When some people make a publishing deal, they can convince themselves all their worries are over. The publisher will take care of everything and then a royalty check will magically appear in their mailbox. While this is not an impossible scenario, it is an unlikely one. You don’t get a royalty check until you earn more than your advance and book sales vary widely, even when looking at the average.
Steve Laube, agent and one-time publishing insider, posted a couple of times about book sales, averages, and what these numbers mean. In this post, he gave some examples from real life authors:
Author 1: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 8,300
Author 2: novelist – 12 books – avg. sale = 19,756
Author 3: novelist – 3 books – avg. sale = 7,000
Author 4: novelist – 7 books – avg. sale = 5,300 (Two different publishers)
Author 5: non-fiction devotional – 5 books – avg. sale = 10,900
Author 6: non-fiction – 2 books – avg. sale = 5,300
Author 7: novelist – 4 books – avg. sale = 29,400
Author 8: non-fiction – 3 books – avg. sale = 18,900
Author 9: fiction – 7 books – avg. sale = 12,900
Author 10: non-fiction – 5 books – avg. sale = 6,800 (three different publishers)
As you can see, averages vary between authors, publishers, topics, genre, etc. In a second post on average book sales, Steve explained in a little more detail.
If a publisher has controlled their costs in production, editorial, and the author contract, they should be profitable if they sell 20,000 copies.
One publisher said the other day that they won’t consider a book unless it can generate $200,000 in net revenue in its first year. I paused for a second and “did the math.” If a paperback book retails for $14.00 and the publisher receives a net of $7.00 per book, then this publisher is saying that they have a threshold of 30,000 copies in projected sales before they consider publishing a book.
That seems high, but for that publisher that is their base…. their average. Every publisher is different in that regard. For others that number is lower.
Some writers find this type of discussion depressing or claim that publishers are unfair. But others find this exhilarating because they now know how high the mountain is. And once you know the nature of the summit you can plan your path and your training accordingly.
Managing your expectations on things like book sales is incredibly important before signing with any publisher or even deciding to self-publish. If you don’t have a realistic view of what is likely (instead of what is possible), you’ll probably end up disappointed even if you gain what the industry considers moderate success.
Research is key! Don’t forget to check out various resources before jumping into any contracts or life altering decisions.