Mark Terry

Monday, February 05, 2007

Tracking Your Book Sales

February 5, 2007
The Number One question I am asked isn't "Where do you get your ideas?" I wish it was. That's an easy one compared to The Number One Question. The Number One Question is also NOT "How do I get an agent?" which is even easier than the ideas question.

Nope, the Number One Question is, "How's your book doing?"

I believe the real question here is, "How much money have you made on your book?" This one I actually do have an answer to: my advance minus 15% for my agent and about 30% for taxes and if you subtract money I've spent on promotion to-date, I'm in the red by a couple thousand bucks, thank you very much.

But that's not the real question. The real question is "How many books have you sold and as a result, how much money have you made on your book?"

And the answer to that one is: "Beats me."

I thought about asking my editor recently, but I had read a lengthy interview with her in the Mystery Writers of America newsletter and she commented that she hated that question from her authors and she had a hard time answering it, so I've decided to wait for my royalty statement which will arrive sometime in April, with any luck. In my experience with royalty statements, there's no guarantee I'll be able to figure out how many books I've sold there, either. Welcome to publishing.

There's an interesting article over on Slate that talks about this phenomenon.

Still, there's at least one sector for which we lack reliable and transparent market data: books. Sure, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today publish best-seller lists. But these lists don't tell us precisely how many copies of each book have sold or the difference in sales between No. 1 and No. 101 or between the leading fiction title and the leading nonfiction book.

Some of this enigma has to do with the nature of the publishing business. Book advances and returns and holds against returns and foreign language sales that in some cases the author's split on those numbers may be used to pay off the advances, as well as all the other possible income streams.

I suspect another issue is that each author's contract is different (from each other, as well as from each book). And let's not forget that some publishers and authors may have basketed or joint accounting--they won't get royalties on the first book until the advance for the 2nd, 3rd or whatever book are paid for.

This in some ways is why book advances are important. (To the writer). It's a "take the money and run" sort of thing.

Anyway, how is my book doing?

Great. It's really doing great.

Mark Terry


Anonymous spyscribbler said...

Nope, the Number One Question is, "How's your book doing?" I believe the real question here is, "How much money have you made on your book?"

I've heard that interpretation by authors many times. I'd like to offer an alternative interpretation: When one owns a business, people always ask, "How's business?" Usually they want to know if they should start talking you up to friends or not. I don't think they ever want to know how much money I'm currently making!

'Course, I live in Ohio. We don't talk about a whole lot of things in Ohio, and money certainly isn't on the list of things we do talk about!

8:37 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Can't tell, actually. I do have a few friends who will come right out and say, "How much money did you make?" Always throws me back a second.

So it's entirely possible it's an innocuous question, but I've been asked it so many times it surprises me. And what am I supposed to compare it to? Vince Flynn's last novel sold 5000 copies at Barnes & Nobles alone in the first day. He's doing great.

Me? Well...

Not as well as Vince.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Ron Estrada said...

I bought a copy. So that's one. It is all rather secretive, isn't it? "Don't ask your publisher how many of your books sold" ranks right up there with "Don't ask your co-workers how much they're paid." Why not? What's everyone trying to hide?

Oh well. No sense fretting over it. I guess the real tough question we need to ask ourselves is "What are you doing to sell your book?" Not that we'll ever find out if our efforts are working.

So I'll keep my questions simple. In Michigan, we normally start our conversations with "Didja get yer deer yet?"

How's that?

10:15 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I've been doing a lot of business writing lately and I'm astonished that a question asked of a media person from a publicly-traded company, like, "What advertising agency are you using for this radio campaign?" gets turned down.

And private companies are a major pain. "What was your revenue last year?" and they get all balky and don't want to talk about it. Why? Why? Why?

And Ron, I think today's question is: "Have you been outside? Man, it's freezing out there!"

[for those of you who don't live in the area, schools were closed today because it was so cold. -5 with a windchill around -25 or -30.]

10:32 AM  
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