Book Publishing Statistics

book publishing Book marketing statistics hardly make for bedtime reading, but it's what you'll need to consult if you plan to publish or self publish. Who's doing what and with what success? What are the hot properties at present, the authors and themes whose time has come. In this you'll simply be doing what the traditional publisher does, which is to:

Assess the chances of success, i.e. see the particular venture against the general trend in book publishing statistics, and

Devise a publishing plan that divides the enterprise into stages with realistic time-spans, costs and revenues.

Anyone can make a detailed and handsomely-presented plan — publishers and financiers see them every day — but such things are worthless unless supported by accurate figures. Getting the facts requires knowing your way round the publishing world, where the following may help:

Market Research: Reading

American Library Association. Several useful publications.

American Library Association. Scholarly reviews and articles.

Library Journal. Includes reviews in various categories.

School Library Journal. Schools are big purchasers of books.

Editor and Publisher. Several authoritative yearbooks.

Bookpage. Reviews of American books.

Boston Review. Political and literary forum.

American Booksellers Association. Offers extensive booksellers resource directory.

Atlantic Online. Digital edition of long-established magazine.

The Horn Book. Children and young adult's literature.

New Criterion. Conservative view of the humanities.

London Review of Books. Some articles free, otherwise by subscription.

New York Times Reviews. Free if you register.

Guardian Book Reviews. Reviews from UK's left-wing newspaper.

Times Literary Supplement. Leading review:

Contemporary Poetry Review. Current articles free, archives $6/month.

Book Web. Trade news and personalities.

Book Publishing News. Articles and news snippets.

Bookwire. Comprehensive portal of the book industry.

Gale Group. Maintains over 600 databases.

Canadian Authors Association. Very useful articles and links.

Writer's Digest. Packed with advice and information.

Poets and Writers Online. Very extensive articles and resources.

League of Canadian Poets. Events, publications and resources.

Book Industry Statistics. Useful facts and figures.

General Publishing Resources. Long listing: rather a mixed bag.

Finding a Publisher

A suitable book publishing company will be found by your agent, if you have one.

If you don't have an agent, then the task of finding a book publishing company is yours. Suggestions:

1. Find books of a similar genre in libraries and bookshops, and note the publishers.

2. Do the same with books online at Amazon and elsewhere.

3. Ask around at writing circles and conferences.

4. Visit Publishers Lunch to see who's doing what. Basic version is free, but monthly subscription gives access to archives.

5. Subscribe to Publisher's Weekly: Expensive, but your local library may have copies, or borrow them for you.

Book News

Book Web. Trade news and personalities

Book Publishing News. Articles and news snippets.

Bookwire. Comprehensive online portal of the book industry.

Bookspot. Extensive sets of links.

Companies Publishing Fiction

Preditors and Editors. Information on publishers, agents and much else.

Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2006. Information online and free.

First Writer. Searchable database of publishers. $3.99.

Publishing Game. Several publications and services of interest.

Book Market. Over 400 listed: most work through agents.

Gale Directory. Educational publishing for libraries, schools and businesses.

Parrot Media Network. Extensive listings of US media sources.

SRDS. Thorough coverage of USA media outlets.

Media UK. UK media community with extensive independent directory.

Companies Publishing Poetry

The Poetry Resource. Includes extensive list of poetry publishers.

Poetry Society of America. Extensive list of poetry book publishers, etc.

Dustbook's Directory of Poetry Publishers. Over 2000 outlets listed. $25.95.

2013 Poet's Market. Over 1,800 outlets, with submission guidelines, interviews and advice.

Literary Criticism, Reviews and Gossip

Moby Lives. Good set of articles in Archives.

Poets & Writers Online. Very extensive articles and resources.

Cosmoetica. Idiosyncratic view of US poetry scene.

Bookpage. Reviews of American books.

Boston Review. Political and literary forum.

Atlantic Online. Digital edition of long-established magazine.

New Criterion. Conservative view of the humanities.

London Review of Books. Some articles free, otherwise $42/year.

League of Canadian Poets. Events, publications and resources.

New York Times Reviews. Free if you register.

Guardian Book Reviews. Reviews from UK's left-wing newspaper.

Times Literary Supplement. Leading review: $135/year.

Contemporary Poetry Review. Current articles free, archives $6/month.

Poetry Societies

Poetry Society of America. Listings of US poetry events and magazines.

Poetry Forecasts Online version of Poetry Society of America's publication.

State Poetry Societies. Links to US State poetry societies with websites.

UK Poetry Society. Events, publications and resources.

Poetry Library. Full-text digital library of English poetry magazines.

