Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bookscan for the indie writer

Last week, you mentioned BookScan numbers when publishers are looking at self-published titles. So I naturally went to look up mine and was dismayed to find that it only reflected a little over two dozen copies sold online. (retail) I understand why, of course. But in reality, I've sold a couple hundred copies (directly)through my own website and at conferences, which is also more lucrative for me because I make more money that way.

Does this hurt me in the eyes of the industry? I'm thinking of querying my next novel because while I really do love indie publishing, my ambition is calling again and I'd like that greater reach. And I think, now, that maybe I'm capable of it. But if an agent looks at my sales record through BookScan, it'll look petty dismal in comparison to the reality of my offline sales (which I know aren't great comparatively, but I'm mostly happy with the snowball effect that's happening).

Everyone understands that self-pubbed books rarely sell well, even good ones.

And everyone REALLY understands that Bookscan is not an accurate snapshot of sales.  The normal proviso one hears is "Bookscan captures about 70% of the market." That's sort of true. I've seen titles that showed only 30% of the total sales. And not just isolated examples either.

Your case is one clear example of why: the sales Bookscan sees are from reporting stores. Not all stores report. And it misses all DIRECT sales like yours: at speeches and conferences (these are called back of the room sales.)

The real question you're asking though is how to address this (or not) when you query for that new novel.  You don't have to mention it if you don't want, and for someone without the good reviews you've gotten that's probably the best choice.

But, if you've got good reviews, and if you've sold a couple hundred copies, you might say "I self published Novel X to good reviews (with a link to said review) and sold better than what Bookscan would have you believe."

The reason previous sales numbers are such a big deal is because bookstores look at them to determine how much to order of the next book.  Knowing you sold 1000 copies of your debut, they will expect to sell somewhat fewer of Book #2. If you sold 10 copies of your debut, don't be surprised if not a lot of stores are interested in stocking your book.

BUT, bookstore buyers do not audit publisher catalogs for previous sales numbers. If they don't know your work they're liable to treat you as a new commodity, even if the catalog copy doesn't say debut.

Your agent will work with you on this kind of positioning.  How to finesse your misspent youth is a whole seminar, complete with final exam, at Agent School.

For proof that I will overlook a misspent youth in publishing for the right project I offer up Jeff Somers, who queried me with the cheerful news that he was a publisher killer. And yet, here we are, eight novels and three replacement bars later,


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I got nothin' because I know nothin'. Actually I know less than nothin', which makes me brilliant, because I know my limitations.

Colin Smith said...

Like 2Ns, I'm an unpublished writer (and since I don't have a regular newspaper column, I'm even more unpublished than 2Ns!) so I have nothing to add. I've yet to secure an agent, so I'm currently an authority on NOT getting an agent. And I haven't even tried Indie publishing, so I only know what I've read.

This much I do know: Jeff Somers is agented, published, and a very witty guy. His serialized novel, THE BLACK HOUSE, is about to go offline (i.e., tomorrow). Catch it HERE while you can! Also, if you want some writing encouragement from someone who has not always heeded the conventional wisdom, spend some time at Jeff's Unconventional Writing blog. There's a forthcoming book associated with this site, it seems. That'll be worth getting.

And that's about all I know. :)

Unknown said...

Forgot my comment as I just read news of London fire and Congressional shooting. Prayers for all. Hellish!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I was actually wondering this exact thing, if the sometimes mentioned BookScan was in any way useful to indie authors. But considering I've already seen non-indies mention its fallibility, I'd assumed no.

Is it weird that it seems so hard to get ballpark-accurate numbers on sold copies? It seems weird to be but, like Colin and 2N's, what do I know?

AJ Blythe said...

I'm with 2Ns. Got nothing on this topic, except to say, good luck with securing an agent for your next book, OP.

Donnaeve said...

Guess whose right - as usual! (as if we expected otherwise???)

Bookscan was approximately 50% wrong when I (just recently) got the opportunity to see my first royalty statement. I have an Author Page on Amazon, and I signed up for the Bookscan (Nielsen) numbers. One can get a little too crazy about that in the beginning days. Now I tend to forget to look. BUT. Knowing NOW, how off it can be off by that much, looking seems even LESS important.

There's no way to force bookstores to record sales. They do or they don't - so all that means is read Bookscan with the realization it's only as good as those who use it.

For OP's situation...can't add anything to that like the rest said cause I know nothing going from self-pubbing to traditional publishing.

Janet's got it covered, of course.

Mister Furkles said...

I got a problem with Jeff Somers' books. The bookstores near me don't stock 'em. An' the library don't neither 'less they shelf the ones I give um. I can get 'em offa Amazon but don't like orderin' just one paperback. Don't s'pose you got a solution to this here dilemma.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This is helpful information. Another reason to have a solid agent to keep track of numbers. I would be at a loss trying to keep track of how and where my book was selling.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

OP, good new to know!

I appreciate Janet's magnanimity in overlooking Jeff Somers' past tendencies but how come no one else is asking what she means by three replacement bars later.

Whisky anyone? A wee bit too early yet?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sure fired way to know exactly how many books you have sold.
Copy Machine
Sandwich board
Street corner
Umbrella if it rains
Sunscreen if it doesn't
Oh yeah...little red wagon to lug everything.
I love my little red wagon.

Unknown said...

To be prepared when the day comes, what's the list of places to check (learn how to use) to track how well a book is doing, (ocluding both sales and reviews)?
Amazon, Bookscan, Goodreads, ???

Unknown said...


Susan said...

