Thursday, October 27, 2016

Sales figures

In my ongoing efforts to crush writers' hopes and dreams (one of my long time career goals as you know) I tried to give our own Donnaeve a conniption with this comment about sales figures on an earlier blog post.
For example, books that are sold to libraries don't get counted. Books that speakers sell in the back of the room don't get counted. Books sold at some indies don't get counted. This article gives more detail on what gets missed.
Donna gasped:
"For example, books that are sold to libraries don't get counted." WHAT???

"Books that speakers sell in the back of the room don't get counted." Okay, that one makes sense.

Books sold at some indies don't get counted. WHAT???

I think she might have looked like this when she was reading the blog

To keep Donna from fainting dead away, and to clear up some terminology let's talk about what "sales figures" can mean.

1. Sales figures can mean the number of actual books you sell. The ONLY place this info is found is on your royalty statement.  Your editor may tell you "oh wow, we shipped one million copies, that's great!" but remember, almost all books are sold on consignment. They can be returned. And boy howdy, do books get returned.  One hopes that returns will be low, but most publishers expect about 30% return rate. That means of the one million you shipped, only 700,000 are actually sold. Your editor doesn't know the returns number. The royalty department will. Thus, your royalty statement is the most accurate accounting of sales.

2. Sales figures can mean the number of books that Bookscan (a private company that collects sales data) sees.  They do not see sales to libraries (thus library sales aren't counted).  They don't see information from every indie store. They don't see sales information if you sell books at a speech in the back of the room.

BUT all those books (libraries, indies, BOR) are all on your royalty statement.

3. Sales figures can mean what people see on Amazon or, or PW Bestseller lists.  Again, those don't count everything, and Amazon's "rankings" don't measure quantity at all. They measure quantity over time, relative to other books.  It's a VERY volatile, unreliable number although I've known writers and agents to game out what the approximate number of books would have to be for a particular ranking.  (Yes, these people have way too much time on their hands, and yes, I might be one of them.)

So, when someone talks about sales figures, make sure you know which set they mean.

And if anyone asks you how your book is selling there's only one answer:


If you need more on why that is the ONLY answer, check out the blog post on book promotion here.


AJ Blythe said...

It sounds so confusing "great" is probably the only answer I would be able to give (especially as my understanding is you only get 2 royalty statements a year).

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Confusing shipping/sales/returns figures, bring it on. I should have such problems.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

"only" 700,000

You know what that sounds like, right? ;)

And I spent a nice relaxing day book ordering for the library yesterday...

MA Hudson said...

How times have changed - that 2014 blog post on book promotion got 11 comments!!

Regarding sales figures - how soon does a novelist know how their book is selling?

Sam Hawke said...

11 comments?! That's the first 10 minutes after the QOTKU posts, these days. :)

Sales numbers are a recipe for author hernias, from what I hear. I did read an interesting post by Mark Lawrence (I think) a while back about how Goodreads review numbers correlate decently with sales. Will try to find the link.

Colin Smith said...

Okay, so Amazon isn't the best bellwether of how Donna's book is doing... but it's fun to watch the stats. I would imagine the fact that it's currently "in stock but will take 2 to 3 days to ship" (or words to that effect) is a good thing. I presume it means they are having to go to some extra step to procure copies while waiting for a new shipment (e.g., order from Kensington, or dip into their Alaskan reserves--I made that up, I don't know that they have Alaskan reserves... but maybe they do... even the penguins are reading Donna's book!). I think Donna can safely say, "Doing just great, thanks!" and not have to cross her fingers behind her back.

Speaking of Donna's book, I haven't finished it yet, but I'm working through it in between packing and sleeping and working. All I'll say so far is it's not just dear Dixie that's getting an education. This is how you do voice, and give a story emotional depth. I'll talk more about it when I'm done (watch my blog), but so far I'm impressed. Well done, Donna! :D

I often wonder when this blog exploded--at least comment-wise. What was the post that made the difference? Why did Janet suddenly go from a handful of comments to a boat-load, and when? Maybe she changed her style, but I don't think so. Her blog has always been a blast, and has been a Writer's Digest Top 100 site more than a few times. Maybe it's when she started posting daily? I guess there are a bunch of us who have blogs that would love to know how it's done. Maybe it's one of those enigmas, like how to generate book sales. (See what I did there?) :D

Donnaeve said...

