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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How Hard is it to Sell Large Numbers of a Given Title?

How hard is it to sell a book?
"To get a sense of the odds, in a random analysis of 1,000 business books released last year, Codex Group, a publishing consultant, found that only 62 sold more than 5,000 copies."

--New York Times, March 30, 2010

Now, which pool is larger, business readers or niche history?

It never ceases to amaze me when an author (almost always a new one), submits his manuscript and then tells me to make sure and print at least 50,000 copies for the first run. I usually smile and attempt to temper expectations. "Remove one of those zeros, Sam, and you might be in the ballpark."

Then again, that reduced number might be twice the number you actually sell.



Anonymous said...

As someone who has been active in the book publishing industry for two decades, I can attest to wild ideas from both consumers and authors about how many books actually sell, per given title. So many people think that a book--any book--sells thousands--or tens or hundreds of thousands--of copies. They read about King, Rowling, Cussler, Clancy, Sparks, etc. and think that is a high normal.

In today's market, with fewer brick and mortar sales points and struggling chains, it is so much more difficult to get large orders out the door and in front of customers. And even then, the chains (and wholesalers) send back pallets of books that have never been pulled from their original casing to pay down debt. The entire system is nearly a ponzi scheme against publishers and authors.

If authors only knew how hard it is, they would roll up their sleeves and get to work! Sadly, most think their work largely ends once the manuscript is submitted and accepted.

Keep up the good work, but blog more often. You have a lot to say and I, for one, enjoy reading it.


J David Petruzzi said...

Indeed. I can't count how many times I've heard, "Wow, so you must have sold 100,000 of this one, huh?"

From their mouths to God's ear...

Folks actually would be shocked to hear the true sales numbers of books that are quite popular - a lot less than they think.

Paul Taylor said...

Right on the money --- and it can be somewhat frustrating when you consider the costs that the author sunk into his "child." I would dare say that practically every non-academic author writing Civil War non-fiction today whose last name is not Goodwin, Gallagher or McPherson does so as a labor of love and a deep-seated need to put pen to paper.

I can unequivocally state that between the costs of travel, photocopying, use rights, cartography costs, professionally-prepared index, etc., the author's costs of producing a quality book are extensive. If s/he ultimately breaks even, great, but I'd say that's probaly the exception rather than the rule.

TPS said...

Thanks for the responses. By and large, Paul, this is true for publishers as well. We don't do this for the money. Trust me.

On the vast majority of our titles, we earn back our expenses. That's about it. They pay to keep the lights on and the phones ringing. On a few titles, we make some money. But it is extremely labor intensive for us as well, and few authors appreciate that if they earn 10% of X, the bulk of X was spent working hard to get the author the 10%.

As a friend of mine told me, publishing is a virus. Once you get it, getting out is . . . difficult. Not that I am seeking a cure.

Happy Easter to all.

Theodore P. Savas
Managing Director