The Pandemic’s Effect on (my) Book Sales

My debut, The Widening Gyre, was released in 2019. In the first two quarters of the book’s life, I sold over 1000 copies. That’s relatively good for a no-name author published by a small press. It’s gone on to sell more since.

The sequel, The Blood-Dimmed Tide, was published in February 2020, just before everything went pear-shaped. And despite good reviews, sales have been dismal. It’s not just the pandemic; it’s also several other issues–my publisher’s distributor shut down part of their business, creating returns that killed sales numbers, and then the publisher switched to a different distributor, which caused even more hiccups, none of which could have been avoided.

This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has hit publishing. The 2008 economic crisis caused publishers to slow down for a time, partly because there was a paper shortage, and partly to stop losing money in a time when people weren’t buying so much. In 2016, the election of the Orange Doofus to the highest American office caused sales to slump for liberal and conservative authors alike.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has hit everyone, from Big Names down to little guys like me, as this New York Times piece from May 2020 shows–but of course, it hits guys at my level harder than the Big Names, because they have already built up an audience. Scalzi is going to do all right no matter what, because he’s proven himself to his readers and built their loyalty. Me, I’m still working on that, with only two books out. Even if our percentage of loss is the same, it’s more harmful to me, though his numbers are bigger.

To be fair, there is always a drop in sales as a series goes forward–not all readers will stick with you, even if they liked the first books. But I think–and to be honest, I really hope–that my 2020 sales are an aberration caused by the Pandemic. Book three is scheduled for 2022, and I hope we’re all back to normal by then.

Published by Michael R. Johnston

Father of an eighth grader, high school English teacher, writer. Fifty years old and feeling almost every bit of it on some days, and not a bit of it on others. Based in Sacramento, California, USA

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