Friday, October 05, 2007

Catholic Writing Not World's Most Lucrative Profession / My Book Sales (Actual Numbers)


I have been successful, by God's grace, writing and selling Catholic apologetics books. That is an objective fact, as demonstrated by sales ranks at amazon; particularly their Top 100 for Catholic Theology category, where three of my books regularly appear, and actual numbers of sales. In the last 90 days, The Catholic Verses has had an average 15,429 sales rank on amazon (by today's ranking for its category, that would place it about #21 of the Top 100), while A Biblical Defense of Catholicism has averaged 25,482 (between #37 and #38 average for the last three months). My books are clearly doing very well in their market. But it is a tiny market, so that I still can't make a living off of the book sales alone.

I venture to guess that no one would be able to do so, just writing Catholic books, except the pope (and he has another job) and Scott Hahn (he is a professor and in no danger of starving if his books weren't -- as indeed they are -- the best selling ones in their category). Karl Keating wrote about the (orthodox) Catholic book market in his November 2006 e-letter:
Catholic Answers earns income from magazine subscription fees, speaking honoraria, book and CD sales, advertising revenue, and so on, but all that covers less than half of our annual budget. The rest comes from donations. Without donations, our level of work would be much different from what it is.

But we're in a peculiar position. Much of our work is the sort that lends itself to being underwritten through donations. Other Catholic organizations don't have that advantage. While they may receive donations, most of their income comes from sales of materials. When sales slump, for whatever reason, such organizations are put in a real bind.

. . . I remember, years ago, meeting with Fr. Joseph Fessio at Ignatius Press in San Francisco. I asked him how many copies of a book he would need to sell to turn a profit. He said he would need to sell as few as 3,000 copies, but not a few of the titles Ignatius published never reached even that level.

You might think, "Well, I could sell 3,000 copies of any decent book. Catholic publishers should be well in the black." I can assure you that it's not so simple.

. . . The plain truth is that very few Catholic books sell into six figures. For that matter, few sell into five figures. In orthodox Catholic publishing, you have a hit if you sell 10,000 copies of a title. It certainly is a niche market.
I learned this through experience. When I started seriously seeking to publish a book, in 1994 (long version of A Biblical Defense of Catholicism) and 1996 (revised, current version, rejected by about six publishers and then picked up by Sophia Institute Press in 2003 after being self-published for two years), I thought the model for Catholic apologetics was Surprised by Truth. It was the second biggest Catholic seller after the Catechism (and has since gone on to surpass 250,000). I was blessed by being included in that volume of conversion stories (beyond the privilege of sharing my journey), in the sense of needed exposure and name recognition (it came out three years before I ever had a website), since, by agreement, I never made one red cent of royalties from it.

Like Karl Keating stated, this (the huge numbers of sales of that book) is the rare exception. And because of that reality, I can't live completely off of my book sales. As I have stated since the delivery business I worked for went under in December 2001, I also need to supplement royalty income with donations and additional part-time jobs, as necessary.

As the former are few and far-between these days (apparently because I refuse to beg and send out "crisis" letters), I am presently looking for the latter. I'm perfectly willing to do that. I like the "Pauline tentmaker model" of ministry. I'd much rather do that than beg and plead, but I would surely prefer being able to devote myself solely to apologetics.

In any event, I am not averse to occasionally letting my readers know of the situation I am in (four children, a wife who home-schools, homeowner, etc.) and to note that all this labor that I spend writing papers takes up time that I could be utilizing making money somewhere else. It's a ton of free labor, and people often communicate to me that they benefit from it (see many posted letters from Catholics and non-Catholics).

Time is money. I keep working and working, but it doesn't always have much of a relationship to remuneration. That's the dilemma of doing something that isn't deemed worthy of support, even though people say they "like" my work and that I have helped them in their spiritual life.

Anyway, I wanted to illustrate how my books are not by any means making me rich, even though they are doing very well in their market, because the market itself is quite small. Here are the actual figures, that I just figured out yesterday and today for the first time, by adding up the numbers from my royalty reports:

A Biblical Defense of Catholicism ("self-published" with 1stBooks Library / Author House from October 2001 to September 30, 2003)

2001: 122 paperbacks / 60 e-books
2002: 1176 paper / 126 e-books
2003: 386 paper / 28 e-books

Grand Total (self-published period): 1684 paperbacks and 214 e-books.

