This week I'm all about questions authors should ask their editor/publisher. Sunday's post dealt with distribution and yesterday's was on marketing and P.R. Today's question has to do with sell-through. At the end of the day, sell-through is all that matters.
Sell-through data is available from a variety of sources but Bookscan is probably the most common one. Bookscan gathers point-of-sale data from a large percentage of accounts and pulls it together to provide some very useful reports. When looking at Bookscan data it's critical to look at both the number of copies a book sold for a week as well as how that compares to related titles. We sometimes get hung up on whether Bookscan data represents 60% of the market, 70% of the market, etc.; what's most important isn't that percentage but rather the fact that book X is selling twice as many copies as book Y.
The critical question for an author is: Can your editor provide sell-through info on related titles? Sell-through data on related titles is extremely helpful at the proposal stage. Why write a book on a subject that's not selling? That's where the comparable title data comes into play. Then, when your book is published, will your editor be able to provide you with sell-through data on it? Rather than having to wait for a surprise when your first royalty statement arrives, an editor with Bookscan access can give you an idea of how the book is doing right out the gate.
Just realize that not every publisher subscribes to Bookscan and that Bookscan data is confidential. Your editor may not be able to give you a file with all the data from Bookscan but they should be able to provide enough details to let you know whether you're heading in the right direction.