Author Dani Shapiro looks back at home publishing has changed in the last 20 years in an essay for the LA Times. She writes, “The publishing industry -- always the nerdy distant cousin of the rest of media -- has the same blockbuster-or-bust mentality of television networks and movie studios. There now exist only two possibilities: immediate and large-scale success, or none at all. ... things were different when I started. My first three books sold, in combination, fewer than 15,000 copies in hardcover. My editor at the time told me there were 4,000 serious readers in America, and if I reached them, I was doing a good job. As naïve as this may sound, it never occurred to me that my modest sales record might one day spell the end of my career.”
I got my first contract in 1997, but I’ve only been published in mysteries and thrillers. Even ten years ago, at least in the part of publishing I was in, selling 5K in hardcover would very likely not help you get a new contract.