Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Worry By Numbers

When I'm not checking my Amazon rankings every ten minutes, or Googling myself, I call Ingram.

Ingram is a distributor. They're the one (I believe) that supplies Amazon with books, along with many chains and independent stores who special order from them. You can call their automated stock status number at 615.213.6803 and punch in an ISBN to listen to sales figures from this year and last year.

One of JA's big publishing rules is to never compare yourself to other writers. It isn't productive, and can drive you nuts.

Since it's my rule, I'm allowed to break it, so I spent a half hour on Ingram comparing my numbers to numbers of my peers.

This is hardly scientific, and not an accurate indicator of how many books I'm selling vs. how many they are selling. The big box stores (Walmart, Costco) aren't supplied by Ingram, and the chain stores get most of their stock and most of their orders through their own warehouses.
Still, publishing is all about numbers, and I wanted to see if my Ingram numbers were decent or crummy compared to people in the same genre.

Here are my results. These numbers are all for this year only, and are already suspect because many of these books were released at different times during the year. But this isn't science, it's petty envy, so we'll go with what we have.

I'm also going to mention coop, which is front of store placement. The paperback of Bloody Mary received coop. Rusty Nail did not.

WHISKEY SOUR paperback (PB) - 994
BLOODY MARY (PB) - 675 (coop)
RUSTY NAIL hardcover (HC)- 1395

Just looking at these figures, I was surprised that my older paperback was outselling my new paperback. But I know it isn't---this is just the Ingram sales. The chains have already stocked many copies of Bloody Mary, and sold these rather than ordering from Ingram. Figuring that this would be the same situation for other authors, I began to check their numbers.

AUTHOR #1 hasn't hit the NYT list yet, but is on track to. Like all the other writers in this half-assed study, they write a mystery/thriller series. Here's how their backlist and new hardcover have sold so far this year.

Book #1 (PB) - 960
Book #2 (PB) - 655
Book #3 (PB) -641
Book #4 (PB) - 979 (major coop)
Book #5 (HC) - 2087 (major coop and discount)

AUTHOR #1's latest hardcover has gone into several printings. They aren't in any big box stores, so these numbers are mostly indies, Amazon, and special orders.

AUTHOR #2 has been on the NYT list with their last three paperback originals (no hardcover releases.) These books were all released within a short time of each other.

Book #1 (PBO) - 3147 (major coop)
Book #2 (PBO) - 2683 (major coop)
Book #3 (PBO) - 2303 (major coop)

AUTHOR #2 has damn good numbers, especially considering that this author IS in the big box stores, and is already well stocked by the chains. If we were trying to be scientific about this, being in a big box store means that Ingram numbers amount to less of a percentage of total sales than those authors who aren't in big boxes.

AUTHOR #3 got about the same size advance as I did, and is on the same publishing schedule as I am. No big box stores, and not much coop as far as I know.

Book #1 (PB) - 164
Book #2 (PB) - 288 (minor coop)
Book #3 (HC) - 585

I know that AUTHOR #3 had a much larger first printing of his first novel than I did, but I sold better.

AUTHOR #4 just had their second book in the series come out. This author got a smaller advance and print run than I did, but is still with a big publisher. No coop, far as I know.

Book #1 (PB) - 153
Book #2 (HC) - 352

AUTHOR #5 just had their second series book come out. This author got a smaller advance and print run than I did, but is still with a big publisher.

Book #1 (PB) - 247 (minor coop)
Book #2 (HC) 521

AUTHOR #6 is a NYT bestseller, and has been for many books. This author is in the big box stores.

Book #1 (PB) - 606
Book #2 (PB) - 429
Book #2 (PB) - 350
Book #4 (PB) - 317
Book #5 (PB) - 2273 (major coop)
Book #6 (HC) - 3179 (major coop and discount)

AUTHOR #7 made the NYT list once, but hasn't in the last few books. These are all paperback originals. These are in the big box stores.

Book #1 (PBO) - 0 (out of print)
Book #2 (PBO) - 275
Book #3 (PBO) - 183
Book #4 (PBO) - 179
Book #5 (PBO) - 193
Book #6 (PBO_ - 564
Book #7 (PBO) - 1898 (minor coop)

AUTHOR #8 is a NYT bestseller. The sixth book in the series was just released in hardcover yesterday. The latest paperback has been out for 2 weeks. These are in the big box stores.

