Recently I Facebooked/Tweeted that their were rumors Janet Evanovich was going to be leaving St. Martin’s Press, possibly in favor of self-publishing, due to their refusal to meet her request for a $50,000,000 advance for 4 books. I’m not going to get into whether or not that’s a fair sum. Even if she doesn’t get her asking price, Evanovich is one of the top 10 most successful authors in the world and she’s one of the very, very few who can even bring up a number like $50,000,000 without being laughed out of town. But it did become clear to me by the response I got from my followers and FB friends that most people, aspiring authors included, have no idea what authors make or how many books must be sold to be on the New York Times bestseller list. The word “millions” came up a lot in those responses. In short, people seem to be applying Hollywood numbers to the world of publishing and the publishing industry ain’t Hollywood.
For instance, it is absolutely possible (and depending on the month of your book release, probable) to make it onto the New York Times bestseller’s list top fifteen if you can sell 5,000 hardcover books in a week.
Stop and think about that for a moment. If every student in a large high school bought your book in the same week they could make it one of the top selling novels in the country. 5,000 highly motivated readers, that’s all you need. It seems like such an accessible number. When you hear 5,000 books everything appears to be within reach. I can see myself now, standing in front of the Hollywood Bowl at a Depeche Mode concert surrounded by boxes upon boxes of Vows, Vendettas & A Little Black Dress cheerily selling copies to about 1/4 of the attendants. 1/4 of the attendant at one Depeche Mode concert could make my book one of the bestselling novels of my multinational publishing house. If it was 1/4 of a Lady Gaga concert and I'd be up there with James Patterson.
Except it's unlikely that 1/4 of the attendants of one rock concert are going to want to buy a book. Any book! It's hard to find 5,000 motivated readers in a country where (according to a recent poll) the average citizen reads 1 book a year. By the way, I didn’t say the average American buys 1 book a year. A lot of those books are borrowed. And some statistics suggest that 1/3 of high school students won’t read another book in their lives after they graduate. In the meantime everyone in Hollywood is wondering if Tom Cruise’s career is over since Knight And Day only made $20,000,000 in its first weekend. Which just goes to show that, despite escalating ticket prices, the vast majority of Americans would still prefer to watch a movie that will entertain them for 2 hours than buy a $8 paperback that could last them 2 weeks. And that explains why the top 10 best paid authors are making a hefty chunk of their considerable income from film adaptions of their work (not just book sales).
The irony is that while (according to some recent polls) over half of Americans won’t even buy a book this year 80% of them want to write one.
Funny how that works.
So you have an industry that every waiter, lawyer, beautician and politician wants to be competing in. And yet only half of those would-be competitors will actually support this industry that they aspire to be a part of through their own patronage.
There are some signs that e-books actually get people to read more not less but the data in that area is too young to be truly meaningful yet.
No wonder the average author advance is under $10,000/book. It’s not that the big-bad publishing houses don’t want to support their talent. They simply don’t have the profit margins to do so.
I’m not writing this to discourage anyone from trying to get into this industry. I firmly believe that if you love writing you should try your hand at it. Nothing ventured nothing gained and you never know if you’re going to create the book that the majority of those one-book-a-year people read. You have to try. But that said, it’s going to be tough. And don’t be insulted when you get your first offer from a publishing house and they want to give you a $5000 advance. Don’t cry when you find out that your book has a print run of 7,000. Those aren’t bad numbers in this business. You’re in the game. And there’s always a chance that, given time and a little bit of luck, you’ll not only be in the game, you’ll be one of its winners.
Bestselling Author of:The Sophie Katz Mystery Series
So Much For My Happy Ending
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