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Thread: The SFF All-Time Sales List
September 4th, 2013, 03:45 PM #16
The bottom levels of the list should simply not be there and authors who should be on the list are not, apparently simply because you couldn't get sales figures for them.
Or are you saying that such a list shouldn't be attempted? Because the reaction to the list has been overwhelming positive across more than a dozen different sites and forums. Even taking the huge number of caveats on board, people are actually grateful to get a list like this - correct in every precise detail or fairly vague - because things like it simply do not exist from official sources.
James Patterson outsells the bottom two thirds of your list
Barker and Koontz hold records.
Leaving off Arthur C. Clarke doesn't make much sense.
And as schoolteachers repeatedly explain, while Wikipedia can be useful as a general reference tool, when it comes to factual figures, it is not a reliable source in the least to be cited.
They are more likely to list copies shipped or even copies in print.
This is a random list of random authors with random guesses about their sales figures, as you yourself explain in the OP.
which might make more sense because Anne Rice is up there but your guestimate is clearly low.
I'm glad if Abercrombie is doing well, but there is no way that he has as yet outsold David Gemmell.
Abercrombie was published in the States from the off, benefitted immensely from his big online push and has also benefitted from being bigged up by numerous big American fantasy authors (including GRRM and I believe Rothfuss and Sanderson). He has hit both the UK and US bestseller lists (Gemmell would sometimes hit the Top Ten of the UK Times bestseller list, where in a slow week you only need 500 or so hardcover sales to get on). He's benefitted from the ebook revolution. Him outselling Gemmell is quite credible.
This list is not a list of the all time top SFF sellers. It's not even a list of the current top sellers. Although I give it points for including a lot of the YA authors.
September 4th, 2013, 05:40 PM #17
I saw an interview with Jim Butcher from 2011 in which it stated he'd sold 6.5 million books. Is that a legitimate citation?
September 5th, 2013, 01:12 AM #18
Wert, you are calling this the SFF All-Time Sales List while fully admitting that it is not a SFF All-Time Sales List and that it is very incomplete. If you wanted to call it a list of some of the leading authors in SFF, then yeah, the list is a list and best guesses on those whom you've been able to find some possibly partially solid sales info on. But the title of the list is hyperbole.
If I can't get figures for them, where should I put them then? Best guesses? Make them up?
Or are you saying that such a list shouldn't be attempted?
Even taking the huge number of caveats on board, people are actually grateful to get a list like this - correct in every precise detail or fairly vague - because things like it simply do not exist from official sources.
His SFF work is a tiny fraction of his overall sales (it's restricted to one YA series, right?) and they're not written by him anyway, so no, they're not going on there.
Does Clive Barker hold records? If so, I'd like to see them because he's one of the authors I spent some time looking up figures for and they just weren't easily accessible. Koontz is (200m, allegedly) but separating out his fantasy and non-supernatural horror seems to be impossible.
It does when I have no figures for him.
But that is only a problem for low-level authors, where the publisher might have printed 15,000 copies and the author sold 300, meaning it's bombed but still registering as selling 15,000. That's why I don't go below 100,000.
At the level of millions, you're looking at the in-print copies accounting for tiny amounts of the total figures, and millions of copies are printed generally because millions of copies have already been sold. So the print run/sale correlation is there.
I said it's a list with figures where they are available. The caveats speak for themselves: it's not an exhaustive, pinpoint-accurate list (and it's still a work in progress), but such a list is impossible unless someone goes around each publisher inspecting their figures going back a century. That is never going to happen. This - or something like it - is the only approach that's ever going to work.
Apparently it's too high. I've found quite a few other sources saying she's sold 'only' 80 million books.
There very clearly is. Gemmell's sales of a million books was mentioned very, very loudly when he died in 2006. If he'd sold more his publishers would have said that. He may have sold more by now, but probably not a lot more. During his lifetime it was often reported that Gemmell sold okay-to-good, but not outrageously so, and he survived from book deal to book deal. He was never able to stop writing or slow down his writing as he wrote to live. The reason for this is extremely simple: whilst a household name in British SFF circles, he never broke the States. And without breaking the States, it's very hard for an English-language author to achieve his full sales potential. Pratchett is the only author I know who became massive English-language phenomenon without breaking America, and he eventually did get across there much later on in his career.
No. But it's the best we are likely to get.
Originally Posted by RobB
Adam agrees that his list isn't accurate and that he can't make it accurate and include authors who should be there. You agree the list isn't accurate. Everyone agrees the list isn't accurate. There are disclaimers -- if folk pay attention to them -- that the list is not accurate. So why is it a problem if I say that the list is inaccurate as an All-Time list when everyone agrees that's the case? I am also pointing out that some authors for whom he can possibly get the same sort of estimates he's using for those already on the list -- Koontz 200 million, Patterson somewhere between 250-280 million -- have been selected out for reasons that are not consistent with other authors included in the list -- Sebold, Atwood, etc. And that the contemporary fantasy side of the list seems a bit short (Harrison, Butcher, etc.,) though that may simply be that Adam can't get the info.
