More About Book Sales

by Steve Laube

book sales
My post on Monday about average book sales raised a few questions and got me to thinking a little further.

I wondered what the average book sales were for all the titles our agency has represented. Our authors have sold millions of books but I had never thought to “do the math.”

I give this number with the following caveat. Many of the books have not been out for a year and thus we only have numbers for the first few months of sales. And some titles have a more academic orientation which generally means the unit sales are not as good. Also included are titles that were commercial disasters (selling less than 1,500 copies). But that is countered by a few titles that have been on the bestseller’s lists. Thus the “average.”

Across all titles our agency has represented over the last seven years, the average book has sold 20,000 copies. Wow. We are so privileged to be working with such amazing authors!

This is significant because it illustrates the nature of the commercial publishing side of the industry. 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.

My hope is that this picture will help solidify the business side of writing and that it will help you prepare for the journey ahead.








9 Responses to More About Book Sales

  1. Avatar
    Elizabeth M Thompson September 14, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Steve, I often think about something you said at Mount Hermon (2010) You said ministry can only take place when the book is opened and the words speak into the heart of the reader. That statement changed my outlook on marketing and numbers, realizing I want my books to impact lives, to encourage and minister grace.

    What a tremendous ministry you have!

  2. Avatar
    Heather Blanton October 3, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    So, here’s a tough question: my book has sold 6000 copies on Amazon since March. I have an agent who is also trying to sell this book. Do you think that sales like that make it easier or harder for him to sell me? My book did make it to the pub board of a major publisher in early May and they turned me down due to low sales expectations. At what point do you think they might re-think that decision, if at all? By the way, always enjoy your blogs. You always tell it like it is. Thanks!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube October 3, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      There are two schools of thought.
      1) Don’t saturate the market with a self-published book because the traditional publisher won’t have anyone left to sell it to.

      2) Self-publish and SELL 5,000 to 10,000 copies (print editions) thereby proving that there is a market if a major publisher were to roll it out. Case in point: The Shack sold one million but after FaithWords took over distribution is sold another ten million plus.

      The thing that messes with #2 is the e-book option. You’ve sold 6,000 units, but at a retail price of $2.99 which is not a sustainable retail price for the major publishers. Not after they have to account for returns, production costs, marketing, etc.

      The other challenge is your genre. Historical fiction is in a bit of a slump right now. Why? Who knows? It goes through cycles. Seven years ago I couldn’t place a historical by an author with 3 million books in print. Two years after that I had publishers begging me for historicals. Go figure.

      So what you are dealing with are publishers who are looking at your book on its own merit. Will it sell 15-20,000 copies or more? If their projections are less than that they will choose another title that will sell that many.

      If I were your agent I would suggest writing a new book, one with all the strength and excitement you can. Sell it as a fantastic new novel by someone who self-published with a good measure of success. Then if the NEW book is purchased and sells well, you still control your first book and can decide what to do moving forward.

      Great question!

  3. Avatar
    Elizabeth February 23, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    A book cost $10.00 in a bookstore. How much should a non-online bookstore make as their profit?

  4. Avatar
    Lynn Cornell February 12, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    Hi Steve,
    I’ve recently discovered your blog. I’ve written a fiction book that deals with present day racism in the church. Is there a market for this book and if so, how would I go about getting it published? I ask because I find some editors are reluctant to accept the book. Is that the same for readers?

  5. Avatar
    Felix Henson May 6, 2015 at 8:30 pm #

    Out of curiousity, would you know the average book sales for a second self-published collection of contemporary poetry?

  6. Avatar
    Karl June 8, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    I am a newly published author, I was told by a friend in the publishing field that I could use to track my book sales. Whilst this is great as it lets me see book & eBooks sales, but it only gives information for Amazon sales. Is there any other way to track books sold in shops? Will my publisher tell me how many units have sold or will I have to work it out when they send payment? Great blog by the way.


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