A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (Sophia Institute Press slightly revised edition: May 2003; e-books no longer available from Sophia)

2003 (combined total with Author House figures): 2552
2003 (Sophia only): 2166
2004: 2542
2005: 2399
2006: 2450
2007 (through to 9-24-07): 2744

Grand Total (Sophia): 12,301
Grand Total (since 2001): 13,985 + 214 e-books

More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism ("self-published" with 1stBooks Library / Author House from January 2002 to March 31, 2007)

2002: 450 paperback / 81 e-books
2003: 212 paper / 27 e-books
2004: 261 paper / 14 e-books
2005: 287 paper / 5 e-books
2006: 287 paper / 1 e-book
2007: 51 paper

Grand Total: 1548 paperback / 128 e-books [sales negligible since re-publishing with Lulu]

Top Ten Questions Catholics Are Asked (pamphlet for Our Sunday Visitor; published in packs of 50; approximately July 2002)

2002: 3963
2003: 2031
2004: 2469
2005: 2740
2006: 2700
2007 (through to June 30): 1136

Grand Total: 15,039 (i.e., 751,950 individual pamphlets)

The Catholic Verses (Sophia Institute Press: August 2004)

2004: 1946
2005: 2816
2006: 2770
2007 (through to 9-24-07): 2397

Grand Total: 9,929

The One-Minute Apologist
(Sophia Institute Press: May 2007)

2007: 2490 (as of 9-24-07): average of roughly 500 / month over that period

Grand Total: 2,490
Additionally, The New Catholic Answer Bible (Our Sunday Visitor: March 2005; co-author of notes with Dr. Paul Thigpen) has regularly been in the Top 100 for Catholic Theology at amazon (currently at #30 as I write) and is doing well. But I don't have the sales figures for that work because I was paid a straight fee and don't receive royalties.

Perhaps this may sound like a lot of numbers, resulting in my rolling in the dough over here?
Well, not quite. Considering that this has been my main income since December 2001, and seeing that my royalty rates are $1.39, $1.56, and $1.19 for each copy sold (my three Sophia books), and $1.13 for each pamphlet (OSV), and that I am not receiving ongoing royalties for the apologetic Bible, you can do the math and see that I won't be joining the Fortune 500 anytime soon. I sell my 11 e-books for $15 (automatic download) and have been receiving an average of about one a day, so that is $14.26 or $14.11 (non-US orders) profit after PayPal's transaction fee. That's wonderful, too, but it is not exactly making me a millionaire at that rate of sales, either.
Meanwhile, I write and write and write on my blog, and have been doing so virtually constantly (including my old website) since February 1997. All that is absolutely free to the public (currently almost 1750 posts). That took time: lots of it. My blog recently passed a million page views since February 2004. Prior to that I have no record of all the hits received over the previous seven years, but I would imagine it was at least a few more million.

I know that when I did keep track of some of the more popular pages, like the C.S. Lewis page, it was getting 200-300 hits a day back in the late 90s. And that was just one of about 50 major "index" web pages on my site. That's a lot of folks reading my stuff and (hopefully) receiving some spiritual and educational benefit for it, yet I have received virtually nothing in return, money-wise, for all that work.

I could easily raise money if I begged and pleaded and sent out letters specifically designed to tug at your heartstrings and to produce sympathy. I see that all the time. It's obviously done because it works. But I've always refused to do it. I would say it is because of principle; some might say it is foolish idealism on my part or outright irresponsibility. But I have a great dislike for it. Though I would never say it is wrong per se (I am trying not to be legalistic or judgmental), I personally don't care to see that sort of "hard" fundraising associated with Christian ministry. I think people ought to give because it is simply the right thing to do and because Christian workers are worthy of their wages, not because they were cajoled into it by Madison Avenue techniques.

This post is about the extent of "solicitation of funds" that you'll ever see from me. I can't even claim that my work will end or be drastically reduced if I don't get so much support in the next two weeks. I can't say that because I know (and have stated several times) that I will keep doing this work whether the money comes in or not, as I've been doing over the past ten years plus. I just go out and find more work to help make ends meet if I have to.
All I'm asking is for people who would claim that my work (a result of literally multiple thousands of hours of mostly unpaid labor since February 1997) has assisted them in some significant way: folks who have been "regulars" and who have followed my writing for years, and used it for research and apologetics and evangelism purposes, to consider supporting this work financially. Ask yourself if you think my work has been a valuable aid in your own walk with Christ, and whether it helps others also, and is thus worthy of support. If you have come to a place where you'd like to help support this apostolate, follow this link for further information. All donations are 100% tax-deductible.

Thanks for bearing with me and reading all of this (those of you who are still with me!). God bless all of you and a very special thanks to those who have sent a donation and/or bought my books. I appreciate it very much and hope that you received edification and blessing as a result of reading, by God's grace, working through this unworthy vessel.

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