Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Numbers Game

Thanks everyone so much for your thoughts on Monday's post. I'm really not so concerned about my son - who demanded a book last night at dinner - but I thought it was great fodder for a discussion, and I certainly picked up a few tips. Hope you guys did too.

So, the question I'm most asked, now that TDLF is out there in the world is, "How are sales going." I mean, I'm seriously asked this several times a day. And I have to give the vaguest answer, which is, "They seem to be going well. It's still in the front of stores." And that's the truth. They do seem to be going well, but the reason that this is such a bland answer is that honestly, from what I've gleaned, no one has concrete numbers about the sales of books.

Huh? Seriously? What?

Okay, for real. From what I understand, publishers don't track exact sales, and even when your royalty statement comes in - which, incidentally, isn't until six months or so after your release date - these still might be incomplete or inaccurate. It's mind-boggling. Truthfully, I don't understand the intricacies of it all - and maybe someone else here can explain it - but evidently, while publishers do get numbers from Bookscan (which your agent can occasionally prod your editor to receive), which reports sales at Borders, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Walden and some others, these numbers aren't complete. And this doesn't then include the libraries, independents, and a slew of other distributors, including the big box stores like Costco.

I just don't get it! I'll talk more in the future about how publishing seems to be one of the few industries that does little to no market research, but this just seems like such a glaring situation. I mean, beyond the obvious accurate numbers for royalties and monetary situations, don't publishers want to know say, what actually sells books? If, say, there's a review in the Seattle Times and sales shoot up, or if doing a radio tour has some impact on overall sales or whatever?? It's not a huge surprise that some people equate buying a potential best-seller with throwing something against the wall and hoping it sticks because this situation is just an clear indication of one of the major lapses in the industry, IMO.

(Disclaimer: I do want to say that I have nothing but happy things to report about my own publishers, so please don't take this as an indictment on them!)

Anyway, this has been really eye-opening for me. It's truly mind-boggling that the publishers don't have all the fine print on how books are selling, and true, someone, somewhere, probably does have those details, but in general terms, most people at the house don't receive them.

Have you ever heard of anything so crazy?? Now you see why my answer to my sales question is so vague. Because, other than Bookscan estimates, I really have no idea.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Allison, this is a great post and so true. I suppose the best indication of whether your book does well is if you receive one or two letters telling you how your story has touched a reader. That's all any of us can hope for I suppose.


Larramie said...

I agree with Amy as you undoubtedly do too, Allison. The measure of success is all about having written something that touched a reader. OTOH, how annoying to imagine that TPTB don't REALLY know what sells and what they should be looking for...*sigh*

Trish Ryan said...

Publishing is a strange world. It's astounding to me that they don't keep track of the numbers the way you'd expect...when I was a lawyer, they had a program that kept track of every phone call we made so that they could charge us for every call they couldn't charge to a client. I remember writing checks to them for $1.84 (good times...)

The world of books is like a bizarre swing to the other end of the spectrum.

But by way of encouragement - I saw a purchased copy of TDLF when I was out and about yesterday :) I almost said, "Hey! I know her!" but then I realized how dorky that would sound, given that we've never met. But still, it's exciting to see your book in circulation up here!

Anonymous said...

Yes, shocking, shocking. And why publishing is an anachronistic business. Why it fails. In my experience, publishers consider their customer to be the major bookstores, and have no idea who the reader is or how to reach them. In today's world, that perspective is unbelievable. It's up to us, the writer, to cultivate the direct customer relationship that becomes a following that becomes the next book. Drat!! The work is left to us. And I thought publication was the end-all!

Anonymous said...

As someone on the publishing side of things, I can attest that some publishers DO keep detailed sales records in-house, but the people who have access to that info are generally not permitted to release it outside the company. So that information might get used for internal purposes (market research, etc.), but we usually turn to the Bookscan data if we need to share sales information with anyone outside the company. Of course, this is probably different at every house, I can only speak to my own experiences...

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Thanks, Anon, for sharing your perspective. That's good - and reassuring to hear!