Here’s the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies. – Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006.
I love books.
Shocking, I know, but the people who moved me recently can attest to it. I have an extensive metaphysical, religious, and magical library, and reference my favorites again and again. I love books so much, I am currently writing another one. I read novels, too. No joke.
Because of the astounding salaries and book sales of the Nora Roberts and Steven Kings (and possibly the Julia Camerons and Deepak Chopras) of the world, there is a mistaken impression that authors make a lot of money.
We don’t. Re-read that quote above. At 8 to 15% royalties on 500 copies at $16 each, the math adds up to not much.
The authors I know all struggle to get by, and all but one or two work other full time jobs. The whole publishing industry is in trouble. Huge corporate conglomerates now own the big publishing houses. Chain stores and Amazon have killed the “mid-list” – authors that had decent, slow and steady sales – by placing huge orders at deep discounts and then being able to return every one of those books.
Meanwhile, the independent bookstores that would hand sell favorite, often unusual, books don’t get these discounts because they can‘t make the big orders. We know the way independent bookstores are going: gone. Therefore, when I hear stories of people relying on the knowledge and time of small booksellers, asking questions about the books in their store only to turn around and order the book on Amazon, I get more than a bit annoyed.
But back to authors:
The days of authors getting shepherded through their careers by concerned editors are over. The days of big, paid-for book tours are over. The chance to build a career over three books is over. You make it out of the gate in the first three months of publication or you fail. And this includes authors who spend a lot of time, money, and effort on getting the word out.
This includes my friends that write literary novels, science fiction, horror, and romance. Add in my friends in small markets, like Pagan and magical books, or alternative sexuality, and the odds grow even slimmer. Small publishers have stepped up to help get books out there and keep some older things in print, but the reality of that is that small publishers don’t have much money to begin with. Reputable esoteric publishers are not shelling out the big bucks simply because they don’t have them.
Why am I saying all this? I see my friends struggling, many of whom are writing things that are quite valuable for the growth and health of our communities. These books I’m talking about are not trash. This isn’t about the free market doing its work, letting the cream rise to the top and the rest drain away. Most often, what is getting lost is the cream.
Lon Milo Duquette needs your help. Diana Paxson needs your help. Jason Newcomb needs your help. M. Macha Nightmare needs your help. R. J. Stewart needs your help. I could go on and on with this list, but you get the idea. Heck, thankful and blessed as I am to be living my life, I need your help.
I know many of you don’t buy gifts for Yule. I don’t either, – with one or two exceptions to that rule – preferring to avoid the commercialization of this time of year, but I know that many of you do buy gifts. If you are in the latter category, please consider buying a book that isn’t already a bestseller. Maybe your grandfather has been secretly wishing for a copy of the magical work that has most influenced your life. Perhaps your best friend has taken up Voudoun. If you want your favorite books to stay in print (I was just speaking with a friend whose books have been pulped because they didn’t sell quite enough the first year), please buy them. And ask your library to order them if you can’t afford them yourself.
Give an author (and an independent bookstore) a gift for Yule. We will thank you for it.