Thank you for answering this question, Janet! I appreciate this information (and the hope it offers). For those who have an Author Central profile on Amazon, you can look up your titles on BookScan through there. When I compared those numbers to my own reporting, they were correct for Amazon sales, but didn't pick up any other online outlets, like B&N. I think that's where a lot of the confusion came from for me. So it's a relief to know these numbers can be off for everyone and that they're not given too much credence when considering past sales.

Maybe I can hop off the hamster wheel now ;)

While I have a chance to say it, my thoughts go out to everyone affected in London and Virginia. And to everyone who needs some love and good vibes today, consider both sent your way.

literary_lottie said...

Mister Furkles: The best thing you can do is special order the books from your local independent bookstore. Indies pay attention to what books/authors are being asked after. If they realize there's a market for Jeff Somers' books, then they may just order a few copies of his next magnum opus. That's good for you, the reader, and it's also good for Mr. Somers.

Lennon Faris said...

Interesting info. Wishing you the best as always, Susan!

Mister Furkles here is an article saying what literary_lottie said and giving some background info (written by the Shark herself):

(Sorry Colin I hang my head in shame but I still don't know how to linkify it).

Colin Smith said...

Here you go, Lennon:

Colin Smith said...

Slow comment day, so let me share something a bit OT that I just read--but I think it's a good quote for this crowd. It's from a new interview with Billy Joel in Rolling Stone:

I have another theory. Don't be afraid of mistakes, because the only original thing we ever do is make mistakes. You can be taught how to do something perfectly right, but only you can screw it up in your own inimitable way. We've left mistakes in recordings, thinking, "Wow, nobody would have thought of that!"

You can read the whole interview here: Even if you're not a fan of his music, it's worth reading for his take on celebrity, and creativity.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Mister Furkles, you can always suggest to your library that they order a certain title, or a certain author's books! We enjoy that at my library, because we're there for our patrons, right? So it behooves us to have what our patrons want to read! Granted, we all have our budgetary restrictions, but it's worth a shot to see if they have a request form, or if you can talk right to the director (or acquisitions librarian, if they're fancy enough to have one. My small library is less fancy.) We've got some Jeff Somers at my library...and Gary Corbyn...and Laird Barron....

gypsyharper said...

This is something I don't think I would have even thought to ask about, but so good to know!

Mostly I just commented to say Jeff's bio made me laugh, and to thank Colin for providing a link to his blog.

BJ Muntain said...

Why, when I saw 'misspent youth', did I think you mean Jeff Somers? Even before I read his name? :)

I think Janet has said before that, while 'debut novelist' is good, it's not the end-all and be-all of getting representation. As for the poor sales, it's good to know that, if your book is good enough to get really good reviews, you can still get representation.

I'm curious. Was this 'good review' an Amazon review? I'm thinking it's not. I'm thinking it's a Kirkus or PW review, or something industry-wide, like that. Yes, indies usually have to pay for their own reviews, but at least those are reviews that the buyer can trust. And if it helps get published traditionally at a later date, it's good to know the money is worth it (it's not cheap).

BJ Muntain said...

Regarding accurate numbers for sales:

I think the only way to get accurate numbers is from the author, with the number from royalties plus the number the author has hand-sold. But, of course, bookstores aren't going to call up every author and find out how many they've sold. Hence: Bookscan.

I suppose that, in the case of a bookstore wondering how many books to order, it's useful to find out how many similar stores have sold. They're not interested in how successful the author is, but if people are buying those books in stores. If an author hand-sells a million copies, but only sells a few through stores, then stores might not see a reason to waste precious stock space if they're only going to sell a couple.

Are Amazon sales available on Bookscan? Ah! I see now. Bookscan is available on Amazon (for authors, anyway)! Thanks, Susan, and I hope you're able to find the perfect agent!

Lisa: Maybe he burned down a few bars? Or just closed them down? Or got closed out of them? And speaking of bars, it's never too early for chocolate. If you're ever wondering if it's too early for booze, just get the best chocolate you can. Even if it's booze-filled.

And thanks, Colin, for the link to Mr. Somers' blog!

Susan said...

Thanks, Lennon and BJ!

BJ: PW has partnered with BookLife to offer free reviews for indie authors. There's a very small percentage of the requests they receive that get reviewed, and then there's no guarantee of a positive review. But it's Publisher's Weekly, which means the author is sure to get an unbiased assessment of their book. And, unlike Kirkus or Foreward Clarion, which last time I checked they cost $$$, the reviews are free. It can be a great opportunity for indies. But like anything, it's a chance.

Susan said...

Just dove deeper into the reviews for anyone who is interested on the indie side. It looks like Foreword is free but indie books must be submitted prior to publication and there's no guarantee of selection. Clarion is the pay-for service. It looks like they're comparable as far as review pricing, but still super expensive. Bummer. But, yes, if you're paying for reviews, these two are the way to go.

Sorry for being a little off-topic.

BJ Muntain said...

Thanks, Susan. I didn't know about Foreword/Clarion. Somehow, I'd thought PW also charged, but maybe that was before they partnered with BookLife?

But getting any kind of a review in regards to PW is amazing. With both Kirkus and PW, even traditionally published books aren't guaranteed a review - or a good review.

Your book must be totally awesome, to get a good review there! Congratulations!

Susan said...

BJ: PW used to charge (maybe they still do) to get a review in their PW Select catalog, but it was affordable (full disclosure, I paid for one for my first book). Don't quote me on this, but I think if you pay now, you're guaranteed a review. But since they partnered with BookLife, you can also take your chance and submit your book for free, and it's up to them whether or not they review it. I'm pretty sure both options are available. I have a $0 marketing budget, so free it was ;) Also, yes to Kirkus--I forgot to include them in reputable reviewers, though they're expensive like Clarion.

And thank you! I can only hope so. :)