Writer's Bloc
My SFWA Bulletin Column

Sales Numbers and Other Secrets

from The SFWA Bulletin #171, Fall 2006


Numbers, Sales, and Other Deep Dark Mysteries

    New author Janice Lynn thought she was going to break open the secrets of how your past sales affect your future book sales. Heh. She failed, of course, but at least she got some editors to go on the record in her article "Playing the Numbers Game" in the September 2006 RWR.

    They all give more or less the same standard line. Typical is Leah Hultenschmidt, editor at Dorchester Publishing, who said:

      So as much as we'd like to say that numbers have no bearing on a great book, the reality is that they do. Advances, royalties, and new buys are all based on an author's previous sales…. All book buyers base their orders on past sales, no matter what publisher the author is writing for. While disappointing sales won't necessarily break the deal, they can present a bit more of a challenge….

      We have to keep a close eye on the numbers so that we can make whatever adjustments are necessary to keep growing that author's career. If a book suddenly takes off, we want to know so that we have enough stock and can follow the surge in sales with appropriate promotions. If an author is not showing growth, we have to know that too so we can figure out what needs to be changed. Is it a problem in just one account? It is the cover? The content? The numbers can help us gauge where we need to focus our efforts to get an author back on track.

    If you want to track your own numbers, there are better resources than clicking on Amazon. Giant distributor Ingram maintains a database that authors can phone into. Call 1-615-213-6803. Enter the book's ISBN number, followed by the pound sign. You can choose information wanted from the voice mail listing. Amounts for the total number of books on hand, on order, on back order, and sales for the current and previous years can be retrieved.

    A much more expensive service, albeit one that provides a clearer snapshot of sales, is the Book Sales Research Service report from The Book Standard (www.thebookstandard.com/bookstandard/resources/single_title_lookup.jsp). The Service uses Nielsen BookScan for a one-week total of sales, "which are broken down into: units sold in retail stores and discount/other stores; sales in eight different geographic regions; and a city/suburb breakdown. Each look-up also has the current year-to-date sales of the book…. All the BSRS needs is the ISBN for the book in question and the requested Sunday-to-Saturday week and year date (ex: 3/6 – 3/12, 2005). Look-ups start at $85 for one ISBN, $145 for two, $340 for five and $600 for ten." The report also provides per cent change in sales from the previous week for each category.

The Bankruptcy Clause You Should Put in Your Contract

    In the Summer Bulletin, C. E. Petit gave us "A Writer's Introduction to Publishing Bankruptcies." Here's an addendum by Mark L. Levine, from the Summer 2006 Authors Guild Bulletin. Levine is the author of Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers.

    He's as gloomy as our Charlie about what happens to authors and their books after a bankruptcy. Nevertheless, he offers what he says is the best wording for a bankruptcy clause.

      If Publisher shall fail to make any payment or deliver any royalty statement required by this Agreement by the date provided herein and, if after x days [30 is plenty] written notice by Author to Publisher, (i) said payment has not been made or (ii) such royalty statement has not been delivered (together with any amounts shown thereon as payable, if any), as applicable, then this Agreement and all rights granted by Author to Publisher hereunder will automatically terminate (without any further action required by Author or Publisher) at the end of said [30th] day.

    Levine further wrote:

      Although this provision won't get you your rights back if the publisher files for bankruptcy before the end of the time period stated, it should work if the filing occurs after that date. Because publishers in financial distress and delinquent in paying royalties are often among those that file for bankruptcy, this provision can be useful just when it is most needed….

      Note that the clause saying that the contract automatically terminates should be qualified – either by a parenthetical or a separate sentence at the provision's end – to say that the termination will not affect things such as the author's right to receive monies then owed, royalties on books sold previously or afterwards, subsidiary rights payments not yet received or the author's right to purchase film and bound books as if the Work were out of print. This is generally done by cross-reference to the relevant section.

    Next issue I'll give any comments or even choice Naval epithets Charlie throws my way.

More Follow-ups: Recycled Paper and the Sony Reader

    The article by Máire Walsh on ecologically sound paper and ink I wrote about last issue presciently addressed a subject much in the book world's news this summer.

