How Many Book Sales Do You Need to be Considered Successful?

When it comes to book sales, we have all heard plenty of stuff about how someone can boost sales. Talk at panels, award shows, receive awards, market your book, etc. etc. We always hearing about the book sales requiring a boost, but we never get to know just how much of a boost they really need.

That, of course, begs the question; how many book sales does an author need for their book—or the author themselves—to be considered as successful?

How Does One Boost Book Sales?

As mentioned, one of the methods of increasing book sales is to win awards.

There are some awards more prestigious than others, such as the Booker Prize, which is primarily for the UK and Ireland nations. Also formerly known as the Booker Prize for Fiction (or the Man Booker Prize), this one is for stories in English, and the award-winner receives plenty of international recognition to boost their book sales.

In the United States, the prestigious equivalent to this award are the National Book Awards, literary awards granted to authors and novels. The National Book Awards are given to the fiction, nonfiction, translation, poetry, and young people’s literature categories.

In terms of increasing book sales, receiving these awards puts the novels a class above, but the National Book Awards also grant the authors lifetime achievement awards as well, such as the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. These awards boost the author’s personal brand, which may boost sales of the books they put out in the future, as well as their existing works.

Why Book Sales Are Important

These discussions around awards and book sales are imperative as author incomes are not in a very lucrative place, as per a survey conducted by the Author’s Guild. The survey—conducted in 2018—showed that author salaries were an average of almost $6,000 annually, which was down 42% from a 2009 survey. In 2009, literary authors were around the minimum wage mark, which is around $15,000 annually, so this survey means that authors are simply not earning enough.

So, even in this climate, what kind of sales figure might one need to succeed as an author?

What is the Magic Book Sales Figure for Success?

For a relatively page-filled book, which means that it could have around 300-400 pages, one might find it to be somewhere around 15-17 USD, a price that varies for different genres as well. Still, book sales figures of around 15,000-25,000 are considered as successful in the eyes of agents, publishers, and editors. These sales figures, especially the latter 25,000 ones, are enough for a publishing house to greenlight a potential second book for the author, or for them to secure another book deal.

These figures also vary by genre. One might not consider a research-based book about a medical ailment to be one that is a particularly popular item for sale. Book sales and their success can also depend on genres and how well similar literary works have performed.

So, the discussion of book awards and books being eligible for nomination for awards is important. Not all genres enjoy the popularity of others, which can impact book sales as well. Fiction, novels, and romance are some of the most popular genres, and they might get more sales for authors than non-fiction genres, especially because the audience for such genres is considerably lower.

That is why the discussion of awards for book sales is critical, because most of the books that do get nominated for book awards are not the ones that win in a popularity contest, but one that might go under the radar. Most of the books nominated absolutely need those book sales to be boosted, because without them, authors get stuck in those median salaries with little to no book sales with them.

There is No One Specific Number for Book Sales to be Considered Successful

Despite the figure provided earlier, there is always the ‘it depends’ sort of statement looming over the answer. The success of any book is somewhat relative. The number of book sales is, therefore, just one among a number of figures that point to a book’s success, and book sales reaching the expected figures is just one of many considerations to be made.

Sometimes, the book sales are relative to the book genre. It also matters if your book sales are made on your own—that is, if you are a self-published author—or if your book sales are made via a publishing house. Self-published book are typically harder to sell, but most authors do that because it avoids the hassle of going through a publishing house, which has considerable scrutiny to deal with through editors, agents, and pre-requisite requirements. Publishers and publishing houses have tons of influence and outreach, and can market a book in ways that a self-published author cannot, which is why it can be great for book sales to sell through a publishing house.

Your Book making it to the Bestseller List is a Surefire Sign of Success

We have all heard of bestseller lists, authors or no, and this is perhaps the only guarantee of book sales reaching a mark of success. However, that figure is still somewhat varied.

That is because, on average, book sales will reach at most of around two thousand copies sold over its lifetime, which is considerably less than the 15,000 sales required for success. Moreover, selling more than 5,000 copies might make a book a bestseller, as it breaks the average sales record, technically making it a bestseller.

Therefore, it should be understood that a book being in the bestseller is a sign of success, but it depends on whether it can be regarded as successful or not. Even bestseller lists have varied sales numbers from 5,000 to 25,000, with the latter being among the top of the bestseller list.

Hardcover and Paperback Book Sales are Even More Discouraging

On average, even a digital-only book can sell at most about 250 or 500 copies, especially if it lacks the marketing and brand on the author’s part.

A book by a reputable and popular author will sell more copies and will almost assuredly be in the bestseller list, selling hundreds of thousands—perhaps even millions of copies, over its lifetime. On average, however, even a traditionally published paperback or hardcover book will sell a few thousand at most, not even making it past 5,000 to make it into the bestseller list.

For an unknown author, 3,000 is not a bad figure at all. But for a well-reputed author it might not cut it, which is why book sales are a relative aspect to consider for success in the literary space.

The Landscape for Book Sales Has Changed

The times are changing, and the ways that book sales are done are changing as well. Now, authors have to put more effort into self-promotion, because it can take years to get one’s book published by a reputable publishing house.

More and more book are being offered for free for limited times, or have their first few chapters available as a demo to promote book sales. Online piracy and digitization are just a few among several other factors that could have contributed to such a decline in book sales, with the Author’s Guild presenting that the focus on results and book sales from publishing houses has made it difficult for both existing and aspiring writers to get into the industry full-time.

Now, self-publishing and selling one’s book on Amazon has been the norm for a while, and that is not seeming to go anywhere soon. There are thousands of authors and hundreds of books coming to Amazon every day, and writers are making a good living there. It is just that the traditional space for book sales in the literary market has been changed considerably.

Of course, a writer won’t just stop writing, even if he stops getting paid for it. The truth is that if success isn’t being found, there will always be a new path to turn to, and if the likes of Amazons and eBooks are the future, perhaps the time has come to let the sleeping dogs lie, and make the best of both the digital and traditional worlds of book publishing to boost book sales for future authors.


Book sales are an important factor for success, but as we have learned in this blog from Ghost Writing Heaven, they are not the most important factor to focus on anymore. There is a completely new landscape for selling one’s book, and their digitization makes it so that the number of sales is not guaranteed, and the book sales figures required for it to be a success varies as well. Talk to us

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