No – I mean it – don’t give up the day job.
How much money do you think you can make as a ‘proper published author’? How many copies do you think you’d sell if you were a bestselling poet?
THE BOOKSELLER – the weekly trade magazine of the publishing industry – brought out an issue about the best books of 2013. These were the best-selling, the best-reviewed, the titles that had impressed the trade the most. A summary of the year’s highlights is nothing unusual, but I noticed that they printed the number of copies sold next to the books they were talking about. These numbers don’t include e-books, so they can’t tell the whole story, but they do illustrate – yet again – that the top twenty or so authors dominate the numbers, and it’s a very steep curve down from them.
Would you like to try my quick sales figures quiz? I’ll provide answers in another blog (the link is at the end of this post). Oh, and no googling please.
- Dan Brown’s INFERNO was the biggest selling book of 2013 – how many hardback copies did it sell?
- Seamus Heaney died this year, which gave his NEW SELECTED POEMS 1966-1987 a boost. A great poet, did his selected poems sell a) below 10,000 copies, b) between 10 and 20,000 copies or c) above 20,000 copies?
- GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn sold about the same number in e-books as in paperback. What were the total sales during 2013?
- How many copies did Booker winner Eleanor Catton sell in hardback?
- A rush release after her death, Baroness Thatcher’s authorised biography was over 800 pages long. How many copies of the £30 hardback sold?
- Did Morrisey’s autobiography do better or worse than Thatcher’s biography? He was published as an £8.99 Penguin Classic.
- Backlist titles can be surprising hits, such as STONER by John L Williams which was resurrected by Vintage, nearly 50 years after its first publication. How many did it sell in paperback this year?
- DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: HARD LUCK by Jeff Kinney beat several David Walliams titles into the top spot for 2013 children’s fiction titles – but how many did it sell in hardback?
- In graphic novels, Isabel Greenberg’s THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EARLY EARTH and Rob Ryan’s THE INVISIBLE KINGDOM both sold about the same number of copies. How many is that (to the nearest thousand)?
- Cashing in on the Dan Brown title, how many copies did the paperback Vintage edition of Dante’s INFERNO sell? (the covers were surprisingly similar..)
It’s interesting to be brought face to face with the figures that reveal the nitty gritty of the publishing industry – but there’s a bit more to it than that. The vast majority of authors need to put a lot of effort into marketing themselves and exploring related means of earning a living. Unless you’re Dan Brown or Gillian Flynn, your royalties will probably keep you in baked beans rather than caviar.
The most successful mid-list authors are the ones who spend time and effort getting to know their readers, turning up for events and conferences, and indulge in some professional self-promotion. This is even more vital for the self-published author.
Once your book is published, put aside some promotion time before you get stuck in to writing the next one. Sales tend to reflect hard work rather than lucky breaks.
To find out the answers, click here!