Friday, August 15, 2014

Query Question: more on earning out

Last Friday's blog post half-answered a question I've long had. As the follow up....

Let us say this publisher gives me a $10K advance, and that I'll need to move 4,000 books to earn that back. ON AVERAGE, ABOUT how long would it take a book to sell 4,000 copies? I understand we're working with SWAG numbers here. But are we talking 6 months, or 6 years? 

Well, I don't know what SWAG numbers are (are they like imaginary numbers, cause that's what ended my math career?!) but what I do know is there's no answer to this.

It varies, seemingly indiscriminantly from one book to the next. Not even from one author, but book by book.

I do know this: generally books sell well their first year of publication. There are a lot of exceptions to this. I can think of ten off the top of my head right now.

Generally second books do not sell as well as first books. There are exceptions to this too. Lots.

I know Veronica Roth sold upwards of 19 million books last year.  I know Lee Child sold something like that too. (Those numbers are in the trades.)

I know that most books published by small presses have no hope of selling 3000 copies in any time frame at all because the publisher only printed 1000 copies and doesn't intend to print more.

Average THAT!

What you're trying to do here is linear analysis of a Jackson Pollock painting.

It can't be done. NOR SHOULD IT.

It shouldn't be done because you're setting yourself up to drive yourself crazy.

It's also insane to measure yourself against some phantom average because the ONLY book
that matters to you is YOURS.

The only thing you can reasonably plan on is EFFORT.  You can not plan on results. 

Do I know if I can sell a book?  No.
Do I know that I can pitch a book? Hell yes.
Do I know that if the first pitch doesn't get the results I want I can analyze my effort and change up? HELL YES.

Do I know how to find new places to pitch? Yes.
Do I pay attention to what has worked for other agents and steal their ideas relentlessly? You better believe it.

So, if you know you have to sell 4000 books, and you WANT to do it within a year, you make a list of the things you can do to make that happen. And then you do them.

What I know is that it might work, and it's surely more likely to succeed than doing nothing.


Unknown said...

I had to google "SWAG numbers" and found this:

"Scientific Wild-Ass Guess"

This is basically how I figure my grocery "budget," I think.

Janet Reid said...

Oh, I like that! However, given the nature of this blog I think SWAG should be Sharkly Wild Ass Guess!

Anonymous said...

And that's not even taking into account different royalty rates for special sales.

Michael Seese said...

I know it was an outrageous question. And it was mine. But "books sell well their first year of publication" was the part I wanted to know.

In my world, SWAG = Silly Wild-Assed Guess. But the others work fine.

And "you're setting yourself up to drive yourself crazy." We're authors. We LIVE in crazy.

Lance said...


Hint. Hint.

MNye said...

Writing in its true essence is the definition of crazy. You are never ' driven' to crazy once you decide to enter this arena as a writer. At 60000 words, we buy a first class ticket to 'blind-fold' crazy. So, I welcome SWAG.

Pamela Toler said...

"you make a list of the things you can do to make that happen. And then you do them."

Useful advice at every step in this crazy business