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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Finding Out A Book's Sales Numbers

Contrary to popular conception, there is no fast path to fame and fortune as a novelist. Still, those of us on our way to best-seller status (we can all hope) would like to know if our latest opus is selling 100 copies a week.
Or no copies at all.
Those reading this blog who aren’t authors, look at it this way: If you beating your brains out trying to boost sales, wouldn’t you like to know if anyone even noticed? Those reading who are authors know exactly what I’m talking about. (You can send me $1000 for the tips below, because that’s what you’d have to pay for this information otherwise.)
First, let’s discuss why we can’t simply email the book’s publisher, or look on their website to find out how we’re doing. No author can on a regular basis–no matter who their publisher might be–because publishers keep sales numbers more secure than they do their bank accounts.
There are several excellent reasons for this, however, and it’s helpful to know them.
A few years ago, Bookscan tracked sales of 1.2 million books in the United States. Of those 1.2 million, only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies. Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000 copies. Only 10 books sold more than a million copies each.
If you work through all the numbers, (I did and double-checked, so don’t bother) you’ll discover something horrifying. The average new book in the United States sells about 500 copies. (Yep. Only 500. Time to stop reading if you’re an aspiring author and have a weak stomach.)
You can understand from this why small publishers keep the numbers private. Most have such low sales numbers they don’t like posting them publicly. Others simply feel that tracking and reporting numbers takes them away from the fifteen other jobs they’re maintaining to finance their “We’re gonna be Doubleday someday” addiction. In the meantime, the big guys don’t like to admit that they’re not doing much better. (And spending a lot more money.)
If they’ve got a recent best-seller, they’re happy to brag. Otherwise, mum’s the word.
The bottom line: the entire book industry treats sales information as proprietary; something they can sell or bargain with.
You can’t blame them, or…maybe you can, but it won’t do you any good. So what’s the hapless author to do?
Well, you could sign up for Neilson Bookscan, which gets reports from the majority of retail outlets. On a yearly basis, that would set you back around $1000 per title. Like I said in the beginning of this article, if you ‘ve got that kind of money, send it to me. I can use it.
Fortunately, there are several fast, free ways to get immediate information on your book(s) sales—without having to mug your publisher.
The easiest method is to call Ingram directly. (Assuming that Ingram wholesales or distributes your book.) The number is: 800-937-8000. Pick option “4″ when prompted, then dial ext.#36803. When given the chance, dial your book’s ISBN number.
An automated service will tell you how many books of yours are in their warehouses and how many have been shipped.
Remember that this number only represents the books that went through Ingram, which typically shows how many books you have sold to bookstores. Books bought directly through LSI probably wouldn’t show up in these numbers.
Many authors compulsively check their sales ranking on Amazon, which is a waste of time. In case you haven’t figured this out yet, you can’t determine anything from a single rank under the new system at Amazon, and even their old system wasn’t that accurate. What you want is your long-term rank/average. A new software (free because it’s in beta) will allow you to track your long-term average on Amazon. It’s simple to set up and easy to use.
Surf on over to if you want to give it a try. (Consider all the typical warnings on using beta software issued. And if your computer crashes after loading it, please don’t tell me. Mine did fine.)
One thing that all authors should know is how the book industry defines a “bestseller.” Bestsellers in mainstream categories are up for grabs. The number of sales per week required varies with the season and competition. Even worse, if the book is in an unusual niche, it could be declared a bestseller simply because it has no competition. A recent publisher declared their book about organic food for pets a bestseller before it was even printed. (I made that up.)
If anyone uses these tips, please be sure to check out my new website at and at least leave me a nice comment. (Buy my latest thriller, Death Game, and help my sales numbers! Please!)
Otherwise, Cooper O’Brien, my sassy heroine in Death Game, has a good Irish curse for you:
May the curse of Mary Malone and her nine blind illegitimate children chase you so far over the hills of Damnation that the Lord himself can’t find you with a telescope.
Oh, yeah.
And may you lose $1000 tomorrow.
Cheryl Swanson, author of Death Gamewww.cherylswanson


Zeke said...

Cool. Thanks for the advice! Now keep that curse away from me!

tom said...

Thank th' Lord fer yer comments on yer website, darlin'. I'll be buyin' yer book t' help ye with yer sales! Maybe we kin find that pot o'gold o'er the rainbow someday.

Ronda said...

Good words.

Buck Winthrop said...


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Tukie Tales said...

Thanks for the research you did and the information. With today's technology, it should be simple to track all ISBN sales everywhere and not be so costly for authors.
Debbie Burns

Wayne said...

That Ingram tip is helpful.
Love your sense of humor. Have you always had it or did you acquire it through your cancer surviving experience?