All-Time SF&F Bestseller List

Discussion in 'General Book Discussion' started by Werthead, Oct 25, 2008.

  1.  
    Werthead

    Werthead Lemming of Discord

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    A question that comes up a fair bit on literature forums is: "How many books has Author X sold?". Compared to TV, where audience figures are easily available, and movies, where box office figures are even more easily retrieved, book sales figures are virtually impossible to calculate for an interested member of the public. The advent of the BookScan system in the USA has made this slightly easier, but the system is relatively new (introduced in 2001), it doesn't pick up every sale (according to Nielsen it tracks about 70% of sales) and only works in the USA (whilst more than half of the sales of titles take place outside that market). The New York Times and the UK Times offer their own figures, but refuse to disclose how those figures are reached. Publishers generally don't publish figures at all unless the book gets picked up for a movie option, or if the sales reach phenomenal levels. And of course often when figures are given they are for 'books in print' (i.e., the total number of copies of a book that exist, including those sitting unsold on bookshelves) rather than for books actually put through the till. Add to this the recent upswing in pirating books online, and the number of books where illegal or untracked editions have been printed in nations with a relaxed attitude to copyright, and you can see the difficulties faced in assembling any kind of all-time bestseller list.

    For that reason, the following list should be taken with a grain of salt the size of Lake Michigan (the source for most of the figures is Wikipedia, unless otherwise noted):

    1) J.K Rowling (350 million)
    The Harry Potter series has been a phenomenon the likes of which publishing has never seen. In less than a decade, Rowling went from an impoverished single mother writing in an Edinburgh cafe to one of the richest women in the world, overtaking dozens of writers who had been working for decades in the process.

    2) Stephen King (350 million)
    In The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1996), it was stated that Stephen King's total worldwide sales in all languages are probably incalculable, and the figure given above is on the conservative side of things. I've seen some figures suggesting he has sold twice this amount, but the 350m figure seems to crop up most often. Some may argue that Horror isn't necessarily part of the SF&F genre either and King shouldn't be counted, but most of his horror features supernatural forces, which firmly places it as a subset of Fantasy. Also, no-one would really argue that Eyes of the Dragon and the Dark Tower series aren't fantasy, and both of these works are set in the same multiverse as most (or, as some fans argue, all) of his other books, which puts him firmly in the Fantasy genre.

    3) JRR Tolkien (c. 300 million)
    Tolkien's sales really are incalculable, given how widely his books have been copied, published without permission and distributed worldwide in the last fifty years. However, it is pretty clear that by itself The Lord of the Rings is the biggest-selling single genre novel of all time, and possibly the biggest-selling single novel full stop of all time. 50 million copies of the novel have been sold this century alone. When you factor in the massive sales of The Hobbit, and the smaller but still significant sales of The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The Children of Hurin, plus his non-Middle-earth work, Tolkien is clearly a major force in SF&F publishing, arguably all the more notable as his output was small compared to some others on this list.

    4) CS Lewis (120 million)
    It is perhaps fitting that Tolkien's one-time best friend and sometimes collaborator should be next on the list. The 120 million sales is allegedly for his Chronicles of Narnia series by itself, and doesn't include his numerous non-fiction books or his other novels, such as his Space Trilogy.

    5) Terry Pratchett (55 million)
    Up until Rowling overtook him around the turn of the century Pratchett was a bona-fide phenomenon, publishing at least two novels a year for almost twenty years and being responsible for the sales of over 1% of all books sold in the UK and his books hitting the top of the Times bestseller lists like clockwork. Major success in the USA had eluded him until The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents won the Carnegie Prize in 2001. Following on from that, his US profile steadily rose until his books began hitting the NYT bestseller list as well. Aside from the occasional bit of mickey-taking, Pratchett was good-natured about losing out on his position as Fantasy's biggest-selling living author (with the King debate still going on) to Rowling, although his ire was provoked when some Potter fans complained that Equal Rites (1987) ripped off Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997), demonstrating a flexible interpretation of causality. Whilst Pratchett has now been firmly overtaken by Rowling, he bore it with equanimity and proudly maintains his position as the UK's most shoplifted author.

    6) Robert Jordan (44 million)
    Given how it dominates the discussion on some forums, this would seem to be a fairly lowly position for the biggest-selling of the modern epic fantasists. However, by any standards this is a seriously impressive number of books sold, especially given that the sales are split between a relatively small number of books (I suspect his Conan and Fallon novels' sales are all but negligible compared to those of The Wheel of Time sequence).

