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Revelations from Periodic Market Watching

All writers, if they expect to sell their work, should engage in periodic market watching. Too often, however, we get so busy researching, writing, editing, proofing, and marketing that we fail to do that essential task.

Don't get me wrong. I sincerely believe that every writer should write what interests and matters most to them. They should write about the subjects and in the genres that are inside them and just "yearning to be free." At the same time, however, they should be attuned to what is happening in the publishing world just as any other businessperson must be. For a writer to continue writing stuff that no one is reading makes as little sense as for a business to continue making corsets when no one is buying or wearing the things.

I'll admit that I've been so busy with my own various writing projects lately that I'd begun to lose touch with what the current conditions in the wider publishing world are. I was reminded of my negligence the other day when my copy of The NBER Digest (National Bureau of Economic Research) arrived in the mail. One of its abstracts opened with the following findings:

"Only 10 percent of nineteenth-century books in the Library of Congress have authors with female first names. The female-authored share of the new book market was just 18 percent in 1960, but women authored a third as many books as in 1970 and were producing the majority of books by 2020."

That set me to checking out other statistics about book publishing. Here is a sampling of the myriad stats I uncovered.

  • The average age of U.S. authors is 42. Fifty-two percent of U.S. authors are more than 40 years old. (That's me!) Only 10 percent are 20-30 years old.

  • From 500,000 to one million books are traditionally published each year. That number jumps to a little under four million if self-published books are included.

  • The average traditionally published book sells less than 200 copies. The typical self-published book sells only about five copies.

  • Although bookstore sales increased in 2020-2021 from $6.5 billion to $9 billion (primarily as a result of the pandemic shutdowns), they have overall been trending down from their peak of $17.17 billion in 2007.

  • Although 67 percent of sales of new ebooks are via Amazon, 75 percent of readers still prefer print copies. (That's me, too!)

  • Fiction accounts for 52.88 percent of all U.S. book sales, nonfiction for 45.5 percent.

  • The best-selling nonfiction genre is the religious/inspirational category, with sales of $720 million. But that pales in contrast to romance novel sales, which brought in $1.44 billion in sales.

  • The best-selling nonfiction genres on Amazon are memoir and biography, self-help, and religious/inspirational.

  • The best-selling fiction categories on Amazon are romance, crime/mystery, and religious/inspirational.

  • Of the reading public in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, women account for 80 percent of fiction sales.

  • Yet, overall (as I pointed out in this post, ), readership is declining. Authors and publishers alike are as never before "competing for consumers' dwindling attention spans." Men both buy and read fewer books than women.

I'll leave it to you to decide what these stats mean to you and what effect they might have on your writing. But they should at least cause you to ask yourself some soul-searching questions. For example,

  • Why do I write--to be read or to provide myself a therapeutic exercise? If only for therapy, perhaps you should be journaling. If to be read, who is your target audience?

  • What do I write and why?

  • What do I expect to reap from my writing?

The answers you give should determine the direction of your writing efforts. And these stats should help you answer those questions.

For more detailed statistics on the current market conditions in book publishing, consider visiting these two informative sites:

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