Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Many Books Am I Really Going to Sell?

Last month I attended a writer's conference. One of the speakers was a well known publisher who has had a lot of success with his imprint. He gave a talk about his experience in publishing. Included in this talk he listed his favorite books he had published as well a few of his best selling books, along with sales figures. Many of us in the audience, want-to-be writers, were shocked at the numbers. Most were low. Horrifyingly low.

How low?

New York Time's best selling pictures books, less than 10,000. New York Time's best selling middle grade books, less than 20,000.

I shouldn't have been surprised. A few months before the conference I submitted to a publisher who asked for comparibles. I didn't list best sellers, but books I thought were the most similar to mine and would have similar sales. I was told that one book I had listed as a comp, published by one of the Big Five publishers, so far had sold less than 500 copies, after two years on the market. That is not a typo. A YA dystopian, the first in a triology that was published in it's entirety, put out by one of the Big Five publishers, sold less than 500 copies in it's first two years of sales.


I came to learn these numbers came from BookScan, and do not actually include all sales, but are a good indication of sales in general. I also learned talking about average sales numbers is tricky, but for traditionally published authors, "The average sale of a hardback book by a first-time writer is 400 copies." ( And it's worse for those who are self-published. Sales "average out to around 54 sales per title." (
Yes, I found it difficult to come up with current numbers, but if anything I suspect competition has increased and sales numbers are even lower now.

For the new writer, what this means is you can't write a book and hope it will sell. You have to get out there and sell it. If you want writing to be your profession, not only do you have to be a good writer, you must be a serious business person. Probably as important as improving one's writing is learning and implementing smart marketing techniques.

No comments: