So. . . How’s Your Book Doing?

- by E. C. Ambrose

Elisha Barber, first my Dark Apostle series, came out from DAW books on July 2, and now, all of my friends want to know how it’s doing.  That’s funny. . . so do I!

Cover image by Cliff Nielsen, book 1 of The Dark Apostle, now available!

Cover image by Cliff Nielsen, book 1 of The Dark Apostle, now available!

Let’s see, there was a starred review in Library Journal, which is pretty cool, and includes the phrase “beautifully told, painfully elegant”.  There will shortly be an interview on my local NPR affiliate–woo-hoo!  And I keep talking to people who’ve enjoyed reading it, and (better yet) those who are recommending it to others.  But really, how *is* my book doing?  I have no idea.

If I had hit a bestseller list, I would have gotten a call.  If the book tanked big time, we would probably not have had that nice chat about the cover for book 2.  But the middle ground between those poles is quite broad, and, even in this day and age, authors have few tools to help navigate it.

Amazon’s AuthorCentral, and some writers’ groups, offer access to the sales data of Nielsen’s BookScan system.  Bookscan is a standard in the industry, and publishers and large vendors refer to it to make buying decisions about an author’s next title based on how prior books have sold.  Unfortunately, it covers at most 40 to 70 percent of a book’s sales, leaving out those of many indpendent bookstores as well as library sales and direct sales.  Nielsen claims 80%, but authors have found differently.

Amazon’s own ranks indicate some popularity–but it’s hard to equate that with actual sales, or even to separate relevant rankings since my fantasy novel isn’t really competing with the latest celebrity chef cookbook or video game cheatsheet.

My publisher might tell me how many books they’ve shipped, ie, how many were ordered in advance by bookstores and other distributors, but here’s the kicker:  publishing still uses a model of returnable product.  Many of the books shipped and shelved (or ignored in boxes in the store room) will ultimately be shipped back to the publisher for credit.  You may recall having heard about this model when a movie based on a Clive Cussler novel took a nosedive, and the producer sued the author for exaggerating his sales figures.  What he had provided  was the quantity of books shipped, which may bear little relation to books sold, but is often the only number we have.

And so, like my supportive and eager friends, I’ll be excited to find out how my book is doing. . . and I expect to know for sure after the close of the first royalty period.  Next March.  But that’s another story, for another day.

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