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Setting Sales Expectations for Your First Book

Publishing is a business and in any business what matters most are sales. When a contract is first offered, the advance and other aspects of the deal are based on the potential for sales numbers. Later in an author’s career, sales of previous books will play a role in whether or not a new contract is offered and how much that contract will be for.

While we can predict that decisions will be based on sales what we can’t really predict is what those sales will be.

A reader asks:

What do you consider a good amount of books sold from a previous first time author? I’ve read varying amounts. Some say 7-10 thousand while others say 5-8 thousand? I’ve even read a few people say 15-20 thousand!
Thanks for professional opinion and this forum for us to ask questions.

It depends. It depends on the genre you’re writing, the format of the book (hardcover or paperback), the expectations of the publisher, and what the market is supporting in any given week.

While I think every author should be shooting for sales of 20,000 or beyond (because we should always shoot high), what I would shoot for most is earning out the advance in the first year of sales.

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7 comments

  1. Yeah, sales, a vital point! I’m deep in them right now. Got a list of 18k readers and selling my own stuff just to test out what works and what doesn’t. I think publishing with a small press (for learning and validation rather than anything else), and a series or two as indie in order to get a feel of the market is a huge thing, and so extremely important. I wouldn’t even submit to an agent again until I have a firm grip on that, and until I can show a powerful platform and sales for myself. This business is as complex and serious as any other, and, unless you’re ready to bend your talent to the market and bury eccentricities, you don’t survive as a writer. Been doing this for almost two years and I’m barely scratching the surface. Keep’em nitty-gritty posts coming, Jessica, I’m devouring 🙂

  2. Jessica, is earning out the advance in the first 12 months better because it means you reached more sales than anticipated? Or because it means the publisher didn’t “pay” the author more than their percentage? Wondering if that means a lower advance might be better because it is easier to earn out? Then again, I’ve heard it said (one of those “everyone says it but can’t attribute source” things) that you should try for a big advance because you’ll probably never earn out so at least you’ve made some money.

    1. At a certain level, with certain authors, publishers will know they won’t earn out the advance in a year, but the overall success and name of the author make a difference to their list. Ultimately the next advance will be based on overall sales and not necessarily just that first year on one book.

  3. Is there a good resource for book sale stats? I’d love to see how some of my favorite books/authors have fared their first year. Thanks!

  4. There are two approaches to distribute a fiction book. One is a certain thing: Pay for it, with no desire for pitching it to anyone who’s not a companion or family, regardless of how great it is or the amount you work as well as spend to showcase it. I think this is a horrible thought.

  5. I.m a new author looking for a literary agent to help sell my book the shadow of proof a detective story sent in the west midlands

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