    7) Terry Goodkind (25 million)
    Pinning down concrete figures for Goodkind is harder than most due to some truly batty figures being circulated by his fanbase (at one time claiming he was Tor's biggest-selling author but failing to account for why only half as many copies of his latest book had been printed than Robert Jordan's). The worldwide figure of 25 million seems to be well-supported, however.

    8) Terry Brooks (21 million)
    Recently, with the announcement that movie versions of The Elfstones of Shannara and The Sword of Shannara are in development, it was suggested by some papers that Brooks was the 'second-biggest-selling living fantasy author', which would appear to be hyperbolic. An interview with JIVE Magazine reveals them to be rather more modest, although still extremely impressive. His books have sold very well for more than thirty-one years and Brooks, along with Donaldson, arguably kick-started the entire modern epic fantasy subgenre and has been one of its most reliable and visible writers ever since.

    9) Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman (c. 20 million)
    This one was a bit of a guesstimate, coming out of discussions over these two authors' success on a message board several years ago. The figure is certainly highly plausible, with TSR claiming that more than 4 million copies of their Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends trilogies by themselves had been shipped in less than a decade, and this doesn't account for their gaming products, other Dragonlance books and numerous non-Dragonlance novels, many of which have been bestsellers as well.

    10) Frank Herbert (18 million)
    If there's one thing this list has proven, if you want to be a massive-selling author you're far better writing Fantasy than Science Fiction, unless your SF novel features a ton of Fantasy elements. Frank Herbert's Dune is SF's biggest-selling single novel, with more than 12 million copies by itself sold. I'd also make a fair guess that the other 6 million sales are comprised almost entirely of his other five Dune novels.

    11) Eoin Colfer (18 million)
    The author of the Artemis Fowl series, which has proven a massive hit amongst YA circles. Colfer was recently picked to write the sixth Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy novel, following on from the works of...

    12) Douglas Adams (16 million)
    ...whose exceptionally long periods of writer's block and multiple years spent writing very slim novels, not to mention a poor film adaption of his signature novel, haven't affected his immense popularity.

    13) Kevin J. Anderson (16 million)
    Whilst his Dune novels co-authored with Brian Herbert may have been critically mauled, that hasn't stopped them selling like hot cakes. When combined with his popular Star Wars and X-Files novels, not to mention original works like the Saga of Seven Suns series, Anderson clearly doesn't have anything to worry about.

    14) Raymond E. Feist (15 million)
    The author of the extremely long-running Riftwar Cycle of novels, which when complete will comprise approximately thirty books. Mixed reviews for his books published over the last decade or so do not seem to have influenced his legions of loyal fans.

    15) Christopher Paolini (12 million)
    His Eragon Trilogy (now in four parts) may have been ripped into by the critics with a vengeance, but his popularity is clear. In fact, his sales are all the more impressive considering they are largely based on just two books, with his third only released in the last few weeks.

    16) Stephen Donaldson (10 million)
    Possibly a surprisingly low showing for Donaldson. His Lord Foul's Bane, published in 1977, kick-started the modern epic fantasy explosion alongside Brooks' Sword of Shannara. However, unlike Brooks who has continued to work in the Shannara universe ever since, Donaldson spent a whole decade trying to stay away from his signature character with works such as Mordant's Need and the superlative Gap series before recently returning to the series, and the bestseller lists, with The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

    17) Laurell K. Hamilton (6 million)
    Sex sells, obviously, especially when combined with werewolves and vampires.

    18) George RR Martin (c. 3-4 million)
    Again, another guesstimate based on discussions from various forums and the recent revelation that the Song of Ice and Fire series has sold 2.2 million copies (at least in the USA). GRRM is one of the highest-profile authors in the genre and A Dance with Dragons must be one of the most-discussed unreleased books in genre history. Much to the discontent of those who'd prefer he spent his time on Song of Ice and Fire and nothing else, his recent Wild Cards books have been strong sellers for Tor, and his Dreamsongs retrospective was a significant success as well. I suspect this figure is leaning to the conservative side of things, especially given how big Wild Cards was back in the 1980s.

    19) Neil Gaiman (2 million)
    If GRRM's figure is conservative, this is even moreso, and based solely on the figures I could find for sales of the Sandman graphic novels. Add in his other, highly successful novels and his real sales and position should be much higher.