Book #1 (PB) - 412
Book #2 (PB) - 336
Book #3 (PB) - 324
Book #4 (PB) - 372
Book #5 (PB) - 1333 (major coop)
Book #6 (HC) - 2865

AUTHOR #9 is a big top 5 NYT bestseller. Ten books in the series so far. The first book was just rereleased this year with major coop. In the big box stores.

Book #1 (PB) - 3256 (major coop)
Book #2 (PB) - 298
Book #3 (PB) - 244
Book #4 (PB) - 292
Book #5 (PB) - 307
Book #6 (PB) - 1620 (major coop/dump box)
Book #7 (PB) - 1394 (major coop/dump box)
Book #8 (PB) - 1495 (major coop/dump box)
Book #9 (PB) - 4454 (major coop/dump box)
Book #10 (HC) - 9065 (major coop and discount)

AUTHOR #10 is a NYT bestseller with eight books so far. Like Author #9, the publisher paid for coop in a dump box (a big cardboard display with the books face out.

Book #1 (PB) - 657 (major coop/dump box)
Book #2 (PB) - 708 (major coop/dump box)
Book #3 (PB) - 653 (major coop/dump box)
Book #4 (PB) - 619 (major coop/dump box)
Book #5 (PB) - 731 (major coop/dump box)
Book #6 (PB) - 778 (major coop/dump box)
Book #7 (PB) - 9005 (major coop/dump box)
Book #8 (HC) - 5788 (major coop and discount)

AUTHOR #11 started at the same time I did, had a bigger advance and more coop.

Book #1 (PB) - 249
Book #2 (PB) - 383 (major coop)
Book #3 (HC) - 797 (major coop)

AUTHOR #12 started at the same time as I did and had a seven figure advance and a huge marketing campaign.

BOOK #1 (PB) - 261
BOOK #2 (PB) - 404 (major coop)

AUTHOR #13 started at the same time I did, with a big publisher.

BOOK #1 (PB) - 253
BOOK #2 (HC) - 195

AUTHOR #14 started a year before me, won a bunch of awards, lots of coop.

BOOK #1 (PB) - 1118
BOOK #2 (PB) - 570
BOOK #3 (PB) - 1227
BOOK #4 (HC) - 1716

AUTHOR #15 started the same year as I did. Major publisher, no coop that I noticed.

BOOK #1 (PB) - 664
BOOK #2 (HC) - 1262

We can analyze these numbers however we choose, but we really can't make any blanket statements because this is hardly a controlled experiment and we can't get even a rough estimate of how Ingram sales factor into overall sales. I can make a few assumptions, however.

1. Coop sells books, and it seems to have a trickle down effect on Ingram.

2. Major bestsellers don't move a lot of backlist titles through Ingram, unless coop is involved.

3. Discounts sell books.

Now comes a chicken/egg/cart/horse dilemma. Do the books that sell well have a demand that fuels the supply, or does supply fuel demand, or a bit of both?

In many cases, aside from the newest paperback and hardcover, the first book in the series seems to sell the best. I'd say this is a result of browsing, as coop wasn't involved except in one case. Those who get hooked on the series will move through the next few books in the series, and then when the new book comes out, all of these fans that have acrued over the years buy it, causing a bestseller. Which leads to:

4. The longer you survive, the better you'll do.

I can also glean another assumption out of these numbers, because I know AUTHOR #1 and this person does almost as much self-promotion as I do.

5. The author can make a difference.

Getting your name out there, and meeting fans and booksellers, can only help your cause. Being discovered by browsing isn't going to lead to bestsellerdom--look how few books NYT authors sell without coop behind them.

But if a bookseller recommends you, or fans seek you out, you'll have a better shot of lasting longer in this business. Your best shot at success is having a publisher willing to plunk down major coop bucks, but if you build a steady fanbase and your backlist continues to sell, your publisher might very well decide to push you to the next level. In fact, they may be waiting to push you to the next level.

I used to believe that publishing was all about spaghetti theory: publishers would throw books at the wall to see which one sticks. But now I'm thinking it is more like growing a garden. Careers are cultivated. Some may grow like crazy without much help. Some may die no matter how much help they are given. But the longer the garden stays alive, the more attached the gardener becomes. The more attention the gardener pays, the bigger the garden gets. In the end, the prize roses get the best fertilizer---but it can't hurt to do a little fertilizing on your own.

Oh, and tend to your own garden, no matter how nice your neighbor's is.