In the last few months I’ve seen a number of authors worried about what it means for their career when the Big Chains don’t carry their book. Many fear it sounds the death knell for their future, so I thought I would show a couple of actual, numerical examples of where it didn’t sound the death of a career. Namely, mine. One will be actual sales numbers, the other percentages.
[Please note, exposing my own sales numbers is not my idea of fun, but I have no one else’s to go by. Also? You will quickly see that this is by no means a brag-fest. Far from it. But, I am a true believer in the power of information and solid data as a vital tool in helping an author manage their career. Your mileage may, of course, vary.]
However, the way to publishing success is often paved with happy accidents. About a month after that royalty statement, the (rather startling) announcement was made that FORGING OF THE BLADE would appear on that year’s Texas Library Association’s Bluebonnet List. I know you have heard that those state reading lists can breathe life into a book, but let me show you just exactly how much life . . .
The book went into a 3rd printing and I ultimately ended up selling nearly 15,000 hardback copies of the book. Which are still not Middle Grade Rock Star numbers, but they are a heckuva lot better than 3,500! Even so, only about a third of those were through the chains.
The paperback went on to sell over 26,000 copies and unfortunately my royalty statement for the paperback sales doesn’t break down the chain numbers. However, 11,000 of those sales were through a book club (for which I earned a whopping $773—or seven cents per book. Yes, that’s right, seven cents. Book club sales are terrific for exposure, but not exactly money makers.) Overall paperback sales were just under double of what the hardcover did.
This particular book has sold very few copies over the last couple of years and I expect it will be going out of print any day now, which is one of the reasons I’m so willing to share all the sales data. ☺
When the book first came out, one of the chains had placed a big initial order for the book while the second chain ordered zero copies. Of course, I panicked. Surely I would be handicapped from the starting gate!
But once again, that did not prove to be the case. To date, my chain store sales of that title are about 7%. Yep, 7%. And the paperback is now in its 5th printing. Clearly the less-than-stellar performance in the chains did not kill the book. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago I found out the books are going to be published in Turkey! That's the seventh or eighth foreign country Theo will be visiting, and I think it's really interesting when you realize the book's been out since 2007, but happy accidents keep happening.
In order to hit a bestseller list such as NYT or the PW bestsellers, yes, you would absolutely need to be well represented in the chains. But as we talked about before, that is not the only path to success for middle grade books.
So please let this be heartening to all of you who worry and fret that without the chains your careers are in a deadly downward spiral! It is most definitely not the case.
Also, if there are any other authors with similar stories and percentages, feel free to leave an anonymous comment with your percentages/numbers if you’d like. Although of course, there’s no requirement. ☺
Next week we’ll talk about what does sell middle grade.