Aspiring or first-time authors sometimes hold the misconception that they will hit it big with their first books. Visions of bestsellers dance in their heads. It’s time for a reality check.
The statistics have not changed much in the years that I’ve been involved with publishing. In the entire Kingdom of Bookdom, which includes every book sold in every category—not just Christian books—maybe ten percent of authors make a living solely by writing books.
In the Christian book industry I doubt if that many authors make a living with their writing. The authors you meet at conferences may still have day jobs, or if they freelance, they edit manuscripts, ghostwrite books, or put on their own workshops. Or they still have day jobs. They work all day, and then come home and write their novels at night. Or if they’re early birds like me, they hop out of bed at 4 a.m. and sit down at the keyboard before rushing out the door to make it to work on time.
Another group of writers may be blessed with a spouse who is the sole breadwinner of the family. Mothers who are writers take care of the kids and write during naptime. I’ve known stay-at-home writer dads as well. The whole family tightens the purse strings and lives on a budget.
Of course, a handful of authors inherited their fortunes and live on Fantasy Island.
Here’s the reality. The average Christian novel sells about 4,000 to 5,000 copies . . . maybe. Some sell less; some sell more. You notice I didn’t say that the first-time author only sells about 4,000 copies. No, that includes experienced and newbie authors as well. Do the math.
A smaller percentage may sell 10,000 to 15,000 books each time. Now we enter more rarefied air. A much smaller group sells 20,000 or 25,000 books, but those are usually long-time authors or a new author who happens to write a book that hits a nerve with readers who purchase books.
Only a tiny few sell in the 50,000 to 100,000 or more range consistently. You know their names. They live on the bestseller lists. You see their names month after month after month after year after year after year on the CBA or ECPA bestseller lists.
And once in awhile, the industry catches lightning in a bottle, and you have series like Left Behind or a single book like The Shack.
So please, if you are a newcomer to publishing, adjust your expectations, and if you knock it out of the ballpark, you’ll be as surprised as your agent and your publisher. We pray for bestsellers!
Please let me know if this blog helped you in any way. This is a two-way conversation. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor every day, and we need to hear from everyone so that we can learn from experience. Also, leave me a note about a topic that you would like to see me cover: business plans/financials; the printing process; how sales work; in-house marketing or publicity. Nothing is off limits. Let’s talk.