According to Forbes there are between 600 thousand and a million books published each year and roughly half are self-published. The average number of sales per volume is less than 250.
That’s not encouraging.
Of course I have no idea where Forbes came up with these numbers. Still, they tend to be pretty careful about what they publish so let’s assume the numbers are real. Now, if you are capable of writing, editing and publishing say, two books per year, and if you want to earn a conservative income of say, $30,000, then you would need royalties of $60 per volume. Given that publishers rather like taking their cut, your book would probably need to be priced around a hundred dollars. Better make that next book non-fiction.
Would you like to be the next J.K. Rowlings – and who wouldn’t? Well maybe if you’re willing to settle for having your e-book take off and be a best seller you might get lucky. After all, the odds of achieving best-seller status are somewhere between one and two per million books published. Therefore a simple solution to becoming a top-ranked author is to write and publish, say, three million books and you’re all set. Now if you can write a book in maybe four months – so three per year – in a mere one million years you’re bound to make it. Well, if nothing else, these sorts of numbers encourage longevity.
Here’s the point. Authors don’t actually outnumber readers, but we’re certainly gaining. Gawker suggests that on average, readers consume 16 books per year. The median was 6 but there are a few people at the high end who really go at this thing. Another statistics that Gawker provides is that 75% of individuals over the age of 16 read at least one book per year.
They were talking about the United States but I think we can probably include Canada and likely several other places as well. Okay, so what have we got? The population of the United States is 321.4 million according to Wikipedia and for Canada it is 35.85 million for a total of 357.35. I don’t have a percentage for individuals over the age of 16 but once more Wikipedia suggests that 19.8% is under the age of 14 and roughly 11% is between 15 and 19 so let’s add 2.2% and suggest that 22% of the population is under 16 meaning that 78% is 16 or older. Therefore we have a reader pool of 268 million and, at an average of 16 books per reader, that comes out to 4.288 billion books read.
Google suggests that there are 129.9 million books in the world while Goodreads claims it knows about 1.5 billion. That’s quite a discrepancy but let’s use the smaller more conservative number. Therefore 4.288 billion reads divided by 129.0 million books suggests that you might expect 33 people to read your book per year. If we use the 1.5 billion books then it reduces to 2.8. Okay so certain highly-technical and older works probably won’t be read at all but that first number of 250 is starting to seem reasonable.
Therefore if you’re planning to make a career from being an author the odds are stacked against you – heavily.
Now there are various things you can do to improve your odds. Searching the internet and determining best practices for authors and then following the suggestions is a good way to start; but no matter how you cut it, revenues from book sales probably won’t be sufficient for your needs. As a result, it might be a good idea to make use of other revenue generating tools. Many authors come from the field of journalism. Many authors write part-time and have a full-time job that pays the bills. Some companies hire technical writers to develop documentation and user manuals. The latter can keep food on the table. Then there are speaking engagements from which revenue can be derived. In a post by Ryan Lanz [guest post by Megan Okonsky] there were suggestions for unusual revenue generation through writing.
I think most authors probably understand the nature of the beast but it is possible that there are some who are looking at the occupation and thinking that in these days of precarious employment, being an author might be a good means of earning money. If you change that to earning extra money it may be viable but as a sole career it has to be viewed as a high-risk proposition. Still, some individuals do succeed and if you are willing to take the risk then jump in and do your best.
On the other hand, you know you were born to write, right? And you were also born to eat. So maybe writing as a hobby might be a better alternative. If your book succeeds, that’s great. If not you still had fun writing it and you’ll probably get to meet new and interesting people because even if people won’t read the thing, they’ll be interested in what you’re doing. I would encourage everyone who enjoys reading and thinks he or she has a few good stories in them to take the plunge and produce a book. Just don’t expect too much in the way of remuneration.
This guest post was contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published eight books on Smashwords.com. Alternately titled “Reality Check.”