The Reality Of A Times Bestseller

This article, by author Lynn Viehl, originally appeared on GenReality. In it, Lynn crunches the numbers on her novel, Twilight Fall, which debuted at #19 on The New York Times Bestseller List and went on to sell nearly 75,000 copies in its first 5 months of release. It will come as a shock to most aspiring authors that Lynn has netted $0 to date on the book. 

A few years ago I made a promise to my writer friends that if I ever had a novel hit the top twenty of the New York Times mass market bestseller list that I would share all the information I was given about the book so writers could really see what it takes to get there. Today I’m going to keep that promise and give you the stats on my sixth Darkyn novel, Twilight Fall.

We’ve all been told a lot of myths about what it takes to reach the top twenty list of the NYT BSL. What I was told: you have to have an initial print run of 100-150K, you have to go to all the writer and reader conferences to pimp the book, you can’t make it unless you go to certain bookstores during release week and have a mass signing or somehow arrange for a lot of copies to be sold there; the list is fixed, etc.

I’ve never had a 100K first print run. I don’t do book signings and I don’t order massive amounts of my own books from certain bookstores (I don’t even know which bookstores are the magic ones from whom the Times gets their sales data.) I do very little in the way of promotions for my books; for this one I gave away some ARCs, sent some author copies to readers and reviewers, and that was about it. I haven’t attended any conference since 2003. To my knowledge there was no marketing campaign for this book; I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it (as a high midlist author I probably don’t rate a marketing campaign yet.) I know they did some blog ads for the previous book in the series, but I never saw anything online about this particular book. No one offered to get me on the Times list, either, but then I was never told who to bribe, beg or otherwise convince to fix the list (I don’t think there is anyone who really does that, but you never know.)

Despite my lack of secret handshakes and massive first print runs, in July 2008 my novel Twilight Fall debuted on the Times mm list at #19. I’ll tell you exactly why it got there: my readers put it there. But it wasn’t until last week that I received the first royalty statement (Publishing is unbelievably slow in this department) so I just now put together all the actual figures on how well the book did.

To give you some background info, Twilight Fall had an initial print run of 88.5K, and an initial ship of 69K. Most readers, retailers and buyers that I keep in touch with e-mailed me to let me know that the book shipped late because of the July 4th holiday weekend. Another 4K was shipped out two to four weeks after the lay-down date, for a total of 73K, which means there were 15.5K held in reserve in the warehouse in July 2008.

Here is the first royalty statement for Twilight Fall, on which I’ve only blanked out Penguin Group’s address. Everything else is exactly as I’ve listed it. To give you a condensed version of what all those figures mean, for the sale period of July through November 30, 2008. my publisher reports sales of 64,925 books, for which my royalties were $40,484.00. I didn’t get credit for all those sales, as 21,140 book credits were held back as a reserve against possible future returns, for which they subtracted $13,512.69 (these are not lost sales; I’m simply not given credit for them until the publisher decides to release them, which takes anywhere from one to three years.)

My net earnings on this statement was $27,721.31, which was deducted from my advance*. My actual earnings from this statement was $0.

*Publetariat editor’s note: many aspiring authors don’t seem to know that when a publisher gives an author an advance, it’s a loan against future royalties earned on the book. The publisher witholds royalties from the author until the advance is repaid in full.

Read the rest of the article on the GenReality site.  Be sure to read the comments beneath the article as well; in them, several other multiply-published and bestselling authors weigh in with their own, similar experiences.

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