    The Green Press Initiative (greenpressinitiative.org/) wants more use of cleaner paper by the publishing industry. According to its web site:

      The mission of the Green Press Initiative (GPI) is to work with publishers, industry stakeholders and authors to create paper-use transformations that will conserve natural resources and preserve endangered forests.

      The Green Press Initiative is a non-profit program and its staff work in the following capacities:

      • Advancing Awareness through efforts to clarify the connections between book production and natural resource impacts.

      • Facilitating Collaboration by engaging all stakeholders in working together to bring about industry improvements.

      • Assisting With Implementation through ongoing work to aid participating companies in implementation design and application.

    The GPI issued a "Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use" at BookExpo America in May. The full text of the Treatise can be found at: greenpressinitiative.org/documents/Industry%20Treatise%20on%20Paper.doc. It brief, it calls for increasing the "book industry's collective average use of postconsumer recycled fiber from a 5% average at present to 30% average by 2011. In so doing, we will increase the U.S. book industry's use of recycled fiber by 250,000 tons and conserve 524 million pounds of greenhouse gases, 2.1 billion gallons of water, 264 million pounds of solid waste, and 4.9 million trees each year."

    Random House stole some of the thunder by announcing earlier at the BookExpo that it will meet this goal by 2010. Its press release can be found on the GPI site at: greenpressinitiative.org/documents/RHI%20Policy%20Announcement.pdf.

    And Chelsea Green Publishing (www.chelseagreen.com/), one of the first members of the GPI, will be adding a "Worth It" logo to all its books. The logo will come with text that reads: "This book may cost more because we use post-consumer recycled paper, which is significantly more expensive than 'virgin' paper. We hope you'll agree that it's worth it."

    Another way to save paper is to not use it in the first place. Like fusion power, an e-book reader always seems to be just around the corner. I've been writing about the checkered career of the Sony Reader since I started writing this column. Like the Comet Kohoutek, here it comes again, another fizzle.

    Walter S. Mossberg gave the latest rendition of the Reader a thorough workout and review in his "Personal Technology" column in the Oct. 12, 2006 Wall Street Journal. This edition of the Reader maintains its use of electronic ink, a technology that mimics ink on paper rather than an LCD screen, and maintains its high price, at $350. For that you get a paperback-sized object that can hold 75 books in internal memory and accept add-on memory cards. It's now part of a full system that can view your own PDF documents, display photos, and play music.

    Mossberg says the black "ink" on light gray "paper" is readable even in bright sunlight although still not as good an experience as reading a regular book. Photos and graphics show up in four shades of gray, with poor results. This is still better than trying to read a PDF, which won't work unless created expressly in the Reader's screen size and resolution.

    Books for the Reader are cheaper than print or audio editions, although selection is still limited to about 10,000 titles. Mossberg found that the "online bookstore is poorly organized and has an awful search function."

    Nor does the Reader have the bells and whistles always claimed as advantages for electronic books. Mossberg wrote:

      You can't enter notes, search inside books or documents, or look up words in a built-in directory. And while you can bookmark pages for later retrieval, you can't highlight passages. Sony says it's working on a future version of the Reader that can perform these tasks.

    Sony's fusion-powered AtomiReader will be on the market in… Sorry. Although some variation of these Readers seems inevitable, I'll be waiting until somebody realizes that the only workable marketing scheme for them is the Gillette blade/razor model: practically give away the Reader to sell more of the books. When the Reader drops from $350 to $3.50, I'll be back with another mention.

AR Book List

    The good news: students get points for reading books. The bad news: your book isn't on "the list."

    That somewhat Orwellian "list" is the one used by Accelerated Reader (AR). Deborah J. Lightfoot revealed its secrets in the September-October 2006 SCBWI Bulletin. AR is:

      A computer-based system for tracking reading in schools. It's owned by Renaissance Learning, a company that sells assessment and monitoring programs for pre-K through 12th grade.

      The company calls AR "reading management software." Under the program, a student reads a book, then sits down at a computer to take a quiz about it. Correct answers earn points that the student redeems for rewards for prizes such as pencils, pizzas, candy bars, T-shirts, or special privileges.

      AR's website (www.renlearn.com/ar) says it offers more than 75,000 quizzes on library books and textbooks. Many thousands of books, however – classics and new titles – are not "AR books." And there's the rub. Students don't earn points for reading non-AR books. They are motivated to reject the non-listed, thus passing up books they shouldn't miss.

