The Numbers Game

I gotta get “Easy Pickings” onto Smashwords. We’re at about 1200 sales via Amazon now, and a couple hundred on BN, plus around 500 (maybe more) from our combined websites, so we’re doing not too badly, I’d say. But I should get it on to that last platform and, er, well, see if it’s *worth* it.

Which leads into the blog about numbers post I’ve been meaning to do, so lemme hit that real quick:

Readers often ask me where they should buy books from, whether I get the same cut from an audio or e-book as a physical copy, and when they should buy a book, because they are concerned with giving me the best deal, and sometimes with what it might take to push me into bestseller numbers. So I asked my editor about some things, such as:

There is a rumor that best-seller lists don’t count books that are sold early, only the ones that are sold in the official week of release. This is a question of some relevance, because my books are almost always on the shelves two weeks before release date. So: does it matter to the lists?

And the answer is yes and no. Almost everybody has to deal with the same soft release problem that I get (a hard release is like Harry Potter got: you were not gonna get that book before midnight the day it was supposed to come out). The NYT apparently aggregates the numbers/momentum over the first weeks of release, whereas USA Today evidently only counts books sold from the week of release (though if you buy it on the Sunday when it’s supposed to come out on Tuesday, that counts as the release week).

We looked at some of my numbers with some of the Walker Papers and concluded that there are enough early sales that it *could* affect my ability to get onto some lists. So ideally? Really, really ideally? My readers would torture themselves and not buy the book until the actual release day, and then everybody go out at once and buy it immediately. This, however, is asking a lot of readers, and I can’t corral everybody and release them all at once. :)

There is also a rumor that Amazon’s numbers don’t count toward any lists. That one is apparently more true than not, though apparently Amazon falls on and off in usage for the lists depending on how willing they are to release their numbers, which varies.

B&, however, *does* count toward list numbers.

Amazon also *always* ships early unless it’s a hard release date. I don’t know if B&N does, but I gather B&N aggregates the numbers shipped anyway and lists them on release day/week. So–without biting a hand that feeds me–it’s probably of more use (not just me, but to any author you like) for readers to pre-order through B& instead of Amazon*.

Now, all that aside, here’s the other vicious truth: I’d really need literally everybody who buys my books to buy them in the first week/month of release in order to have any hope of making seriously big numbers. I have wonderful, loyal readers who have given me an amazing career and have kept my books on the shelves for a long life, which is hugely, hugely important to continuing to do this for a living, but if I want to level up to the best seller lists**, something has to change.

Possibly what has to change is I have to write something different which catches fire, but that’s very hard to predict. :) In the meantime, though, the best I can probably do is hope to get something going that leads into a big splash for the final book of the Walker Papers.

Because we’re on the downward slope here, guys. There are nine books planned for the series, and the timeline is pretty much hell bent for leather from the start of SPIRIT DANCES all the way through to the end of book 9. It’s probably too late to rack up some kind of magic momentum for RAVEN CALLS, since it’s out in four weeks, but I (we, if I assume you’re in this with me) have two books after that to try to hit it out of the park.

ETA: a reader just asked “How in the world can you not be in the top 10 release week?” and I thought that was a good enough question to lay some numbers down in response. And these are real numbers, not made-up ones.

DEMON HUNTS sold 3400 copies its first month of release, and that was spread over the entire month from the earliest shipping into the first week of Official Release. That particular week/month, GIRL WITH A DRAGON TATTOO was also released in trade, and sold 65,000 copies. Even within a month where there’s are less-anticipated books hitting the shelves, to get into top ten numbers we’re looking at an order of magnitude greater sales than I’ve got. I see around 3000 sales pretty steadily in the first month of release; I’d need thirty thousand. This is why I say if *everybody* who reads the Walker Papers bought them in the first week/month of release we’d see top ten numbers.

If it was possible to aggregate all the DEMON HUNTS sales into one week so all the lists might catch it, I would (theoretically, assuming other sales did not also aggregate) maybe land at around #48 on a long list of 50 for one of the big lists. So, yeah. Orders of magnitude. That’s why I’d love to be able to harness something via this whole social media platform, but I just don’t know how. :)

*This is not a statement intended to make people with Kindles feel bad. If you have a Kindle, for heaven’s sake, buy a Kindle book. I get the *royalties* the same no matter what; this post is just about whether there’s hope for me to reach a bestseller status over the next few years. :)

**And I do. I have always been in this game to–for lack of a better phrase–win it, and my personal definition of “win” is not “beat the other guy” but “get onto the national bestseller lists”. There is nothing wrong with being a mid-list writer and I’ll take it if that’s what I forever land at, but my completely-out-of-my-hands goal is to have that awkward first name “New York Times Bestselling Author” preceding the already-on-the-covers “CE Murphy”. :)


  1. Thanks for posting this clear look at the confusion of numbers. Do the numbers you give for your books include both e-books and print copies? I ask because you said that Amazon sales aren’t always included, but I assume Amazon’s e-book sales are way higher than anywhere else. So if the bestseller lists aren’t including Amazon e-books, then how accurate can they be for what is really selling? Or am I reading this wrong?

    As a former bookseller, I’ve been wondering how e-books (as well as audiobooks) count into the bestseller lists, and if the methodology is likely to change to reflect the change in book-buying.

  2. Great post. I was curious about that, too, but never thought to ask. I go to B&N for both print and e-books, so I guess I’m contributing either way towards the bestseller lists.

  3. well if you want me to buy it, you will need to put it on Smashwords, as I have a Sony reader which does not do Kindle – and I don’t do B&N because I don’t like the way their store works. I do get things from Smashwords though.

Comments are closed.