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Writers as Salespeople

sales chartA question from my ex-publisher stimulated me think about the pay structure in traditional publishing. The question she asked was: Why couldn’t you sell all those books when you were still under contract? Many factors came into play at the same time to quickly boost my e-book sales. Pricing strategy, volume of books, and massive effort all played a part. But one of the biggest issues was motivation, aka incentive.

In the business world, salespeople work for a small base pay and most of their income is in the form of incentive pay and bonuses. The more they sell, they more money they make. To some extent, this is true in traditional publishing, except that after the initial advance, writers (aka salespeople) only get paid every six months. If other businesses functioned that way, they’d have a hard time hiring and keeping salespeople. It’s hard to stay motivated when you wait half a year for a paycheck… then realize your publisher has kept most of it.

The other factor is information. Most salespeople get constant feedback on their performance. They know at any point exactly how their sales numbers are adding up. They can use that information to tailor their techniques and improve their sales. In traditional publishing, sales information comes too late to be effective and is often hard to decipher.

When you self-publish on Amazon, through both the Digital Text Platform and Create Space, after the initial six-week wait, you get paid every month. You also have access to hourly, daily, and monthly sales data. This information is direct feedback that you can use to figure out what promotional techniques work best. It can also function as incentive. When you see the sales bump up, it’s exciting and motivating.

Together, the steady income and the sales data provide a great incentive to spend time everyday blogging, tweeting, posting comments, and writing press releases. Wouldn’t it be interesting if traditional publishing houses followed Amazon’s lead and incentivized their writers to be diligent salespeople as well?

Publishers will say: It’s not possible. It’s too much bookkeeping. We’ve always done it this way. But Amazon knows what it’s doing, and it’s kicking ass in the publishing world.

What do you think? Would you work harder if your publisher gave you more sales data and paid you more often?

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