How many copies do you have to sell to be a “best-selling author”?

March 15, 2013 § 3 Comments

FULL DISCLOSURE: I had never heard of Neal Pollack before reading this interview. I have read nothing by him. I now feel like I ought to, especially since I read a lot and feel like I should have heard of him. But I haven’t.

Regardless, Neal Pollack sat down with The Onion’s A.V. Club for a brutally frank interview about the ups and (mostly) downs of his career. He even breaks the taboo about talking sales figures, telling how many copies his “bestsellers” have actually sold. Check it out here.

Here’s how Pollack sums up his career as “the greatest living American writer”:

I was still just a guy with one book under his belt. And a book that, despite all the attention it was getting, sold maybe 10,000 copies. It wasn’t some sort of international publishing phenomenon. It was, at best, sort of a moderately successful indie-rock project. So I still had to do stuff like write promotional copy for Weight Watchers to support myself and pay my mortgage, which was relatively small. The year I quit the Reader, I made almost no money. Maybe $30,000. And I thought, “Aren’t I supposed to be a famous writer? Is this it? A drafty townhouse in Philadelphia?” So that pattern established itself for me over the years; I’d have a little success, let it go to my head, and then make some outrageous move to try and capitalize on that, and the move would come crashing down on my head. I would always get a little overexcited.

Have you read anything by Pollack?

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§ 3 Responses to How many copies do you have to sell to be a “best-selling author”?

  • amfahrj says:

    Interesting as I just read this article title “The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323864304578316143623600544.html

    • Interesting. And a bit disturbing, how blase authors are about artificially inflating the numbers via ResultSource. I’m not sure I’d feel good about that, if it were me. Plus, I think it’s more beneficial to have a long-term strategy for building your audience, rather than a burst of sales followed by a slog of returns. Publishers look at those numbers, and it makes it harder for a writer to publish a second book. In fact, it’s sometimes easier for an unknown writer to publish a first book than it is for a first-book writer to publish a second book, if the sales of that first book were poor.

  • Never read any Pollack, but I think in some respects I may have the same engine driving my writing life – although the paint job is quite different. I am very aware of how difficult it is to launch ideas of what I would consider of merit to a fickle crowd. The public doesn’t lend itself easily to a nutritious meal, it does seem to have developed a taste for amusing itself with literal and/or figurative junk food gladiators sweating and bleeding in the hot sun while chomping a fatty hunk of flesh in a massive fraternity of mindless fleeting cheer. I suppose that may be fitting since we are far more human “beings” than we are human “knowings”. It is in our nature to value experience over knowing even if it means our ride is a bit more bumpy.

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