Sometimes if you look at the numbers, the prospects for making money in any given business may seem bleak.

And yet…

Even in the poorest of industries, there are often people making money hand-over-fist while everyone is claiming such things are impossible.

Certainly this is the case today with the publishing industry. When you look at the figures, things look bleak. Bowker (which sells ISBN numbers to publishers) claims that over one million titles were published in 2009 — just in the US. That number is three times the number of different titles that went into print in 2005. And from all vantage points, it appears the numbers of books being fielded are even higher now — and going up all around the world.

Did a little deeper into the numbers and you’ll find fewer books are being sold and that many titles sell only a handful of books.

And yet some people are making great money in the industry. Some writers (including some of my clients) are seeing sales that would have made mid-list writers back in the 1990s kill for. And there are a few folks claiming a million or more sales — with self-published ebooks. Some presses are going under, yet a few are thriving.

What makes the difference?

One thing many successful publishers are doing is niche marketing. They find groups of people interested in some subject that isn’t being well served by publishers, write titles aimed at this small market, and then reach potential buyers with advertising and reviews of their books. Today with the Internet, reaching this or that niche has never been easier or cheaper. Many successful book sellers are making fantastic money with a small niche market — and are often “under the radar” of others in the publishing industry who are aiming at a more general market of buyers.

For authors, an important key to selling books is promotion both of the author as well as the titles that writer has written. That may sound flippant with a high “oh, duh” factor. Yet I find many writers fail miserably at this. They write their book, toss it out the door, and start on their next manuscript. And then they’re miffed because none of their books rack up any serious sales.

Remember: If you’re an author, writing your book is only half (or even a fourth) of the work these days. Promotion of your title is key to making it a success.

It’s also a mistake to see your title as competing in sales against millions of other titles. In fact you’re only competing against books that are similar to yours.

And even then, not so much. Often readers will buy many books on any one given subject; in truth your “competitors” may actually be helping you sell your book by wetting the interest of potential buyers in the subject matter your book is about.

In the end, the trick for authors is not so much somehow beating competitors out of their sales, but rather to present your book to those who have interest in the subject you’ve written is about. The key to sales is not about worrying about other similar books, and especially about the many books flooding the marketplace, but rather targeting potential readers and buyers of your books, and bringing their attention to your title.

Advertising, interviews, blogs, etc., are all tools you can use for that purpose.

So write your book, get it published, then roll up your sleeves and set about gaining the notice you need to sell yourself and your title.

Best-selling author Duncan Long is a writer/illustrator who’s been in the publishing business for decades; over one hundred of his titles have gone into print with HarperCollins, Avon, Paladin Press, and other publishers. Today most of his work involves creating book illustrations for other authors. You can see his book and magazine artwork in his portfolio of book illustrations.