Not to mention big megastars like Stephen King or ongoing hits like Anthony Doerr’s All the Lights We Can’t See, most novels published by the great publisher BookScan are 2,000 to 40,000 books. Most short story collections published by large publishers receive approx. half of it: 1,000 to 20,000.
Can you … limit it a little?
You can reduce this to the size of the publisher. Independent low pressure is on average over 500-10,000 novels and 300-2000 for historical collections. There are more than 75 to 2,000 microprints, regardless of book type – at this level the author’s “forum” and fans mean more than whether the book is a novel, a collection of stories or a poem – and there are more than 5,000 successes outside.
In debut books, you can cut all the numbers in half. Remember that this happens after at least a year of sale. If your book came out just this month, do not panic yet (and do not check BookScan for long, if ever).
So the average novel sells 20,000?
So no. Like a baseball paycheck or cashier distorting a minority of books doing well. If you go to a local bookstore and look at all the books at different tables, most on BookScan are between 2,000 and 40,000 after a few years of sales. Big books with big names on the tables get 100,000 – a few million.
However, most books struggle to find adequate distribution, much less coverage. Most books do not fit on the table, and many do not go to many bookstores at all. Most traditionally published novels sell for only a few thousand in their lifetime, if any.
What is a “good” sale?
As with all this, we need qualifications. What constitutes “good” sales depends entirely on the type of book you publish, the size of the publisher, and what you have made. The 5,000 collections of short stories in the small press are a big hit. 5,000 copies of a novel from a major publisher who paid an advance of $ 100,000 is a huge disaster.
You also need to consider the shape. The value of 10,000 bound sales is more than 10,000 bound. E-book prices can be anywhere, even from a major publisher.
If you’re a new writer at a major publishing house, and you’ve sold over 10,000 copies of a novel, you’re in great shape – as long as you have not made much progress. Getting a new book deal should be easy. If you sell over 5,000, you’re pretty good. You’re probably selling your next book somewhere. If you sell less than 5,000, you may have problems with the next book. (Although it always depends on the project. If a publisher loves your next book, they may not care about previous sales.)
The lower the pressure, the more you can reduce. An independent press publisher told me that most indie magazines sell – not BookScan – around 1,500 copies and 3,000 good sales. Even then, the publisher stressed that a writer who sells 3,000 only pays for himself. To promote the press business, they need to sell more than 5,000.
What sells prestigious, lively literary books?
So let’s say you’re jumping through obstacles by writing a book, getting an agent and selling it to a respected press, AND you’re one of the handfuls of books that are criticized in very big business and mixed around in the literary world. How many books do you want to sell?
Most people are surprised by the strong selection of book sales, even among books that people blackmail. If you took ten literary fictions that all critics, Twitter literature, and well-read friends discuss, their BookScan problems could range from a few thousand to 100,000. Last year, NPR looked at book sales to Pulitzer Prize finalists and found that books ranged from less than 3,000 to a low level of six chapters.
If you took ten literary fictions that all critics, Twitter literature, and reading friends discuss, their BookScan number can range from a few thousand to 100,000.
However, the choice is small, so I review the BookScan editions of each fiction book listed in the New York Times 100-book in 2014. I used 2014 instead of 2015 to make sure each book sold for at least 12 months. No list is complete, but the NOW list contains collections of history and small magazine books as well as major literary authors and award providers. The 2014 list includes names like Haruki Murakami, Lydia Davis, Marlon James and David Mitchell as well as small press presentations by Nell Zink and Eimear McBride. There is a good selection of “books that people talk about” in the literature.