The Business of Books

“Chellie, you’re a successful published author – can I take you to lunch and pick your brain about the book business and how to get my book published?” I can’t tell you how many requests like that I have had since The Wealthy Spirit and Zero to Zillionaire were released in 2002 and 2006 respectively. After awhile, I was getting too fat from all that lunching out, and wrote it all up in a book publishing report (available free to all Dolphin Club members). Here are some interesting book industry statistics from that report:

  • 2% of the 200,000 books published each year become bestsellers.
  • 84% of the bestsellers are published by the 5 largest New York publishers.
  • 2 out of 10 books published make a profit for the publisher.
  • In 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies.
  • Only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies.
  • The average book in America sells about 500 copies.
  • Only 10 books sold more than a million copies in 2004.
  • Fewer than 500 books sold more than 100,000 copies in 2004.

The magic number for a book to be considered successful is 10,000. When The Wealthy Spirit reached 12,000 books sold, my editor called me and said, “We’re ready for your next book!” And so I got the contract to write Zero to Zillionaire. The Wealthy Spirit has now sold nearly 20,000 copies and Zero to Zillionaire is approaching the magic number of 10,000 copies sold.

The good news is you don’t have to have a blockbuster like The Da Vinci Code in order to be successful with your books. You only have to sell 5,000 to be in the top 2% of bestselling books. That looks a lot more doable than selling a million, doesn’t it?

Royalties on books usually start at 10% – and unless you have a major publisher, they are now based on wholesale price and not retail, and the reserve against returns is 15-25%. So the odds on making your fortune from a book alone are slim.

Non-fiction books are like business cards. They are my best marketing pieces, help me spread the word about my seminars and professional speaking, and give me oodles of credibility so I can charge good fees for my work. Many times people have signed up for my workshops just because they were fans of my books. They are one of my “multiple streams of income” and I have ideas for more books to come!

Non-fiction book sales are all about PLATFORM. That means, how many people know you are will buy your book? That’s why you see so many celebrity books – they have huge platforms and so will sell many more books than an unknown author. That is why Jessica Seinfeld got a book deal for her cookbook when the unknown author who pitched basically the same book 6 months prior to her didn’t get a deal. Books are widgets and publishers are manufacturers and their number one goal is to sell a lot of widgets. Never forget that!

Here’s some insider info: I was a speaker at a conference in Mexico in October, along with Marci Shimoff, author of 6 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She is a part of a mastermind group of best-selling speaker-authors that do mailings for each other – you’ve seen the “Be a Bestseller on Amazon” promotions will all the free goodies from other self-help authors, yes? Marci’s announcement about her new book Happy for No Reason, which is a fabulous book, went out to 5 million people! That’s what I mean by platform, and why she got a big deal with a major publisher.

But look, she started small, too. She pitched Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul to Jack Canfield when there wasn’t any idea for a series of “Chicken Soup” books – there was only the one book. But she saw a sequel in meditation and called Jack and pitched her idea. Then she built her reputation by speaking and writing more of those titles and I’m guessing not much money in the beginning. Now she commands big speaking fees and gets big advances for her books.

The book business is like every business. People who have made it usually built their brand and their business slowly over time and came into the big money later after years of hard work. Read the biographies of any famous person and you’ll find that same story over and over. Faith Hill became famous with her fourth album. Bon Jovi sold his 50th song demo, and the band didn’t make any money until their 3rd album. That’s why you have to love your work – your goals have to be so juicy that it’s fun just to work towards them! Because that’s all that will sustain you through the failures along the road to success. Look at everything as fun and an adventure along the way and you’ll be happy and successful every day of your life.
And that’s my secret of happiness.

Chellie Campbell is the creator of the Financial Stress Reduction® Workshops now taught by coaches across the country, and the author of The Wealthy Spirit and Zero to Zillionaire. She is one of Marci Shimoff’s “Happy 100” in her current NYT bestseller Happy for No Reason and is prominently quoted as a financial expert in The Los Angeles Times, Pink, Good Housekeeping, Lifetime, Essence, Woman’s World and more than 35 popular books. For more information, visit her web site