Some 200 Million Americans say they want to publish a book, but lack of attendance at the IBPA’s Publishing University at BEA suggests a disregard for the craft of book publishing.
By Justine Tal Goldberg
It’s often said the book fairs are no place for writers. But what about at a conference organized specifically to help writers publish?
According to writer Joseph Epstein, “81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them — and should write it.” That’s approximately 200 million people who aspire to authorship. Excluding those who want and never do, and those who do but never publish, we’re still looking at millions of folks hungry for the literary limelight. In light of recent trends in publishing — the fact that self-published titles have dwarfed traditionally published works nearly 2:1 — one would expect that the Independent Book Publishers Association’s 27th annual Publishing University, a concurrent event with BookExpo America at New York City’s Javits Center this week, would have been swarming with author-publishers on the prowl for a much-needed literary education. Strangely, it wasn’t.
“So where are the writers?” I asked IBPA’s executive director Terry Nathan between panels.He explained that despite efforts to attract author-publishers in addition to small presses, attendance has dropped in recent years. 2011’s conference saw approximately 250 attendees, “mostly publishers and a few authors who take their publishing seriously,” Nathan told me.
What I then wanted to ask but didn’t, due to a potentially misguided sense of propriety was, “What authors don’t take their publishing seriously?” The sad answer, of course, is many; these days, perhaps even most.
I sat in on panels aimed at self-published writers (“Hands-on Guide to Marketing Fiction,” “Editorial Basics,” “Book Design that Gets Buzz,” and more) and watched in horror as panelists prompted the writers in the audience to identify themselves and, panel after panel, one or two tentative hands rose above the crowd.
It’s no easy task to determine why people do certain things, attend certain events and not others — market researchers make a good living this way — still, I’m bothered. “There’s good stuff here!” I felt like shouting, felt like running up and down 11th Avenue to shake sense into every pen-wielding, notebook-toting wannabe I passed. This year’s Publishing University was brimming with valuable information about working the market, producing a quality product, and writing like a writer that every self-published author would do well to understand:
“There are so many of us humans who are ready to self-publish or publish with little or no more thought than we would give to having a meal at a fancy restaurant,” says Cynthia Frank, independent press publishing consultant and publisher at Cypress House, a small independent press and book publishing consultation service on the north coast of California.
“Self-published books are almost uniformly badly published,” says Deb Werksman, acquiring editor and editorial manager for Sourcebooks, the largest women-owned independent publishing house in the country.
“If a book looks self-published, buyers are not going to buy it,” says Tom Dever of TLC Graphics and Narrow Gate Books, a book design, production, and distribution outfit in Austin, Texas.
And yet, where are the writers?
It seems reasonable that self-published books feel self-published and, despite some advances in reputation largely due to the popularity of the movement, continue to carry the stigma they do precisely because the authors of these works fail to take the endeavor seriously.
Epstein wonders “if the reason so many people think they can write a book is that so many third-rate books are published nowadays that…it makes writing a book look fairly easy,” and thanks to self-publishing, anyone can do it. (To wit, a brilliant video produced by open source movie-maker Xtranormal).
And therein lies the rub. The do-it-yourselfers need education in the task they’ve undertaken — they need Publishing University — but they don’t know it, and they won’t know it until they do. If book publishing really is becoming self-publishing as so many professionals predict, the book as medium may be looking at a bleaker future than any self-respecting bibliophile would care to admit.
“It’s not that easy to write a good book,” Werksman reminded her writer audience of one. Take it to the streets, shout it from the rooftops, tell every author-publisher you know. If you can find them.
DISCUSS: Should the DIY Movement Learn Traditional Publishing Techniques?
About the Author
Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.
What percentage of Americans want to write a book? ›
A lot of people want to, but don't. … and many never will. In 2002, 81 percent of people surveyed said they felt they wanted to write a book.How many books does the average person publish? ›
Published by Ol James on 26/06/2022
How many books do other authors write? Authors usuaslly write several books unless they are one-hit wonders. Evidence suggests that those making over $100K/year have on average published over 33 books.
