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What If Your Next Book Is an Unexpected Hit? Will You Be Prepared?

If there’s one certainty in book publishing, it’s the uncertainty surrounding first-run printings. Publishers may have an educated guess or a good idea based on previous sales of related titles, industry buzz, and the number of preorders the book has garnered, but it’s still a guess. Sometimes your initial printing will exceed demand and you’ll need to deal with excess inventory. On the flip side, the book may be an unexpected hit — and, although that’s always a pleasant surprise, if you’re not prepared, you won’t be able to take full advantage of this success.

best seller


It’s important to do your homework and make a realistic prediction for a book’s first printing, but confidence is also a key factor in deciding the size of the initial press run. Is it better to aim high and have to deal with excess inventory and higher print or paper costs than run out of books?

“If you don’t have books to sell, you’re not making any sales,” said John Beall, Sheridan Eastern Region Sales Manager.

Although the extra paper costs are a consideration, not having books available to sell can be worse than having too many. Over time and with additional marketing efforts, you can continue selling off inventory in the following months or years.

Conversely, James Rodriguez, Sheridan Western Region Sales Manager, said that reprinting is now easier than it has been in the past: “Technology and equipment have enabled us to produce lower print run copies economically so that there’s less risk involved for a publisher or author.”

For example, print-on-demand (POD) can be more expensive per unit, but you only need to order the number of copies you need. Before you choose to print a short first run, make sure you understand in advance the costs of reprinting another 10,000 or 20,000 books. Another factor to consider is whether the printer you use for the initial short run is a good fit for a possible larger print run. Switching printers at this point isn’t a good idea, because of added costs and time — plus a new printer wouldn’t already know your title and expectations.

Between traditional larger print runs, publishers can turn to POD to fill gaps and quickly print books. In addition, releasing a title as an eBook can also get digital versions into readers hands in a short time frame. In both situations, however, publishers must prepare early on and work closely with their printers to be ready for any issues that may arise.

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Proactively communicating with your printer is key to ensuring a realistic first-run quantity and helping make sure you don’t run out of copies over the long term. Establishing a close relationship with your printer will give you an idea of how quickly the printer can turn around a reprint order. You may even get preferential treatment for scheduling a quick reprint order. Know in advance whether paying overtime costs can expedite the printing if book sales suddenly take off.

As Rodriguez said, “Communication is key. It’s a constant dialog [with the publisher] because every situation and every event can be different. Understanding the needs of the publisher is huge on our end so that we can make sure we meet their expectations.”

Paper availability is a major consideration. A surprise blockbuster is great; surprising your printer with an urgent reprint order is not. Based on today’s paper market, lock in your paper orders four to eight weeks in advance by monitoring how quickly you are using up your inventory.

Beall agreed that continual communication is important.

“If I can educate publishers up front and ask them to place their reprint orders earlier, we can better adjust our print schedules to meet their needs,” he said.

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Keeping up

Keeping up with demand for an unexpected hit is a great “problem” for a publisher to have. Planning and preparing for such a problem can help maximize your returns. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Weigh the costs of keeping inventory versus reprint costs. Know in advance the costs for printing another 10,000 or 20,000 books. Are overtime charges a factor?
  • Know your printer’s capacity and ability to meet all of your printing needs. Can they do POD? How quickly can the printer turn around a reprint order? If a book is on backorder, what is the expected length of time to fulfillment?
  • Factor inventory and reprint costs into your POD plan. Could POD help you keep books in readers’ hands between regular print runs? Could you offset reprint expenses by eliminating inventory after the initial run?
  • Consider releasing the title as an eBook. Will you offer the eBook at the outset or release it as a gap-filling measure if the book is an unexpected success?
  • Monitor sales so you can order full-run reprints as early as possible. If necessary, can you pay extra to expedite the print order?

It’s great to be surprised by an unexpected book success, but don’t get caught off guard. You’ll be able to make the most of such an opportunity if you’re always prepared to keep up with a sudden increase in demand as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. And if your current book doesn’t turn out to be an unexpected hit, you’ll be well-prepared for the next potential best-seller.

Contact your Sheridan representative for a consultation or to learn how Sheridan experts can help streamline and simplify your book publishing processes.

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