Friday, November 14, 2008

Useful Stats for Authors and Publishers

Someone recently passed on to me some helpful publishing stats. They help me to compare expenditures, time put forth and sales to others in the industry. They also help me to plan more realistically and realize why I often have to do things that other writers aren't doing to get noticed in this industry.

Since Mark Twain famously singled out three degrees of lies:

#1: Lies
#2: Damn Lies
#3: Statistics

we'll take all these figures with a grain of salt and think through their practical implications. You'll notice that some of the stats contradict.

Number of Publishing Companies

8,000 to 11,000 new publishing companies are established each year .

Here's a summary of the growth in the number of publishers (from Publishers Weekly):

1947: 357 publishers
1973: 3,000 publishers
1980: 12,000
1994: 52,847
2004: 85,000

Number of Books

2006: 291,920 new titles and editions
2004: 2.8 million books in print (Bowker)
2004: 17 new books published each hour in the USA. (Book Industry Study Group)
70% of the books come from small/self publishers.
1999: The top 20 publishers accounted for 93% of the sales.

Small, Independent Publishers and Self-Publishers (
  • Each averaged publishing 7 titles.
  • 60% operate from home offices.
  • They earned an average of $420,000 (1997) Compare this to Tom Woll's survey in 2002, which found 70% of the publishers reporting sales of less than $100,000.
  • Half of the ones earning over $1 million worked from home offices (1997).
  • The typical Indie publisher works 50 hour work weeks.
  • They publish four times more nonfiction than fiction.
  • Quickbooks is their favorite accounting software.
Average Amounts Spent on Tasks (

Interior Layout: $5 to $18 per page
Book Design: $10 to $150 per hour, totaling $465 for a simple cover to $3,533.26 for a complex cover.
Illustrations: $276 average.
Average revenue per employee: $97,713.

Hours to Complete Tasks

To write a fiction book: 475 hours
To write a nonfiction book: 725 hours
To produce a book: 422 hours fiction, 55p hours nonfiction
To design a cover: 10 to 15 hours
To edit: a book: 61 hours

Print Runs of small publishers

Average print run: 2000 to 5000 copies. (Tom Woll, Cross River Publishing)


Lightning Source has more than 2,000 publishers as clients.
30% of the new titles in 2005 were printed in quantities of less than 100 units.

Most initial print runs in at traditional publishers are 5,000 copies.

China is the leading manufacturer of four-color books.

Print on Demand

3.4% of their books sell more than 500 copies.

14.3% sold more than 200 copies.

"Xlibris averages 33 sales per title." Compare with "The average Xlibris book sells about 130 copies." Compare with :"Xlibris did just mail me an advertisement stating that they've published over 10,000 books and sold over 1 million copies. If you do the math, that comes to about 100 copies per book, and most authors probably buy a few dozen for friends and family."(The latter stat found at

I-Universe averages selling 75 copies per title.

Authorhouse claims to sell 108 books per title.

When are you Successful?

According to Authors Guild, a successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies. A successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies.

The average book in America sells about 500 copies. (SM - I wonder if this is speaking of traditionally published books only.)

"A book by the average author - that is, the average author who manages to find an agent and land a deal - sells just 11,800 copies, according to the Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit research organization, and RR Bowker, a provider of bibliographic information." (Fast Company Magazine, Getting on the Same Page, November, 2005)

International Sales

In 2005-2006, books shipped to (in order) Canada, UK, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Germany.

Men buy more books than women ( Compare: "Women buy 68% of all books" (

Importance of book covers

A bookstore browser spends eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover.

Sales reps give 14 second pitches.

The Potential for New Authors (

81% of the population feel they have a book inside them.
27% would write fiction.
28% would write on personal development.
27% would write history, biography, etc.
20% would do a picture book, cookbook, etc.
6 million have written a manuscript.

How Many are Reading?

