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.


Anonymous said...

I tried calling the phone number in your post and got a "Your call cannot be completed as dialed" error message. Google turned up a working number: 615/213-6803.

JA Konrath said...

Yeah, it's 213. I'll fix it.

Mark Terry said...

1. Logic is a systematic method for getting the wrong conclusion with confidence.

Statistics is a systematic method for getting the wrong conclusion with 95% confidence.

2. "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."--Mark Twain

3. Statistics means never having to say you're certain.

Mark Terry

Lara Adrian said...

Ow! My head hurts. But this is really interesting info. Ingrams has long been a mystery to me. Thanks for trying to illuminate things for the rest of us!

Awesome trip journal, btw. Those miles you clocked are staggering! Hope you see lots of wonderful returns (and I don't mean the stripped cover sort!) for all your efforts.

Lara Adrian

Anonymous said...

The chain stores get most of their stock and most of their orders through their own warehouses.

True and not true. BAMM has a warehouse called American Wholesale Book Company that buys books directly from publishers, generally at 50% off, and supplies those books for in store placement at BAMM stores (generally east coast). For example, my upcoming book Shadow Laws has been selected for in store placement at BAMM stores and all purchases are made by its wholesale book company.

BN will order from either of the big wholesalers, namely Ingram or Baker & Taylor, but also maintains its own distribution centers which purchase books directly from publishers. For example, BN has selected Shadow Laws for in store placement and indicated that the initial purchase will be made through B&T. After that, BN's distribution centers will start making purchases.

Virtually every bookstore and library in the country, whether chain or indie, has an account with either Ingram or B&T or both. That way they can order books for customers and deal with only a few wholesalers instead of trying to deal with hundreds of publishers all over the country and all the associated financial paperwork.

I admit, however, that the entire distribution scheme still bafles me. Stores and websites all over the country, as well as overseas, list my books as in stock and available for immediately delivery. I have no idea how they got them.

JA Konrath said...

True, Jim. And that doesn't even count the jobbers.

Big chains prefer to deal with big publishers directly, because they get a biugger discount and more profit.

If their warehouse doesn't carry it, they'll order from BT or Ingram.

If they need it tomorrow, they'll jobber it in from a local guy.

Jude Hardin said...

Your numbers are looking good, Joe! All that hard work you've done promoting is paying off.

I can see how obsessing over these things could eventually drive a writer bonkers, though. When I get published, I think I'll just do what I can to promote, concentrate on writing the best second novel in me, and leave the numbers game to the bean counters. My sanity is worth something, you know?

r2 said...

With all your self-promotion, blogging and trying to figure out the publishing biz, how do you find time to drink?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I don't know why, but this is all pretty depressing. It's also very interesting info, as usual.

Thanks again for helping me realize this is a business, Joe.

Anonymous said...

This post was very depressing for a small press author like me. We're talking double digits for my Ingram numbers. Yet when I compare my Ingram sales with two others who came out in the same catalog as me, I'm doing considerably better--at least in brick and mortar sales. The other two authors are multi-published and their library orders are either the same, or worse.

It will drive you crazy to compare your sales with others', but it at least gives you an idea of where you stand--and what your prospects are of staying with your publisher.

Stacey Cochran said...

Joe, this post kicks ass.

So, I called to hear number on several books (including my own published novel Amber Page).

The top Lulu fictional novel (currently ranked 5th overall at Lulu) has sold 665 this year via Ingram and sold 781 last year.

Another highly publicized Lulu novel (in the same genre as mine) has sold 46 this year, and 274 last.

Here's the numbers on The Da Vinci Code: 21090 this year; 58806 last.

I'm with you in wondering what percentage of total sales Ingram sales represent.

I don't find it depressing at all. I think it's enlightening.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I completely resent your using my numbers in comparison to your own. Obviously, someone who publishes with a tiny publisher (until next year) like myself will have worse sales numbers than someone like you, who, um, doesn't. The fact that none of the profiles you cite even vaguely resembles me doesn't fool me for a moment, you know--clever how you manipulate the details. But I've been called "Author #3" (and worse) before, you know! You'll be hearing from my lawyer, as soon as he graduates law school.

And one other thing: if you EVER try to tour bookstores in New Jersey and don't get in touch with me again, well, I'll... I'll... give me a minute...

Anonymous said...

I completely resent your using my numbers in comparison to your own. Obviously, someone who publishes with a tiny publisher (until next year) like myself will have worse sales numbers than someone like you, who, um, doesn't. The fact that none of the profiles you cite even vaguely resembles me doesn't fool me for a moment, you know--clever how you manipulate the details. But I've been called "Author #3" (and worse) before, you know! You'll be hearing from my lawyer, as soon as he graduates law school.

And one other thing: if you EVER try to tour bookstores in New Jersey and don't get in touch with me again, well, I'll... I'll... give me a minute...

JA Konrath said...

Dammit, Jeff! I visited every gay bar and AA meeting in Jersey and couldn't find you anywhere!

You could have called me, you know. But it's not like I waited by the phone every minute of every day just to hear form you. Really. I was waiting to hear from, uh, someone else.

Mark Terry said...

I can see why you might try selling your books at AA meetings (hey, there's next year's tour!), but gay bars?

Is your next book called Pink Ladies by any chance?

