On Amazon and bestsellers

Recently, a somewhat successful writer demanded to know where all his money is:

This past summer, my novel, “Broken Piano for President,” shot to the top of the best-seller lists for a week. After Jack Daniel’s sent me a ridiculously polite cease and desist letter, the story went viral and was featured in places like Forbes, Time magazine and NPR’s Weekend Edition… My book was the No. 6 bestselling title in America for a while, right behind all the different “50 Shades of Grey” and “Gone Girl.” It was selling more copies than “Hunger Games” and “Bossypants.”…

From what I can tell so far, I made about $12,000 from “Broken Piano” sales. That comes directly to me without all those pesky taxes taken out yet (the IRS is helpful like that)…

The book sold plus or minus 4,000 copies.

Many writers, publishing for the first time, assume that the rewards will be far greater than they actually are. Because the book exists, their thinking tends to go, people will buy it; the inevitability of huge cash rewards must therefore follow.

And most learn in short order that the reality is different. If they’re lucky, they’ll get a handful of sales a month on Amazon. Four thousand sales in a week is a great total. But it’s still penny-ante stuff. How much money did the author expect to make from those sales? Why is he mystified that he’s not rich?

He sold more copies than the year-old 50 Shades blockbuster franchise. That series has sold 65 million copies, through every store in every strip mall and airport in the industrialized world. Outselling it for a week on one website? A blip in the statistics. Believe me, the 50 Shades stakeholders didn’t notice it.

No, the real lessons here seem to have passed the author by:

  • It only takes 4,000 sales to be a best-seller on Amazon. That’s fewer sales than it takes to be a best-seller in all of Canada. It’s not a lot of sales.
  • The traditional publishing and distributing model is still master of the publishing world. Will it change? Maybe — probably — but it hasn’t yet. More books in more stores equals bigger sales.
  1. Another lesson in there, for all writers and aspiring writers, is: writing is not a way to become rich.

    Very very few writers become rich. Many writers can earn a living solely by writing, although still a small percentage of the whole. Most writers always need another income.

    I’ve been amazed over the years at how many people – co-workers and such – believe writing is a path to riches and fame. I’m glad I never laboured under that particular delusion!

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