Monday, July 6, 2009

What Makes a Book Considered Successful?

I've read quite a few online "experts" who tell authors how to boost their ratings. People will tell you how to bump up your numbers -- lower is better, you know -- so that you can claim that your book was a best-seller, at least for a while, they say. And since Amazon updates on an hourly basis their sales figures from which they derive the ratings, the numbers can swing wildly from high to low and back again in a day.

Did you know there's a handy site that not only tells you what a book --any book -- is rated on Amazon, not only at the moment, but also over its lifetime of sales, and also over recent periods of time, such as the previous week? It's called

It feels terrific when your book gets under, say, 25,000 on Amazon -- when you consider there are millions of books in total. But how meaningful are those Amazon numbers?

Not very meaningful, says agent Janet Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency. For a book to be considered a bestseller in the Christian marketplace, she says, it would appear on some more reliable lists, such as the CBA list and the ECPA list.

Of course there are other indicators of a book's success, even if it is not a best-seller. For many authors, "earning out" is a goal. That means that an author has enough book sales to have broken even with his or her advance on royalties from the publisher. (Someone told me that 70 percent of books don't earn out. Anybody got a reliable source for that figure?)

Other milestones of a successful book is for it to sell through its first printing.

What other ways do you assess a Christian book as being successful in a material sense?


Latayne C. Scott said...

Actually I thought of another indicator -- the nomination for, and winning of, awards and prizes.

For instance, Debbie's Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon is a finalist for a Christy Award -- and we'll find out this weekend at ICRS if she's won it!

And our Katy and Sharon were awarded Writers of the Year at Mt. Hermon this year.

And of course our Patti Hill has had a starred review in Publisher's Weekly AND been a Christy finalist.

(Did I leave anything out? Help me out here.)

(Bonnie girl, you and I need to catch up!)

Nicole said...

I heard the figure of not earning out was at 60%, and a Waterbrook editor asked, "Is that all?"

Name one other business whose profitable sales ranked in the 40 percentile and could stay in business.

Dianne G. Sagan said...

My first book came out earlier this year. For me personally, it is successful because the feedback I get from readers is that "it touches their hearts and takes them back in time. They identify with the feelings of the main character when she meets Jesus and goes through a change of heart."

However, in the industry, success is measured by awards and recognition in prominent publications, as others have stated.

Latayne C. Scott said...

Dianne, congratulations on your book release! It is true, the real success of a Christian book is if it helps people. I believe Christian fiction can do that in a way that other books cannot.

Nicole, I appreciate the input. I wondered the same thing you did about how publishers stay in business with those figures -- but was reminded that their top-selling authors bring both cash flow and renown to the publishing company. In addition, just because a book hasn't earned out doesn't necessarily mean that the publisher lost money on the book (depending of course on the size of the advance.) A book can still be profitable - or can break even -- for the company, I understand.

And unpublished authors always want to know about what happens when a book doesn't earn out -- does the author have to pay back the unearned advance? The answer, thank goodness, is no.

Lynnette Bonner said...

If earning out is a success then my book is a success before it even hits the shelves! Ha! (And that tells you how big an advance I got! :))

But for me, my book a historical romance called Rocky Mountain Oasis, due out in mid-August, has a strong salvation message, and if that touches one person's heart for the Lord, then it will have been a success.

Of course I'd like to make some money with it too - so I guess if I was looking at the financial side of it, if it will make enough money for me to pay for my kids' schooling next year, that would be a big success in my book.

I'd love to see a stat on what the average sales of a first time author's book are. If I find one, I'll try and remember to come back and post it.

Unknown said...

It's a messy set of criterion when it comes to measuring success of Christian fiction.

We are dealing with a niche market - a small number of people (compared to the overall book buying population) actually buy Christian fiction and of those that do, many have very specific types of books they buy.
Appearing on a bestseller's list is an obvious measure of success - but most books never appear there ('tis a rare thing indeed!), but outside of those lists, there isn't a real measure of "success".

It's pretty subjective, really.

Even those measures like an author earning out isn't much of a measure - too many factors change from house to house, contract to contract and deal to deal to make it a real measure.

Print run measurements have the same problem. Talking to the Dead went into second printing within days of it's release. Sounds impressive (I know I'm happy about it!), but how does that compare to other books in other houses who have different numbers of first print - and different criteria for second print? Impossible to measure.

Then there is the "blessing the hearts and lives of others" measure that, while important in mainstream fiction, is "critical" in Christian fiction. For some writers an e-mail from a reader telling them the book has brought them closer to God in some way is success enough (I know it carries a great deal of weight with me - hearing from readers is my greatest measure of success).

Anonymous said...

As in every aspect of Christian living, it's my opinion "success" is measured far differently for the Christian author. Yes, every author wants his or her book to do well, whether it's fiction or non-fiction; yes, we all want the accolades, the praise. But as Christian authors, the fine point of success is knowing our book has touched -- maybe even changed the heart of the reader in ways that matter eternally. We must learn to measure success the way the Lord measures it. Not an easy thing to do.

Steve G said...

a million... I think if a book sold a million copies (or 2 copies to a library that were loaned out 500,000 times each) that that would be success. That also gives you a diamond rating on ECPA, and we all know a diamond is a girl's best friend...

word verification - rubeli: a German Measle outbreak in Italy

Unknown said...

I do heartily agree that the true measure of a Christian book is measured in heartbeats not tweets or touts.

But the question posed in the post was.... what makes a book to be considered successful in the material sense... Because, let's face it, that's one of the prime indicators for an editor or publisher to consider when deciding on a SECOND book.....

Anonymous said...

I got this note from a reader today. This is what we're talking about: "I had been hearing such wonderful things about Lying on Sunday and a friend recently gave it to me...I just picked it up and started reading 2 days ago. If I hadn't had to work today I would not have ever put it down last night and slept! I cannot tell you how much Abbie and I share in common in our stories ...Obviously God chose for me to read this story this week and I cried much of the way through the book, but it was an amazing story!"

That's what it's about: touching readers where they are - and showing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Anonymous said...

This post and all the comments are very informative! Thanks for sharing!!!