What Are Average Book Sales?

by Steve Laube

We recently received the following question:

“What does the average book sell today? An industry veteran at a writers conference recently said 5,000. What??? I know it all depends….but … nowhere near 5K, right?”

My simple answer?

It’s complicated.
It depends.


Average is a difficult thing to define. And each house defines success differently. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at one publisher they celebrate and have steak dinners. If a novel sells 5,000 copies at another publisher you find staff members fearing for their jobs and in total despair.

Let me give you some real numbers but not revealing the author name (and there is a wide variety of publishers represented):

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)

So you can see it DOES depend. Depends on the author and publisher and topic or genre.

If you take the above 10 authors and their 51 titles, they average 12,455 copies sold for every book published.

Thus I usually say that the average book sells 10,000 copies with a major publisher.
But I’ve intentionally left authors with much higher numbers out of the equation because, in general, they are the exception to the rule.

Be aware that the word “average” means that for every book that sells 15k there is one that sell 5k. And for every book that sells 20k there is one that is a disaster.

I know of an author with a major house whose novel has sold, in its lifetime, only 946 copies in two years. But I also know of others who have sold over 100,000 copies. Thus the word “average” can be problematic.

Read my follow up post which answers this question even further.

Sent us your questions! Just click the big green “Ask Us a Question” button in the right hand column and we will do our best to address your questions in the future.








47 Responses to What Are Average Book Sales?

  1. Avatar
    TC Avey September 12, 2011 at 4:46 am #

    Interesting. For the most part, I have thought about Best Sellers, and even those who have books that flop, but I haven’t given much thought to the average (of course we all want to be the exception to the rule, but that is not possible, then it wouldn’t be the exception would it?). I still plan on thinking BIG, but it’s nice to know some average figures. Helps put things into perspective. Thanks!

  2. Avatar
    Jen Daiker September 12, 2011 at 6:04 am #

    Guess it just proves that average really doesn’t guarantee anything. I think it should make us feel better about climbing into the publishing trenches. Knowing that even if one book does poorly there is always the chance that the other will work out. Publishing is a chance game I believe, they grab a book and hope it does well, but the ones they forecast to do well don’t always pull through like they expected.

    What a complicated profession to be in. And yet, I’m still willing to pursue and persevere to through it all.

  3. Avatar
    Richard Mabry September 12, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    Steve, Great information that will probably 1) depress unpublished authors a bit, 2) make published authors with truly average sales feel they aren’t alone, and 3) point out that Jim Bell got it right when he said that you might make more as a greeter at WalMart than as a writer.

    Seriously, I appreciate your sharing these figures. This information is hard to come by in the industry, and it’s good to know.

  4. Avatar
    Jane Kise September 12, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    Looking at quartiles rather than averages would be a lot more informing…what percentage of books sell less than 5,000, for example!

  5. Avatar
    Steve Laube September 12, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    That question is impossible to answer unless we know the sample from which the percentages are derived.
    If you mean a percentage of all books with ISBN #s that is one thing.
    If you mean books published by Thomas Nelson that is another.
    If you mean reference books or textbooks, again the percentage changes.

    Sorry I can’t help.

    Ultimately the question about book sales is nearly impossible to quantity definitively.


    • Avatar
      Joshua Kimball June 14, 2016 at 11:54 pm #

      What price tag would you put on an 80k hard bound word horror novel? I’ve already indie published my novelette and I am 75% committed to going indie with the larger sequel.

      • Avatar
        Steve Laube June 15, 2016 at 6:07 am #

        Depends on your print cost.

        Typically a hardcover retails for $22 or more in today’s 2016 market.

        But if you wish to sell into the bookstore market you’ll need enough margin to cover the discounts the retailer receives.

        Pick a generic 50% average discount. Retail $22 = $11 net when sold. If your printing cost is more than $7 per book you don’t have much left to cover your other production expenses or to pay yourself.

        • Avatar
          KD Irving April 3, 2019 at 3:07 pm #

          In the year 2019, what is the average cost to print soft cover, 300 pg approx at 15,000 prints for 1st edition fiction per book? And how would one go about getting an agent to represent or fund the print process?

  6. Avatar
    Daniel Smith September 12, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    Sorry, but the math isn’t quite right for those numbers. There are indeed 51 books represented and 124,556 total average sales. But 124,556 / 51 = 2442.2745098039215686274509803922.

    That’s about 2,500 average sales per book so the 10,000 figure you quoted is off by a factor of 4.

    Perhaps there is an error in the data as listed?

  7. Avatar
    Steve Laube September 12, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Your math is wrong.
    The grand total sales of all 51 titles is 649,772 books. Divided by 51 titles = 12,740 average.

    For example: Author #2 has 12 books that each sold an average of 19,756 or a grand total of 237,072 copies (then divided by 12 to get the 19,756 average).


