Roger’s blog … IN THESE TRYING TIMES…
Here are some interesting industry statistics. I know these figures are a good few years old, but they still tell a fascinating story.
1. Of the 200,000 books published worldwide each year only 2% become bestsellers.
2. 84% of the bestsellers are published by the 5 largest New York publishers.
3. 2 out of 10 books published make a profit for the publisher.
4. In 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies, which means that 1,150,000 books made an average of £10,000 for the publisher before any production, marketing, advertising and distribution costs were deducted. This translates to approximately £900 for the author.
5. Only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies.
6. The average book in America sells about 500 copies. In the UK it is significantly less.
7. Only 10 books a year sell more than a million copies.
8. Fewer than 500 books sell more than 100,000.
9. The magic number for a book to be considered successful is 10,000, which makes an average of £100,000 for the publisher before all production costs are deducted, and approximately £9,000 for the author.
10. The average income of a published author is in the region of £7,000 per year.
11. In excess of 90% of published authors do not make enough money to live on with this as their sole income.
You only have to sell 5,000 to be in the top 2% of bestselling books, but despite this statistic you’d still only be making something in the region of £4,500 per year.
Royalties on books usually start at 10% – and unless you have a major publisher, they are now based on wholesale price and not retail – and the reserve against returns is 15-25%. So the odds on making your fortune from a book alone are slim.
The book business is like every business. People who have made it usually build their readership slowly over time, and ultimately gain a wider following after years and years of hard work. It is necessary to continue to produce better and better books, to do whatever is necessary to stay in good favour with your publishing company, and do any and all promotion you can yourself. Go to libraries, do signings, readings, whatever you can, and in this way you will hopefully sell enough books to make enough money for the publishing company so they can continue to justify further publishing contracts.
The harsh truth is that the publishing industry – just like the movies, just like the theatre, the opera, the ballet, the art gallery – is a business. If money is not made it will not survive, and as an author you have a responsibility to give your reader the very best work that you can, and at the same time work towards assisting your publisher in their very difficult task of making the world take notice of what you are doing. To take you on in the first place means that your publisher must have a very definite and passionate belief in what you are doing, and to do anything other than contribute in every way possible to what they are doing will only serve to let you down.
Being temperamental, over-demanding, acting like a prima donna, will accomplish worse than nothing. It will make your publisher unwilling to work with you. There is an abundance of talent in the world. Many, many tens of thousands of manuscripts are received by the main UK publishers every year, and this figure is growing. The bulk of them find their way into the slush pile, never to be seen again. To have located a publisher who believes in your work sufficiently to put many, many thousands of pounds behind all that it takes to bring a book to a store shelf is a miracle in itself. To then waste that serendipitous and tremendously fortunate opportunity – that chance of a lifetime – by being ‘artistically difficult’, is actually artistic suicide.
The world needs great novels, and thus it needs great authors. Greatness possesses, inherent in its composition, not only skill and brilliance, but also compassion, empathy, patience, understanding, tolerance, and – above all – humility. Humility is the very essence of review, for without humility one considers one’s own viewpoint important above all others, which is all very well and good until one considers the possibility of what it would take to publish your book alone.
This is perhaps where self-publishing falls on its face, and though I have no problem with self-publishing, I know that the first draft (which is, almost invariably, the draft that a self-publishing author releases) is not the one that is ready for reading. Someone else needs to look at it, to view it, not from a writer’s perspective, but from a reader’s, and that – in my opinion – is what shows up the plot-holes and inconsistencies that you can park a truck in.
The book industry is going through one of its toughest and most demanding times. Less authors are being taken on, more authors are finding themselves ‘between contracts’. I do not think that any author would be badly-served by being as hard-working, dedicated, co-operative and accommodating as they can possibly be right now, all the while maintaining their creative integrity, and really writing what they feel they should be writing.
As I have always said, the very worst book that you could write is the one that you believe others will enjoy reading. The very best book is the one that you yourself believe you would enjoy.
It is a fine balance to maintain – the production of viable works against the demands of internally-established and maintained creative integrity – but it can be done. And more so now than ever.