Mark Terry

anne frasier said...

i checked my ingram numbers this morning before hitting the blogs. my book has been out a little over a week with total sales of 380. i was ready to hang myself until i came here and read all the various sales figures.

i've heard that ingram is roughly 5% of total sales.

Jude Hardin said...

Do I get a commission, Joe? :)

BTW, "Murder by Number" is my favorite Police song. Saw them in concert back in the early 80s. Great show.

About "...blogs are on the way out" on your previous post: You think, in twenty or thirty years, we'll think back fondly on blogs, kind of the way we do now about vinyl records?

Anonymous said...

Clearly, Joseph, you weren't looking at the gay AA meetings.

Stacey Cochran said...

Hey Ross,

Here's my two cents worth to answer your question.

Styles rarely work in a vacuum. That is, a writer isn't going to write a mystery with no suspense, no humor, no elements of any other forms of fiction. They tend to work altogether because we as people who write have humor within us operating with anxiety (suspense), pathos (drama) as part of our personalities.

I believe a writer's voice comes from his personality.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. But at the end of the day, when a publisher decides to buy the rights to publish a writer's novel, they're going to put some kind of label on it. They have to from a marketing perspective.

When I was writing Amber Page, I didn't know I was writing what would eventually get labeled YA Fiction. I saw it as an action-suspense novel with a touch of horror and espionage.

Now that I've written a few novels, I am much more conscientious about what genre I'm writing in before I even begin writing a novel. You want your book to be easily identifiable, so that an agent, editor and publisher can "get it." If they can quickly look at it and call it a "commerical fiction suspense-thriller," then they can sell it that much more easily.

Hope that helps some. Great question!


Anonymous said...

I went to a conference last month and me the executive editor at Harcourt. She went off on Amazon, basically saying that they sell zillions of different books, but excruciatingly few of any one author. That their sales rankings don't mean much of anything, especially compared to B&N.

Just passing it along...

Spy Scribbler said...

Well, I intend to add to your numbers as soon as I can! I just thumbed through (and admired) your prologues.

Awesome writing! I can't wait to get your books.

Allison Brennan said...

I've never called Ingram's and I'm not writing down the number. I don't need to stress over anything else, particularly things over which I have no control. Yes, I've wanted to, but I have resisted. Checking my stats at Amazon and BN once a day through the PM book tracker system is enough obsession for me.

I don't compare myself to other authors sales. There are so many different factors that go into the numbers, and Joe's right--where books can be found is a huge factor in what percentage Ingram's is, but it's still probably single digits (5-10%) for more NY pubbed authors. Bookscan is the same--if you're in Walmart and similar stores, your bookscan numbers are probably 20-30% of your total sales, if you're not, then they are probably 50-60% of your total sales.

I took an on-line class from a former Big 5 Publishing exec and it was enlightening. He explained how distribution worked, the difference between wholesalers and distributors and jobbers, and a bunch of other stuff. Though there's very little an author can effect on the macro level, understanding it is the first step to being able to make micro level changes that effect anything.

I love your garden analogy, BTW.

Stacey Cochran said...


You're Author #2 aren't you? You're the only person I could think of whose books came out like that.

If so, congratulations. You're off to a tremendous start.


thewriterslife said...

LOL, I think it's called obsession. I was doing that for awhile, just constantly checking my Amazon rankings, but got too busy, so I guess that's a good thing, isn't it? ;o)

Jana Oliver said...

Being small press published, Ingram doesn't carry my books (B&T does). Still, I appreciate this sort of sales dissection as I know that in the future I'll be facing the same kind of issues. The distribution chain is a dog's breakfast and the more an author understands the types of events that impact his/her sales and, ultimately, their contact with their readers, the better chance they have of success.

That way, when something goes off the rails (and it always does) you know when it's time to break out the single malt scotch.

Allison Brennan said...

Eros, Wal-Mart works with several wholesalers and they have done signings for authors. I went on a bus your with other romance writers through Levy and we hit 18 or so Kmart stores in the Chicago and Detroit areas. Levy also distributes to some of the Walmarts and they did an author tour with Walmart as well. I know several authors who did signings at Walmart, including stock signings. Usually you need to work through the corporate level so it's always best to work through your publisher if possible. They'll set up signings even if they don't pay for a tour.

Stacey, I don't know if they're my numbers because I haven't called. (Believe me, I'm neurotic enough!) There were a couple authors who came out with three books close together, including Mariah Stewart, Tara Janzen, JR Ward, Cherry Adair, and a couple others I can't remember off the top of my head.

But, my books have done well. I was in Walmart, but not Target until two months after release date. I wasn't in Kmart, but after doing the author bus tour through Levy I'm hopeful I'll make it there next time. I did make it into a lot of groceries and drug stores, which really helped.

Stacey Cochran said...


I heard Keith Kahla of St. Martin's Press two years ago say Amazon only accounts for about 5% in the U.S. I asked Jaime Levine at Warner this same question just three weeks ago, and she said that number (5-10%) is about right.


Allison Brennan said...

If Amazon is more than 1% of an average NY pubbed author's sales, I would be shocked.

Anonymous said...

Hi JA,
Sent you an e-mail proposal. If it fell in your spam bucket, could you please pull it out? LOL Thanks!

The information on sales is very interesting! Thanks for sharing!

Vivi Anna said...

This is a great post! I've been obsessively checking my numbers on my second ST...and it depresses me but I continue to do it. LOL

Like I need anything more to obsess about!