According to an article on their site, architect Sarah Susanka is the bestselling home and garden author, with her "Not So Big House" series selling over 60,000 copies in 2005. (That represents combined sales of her six books on the subject of scaling it down, one of which is about gardening.)
Now, we won’t even get into the fact that a new Janet Evanovich novel will sell more than 60,000 copies in a week, much less a year. And let’s not parse Ms. Susanka’s sales figures too closely, either, or we will be forced to conclude that, even if she is getting a high royalty rate of 15% of the cover price (unlikely in a book with so many photographs), and even if the cover price averages $25 (although paperbacks sell for less), she earned about $37,500 for each of her titles last year. Now, you can play around with those numbers all day long, and point out that she’s probably doing well as an architect, a speaker, and a consultant, but the bottom line is that as the #1 bestselling home and garden author, she’s not living the luxe Danielle Steele lifestyle.
(And I should add that it is generally believed that these figured undercount sales at independent bookstores, which account for roughly 10% of consumer spending on books, but we all know that’s the most intelligent 10%.)
We also learn that Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire is the #1 bestselling book on their Gardening chart right now, but for 2005 overall, it ranked sixth, selling 16,000 copies for the year (and bringing him around $20,000 in royalties). Another bestseller is the Sunset Western Landscaping Book, which has sold over 21,000 copies since its re-issue in January 2006.
Right now, the top three books on the Garden chart are Pollan’s book, followed by a book called 1001 All-Natural Secrets To a Pest-Free Property (published not by a regular publishing house but, it seems, by Allstar Marketing Group LLC, giving it a real "as seen on TV" feel) and, in third place, the Sunset Garden Book.
And here’s an interesting tidbit. It’s not worded very clearly, so we’ll reprint it here: "Random House, incidentally, had reason to celebrate 2005—the company publishes more Home and Garden books than any other; more than 490,000 of 566 different titles." If that means that they sold more than 490,000 copies of 566 titles, that works out to 866 copies sold of each title.
- Better Homes & Gardens is one of the top "brands" in garden books
- Regional Gardening is the bestselling Garden category, with strong sales for books on the South.
- Authors who keep shaking that envelope hoping a larger royalty check will fall out can take heart: "Top sellers become classics, and classics remain champions. You ascend to the top of Home and Garden, you’re probably going to stay there a while." Enjoy that twenty grand a year, you bestsellers.
So what does this mean? Are gardeners readers? Do readers garden? Is Gen X ruining everything with their iPods and text messaging? And–is there a place for more lively, opinionated, interesting garden writing–like Pollan–in this tide of how-to books?
Tune in soon for Part Two: The Garden Booksellers.