I’ve Sold 150 Million Copies of My Books

Saharabk Okay, maybe I haven’t. But according to Clive Cussler, the number doesn’t matter anyway.

Cussler is on the witness stand here in L.A. in a clash of lawsuits over the failure of the movie SAHARA, based on one of his Dirk Pitt novels. He claims the movie-makers breached a contract that gave him total control over the script.  Based on accounts I’ve read of the producer’s testimony, it seems to me that he’s right.

The producers claim he fraudulently inflated the number of books he sold to get more money out of them for the movie rights. Based on Cussler’s testimony, reported today in the L.A. Times, it seems to me that they are probably right, too.

On Friday, Cussler offered myriad explanations for his accounting of the "Sahara" numbers. Asked if he pulled the numbers out of thin air, Cussler said, "Pretty much." He added: "I honestly thought I probably did sell 100 million books. That doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to me."

[…]Cussler previously testified in a deposition that his agent admonished him in the late 1990s never to say how many books he sold because the amount was not known. Instead, Cussler said, he was advised to use the phrase "books in print."

Asked why he continued to use the 100 million estimate anyway, Cussler testified on Friday, "I slipped up…. I forgot."

[…]In June 1999, Cussler described his frustration with the entertainment industry in a handwritten letter. "Over a hundred million books sold worldwide now, and still Hollywood doesn’t get it," he wrote.

In August 2000, Cussler’s website stated that he had sold more than 100 million books. The number was updated to 125 million in April 2003. That same month, Cussler said on a "Sahara" promotional video, "They tell me now they’ve sold over 130 million."

The remark "meant nothing," Cussler testified Friday.

The actual sales of his books from 1973-2000, according to an audit by a forensic accountant, is about 42 million copes. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty impressive number of books. You’d think Cussler would have been happy trumping that figure…without having to inflate it to 130 million. Then again, according to Cussler, it means nothing. If that’s so, why does he keep jacking up the number?

The reporting on the trial over the last few weeks has been fascinating and informative reading. We’re learning just how much people unapologetically and blatantly lie to each other in the movie business (as if we didn’t know already). We were also treated to a line-by-line dissection of the movie’s budget, right down to how much was spent on bribes.

As far as I’m concerned, both parties are at fault here. The only winners are the public, who are being treated to a trial that’s a lot more entertaining than SAHARA was.

3 thoughts on “I’ve Sold 150 Million Copies of My Books”

  1. Sales figures are a quicksand for the uninformed. “Books in print” means the number of books printed, no matter that they never left a warehouse and were eventually pulped. That figure has little to do with an author’s success. Gross sales are slightly better because at least the books got out of the warehouse, but they don’t represent an author’s actual sales. Net sales are a fairly honest account of an author’s success because the returns have been deducted. But even here, an author’s lifetime net sales may not be impressive if they are spread over many books. A net sale of one million books, spread over twenty-five novels, means each book sold 40,000, which is pretty good but much less impressive-sounding than saying the author sold a million books. Any time you see an author or publisher say the author has so-many “books in print,” consider it baloney.

  2. My favorite part of the “budget” story was the account of how the production crew bribed officials to temporarily halt a public works project that would have helped the populace. What’s a little human suffering when it’s in the name of great art?


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