More on Book Sales Figures

Last week, I posted a link to an AP article that provided some sales figures for recent books. My point in originally linking to that article was to shed some light on the otherwise mysterious question of book sales figures.

A publishing insider posted a comment, kindly pointing out that the Associated Press figures were “WAY OFF.” I appreciate the update from the commentor and I agree that in the case with literary authors like Junot Diaz, the sales numbers are (will be) outstanding.

It’s unfortunate that accurate figures are so difficult to obtain. I’m not suggesting that we trust every word that’s in the media, but if the Associated Press is so substantially wrong, then it’s even more frustrating.

It seems like with movies and music, numbers are a bit more accepted (even though we know those are fudged here and there) and there’s less mystery and less debate.

The real problematic result of all this confusion is that aspiring authors have almost no idea of what makes a actual successful sales total. Which leads to people like the guy who recently emailed me. He’s never been published before at any level, has no track record, has no schooling, has no platform, and has no reason to stand out in any way at all. He might very well be the greatest writer in the world, but he doesn’t have any of the indicators we cynically look for when encountering a new writer.

And yet he is absolutely, positively convinced that his poetry collection is going to sell 8 million copies in its first two weeks of release. His email was laughable in its naivete and it’s the kind of message that editors and agents would immediately dismiss as the rantings of a kook.

While this particular guy probably is a little kooky, I have to ask the question… if publishing industry reporters can’t get accurate sales totals, how in the world is some aspiring author in Topeka supposed to know what is a reasonable goal? We read about Rowling figures, we hear about Dan Brown figures, but if sales totals the bulk of authors are so impossible to obtain, how can this eager poet develop a more informed opinion?

If you read the websites, peruse the blogs, and follow the publishing industry on a daily basis, you can get a better idea of sales counts. But even then, it’s vague. Meanwhile, someone new to the whole shindig is going to walk in the door with absurd expectations and quickly be dismissed because of those expectations.

I guess the bottom line is that I don’t see what all the mystery is about. Certainly, no publisher or author wants to have their “failed” books be common knowledge. But it is widely reported for movies, music, and other forms of entertainment.  

UPDATE: Evidently, Y. sent a note to Ron at Galleycat. Here are his thoughts on the matter.