I mentioned in a recent post that I would be talking a little more about how it isn’t easy making a living as a writer. This ties in quite well with a question I was asked today during the short school tour I’m doing this week: so how much so you earn?
Kids (and adults) have this general view that published authors can immediately give up their day jobs and rest on their laurels. This is all well and good if you’re J.K. Rowling but the truth is, most authors don’t have bestsellers to their name and can’t afford to live off book sales alone. Some have day jobs, others work as journalists and many rely on income from readings, event appearances and tours.
When I first entered the wonderful world of publishing, I was very naïve and actually pretty clueless about the numbers that govern the definition of a successful book. I remember being told that the UK average of copies sold per book was around 4,000 – I thought it was more than triple that.
More illuminating was Sathnam Sanghera’s recent column in The Times. The column outlines some surprising figures: statistics from Nielsen Bookscan show that, of 200,000 books on sale last year, 190,000 titles sold fewer than 3,500 copies. More shocking is that of 85,933 new books, as many as 58,325 sold an average of just 18 copies. 18 copies!! Am I the only one that finds this unbelievable? It suddenly makes me feel very good about my own book sales, which thankfully run into four figures, not two.
These numbers are great for self-validation. After all, other than book sales, there is no real or objective way to quantify how good a writer is. So I guess the honest answer to the question posed at the top is, not a lot but I’m damn happy regardless.