So, so, so much to say!

So, yes, I spotted this too, Jen: "That means of the one million you shipped, only 700,000 are actually sold."

I'll take it!

Thank you, Ms. Janet for adjusting my "harrumph" face into a more pleasing countenance for the rest of the day by clarifying sales figures.

Recently my publicist and I discussed the fact that a friend of mine here in town wants to carry DIXIE at her deli. (that has a nice ring - Dixie at the Deli) What was stated was that it's a bit of a PITA for her to do, but it's better b/c ordering that way goes against my royalty statements AND go on my permanent sales record which she said is "super important."

Amazon - has an Author Page and allows me to see Nielsen Bookscan + it will give me a breakdown of where the book is selling best - eventually. Can't see squat now b/c it just released. I hope I don't become obsessive about's in my nature to be that

Also on Amazon, Colin is right. The day the book released, (and who knows how many pre-orders there were) Amazon said something like, "Only 10 left in stock, order soon." Then it was 6, 4, 2, and then, the message went to "Available for order, but may take 1-2 extra days to process..." which tells me they're waiting on more books.

But...that doesn't necessarily mean anything - they might have had 20, 50 books, or 100 books in inventory. I really won't know the state of things until later on...but it SURE does make me FEEL better with what QOTKU said about those other units counting. I was like, huh? But why wouldn't they count! And yes, I might have looked a bit like that horse. At least I didn't show myself and end up looking like the other end.


Donnaeve said...

And, dear Colin...thank you for the sneak peek on your thoughts.

As to the QOTKU's blog blowing up and when...I think it comes and goes in phases. I've seen earlier blog posts from years ago when she had lots of comments (those folks were a lot more pithy than us) and then, it sort of dies down. It seems like that to me anyway.

And that comment from me in that post from 2014 - it's almost a weird feeling to read it.

OT: You know how some of us refer to the group as Reiders...the other day I had this thought...and I started snickering to myself. We could use another name, but ho boy, would it raise some eyebrows. Since we hang out at The Reef - couldn't we also be known as...REEFERS?


Yes, I've had plenty of sleep. Thanks for asking.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: I was hoping to have read DIXIE by now, but life is conspiring against me. Definitely by next Tuesday. :)

Yes, there were a few posts "back then" that garnered a lot of comments, but when did the blog start getting a consistently high number of comments? And why? Especially since Janet breaks so many "how-to-run-a-blog" rules! It must be her winning personality. :)

Colin Smith said...

Donna: As for "Reefers"--is it because this is one smokin' joint? Or is it so you can say "Hi" to everyone? ;)

I'll leave now... :)

Sherry Howard said...

I have a question about this topic, if anybody has the answers. I've heard how important the debut novel's sales are to the next deal. How long is typically allowed for a book to gain enough momentum to indicate how sales will go? It seems that it typically might take a while, even years, to develop that momentum. Sorry, Donna, I had to ask. And, like Colin, I'm still looking forward to reading Dixie, with life conspiring against that simple pleasure.

Mister Furkles said...

. . . but most publishers expect about 30% return rate. That means of the one million you shipped, only 700,000 are actually sold.

But, but...well, what if it’s four? How do you figure 30% of that?

RachelErin said...

Measurements are fascinating. I think most people take data for granted, but how to collect data well is the first challenge for a lot of scientists.

I was talking about newsletter open rates at work, and the team there had figured out that the reported open rate is around 5-10% lower than the actual number of people who read the email, because it only counts people who click on the email, and it's possible to read the whole thing without clicking in Outlook. Reminds me of the little shifts and assumptions in some of the book numbers.

The blog post referenced is one of the first I read here. I found QueryShark first. I had only just read an article by a writer saying how rude it was to ask about sales, which made since, but Janet was soooo convincing, I realized how much I didn't know I didn't know, and have stuck around.

As for the number of comments (which usually correlates with hits, generally between 1-10% of your visitors comment, depending on how high your engagement is), blog growth is usually exponential, not linear, so it makes sense it would go from 10 to 20 to 40 to 80 comments a day pretty quickly.

