What is Your Benchmark?

Small publishers sometimes ask me about industry averages. They want to know how many books other publishers are selling as a way to tell how well they are doing compared with others in the business.

When it comes to selling books, the number of books sold for any given title, in any given genre is a difficult measurement. Often, the number of sales of any given title is dependent on a number of factors including, but not limited to:

  • The fame of the author
  • The amount of marketing dollars assigned to a book
  • The reception of the book by its intended audience
  • The timing of the book’s release

I read a statistic recently that cited, “The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.”

I don’t know how the statisticians for this study calculated “average.” Did they include best-sellers in the number, or did they take them out? Did they include self-published books or just books from the large publishing houses as reported to the AAP (Association of American Publishers)?

In terms of business, I believe that publishers should have a benchmark; a standard of excellence or achievement against which your books can be measured or judged. You could use this statistic as your benchmark. If you sell around 250 copies a year (with around 3,000 copies sold over the life of the book) of your nonfiction title, then you are doing as well as most publishers.

As Christians, we should also have a benchmark. Our Christian benchmark should be different from our business benchmark. After all, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (I Corinthians 3:19).

So, what should the benchmark be for a Christian publisher? I suggest you consider Galatians 6:7-8 which says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

Books that point people to God, books that glorify God, books that encourage believers to not be deceived by sin, all sow to the Spirit. For Christians, one benchmark is making disciples and teaching people to observe what Jesus has commanded. If you are doing this with your books, then you are reaching a standard of excellence in God’s kingdom.


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