September 5th, 2013, 02:22 AM #19
How can Adam put Clarke in if there's no figures for Clarke? That would just be an assumption, and you'd drag him over the coals for that.
And Adam isn't saying X author is the Y best selling author, what he's saying is that with the data he has, he's ranking the data he has in order by minimum confirmed sales figures. So yes, some authors will be lower than they are. He can't be accurate because no accurate figures exist at that size - audio deals, translation deals, giveaway copies, box sets, etc., etc., and when you're talking a career as long as Barker, King, etc., that's just an enormous amount of data. If you asked the author or their agent, chances are they wouldn't know, either.
September 5th, 2013, 03:39 AM #20
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I'm very much in support of Kat G in this.
It would be great if we could have a reasonably accurate list to look at, but we don't and it sounds like we can't, at least for now. This attempt could be 5% correct, or 17% or who knows? But it seems to be nothing close to 100%.
September 5th, 2013, 05:40 AM #21
The list is what it is and I've been fully transparent about the process used to make it. It remains incomplete, vastly so in the lower reaches, and is a work in progress.
Butcher, Harrison and particularly Armstrong have been on the top rungs of the lists for dozens of books over the past decade, which means quite large numbers, especially with e-book sales too. So if you are going to have an All-Time Sales List, they would have to be on it for it to be an All-Time Sales List. Ditto Clarke.
Doing a different kind of list could provide the same information as best estimates, rather than implying these figures are facts and that Scott Lynch has outsold authors like C.J. Cherryh, Jim Butcher and Eddings to be in the top 100 SFF sellers of all time.
I'm saying that the form of the list you've used basically offers misinformation by basically guessing about the sales figures of only one group of authors and declaring those to be sales record holders in the field. With good intentions, but misinformation.
The full list, incidentally, which I am prevented from linking because it would allegedly trigger a mass-exodus of people from SFFWorld to comment on my blog (funny how this hasn't happened at all on each of the other dozen or so sites and forums I've linked it on), has explanations for each entry and notes where the reliability of those figures is questionable.
If you can't get the data, ranking them numerically is misleading.
Barker is not as prolific as the other two and so would be lower down, but he's definitely outsold numerous people currently on your list. And he's still publishing. Koontz published fantasy horror but also science fiction horror and science fiction thrillers. The majority of his work is in SFF.
If you have other authors who did non-SFF such as Asimov, Orwell, Lewis, King, Rice, Galbadon, Sebold, Atwood, etc. and don't have their sales totals separated out, why is it required for Koontz or Crichton for that matter, since Crichton wrote again mostly SFF and is certainly up there in the top twenty fiction sellers? From 1986-1996, American bestseller lists were dominated by the big six: Tom Clancy, Danielle Steele, Stephen King, John Grisham, Dean Koontz, and Michael Crichton. They wrote 63 of the 100 top bestsellers of that decade. And that again was when the wholesale market sold millions of the top sellers in mass market paperbacks. You had to sell that high often to get on the top of the list, and you usually had to sell over 200,000 to get on the top of the hardcover list. So if Koontz, Crichton and Clancy, who all worked mostly in SFF, are major record holders along with Stephen King, how do you have an All-Time list without them?
Clancy writes contemporary military fiction. A lot of it is technically set in the future, but usually only as a way of enabling him to postulate various large wars without impugning on the present day (and many of his older novels have long been overtaken by real time). Usually there is little or no real SF meat to them.
Atwood does have her figures separated out; the 3 million figure is for The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood only, but combined.
So if you have no sales figures for him, Clarke is no longer one of the all-time bestselling SFF authors?
Please do not put words in my mouth, it is a dishonest debating technique.
If you want to have a list of All Time bestsellers, you shouldn't be going below 1 million or at least 500,000. If you give an author who only sold 150,000 copies a slot, while ignoring authors who have sold higher because you can't get data on them, then again, it isn't a list of the All-Time bestsellers. Because of the problems you have to make your list, you can't actually make that particular list. You can make a list of top sellers that is incomplete, not an all-time list.
That doesn't mean you can't compile data on sales. But it isn't hard data, it's limited data, and so you might want to reterm the list so that it is less likely to be misquoted. Or at least do so next time you update it.
Gemmell wasn't in the tippy-top ranks in the U.S. but he was a lead title bestseller in the U.S. some twenty years ago. The figure for Britain for Gemmell is 1.5 million. I have no idea if that's anywhere near accurate or not. But Gemmell did sell widely in other countries, including the U.S., which would then be added on to 1.5 million. And he produced an awful lot of books and did so in part back when there was a big wholesale market. He was a working author like Glen Cook, but by sheer mass, he sold a lot of copies. (And number of copies are what you are measuring, not the amount of money from those copies. Prices now are higher, so monetarily a more modern author can get more money for fewer copies sold.) Abercrombie didn't break the major lists in the U.S. until Red Country and only in the lower ranks. He's done really well and will continue to do well, but he also is much better known in Britain, where the market is smaller as you note, and his number seems pretty inflated. (On the other hand, if he comes in and says Germany went crazy for him and pushed his sales numbers up, yay!)