I took a sick day today..., but I'm only barely sick enough to stay home. That means I'm going to work a bit of day job, and then, NOVEL. There's a contest deadline I have to meet....I'm out!

Colin Smith said...

Rachel: blog growth is usually exponential, not linear *looks at own blog* So when does the exponent kick in? :)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I've never been offended by anyone asking me how my books are selling, and I always respond, "Excellent! But you can make it even better." *wink *wink

Regarding returns: The national farm store chain, Tractor Supply, wanted to stock my horse books in all their outlets. This would've been HUGE. My publisher added a "no returns" stipulation in the contract. TS wouldn't agree, and my pub wouldn't budge. Major bummer.

Lennon: I saw your comment in yesterday's post. Yowza...! Thank you. Thank you. Truly meaningful.

Joyce Tremel said...

Royalty statements are so confusing. I had to call my agent to go through mine line by line, and she said Penguin actually has one of the easier to understand statements. Sheesh.

I try not to check Amazon too often. The exception was when there was a BookBub promo on To Brew or Not to Brew in August. It was fun watching the rank then.

Donna, I'm really looking forward to reading Dixie!

Colin Smith said...

Joyce: Can you drop me an email to remind me to add you to our List of Reiders' Published Works? My address in in my Blogger profile (and on the link). Thanks! :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Do publishers usually ship 1 million copies for a 1st printing? I sort of thought it was more in neighborhood of 5 for a debut author. See how effective our beloved shark has been in her effort to crush writer's dreams.

I am curious how a publisher determines a first printing for a debut author. Amazon ran out of The Education of Dixie Dupree and now requires an extra 2 days to ship. Does this mean the first printing is sold out?

Also, when does the debut author start to realize additional revenue? For example, say debut author gets an advance of $10,000 - what kind of sales are needed to earn that out so a writer can collect more royalties? I am told the publisher does not pay royalties until the advance is earned out and that also includes some overhead?

I am having a crappy work day and just want to know if there is any possibility at all that some day writing will let me quit my day job? And what kind of mega hits I need to write to make that happen. Dreams here. Go ahead and crush as necessary.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Popping back in... I just read the referenced post from 2014. I've always viewed inquiries about a work in progress as a positive, thoughtful thing, and I'm appreciative of the interest.

And then there are situations like this: Some folks recently came out to the sanctuary for a tour. As we were standing in the pasture, chatting and watching the horses, one of the women asked me, "Who wrote your books?" I stared for just a moment, unsure of what she meant, then said, "Do you mean published? Who published my books?" "No. I mean wrote," she replied. Then she sort of gasped and her eyes grew wide as she asked, "Did YOU write them?" I'm still laughing.

Joyce Tremel said...

Colin, I just sent the email. Thanks!

I should have mentioned in my previous post that my usual answer when someone asks me about sales is, "I have no idea!" I guess I should change that...

Craig F said...

If asked anything about your income just smile. The only measure is at tax time so don't sweat it too much.

Some day, though, I hope to be sweating over figuring out book sales.

The comments section here blew up around Christmas of 2015. I think that is when Colin quit being the quiet guy in the corner with a Newkie.

I was going to run down to our local Indie bookstore yesterday to see if they have Donna's book. If not I had a plan to bully them into getting it(WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN? IT IS THE HOTTEST THING SINCE STINKLESS S***.)

It normally takes about as long to get there as it would take to get from Raleigh to Charlotte. That is only because it isn't tourist season. Hillary, however, gave a speech here yesterday and the whole city was constipated (traffic-wise) and I couldn't get there. Sorry Donna.

Susan said...

Off-topic a little...I really needed to read that referenced post. It's so easy to gush about and push other people's work, but when it comes to your own, that's a different beast of another name.

Two years ago I was asked back to my alma matter to do a book reading and signing with other alumni authors. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life--and a learning experience as well. Before the reading, we sat with the creative writing workshop where we talked about our books and answered student questions. I remember one of the students asked me what made me so successful. I kind of laughed it off--"I'm not successful," I admitted. After all, I had self-published my first book. Although I was proud of it and it won some awards, I still felt less-than. Where was the success in that?

