We're ready for her call.
We often get asked by authors how large the print run of their book will be. Like the issue of advances
, the question is tinged with anxiety about how valued the author feels by the publisher, or, to put it another way, how much confidence the publisher has in the author's work.
From a publisher's perspective, however, the question doesn't make any sense, since publishers and authors don't make money on the number of books printed but on the number sold
. After all, which is better for either party: 2,322 copies sold from one print-run of 25,000 copies or 2,323 from three print-runs of a thousand each?
Of course, the author's fear is that there'll be so much demand for a book that the publisher won't be able to keep up, ultimately depressing sales. However true such a fear may have been in the past, technology now enables books to be printed in twenty-four hours and shipped to consumers directly. Indeed, e-books are always available, instantaneously, meaning that demand theoretically will never outstrip supply.
Of course, it's part of the fantasy world of both publishers and authors that Oprah will call and tell the publisher to get 300,000 copies of said book on Barnes and Noble's shelves in three weeks. If that happens, dear author, we'll deal with it (believe it or not, we have a plan for just such a contigency)! The reality, however, is that very few of the big publishers actually print the 100,000 copies at a time they advertise in their publicity materials. Like Lantern, they print small numbers frequently, maintaining as tight a hold over their inventory and sinking as few costs into their print-runs as possible.
So, all you would-be authors, the question you should ask your publisher is not how big the initial print-run will be, but whether your publisher is able to switch between web-press, short-run, and print-on-demand technology to satisfy the demand as it waxes and wanes—and whether the e-book version of the book will be out at the same time as the printed one. In our case, the answer is, simply, "Yes."