Sales Numbers

Authors are reluctant to talk about sales numbers, unless they are selling thousands, at which point they love talking numbers. I’ve been curious about “average” sales. In reality, what I’m asking is, “How is my book doing?” Here’s a hard look at the numbers and what they mean. 

Approximately 300,000 New Print Titles books are published each year in the United States through traditional press methods. Self-published books this past year topped 450,000. So with close to a million new titles coming out each year, how are the selling numbers of these books doing?

According to the Huffington Post, “The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.” I wanted to cry when I read that sentence. It’s not the story I wanted. I like this one better: “The Harry Potter books have sold over 450 MILLION copies world wide.” Somehow the numbers 250 and 450,000,000 don’t match up very well in my mind.

This past year, according to MPR News, the Man Booker Prize finalist Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel, The Fishermen, sold just under 3,000 copies. Which “is not too bad for a debut novel.” A finalist in one of the world’s great book prizes, sold 3,000 books.

It puts it into perspective. A writer can do a couple different things. Be mad. Be sad. Adjust your expectations. Or forget it all and just keep writing.

When I was told my book was coming out with an Autumn House Prize, I thought “Tens of thousands.”

When I was told the first run would be 700 books, I thought “Is that a typo? It must be 7,000.” Nope. First run, 700 books.

According to the Cadence Group, “Good book sales are actually enough sales to cover your investment in your book. That’s a good place to be and one that many books do not achieve.”

So. Great. I’ve earned back. Autumn House didn’t lose money on my book.

After my book had been selling for a few months, and my unrealistic goals had been tamed down, my goal became: I will sell out my first run. And I did. A few weeks ago we went into a second printing.

There are several ways to find out how your book is selling. You can ask your publisher or use Nielsen Bookscan. Amazon recently added Nielsen Bookscan numbers to its Author’s Central Page. So authors can check and see their books sales and rankings. For what it’s worth, So Many Africas is now ranked #340,665 out of over 8,000,000. An interesting and rather worthless statistic.

Here’s my approximate sales numbers:

Amazon: 38 books

Autumn House Press: 40 books

Local bookstore Zandbroz: 40

Me: 500 (at book clubs, women’s clubs, my website, readings)

And my second run? Autumn House will do a second run of 300 books. So my new goal? 1,000 books. I will sell one thousand So Many Africas. And then … then we will go into a third printing. And when that happens, and I sell one more book making my sales 1,001, then I can say, “Oh, me? I’ve sold over a thousand.”

You have to have a little gall. Toss your head. Look down your nose at those numbers. And carry on. 

Because, in the end, it’s not the stats or the numbers that really matter. As Howard Thurman said, Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Jill Kandel
  • Gianna
    Posted at 10:50h, 24 September Reply

    Yikes and wow, and that little “Over one thousand” thing? Now I’m laughing.

    Be brave and keep writing – I like that conclusion.

  • Lynne
    Posted at 18:05h, 24 September Reply

    I second Gianna’s post! Jill, I looked for your book and didn’t find it, so I was glad to read that you sell it. I was looking forward to saying 1 more! But, oddly and unfortunately, there’s some problem with ordering it, or at least with shipping it. I received this error msg: There are no shipping methods available. Please double check your address, or contact us if you need any help. I could see if I were in Zambia, but no shipping to addresses in Los Angeles County, California? USPS would be fine with me.

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 18:32h, 24 September Reply

      Hi Lynne, Yes I remember! Sorry the Woo-Commerce didn’t like your address. Not a problem. You could mail me a check and I’ll put a book in the mail to you right away. I’ll email you the details. I haven’t heard of other problems, so hoping the glitch is a small one just today! Take care. Email to follow. Jill

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 18:33h, 24 September Reply

      Also, I can send you a bill via PayPal and you could pay that way and I’ll ship it to you. Either way. Thank you!

  • Lynne
    Posted at 18:05h, 24 September Reply

    P.S. We met at the 2015 CNF Conference. Regards, Lynne

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