The figure given for Gemmell when he died was 1 million, given by his publishers and in obituaries. It's not impossible it was for the UK alone (Jordan's sales figures given on his death were for the USA alone). Could he have sold more than that and more detailed information has come to light (source for the 1.5 million figure, please?) since? Sure. Could he have sold an extra 500,000 copies posthumously? Maybe. The Gemmell Award has actually attracted a fair bit of attention and I can see modern fantasy fans going, "Who is this Gemmell guy anyway?" and reading up on him. Patrick Rothfuss certainly did. Maybe he's benefitted enormously from the ebook revolution as well. Gemmell selling more than 1 million is possible and certainly I hope is the case. Abercrombie selling 3 million seems to be pretty solid (he's sold 1 million copies of The First Law, I believe, in the Commonwealth editions alone as they made a big thing about it two or three years back), though.
So why is it a problem if I say that the list is inaccurate as an All-Time list when everyone agrees that's the case?
I'm sorry that I trust people to read the article and the bit which lists the caveats. Maybe I am giving them far too much credit for intelligence, but I don't think so.
Last edited by Werthead; September 5th, 2013 at 05:42 AM.
September 5th, 2013, 08:54 AM #22
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I also love lists and appreciate a good faith effort to compile information which is (apparently) notoriously difficult to compile.
September 5th, 2013, 10:49 AM #23
I like lists. Most everyone does, and everyone likes numbers and farcical competition. It's why fantasy sports of any kind is so popular. I like Wert's attempt here, and clearly it is inaccurate, but so what? It's fun, at least for me, especially to figure out how to make it more accurate. And I get it's not really the all-time sales list, but that's also part of the fun. I see the title as being more tongue-in-cheek.
September 5th, 2013, 10:50 AM #24
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I also agree that the list is quite useful and Adam did a great job in explaining the methodology and being as clear as possible about what's in and not and stuff like "people will use it for this or that nefarious purpose" is frankly quite ridiculous, the only caveat I would have is the title where I personally would have put a (Known) in brackets to emphasize this aspect and the fact that missing famous names are precisely due to that reason - I am curious for example where Wells, Verne or Brussolo (who is a huge personal favorite and wrote so far 100+ books mostly sff or at least with supernatural elements if not pure genre, but sadly is not translated into English) stand...
September 5th, 2013, 01:04 PM #25
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His fiction and nonfiction have sold more than one hundred million copies in print worldwide.
He is the author of more than sixty books with more than 50 million copies in print, and the winner of all the field's highest honors.
September 5th, 2013, 10:16 PM #26Originally Posted by Werthead
As far as I'm concerned, the list is fine as a list of some major authors, but the title is dodgy and is misleading and yes, people will forward that list only and not read your caveats and they will take it as factual. (See every new member here who doesn't read the Guidelines they agreed to follow despite us posting them everywhere. They're perfectly intelligent people; they just don't read the fine print.) Yes, the "best" lists often do involve hyperbole in their titles; is that a good reason to emulate them? Would it be so horrible to call the list Top Sellers in SFF (accurate) instead of SFF All-Times Sales List (inaccurate)? It's just something for you to consider as it's an on-going project. As for nit-picking, every "best" list put out on movies, t.v., music, etc. gets nitpicked by people pointing out that films, actors, authors, etc. are not on the list when they should be or on the list when they shouldn't be versus someone else. It's how these lists work. So what you're getting here is normal.
Originally Posted by suicul
Originally Posted by Loerwyn
Originally Posted by Werthead
I'd be curious how you got the separated sales figures for Atwood. Many of these authors write non-SFF and SFF and as you've said, you don't always know if the sales figures are world or not and all their stuff or not. If publishers are giving you some info, that's probably going to help. They would probably still give you help if it was called the Top Sellers list instead of the All-Time list.
(source for the 1.5 million figure, please?)
The number comes directly from Abercrombie on his website. I'm actually presuming it's worldwide, altogether, and not from Gollancz alone.
If you can find such figures, please do so.
*Oh, and Deborah Harkness -- that's another one.
Last edited by KatG; September 5th, 2013 at 10:19 PM.
September 6th, 2013, 10:16 AM #27
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September 6th, 2013, 04:56 PM #28
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September 6th, 2013, 05:00 PM #29
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September 7th, 2013, 05:51 PM #30
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Thanks for sharing the list Wert. I went into the list as a guestimation and nothing else. Found it interesting and at no point did I read it as if it were written in stone. Not sure why all the arguing.