I'm am ravenous (I love that word) for knowledge of the publishing industry! I have 3 stats that I'm curious about and just would like some ball park figures? 1) How many books sold would constitute a successful first book? 2) What would constitute a nice yearly income of a successful author starting out? I know this is a tough question, but I need to have some idea as I plan my career. I cannot find anything on the internet! 3) What would constitute a nice advance for a first book?
Side note: I, too, love the word ravenous! I remember learning it in one of those SAT books and using it as often as possible.
Ah, great questions that every writer wants to have concrete answers to. If only I had them, and if only there were concrete answers. But alas, there aren't. Here's why.
1) What constitutes a good numbers of books sold? Well, that all depends on print runs and expectations. (FYI: Diana Peterfreund ran a recent poll on her blog to assess general print runs for new and established authors, and I'm anxiously awaiting her results.) If, for example, you have a 10,000 print run, and you sell all of them, well, then this is a fantastic sell through number and your publisher will be pleased. If, say, your name is Nora Roberts, and you only sell 10,000, your publisher is pissed. I think the thing to focus on instead, rather than number of books sold, is the sell-through and the percentage of books printed to books sold. That's what your publisher will focus on too.
2) What is a good income for a writer? Well, again, there's nothing concrete to say here. Why? Because what's more important is what's a good income for YOU. For example, I live in NYC, perhaps the most expensive place to live in the country. (Yeah, yeah, I hear you SF-ers - I know your rents are high there too.) So, what just covers my mortgage is going to be a FAT income for someone in Topeka, KS. Similarly, I probably wouldn't get by on that Topeka writer's income. Not to mention the whole other slew of factors: are you supporting only yourself? Are you the primary or secondary breadwinner? Do you drop dough faster than P. Diddy? And on and on. But I will say this: speaking from experience, it is certainly possible to earn 6-figures as a writer. But it probably won't happen the first year out (I think my first year freelancing, I earned something like 35k), and it probably won't happen if you don't spread your skills as far as possible. What I mean by that is that most 6-figure writers I know don't write exclusively for magazines - they might do corporate work or they might write books or whatever. That said, most writers don't make 6-figures. In fact, there was a recent survey as to what the average freelance writer makes, and I *believe*, though I'm not sure, since I'm citing this from memory, that the figure hovered somewhere around 40-50k.
3) Again, what would constitute a nice advance and what would constitute an advance that you'd dream of are two very different things. The average book advance is - breathe deeply - less than 10k. Yep, really. (Insert tears of sorrow here.) You're not going to get rich - most likely - writing books. At least not your first one. And probably not your second one. Write books because you really passionately want to, not because you're going to end up in an Aaron Spelling-like mansion. If you land a huge advance, it's the cherry on top. But don't count on it.
So...anyone want to add in specifics that I've overlooked? Maybe there's more concrete info out there than I think?