When seeking a publisher, you are facing an uphill battle. Thousands of hopefuls send their novels to publishers per week, and the majority get rejected. Most publishers don't allow unsolicited manuscripts, so it doesn't matter how good or talented you are.
Within the book publishing industry, it is agreed that the odds of an author getting their work published stands between 1% and 2%. Despite this low number, more than 95% of manuscripts received by publishers and agents are below the level the standard required.How many books does the average author sell? ›
Most self-published authors sell 250 books or less, regardless of how many different books they write. Traditionally published books sell around 3,000 copies on average, with only 250 of those sales in the first year. It's rare that books sell over 100,000 copies and even rarer to sell more than a million.How many people who write a book actually get published? ›
Out of 97% of people who begin writing a novel: 30 out of 1000 go on to finish it. Only 6 out of those 30 go on to see their novel published.How much does an author make if they sell a million copies? ›
Typically, an author can expect to receive the following royalties: Hardback edition: 10% of the retail price on the first 5,000 copies; 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, then 15% for all further copies sold. Paperback: 8% of retail price on the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% thereafter.How many books does the average self publisher sell? ›
The average self-published book sells 250 copies. The average self-published author makes $1,000 per year from their books. 33% of self-published authors make less than $500 per year. 90% of self-published books sell less than 100 copies.How many copies does an average book sell? ›
The average book in America sells about 500 copies. Those blockbusters are a minute anomaly: only 10 books sold more than a million copies last year, and fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000.How rare is it to be a published author? ›
It is quite difficult to become a published author.
According to editors and publishers, the odds of being published are only about 1 to 2% as they only accept one or two manuscripts for every hundred they receive. Part of the difficulty in becoming a published author is actually finding a publisher to work with.
How much do first-time authors get paid? ›
How much can authors expect to earn from their books? A first-time author with a traditional publishing deal might expect an advance of $1,000-$10,000 and 5-18% royalties once they “earn out” their advance. Self-published authors do not receive advances, but their royalties can reach up to 70% for ebook editions.How much does the average published book make? ›
Publishers typically pay a $5,000 to $10,000 advance to good first-time authors. This means they would need to sell around 1,000 copies of a book that costs $20 per copy to break even after printing and distribution costs. Following that, the author will receive royalties, typically about 10%.Is it worth it to go into publishing? ›
It's hard to get into, but worth it.
Publishing is a notoriously hard business to get into, so you'll need to be at your very best to get a job, but it's most definitely worth it.
Ballpark Figures. Self-published authors can earn up to 70% royalties from their books, while most traditionally published authors make 5-18% royalties which they only receive after 'earning out'. That means the books sales have “paid back” their advances and the publishers then start giving them a cut of book sales.What age do most authors get published? ›
This is more the sort of age you'd expect for a debut novel, possibly even a little on the young side (30, that is, not 81). This study of professionally published novelists found the average age of first publication to be 36 years.How many books do you need to sell to be successful? ›
In the book's lifetime
By comparison, the average traditionally published book sells 3,000 copies, but as I mentioned above, only about 250-300 of those sales happen in the first year. For a traditional publisher to think of a nonfiction book as a success, it has to sell more like 10,000 copies over its lifetime.
The category and window of your release all significantly impact the number of copies required to hit the NYT bestseller list, but 5,000 copies during any one-week period is the minimum.How many books do you have to sell to be #1 on Amazon? ›
In order to hit #1 on Amazon, you'll need to sell somewherebetween 3,500 and 5,000 copies in 24 hours. Want to hit top 10? You'll need to sell roughly 300 for print, or 2,000+ copies for combined formats.How long is the average published book? ›
Most publishers consider novel length to be anywhere between 50,000 and 110,000 words. The average length of an adult novel is about 90,000 words.What are the odds of becoming a bestselling author? ›
According to the New York Post, the chances of becoming famous are 1 in 62,986, which is just over a 1.5% chance. For your book to land on the New York Times Bestseller List, you have to sell around 10,000 copies, usually within the first week.
