Author Tip: The Sample Chapter
New Gadget: I Finally Bought an MP3 Player

Author Tip: Ask for Sales and Sell-Through Data

Your book was published a few weeks ago and you’re anxious to find out how it’s doing. You can wait for your first royalty statement, but that might be several months down the road. Another option is to ask your editor for some preliminary information before the statement is due.

Your editor should be able to provide you with an estimate of the number of copies initially put into the sales channels. (This is often referred to as “the laydown.”) The editor should also be able to give you some sell-through information from BookScan. BookScan is a reporting service that gathers point-of-sale data from a large number of retailers. This isn’t 100% coverage of every outlet, but the data still provides good information, especially when compared to other titles – this comparable data can show how your book stacks up vs. other books on the same topic. New BookScan numbers are posted weekly. Your editor should be able to tell you how your book is doing, how it is trending, etc. If there are any significant changes from one week to the next, ask your editor if a promotion might be affecting the numbers. The promotion might be for your book (causing it to sell more) or a competitor’s book (causing yours to drop off).

Don't be like the fellow I met in the airport this week: his wife has written a series of fiction books for a large publisher, who shall remain nameless, and he was complaining that they've received zero sales information since the first book came out two years ago! She got a nice advance for the series and is due a royalty...despite the fact that the first book was published in early 2003, they’ve never received a single bit of sales information from the publisher. Her projects were signed through an agent. I suggested that he start with the agent and find out what he/she is doing to earn the 15% agency fee. Even though I tend to be a critic of agents in the computer book industry, I’m fairly certain they have a good track record of making sure their clients receive royalty statements. I’m amazed that this poor author doesn’t have a clue as to whether her book is selling or not.


Brad Hill

And don't forget obsessive monitoring of the Amazon sales rank [g].

Matt Wagner

This is another post that goes to show that authors can't just ignore their books once they're finished. I certainly have pity for the author but I'm amazed that she didn't follow up immediately when the first (probably semi-annual) statement didn't arrrive. If you're in business as an author you need to stay in touch with your publisher and agent throughout the process, and that includes talking to marketing and sales on the front end, and staying in touch with your editor and accouting department on the back end. And certainly, the agent could be the hold-up in this case. Any reputable agent should forward all correspondence within a few days of receipt, max. If the computer book agencies did this you'd hear a hue and cry from every computer book author list out there.

Joe Wikert

Matt, you're absolutely right. That's why I noted that agents (like yourself) in the computer book segment aren't to blame.

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