Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Sales Statistics: A New York Times Bestseller

Have you ever wondered what a bestselling author earns? Or how many copies are sold as a result of chart placement? Last week, I was thrilled to discover that the author of a book which debuted on the New York Times bestsellers list had made a copy of her latest royalty statement available on the internet, for all to see.

Lynn Viehl writes dark fantasy and science fiction and is published by The Penguin Group USA, and Onyx Books in the UK. By her own admission she does very little promotional work for her books, and her personal blog is a lovely, gentle affair with no overt promotion for her books (but a lot of interesting stuff for writers to consider). When her book Twilight Fall was published last July it hit the New York Times bestsellers list in its first week on sale. It went on to sell nearly 81,500 copies in the first four months after its release, and earned Ms Viehl royalties of nearly $40,000 in that period alone. Her publisher held back $13,500 as a reserve against returns, leaving a royalty figure of $27,700—but as Ms Viehl was paid an advance of $50,000, she has a further $22,300 to make in royalties before this book earns out, after which time all royalties—minus her agent’s fees and tax liabilities—will be hers to fritter on what ever she chooses.

Taken alone, this might not seem very spectacular (a couple of people have already commented on various blogs that they expected a place on the New York Times bestsellers list to depend on higher sales and therefore, higher earnings): but appearing on this list will probably have bumped up sales of Ms Viehl's other books, too, and that has huge implications: Ms Viehl is a very prolific writer who has published a staggering forty-two novels across five different genres using eight different pseudonyms—and all since the year 2000.

I am in awe of her, and more than a little envious: and I bet her house is clean, too!

14 comments:

Nicola Morgan said...

This is fascinatingly clear. I'm really glad you brought this to us, as there's so little understanding, even among writers, about how someone's "best-selling" status translates into dosh. I'm planning (at my agent's suggestion) a piece on the breakdown of the economics of being a writer / how the cover price of a book breaks down, and this will be a useful link.

Thanks, Jane!

Kate said...

42 novels in 9 years - that's an impressive tally.

A fascinating post - thanks :-)

Sally Zigmond said...

Thank you, Jane for a fascinating and informative post. Every vanity-published author who believes that authors have to get out there and waste their energies selling their own books (because that's what the vanity bods tell them they must do) and then feel pleased when they sell 50 copies, should read it.

The reason this lovely lady's books sell is because she saves her energies for writing, being creative and improving--see her blog post before the one Jane has linked to--and has built up a following of readers who love her books and buy them.

Deborah said...

Writing four books a year is an astounding feat.

Kristen said...

Educational post - thank you!

(But, Sally, I think all published authors have different experiences; some sell, some don't. Some have to help market, others get lucky. I don't know that you can say with confidence why any one book sells better than another. That would be like trying to figure out why some YouTube videos go viral.)

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, Lynn rocks! She gives away books on her blog as well as all the fantastic advice.

Tania Hershman said...

Gosh, this is very very interesting, thanks so much. 81,500 copies seems an astronomical amount to me, and I think I would have expected higher royalties for those kinds of sales figures, so it's pretty enlightening to be brought back to reality.
How does anyone make a living from this? Alright, if she publishes 4 books a year, and makes $27,000 from each a year, that's $108,000, which is very nice.

Urgh, I find it hard to talk about money and my writing, I just heard I sold 2 copies in a local bookshop that I went to myself and gave several copies to, and got excited! Yay, $10! Different league, eh? :)

Jane Smith said...

42 novels in 9 years: that's not just impressive, Kate, it's superhuman.

I was very tempted to use this post to compare these sales figures to those of self-published books, which average anything from 40 copies to 200 copies per title, depending on which figures you work with, but felt that would be petty.

And Tania, if you look at the royalty statement that the original post links to you'll see that the royalty on these sales is only 8%, which is pretty low: I'd have thought that 10-12% would be more likely, although I'm not too good on what's current in genre fiction.

(By the way, I suggest everyone go and read Sally Zigmond's book blog right now: she has reviewed Tania Hershman's luminous collection of short stories and flash fiction pieces, and as Tania is due to take centre stage here in a couple of weeks with her own contribution to the Trios series, it would be good if we all took the time to BUY HER BOOK NOW.)

Melinda Szymanik said...

I was envious enough (42 novels, best seller list, $50,000 advance) but you killed me with the clean house comment. I'm going to believe it's because she can afford a cleaner

Jane Smith said...

Melinda, if you want reassurance on the "clean house" front you should visit here. Our kitchen has drifts of dog hair in all the corners, I need a shovel to clean out the entrance hall, and last time I changed the beds I found a doughnut and a mummified mouse underneath one of them. And before you ask, it wasn't a bed in the children's rooms...!

Samantha Tonge said...

Blood and sands! And i thought i was doing well churning out one novel a year...

Tania Hershman said...

Jane - thank you for the plug!!

BuffySquirrel said...

I have Tania's book; it's awaiting my kind attention along with 170-odd others. Ahem.

My husband found our cat playing with a mummified mouse the other day.

David Dittell said...

Jane,

Fascinating look at the realities, and a fascinating story overall. That's a heck of a lot of books!