So you want to be a writer?

So, you want to write a book? Join the club. Every person with even the slightest ability to construct a decent sentence (and many without) have dreamed of writing the next literary blockbuster.

The problem, of course, is that for every blockbuster on an endcap at Barnes and Noble, there are hundreds of thousands of books that’ll barely make it out of the case for their four month “season” before being returned to the distributer, only to end up on the shelf at The Dollar Store.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Check out this statistic. Bowkers reports that the projected book title output for 2006 was more than 290,000 (you know how statistics works; actual figures lag behind real life, but that’s a more than fair estimate), with 78% of those titles coming from small or self publishers.

Even if your book does make it to the shelf, you’ll need to sell about 10,000 books just for the publisher to break even. How many titles do that? Less than 10%. Which means most books (like 90%) don’t even earn out their advance.

According to statistics posted on Dan Poynter’s site (a great site for publishing info), the Authors Guild says the average fiction book sells about 5,000 copies; the average non-fiction about 7,500.

Agent, author and book publishing blogger Terry Whalin shared this statistic yesterday: 90% of the new books published sold 1,000 copies or less. You throw in one or two good blockbusters (like a John Grisham or another Purpose Driven Life) to offset the loser titles and Dan Poynter’s stats start to make sense. One or two titles carry the rest.

So if you need to sell 10,000 to break even … well, you do the math.

Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue your literary dreams? Of course not. But you should remember the reasons why you’re writing.

For me, it’s to fulfill whatever God has planned for me. As Cardinal John Henry Newman once said, “God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another … I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”

Imagine what God can do with 1,000 books written by an author fully committed to His purpose.


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