Check this out re: sales of finalists and winners of the Man Booker Prize from Publishers Lunch:
“Enright’s book ranked fifth in sales prior to the award among books on the shortlist, having sold approximately 3,000 copies, ahead of Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People. (Even though bettors favored Lloyd Jones’s MISTER PIP, Bookscan figures cited in the press showed sales of just over 5,000 copies for that book.) Random UK says they are rushing a reprint of 50,000 copies of THE GATHERING.”
This is really frightening that even award-winning novels sell so few copies before they actually win the awards. No wonder literary fiction is such a hard sell and why a writer has to build up a reputation in the literary magazines or elsewhere before they can publish. I have a cyber-penpal writer friend, Timothy Schaffert, whose wonderful novel, The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters, was published by a feisty imprint of a major publishing house, favorably reviewed in The New York Times sold well but apparently not well enough. His next two novels have been published by Unbridled Books, headed by the editor who formerly edited Timothy at BlueHen.
This is a rough, unlovely business. And writers don’t like thinking about that side of it. We’d rather just write what’s in our heads and hearts, but it creeps in all the time. Will this sell? Will anyone publish this? Will anyone read this? Maybe I should throw in some sex, murder and general mayhem to make it more marketable.
And those sales figures are so low that many self-published novelists I know are selling that many. Some are selling more.