    20) Peter F. Hamilton (2 million)
    The modern lord of space opera has shifted an impressive number of his brick-thick novels and with his US profile now growing rapidly, I suspect he's going to get even bigger in the years to come.

    21) John Ringo (2 million)
    The mildly controversial US author ("Oh John Ringo No,") of military science fiction is clearly enjoying the fruits of his success. People may be wondering where his sometimes-collaborator David Weber is, so I direct them to the 'Unplaced' list below'.

    22) Robin Hobb (1 million)
    A surprisingly low placing for one of fantasy's highest-profile and most prolific authors? Possibly. This was the figure given by HarperCollins Voyager in 2003 on the completion of her Tawny Man trilogy and applies solely to the nine books published under the Robin Hobb pseudonym in the UK up to that point. They do not include her earlier Megan Lindholm books, nor her later books, nor most importantly her US sales, all of which would likely make her position much higher.

    23) Steven Erikson (c. 500,000)
    This may be even more of a surprise. The original source for the figure was Bantam UK, who announced shifting 250,000 copies of the Malazan Book of the Fallen in the UK in 2006, upon the publication of The Bonehunters. Given another two books have come out since then, and taking into account his Canadian and American sales, a doubling of that figure seems reasonable, although I suspect the true figure would be slightly less than this.

    Unplaced
    There's obviously a huge number of authors I couldn't find reliable figures for, many of whom would be fairly highly-placed on the list. I'll see if I can't track these down in the future and keep the list updated:

    Isaac Asimov
    R. Scott Bakker
    Iain M. Banks
    Clive Barker
    Frank L. Baum
    Jim Butcher
    Orson Scott Card
    Arthur C. Clarke
    David Eddings
    Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)
    Robert Heinlein
    JV Jones
    Guy Gavriel Kay
    Richard Morgan
    Philip Pullman
    Alastair Reynolds
    RA Salvatore
    Darren Shan
    Neal Stephenson
    David Weber
  2.  
    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    Couldnt you find a number for David Gemmell ? I have seen 2-3 millions books sold number and it sounds correct since all his 30 paperbacks was bestsellers.

    I wonder if you can find a number of his sales that is secure. If he sold in few millions its very impressive since this list show its only a certain type of fantasy sells alot and SF can even forget about it ;)


    I wonder about Anne Rice and her kind. Those "paronormal chicklit" stuff must sell like hotcakes. They even rule the vamp version on tv,movies these days.

    I cringe when i see how big part of fantasy shelfspace they take in my bookshop.
  3.  
    Werthead

    Werthead Lemming of Discord

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    Anne Rice has sold over 100 million books and, at the other end of the list, David Gemmell has sold 1 million.
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    gully_foyle

    gully_foyle Here kitty kitty kitty!

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    "paranormal chicklit", now there's a label.

    Obviously being called Terry is a sure fire path to publishing success.
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    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    Don't they call those "fang bangers" these days?
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    Its Gemmell's number accurate ?

    It doesnt matter to if its 1 million or more i would like to know the accurate number.

    If it was wiki type number than its not very accurate.

    Not surprised by Rice number, that subgenre is huge. I dont know her books is really about but when you read synopsis for that type of books is about no wonder is sells so many millions. Fantasy,romance genre are the best sellers of them all combining them is extra golden apparently.
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    ratsy

    ratsy Writing

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    I am really surprised that Robin Hobb's number is so low. I am a huge fan of her's and find her writing 10X as good as Goodkind. (I can't talk though as I have all of Goodkinds books as well) and I am sure with the release of "the legend of the seeker" that he will sell a crap load more. I see they have re-released Wizards First Rule with pictures from the show on the cover...saying "the inspiration of the new hit show Legend of the seeker" or something along those lines...

    And Erikson and GRRM so low is surprising. I would think that with as many books as Erikson has out there that the number would be much higher. I am sure that a Dance with Dragons will blow the roof off in sales when it comes out...finally. King selling 350 million+??? Those numbers are astronomical! I wonder how those numbers compare to standard fiction writers like Grisham or Chrichton?
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    KESpires

    KESpires wordwatchers.boards.net

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    Does anyone else think it is absolutely shameful that Kevin J Anderson is on that list?

    I may regret saying this on a public forum one day... but he is awful. Just dreadful.

    I'd be interested to know Card's numbers.
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    Boaz

    Boaz Thaphireth!