How do I know if my book is good enough to publish? ›
- Try to get your book traditionally published – even if you want to self-publish. This may sound like madness if you are adamant about self-publishing, but hear me out. ...
- Send your book to a professional editor for a critique. ...
- Create your own market, and test your writing skills.
Writing a novel can make you rich, but only a small percentage of writers get really rich from their writing. Most authors do not survive on royalties from book sales alone. Many retain other jobs to make ends meet. But every now and then, a writer will break through to earn big money.Can you make a living as an author? ›
Worry not, fair writers, because you can make a living as a writer. It just takes some understanding and, like all careers, dedication and hard work. In this blog, we're going to talk about what it takes to turn writing into your career.How much do authors make per book on Amazon? ›
Amazon pays out a 35% royalty rate for books priced at $0.01-2.98 or any book over $9.99. However, if you list your Kindle book within the preferred $2.99 – $9.99 range, you'll earn 70% royalties on all book sales.How much does a good publisher cost? ›
How much does it cost to publish a book in the United States? It usually costs between $500 and $5,000 to publish a book in the United States. A lot of that cost comes from hiring an editor, book designer services, and marketing. The average self-published book costs about $2,000 to publish and market.Do you make more money with a publisher or self-publishing? ›
Thankfully, self-published books have a much, much higher royalty rate than traditional publishers because you get to keep anywhere from 50-70% of your book's profits. With a traditional publisher, they take much more and you only end up with 10% maybe 12% after years of proving yourself as an author.How many self-published authors are successful? ›
Among indie authors, to date, only about forty people have earned six figures or more selling on Amazon.How many pages in a book is a best seller? ›
A best seller's average length is 375 pages, but in the last 100 years, the average number of words in a sentence has declined over time, as with the use of the semi-colon.How much does the average author make on a book? ›
Self-published authors can make between 40% – 60% royalties on a the retail price of a single book while traditionally published authors usually make between 10%-12% royalties.How many books sell 1 million copies? ›
Of the 500,000+ books that are published each year, less than 20 books sell a million copies (and that includes fiction novels!) Upon hearing that, you might think your odds are 1 in 25,000… But your odds are even lower than that.
Are authors in high demand? ›
Employment of writers and authors is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. About 15,200 openings for writers and authors are projected each year, on average, over the decade.
Literary authors are the hardest hit, experiencing a 46% drop in their book-related income in just five years. Other relevant data: 80% of all authors earn less than what most people would consider a living wage.How do you get discovered as a writer? ›
- Understand the basics of writing & publishing.
- Start a blog.
- Submit your work to literary magazines.
- Choose between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
- Build your own brand.
- Create a professional website.
- Promote yourself on social media.
- Join groups of like-minded people.
First time authors can make the same royalty rates as experienced authors: 10%-12.5% for traditionally published authors and 60% for self-published authors. First time traditionally published authors make a lower advance, typically only $5,000, that is paid back with book sales.What percentage of authors are successful? ›
The top 2% or so of authors make a good living and the most successful authors – including self-published authors – make a tremendous amount of money.” Greenfield's co-author, professor Dana Weinberg, agreed that “The question of money is a tricky one. Publishing a book for sale is a matter of both art and commerce.Who is highest paid author? ›
John Grisham is one of the world's highest-paid authors. In 2019, he earned an estimated $27 million from his writing. It made him the fourth highest-paid author in the world, behind James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, and Dan Brown. Grisham's novels have sold over 350 million copies and translated into 42 languages.Do publishers make good money? ›
The average Book Publisher in the US makes $149,526.What genre of books sell the most? ›
Most Popular Fiction Genres
- Detective & Mystery.
- Historical Fiction.
- Young Adult (YA).
- Children's Fiction.
