Typical sales figures for naval history books

An author recently asked me some questions about the sales of his naval history book so I thought I would take the opportunity to summarize what I told him.

  • Most naval history books sell between 250 and 1000 copies.
  • Most books, including naval history books, sell at least half their lifetime sales in the first two years.  Sales generally follow a pattern like 100, 50, 10, 5, 1 …  Having steady sales is cause for pride that you have chosen a good topic and done a solid job.
  • Only a few sell more than 10,000, and breakouts like Jim Hornfischer’s LAST STAND OF THE TIN CAN SAILORS are very rare.
  • Battleships sell.
  • Battlecruisers sell.
  • Big battles sell.
  • Carriers sell.
  • Carrier aviation sells.
  • Cruisers don’t sell.
  • Destroyers, escort craft, and small combatants don’t sell.
  • Merchantmen don’t sell.
  • Submarines sell if they are spy subs, hunter-killers locked in a duel, rogue ICBM launchers, or tragically and mysteriously lost.
  • SEALS sell, sell, sell, sell, sell.

The naval history reading audience is graying, and there hasn’t been a real naval battle since the Falklands, so it makes sense that the market is dwindling except for SEALs.  The future prospects aren’t especially bright, ether, in my view. If there is a real no-holds-barred naval war in the near to mid-term, it will probably a) be unpleasant for the largely Western naval reading audience,  as it will probably involve a lot of hypersonic anti-ship missiles and b) be accompanied by a nuclear exchange of some sort (see item a).