  8. Avatar
    S. Paul Bryan September 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    This is good information, even if it’s not terribly precise. At least it let’s us know the order of magnitude. I think most people who ask, “What does an average book sell?” are asking if it’s more like ten copies, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred-thousand, etc. Knowing it’s close to the 10,000 range is very helpful.

  9. Avatar
    Daniel Smith September 12, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    Ahh! That’s what my mistake was. I was thinking the sales numbers were totals, not averages for each book. Thanks for clearing that up and sorry for the trouble.

    I’ve heard 10,000 as a rule of thumb for several other things. It’s nice to know that holds for book sales as well.

  10. Avatar
    Cory Clubb September 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm #


    Great food for thought. Although, I’m curious how this might equate for ebooks and sales?


    • Avatar
      Steve Laube September 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm #


      Ebooks are less than 2% of these totals. Partly because they are more recent.

      But as a general “rule” if 5%-10% of total sales are ebooks we think that is pretty amazing.

      In other words over 90% of all our authors sales are still in hard copy.

      • Avatar
        Christina (Berry) Tarabochia September 15, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

        My mom would be so proud to know I’ve finally been the norm in something. ;p

        Though, I guess, my oddness is still intact as my ebooks have 25% of my sales so far and the percentage is only going up from month to month.

  11. Avatar
    Brian D. Anderson March 26, 2013 at 2:35 am #

    In my experience, book sales has more to do with how hard the author is willing to work after the book is published, than anything else. Too many writers think once their book is available, their job ends. In fact, that is when the real work begins.
    They also don’t understand what it takes to make a living as a writer (novelist). Unless you’re with one of the Big 6 publishers you must produce at least two successful full-length novels per year. That means not only do you have to constantly self-promote, but keep writing as well. There is zero down time.
    Still, if you manage to break through it’s a wonderful way to make a living.
    Brian D. Anderson

  12. Avatar
    Tedd Galloway May 3, 2013 at 6:30 am #

    For many aspiring writers the information is both exciting and overwhelming. I write because I feel compelled to tell a story and I want my world to be encouraged by it. The process after the writing can be discouraging.

    • Avatar
      Pamela Goranson June 20, 2018 at 5:23 pm #

      I write because I feel called to do so. I will get published if God leads me on to do so. Ever hopeful!

  13. Avatar
    Bat Hughes January 6, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    Thanks. I’ve been curious about the numbers, especially for regular books that don’t top the sales charts. I hadn’t realized hard copies outsell eBooks by such a wide margin. Appreciate your follow-up comment.

  14. Avatar
    Jergins January 23, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    This article would be a lot more useful if you ever bothered clarifying whether sales numbers you mention are referring to per year, or over the lifetime of the book. Every time sales were mentioned, it was entirely necessary to include this information, and the failure to do so renders this post more or less useless. Pretty sloppy language for someone dealing in books!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube January 23, 2015 at 11:24 am #

      The examples I presented here were lifetime sales.

      But since they are averaged together some of the titles are many years old averaged against titles much more recent.

      Sorry you felt this to be a useless article.

      You may find the followup article helpful… or not.

  15. Avatar
    Ramon Somoza April 11, 2015 at 7:38 am #

    Interesting figures, but it makes you wonder if the 10k average stays like that, as these are life-time sales. Because the longer the book is on sale, the higher this number should go… and contrary to paper books, ebooks have an “eternal” life.

  16. Avatar
    mark April 14, 2015 at 10:28 am #

    I feel I must make the obligatory “what do you mean by ‘average’ comment.

    Suppose there are 10 books. 9 of them sell 100 copies each. 1 sells 100,000 copies. Average sales per book = 101,000 / 10 = 10,100 copies. But 9 of the books sold much less than that. The nature of the book market, I think — don’t have any stats in front of me but something like this — is that there are many books that sell 1000 copies or less, a bunch in the 1000 to 10,000 range, a relatively small number in 10,000 to 20,00, fewer still in 20,000 to 30,000, etc, up to the very tiny number that sell hundreds of thousands and the miniscule percentage that sell millions. The small number of best sellers drag the average up. And you got what sounds like a joke or a paradox: Almost everyone is below average.

  17. Avatar
    KMorrell September 19, 2015 at 11:33 am #

    Thank you so much for this insight, even if it’s necessarily broad-brush. It’s been hard to assess how I’m doing, relative to others. Your post has helped me put my own performance into context … so I thought I’d share my own experience in case it helps other authors.

    I’m a new author, who, having been rejected by 9 publishing houses in 2010, self-published her first novel (historical romance) in Jun 2015, using Amazon’s KDP tools.

    I had expected to sell either a handful … or tens of thousands … so when I became an Amazon best seller in my genre within a few weeks, I was stunned to discover that this was achieved by selling just 1000 ebooks for a couple of weeks on the trot.

    This heady level rapidly tailed off, and after 3mths or so, it’s down to between 25-30 units a day. To date, I’ve sold 4800 ebooks at 70% royalty (just over £1 each), but only 15 paperbacks at 42p royalty per unit. The Kindle Unlimited dimension represents more than half of the sales, so far.

