Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog)
RSS feed

The truth about book sales and authors' income

September 20, 2015

Tags: books sales, marketing

Warning: The news is not good but this is just a sampling. "Only 39% of authors supported themselves exclusively through writing-related work," according to The Wages of Writing: Key Findings from the Authors Guild 2015 member survey. Author incomes are down, hybrid authorship is up, and authors are spending more time marketing than ever before. (Hybrid authorship is the practice of self-publishing while also being traditionally published.) Authors spend more time on marketing, less on writing books. Traditional publishers’ promotional budgets have all but dried up, and many publishing contracts now require authors to maintain a Web and social media presence. Many authors, both traditionally- and self-published, have proven adept at using new technologies to connect with readers. Most authors can't survive on writing alone.

When It Comes To Book Sales, What Counts As Success Might Surprise You (listen or read online: Lynn Neary, Weekend Edition, 9-19-15) Sales on award-winning books are surprisingly low, so imagine how sales are on the un-awarded books.

Ann Tyler is top-selling Man Booker longlisted title. reports The Bookseller, and her novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, is so far the bestselling of the 13 titles longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize" and it "has sold 20,102 copies in total across all editions." (Mind you, few bestsellers compete for the Booker Prize.)

Authors Guild to Publishers: Get Ready for Pushback on E-Book Royalties and "Cobwebbed" Contract Terms (Authors Guild) Among issues discussed: "We’re seeing less and less of the sorts of advances that can constitute a livelihood and keep the lights on while the hard work of authorship is being done. And with the dwindling of advances, we’re in danger of seeing the disappearance of the midlist author." Pulitzer Prize-winning author T.J. Stiles "starts with the example of a very successful author who pulls in an advance of $200,000—which is a very high advance these days. The advance is broken into four equal parts: the author gets 25% on signing, on delivery and acceptance of the manuscript, on hardcover publication, and on paperback publication. That’s $50,000 each payment—minus 15% to the agent. So the author has $42,500 to live on while writing the book. Let’s say it takes only two years to write (which is difficult for a research-heavy nonfiction book)—that’s $21,250 each year. Out of that comes self-employment tax, which is double the payroll tax, as well as health insurance and retirement benefits." And most authors "are getting advances that are a mere fraction of the $200,000 he uses in his example."

The 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing (Steven Piersanti, Out:Think). A book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore. Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities. Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers. No other industry has so many new product introductions. The digital revolution is expanding the number of products and sales channels but not increasing book sales. The book publishing world is in a never-ending state of turmoil. See Piersanti's proposed strategies for dealing with these trends.

e Book Sales Numbers…The Scary Truth "At this point there is no hard and fast way to track and analyze e Book sales numbers and that’s just flat out scary. How do we really know how many eBooks are downloaded, sold, borrowed or given away during a promo? We don’t. We are relying solely on technology and integrity for the truth. I wish that made me sleep better at night."

The effect of negative reviews on books by well-known authors is a 15% decrease in sales, writes Nathan Ihara Is All Publicity Good Publicity? (MobyLives 3-16-11), reporting on a new study by the journal Marketing Science (PDF). “For books by relatively unknown (new) authors, however, negative publicity has the opposite effect, increasing sales by 45%.” Delays after reading negative reviews help unknown books more than well-known books. "In short, if you’re a nobody, it’s better to have your book attacked than ignored. Over time readers will forget the mean stuff said about you, and will only remember your book’s name." Thanks to Sue Russell and Bill Morris of The Millions for this lead.