I’ve recently been reading my way through my TBR pile. I seem to have landed somewhere in the 1950s (give or take a few years) and have been alternating between English mysteries and “strong independent woman” set-pieces. Portable typewriters have featured prominently in many of the stories and fledgling writers have abounded. There was at least one family saved from penury by an enterprising heroine who knocked out a novel in no time at all and received a nice advance check just in the nick of time.
Even my non-fiction reading has included authors and references to advances, though in one case it was an author who had missed a deadline and had to return an advance check- ouch!
Anyway, all of this has gotten me thinking about advances and book sales and led me eventually to the question: Just how many books do you need to sell to earn out an advance?
Turns out, the answer is “depends” and “hard to say.” The publishing world–traditional and indie–is not particularly forthcoming when it comes to financial transparency, or so my delve into the internet has led me to believe. The closest thing to a definite answer I found was the following:
If a publisher has controlled their costs in production, editorial, and the author contract, they should be profitable if they sell 20,000 copies. ~ Steve Laube Agency post.
Interesting, but hardly a one-size-fits-all answer. There are many variables including the type of book, the specific author, the number of prior books, what else is going on in the world at the time of publication, the marketing, the book cover, the alignment of the planets . . . well, maybe not that last one, but suffice it to say, there are a lot of variables.
There are some things that can help reduce the variability of at least some of the variables involved. Basically:
- write the best book you can
- hire a great editor (and listen to the feedback you receive)
- create/commission an attention grabbing cover
- publish with a plan
- market, market, market
- lather, rinse, repeat.
While “writing the best book you can” is squarely in the author’s court, responsibility for the other steps depends on whether the book is being traditionally published, self-published, or published in some other way I’m at a loss to think of right this minute.
Which leads me to my next question: From the self-publishing perspective, “Just how many books do you need to sell to earn back your financial outlay?”
The cost of hiring an editor and a cover designer, not to mention paying for marketing and perhaps engaging a web designer can add up. And there are probably numerous other costs that I’ve forgotten to include. So many of the books I see being advertised or that pop-up when I’m browsing on Amazon seem to be in the 99-cents to $2.99 price range, so I’m guessing it takes a fair number of books to earn enough to cover the expense of getting the books published and marketed.
Several of the 8Ladys have gone through just his very publishing process recently, so I’m hoping they can shed some light on things. Not that I’m about to dive headfirst into publishing, but as I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m establishing some new goals and doing a little fact-finding along the way. Plus, I find this whole process quite fascinating, though the lack of transparency is a little disquieting.
As I was rummaging around in the internet earlier today, I came across the comment below, which offers an interesting suggestion for how to evaluate publishing “success.”
Instead of asking how many books they should expect to sell, Authors are better served by asking themselves how much opportunity, revenue, and personal fulfillment they can generate by putting the right book in front of the right people. ~ Scribe post
Some interesting food for though there.
So, anyone have any data-points to share? I’ve got my spreadsheet and calculator ready and waiting.