But on our way to the library for the reading, my old professor pulled me aside. "Don't ever call yourself unsuccessful," she told me in a lesson I'll never forget. She told me that even if it feels minor, it's still a success, and successes needed to be counted.

That's a lesson I always carry with me now, when imposter syndrome takes hold. I can't measure my success against someone else--and on the occasion that I do, I have to keep it to myself because voicing it out loud doesn't make it any more or less true.

So now I stretch myself and step out of my comfort zone and promote the hell out of my work because that's part of being a professional, and maybe that's part of the formula. And Janet's advice, I'm learning, is part of the equation, too: "someone asking about your book is an opportunity."

Think positive, think positive, think positive.

Unknown said...

When I was an Indie bookseller we had a local author who always bought copies of her books from us. Since we reported to Bookscan, we reported those sales. Then she could go to various schools or events and sell her book. Most bookstores will give you a discount if you buy in bulk. Talk to the store manager and see if you can work out a deal.

Colin Smith said...

Joyce: Received. Thanks--I'll add you ASAP.

Craig: I'm sure the blog was hoppin' well before Christmas 2015. If I recall correctly, the List of Blog Readers was set up around Easter 2015, while Janet was taking a Holy Week break from the blog. We were enough of a community then to want to visit with each other. Now I think about it, my first visit to Carkoon was around the beginning of 2015. So given the linked post, it must be somewhere in 2014. Sometime during that year, Janet must have said something, or done something, that got us all talking. And some of us haven't stopped since... :)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I'm a little late to the party today because I was up late reading a certain book... give you one guess! ;)

Seems like the royalty statement is the real source of truth, but you can't check for updates on a royalty statement every other hour! :)

Claire Bobrow said...

Worrying about sales figures seems about as remote as Pluto to me at this stage, BUT I'm very glad to know these things for the future. As Carolynnwith2Ns said: "I should have such problems."

Susan: we recently attended the Alumni Author talk at our daughter's college during Parents' Weekend. It was a highlight of our trip - and my suitcase was a lot heavier for the trip home :-)

John Davis Frain said...

Channel your inner Tony the Tiger.

GREAT! is the answer to most questions. And it's especially important for writers because we tend to drift in our imagination while important people (say, a spouse) is talking and eventually asking a question. "Great" gives enough time for your brain to cobble together a few words of the question and formulate enough of an answer that they won't be suspicious.

On the other hand, you'll find yourself agreeing to a lot of things you never thought you would.

Everybody else does this too, right? Don't lie...

Panda in Chief said...

I can't wait until I get to worry about sales for my graphic novel! (Still not sold yet, but ever hopeful)
All my other books (Panda Chroicles collections and Pandamorphosis) were self published through createspace, so those royalties come in every month. Sometimes it's enough to buy a nice lunch out and sometimes it's enough to pay my electric bill, and some times it's even enough to take a trip to go see some pandas in San Diego!

Alas, I am not now reading Dixie Dupree because Amazon canceled my order because even though I pre ordered it months ago, they charge the card when it shops, and my bank must have told them that since I was out of the country, they wouldn't authorise the charge.
Oh well, that's the bad news. The good news is that when I get home tomorrow, I can re-order Dixie, along with some other books on the Reider list. Huzzah!

And if I haven't said it before, congrats to Colin on his new home. I remember the signing of the papers when I finally took the plunge 15 years ago. It was scary, signing all those documents I couldn't begin to understand, but I've loved having my own place in the woods.

Brigid said...

Colin, don't forget Kari Lynn Dell's Reckless in Texas series. And doesn't Her Grace have a few out?

Colin Smith said...

Panda: Thanks! I'll be posting pictures on tomorrow's article on my blog.

Brigid: Yes! I think perhaps the List of Reiders' Published Works needs to get some high profile attention. Maybe if Janet might mention it in a blog article for those who don't read beyond the first five comments...? Not looking at anyone in particular... :)

Craig F said...

Colin: Maybe it was Christmas 14 then. It has been a while since I wandered back in time but I remember a big comment jump around a Christmas. Maybe it was the year that some agent said that if you queried her between Christmas and New Year she would automatically reject you.

