So How Many Books Do You Sell?

It’s the question every writer dreads: “How many books have you sold? ”

It’s a tricky question because for 99% of the year, those with traditionally published books honestly have very little idea. But two times a year – in the spring and in the fall – we receive royalty statements from publishers, which give a sometimes cryptic breakdown of what has sold where. So for those keeping track here with my “Honest Publishing Numbers” posts, here’s an update.

THE MIRROR EMPIRE

Sold about 23,000 copies as of December 31st, 2015 (representing about 16 months of sales)

EMPIRE ASCENDANT

About 7,000 copies as of December 31st, 2015 (note that this book came out in October last year, so that’s only two months of sales. Not bad)

We’ve sold quite a few more e-copies of tME than EA, which I think has more to do with the fact that tME had a couple of KDD sales and a BookBub promotion, and folks are more likely to pick up first books in series from new authors in ebook.

IS THIS GOOD? gwzjowiyfr7rwq8qy6wv

Book numbers are messed up because what’s considered a “success” for one book may not be considered a “success” for another book. It depends on how much you were paid up front and how much your publisher spent. But by comparison, GOD’S WAR, which came out in 2011, is probably at about 15-17,000 or so by now in US/UK (it’s really tough to measure total sales over there because… well, it’s a very long and agonizing writer horror story. But suffice to say those numbers will also be approximate).

So MIRROR EMPIRE got there way, way faster. Once you get up over 20,000 copies on a title within a year or two, it’s more or less considered  a success unless you were paid something crazy for it (and especially if it’s trade paperback and not mass market paperback, as trade, hardcover, and ebook have higher margins – again, the math makes raw numbers talk a difficult measure of success). I wasn’t paid huge advances for these books ($7,500 per) so I’m making royalty money on both already, as well as my three prior titles, GOD’S WAR, INFIDEL, and RAPTURE.

I will say that it’s pretty cool to have all five of my published books earn out already. So thanks to all the fans for that, it’s a big deal.

All that said, remember that powerhouse 1% authors generally sell like 20,000 copies the first week of a release. So. You know. That’s the difference we’re talking about here between the 1% and everyone else.

As someone who was struggling there in the lower-midlist for awhile, I’m pretty happy with this. My goal for something like GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION is going to be far higher, though. I want to move about twice that many the first year or two, in part because I was also paid more. Same with THE STARS ARE LEGION. I did the math on LEGION and I need to sell about 8,000+/- to earn out (hardcover and ebook royalties are pretty good). Even though LEGION is SF, I think we have a shot at doing that as more people learn about my work. My goal is to keep building my career with every title, and so far, so good with that.

As far as making a living writing, I made about $50,000 in writing income last year, all told. But that includes royalties, two new book sales, outstanding payments for existing work, and Patreon. Minus 15% for my agent and 30% for taxes and yeah – not a stable wage that I’d like to live on if I can help it, thanks. But we’re edging up there slowly. If we can keep up this forward momentum I may be able to go full time in five years or so, if I wanted, or at least go half-time at my day job. But that’s if things keep working out, and if there’s nothing else I’ve learned in publishing it’s that you just never know what’s going to happen next, so I will continue to hedge my bets. But… I am cautiously optimistic.

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