Sunday, December 2, 2007

Show me the Numbers . . .

It seems the biggest secret in publishing is # of copies sold.

Here's my theory: When compared to music CD's or movie DVDs, book sales are embarrassingly low. It seems the publishers take this embarrassment to heart. As though if the public found out that 40,000 books sold is a hit while 40,000 CD's sold is a bust the publishing industry may lose some of its mystique. If this is true, I find this view to be shortsighted. I believe this hurts sales.

Here's the problem: The general public believes that every name in their local bookstore is a millionaire. This is far from the truth. Most authors must keep their day jobs. Sure Stephen King and Dean Koontz are multi-multi-multi millionaires, but they are the exception not the rule.

This perception leads to the same customer apathy now running rampant in the music industry. Customers don't mind stealing "reads" because they think every author is already rich. Keep in mind - most consumers actually believe that most of the 16 bucks they spent on a book actually goes to the author. Why not let them know that this is not true?

I recently read a comment thread where a couple or more CBA authors complained about being asked how many copies of their book they have sold. They equated to being asked "How much money you make?" I don't think this is a fair analogy and I don't think the reader intends the question that way. Most readers don't know the pay structure of the publishing industry.

Besides, 40,000 copies sounds like a number I'd be proud to announce. N0, it won't make me rich, but it's 40,000 more than I've sold now.

So after I'm pubished (warning: positive thinking at work) I'll be glad to tell you how many copies I've sold.


Kay said...

Al Gansky made the comment that even if your book is a low sellar, say 2,000 copies, (most books are read by two people)that's 4,000 people you've had the opportunity to influence. Like being invited to speak at a mega church.
I guess it's all about your intent. If one person reads my book and their life is changed, I will be satisfied.

Nicole said...

Kay, you're right about the satisfaction level of touching any reader(s). However, the professionals do not accept the 2000 (possbily 4000) number as indicative of any kind of real success but rather as a failure.

So, the question remains for writers--is publishing a big seller the objective of your writing?

Janet Rubin said...

Whether or not you're hoping to make a living with your novels certainly is a factor. It almost seems like people think it is wrong to attach money to "Christian" art. Yes, our focus should be pleasing God and influencing lives, but nothin wrong with making money. You could make more and give more away. (spoken by a girl making next to none:)

p.s. Dayle, stop by the planet; I'd like your opinion on my current post...

Dayle James Arceneaux said...

My goal is to make a living at this. But even if my first book is a failure by that standard (say 5000 copies sold) I'd still be proud. And despite not hitting my goal I'd still tell anyone who asked.

Heck, I'm proud that this blog recieved 650 visits and a thousand page views by 95 different people last month.

donna fleisher said...

Well, I've got nutin to lose, so I'll tell ya. As far as ECPA/CBA markets go -- (and I don't know anything about the general market, but I would guess it's about the same) (ECPA = Evangelical Christian Publishers Association; CBA = Christian Booksellers Association -- two different entities) -- if a debut novel sells 10,000-15,000 copies in its first year, it is considered a success. Most big-time ECPA publishers need those kinds of numbers to break even. Smaller houses would consider that same range very successful.

This is why the numbers don't really mean anything. A smaller house would drool over 10,000 copies of anything sold, when Zondervan or Tyndale would consider those numbers respectable, but not great. A cause for concern.

Any novel, especially one written by a new novelist, that sells more than 5000 copies is considered typical. Most novels out there on the shelves will sell around that number. Anything less than that is considered "not as successful."

The only way a book could be considered a failure is if it was targeted at selling a certain number of copies in its first year but sold less than 10-20% of that number. All things are relative.

And consider this: most series are stalled after the third or fourth book simply because sales typically drop. Book Twos sell about half of Book Ones, Book Threes about a third, and Book Fours ... yep, about a fourth.

Even still, most major houses will stand by a new novelist and help them "develop a readership." Even though they won't pour many marketing dollars into the book, they will give the author time to promote and market and to build up their readership. New novelists will not get canned by "less than stellar" sales figures on their first book. This is why most major houses are willing to sign new writers to multiple-book contracts.

Also, the numbers of readers per book is actually typically closer to eight. Eight readers typically read a book before it "dies." This is the amazing thing about writing a novel and having it published: the number of books sold is just a fraction of the number of readers that book will have. This is where, in God's eyes, real success is defined. Publishers must look at sales -- they simply must. But God looks at how the message He gave us is spread to exactly those readers He knew ahead of time needed the message.

So, yes, it's good to "worry" about sales. On the other hand, it's something no one can worry about, cuz there is absolutely nutin anyone can do to ensure a book sells well. That's why the book publishing industry has been compared to the horse racing industry.

But ... in God's eyes ... it's always about who reads the work of our hands, not who actually shells out the bucks to purchase it.

It's all relative, my friends. That's why the numbers are rarely given.

The best thing to aim for when it comes to sales is to simply strive to earn out your advance. Most advances are given as one dollar per book that they think that book will sell in its first year. So, if you are snagged up by a fairly major house, and they pay you a $5000 advance, thinking your book will sell 5000 copies in its first year ... and it does, and you earn out your advance and start earning royalties in your first year -- you are wildly successful for your publisher. They will adore you!

Most published authors do not earn out their advances. Only 1% of all published authors actually make a living at writing. I've heard it said that writing is a full-time job with part-time wages. It's true. But hey. What better job could there be?

Got long-winded there, sorry. I'll shut up now. : )

Jan Parrish said...

I agree that the general public doesn't know the real stats and they figure if you've sold a book you are rolling in the dough.

What they also don't understand is that we are so compelled to write that we would almost do it for free anyway. I guess the publishers know and take advantage of that fact.

Dayle James Arceneaux said...

That's kind of one of my points, Donna.

btw, Thanks for the info and don't ever worry about being long-winded here.

It seems to me that authors are embarrassed to give numbers because - not only do they not want to say 40,000 copies (which is a huge commericial success)if they sold them because the general public will think that's low, but they certainly don't want to say 5000 because everyone will assume they are a failure.

Admittingly, I'm looking at this from the outside (at the moment) but I would give the "low" figure and then tell the inguisitive person how proud I am of it.

I'm already proud of my work. A few people have cried while reading it. That means something I wrote touched people. That's success. Of course, I would like some suplemental income while I'm at it. :)

Chana said...

People should read this.