Quick-Reference Publishing Stats

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I often tell excited prospective clients and workshop participants that my superpower is being a buzz kill. This usually gets a laugh, but I'm only half joking.

The competition for shelf space and reader attention is fierce. The reality is that most books aren't commercially viable.

I could focus on the positive and blow smoke and sunshine, but I believe it's wise and ethical to first "think negative" because the buzz brought on by the idea of publishing a book comes with a sting.

If you're a long-term thinker like I am, you probably agree that it's better to feel the sting before you invest time, energy, and money than after.

The good news is that authors who face the sting up front are more empathetic to their readers, respectful of the time and attention of publishing professionals, and more engaged in marketing and promoting their books. In short, they get more attention because they pay more attention.

When you know what you're up against, you can make educated decisions and take calculated risks.

Are you ready?

New Authors: Self, Hybrid, or Traditional

  • 1,066,115 new titles were published in 2015!

o   338,990 new titles were published (by traditional publishers) in the United States in 2015. (1)

o   727,125 new titles were self-published in 2015, a 21% increase from 2014. (2)

  • “The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.” (3)

  • “A book has far less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.” (4)

  • “At any given time, 500,000 proposals and manuscripts circulate across the United States.” (5)

  • “One major publisher received over 6,000 unsolicited manuscripts and proposals in a year, yet didn’t accept a single one.” (6)

  • Terry Whalin quoted Brian DiForio (NY literary agent) as saying, “Even with a modest advance of $20,00 to $30,000, the overall costs for the publisher are between $75,000 and $100,000.” Per Whalin, “These numbers do not include marketing or advertising expenses…The number is pure production costs [ink, paper, printing, warehousing books], editorial expenses and design costs for the cover and interior pages of the book.” (7)

  • 40% of queries are rejected for being poorly written or unprofessional. (8)

  • Only 4% of authors seeking representation by a literary agent will land an agent. (9)

  • 70% of nonfiction books are ghostwritten. (10)

  • “Having connections is better than a platform … There’s something about having somebody I already know, like, and whose work I respect pass me something to look at.” (11)

  • “A few years ago I did the math for my slush pile when I created a database for a blog post. I receive about 15 query letters daily and request between 10 and 15 full or partial manuscripts in a year. The maximum number of authors I sign out of my slush pile per year is four. That would be maximum; I usually only sign between two and four.” (12)

  • Many agents and publishers do not accept unsolicited queries, but they will consider manuscripts that are recommended by proven industry professionals (eg. other agents and freelance editors with whom they have relationships).

  • Platform. Platform. Platform. You must be able to demonstrate a market for your work. (13)

Previously Published Indie Authors Who Aspire to Have Their Next Book Traditionally Published

  • “If a book has 250 reviews with 4 and 5 stars, and 70,000 in sales, this author has a lot of promise.” (14)

  • “Ultimately, when presenting to a publisher, I provide a cross-section. If a book has 250 reviews with 4 and 5 stars, and 70,000 in sales, this author has a lot of promise. Alternatively, if a book has 200 reviews and only 10,000 sales, it’s going to be so much more challenging to present them and say, ‘You should invest money in this author.’” (15)

How do you feel? Mixed feelings are a sign that you're approaching your project more objectively and that you'll be better prepared to meet the needs and expectations of editors, literary agents, publishers, and bookstore owners when you’re ready to pitch, publish, and promote your book.

 

Related: Which Publishing Option Is Right for You? and The 4 Phases of a Book Project

Recommended Reading: The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli (survivorship bias and other logical fallacies)

Sources

1 Number of new titles published in selected countries worldwide in 2015 (in 1,000s)

2 Bowker Self-Publishing Report

3 Berrett-Koehler Publishers

4 Berrett-Koehler Publishers

5 Whalin, Terry W. Book Proposals That $ell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success.      Write Now Publications. Nashville, TN. 2005. Print. (p. 16)

6 Whalin, Terry W. Book Proposals That $ell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. Write Now Publications. Nashville, TN. 2005. Print. (p. 16)

7 Whalin, Terry W. Book Proposals That $ell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. Write Now Publications. Nashville, TN. 2005. Print. (p. 22)

8 8 Tips From Literary Agents About How to Get Published

9 Why Agents Reject 96% of Author Submissions

10 Why Agents Reject 96% of Author Submissions

11 What Compels an Agent to Sign an Author? Q&A With Literary Agents Jeff Kleinman and Michelle Brower (Part III of III)

12 The Author Success Story Behind ABC’s Resurrection: Q&A With Literary Agents Jeff Kleinman and Michelle Brower (Part I of III)

13 Writing Non-Fiction: Building Your Platform Through Publication

14 Indie Authors Seeking an Agent: Take Note! Q&A With Literary Agents Jeff Kleinman and Michelle Brower (Part II of III)

15 Indie Authors Seeking an Agent: Take Note! Q&A With Literary Agents Jeff Kleinman and Michelle Brower (Part II of III)

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Cristen Iris

2018