The ubiquitous GalleyCat reports an interesting answer to an interesting question posed to editorial-assistant-turned-blogger "Moonrat," on her very interesting blog, "editorialass": http://editorialass.blogspot.com
What constitutes good sales for a literary novel?
And her answer?
"If you sold 7,000 or more copies, in hardcover, of your literary novel, you're a star," she elaborates. "If you've sold between 4,000 and 7,000 copies, in hardcover, of your literary novel, you did a damned good job. You're what they call a 'strong seller.' You're also in a good position to place your second novel well, with your current publisher or elsewhere.
"If you sold between 2,000 and 4,000 copies of your literary novel, you sold pretty strongly. You're still in a good position to have your publisher want to take on your second project, or to comfortably find a home elsewhere.
"If you sold below 1,500 copies, your publisher is probably disappointed, although they will never tell you that. Instead, they will tell you that debuts are hard, and literary fiction is nearly impossible. Both these things are true."
As she goes on to comment, these numbers are specific to literary fiction, but surprisingly adds that "commercial" fiction is going to have only slightly higher expectations behind it. A lot depends, of course, on the size of your advance . . . where the magic words "earning out" come into play. But it appears that the basic magic starts at selling seven thousand hardbacks.
Paperbacks, because of reduced profits plus smaller royalties, meaning it takes longer to earn out the advance, are a different story.