Some interesting publishing numbers

While surfing around publishing sites, I came across some interesting numbers.  Don’t know how accurate they are.  But they do make you think.  And fret.

First number:(from the website “Making Light”)

 “172,000 books published last year” is neither reliable nor pertinent if you’re talking about bookstore shelf space. “All books published” includes books you’ll never see in a bookstore at all, like manuals for operating and maintaining equipment, industry trade guides, and family genealogies.

Even if you limit the number to “trade books”—i.e., books that get bookstore distribution—the number is hard to pin down. A lot of university press and regional press titles get distributed to a handful of bookstores. Are they trade books? Those authors and those publishers would say yes, and I can’t see any good reason to contradict them, at least not to their faces. Still, there’s a big difference between books offered for sale at a handful of bookstores, and books offered for sale at bookstores everywhere.

If you’re talking about new titles that would come through a large urban bookstore in a single year, one rough but reliable estimate I’ve been given (by a source that declined to be named) is that it’s about 10,000 titles.

So if your book is released by a mainstream publisher, your competition in the bookstores is only 9.999 other titles. Not 171,999. 

And the second number concerns writer incomes (in the UK):

“Most book manuscripts end up unwanted and unread on publishers’ and agents’ slush piles, and the majority of those that do make it into print sell fewer than 1,000 copies. So while there are a small number of writers making a decent living, something like 80% of published authors earn less than £10,000 per year. “

Takes some of the glamor out of the profession a bit, doesn’t it?

13 replies
  1. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    Okay. So now tell us the secret to making a book stand out in the crowd, and how to secure a seven-figure advance. 🙂

  2. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    Often though you’ll find that authors will write to supplement another profession they are currently engaged in. Say I’m going to be a nurse. I work on the weekends but I write during the week. If that added 10 or 20 thousand dollars to my overall yearly income and it wasn’t really anymore work than I wanted to do anyway I’d say that would be a success. But if you’re just trying to go it alone with the writing career then yes, I’d say 10,000 dollars is bordering being on the bad side of poverty level. Love the new designs for the paperback Mephisto novels!

  3. JD Rhoades
    JD Rhoades says:

    Here’s another good one, courtesy of the divine Miss Sarah (Weinman), who pointed us to it:

    “Written Nerd has a nifty rebuttal to all that doom-and-gloom blather last week about how Americans don’t read:

    But here’s the thing that gets me, the realization that made me laugh out loud while I was cleaning the house this weekend:

    The NEA survey states that 56% of Americans read any book in 2002 (that’s ANY book, not just “literary works,” which the survey focuses on.)

    The AP/Ipsos survey say that 73% of Americans read any book last year (i.e. in 2006).

    Therefore, if these two respected organizations are to be believed…


  4. struggler
    struggler says:

    Depressing figures Tess, if they are to be taken literally. I’ve often wondered, as a wannabe-published-writer, if I should defer my brilliant masterpiece until the second, third or even fourth of my books comes out (cocky, eh?) because I figure that if I put everything into my first novel and get paid diddly-squat, maybe I should write a mediocre one – or at least, one that I’m not quite so enthusiastic about – just to get my name on the conveyor belt. Then, when I take my ‘masterpiece’ to a potential publisher I do so as a published author and might be able to negotiate a better advance. Does this make sense? I realise that you should put your heart and soul into EVERY book you write, but surely most writers, including as yet unpublished ones, know when they have a fantastic story line as opposed to a merely very good one.

  5. Tess
    Tess says:

    yes, all, they’re depressing figures. And it’s true that many novelists have day jobs and write in their spare time. Romance authors, I think, make the best incomes because they tend to be productive and turn out more than a book a year.

    And Struggler, don’t defer your brilliant masterpiece — the best thing you can do is turn in your brilliant one first so it helps you break in!

  6. wendy roberts
    wendy roberts says:

    This reminds me of a recent trip to Universal Studios. My 9 year old son rushed a stunt man to ask for his autograph and told the hunk that he hoped to do stunts one day. The stunt guy replied, “Don’t do it. Go to school. I hurt every day and the pay stinks. Go to school.”

    When it comes to my writing, I hurt every day and the pay stinks but I’d rather do this than just about anything else.

  7. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    I am also a pretty good cartoonist and when someone tells me their little boy or girl is showing some talent in art I tell them to be sure that their child has a good paying ‘day job’ as a backup.

    Being creative and entertaining the masses (through art or literature) is a good self-fulfilling (both for the pay and the soul) gig but it’s never really been considered popular as a ‘dayjob’ but for a few lucky people.

    (Try asking for someone’s hand in marriage and tell the parents you’ll be supporting her with your ‘talent.’)

  8. Frank Hood
    Frank Hood says:

    When my father learned that I wanted to be a writer, he found some statistic that said that only 400 people in America made their living solely from freelance (non-corporate) writing. As a teen-ager I thought, “Cool. I’m going to be in an elite group!” LOL.

    On the other hand, would-be professionals should beware of static analysis. My wife married me when I made only $6,000 a year. I make a lot more than that now, and she says it was a good investment. 🙂

    Writing is not an athletic career where one’s skills diminish over time. Just the opposite. And if you’re not burned by bad contracts, you continue to make money off those books you wrote years ago as new readers find your old books through your new ones. Of course that emphasizes getting good contracts early in your career. Don’t give away too many rights to a publisher who is low-balling you anyway.

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