Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing,  Topic of the Night,  Writing in Public

Sales Numbers

Sales Numbers

Kris is doing much better. Learning how to get around the house in her knee brace and crutches. So great there. She thanks everyone for the well-wishes. And her attitude about this is great.

— It is now last call for October Online Workshops.

Still room and time to sign up. Remember, the workshop only take about 3-4 hours of your time each week at your own pace. And even if the workshop started on Monday, you can still sign up. Not behind at all.

Class #31… Oct 5th … Advanced Depth
Class #32… Oct 5th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #33… Oct 5th … Pacing Your Novel
Class #34… Oct 5th … Ideas into Stories
Class #35… Oct 6th … Character Development
Class #36… Oct 6th … Depth in Writing
Class #37… Oct 6th … Making a Career
Class #38… Oct 7th … Designing Covers
Class #39… Oct 7th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #40… Oct 7th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing


Day was long and not worth talking about. Missed some stuff that needed to be done, but finally got to the assignments for the online workshops around 1 a.m. and managed to get that done by 3 a.m.

Then, stunningly, for the second day, I managed to go over to my writing computer very late and feeling disgusted at how little time my writing got out of the last few days.  That’s going to change.

But ended up with just at 2,000 words in two sessions.

Got to have a real push this next week on the book. And I want to as well. Book is driving me crazy that the world hasn’t been letting me get to it. (grin)



I have done this a few times, yet I am constantly hearing from writers about how bad their sales numbers are. Then they tell me and I just shake my most of the time, not at the low number, but at the lack of perspective of what that low number means in any reality.

First read and try to understand Kris’s latest blog about back list, front list, velocity, and so on.

Let me first, for a fraction of this, explain what is happening in the book publishing world to sales numbers. In quick summary form. Again read Kris’s blog for more depth on all this.

— Point One: Numbers of readers of fiction, by all measurements, are growing at a nice steady pace.

— Point Two: Ten years ago, a giant road block existed for most writers to get their books to readers. That road block was called traditional publishing. Very few writers had the drive and the luck to get through that system and to readers. So the amount of readers required a lot of buying of the same books since the numbers of books were limited.

— Point Three: Indie revolution and electronic book delivery addition allowed any writer to get books to readers. No more road blocks except for those who decided to bang their head against the old road block. I kind of think of that as the toll booth in Blazing Saddles.

— Point Four: So the numbers of readers has only increased by a steady pace while in the last five years, the numbers of books available for readers has shot up by god-only-knows how many factors. Both new books and the backlist of established writers (that had not been available before) now fills the shelves.

— Point Five: So the giant, fast sales of ten years ago does not exist anymore. (Called Velocity… see Kris’s blog once again.) Readers do not feel they need to run out and buy the latest book because they can buy it at any time when they are ready. And those same bestsellers are now in direct competition with millions of other books on the same shelves. Bestseller numbers have dropped to a tenth of what they were just a few years ago and are still dropping.

Think of it this way. Old publishing used to have tall, sharp mountain peaks that were the bestsellers. Now those mountains are more like rolling hills. A book can hit a major bestseller list now with under 2,000 copies sold. In the old days, I had a book sell over 65,000 copies in one week and barely hit a few extended lists.

The times, they have a changed.

So what are good sales now? Everyone seems to have some idea, some made-up number in their head that they will be happy with. (And they never hit it, of course.)

Plus that number often has nothing to do with business and real accounting.

So one more time into some basic business numbers. Even if you think you might know this, read it again. Trust me, it will help.


I write a novel. 40,000 words. It takes me 40 hours at $50.00 per hour (rate I pay myself for sitting and having fun making stuff up. Figure your own time and hourly rate.)

So my time cost is $2,000.00. I have set costs of proofing and cover art of $300.00.  And I have other costs of $200.

So for the sake of this example, I have $2,500.00 investment cost in a novel. That’s my investment in the property. (As if I spent that much to go buy a house on a corner to rent. Yes, copyright is a form of property.)

I want to make a 10% annual rate of return on my investment. By any standards in any business, that’s a damn fine rate of return.

So I need to make $250.00 PER YEAR to get that rate of return.

Or about $21.00 per month in profit from sales.

I price the novel at $5.99 electronic and $13.99 paper. And I have the book in audio and selling everywhere.  So for the sake of easy, I make about $4.00 per sale.

Damn, to get a 10% Return on Investment, I have to sell about 5 copies per month. Over the entire world in all formats. Or about 60 or so copies per year.

Yes, I said 60 copies PER YEAR. I had a person a while back complain that they were only selling about 60 copies per month. I just laughed to myself while nodding sagely to the poor successful person who thought they were failing. And that poor person will more than likely soon stop writing in disappointment.

Lack of real perspective with the new world of sales.

I think that just darn near any novel I write will be able to continue to sell 60 or so copies per year for year after year, decade after decade, if I keep the book alive with occasional new covers, keep it in all bookstores, and in promotions when things come up.

I can do that even in the rolling hills of this new world of sales.

Yes, it’s a new world folks. The velocity model is dead, front list and back list are dead terms. A book is new to the reader when the reader finds it.

And writers need to start learning how to build their businesses on investments, just as New York is now switching to doing, which is why they will never return your book’s rights.

I tend to make far over 10% ROI on every book and short story I now write.