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    Wert, Again you've got your fingers on some information that amazes me. Thanks.
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    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

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    Hmm - my impression is that some of those figures look a bit dicy, to put it mildly...
    I would agree that Gemmell and Erikson seem low - but the one I flat-out refuse to believe is Jordan - he's really sold more than twice as many books as Terry Brooks?

    Good find, Wert - hopefully some of those "missing" authors will turn up somewhere...I've seen 20 million quoted for Asimov's Foundation series, but with no source attribution.
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    Werthead

    Werthead Lemming of Discord

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    Oh, easily. Jordan has four NYT #1 bestsellers plus I think another five which got on the list. Brooks reliably pops in around the lower edge of the list but hasn't had a book topping the list since his first one back in 1977, I believe.
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    woodsman

    woodsman Double-stuff Oreos!

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    Urm, he may not be a favourite here but most people I speak to who read fantasy have read/own WoT. It's bigger than we like to admit(perhaps).

    Asimov must be well up there, I mean if he only sold one copy of each book he'd still have sold a fair few?? Clarke always seems pretty popular as well. Great list though, thanks!
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    Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

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    Having been born in Bedford, I'd like to put a very quiet word in for John Bunyan getting at least some sort of mention here. (I'm assuming that no-one, believer or otherwise, is going to claim that Pilgrim's Progress is non-fiction, and it certainly has fantasy elements, to say the least.)



    By the way, Wiki used to list Pilgrim's Progress in the top ten books sold (at 6th, I think), but they've decided that, as they can't get any reliable sales figures (no-one can interface with C16 C17 C18 and C19 POS terminals these days), they can't keep it in there.


    :)
  14.  
    woodsman

    woodsman Double-stuff Oreos!

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    I thought it was second for english language books after The King James version of the Bible.

    One of my favourite books and higly recommended (whatever you believe)! Nice one Ursa.
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    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    I think Philip K Dick needs to be added to that list?
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    Parson

    Parson This world is not my home

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    Ursa,

    I would never have thought about John Bunyan and Pilgrim's Progress as a Fantasy work. But, as you say, no one, believer or not would make a case for it as non-fiction. On the other hand does every work of fiction with fantastic settings qualify as Fantasy? Under that rubric every SF book would also be "Fantasy."

    I would call it a kind of allegory. Does that make it Fantasy? It might also be disallowed on the fact that those computers of C16, C17 etc. would probably show that a lot of people bought the book as a kind of commentary on the Christian life. [The thought of those "computers" put a smile on my face -- PASOMF):)

    I am willing to be convinced on this. Do you have a more reasoned argument?
  17.  
    Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

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    I mentioned my most telling argument: that Bunyan and I were born in the same town. :)

    As to the definition of fantasy, and its relationship to allegory (I'm sure there are many examples where the two are combined), I'll leave that to those more versed in both.



    By the way, I'm part way through Dan Simmons's Hyperion, and have just read (this lunchtime) the following:

    As Dirk Gently might point out, everything is interconnected (a view perhaps reinforced because I was listening to a radio adaptation of Adams' The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul only last night). Is that spooky enough for Hallow'en, I wonder?
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    Lith

    Lith Oops

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    SOOOOOOOooooo many books fall into that category these days (or any days, I guess...) As for whether or not it should be included... you'd have to let in at least half the western canon if you did. The modern fantasy genre stretches generally back to Tolkien, and arguably no further than Morris. So while technically it fits, few fantasy/sf readers read anything so old unless forced to in school.

    I'm sure any number of the Unplaced writers surpass Paolini. ;)

    Judging by the amount of shelfspace Jordan has had in bookstores over the years, and the sheer number of them I see in the thrift stores, I'd wager Jordan's ahead of Brooks, though Brooks isn't far behind.
  19.  
    Werthead

    Werthead Lemming of Discord

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    Further investigation revealed that Jordan has sold twice as many books as Brooks (44 million to 21 million), although Brooks, by any standards, is still very successful.
  20.  
    Parson

    Parson This world is not my home

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    I doubt that Pilgrim's Progress often remained unread. In an age of precious little entertainment, and high concern over all things religious, and enforced Sabbath idleness. I would guess that someone from most every family, maybe several someones, would read the one and only "other" book in their library.

    As to sharing the same birth town as John Bunyan, makes me realize how much of "johnny, come lately" we colonists really are. Anything older that 200 years in my part of the world, and you are dealing with stone age civilization.

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