How many books have you sold? It’s a surprisingly common question of authors. Sometimes it’s from people who most likely don’t know what the numbers even mean. Exactly how many book sales equal “success”? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000 or more?
Do they want to know if being an author has made me rich? Do they also want to know if I got a really huge advance? How huge is huge, anyway? Or do they really want some way to gauge how successful I am as an author?
How to measure success
Success is subjective. I feel rich, but it’s not because of $$$$. You might not find my book in bookstores, but you could order it from any bookstore. I’ve never been on Oprah, nor made a best seller list. Success to me is that email from a stranger who “absolutely loved” my book. Those hand written notes of praise. The positive reader reviews on Amazon. Being invited to a book club. Finalists’ awards.
But, hell, if you’ve written a book, you’ve succeeded! If you’ve been published, it’s fabulous.
Actual sales mean little
The truth is a publisher can’t give you exact numbers. They know how many books they’ve shipped to bookstores, but unsold books can be returned by the bookseller at any time for a full refund, so that number doesn’t equate actual sales. If your book is published by a small press, 500 books in one year is decent. If you’re published by a large publishing house, you might need to sell 10,000 or more for them to be happy, never mind how happy you are as an author.
According to an article on Weekend Edition, some of the most highly awarded books don’t sell over a couple thousand. Total.
Not to mention it’s just nosy
It’s really personal to ask an author how many books they’ve sold. Would you ask your hairdresser what their tips totaled last year? Would you ask a doctor how many patients they see a day? Would you ask a photographer how many photos they sold in the last month? Would you share your taxes with anyone who asked?
So, please, don’t ask. Congratulate an author on publication and ask where you can buy a copy. (And then kindly write a reader review.)
**Are you an author? How do you answer this inevitable question?
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of the award-winning novel In the Context of Love, a story about one woman’s need to tell the truth without shame.
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News Best Book Finalist
2015 Great Midwest Book Fest Honorable Mention.
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River,and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters