Let’s take a look at some very ugly truths about being an author who has chosen the Western genre, which is normally looped in with all Historical fiction even though a great many of us who write Westerns would wholeheartedly disagree with this grouping. Why? Historical fiction actually encompasses everything from European conflict history of the Middle Ages to WWII and Vietnam based fiction, while the Western genre is far more specific – generally accepted dates are from the late 1860s through around 1917-18, though there are tales that happened prior to the Civil War, and a few outstanding novels of the “Modern West” as opposed to the “Old West.”
When one starts looking for sales numbers and statistics regarding the Western genre, they are all but impossible to find, and even if you are lucky enough to stumble on some they are at best inaccurate or based on formulas developed by some bean counter at a publishing company who is pressing the numbers to bolster their company’s image. So, how do we even begin to sort all the numbers out, or analyze the statistics? Bottom line, we don’t.
All we can do is make a SWAG (sophisticated wild-arse guess) based on tidbits we can glean from various reporting sites. I refuse to name any specific site(s), as to do so would lend some credibility to them when they deserve little. Why do I say that? Because not one of them is a true non-profit, and they get paid to report their numbers and statistics. To the highest bidder goes the numbers, with Jeff Bezos well in the lead.
So, here goes with my best SWAG, boys and girls, based on my years of trying to figure it all out. Roughly 3% of ALL book sales, from print to electronic and audio, fall in the Historical Fiction genre, with a mere 27% (up from 19% a decade ago) of those in the Western genre, or .81% of all book sales. Now, before you get disheartened by the low number, consider this. In 2018, there were some 3 billion books sold in all formats, which still comes out to some 24,300,000 books sold in the Western genre.
With roughly 11,000 Western authors, including the “old timers” like L’Amour, Grey, Smith, etc., contributing to the totals, that comes out to approximately 2210 books sold annually by each Western author. But when one digs a bit deeper, and sorts out the “one hit wonders” who sell a hundred or two copies of one book (mostly to family, friends and coworkers), the numbers for those of us who actually work hard at creating really good stories for the public to enjoy are considerably better than one would think.
Taking out those who publish one book, usually self-published, unedited and historically, geographically and logistically inaccurate, the number of authors who are pursuing a career (even a casual one or as a leisure activity) drops to some 8,000 authors publishing approximately 22,000,000 books (including short story compilations and anthologies). Now the number climbs to 2,750 copies per author.
Now, if you didn’t sell 2,750 copies of your books last year, don’t sweat it. Most of us didn’t. There are some 100 or so Western authors who consistently sell 10,000 to 15,000 copies of their work annually, and most of them are cranking out from half a dozen to 20 new stories every year. The rest of us fall somewhere short of those numbers, both in output and in sales.
Why don’t we write more, or sell more? Time, energy and imagination, though health often comes into play as well. Well, there is one other thing that affects the sales numbers – marketing. Those of us who have done this for any length of time at all soon realize that we are incapable of doing our own marketing and still have time to write. Nor are we capable of doing a proper job of editing our own works, as we will glaze over simple things like grammar, spelling and punctuation, logistics and historical/geographical correctness as we fail to see our mistakes no matter how many times we read and re-read our work. Human nature, plain and simple.
The answers? And yes, there is more than one answer, depending on your individual circumstance. First, I recommend you find a publisher with an editing staff and a promoter, as they will do more to make your work the best it can be and tell the world about you and your book(s) than you could ever hope to do.
But let’s say you’ve done that, and finally given up the ghost, unable to find that “perfect fit” between you and a publisher. You, instead, have chosen to self-publish, a fairly easy thing to do these days what with all the tools made available to authors by the several and various companies that publish for you – and I’m not talking about the scam artists who claim to be publishers working in your best interest for “just a thousand dollars”, promising to make you a household name, until they have milked you for every dime you could give them. Then you become just another number to them, and they won’t return your calls and letters. No, though you may laugh, it isn’t really funny as some really talented authors give up their dreams after such an encounter.
Anyway, you’re self-publishing, and hoping to break into the market with a bang. Except you don’t. Your book(s) languish near the bottom of the list of tens of thousands of other books being published in the Western genre every year. What’s missing? Primarily, marketing. So look long and hard for a promoter who will back up what they promise, making certain that they actually market books in the Western genre as their bread and butter. Check their list of represented authors, and then check the numbers of sales or the market reputations and reviews of those authors.
Or you can take a shortcut and just ask a Western author you trust who they use. You’ll find that most of us are willing to help out any author anytime we can, something not common among authors of other genres. Something about Western folks always being willing to help a neighbor in need of advice or a helping hand, or some such thing.
Now to back up a step to editing. If you can, always find and use a good editor, one who will be honest about your skills, your knowledge of history, geography and logistics, and your ability to write a good story. Again, as with promoters marketing your genre, find an editor who actually enjoys reading Westerns, but one that won’t get so lost in your stories that they forget what they’re supposed to be doing – editing!
Are there other “secrets” to being a successful writer? Sure, hundreds of them. Just ask any successful author. You see, we each have our own method and style, and no two of us will ever give you the same answers to achieving success using the same words, even though the answers themselves might end up being the same advice. One of the biggest “secrets” might be to write about what you love, not in the field that is the hottest selling genre on the market today. Above all, write, tell your stories, write some more, and then write even more. The more you do something, the better you become at it. And good luck! See you on the charts!
You can discover the Cherokee Parks Western catalogue by clicking here. Enjoy some of the greatest Western novels of today.