This will be a pretty self-indulgent post on the nature of book sales, specifically looking at my last book, Systema: The Russian Martial System, but it might be marginally useful for any aspiring writers who are curious about book sales.
Reading time : 5 minutes
I Beat these guys!
Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method
|Hagakure — The Samurai Code||Nakayama’s Best Karate Series|
That’s right! My own little contribution to the martial arts world, despite having been unleashed on amazon.com only a little more than a month (it went live on amazon.com on the 22nd of March) is now n.36 on the best sellers of Amazon in the category of Martial arts. Considering I have not really done any kind of huge promotion for it, not sent out any leaflets, done a press release, or anything else much other than tell the guys I train with a couple of times I am very happy with the results, because they can only mean one thing: Word of Mouth. Which means people are enjoying and finding the contents useful, which is more important to me than pretty much anything else.
In truth, the martial arts books scene is probably a tiny subset, yet I am pleased with my modest sales making an impact of some kind on the community. Out of indulgent curiosity and raw vanity I thought I would check to see which books I scored better than and
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I was again surprised. The images of the books I have above are those of classic works, probably known to large sectors of the world population of martial artists, yet I rank higher than them.
How is this possible? The easy answer might be that all the authors of those books are dead, but it’s not so simple. The number one selling book in martial arts is Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do. He was probably the most famous martial artist the world has ever known, and this book was his master text for his style, so it kind of makes sense. Yet his Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method (both Vol 1 and 2) score lower than n. 36.
The results are even more surprising when you consider how broad the category of “martial arts” really is on amazon.com. If you actually look at how many of the books from 1 to 40 are actually manuals on a specific martial art systems or in any case are trying to teach you a martial art, less than 10 qualify (about 8 with a couple of possibly thrown in there, such as for example a translation of the methods of the ninjas from an ancient scroll. Would that qualify as a book you could learn something practical from today? Let’s be generous and say yes, I don’t know because I haven’t read it).
About 15 of those 40 books will be on philosophy and another 5 or so on fitness training. The remaining 10 are an assortment of biography, anatomy, diet and repeats (a few books appear twice on the list due to being released in different formats, for example Hagakure on kindle ranks much higher due to it being a lot cheaper than the print version and so presumably a better seller).
Taking this into account you also need to remember the top 100 list in such a relatively minor category such as martial arts fluctuates pretty quickly and drastically. In the hour or so I browsed the list, I went from n. 41 to 36 to 44 and by now it might be something else, but to me even just being in the top 50 was pretty much an unexpected shock. Especially in such a short time and considering the fact Systema is still relatively unknown. In Brazil for example when I went to practice with the Brazilian Ju-jitsu guys, they were surprised at what I could do considering I had none of their training, but none of them had ever heard of Systema, and these are guys that make martial arts pretty central in their lives.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that word of mouth is still the best way for things to propagate as well as generally a good indicator if something is actually turning out to be useful for people or not.
My next book will be a SF novel, and hopefully out soon, so we will see what the reaction to that one is in due course. In the meantime, if you are a writer of some kind, I hope these small insights into a tiny niche market might be useful to you in some way. I have learnt in training that sharing experiences often helps everyone to improve their own work, so I look forward to reading up on the experiences of writers of speculative (science) fiction next.
And I’m still hoping in time I will get right up near Bruce at the top. The concepts embodied in Systema are after all truly revolutionary from a martial arts perspective, so even if my ability is nowhere near that of top martial artists like him, I am hopeful that the science and methodology discussed in my book will be as revolutionary in training gyms around the world as seeing Bruce in his iconic films was some 40 years ago.