It’s time for a reality check from The Agent’s Desk. One of our jobs is to manage your expectations through every stage of this long process called publishing.
The statistics have not changed much in the years that I’ve been involved in the book industry. In the entire Kingdom of Books, which includes every title sold in every category—not just Christian—only ten percent of authors make a living solely by writing books.
The authors you meet at conferences may still have day jobs, or if they freelance, they edit manuscripts, ghostwrite books, or conduct their own writing workshops. Or they still have day jobs. They work all day and then come home and write their novels at night. Or if they’re early birds like me, they hop out of bed at 4 a.m. and sit down at the keyboard before rushing out the door to make it to work on time. Some pound out two or three pages every day while riding a commuter train.
Another group of writers may be blessed with a spouse who is the sole breadwinner of the family. Mothers who are writers take care of the kids and write during nap time. I’ve known stay-at-home writer dads as well. The whole family tightens the purse strings and lives on a budget.
Of course, a few authors inherited their fortunes and live on Fantasy Island.
Here’s the reality. The average Christian novel sells about 5,000 copies. Some sell less; some sell more. You notice I didn’t say that the first-time author only sells about 5,000 copies. No, that includes experienced and newbie authors as well. Do the math.
A smaller percentage may sell 10,000 to 15,000 books each time. This is our hope for you because it will assure you a place at the table and a long-term career. Now we enter more rarefied air.
A much smaller group sells 20,000 or 25,000 books, but those are usually long-time authors or a new author who happens to write a book that hits a nerve with readers. We hope you are the exception and will publish books in this range.
Only a handful of authors sell in the 50,000 to 100,000 or more range consistently. You know their names. They live on the bestseller lists. You see their names month after month and year after year on the CBA or ECPA bestseller lists.
Then, once in awhile, an author catches lightning in a bottle, and you have a series such as Left Behind or a single book title like The Shack.
So please, if you are a newcomer to publishing, adjust your expectations, and if you knock it out of the ballpark, you’ll be as ecstatic as your agent and your publisher. We pray for bestsellers!