‘Print run’ is a term you’ll start hearing about, once you sign your publishing contract. It might get a small mention in the agreement, but you’ll realise how important it is for the success of your book when you really understand the implications of that number.
What is a print run?
In simple terms, a print run is the number of copies your publisher will print each time. Once a print run gets sold out, the publisher orders another set of copies after taking a call on the number again. The first print run (i.e. the first time your manuscript gets sent to the printing press) can have the biggest impact on whether your book will be considered a success or failure. And ironically, it can be pretty relative and subjective perception, decided by – yup, you guessed it – the print run numbers. That requires a little more explanation.
What is the average print run size in India?
The bigger authors (think Chetan Bhagat) might get print runs that cross multiples of 100,000 copies. Most of the books by first time authors will be in the modest range of 3000-5000 copies.
Who decides whether the print run should be big or small?
If you are a first time author, it is very likely that you will not have a say in how big the first print run will be. The publisher will decide that after considering commercial and subjective parameters. It’s not an exact science.
What are the pros and cons of having a big (or small) print run?
– A big run run will ensure that the publishers, distributors, retailers, big book shops, smaller independent stores will all take you really seriously. When readers see a huge pile of books at the entrance of the book store, the immediate reaction is – ‘Looks like an important, popular and successful book…maybe I should check it out’. If the stock in one location gets sold, the bigger bookstore chains can always ask their other stores to send across a replenishment without waiting for the publisher to order another print run.
– A small print run can have the opposite reaction. If potential readers who aren’t aware of your book can’t see your new book easily, or if they know about it but are struggling to find it in stores, they might feel that the book hasn’t generated enough interest in the market. When the print run does get sold out, the reprint can take time, leaving a vacuum in the market for your book. That again can kill interest (specially in case of novels).
So isn’t it clear that an author should always push for a huge print run?
Not really. As a first time author, even if you had the power to influence the number of copies in the first print run, a very large number of books piled up in the bookstores may not always work in your favour. Consider the case when you’ve convinced your publisher that your book will be a bestseller and the first print run should be 100,000 copies.
The publisher agrees and before you open that new bank account specially to deposit your royalty cheques, the 100,000 copies hit the market. Readers start picking up your book, word of mouth gets into motion and over time, your book sells 50,000 copies. That’s a phenomenal number considering most books will never go beyond 3000-5000 copies.
The publisher should be thrilled, right? But the issue is that the remaining 50,000 copies that remain unsold get sent back to the publisher by the book stores for a full refund. So though in absolute terms, your book did exceedingly well, from the publishers perspective it was a failure as they incurred losses due to the huge print run.
So, after all that theory, we are back to the big question – what’s the optimal size of the first print run? Fortunately, it’s a question that the publisher will address based on their experience with books in that genre and authors of your background.
Your job is to wait for the books to enter the market so you can ensure that the print runs, irrespective of their size, get sold off. More on that in another post.
Btw, if you are wondering why I chose the topic of print runs for this post, it’s because the first print run for Beyond The MBA Hype got sold off (took a little under 3 months to reach the milestone) and the reprint is just out 🙂