“How’s the Book Doing?”

As an author, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that people will periodically ask me how my books are selling. You would think if anyone would know, it would be the author. And yet you’d be surprised to find out how little we actually do know. It feels in many ways like I’m interpreting tea leaves more than having any real idea of what’s going on.

With Vodník, the sales were hard to see at all. Its release failed to make much of a splash, and I would say that ultimately the book underperformed. That said, it was published by a new, small imprint (at the time) that was still getting its feet under it, and it was a first book, so it already had a number of obstacles it would have needed to overcome. I’m proud of the book, and I always hope that people will come back around to it, but no one would argue it was a glowing success.

With The Memory Thief, things were murky for a different reason. The book was exclusive to Barnes & Noble for the first 6 months, and B&N basically bought a slew of copies in one fell swoop, and they weren’t allowed to return them. This meant there were tons of copies in B&N, but I never found out how well they sold. (On the plus side, I got royalties on all of them, so . . . win?)

Which brings us to The Perfect Place to Die. It’s from a larger house, it has no B&N exclusive, and so I should be able to have a better idea how it’s doing. Right? Well, sort of. I can see Bookscan numbers week by week. They capture roughly 50% of sales. (They’re the sales figures from many, but not all, bookstores. For example, many indy stores are left out, as well as all library sales.) But knowing they’re roughly 50% of sales, I can roughly figure out the total number of books sold.

However, “success” vs. “failure” for a book is heavily dependent on how many books the publisher expected to sell. Say a book sells 1,000 copies its first week. If the publisher expected the book to sell 500 copies that first week, then it’s a home run. If they expected it to sell 10,000 copies, then it’s a dismal failure. (Say I give something 3 stars. That only has meaning if you know how many stars the maximum is. 3/5 is much better than 3/10 . . .)

The good news for Perfect Place is that’s available for purchase in many different places. Walmart put in a significant order, so it’s available in many (most?) Walmarts. That’s actually a pretty big deal. People generally don’t buy what they don’t know about. While some people think the cover is disturbing, it’s definitely eye catching. To have the book sitting on shelves across the country where so many people shop inevitably helps sales. The more copies a book sells, the more it’s read. The more it’s read, the better the odds are of people recommending it to others.

There are other metrics I can look at to see (kind of) how the book is doing. What’s its’ Amazon sales rank? How many libraries have a copy of the book? How many people have reviewed it on Goodreads? 152 libraries have added a copy so far (a number I can see through Worldcat.) For a comparison, 162 libraries have a copy of Vodnik (9 years after publication) and 177 have a copy of Memory Thief (5 years after publication). On Goodreads, it has 87 ratings. Vodnik has 297 and Memory Thief has 101.

Add it all together, and I’m feeling pretty good right now. The first week of Bookscan numbers (the only number I know so far) look very promising. It feels like many people are discovering the book and (by and large) having a good time reading it. So I suppose the short answer to “How’s the book doing” would be “great.” That’s a good feeling.


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