When Amazon and Book Scan Had a Baby

I’m a bit afraid to write this post, the way someone who fears the mafia is afraid.  But I have to give voice to something that has seared the last year of my life with a fair amount of ludicrousy.  It’s just too juicy not to share.  At the risk of having big time New York editors running at me with sharpened pencils and a slurry of sticky notes, I have to tell you:  published authors don’t have access to their book sales.  Not more than twice a year when the royalties reports come.  My book was published in April and I didn’t see that report until November.  Isn’t that stunning news?

So how are you to plan accordingly, you might ask?  How are you to know where your hot markets are?  How are you to weigh whether it’s worth it financially to choose the Birmingham, Alabama library request over the one in St. Louis?  It’s an exact science:  Eeny rock meeny paper miney flip a coin scissors.  I’m sure that this isn’t the publishing industry’s fault.  I mean they have troubles enough in the looming fact that the future might very well only hold digital books, never mind digital people holding those digital books, but that’s another story.  Or is it.

All I know is that you can’t fly out of the small town airport where I live for less than around $400.00, and that’s a steal.  Usually it’s more like $800.00.  And so is it worth it to fly myself to Birmingham, leaving my husband and small children, missing soccer and baseball games and school plays?  I don’t know.  You tell me.  Do people in Birmingham read a lot?  Or do people in St. Louis read more?  Eeny meeny.  And there’s more to this puzzle because things tend to happen to the author when a certain amount of books have been sold.  Big things that might involve a pay check and help you budget things like Christmas, and Spring Break and if either are going to involve expenditures.

Don’t get me wrong—my editor and my publicity team are my dream team.  I adore them.  They’d never put me in cement boots and throw me into the Hudson.  They bent over backwards to tour me around the country and land me spots on national TV and everywhere they possibly could.  And they’re in the process of doing it all over again for the paperback release in a few weeks.  This is not about them.  But it’s about somebody, and just who that somebody is, I’m not sure.  It’s a system that doesn’t seem to work, not when it comes to the lowly writer as a business woman.  Any businessperson should be able to see sales reports to judge how to proceed in peddling what she’s peddling, shouldn’t they?  Especially after the big launch.  Sure there are amazing salespeople out there working for the effort, but the writer can’t contact them.  It’s a guessing game.  Maybe they’re afraid the hair-brained blundering writer might mess it up somehow.  Kind of like how they don’t let you visit your kid at camp unless it’s parent’s weekend.  I honestly don’t know.  But I better not wake up with a horse head in my bed, that’s all I’m sayin’.

And then…this winter…all this changed, thanks, I think, to Amazon.  Amazon might be getting the biggest writerly blow job ever, and it was just in time for the holidays, because…wait for it…well I’ll take you through the door a different way.  The way my mother would want me to.  Politely:

As a writer of a recently published book, you never know what’s going to be in your email in-box in the morning.  Is your UK publisher wondering if you like the cover art they’ve chosen?  Is noon an okay time for a journalist from Tel Aviv to do a phone interview with you?  Would you be willing to do a Skype video call with a book group north of Boston?  Could you suggest a good therapist for a fan’s husband in Tulsa?  Could you send signed copies of your book to your mother’s bridge club friend’s daughter and all her friends in San Diego?  Could you stop bothering your publicist about the paperback book tour?  (click to see my upcoming events and come say hi!)  Could you sign books at the local Costco this Sunday?

“Sure” is the answer.  Especially to the last one, because you’ll need to stop by Costco anyway since that’s where you buy your books since you can’t afford to buy them for $24.95 and if you use your author’s discount with your publisher, it doesn’t count as a sold book and you need books counted since you don’t make any royalties until your advance is paid back in book sales.  And not at $24.95.  It’s a small PERCENTAGE of the retail price that goes back into the pot.  Get it?  (Somebody asked me recently if I was a millionaire, now that I have a book that landed on the NYT best-seller list.  The answer is no.  I’m still trying to get my health insurance back and crawl out of credit card debt!)  Sold books steer the next few years of your life in more ways than you can write about here without ending up with that horse head in your bed, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

Suffice it to say that there are all sorts of things I didn’t know about being a published author prior to this experience, and even more things I don’t know after the experience.  It’s been a year of these findings for me.  But the biggest surprise is this whole sales issue.  Until Amazon somehow teamed up with Book Scan and sent me a little email one fine winter morning that said, “To add to your holiday cheer, we’ve added several new features related to your books’ sales on our new Sales Info tab.”  And lo, with a simple click I was dragging my cursor over the continental US seeing that, yes, 46 of my books sold in New York City last week.  And 14 in Seattle.  And one in Milwaukee, bless that person’s soul.  And, oh look, zero in Wichita.   Well that’s okay.  We love you anyway, Wichita.  Maybe I need to fly on over and speak at your library.  If you’ll have me.

And as much as some writers think this is a cause for Zanax, I think it’s one of the best gifts a published writer could get.  So, thank you, Amazon and Book Scan.  But no, I still refuse to buy a Kindle.


Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts

22 Responses to When Amazon and Book Scan Had a Baby

  1. Excellent! Just excellent.
    Thank you for writing this. All that you have said (except for the NYT bestseller part), I have found to be true. (Though my first book was non-fiction.)
    Congrats and Godspeed to you, with your writing. It has to be wonderful to be in the fiction game.

    • lauramunson

      Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer and congrats on your book! I just had fun looking at your beautiful website and photos! I’m glad this little piece found you. People need to know the behind the scenes book biz stuff, esp if they’re writers. I was so in the dark. Say hi again! yrs. Laura

  2. Kathy

    I cannot believe that authors are not supplied sales information! I am one of those “bean counters” and we don’t make a decision without looking at the numbers, analyzing the results and trends (in some cases, many times over)! Thank goodness that Amazon has provided such a valued tool! Kudos to them! I am glad that I made the decision to purchase my last three copies of your book (for gifts) through Amazon. Knowing this, I will continue to purchase through them. Hopefully you saw a little up tick in your New York numbers!!

  3. Come visit me in Ghana and I guarantee that a week in you’ll be phoning your husband and begging him to send you a kindle!

    Great to hear that Amazon has opened the door to tracking your sales. Hopes this leads to all sorts of new adventures!

  4. Katie Andraski

    Thanks for sharing this. I loved the way you used language here. You made it snap, crackle and pop. I’d had an inkling this was how publishing worked but wasn’t sure. Can you ask those people to pay your airfare when they ask you to read at places?

    I wonder if doing a gig or two at a summer writers conference would help with bills and give you your own chance at Big Kid Summer Camp. Or getting hooked up with one of those low residence MFA programs…I know that might take too much time from your writing…which is so very important to us your readers…

    Well, have fun on the paperback tour! I’ve got to click and see if you’re coming this way!

  5. Debra Weiner

    Thank you Laura–this is a very brave and insightful post that will help so many authors going forward. Bravo!

  6. Thanks so much for spreading the word. I didn’t know it was the same in the US, but when I was published in the UK, I had no clue who was/wasn’t buying books. Because the publisher sold a lot through non-Bookscanned outlets, I never did know. It wasn’t until the company went under that I found out from a former sales guy that I’d been selling very well in Europe. Would have helped to know.

    • lauramunson

      Really? That is so interesting. It’s like it’s mafia run or something. My book is coming out in the UK in a month and I’ll be interested to see how that all goes. I’m so thankful for my book deals and realize that I can only really just control my writing. But it’s a bit of a shocker, isn’t it. Thanks for sharing, Anne! yrs. Laura

  7. Wow, Laura. That’s a powerful post. I hope you don’t find that horse’s head in your bed. I love your honesty. It seems unfair that you don’t have more control. I am glad that Amazon is giving you a breakdown of your book sales!

  8. meg

    casting my vote for birmingham, alabama :)

  9. Robin Dake

    Thanks for the insight Laura. I have spent this last year focusing more on my writing (as much as I can with 2 kids, a dog and full-time job) and learning about the publishing end. It is helpful to get an insiders view of how the maze works!

    • lauramunson

      Good for you, Robin. I have learned that it’s all about doing the work, and then the biz side of it is best handled by your agent and editor and publicity team. It DOES help, however, to educate yourself in that side of things…which is something I never did and BOY was this year a learning experience! Good luck. As my college professor used to say: Write on! yrs. Laura

  10. I had to post, because I think I bought the Milwaukee book :)
    I’m an editor and a published author and I only see my “numbers” twice a year. I don’t even see current numbers for the books I’ve edited, which drives my authors crazy. Everything you say about your experience with publishing is true on our smaller scale as well. I obsessively check Amazon rankings, but I am not really sure what they mean. Interesting about the BookScan spin, though. I will have to look into that.

    • lauramunson

      oh rats– I just wrote a long response to you about Milwaukee and Summer Fest and the world of publishing and somehow pressed a delete button. Suffice it to say that I’m shocked that not even some editors get to see sales! And thankful for your support in WI– I know what you all think about us IL folks, but we probably deserve it ;) Thanks for saying hi, Karin! yrs. Laura

  11. Interesting post, Laura! I’ve just started tracking my own sales via CreateSpace (Amazon’s POD), and have been really impressed – too impressed. (Note that constantly refreshing the sales tracking page does not actually increase sales.) Everything is new and confusing to me and I have no idea what’s normal, so your twice-a-year perspective makes me realize how grateful I should be for the information that has been at my fingertips from the start. I’m glad to know that you have access to this kind of information now too, as it is priceless! I hope to see you in May here in Seattle!!

  12. Thanks for this post. It’s very timely for me since my memoir comes out later this year. I look forward to getting all retentive about book sales.

  13. lauramunson

    Hey, Kim, Congratulations on your memoir! There’s so much to be retentive about! A fellow writer friend said to me not long ago: “It’s just a book.” Took my breath away. Feels more like a baby to me, but this is my first one, so heck. I say, be as retentive as need be, and then learn really good breathing techniques. My paperback is about to come out and I’m trying to let go of outcome…but ya really want yer kid to get into Harvard, ya know? I mean if that’s what she wants… Therein is the lesson. Always learning. yrs. Laura

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