commissioned the book on the basis that the atheist bus campaign that worked so well.


Check out this website – – you give someone something for free if they tweet about your book etc.


2/Shit my dad says by Justin Halpern


Lesson: we, as readers, are still very territorial


Started with blog/tweet about things the author’s dad said. It became enormous quickly and now sells 40k copies a day in US and is being made into a film. In the UK its doing ok only a minor hit.


So why is it working in the US and not in the UK? People still buy books from where they are from is the simple answer.


3/When I was Five I Killed Myself by Howard Buten


Lesson: the strangeness of the publishing world


Written by an American (professional clown) living in France. It has been read by 1 in 10 people in France and is the French Catcher in the Rye. But it’s not in print in the UK.


Why mention this book? It shows the weirdness of publishing world. Why was it so big in France and not in the US or the UK. Perhaps, the answer is luck and timing. Canongate – a great publisher – did it here and it failed.


4/Bad Science by Ben Goldacre


Lesson: reviews don’t sell copies but news stories and blogs can


Reviews don’t have an impact Scott claimed to much derision. Often people can’t find books that have been reviewed on the bookshelves. When Scott was at Waterstones, it was decided they must display all reviewed books. It was Waterstones least successful promotion ever! Scott’s research into the effectiveness showed the following:


A good review would sell only a few more dozen copies than without the review.

The broadsheets are reviewing books that people just don’t want to read.


Features or news stories sell far more copies – 1500 copies from one news story generated by Waterstones and placed in the Saturday Independent.


When Scott explained that reviews didn’t sell books to publishers, he was told ‘we produce hardbacks to get a good quote for the paperback’.


Having a newspaper column and building up a good blog following does sell books. This is what the author of Bad Science did and he built up his following over time.


5/The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery


Lesson: word of mouth is still the best way of shifting copies


This book was translates from the French. It had been longer on the French bestseller list than the Da Vinci Code. It was published in the UK by a small publisher called Gallic Books (they publish commercial French books). They sold 15/20k in hardback and only took one ad in the Bookseller. They couldn’t afford marketing or advertising so relied on word of mouth and this happened very quickly. A few thousand copies were sold in the first week. Now they have sold over 100k in paperback.


Word of mouth is still the biggest factor in sales for any book


6/The Number Mysteries by Marcus du Sautoy


Lesson: use the internet in books to sell copies


Bring the internet into books rather than other way around – this book does this using QR codes or two dimensional bar codes.

The author wanted to get people excited about numbers and interested in maths in a playful way. 



7/Imagine This by Sade Adeniran


Lesson: self published books can succeed


Lesson: don’t give up if you don’t get a book deal and are absolutely sure you have something well written. You can self publish.

Imagine this was written by a young Brit/Nigerian woman and self published. She put excerpts on her site and kept on plugging away to promote.

Big in Africa, It has not been published in UK although it was short listed and won the Commonwealth Writers Prize. It has been published across Africa but it is still self- published here as she was selling so many copies. She now has an agent and will find a trade publisher for her future books.


Top tips for Self Publishing:

Ask yourself what are you trying to achieve?

Look like a trade published book not an amateur one.

Please get advice on self-publishing and get it copyedited.  

Tell us here what help you need.

Get a good cover. We recommend trade book designer David Eldridge  –


Scott wrote an open letter to SP authors on his blog. Worth checking out if you are interested going down that route.


At the Book Fair, Scott ran an ‘Audience with Scott pack’ – 10 mins speed dating with self published authors. He would always be able to guess what was the self-published book – as the it was the heaviest because the best paper had been used. Trade publishers don’t use the best quality paper so perhaps your money is better spent on getting a good cover. Make it look like other books in its genre.


8/Crooked by Kristin Hersch


Lesson: think imaginatively to create interesting books


The Friday Project has published Kristin Hersch’s new album as a book – if you buy the book, you are able to ‘unlock’ the website where you can download her new album plus have access to lots of other extras. Its all about genuinely thinking about how we can use the digital world in a new way.


HMV love it because they can sell the book – her audience can only get it physically and it is not on Itunes. She is also selling about 100 copies at each concert.


Fans can also pay $30/year to get free music/ free gig etc. via her site and it’s a great example of a subscription model.


9/Blood Sweat and Tea by Tom Reynolds


Lesson: You can sell more books by giving something away.


If you want the ebook of the physical copy you can have it for free. They do this because the think it will lead to more sales. To date over 30k copies of the book have sold.


10/Third Pig Detective Agency by Bob Burke


Lesson: think about a cheap ebook as a way to kickstart sales


This book didn’t really work as the publisher couldn’t get it stocked as a kids book. So they produced an ebook for 99p. It stayed in the top spot in Waterstones and was a great piece of marketing.  Only 99p, we think readers, thought it’s heap, why not give it a go!

Won an award for best first kids novel so now stocked as kids book. So there’s another lesson in there which is that the direct route to what you want to achieve is not the only one.


11/Crap MPs


Lesson: you can still sell stuff just through the independent bookshops.


Scott thought this book would work as everyone hated MPs (then – height of expenses scandal – and now) but Waterstones and other bookshops wouldn’t touch it so Scott get the Reps on board and they sold it to independent bookstores.


12/All My Friends are Superheros


Lesson: you can still sell by word of mouth and it remains the best way to achieve high sales.


This book has a unique concept and is a beautiful story.

Moral: 10k sold through word of mouth.



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