Print run FAQ for first time authors

‘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 🙂

10 Comments

  1. Guru Gowrav says:

    Sammer,
    I completed my first novel and I don’t have much knowledge about next steps. Your replies gave me nice introduction on the complexity involved in the industry 🙂

    I reside in UAE and I submitted query letter & synopsis to a few literary agents thro’ mail today. I am not looking for e-publishing as I prefer traditional way. Logistics is difficult for me as I stay outside India.

    See if you can guide me on below queries:
    1. Can you refer any literary agents thro’ your contacts?

    2. Do these literary agents provide service outside India? Google didn’t give much information on this. Are they accessible especially in Middle East?

    3. I understood from your responses that we may have to focus on book distributors as well. Can I contact them directly? When should I start this?

    4. Are there any agents who own complete responsibility from publishing including marketing & sales?

    5. I am ready to shell out money as required. I don’t mind if the novel fails to impact readers due to it’s poor quality. This will be my mistake and I can accept it comfortably. But I don’t want the ‘failure’ due to 3rd party reasons like poor distribution, ignorance from agents, manipulation in agreements etc. Please advise me in detail.

    Regards,
    Guru

  2. Prateek Gupta says:

    Hi sameer,
    this is prateek gupta, and i am working on my material getting published. its a fiction (mystery genre) but i am in a complete dilemma whether to go for self publishing or traditional one through literary agents. i read somewhere that books published via self publishing are of poor std (in terms of papers) and you cant even participate in literary awards. plus the returns are minimum , on the other hand, the scene is totally opposite in traditional publishing way . please advice. and secondly, if you think the latter outweighs, then i request you to list me some literary agents too!

  3. Arjun Shivaram says:

    Hello 🙂
    I just finished my debut novel, and it is in the genre of meta-fiction – very new to Indian literature.
    Can you advise me on its publication? Who are the publishers I can approach, who’ll really be considerate towards first-timers?

  4. Harimohan prajapati says:

    dear ,sameer sir
    i am a writer.i have writen many short stories,stories, screen playstories.and novels .i want to support with you for publish[ng these things with help you.my first novel kafan ki bheek all ready published in hindi allahabad,if you are interested so reply me in three days.

  5. Hemant says:

    Hi,
    I have got a mail from a traditional publisher (Srishti) that they are close to the final evaluation of my work and will reply soon. But they are asking me to share a marketing plan with them. Does that mean they expect the authors to invest in book marketing? This is my first book and I don’t have the budget to do so.
    Does Srishti offer an advance to debutante authors? I was expecting some cuz I have put in a lot of hardwork and time to complete the manuscript.

    Thanks

  6. Ambalal Chauhan says:

    Dear Sameer ,
    I am a published author in Gujarati and English . I have won many prizes / accolades at state / national / international level .My short story Sex at First Sight was India Best ( Debonaire – May 2002 ) – just an example. The Goddess of All Things , the title chapter of the novel, sent as a story , in a story competition to Writers Magazine ( probably the best writing magazine in the world ) was short listed for a prize with Highly Commended ! Another one.
    Presently , my novel, Dreams & Destiny is lying with a top Indian publisher as ‘ selected matter ‘ since about more than two years . Same way, a short story collection The Smile of Lord Shiva is also lying there since about more than six months . My another novel Who Killed Mr. Trivedi is now ready with me .
    Please guide – what I should I do For its publication ?

  7. Saba Tambe says:

    Hello Sameer Sir,
    I have written poems and also writing a novel(fiction) and I am desperately looking forward for getting it published, but i am unaware of the procedure and also scared of frauds. And I want to publish in order to make money from it. If you could please help me regarding this, I would be thankful to you
    Regards.

  8. Ashutosh Tiwari says:

    HI All,

    Need your assistance…

    I am writing a novel..Can anyone provide me with the entire process.
    1. do, I need to get copyright or patient for my book name and its contents
    2. What are the procedures involved in that
    3. How to get my book published
    4. as It’s my first book and I am not aware about the entire process, so, if anything left please suggest me on that as well.

    My e-mail address: ashutosh.tiwari2503@gmail.com

    Regards,
    Ashutosh Tiwari

  9. Aditya says:

    Sir, I am a 14 years old boy and I am writing my own first fiction book and I am searching for a publisher to publish it, would you like to help me? I don’t know much about the publishing.

  10. Divya says:

    Dear Sameer,

    Please confirm whether Astral International Publishers or Daya Publishing House is considered an international publisher of books with peer reviewed system

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