>Those Brutal Numbers

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Randy Ingermanson, creator of the “Snowflake Method to Novel Writing” is a writer with quite the head for the writing business. He sends out a free ezine that anyone can subscribe to, and it is full of great information. This month, it contained the following info on 2004’s book sales figures. If you don’t already subscribe to it, I can highly recommend it. (Go to his website and sign up today if you’re not already one of his thousands of subscribers http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com

Those Brutal Numbers

In the last few months, it seems like everybody has been quoting the same set of horrifying numbers, a group of sales figures for books in the year 2004.

Why 2004? Because that is the most recent year for which reasonably accurate statistics are available. Yes, really. The book industry is highly computerized, and you might think that current sales numbers should be readily available to anyone who asks for them.

Think again, Virginia. Getting accurate sales numbers from a publisher is harder than getting a reflection from a vampire. So that’s why nobody knows last year’s numbers, or even the year before last. What surprises me is that the numbers for 2004 are available.

Here are some of those brutal numbers.

In 2004, about 1.2 million books were in print.

80% of those books sold fewer than 100 copies.

98% sold fewer than 5000 copies.

Only a few hundred books sold more than 100,000 copies.

About 10 books sold over a million copies.

A little scary, no? Makes you want to go into some safe, surefire business, such as lion-taming or tornado-chasing.

The numbers aren’t QUITE as bad as they look.

One fact to remember is that a LOT of those books were self-published by authors who couldn’t find a royalty-paying publisher. So they paid somebody to print up a bunch of copies that wound up in the garage where they will mold in peace for all eternity. Self-pubbed books account for many of those eighty-percenters that sold under 100 copies.

You should also remember that not all of those 1.2 million books were actually PUBLISHED in 2004. In recent years, the number of books published per year has been around 160,000 to 180,000. Once a book gets published, it stays in print for several years. Towards the end of its life, a book that once sold well may be selling only a few dozen copies per year. That accounts for the rest of those books that sold under 100 copies.

Despite those two caveats, if you fiddle around with those numbers, you can see that only a bit more than 10% of the books published in any given year will sell over 5000 copies.

Feeling better now? I didn’t think so.

Any way you slice those numbers, they’re bad news. Horrible news, in fact. If you can figure out how to make a living by writing books that only sell 5000 copies apiece, then you need to get a life, a wife, a mortgage, a car, and a few other amenities such as shoes.

As a matter of fact, most writers DON’T make a living writing books. An editor friend of mine recently told me another horrifying statistic. Walk into any bookstore, look around at all the books there, and imagine their authors are all crammed into the store. Now guess how many of those authors earn their living writing books.

Go ahead and think about that for a second before you read on. Make a guess. How many authors earn a living writing books?

The answer is about one percent. That’s not “one percent of all the authors who write a book.” That’s “one percent of authors who get published by royalty-paying publishers and have their books sold in regular stores.” A large percentage of all authors these days are actually self-published authors, who DON’T get royalties and DON’T get their books in regular stores. That means that substantially LESS than one percent of all authors make a living writing books. A few authors, of course, do immensely well. But most authors don’t.

(There is a lot more to this, but the figures are what I wanted to post about today.)

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1 Comment

Filed under The Process

One response to “>Those Brutal Numbers

  1. >Rather scary, I agree…especially as I’ve stepped into one of those categories myself ….too bad it’s NOT the 1% category!!

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