Ever wonder why I really, really enjoy writing? (grin)



Day 1…. 2,550 words.  Total words so far… 2,550 words.
Day 2…. 2,350 words.  Total words so far… 4,900 words.
Day 3…. 2,500 words.  Total words so far… 7,400 words.
Day 4…. 1,200 words.  Total words so far… 8,600 words.
Day 5…. 1,500 words.  Total words so far… 10,100 words.
Day 6…. 2,000 words.  Total words so far… 12,100 words.


Totals For Year 3, Month 3, Day 5

Writing in Public blog streak… Day 785

— Daily Fiction: 2,000 original words. Fiction month-to-date: 12,150 words  

— Nonfiction: 00 new words. Nonfiction month-to-date total: 600 words 

— Blog Posts: 1,200 new words. Blog month-to-date word count: 4,900 words

— E-mail: 31 e-mails. Approx. 1,400 original words.  E-mails month-to date: 117 e-mails. Approx. 4,300 words

— Covers Designed and Finished: 0. Covers finished month-to-date: 0 Covers



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  • Vera Soroka

    I have a long way to go to get any return on investment. Under my pen name I only have a novella series published. It’s in the erotic romance genre and I have not published anything for over a year. I need to start publishing again and building that pen names library. Those novella are dead in the water right now. Maybe when I get publishing again, they will do something. I have made very little off of them so far. Under my own name I have only published some cat short stories. I have sold enough of them to maybe buy a few cans of cat food. They are only .99 cents. I think about putting 2.99 on them but I’m not sure readers would buy them at that price. I hope to have a novel out this year under my own name and I will put a 4.99 or 5.99 price on it plus all the short stories that I wrote over the summer. My problem is not the writing part, it’s getting the editing and publishing done. I have poor organizational skills and I let things derail me pretty quick.

  • Dane Tyler

    I know these are imaginary numbers, but it’s still really helpful to see how this would work. I guess the secret really is to just keep writing, producing, so the ROI (which won’t be consistent across every book, of course) continues to pile up. Like you’ve said before, Dean, a lot of trickles makes a stream, and a lot of streams makes a river.

    You might even call that a Fiction River, right? 😉

    Thanks for the refresher. It’s always a great reminder not to give up. It’s easier now that it’s ever been, and writers have to keep that in mind. Start with a good book, and don’t quit.

  • David Anthony Brown

    Wishing Kris a speedy recovery, and looking forward to her next business post, even if it’s more fried cheese. 🙂

    Pretty neat how you can make money at this gig while remaining obscure, huh? Just have to understand the long-tail, and practice towards pulp speed writing. Not a bad job when you can create and manage your own property.

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, David. What I think of each property being an income property in a suburb. Right now I own a bunch of suburbs and every house is rented and creating income for me. And I am building more homes all the time.

      So when you drive through a subdivision, imagine owning every house and all of them are rented, without problems, and paying you an income. That’s your writing catalog. All earning if you have them up, even if not much. It adds up.

  • Christina Ochs

    Thanks for the reminder on book as a long-term income property. I just came from my Amazon page feeling sad that I’ve “only” sold about fifty copies in the past three months. Not only does that exceed the wild expectations I had prior to publishing my first novel, it also makes me a success! ? Now I need to stop wasting my time worrying about sales and finish the second book- I’m so close I can taste it.

    Best wishes to Kris. Hope she heals quickly!

  • David Ramso

    This is a great way to think about book sales! I feel like authors (myself included) beat ourselves up for not selling 1000 copies in our first month (or year…or ever). But this is more realistic. I am writing because I want to create something and I want a long term income stream. Definitely encouraged by this model

  • Stephen Gradijan


    Regarding ROI, perhaps it would be easier if you explicitly explained it in terms of an annuity instead of a year’s worth of sales. I suspect many people overlook the year after year in sales that a healthy backlist will net a writer who keeps writing, and thus has an active frontlist promoting the backlist (which in turn helps sales of the frontlist because it encourages new readers to give the writer a try).

    In your example of the person who was/is unhappy about making 60 sales per month, netting perhaps $4 per copy. That would net a bit less than $3000 per year, which is not enough to live on as a full time writer that writes full time (at whatever speed be it 1 book per year or 4 per year), if those sales weren’t annuities.

    But after writing 10 books with the same annual net in dollar terms, that works out to $30,000 per year. Each and every year. 20 such books would be $60,000 per year.

    If the writer figures on growing a loyal readership with each new book that comes out, then those numbers per year per book would tend grow even higher I would think.

    Anyway, to reiterate, I suspect that many people are overlooking the repeatability per title of those annual sales.

    P.S. My spellchecker dinged “repeatability” without a hyphen, but Wikipedia has an entry on the word(!) so screw spellcheck.

    P.P.S. Kris in that second photo yesterday has a gloriously wonderful smile for anyone on any day, but on a day of a hobbling injury like that, all I can say is, “Wow“! She should consider cropping the photo and using it for her head shot, or for that matter not cropping the photo at all and simply using it on her profile.

    • dwsmith

      Stephen, spot on the money. You are right, I need to focus on the annuity aspect more. It is just assumed to me, which is why I just sort of state it but don’t focus on it. Books have gone from produce to forever investments. Very good point. Thank you, I’ll do a topic on that.

      And yeah, Kris’s attitude on this is fantastic. She’s really bummed she’s missing the exercise, but she’ll be back at it. She has a plan. (grin)