The Question All Writers Dread!

There is one question above all others that I am sure all writers dread. Certainly the indie writers. Although, I can understand that the more traditional, and shall we say more mainstream (by which I mean bestselling) writers, this question is equally dreaded, albeit for slightly different reasons.


Oh, you’re a writer. That’s cool. So, How many books have you sold?


Whoa!!!! Hold it right there!

It is a horrible question right? Even to read and consider in a hypothetical sense reduces one to a pile of nervous jelly. Rightly so too, for this is one of the toughest questions you will ever be faced with, for one simple reason. There is no answer you can give which will be acceptable.


People who understand the business would know not to ask the question in the first place, and anybody who did would simply be digging with the hope that they could then brag about their own sales. Your answer would then either deflate their ego, when you announce more than they had been so happy about, or make you feel bad when you hear their astronomical figure.

people who don’t understand the business will always be disappointed with anything less than best seller style figures. To them, a book is only a success when you get rich, they do not think about the accomplishment in itself, or the hard work you put into it, the pride at seeing but one copy sold, or one review received. No answer you could give them would be enough, but the number they want to hear would have to mean that you had successfully retired from your everyday job and entered the world of an upper level author, whose fame would undoubtedly speak for itself, thus rendering the question un-asked in the first place.

When people ask me this question, as they invariably do, I give a generic answer, unless it is from someone – and I have a few people in this category – who actually cares about you and the answer you are going to give.

9 thoughts on “The Question All Writers Dread!

  1. You’re so right, Alex.

    When I published my book, it was really about putting my work out there for people to see… It’s easy to have a book on your computer, or in your head, or half written down on scraps of paper – but to actually finish it and then publish it, well… that’s an achievement in itself. The icing on the cake, for me at least, was to have some sales – that wasn’t the reason behind publishing it. You know, once all your friends and family have bought there obligatory copy, the true sales – the ones you haven’t forecast – these are the ones that make your heart jump.

    I’ve been posting my “stats” as a way of encouraging other self published writers to see that it’s possible to get decent sales. Sure.. I can’t live off my book sales, not really, not yet, but the fact remains that I know a few authors (professionally published authors) who haven’t achieved the same consistency in sales as I have – and who the hell am I? Some guy who couldn’t even get a publishing house to reply to my enquires.

    In the words of Michael Palin: “Ya-boo sucks to you, fish-face!”


  2. Alex,

    While it is barely above living wage, I do manage to make enough to now do this full-time. And you nailed it. Do I hope that it eventually launches into “marginally well off”? Sure. But if it doesn’t, that is okay too, I am living my dream and that is worth more than anything. Don’t get me wrong…I would love the ka-ching sales figures…but if it holds at this level, that is okay.

  3. This question usually pops up when I am at my day job. My response is usually something lighthearted, yet sarcastic enough so that they don’t ask again. Something in the realm of, “I’m still here aren’t I? ” Said with a smile on my face, which is my usual expression. People don’t know if I’m serious or not, so they just assume everything I say is a joke. Safe bet, that.

  4. Well, my answer would be many hundreds with six titles. This is just as rude a question as “how much do you make?” People don’t understand that I don’t really write books to sell books. I do it as a legacy and amuse a few eager people. If anything catches on, I’ve won the lottery. Keep writing.

  5. I am working on my first novel and hope to have an anthology out later this summer. So if I sell one copy of either then it will be a best seller as far as I’m concern, and I will celebrate it as so. The accomplishment is the completion. The fact someone else read it is a cherry on the top bonus.

  6. I had someone ask me this at an author showcase and I slipped into my old network marketing methodology of telling him, “It pays the bills so I’m not complaining). It’s not an actual lie and it’s not the actual truth, but I figure if someone wants to ask that then a neutral answer isn’t bad. It seems to have worked for me as the conversations since have turned jovial and I sometimes get a fan afterwards.

  7. Oh yes, I cringe when people ask me this! I usually give a vague answer, something along the lines of “Oh I haven’t checked the figures recently…” Truthfully I don’t know how many books I have sold. I am focusing on building a fan-base, getting my name and my series recognized, and of course, writing some more stories. Only then will the natural progression of money and fame follow…

  8. No-one has asked me yet so I feel deprived, or maybe just depressed that no-one knows I’m a writer. However if they did ask, I think I’d just smile and say “Not enough!”

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