The salary range for self-published ranges quite drastically, and mostly depends on the number of books sold. Self-published authors can make between 40 to 60 percent royalties on a single book sale. This is far more than traditionally published authors who make only 10-12 percent royalties.Is there a future in publishing? ›
The future of publishing needs to embrace intelligent automation to continue to stay relevant. With tools such as Bookalope, you can convert your manuscript into a beautifully formatted accessible ebook with just a few clicks.
How much do successful authors make a year? ›
|James Patterson||Thriller novelist||$86 million (2018)|
|JK Rowling||Young Adult author||$54 million|
|Stephen King||Horror author||$27 million|
|John Grisham||Legal Drama author||$21 million (2018)|
- Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
- Barnes and Noble Press.
- Apple Books.
- Self-Publishing School.
It's not too late to write a book, article or blog. You're on time to write. Did you know that Toni Morrison was 40 years old when she published “The Bluest Eye,” her first novel? She would later go on to win the Nobel Prize and several other notable literary awards in the course of her writing career.Can a first time writer get published? ›
Traditionally, budding authors that want to publish a book first need to partner with a literary agent. Once an agent is convinced of your book's quality, that person then takes it to publishers on your behalf. This is still a regular practice, especially with big publishing houses.What percentage of Americans can write? ›
Nationwide, on average, 79% of U.S. adults are literate in 2023. 21% of adults in the US are illiterate in 2023. 54% of adults have a literacy below 6th grade level.What percentage of authors become successful? ›
The top 2% or so of authors make a good living and the most successful authors – including self-published authors – make a tremendous amount of money.” Greenfield's co-author, professor Dana Weinberg, agreed that “The question of money is a tricky one. Publishing a book for sale is a matter of both art and commerce.What percentage of people who start writing a book finish it? ›
In the United States alone, over 200 million people dream of writing a book. Yet, the number of writers who go on to actually finish their manuscript is estimated to be just 3%. Of those, only 20% will go on to become published.What are the odds of writing a bestseller? ›
According to the New York Post, the chances of becoming famous are 1 in 62,986, which is just over a 1.5% chance. For your book to land on the New York Times Bestseller List, you have to sell around 10,000 copies, usually within the first week.What level does the average American write? ›
The average American is considered to have a readability level equivalent to a 7th/8th grader (12 to 14 years old). This level is actively used as a benchmark for written guidelines in the medical industry. In the UK, the central government encourages content writers to aim for a readability level of age nine.What is the average American reading level? ›
Here's what we know: Half of U.S. adults can't read a book written at the 8th-grade level, according to the OECD. The average American reads at the 7th- to 8th-grade level, according to The Literacy Project.
Which state has most writers? ›
|Total Writer Jobs:||398|
|Location Quotient:||1.34 You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here|
It's something fresh and interesting. You must find an idea that will get readers excited to pick up your book. This goes for fiction, nonfiction, advice, how-to, and memoir. A small idea for a book results in small sales.How many copies does a successful book sell? ›
Want to hit top 10? You'll need to sell roughly 300 for print, or 2,000+ copies for combined formats. Those numbers aren't exactly set in stone, but they're a pretty close approximation. To get onto Amazon's Bestseller Top 100 radar across all titles you're usually looking at about 1,000 sales of your book.What does the average author make per book? ›
Self-published authors can make between 40% – 60% royalties on a the retail price of a single book while traditionally published authors usually make between 10%-12% royalties.What is the average income from writing a book? ›
Traditionally Published Authors
Publishers typically pay a $5,000 to $10,000 advance to good first-time authors. This means they would need to sell around 1,000 copies of a book that costs $20 per copy to break even after printing and distribution costs.
This study of professionally published novelists found the average age of first publication to be 36 years. Given that many novels take many years to perfect, it stands to reason that late twenties, early thirties are prime time for putting in those writing hours.Can you get rich from a best-selling book? ›
Writing a book can help your visibility, your business, and your speaking career. If you're successful enough to hit the best-seller list, it can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars.Can a best-selling book make you rich? ›
Second-time authors who had a bestselling first book can earn impressive advances, upwards of $100,000 at times. Remember, those authors still have to sell enough books to “pay back” their advance before earning additional income.