Quick-Reference Publishing Stats You Need to Know!

Cristen Iris

I often tell excited prospective clients and workshop participants that my superpower is being a buzz kill. This usually gets a laugh, but I'm only half joking.

The competition for shelf space and reader attention is fierce. The reality is that most books aren't commercially viable.

I could focus on the positive and blow smoke and sunshine, but I believe it's wise and ethical to first "think negative" because the buzz brought on by the idea of publishing a book comes with a sting.

If you're a long-term thinker like I am, you probably agree that it's better to face the sting before you invest time, energy, and money than after because when you know what you're up against, you can make educated decisions and take calculated risks.

Considerations for All Authors

  • Close to 2 million new titles were published in 2018!
  • 338,990 new titles were published (by traditional publishers) in the United States in 2015. (1)
  • 1,677,781 new titles* were self-published in 2018. (2, 3)
  • In 2014, there were more than 17,000,000 (17 million!) books in English on Amazon. (4)
  • “The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.” (5)
  • “A book has far less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.” (6)

First-Time Authors Who Aspire to Be Traditionally Published

  • At any given time, 500,000 proposals and manuscripts circulate across the United States.” (7)
  • One major publisher received over 6,000 unsolicited manuscripts and proposals in a year, yet didn’t accept a single one.” (8)
  • Terry Whalin quoted Brian DiForio (NY literary agent) as saying, “Even with a modest advance of $20,00 to $30,000, the overall costs for the publisher are between $75,000 and $100,000.” Per Whalin, “These numbers do not include marketing or advertising expenses…The number is pure production costs [ink, paper, printing, warehousing books], editorial expenses and design costs for the cover and interior pages of the book.” (9)
  • About query/proposal rejections, literary agent Janet Reid says, "Eight rejections isn't even a good start. You need 100 before you get to drink bourbon for breakfast and contemplate waiting tables at a truck stop in Alaska as your next career move." (10)
  • 40% of queries are rejected for being poorly written or unprofessional. (11)
  • Only 4% of authors seeking representation by a literary agent will land an agent. (12)
  • 70% of nonfiction books are ghostwritten. (13)
  • Having connections is better than a platform … There’s something about having somebody I already know, like, and whose work I respect pass me something to look at.” (14)
  • “A few years ago I did the math for my slush pile when I created a database for a blog post. I receive about 15 query letters daily and request between 10 and 15 full or partial manuscripts in a year. The maximum number of authors I sign out of my slush pile per year is four. That would be maximum; I usually only sign between two and four.” (15)
  • Many literary agents and publishers do not accept unsolicited queries, but they will consider manuscripts that are recommended by proven industry professionals (eg. other agents and freelance editors with whom they have relationships).
  • Platform. Platform. Platform. You must be able to demonstrate a market for your work. (16)

Previously Published Indie Authors Who Aspire to Have Their Next Book Traditionally Published

“Ultimately, when presenting to a publisher, I provide a cross-section. If a book has 250 reviews with 4 and 5 stars, and 70,000 in sales, this author has a lot of promise. Alternatively, if a book has 200 reviews and only 10,000 sales, it’s going to be so much more challenging to present them and say, ‘You should invest money in this author.’” (17, 18)


High Achiever: The Shocking True Story of One Addict's Double Life by Tiffany D. Jenkins was originally self-published in 2017 and sold to Harmony Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, on 3/22/2019. (19, 20)

Note that she has over 2,000 reviews on Amazon and a 5-star rating.

Where Will You Go from Here?

How do you feel?

Mixed feelings are a sign that you're approaching your project more objectively and that you'll be better prepared to meet the needs and expectations of editors, literary agents, publishers, and bookstore owners when you’re ready to pitch, publish, and promote your book.

If you'd like a free, objective consultation to discuss your goals and project, let's connect.

My clients include a New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and IndieBound bestselling debut novelist and Today Show Read with Jenna book of the month, GRAMMY Award winner, physicians, attorneys, scientists, entrepreneurs, advocates, and activists many of whom are book award winners. I have relationships with literary agents, publishers, and other industry pros and am always strategically expanding my network for the benefit of my current and future clients.


Related: The Cold Publishing Equations: Books Sold + Marketability + Love, Which Publishing Option Is Right for You? and The 4 Phases of a Book Project

Recommended Reading: The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli (survivorship bias and other logical fallacies)



1 Number of new titles published in selected countries worldwide in 2015 (in 1,000s)

2 Bowker Self-Publishing Report* (see 3 for deeper analysis and no-hype stats)

3 Bowker Self-Publishing Report Analysis-5 Surprising Findings for 2019

4 How many books does Amazon have for sale?

5 Berrett-Koehler Publishers

6 Berrett-Koehler Publishers

7 Whalin, Terry W. Book Proposals That $ell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success.      Write Now Publications. Nashville, TN. 2005. Print. (p. 16)

8 Whalin, Terry W. Book Proposals That $ell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. Write Now Publications. Nashville, TN. 2005. Print. (p. 16)

9 I've used this towel 8 times. Can I throw it in?

10 Whalin, Terry W. Book Proposals That $ell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. Write Now Publications. Nashville, TN. 2005. Print. (p. 22)

11 8 Tips From Literary Agents About How to Get Published

12 Why Agents Reject 96% of Author Submissions

13 Why Agents Reject 96% of Author Submissions

14 What Compels an Agent to Sign an Author? Q&A With Literary Agents Jeff Kleinman and Michelle Brower (Part III of III)

15 The Author Success Story Behind ABC’s Resurrection: Q&A With Literary Agents Jeff Kleinman and Michelle Brower (Part I of III)

16 Writing Non-Fiction: Building Your Platform Through Publication

17 Indie Authors Seeking an Agent: Take Note! Q&A With Literary Agents Jeff Kleinman and Michelle Brower (Part II of III)

18 Indie Authors Seeking an Agent: Take Note! Q&A With Literary Agents Jeff Kleinman and Michelle Brower (Part II of III)

19 High Achiever: The Shocking True Story of One Addict's Double Life

20 Publishers Marketplace (paywall)

Photo Attribution: Pixaby.com

Cristen Iris

CI Communication Strategies

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