Joseph S. said...

Good idea on replying “Great.” I usually answer “Fine” or “Okay” or “Not as good as I expected it to“ or “good on Amazon but I think mainly used book sales.”

I should say “Great” or even “Amazing.” (It really does amaze me. Fifteen years after the first edition came out, the fifth edition is ranked 14,756 this morning on with all 5-star reviews, Number 1 in one category, number 4 in another; and even the 4th edition logs in at 62,774 (all used book sales I’m sure))

Even though it’s not meeting my current lofty goals, it’s still doing better than I ever dreamed it would; and I should cheer that.

I’d be ecstatic if my novel (if it’s ever published) pulled in those kind of numbers.

Craig, when someone asks about my royalties, I say they’d be good if I was the sole author, but it’s a co-authored book and splitting the royalties takes it out of the good category. I think I’ll start saying “They’re Great” even though they’re not (depending on how you define great). Call me Tony the Tiger.

Matthew Wuertz said...

"My book is selling really well among readers who are also my parents."

Joseph S. said...

Off topic question for Donnaeve (or anyone else who has a thought)

When writing a depressing part of your novel, did it make you feel depressed in your “real” life?

I’ve been struggling with a chapter where my main character E.J. is moping around because his relationship with the female lead has soured. And I’ve been depressed and discouraged myself. Yesterday when I got the chapter under control, the dark clouds gave way to sunshine and the weight lifted.

I don’t get down writing or revising other events in the book. A life threatened. Somebody dies - hey , win some lose some. That’s exciting stuff. Confrontations – love ‘em. (I do get sentimental at good-byes – easier to die than to say good bye - there's a James Bond theme there somewhere)

Unknown said...

Thanks for clearing this up! I'll bookmark it for when I eventually get published. You know, one day.

Donnaeve said...


Admittedly - I LOL'ed in a way that makes Little Dog freak out. I'm trying to decide if the bookstore will order for you, Craig.

I'll take a stab at the question you asked Elise - I say the answer is no to the first edition running out b/c Amazon ran out. Like I mentioned earlier - for all we know, Amazon had 50 books. Ya know? No idea what a first edition run would mean for a debut, but maybe enough to sell to payback the advance? That would be a start! But, I think I've read/heard 5,000.

And, on the royalty thing - using your $10,000 advance as the example...there are % variations in the royalty payments, depending on the type of books sold. X% for trade paperback, X% for e-book, X% for audio, etc. Example, if the % to the author is 15% for trade, and 10% respectively for e-books and audio, it takes a lot of books to pay back the advance:

QOTKU would do this better/know better than me, and I might be doing it wrong anyway, but this is how I figure it:

15% of $15.00 = $2.25
10% of $10.00 = $1.00
10% of $29.00 = $2.90

So, sales could be any variation of this to = $10,000, but just to give it numbers,

3,000 paperback x $2.25 = $6,750.00
2,000 e-books x $1.00 = $2,000.00
500 audio x 2.90 = $1,450.00

= $10,200.00

Of that $200.00 "overage," I assume they'd take 15% our for my agent, and send the rest of it to me.

QOTKU can let me know if I flunked the test. She's laid all this out before, and I was trying to remember it without searching her site.

Joe Snoe I've become emotional writing a scene before, yes. But it doesn't stay long. When I'm done with it, I'm sort of over it. I think it's a good sign to be emotionally involved - but I would also say a writer has to be careful not to become "melodramatic" in the writing of it.

Colin That Dad humor. Ha! But yes, this is a smokin' joint! HI!

Cheryl said...

So am I the only person here who has and is reading Dixie already? I feel special.

Joseph S. said...


I think others are reading The Education of Dixie Dupree (It's a novel by Donna Everhart). My copy has not arrived. I'm trying to finish The Atlantis Gene before Donnaeve's book arrives.

And even if you're not the only one reading "Dixie", you're still special in my book.

Donnaeve said...

Me again. Just have to say...'s surreal reading comments like "Am I the only here who has and is reading Dixie?"

Freaking surreal. Elise is reading it...Bethany mentioned she was reading above, as did Colin...there's more who've mentioned it before.

