Stereotypes, Sequins, and Starvation by Deb Lisa Daily

Stereotype: The rich and famous author.

Most people outside of publishing believe all authors to be rich and famous. Most published authors are, ahem, not. In fact, most books don’t even earn out their advance.

In 2004, Nielsen Bookscan tracked the sales of 1.2 million books in the United States. Here are the statistics:

–Of those 1.2 million, 950,000 sold fewer than 99 copies. (79%)
–Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. (17%)
–Only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies. (this is top 2%)
–Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000 copies. ( this is 1 in 2400)
–Only 10 books sold more than a million copies each. (this is 1 in 120,000)
–The average book in the United States sells about 500 copies.

Let’s assume every book is hardcover (okay, okay, try to stop laughing) and every author earns $3.00 a book, instead of the whopping .77 cents per book that a trade paperback earns.

The average hardcover author, making $3.00 a book, would earn about, $1500.
The average trade paper author would earn enough to take a party of six to that New York City hamburger joint that charges $57 a burger. Plus a couple of rounds of beers.

The good news is, you only have to sell 501 books to be above average.

As for fame, the thing that really cracked me up when I first started telling people I was an author, was that every person I met asked if I knew John Grisham.biography.jpg

I guess they all thought that my publishing contract came with a special invitation to a secret club, and that suddenly John Grisham (who, with his southern charm, would most certainly be heading the welcome committee) would invite me out for coffee on Thursday afternoons. Amy Tan would bring the struedel, or maybe something to spike the coffee with, and Stephen King, Mitch Albom and Jennifer Weiner would beg me to whisper to their dice when we all gathered around Maya Angelou’s kitchen table to play Yahtzee.

I know a lot of other authors who have been asked the same question repeatedly (and it’s always John Grisham, I guess that People Magazine Sexiest Author Alive thing is really paying off…)

I have been asked, so many times in fact, that a group of us have banded together. We call ourselves The John Grisham Coffee Club.

Mr. Grisham is not a member. But of course, he’s always welcome.

The Yahtzee game starts at 3.

Fifteen Minutes of Shame by Lisa Daily

Author: Lisa Daily

Lisa Daily is a real-life TV dating expert on Daytime. She's a syndicated relationships columnist, a popular media guest seen everywhere from MTV to the New York Times, and the author of the bestselling dating advice book, Stop Getting Dumped! : All you need to know to make men fall madly in love with you and marry "The One" in 3 years or less. Visit lisa online at

17 Replies to “Stereotypes, Sequins, and Starvation by Deb Lisa Daily”

  1. The odds are poor in all entrepreneural activities
    (and writers fit the bill as entrepreneurs)
    but there are so many ways to increase your odds of success.
    Heck, just blogging here increases your odds.

    That said, there is a reason I waited until now
    to take on the writing gig
    (and it has mostly to do with dollars).

  2. As I was saying to John just the other day, or Jon-Jon as I like to call him since we’re so tight…..

    yeah. Despite the fact that I would likely rub her feet just to be close, Meg Cabot and I never hang out. Strange huh?

  3. Hey! I’m part of that coffee club too! And I’m rich. And I’m very, very famous. You haven’t heard of me? Well, my dad has never heard of Sue Monk Kidd either and my grandpa doens’t have a clue who John Grisham is, but that doesn’t mean John and Sue aren’t famous. I also sit down and my books just easily pour forth from my fingertips. I spend the rest of the time chain smoking and eating bon-bons. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Happy Writing!

  4. Hey, those stats are SO interesting! (And yes, disappointing!!!)

    The line I get always has to do with Oprah. “Hey, you should get on Oprah!”

    (Does People magazine really have a sexiest author category??!!)

  5. Terrifying, absolutely terrifying. I’ve seen those stats before and I do wonder how the publishing industry stays alive at all! (And does anyone know what is included in that survey?)

    Smart and funny and to the point, as always, Lisa!


  6. Kimber —
    So true!

    Larramie —
    Great comments as always ๐Ÿ™‚
    — of course, I’m sure Bookscan includes self-pubbed books as well. So funny, when I read that, I thought, okay, 500 is not sooo bad…




  7. Tina–

    I thought I saw you at our last meeting, right? ๐Ÿ™‚ I think think fame is relative — I know a lot of non-author people who don’t have any idea who Jennifer Weiner is. I’ll list all of her books, talk about what a talented writer she is, and then they say, “Oh! The Cameron Diaz/Shirley McLaine movie!”

    Larramie made a good point. ๐Ÿ™‚
    The Grisham thing is pretty universal — people asked me if I knew him years before my participation with the Debs — and I know a lot of non-fiction authors and they get the same question.

    I think he’s the one (live) author everybody knows…



  8. This post has had the fewest comments of any I’ve ever done — too depressing?

    So interesting — when I read that 500 number, I thought, “hey, I can do 500!”

    Buck up, my fellow authors. Ten lucky winners get the million-book prize.

    It’s gonna be somebody, it might as well be you.



  9. Don’t get all jealous on me or anything, but that very group of authors has already asked me to join their band!
    I’m going to play the triangle. I always loved that instrument in kindergarten ๐Ÿ˜‰ .

    I’ll let you know when we’re performing at a smoky nightclub near you…

    In the meantime, we all will strive to be above average in our book sales, because hey, I”m aiming for that $56 burger

  10. Great post, Lisa! I’ve seen those numbers before and really hope they include self-published and small print run textbooks.

    Now that I have an agent, my parents are beginning to take my writing seriously. On the weekend my dad asked me if I could make a hundred grand a year. I laughed. And then cried.

  11. Deb Lisa,

    Knowledge is power. There are some startling facts in your blog. If you know what you are up against from the beginning and simply accept it, you’ll probably fail. However, if you accept the truth and find ways to avoid being average, you may just find yourself on top. (you fill in your own stereotypical motivational quote here)

Comments are closed.