Friday, June 11, 2010

Amazon, Sales, and Returns - OH MY!

Tip of the day: If you think tracking Amazon rankings is a fun way to pass the time, is a web site you can use to make a list of books and compare their Amazon rankings.

Yesterday Tina talked a little about the craziness of Amazon checking, and I thought I'd follow up on that and talk about why it is authors do this, even though it is totally crazy-making.

Publishing is not just a business that is slow on the front end - waiting for responses to submissions. It is also slow on the back end. Most authors don't have any idea how their books are selling until months, perhaps even years, after the book is released. Why? Because royalty statements only come out twice a year, but not only that, they reflect a period of time that was months ago. Before I show you an example, understand when I say "most" that's because if your book is selling extremely well, you'll likely know that. If you hit a list, like the NYT list, of course your editor is going to call you! And if your book goes into a second printing fairly quickly, you'll probably be notified of that also. But beyond that, it can be very hard to know exactly how your book is selling.

So, let's take a look at my second book, FAR FROM YOU, which came out December, 2008.

Now, for those of you who don't remember what was happening in December, 2008, that was back when the financial market was on the verge of collapse, companies were laying people off right and left, and it pretty much felt like the floor was about to fall out from underneath us. So, a good time to have a book released? No, not really. But what could I do? That's the thing that authors have to understand - so much of how a book sells is beyond our control. Whether the chains pick it up or not, whether a cover screams "pick-me-up!" or cries "what were they THINKING?" or a hundred other things is all beyond the author's control. And the economy at that point, when my second book baby was released, was completely out of my control.

Was I curious how much it was going to affect sales of my book? Yes, absolutely. Wouldn't you be?

So, all I had at that point was Amazon. And I could tell within the first month that FAR FROM YOU probably wasn't doing very well. While rankings don't mean anything per se, and I've been told by a professional in the industry that Amazon sales are only 2% of total sales, I think they do give us a general gauge as to how a book is doing.

In the first month that I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME was released, the ranking most of the time was below 10,000. And I think anything below 10,000, and you can be fairly certain your book is selling well, both on-line and out in the real world. And that was true for that book, because after just one month of being released, it went back for a second printing.

As far as the rankings for FAR FROM YOU during that first month? I was lucky if it got below 100,000.

So, fast forward to August, 2009, and this is when I got my first royalty statement for FAR FROM YOU (9 months after the book came out). It listed the sales for the months December 2008 - March 2009. And that's when the reporting period stopped for that statement. The problem, though? At that point, it didn't take into account returns. That is - bookstores order a number of books. And your statement will show those orders as "sales." However, the bookstore has the ability to return books that don't sell, and that's probably going to happen AFTER the first 3 months of a book's release.

So, I had to wait all the way until February, 2010 (1 year and 2 months after the book came out) to see the next six months (April 2009 - Sept 2009) to have a better picture of what was happening with the book.

And guess what? Quite a few returns! The publisher holds back some of your royalties because of the return issue, so they do expect it at some level. But until you see the statement, you have no idea how it all played out.

Some authors will have their agents or editors check bookscan, which is the database bookstores report sales to, and find out how retail sales are going. The problem with that for us who write for kids and teens is that often, a book's total sales will be off by 25-75% when talking about bookscan, because it doesn't take into account school and library sales.

Since my last royalty statement, FAR FROM YOU has made the Texas High School Reading List. It's also been rereleased in paperback with a new cover. I'm hoping those two things will help with the sales.

I'll let you know in a year or so. And in the meantime, I'll try not to let my Amazon rankings drive me too crazy!!!

~Lisa, Miss Crafting a Career


Kristina Springer said...

Great post Lisa! Very informative. Yeah, it seems like we all know a lot of nothing for such a long time and we reeeeally want to know something!

BookChic said...

I absolutely love reading about the business of publishing from an author perspective- advances, sales, royalties, etc. Very informative post. I hope more posts like this are on the way! :)

Harmony said...

I second James - I love informative posts about the publishing side of things! Great post, Lisa!

Kate Fall said...

Thanks for explaining this so well, Lisa. It was generous of you to let us in on all this information, and the Amazon ranking thing makes a lot more sense to me now.

Michelle Scott said...

I was so glad to read your post because it said exactly what I've been experiencing with my own sales. I've only begun to see royalty money for my book that was published a year ago. You've made me feel better!!

Emily Marshall said...

Excellent post Lisa. Very informative. It's also very interesting to hear publishing is slow on the back end. It's makes sense amazon sales ratings provide that instant gratification that in the writing world is sometimes nice.

Also I can't believe amazon only accounts for 2 percent of sales. I definetly thought it would be more.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Actually, I wonder if, with children's and young adult books, the figure for Amazon is less than 2 percent. I don't have a teenager, but if I did, I wouldn't let her loose with my credit card to shop on the Internet.

Anonymous said...

It's wild that, in this digitized world of constant news and instant information, we don't have access to real-time sales records.

And yet--sometimes I wonder if we're happier for not having that info. Imagine if we could check our daily sales records. What do you think the percentage of writers who were doing just that, and alternately fretting and exulting over the numbers, would be? ;-D

Christina Farley said...

This is all so interesting! Thank you for sharing. I would love to read more of these kinds of posts if you are open to sharing your experiences.

Lindsey Leavitt said...

Thanks for sharing this, Lisa.