Mind-numbing Numbers


What is it like to sell 10 million copies of your books? I found it mind-boggling until I recently watched the Jackie Collins documentary. She sold 500 million copies of her 32 novels. But, hold on, Barbara Cartland wrote 723 romances and sold over a billion of them.

I recently interviewed Jane Green, who wrote a chick lit book “for fun” and went on to pen 20 more romance novels. She’s the author who sold the 10 million copies, and every title was a New York Times bestseller. I guess the numbing numbers are all relative when you consider that many other writers’ sales are up in the stratosphere, too.

The way the book business is these days sudden fame and fortune can appear out of nowhere, even after you’ve given up hope.  J.K. Rowling wrote and self-published two books, one a Harry Potter, that went nowhere until a publisher picked it up from a bin in a secondhand bookstore as something to read on the train, as the story goes.

Fifty Shades by EL James, was also self-published as an eBook on an obscure Australian online blog site, The Writer’s Coffee Shop, until the novel was scooped up by traditional publisher Random House. The erotic novel subsequently sold 15.2 million copies. It is now a trilogy. Back in 2016 the original online publishers, two ladies, were fighting over royalties of the books in a Texas courthouse. It appears to be a tangled web as the plaintiff was a school teacher who claimed she was “done wrong” as Eliza would say, regarding her share of royalties. Which begs the question: why should the Coffee Shop blog owners receive royalties rather than a one-time fee?  My research failed to answer such questions, especially one on how Texas and the Coffee Shop, based in a Sydney suburb, became embroiled in a lawsuit in the U.S.  It sure sounds like a jolly interesting plot for a murder mystery.

Do I find it daunting to read about such sales? Do you? Should these figures encourage us to keep writing? Happily, I feel neither jealousy nor resentment. The more people are reading, the more they will buy books, although one is tempted to throw a few sex scenes into the mix.

Since moving to Connecticut and just an hour from New York City that throbs with best-selling authors, I feel inspired to keep going and in fact, I am resurrecting the Tosca mysteries between marketing the memoir I just published. It will be great to get back to creating a chilling murder after writing about aviation art.

There are book clubs galore here along the Eastern seaboard with Very Earnest Members, although I am still searching for one that discusses crime novels. Sisters In Crime Conneticut is a start.  I know there are some book clubs online but after two years locked up I am relishing attending meetings in person.

As for book sales, I think of the tortoise and the hare and I plod along, blessed by the fact that I am able to write as freely as I wish without worrying about numbers or having a publisher breathing down my neck. A local writer said his Big Five publisher made him change his POV twice, and another writer confessed she was forced to rewrite her ending to suit the Highly Important Editor. Thomas Wolfe is famous for arguing incessantly with his editor, Maxwell Perkins, about cutting his classic Look Homeward, Angel down to a reasonable word count from the 333,000 words Wolfe is said to have written, but it worked and the result was magnificent. It continues to sell today. As it should.

Your thoughts on the big bucks?



Image by kalhh from Pixabay 


12 thoughts on “Mind-numbing Numbers”

  1. Ah, Jill, if money was my only objective, I’d be robbing banks instead of writing. I prefer writing and frankly, orange prison jumpsuits just aren’t my color. I’ll keep plugging along. But I would still like to see a couple of my mystery series turned into a TV series. Since they are written as short stories they are perfect for a single episode each. Who knows what the future holds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Gayle, for your comment. I am 100% sure you rate a TV series. How about adapting the first one yourself? It’s a fun exercise and one I did with my Rudy Vallee memoir – but no takers!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Those big numbers seem like pipe dreams to me. Possible, but not probable, especially since I only write book reviews, articles, and the very occassional short story. But God is gracious to me (us) and supplies our every need. So I will be content, and try to promote the authors I know and love. Good job letting us glimpse the 1%, Jill.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I admire authors who make those kinds of sales, Jill, but am happy just selling some of the books I have out there. Someday, though…? 🙂


  4. Great hearing about what’s “going on” on the East Coast with you! Personally, I’m still hopeful (ha, ha) about the big-bucks, but can’t imagine not writing, no matter what.
    And part of me also thinks having a brass-ring out there to grab for is a great motivator, no matter where you are in your writing career.


    1. Exactly, Mad, so keep striving – although a steady supply of royalties each month, however, small, is a nice reminder readers are still buying our books.


  5. Jill, like you I don’t have jealousy or resentment for the mega stars. If I was younger and writing to support myself, well, maybe I would. I just love to write and am happy to have readers who appreciate my work. I’m glad that you’re inspired to get back to your Tosca series. As for a mystery book group—start your own! You’ll have lots of fun.


  6. I agree with all that’s been said, Jill. I wouldn’t mind selling more copies of my books, but being a private person I would cringe if I found myself in the same circle as King or Rowling. And I don’t want to sound like a snob, but frankly, based on the quality of the writing, I’d be embarrassed to have my name on some best-sellers.


  7. As you said, Jill, if it’s the money you’re after – then rob a bank! I don’t think J.K.Rowling had any inkling of the money she would earn… just wanted to publish enough to pay the rent. And as for Barbara Cartland – well, she was the queen of the early romance paperbacks. I think most of just LOVE WRITING and seeing our work published is about the work – not the money it brings in. And I am always encouraged to see huge sales numbers for others. It means more readers. Like you, I’m not jealous – more inspired.


    1. Thanks for those comments, Rosemary. There is such a great feeling of accomplishment, reward, and satisfaction when you hold your newly published book in your hands.


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