First off, I'd like to ask that the Great Depression NOT be invoked anymore, at least for a few weeks. I just can't.
Next, I'd like to send you readers away, with some interesting links. First, courtesy of BookNinja, is this article from the UK Guardian, on how British publishers are handling the financial crisis. They note that guides explaining how to save money - making things, growing things, etc.. - are on the rise, with more to come. But they also note that in other times of similar crises, trashier fare did quite well - romances, biographies of the rich and famous, etc...: "Back in the recession of the early 80s, cash-strapped readers were lapping up Jackie Collins sex, rock'n'roll and shopping saga Lovers and Gamblers." Something to keep in mind.
The next link is to a blog entry that has received tons of comments, and for good reason. I didn't even know this blog before I was pointed to it by The Written Nerd.
The blog is called Editorial Ass and the entry in question is here. In it, a "recovering editorial assistant" explains sales figures for literary fiction in a way that I would deem totally fair. People get very nervous talking numbers. I always wanted to be honest with my authors about sales figures but I also had to be sensitive. They wanted the truth, but how much truth could they handle?
On her blog, this "Moonrat" decides through an admittedly unscientific process that 7,000 copies is the magic number. That or above and you've done nicely for yourself. And I agree. She then breaks down less than that and correctly explains what the publisher's reaction might be. It's not entirely bad until we hit 1,500 or less, and then you're stuck.
The comments are well worth reviewing as readers ask good questions and Moonrat offers more strong answers, including a lengthy one where she explains how the credit crisis may impact publishers. She explains how literary fiction is kind of luxury publishing, something many editors want to do but can only do with more reliable non-fiction books on the list. Literary fiction is a big risk. But then she goes on to explain the pressure publishers get from the sales force who want to see more paperbacks, as they sell quicker in stores. I've seen this pressure firsthand. It puts the publisher in a pickle because the margin on paperbacks really blows, especially if a book is a paperback original. The publisher has to sell many more copies to earn back the advance. For the author, it also means a lower royalty rate usually, and of course less money in general as each book costs less than it would in hardcover.
What I also find interesting is that Moonrat is not distinguishing between an independent and a large corporate press, because in this non-scientific way, it's not just about financials but about morale and one's sense of the market. A book is most likely celebrated more at a small independent when it sells 7,000+, but especially for literary fiction, it's still great news at a much bigger house with bursting coffers.
I hope writers reading about this stuff don't get too hung up on this number - just as I hoped my authors wouldn't - because it cannot be one's focus. It'll throw you off your game. But for the rest of us, it's a really useful contribution to online discussions of publishing. Thanks, Moonrat! I'll be going back soon to check out this entry on creating a platform. Great stuff.