Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

How Many Sales Does It Take to Make a Book a “Success”?

The answer to this post’s title depends on who you ask.

Author Earnings and Book Sales

Image courtesy of Thiago Felipe Festa ~

The author, the publisher, and the readers would have different opinions.

My past post—What About All The Authors Whose Books Don’t Sell Very Many Copies?—says, “An extremely small percentage of writers sells more than 500 copies of a book…”

So, is a successful book one that sells 600 copies, a thousand, hundreds of thousands?

Again, it depends on who you ask

An article about book sales, from National Public Radio in the U.S.A., has Washington Post critic Ron Charles saying:

“When I saw that Anne Enright — [who] I think of as giant in literary fiction, beloved around the world — could only sell 9,000 copies [of The Green Road] in the U.K. I was shocked, that’s really low.”

The Authors Guild in the U.S.A. recently did a member survey that showed a decided drop in book sales per author; however, their members are either traditionally published or have book-earnings of around $3,300 a year

The National Public Radio article goes on to quote Barry Eisler (who’s mentioned in a number of my posts):

“I mean, there are lots of writers … thousands of writers who are making a good living from self-publishing.”

The article continues:

“Eisler is a self-publishing advocate who says the Authors Guild doesn’t represent all writers. Its membership skews older and it is mostly interested in maintaining the status quo of traditional publishing. Self-publishing may not be for everyone, he says. There is no question writers have to be more entrepreneurial. But he says it also offers them a choice when it comes to money and control — and the end result isn’t really all that different from traditional publishing.”

So, self-publishing might help sell more but doesn’t guarantee anything

Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild, says:

“We can’t tell people not to write for free. It’s not to their advantage to do it. But if they want to do it, they will do it.”

If you’re a writer and are still reading this post, would you consider responding to Roxana’s statement in the Comments?
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4 responses to “How Many Sales Does It Take to Make a Book a “Success”?

  1. philipparees October 5, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    I hope I am getting close to accepting that a single reader ‘getting’ your book is reward enough. The tantalizing thing that happens when that happens is the insidious growth of the question, ‘might there be more than one’? There lies the road to misery and frustrated chasing after ‘strategies’. I have tried them all but without belief and I am told ‘Ah but it’s the belief that is essential’. It may be so. I half see that people giving away books undermines the collective endeavour, seemingly devaluing all effort by all writers. But then a single reader might keep a writer writing? A fine and hazardous balance between the writer and the market for which (s)he writes!


    • Alexander M Zoltai October 5, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      Dear Philippa,

      I’ve guarded against “the road to misery and frustrated chasing after ‘strategies’” by offering my books, which are for sale, for free, also…

      And, many endeavors in life respond to “‘Ah but it’s the belief that is essential’” except those that have little hold in reality—selling “many” books is not a widely perceived phenomenon…

      Also, I heartily disagree with “people giving away books undermines the collective endeavour, seemingly devaluing all effort by all writers” since there are many authors who offer free books to increase sales of other books…

      I feel that single reader (multiplied in the mirrored corridors of one’s mind) should be sufficient………


      • philipparees October 5, 2015 at 2:21 pm

        I did say ‘I ‘half-see’…Alexander. I take no position either way on the merits or de-merits of ‘free’ but it is rather like imagining the effect of a market stall holder handing out free and the effect this might have by the others hoping to make a bob. Their chagrin would be similar to the accusations against free. Their produce may be more nourishing, more exotic but never sampled! Stratagems often include free to hook a follower, and that means several books of a series or genre. Those of us who don’t write such series or stick to a single genre are swimming against the tide.Our fault?


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