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Or do they simply not fetishize book length one way or the other?

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And for that matter, would most long-form men say they were just letting content seek form? But they are certainly louder. But generally speaking, a story collection is considered a quieter animal than a novel, and is tacitly judged in some quarters as the work of someone who lacks the sprawling confidence of a novelist.

Yet if, on the other hand, a woman writes a doorstop filled with free associations about life and love and childbirth and war, and jokes and recipes and maybe even a novel-within-a-novel, and anything else that will fit inside an endlessly elastic membrane, she risks being labeled undisciplined and self-indulgent. I think men are more accepting of my books than they would be if the points of view were always female. Characters matter to a great extent, and novels that involve parents and young children seem at first glance to be considered the potentially sentimental province of women.


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But some of the most acclaimed female novelists have written unapologetically and authoritatively about women. And the environment needs to be receptive to that authority, recognizing and celebrating it in order for it to catch. Men were actively interested in reading about the inner lives of women or maybe some just pretended they were and received moral kudos for doing so.

But though this wave of prominent authors helped the women who followed, as time passed it seemed harder for literary women to go the distance. The American Academy of Arts and Letters counts only 33 women among its literature members. In the past three years more than half of the National Book Critics Circle awards have gone to women, and in the past two years the National Book awards for fiction have gone to women — Jaimy Gordon and Jesmyn Ward — but so far neither has made an enormous cultural splash.

Are we less innovative than the guys? In doing so, she illustrated the continuing critical bias against women. Their teachers defended this by saying they were looking for works that boys could relate to. Literary women novelists can of course do very well without male readers. But the top tier of literary fiction — where the air is rich and the view is great and where a book enters the public imagination and the current conversation — tends to feel peculiarly, disproportionately male.

Will more literary women be able to persuade their publishers to keep that photo of a longhaired young girl in a summer dress facing shyly away from the camera off their book jackets and replace it with a neutral illustration and bold typeface? Maybe, in a more just world. Tell us what you think. Please upgrade your browser. A clerk scans the barcode, and the sale is recorded.

So why can it be inaccurate? To begin with, BookScan only tracks print book sales.


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Amazon and other major ebook vendors do not release ebook sales, so basically no one has any idea how those are selling outside of publishers tracking their own sales. Even for print books, BookScan can only do so much. Lastly, BookScan was only introduced in , so numbers for any books published before this millennium are completely inaccurate. All that said, BookScan does a good job showing general trends in the industry and seeing which books are doing better than others. There is plenty to be said about whether the publishing model could be more efficient, if middlemen could be cut out, etc.

To begin with, publishers survive on a handful of hits. Additionally, the publisher makes money before the author does. Take our example above.

Probably not surprisingly, the answer is… it really depends. This is true even for individual authors. Publishing is full of luck, timing, and unpredictable trends. I mean, adult coloring books? That qualification aside, most fiction books published by a traditional publisher garner somewhere between and , sales. Sometimes less, sometimes more. You can scale this down for publisher size. An independent small press is averaging more like to 10, for novels and to 2, for story collections.

For debut books, you could cut all those numbers in half. Do keep in mind that this is after at least a year of sales. Well… no.

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Like baseball salaries or box office returns, book sales are heavily skewed by the minority of books that do really well. If you go into your local bookstore and look at all the books on the various tables, most of those will BookScan between 2, and 40, after a couple years of sales. However, most books struggle to find adequate distribution, much less coverage. Most books do not get placement on tables, and many do not even get to many bookstores at all.

The majority of traditionally published novels sell only a couple thousand, if that, over their lifetime.

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As with anything here, we need qualifications. You also need to factor in the format. Selling 10, hardcover is worth more than 10, paperbacks. For ebooks, prices can be all over the place, even from a major publisher.

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It should be easy for you to get another book contract. If you sold more than 5,, you are doing pretty well. If you sold less than 5,, then you could be in trouble with the next book. Although it is, as always, dependent on the project.


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The smaller the press, the more you can scale down. Even then, the publisher stressed, an author selling 3, is really just paying for themselves. Most people would be surprised at the drastic range of book sales even among the books that people are buzzing about. If you took the ten literary fiction books that all the critics, Twitter literati, and well-read friends are discussing, their BookScan numbers might range from a couple thousand to k. I used instead of to make sure each book had at least 12 months of sales. No list is perfect, but the NYT list includes story collections and small press books alongside the big name literary authors and award contenders.

The BookScan sales of those books literally ranged from 1, to 1. The next highest book was about , Again, the range is huge. I looked up five years of nominees from to and the range was 5, to over 1. The mean was , and the median was 72, They ranged from 2, to , with a mean of 35, and a median of 12, On average, a lot more. I checked the BookScan sales for all the books that hit the 1 spot on the New York Times list in and the mean sales were , with a median of , The top selling book was, as you can probably guess, 50 Shades of Grey at nearly 8 million.

In fact, a whole lot of the literary award finalists sold better than bottom best sellers. I myself have always believed this to be honest, even though I wrote and published a short story collection.

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However, looking at the data it actually seems that while fewer story collections sell, the ones that do can sell almost as well as novels. The seven story collections on the NYT list had a median of 23, BookScan sales… only 2k less than the median novel. Well, no. Those are mostly collections by buzzed about debut authors or established older writers. No story collection is going to sell millions of copies like the biggest novels. All of the authors whose collections I counted in the last section sold better as novelists if they had novels out.