    I found early success in the UK market, but as that peaked and settled down to a trickle, the US market has slowly crept up, together with small numbers of units sold in Germany, Australia, France, Italy, Spain and India. It’s been a privilege to reach so many readers, and in so many countries.

    My little book would have stayed on a memory stick until it got lost down the back of the sofa had it not been for the ebook revolution. Now, readers can pick up a novel for very little; read on the train without being judged; and store it forever without cluttering up their shrinking living space.

    However, whilst I rejoice that it was incredibly easy to self-publish on Amazon, that same facility has saturated the market (and my particular, very popular genre) with myriad books of varying quality. Reviews help to weed out good from bad, but I think literature is suffering from a lack of editorial discipline that publishers provide.

    • Avatar
      Michael December 6, 2015 at 8:50 am #

      Very interesting.. Congrats with your first novel…I am currently going down the Amazon and CreateSpace self publishing tract and would be very interested in hearing about your experiences…pros and cons

      • Avatar
        kmorrell December 15, 2015 at 9:50 am #

        So sorry I missed this reply (it went to my junk mail). Very happy to share my experiences.

        I can highly recommend Amazon KDP and CreateSpace as an easy way to get your novel out there. There’s a lot of help with formatting and design.

        You get a fantastic royalty rate from the e-version, although a lot less for the print version. There are better value print options, but the link with Amazon makes life easy, as your print version is immediately made available and offered alongside your e version.

        Let me know what you’d like to know more about.

        • Avatar
          Chibuzor August 1, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

          I just read your story. Please could give me more details concerning formatting and design when publishing on Amazon.

          Specifically, can someone who doesn’t have prior professional knowledge about formatting and design be able to publish on Amazon without messing up the book.

      • Avatar
        Tony J. Makransky December 3, 2016 at 7:57 pm #

        I am beginning to publish through CreateSpace on my first fiction novel. Glad your response was positive as it is a crap shot on self-publishing.

  18. Avatar
    GS Monks March 15, 2016 at 3:26 am #

    I’ve written a number of books that are posted on-line. Two of them are getting over 1000 distinct readers (not hits- each reader is counted only once) per day. One has just passed the 75,000 mark. The other, posted a month earlier, has just passed the 126,000-reader mark.

    Print publishers won’t touch my books. Not even when I take them by the scruff of the neck and shove their noses in the stats.

    What’s with the disconnect? It’s not an exaggeration to say that two of my books have gone viral. “It isn’t what we’re looking for,” is the common lame response from these deadbeats.

    If this were politics, I’d say that writers are Liberals and publishers are anal-retentive Conservatives.

  19. Avatar
    Larry Loftis December 26, 2016 at 1:44 am #

    Hey Steve, this is great info but it does raise three points of clarification:

    1) Are the examples you cited all hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, or a mix?

    2) Since most hardcover books are published a year later as trade paperbacks, are you counting sales of both per book?

    3) Are all of your examples within the overall Christian genre (fiction and nonfiction), or are some examples from secular publishers?

    Thanks much,

  20. Avatar
    J.L. July 30, 2017 at 11:47 am #

    Steve, I self-punlished a fiction book series ( 12 short books in the series ). My first attempt at writing a book. To date they have sold 1.2 million copies collectively through secular & christian retail outlets.

    Are these numbers compelling in terms of what’s normal? And do you think it’s worth shopping to a major publishing house ( even though it’s been selling in retail stores )?

    Thanks for your insight.

  21. Avatar
    Frank October 23, 2017 at 11:13 am #

    I have written a book call The Thin Blue Line and Racism. It is in editing as we speak. I have been told be many that the title along will sale 100k copies in today’s Environment. I know it would be nice.

  22. Avatar
    Rachel October 30, 2017 at 4:45 pm #

    Hi Steve,
    I am having a hard time predicting how many copies of my books I will sell. My books will be non-fiction (professional development books). They are short, so they will sell for around $5. They are strictly e-books; I am not making any printed copies.
    I also want to find out how many sales other authors are getting on Amazon Kindle versus Barnes & Noble Nook versus Audible.com.

  23. Avatar
    Solo February 16, 2018 at 3:16 am #

    Hi. I know this is a necropost. A 2011 article. But thanks. Been trying to find some idea of how books sell. A yardstick. A guideline. First time hack of selfpub writer here. Been in the trampoline for 5 months. Not badly though. The first three months of my first book reached somewhere in the high five figures. It’s still pulling in sales, around 50 or more a day (counting Kibdle reads).

    The figures are shocking. Especially when one considers most are one-off books.


  24. Avatar
    Christine Conradt October 10, 2018 at 3:00 pm #

    Good article. Can you tell us what the averages are for annual sales as opposed to lifetime? And I’m assuming that numbers drop off significantly after the first quarter? Or do they?


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