Thank you all from the bottom of my pea pickin' heart.

Susan said...

Claire: I love that! I think it's just as much a highlight for the authors as it is for the students/parents :)

Joseph: I think it was Robert Frost who said no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. If you feel it, the readers will too.

Joseph S. said...


I agree with you and Robert Frost. But a few years ago I heard Lisa See speak. She said she never cries or gets emotional over what happens to her characters. She's too busy getting the writing done. I thought that was interesting. (I apologize if I butchered her sentiment.)

I get sentimental and sad. I don't laugh or get angry when the characters do. Okay -sometimes I grin. (Sometimes I feel it and my readers don't) What I asked above wasn't did anyone get sad or depressed over what happened in the book, but broader, does anyone have that sadness carry over to that writer's personal outlook on life at the time completely independent of the book.

Lennon Faris said...

Phew! I second 2Ns - good problem to have to figure out :)

Melanie - glad you saw my comment!

Joseph Snow - I have that issue for sure. I find myself thinking more like the characters I read about, much more so the ones that I create. I have to be careful! lol

AJ Blythe said...

I may have missed this in an earlier comment trail, so apologies if I'm repeating but I see Janet's blog has made the TOP 100 LITERARY BLOGS list. No surprise to anyone here of course. Congratulations, dear Queen, for the deserved recognition of what you do here for us.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donna Thank you. So, all that math tells me 700,000 in sales would be pretty good. I bet Dixie gets there. I am at point in book where things are getting... what did that reviewer call it.. gnarly. Yes, definitely a bit gnarly. Excellent but rough.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Joseph Snoe: There's definitely an element of that in my life and in my writing! In August/September, I wrote probably one of the most (emotionally) difficult stories I've ever written, dealing very directly with my dad's death (Monday is the 8 year anniversary), though through a science fiction lens, as I do so often. My fans (*cough*friends) have said it is hands down one of the best things I've written, and it has made 3 out of 4 of my readers ugly cry. (so imagine my surprise and dismay at the 1 personal and 2 form rejections it's gotten so far. sigh.) Writing it was hard, finishing it was...I don't want to say a relief, but it helped?

JulieWeathers said...

As others have said, would that I had this problem. I'm going to revise Far Rider one more time and do another round of queries. If nothing sticks, it gets shelved until an agent asks, "What else do you have?" or I decide I'm tired of messing with it and self pub. At that point, I'll ponder sales figures like a rodeo rookie. Those who made day money are eating in the steak houses and the rest are at the hamburger joints. It's fairly simple economics.

Regarding the comment explosion. Yes, there are a lot more comments now, but the blog has also changed. It wasn't unusual to have 20,30, or 50 comments and a 100 entries in a contest. Many days were quieter because the posts were quieter.

More recently, the blog has turned into a Janet Reid chat room. You'll note she had to put up a reminder about not commenting 10 times a day.

Joseph: Oddly enough, I have incorporated elements of abuse in my stories. I've written about the childhood death of a sibling and the death of a child. I've also written about the great joys of life and I tap deeply into my soul when I do.

Yes, it's emotionally draining, but when you bleed your heart onto the page a bit of you remains with the reader. It's an observation thing. That's one reason Will used to do the sunset alerts so we would sit on the arena rail and watch a particularly beautiful sunset together. He knew that sunsets were special to me and for whatever reason, skies make their way into my writing.

Some people write hard things because it's cathartic. I don't. My readers aren't my shrink. I include a hard thing because it's part of life. Reading about it or watching news stories about some subjects, depress me, though. One story about a little boy haunts me a year later. I wish I'd never heard it and I'm still working on erasing the rage from my heart.

John Davis Frain said...

I sat down with a published writer for a fascinating conversation, and one of the things she left me with fits today.

"Don't saddle one of your characters with a family name." She went on to explain that she had a kid in a book series named after her own kid. What she found was that it inhibited her. She was unable to do certain things to that character because of the tie-in with her own child's name. That was the last time she did it.

I immediately changed my antagonist's name from John because I needed to kill him in the next scene, and that woulda been suicidal.

AJ Blythe said...

Oh, John, I needed a laugh today and your last line cracked me up. Thank you =)