In 2020, I published a book about the science of sourdough bread baking. I’ve blogged about it before on the technical side of the book making process, but this time, I’d like to take a closer look at what is arguably more important: sales.
I hate pretending to be a salesmen. Their stereotypical sleezy ways of turning prospects into customers—a stereotype that is confirmed again and again—is revolting to me and I’m also not very good at it. But selling something you’ve made yourself is perhaps a completely different story. Yet, I’m still not good at it. Or rather, I dislike investing the required time into it. Still, if nobody knows you made something, then nobody will have the intention to buy it. That sounds fair enough.
I’ve been attracting a small following of bread baking enthusiasts on Facebook since I started uploading pictures and stories onto it in 2012. Thus, it only seemed natural to announce the release of the book on Facebook. That’s exactly what I did in May 2020, with this sale graph as a consequence:
More than 100 people bought the book the first few months, and I’m very grateful for that. After the initial excitement of a newly released bread adventure book wore off, the monthly sales were still doing all right. Mind you, I wasn’t investing any time to promote it, besides putting it on my website redzuurdesem.be. The total amount of physical books sold since then is 494. That is still awfully low. There are a couple of reasons for that:
- I earn a comfortable income as a researcher at a university. I wrote this book in two years as a passion project.
- As I said before, I hate the sales part, thus I did almost nothing to promote the book. I just didn’t have the energy.
- It is written in Dutch. That was perhaps a stupid mistake, but for me the easiest way to express myself as it is my mother language. Just thinking about a possible translation to English makes me sweat: it took me long enough to properly finish the Dutch one!
- The subject of the book is a bit obscure. It’s about (1) science: microbiological properties of yeasts and bacteria, and (2) a personal tale on the discovery of sourdough bread. This is not a typical “recipe” or “baking” book: it’s a culinary tale, inspired by Michael Booth and David Pollan.
Self-publishing is hard. I did initially submit the manuscript to six different Belgian and Dutch publishing companies, and only one of them was kind enough to let me know that they might be interested—after four months of radio silence. After a few more “perhaps” and “we’ll have another look” messages, it also stranded as a dead end. Without a publisher, a physical copy of the book won’t be easily available in various bookshops, and you’ll encounter much more difficulties trying to get a press release published in local newspapers. I contacted six different newspapers and heard from no-one.
I can live with the fact that someone isn’t professionally interested in publishing my work or writing a review about it. What I can’t live with, however, is not having the decency to get back to me. It was a frustrating time, and let to me giving up on sales all-together. I was very grateful when local bookshop Grim in Hasselt was willing to buy a few copies—which eventually got sold, so they even restocked. When I spoke to the book owner, he said that 80% of his sales were form 5% of his collection. Everything else, he said, was just here to “collect dust”. Ouch. He was initially very reluctant to sell my books because of the Brave New Books self-publishing platform I use to print the books. It’s basically a cesspool: due to the total absence of a review system, anyone can upload two pages of garbled nonsense and call it a “book”.
Now, when you take another look at the sales graph, you’ll see a sudden decline after April 2021. That’s because I ditched Facebook. I’ve always detested the platform—and social networks in general—but up to recent times considered them to be a necessary evil to put my work “out there”. I noticed lately that it costs me large amounts of energy to keep up with the sometimes repetitive and shallow questions asked there and to frequently post something new, just to keep the damn page alive, next to my main bread baking website. So I pulled the plug.
I feel much better now, but the decision was quite damaging to my already puny sales. I couldn’t care less (cough). I am very happy that I finally managed to write a 370-page book about something I’m very passionate about: I’ve been wanting to do that for more than six years. My adventure and findings are available for anyone who’s interested, and my main sales now are driven by my own website and the five lovely souls who highly rate the book on bol.com. I have thought about creating a mailing list instead, but I am not planning on writing another baking book and I disapprove of collecting e-mails just to spam them to get a sale or two.
€3 for every book sold, which costs
€28.50. You do the math. Feel free to laugh out loud.
It’s still depressing to see how much time you “have to” invest in visibility on social networks: it still pays off big time, and I hate that. My wife started creating and selling her own silver jewelry, and she feels the same way. She feels obligated to post something on Instagram every few days, otherwise she’s afraid of not becoming relevant anymore. And then, of course, there’s the devastating competition: those pictures are more inviting than mine, that post has more likes than mine, see, my stuff isn’t worth anything, I told you so, I better quit and get “a regular job”…
Please reach out if you’ve had a similar experience, or if you managed to carve out a more successful writing career than I have. I’d love to hear your opinion on how to handle things.
If you’re interested in all things bread and would like to support my work, please consider buying the book. A lot of blood, sweat, yeast, and bacteria went into it, and it would mean a lot to me.