Sunday, February 10, 2013

Do Sales Totals Matter?

You see it everywhere in the indie community. It's like a headline news story.

I SOLD 5,000 eBOOKS!
I SOLD 10,000 eBOOKS!!
I SOLD 20,000 eBOOKS!!!
I SOLD 100,000 eBOOKS!!!!!!!!!

In the traditionally published community, total sales numbers are very hush hush. No one wants to talk about them. There's a few reasons for this:

(1) It can tank your career if you don't sell "enough."
I'm pretty sure the definition of "enough" changes based on genre.

(2) Publishers don't want everyone knowing their most intimate stats.
I can understand this from a business perspective.

(3) There's too much judgement without the proper framing.
Not everyone understands the economics of publishing and releasing such basic stats can skew understanding of what's successful and what's not.

(4) It takes away from the mystique.
We all know there's a bit of magic surrounding the industry.

(5) It's uncouth.
Yes, I was actually told this once by another author who shall remain nameless.

So why do self-pubs go around screaming their sales numbers from the rooftop?

(1) They've achieved something big.
Authors worry all the time about sales, so it's exciting when you've done it on your own.

(2) We want people to know.
If you know how much I've sold, then maybe it gives me some validation.

(3) Judge me, go for it!
People who've been rejected a million times or told they are failing by self-publishing want to prove the naysayers wrong.

(4) It adds to the mystique.
It's true. When you hear I've sold (not given away freebies) over 50,000 ebooks, I bet it makes you look at me a little differently.

(5) It's totally wicked.
Screw uncouth. Sales numbers are a validation that self-publishing is a viable business option.

Look, some people will always be uncomfortable discussing money. That's okay. No one HAS to divulge their numbers. I know my husband would ignore you if you ask him how much he makes as an electrical engineer.

But a lot of indie authors are loud and proud about their accomplishments. They should be! Many of them have achieved something unheard of five years ago.

Here's the rub (isn't there always one): Sales numbers don't indicate quality. I have friends who've self-published some really incredible novels. Literary quality, profound, the kind of books that never leave your soul. And yet where are their astronomical sales? They aren't there. Not even close.

Take everything with a grain of salt. High sales numbers don't indicate a particular novel is the best book ever written. What it means is a lot of people bought it. It doesn't even mean a lot of people have read it (unless they have a really high number of reviews). I don't know about you, but I have tons of unread books sitting on my bookshelves and in my iPad's Kindle app.

It also means nothing toward income. 100,000 sales of 99 cent ebooks is $35,000. I've sold around 50,000 and made more than double that amount. Don't equate high sales to high income.

So what do sales numbers mean? Nothing. Unless you're the author, then they mean everything.

Megg, Miss Enchanted ePubber


Kate Fall said...

Thanks, Megg. We're all starting to accumulate books on our readers, aren't we? But it's good to see what it means "behind the scenes."

Bonnee Crawford said...

This is something I've had a think about before. Personally, I decided that if sales numbers were to be made extremely public, I'd let it be the decision of the publisher if I was going traditional, and probably keep it vague by say that "I'm happy with sales" if anyone asks in either case.

Emily Marshall said...

That is interesting that it seems to be completely different schools of thought on if you should put sales numbers out there. It's also helpful to help "sell" the book. I've had a large number of self-published authors want to speak at the library lately and I'm usually all for them coming, but on some level I want to know something about the book before they come. And seeing reviews or seeing how many they have sold does make it easier to push them to others. Where as if they are traditionally published that's almost a sell in and of itself, since in our area it's not as common.

Author and Reader said...

I understand the hesitation to reveal the number of books sold. Some might say that's like bragging at your class reunion about what you do and what you make. But of course, if someone asks ... :-) I have no problem with that. But I'm like Bonnie. I would probably keep it vague.

It's like you said. You want to be validated, especially when self-pubbing. I have gone that direction with a few of mine, but I also went the traditional publishing route. It will come out this summer and I'm both happy and nervous. It's a small press, and the chief editor asked me why I bothered to publish that way when I'd already self-pubbed. Answer: VALIDATION!