If you want to find out how many cds sell, if you want to find out how a certain film does in terms of box office receipts, this information is fairly available. Yet why is it that if you want to know how many copies of a certain book title passed through retail, the information becomes a bit more difficult to obtain.
Don't believe me? Go ahead and try and do a search of a particular title to see how many copies were sold. You can ask the publisher, but that's no guarantee that information is going to be forthcoming.
Now you're probably thinking: what about bestsellers lists like the New York Times' survey? You'll notice no number of books sold is detailed there.
If you want information, you have to subscribe to Nielsen. You know, the same people who magically rate your television watching. Nielsen keeps track of retail sales but you have to pay. It will cost about eighty dollars for one title, with discounts available if you want to see more. And even then, the information doesn't take into account some of the smaller presses' distributions.
Why is this important to anyone writing? Because we're basically masochistic people and the more we hear about how difficult it is to succeed in our profession, the happier we are. And also, at some point a writer needs to ask: how many copies of a book sold is a sign of success. It helps to be able to track other writers and titles and do comparisons. It helps too when writing and marketing a title. Shelf lives are short and retailers are picky about what risks they want to take with their floor space. Scratch that. Retailers don't take chances.
A story is circulating through the literary world about a bidding war that recently went down for a writer's unfinished manuscript about vampires in an apocalyptic setting. A bidding war? Who was the author? Stephen King? Anne Rice? Laurell K. Hamilton?
The author's unfinished manuscript will be published under an unknown non-de-plume. And even if you did know the writer's name, chances are you haven't heard of him before nor read his prior work. The author is Jordon Ainsley (real name Justin Cronin). His prior work? A book you've probably not heard of: "Mary and O Neill", one of those literary pieces few people read which also manages to win the Pen/Hemingway Award. The what? And then there was also "The Summer Guest".
No history of genre writing. No track record with the fans.
And yet Mr. Cronin or Mr. Ainsley if you prefer, gets almost four million dollars for an unfinished manuscript in what will be the first of a vampire trilogy.
HEY!!!! FOX!!!!! If you want unfinished manuscripts and outlines, I got some for you!!! You want vampires? I'll give you vampires. If you want to read more about this go here.
The world of publishing remains a mystery to me. I guess my problem is that I see the world through left wing glasses. Maybe if I clean them and try putting on my "Capitalism Is Neat" basenball cap, it would make a little more sense.