2002: 57% of the US population read a book.
2001: People in the U.S. read an average of over 14 books each year. (Gallup)
1997: 63% of adults report purchasing at least one book during the previous three-month period.
One third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. (compare to "58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.")
People reduced their time reading between 1996 and 2001 to 2.1 hours per month. (Publishers Weekly)
2001: per capita spending on books per month was $7.18 (Publishers Weekly, May 26, 2003.)

27% of adult Americans (31% of Canadians) didn't read a single book for pleasure in 2007. (What about people who, like me, read voriously, but almost solely for information rather than pleasure? Would I have had to check the "not read one for pleasure" box? I suppose this tells us something about how many don't read novels.)

Of reading Americans and Canadians, most read more than 20 books per year.

Self-Help Books

One in ten books sold are self-help. (Wall Street Journal, 1998)


70% of Americans haven't visited a bookstore in five years. (

80% of books published by major publishers come through agents. (Michael Larsen)

70% of the books published do not make a profit. (Jerrold Jenkins)

Books are displayed in bookstores for one selling season of four months. If they don't sell by then, they are returned.

Industry return rate is 25 percent for paperback.

Book Reviews

LA Times receives 600 to 700 books for review each week. (Steve Wasserman, book review editor,

Government Grants to Publishers

Canadian government grants to publishers: $48 million. (Hmmm...I wonder how writers get into that money?)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The State of Traditional Publishing

Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy addressed the Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association's CEO Symposium and Publishing University the first week in November. Some of her comments are enlightening and thought provoking. I'm pulling from an article at Publishers Weekly by Cindy Crosby: Reidy: Worse Publishing Environment May Be On the Way.

For several reasons (e.g., a terrible economy and new publishing options), traditional publishers are struggling.

Here's one significant snippet:

"brand name authors continuing to sell but 'everything else is far off normal levels.'"

That tells me that, at this point in history, traditional publishing is for top-selling authors. It may become more and more difficult to be a small fry author in traditional publishing. They're gonna stick with those authors (and bias their marketing dollars) to those who have already established themselves as brands. They'll likely take new authors who already have huge platforms.

Another thoughty statement:

"Reidy also wondered out loud that with self-publishing so easy, 'is it only a matter
of time before one of (the major authors) actually strikes out on his or her own?'"

Hmmm...sounds like they fear that when big-time authors realize how easy it is to bypass the big publishers, they will cut out the middle man and start getting 35% royalties on Amazon sales like those publishing through BookSurge.

Traditional publishers still have a lot to offer, but there are certainly lots of great alternatives out there to consider.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Getting Amazon Reviews

No author can ignore the incredible potential of Amazon sales. And one of the greatest things we can do to get more Amazon sales is to get more Amazon reviews.

Why? Because most of us take the reviews seriously. If I'm looking for book on, say, book marketing, and have to decide between two books, published the same year, with all things equal except that one has fifty reviews and the other two reviews, guess which one I tend to buy (if the reviews are decent, of course)? I assume that more are reading the book with more reviews. The less reviewed book seems like more of a risk.

Most authors apparently assume that getting reviews is a passive indeavor, as they wait for readers to post their comments. But the vast majority of readers don't write reviews. I see great books with only one or two reviews. Even if you love a book, do you generally write a review?

Knowing the importance of Amazon reviews, wise marketers find ways to encourage people to review their books. Thomas Nelson, a major publisher, does this through their "book review blogger" program. Here's their description:

"Any blogger can receive FREE copies of select Thomas Nelson products. In exchange, you must agree to read the book and post a 200-word review on your blog and on any consumer retail website."

Looks like they're buying first class ads at a bargain basement price.

Here's how I plan to do it. I sent an early draft of my latest book to about 30 friends and personal contacts to give me input before my final revision. Twenty-five of them read it. After my book comes out, I'll send a free copy to each of these people - a nice reward for their free editing. In an accompanying note, I'll say,

"Thanks so much for your help in making this a better book! There's no charge for the book, but would you do me one more favor by writing a candid review on Amazon? Here's where you'll find it (put the Amazon url here)."

Since they've already read the book, a review is a cinch.

You could do the same with your relatives, your writer's group, or your writer's association.