Selling which genre?

Ron Hogan over at GalleyCat quotes an anonymous person in the publishing industry concerning the sales of literary novels:

“If you’ve sold between 4,000 and 7,000 copies, in hardcover, of your literary novel, you did a damned good job… If you sold between 2,000 and 4,000 copies of your literary novel, you sold pretty strongly.”

Standard hardback contracts specify author royalties of ten percent for the first 5,000 copies sold, 12 1/2 percent for the next 5,000, and 15 percent above that. This means that 7000 copies sold is an income of…$18,750, less fifteen percent for an agent is roughly $16,000. Less taxes, and costs for research, promotion, office supplies, and coffee.

This is why people don’t give up their day jobs to write.

If you want a pre-tax income of $56,000, which gives you a room to write in (although not much more, in California) because it’s hard to power a laptop living in the car, you have to sell 20,000 copies of that $25 hardback. And hope it does well in paperback.

Mysteries, by and large, sell more than literary novels. This is one reason why reviewers, often writers manqué themselves, look with skepticism on genre novels. If it sells, it can’t be any good, can it?

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  1. annie on October 1, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Oh, that last paragraph! So true!
    I also think that “literary” reviewers don’t really know what a good crime novel is. I have read quite a few reviews saying more or less “this is not wonderful in a literary sense, but is a good mystery / detective novel” only to find it is actually a poor mystery / detective novel as it (usually) isn’t plotted tightly enough.

    I too think it patronising when reviewers say ( recent example) Tin Roof Blowdown is more than a detective novel. I think they just don’t know what a good read is – maybe because to them it is work, and to us readers, it is relaxation.

    However, although irritated, I don’t really care. I work hard at a difficult and emotionally draining job. The best reads are those that take me away, and make me think that all is right with the world (see George Orwell’s essay on the English murder)

  2. BetsyC on October 1, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    I agree with Annie, with just one tiny difference. I don’t want a story to try to convince me that all is right with the world. I know all too well that it isn’t. What I need to find is hope – the hope that things can be better, that it is possible to shape a good and decent life, and that even an insignificant person like myself can make a positive difference without sacrificing all personal reward and satisfaction. And that it doesn’t require a stroke of luck equivalent to winning the Lottery. Am I still too naive?

  3. annie on October 9, 2008 at 8:31 am

    Rather late replying BetsyC, so I’m not sure you’ll see this. I do agree with you, and was being a bit “slipshod” – by “all is right with the world” I did mean the possibility of hope, and the sense that there is potential to make things better.
    George Orwell pointed out that we want to believe that the detective *will* find out whodunnit and justice *will* be served – the basic format for all mystery novels.

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