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Gnome Attack Roundup: Analysis of the First Six Months (Part 4)

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How to Survive a
Garden Gnome Attack



Six months ago, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack
was released into the wild. It has been an interesting, and sometimes
incredible, six months. It's my intention to do a series of posts of
behind-the-scenes stuff relating to the book's sale and release, in an
effort to illuminate what you can expect when it happens to you. This is Part 4. Today I want to explain a little bit about how sales work.

How can you track your own sales?

We editors have always been able to track the sales of all books because we subscribe to a service called Nielson BookScan. Subscribing to BookScan and seeing the sales of books is expensive, which is why it’s not feasible for writers to have access to it. But recently, something remarkable happened. Amazon gave writers access to the BookScan numbers of their own individual titles. So while you can’t look up the stats on any and all books (like we can), you can access the sales stats of your own books.

This development is both good and bad. BookScan numbers can illuminate a lot—but that isn’t always a good thing. If your book comes out and doesn’t catch anywhere, the numbers can be depressing. Then again, if sales are OK or good, it’s quite a jolt.

So the number seen through BookScan—is that the real number of copies sold?

No. Everyone uses BookScan because it’s the closest tool we have when tracking book sales, but it only tracks some channels of where books sell. It tracks sales made through Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon and a few other places. But it doesn’t record sales at any small or independent shops, or purchases made by writing groups or libraries, or even books bought by the authors themselves. So the number you see on BookScan represents anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of the total books sold. You just use it as a gauge.

If BookScan doesn’t tell you the real number sold, how can you find out what that number is?

The only place you can go is the marketing & sales department of the publishing house. That’s the only 100% bet to get accurate numbers. After your book has been out three months or so, your agent will probably call and inquire as to the sales numbers. Once you have that accurate figure, you can compare it against BookScan and see what the ratio is.

For example, if BookScan reports 6500 sales over three months and your publisher estimates the true number at 10,000, then that means BookScan’s reports will likely only show 65% of your true number going forward, as well.

A novel, which typically sells through big channels such as Amazon and Borders, will be represented well through BookScan. You may see a number on BookScan that represents 75% of your real total sales. But a gift book, on the other hand, such as GNOMES, which is sold in all sorts of little indie places, only shows up at about 50% of its total sales.

Are sales highest when a book is just released?

Most likely. The release is when all your friends & family buy it, small bloggers write about it, and publicity hits with the media. After that, sales will naturally dwindle, and you’re relying on a variety of things to keep sales healthy: good worth of mouth, getting into book clubs, a movie adaptation, foreign sales, some random coverage from a big place, a celebrity tweeting about your book, etc.

Did I get a bump in sales from Christmas?

You better believe it. At Christmas, all books—especially “gift books”—experience a fairly drastic rise in sales. The spike in sales hit around Black Friday, and peaked the final two weeks before Christmas. My sales jumped around 400%, but my ranking within humor books actually dropped. What does this mean? It means that, during the holidays, all books everywhere spike up in sales. This is good news.

Did I get a bump in sales from Gnomeo & Juliet?

Not really. A lot of people told me there should be some cross-promotional opportunities available. But I have to assume they wanted nothing to do with me. I mean, c’mon, they want to sell toys and boatloads of merchandise, and then here I am telling people that gnomes kill. The only good part about the film was that my publicist used it as a chance to get some more coverage, and did land incredible mentions in both USA Today and the New York Times.

How much do authors make per book?

Typically, anywhere from 50 cents to $3 for each book. That number depends on a whole host of things, such as the details in your contract, the size of the press, if you wrote it with a co-author, whether an illustrator was involved, whether the book is printed in color with pictures (like GNOMES), and the price of the book. A new hardback novel would usually generate $3 per book to the author in a royalty.

What is the “best” way for people to order your book?

This is a question I asked my editor when GNOMES came out. I was getting this question from friends and family. Should they buy it at a bookstore? On Amazon? From me personally? Well first of all, if someone (such as a work associate or relative) can buy it from you personally, that is a good way to go. Authors get their books at a 50% discount. If a book costs $20, you can buy it at $10. Then you sell it for $15 (a discount off the cover price) and make $5 per book, which is more than any royalty a publisher could offer you. (And yes, you have to register as a vendor with the county and pay taxes twice a year—boo.)

Besides that, the publisher just cares about moving books. My publisher told me that if people want to flock to Amazon, they can go for it. You can encourage people to buy your book in bookstores just to keep them open, but it’s tough when Amazon is selling at a deep discount and will deliver it right to your door.

What is an Amazon Ranking and how does it work?

Every hour, Amazon updates its ranking of all books on the site. I don’t know how exactly the ranking is computed. But I will say it is horribly addictive. It seems to me that a book can easily fluctuate in the big numbers. By that I mean it doesn't take too much for a book to jump from #400,000 to #50,000, or even to jump from #20,000 to #8,000. But I will say this: Just before Christmas, when GNOMES was selling a lot of units, my Amazon ranking got to about #650 and just absolutely hit a wall. Once you start getting up there in the rankings, then you're going up against the big boys, and it requires hundreds and thousands more books sold to advance in the rankings. In other words, the mountain gets real steep and it's hard to climb.

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My book at the Joseph Beth Booksellers
in Cincinnati near the front. Very cool!

Media requests & interviews: If you would like a free review copy of Gnomes
for an interview or roundup or any kind of mention, please contact me
at literaryagent(at) and I will send your information
to my publicist. Thanks!

More Gnome news: To see all the news & reviews & coverage of my book, click on "My Writing Life" at the end of this post.

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