Literary Blogs

An enjoyable means of keeping up with 'who's doing what' is through literary blogs, with their literary gossip, reviews, less-than-reverent sniping. Some good listings:

Complete Review. Some 300 listed: authors, academics, publishing companies, etc.
Top Ten. Guardian UK newspaper's listing.
Literary Blogs. Web del Sol's listing. A short list: Forbes also has a newsletter.


The first thing to establish is the market. How many people are likely to be interested in your book, and how could you convince them to buy?

Take the first. Who actually wants to buy a new collection of poems, or yet another first novel? You can make some rough guesses by:

1. Talking to booksellers or publishers about sales figures.

2. Placing an advert on eBay or in a specialist magazine. Or by using pay-by-click promotion on a website specially created to sell your work. You don't have to deliver a yet-to-be-written book, but you can note the interest. No inquiries, no interest.

3. Reading the trade news.

Having now guess-estimated likely sales, and an acceptable price for the book, you now have a notional sum to accommodate all the other items that have to be paid for, i.e:

1. Your time in writing (and marketing) the work.

2. Photocopying and postage of the MS.

3. Page layout, proof-reading and editing.

4. Design of book cover.

5. Printing costs.

6. Delivery and warehousing charges.

7. Costs of press releases, trade adverts, publishing launches, travel to bookshops and talk centres.

Next comes your time. You'll probably have a day job: how many of your evenings and weekends can you reasonably devote to the project, and when would it be sensible to hand over to professionals with skills you can't match or acquire?

Publishing is no different from any other business, and projects fail for the same reasons: under-funding, over-optimistic hopes, insufficiently-researched markets, poor implementation and/or financial control. But many companies that are now household names began with a plan that was presented not dozens but hundreds of times to skeptical businessmen and funding institutions. Persistence does pay off, and what was difficult at first becomes second nature.


You'll appreciate the difficulties if you look at matters from the publisher's perspective.

Dan Poynter {1} quotes a publisher's survey of 1988, where the average fiction book took 475 hours to write, publisher's average annual sales were $420,000, and staff worked 50 hours a week. Putting that together, we find the average small publisher produced 4.7 books/year, for an average revenue per book of $89,400. Even if royalties were 10% and there were no book returns, and rewriting was only done once-all rather unlikely-the author would have written at 295 words an hour to turn out two books yearly and earn royalties of $18,000 a year. Such examples come from popular or mass-market fiction, which accounts for 53.3% of book sales. Literary fiction, together with poetry and art books, accounts for only 3.3% of book sales. {2} Given that the average first novel, favourably reviewed in leading newspapers, will sell a few thousand copies over its total shelf life, {3} it is obvious why publishers don't rush to fill their lists with new names, and indeed look after only that small percentage of writers that pay their salaries. {4} Much more dismal are the earnings from poetry publishing. A few specialist publishers (e.g. Anvil, Carcanet, Bloodaxe) do turn in respectable figures, but in general poetry is not handled at all (the great majority, e.g. Corgi, HarperCollins, Hodder and Stoughton), is subsidized by sales elsewhere (e.g. Faber and Faber, Peter Owen, OUP) or supported by regional grants (e.g. Peterloo). {5} But what about academia, where talent is rewarded and protected? Here is a breakdown of sales by Cambridge University Press in 1998: {6}

Number of titles offered: 13,500.
Annual Revenues: $60 million.
Titles selling less than 100 copies/year: 8,000.
Titles selling less than 10 copies/year: 2,000.
Average number of copies sold/title: 32.
Number of new titles: 1,500
Number of titles discontinued: 1,300

When you're considering writing up that specialist interest, you might remember these figures, do some research on Amazon, and recall that academic books are often subsidized anyway-a subject of anguished debate in academic sites and blogs. {7}{8}{9}{10}

You might also consider the PoD model, which is indeed what the Cambridge University Press has done. Slow-moving titles have been converted into digital form, and the CUP figures for 2006 were: {6}

Total number of titles offered: 29,000.
Annual Revenues: $75 million.
PoD titles: 7,000.

In short, the efficiencies introduced by taking the PoD route have allowed CUP to expand their listings.


1. Poynter, Dan. Statistics. Para Publishing. 2004.
2. Poynter, Dan. The Self-Publishing Manual (Para Publishing, Santa Barbara, CA), 224.
3. George Greenfield's Scribblers for Bread (1989).
4. Diamond, Nina, L., The Untouchables How You Fit Into the Publishing Caste System. Independent Publisher. February 2007.
5. Gordon Wells's The Book Writer's Handbook (1995).
6. CUP Increases Revenues by Using PoD VISTA Publishing Perspectives. NNA
7. University Presses, Libraries, Monographs and Ultimate yellow brick roads? Colin Steele. LibLicense. 2007.
8. Library Statistics & Measures. Joe Ryan. NNA
9. Association of American University Presses: Quick Facts. AAUP.
10. Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics. Heather Morrison's blog. NNA.

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