It’s a very common question all new authors ask. How many copies will I sell?
But the question is extremely difficult to answer in simple average numbers. Some sources say 250 copies in the first year, but It could be anywhere from zero to thousands.
You can read many articles on the topic, but most offer statistics, data, and numbers that are not justified by referencing reliable sources. In other words, they are mainly guesstimates.
On top of that, how do you count or combine copies of print books, ebooks, Kindle Unlimited page reads, free ebook giveaways, and audiobooks on Amazon, as well as different versions on other retailers?
You will sell fewer copies than you expect
I don’t want to dampen your dreams, but whether you self-publish or traditionally publish, your chances of having a bestseller on your hands are slim.
The primary reason is that while the number of authors and new books and ebooks continues to rise at an astonishing rate, the number of people who read books has fallen slightly over the last decade or more.
Whichever way you publish, Amazon will probably be your best chance to find book buyers.
But, the competition is fierce, and finding ways to market and promote a new book requires a lot of energy and hard work and usually involves some investment.
Another new difficulty is the arrival of thousands of AI-generated ebooks on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited in particular.
Luckily, Amazon is taking some action to restrict the number of books that can be published in one day to three. But even that number is an admission of how big the problem has become.
Sure, you can look to publish with other retailers like Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, but even combined, these only represent a tiny slice of the book and ebook market.
Traditionally published books stand a better chance because most sales are from brick-and-mortar bookstores.
However, competition between publishers for shelf space makes it difficult for a debut author to sell thousands of copies in the first few months or first year.
It doesn’t matter how you cut it; there are fewer readers now, and that makes selling copies of your new book extremely challenging.
Why publishing is getting harder
Think about this for a moment.
Go back ten or fifteen years, and what did you see when you caught a train or bus or took a plane?
What about a waiting room for a doctor or people waiting in a departure lounge?
People reading books, newspapers, and magazines?
But today, it’s a totally different story.
How many books or magazines do you see? How many people have a Kindle in their hands?
This is what today looks like.
People are on their phones, using their thumbs to scroll social media sites like Instagram, TikTok, or perhaps Twitter, or is it X?
It’s the biggest reason why there are fewer readers now.
But it’s not only bad news for books and ebooks.
All forms of print publishing, including major newspapers and magazines, are struggling to adapt to the change in how people consume information.
But yes, Amazon still sells millions of books and ebooks, so there is hope. But you have to work very hard if you want to sell a lot of copies of your book.
Estimates and guesstimates
It isn’t easy to find accurate information because Amazon doesn’t release any statistics or data about its book or ebook sales.
Author Earnings used to be a great source of book sales data, but unfortunately, it closed down in 2018.
However, you can still find some old Author Earnings reports using the Wayback Machine.
Today, most statistics you find are guesswork or estimates.
Others are misleading, such as the claim in some articles that half of all traditionally published books sell fewer than a dozen copies.
I can only say that a lot of data and numbers you might come across about book sales for new authors are derived from guesswork data or unreliable sources.
Very few cite a trustworthy source to validate the numbers they quote.
Real numbers, real data
The only way I can think of to help you gauge how many copies you might sell is to show you some of my own book sales statistics.
I only used Amazon as my data source because I can track back through all my historical book sales data. So, my numbers don’t include sales from other retailers.
I also excluded my audiobooks because my publisher has all the data.
The good news is that I had some success. But I haven’t noted the book titles, as I don’t want this to be a book promotion article.
However, I have included screenshots of spreadsheet data from Amazon to verify my numbers.
Here’s a non-fiction book of witty short stories that did well.
The result was 7,522 copies either sold or downloaded for free.
Amazon doesn’t give me a breakdown, but it was probably about one-third paid and two-thirds free. But for me, over 7,000 copies, free or paid, was a success.
Another success was a romance novella. In total, it was bought or downloaded 8,930 times.
Again, it’s a mix of free and sold copies, but I was very pleased with the response to this book. However, I was lucky to have a platform and following to help me promote this book.
But one recent book I thought would sell well was a total flop.
It was a historical fiction novel and managed a very poor result of only 25 sales in its first year.
Amazon could only give me a report by earned royalties for this book, so I estimated the copies sold.
Needless to say, it was a very disappointing result.
As for my other titles, well, more of them are closer to my third example than to the first two.
But that’s how it works in publishing. You might strike it lucky, but for the most part, like me, you will struggle to sell copies of your new books.
I didn’t want to give you guesses and estimates, so hopefully, my actual sales data helps you a little.
As you can see, it’s not all gloom and doom, but you must be realistic about your hopes for your new book.
The critical factor to understand is that today, readers and book buyers are getting harder and harder to attract.
The competition is far greater now than when I first started self-publishing. My earnings were best between 2010 and 2016.
Since then, it’s been a struggle. Yes, I still receive a payment from Amazon each month. But it’s now a trickle, not a flood.
If you publish a book today and sell 250 copies or more in the first year, that’s probably a success.
But honestly, it now takes a lot of hard work to make it happen.
Related Reading: How Many Book Sales To Reach Number One With Amazon Kindle?