    To get your book listed on AR, a program now in half – 60,000 – of the K-12 schools in the U.S., send two copies to the Title Selection Committee, Renaissance Learning, Inc., P.O. Box 8036, Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54494. Include a cover letter describing the book's awards, positive reviews, and whether it is available through major school library suppliers.

    Earlier quality problems with these papers and inks have been solved, although finding the best products for particular applications may take some research.

MWA Contact Directory

    RWA sends out Romance $ells. Sisters in Crime has its Books In Print. Now the Mystery Writers of America plans to create a national directory and guide of its members. Steve Brewer wrote in the June/July 2006 TTD, that:

      The board voted to spend up to $7,000 to publish the directory, which will list active members and their books in print. The guide also will give contact information about participating authors and will provide lists of authors by their specialties.

      Membership Committee chairman Gary Phillips said the 84-page booklet could be used by reporters who are looking for authors to interview, as well as by booksellers who want more information about MWA members at their fingertips. The specialty section will allow authors to list themselves in up to three categories.

      If reporters or booksellers are looking for, say, culinary mysteries, they could turn to that section in the listing and find which authors specialize in food.

      Plans call for 5,000 of the directories to be printed and distributed, either later this year or early in 2007.

Markets Outside the Box

    G. Miki Hayden wrote in the June/July 2006 TTD of the wants of Idylls Press. They are looking for novels and short story collection in any genre, including sf and fantasy, along with mystery, historical, romance and mainstream. However, the works must be:

      written from a personalistic Judeo-Christian point-of-view, and in the tradition of such authors as Graham Greene. The press would like novels with Catholic themes, but will look at other types of material. Press runs will be less than 1,000 copies or print on demand will be used. Submissions of a partial and 30 pages is by e-mail with "Submission" in the subject heading. Explain your target audience and how you would promote [the book]. (www.idyllspress.com/submissions.htm)

BookSmart Book Design Templates

    I can't draw a straight line with a ruler. I got dazzled when I used the "insert image" button to put a gif into my blog to relieve the lines of text. I'm the last person in the world who should be designing my own book.

    So I should get all excited by the mention of BookSmart in Campbell Geeslin's "Along Publishers Row" column in the Summer 2006 Authors Guild Bulletin. (Every item from here on is from that busy column.)

    BookSmart is free drag-and-drop software for book design, available for the Windows and Mac at www.blurb.com. Both covers and internal pages are in customizable templates. You can add your own pictures, graphics, and text. Or use their readymade Baby book, Dog book, or Cat book. Photo albums, cookbooks, travel books, all the full color more-than-text books that are ill-handled by today's PoD publishers are perfect for BookSmart. And you get an 8-by10-inch hardback with a dust jacket.

    The catch? Price. A full-color book will naturally cost more than a plain text one. Books up to 40 pages cost $29.95 plus $8.95 for shipping. A sliding scale rises to $79.95 for books of 301-400 pages. Discounts are available for multiple copies of a title.

    A great idea? A badly-needed niche filler? A rip-off? I can't decide. I'm still working at adding that next picture to my blog.

Times Never Change Dept.

    Just before Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published, Charles Dodgson wrote to his editor:

      You have not answered my two questions - 1) When will the book be really out? 2) What newspapers etc. do you propose to send copies to?

    Four months later, after publication, Dodgson was writing again:

      I had hoped for a larger sale of the book, but perhaps unreasonably. It is likely to sell at all at Easter? You do not seem to be advertising it with that in view.

Times Do Change Dept.

    Harlequin romances is launching a line of romance novels for cell phones. Installments are downloaded daily for a fee of $2.49/month. They are meant to be read in brief bursts by soccer moms bored with the waiting at games or anytime snatched from the scurry of a busy day.


Organization, Publication, Address, Web Address

Authors Guild, Bulletin, 31 E. 32nd St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016, www.authorsguild.org/

Mystery Writers of America, The 3rd Degree, 17 E 47th St, 6th floor, New York, NY 10017, www.mysterywriters.org/

Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers’ Report, 16000 Stuebner Airline Dr., Suite 140, Spring, TX 77379, www.rwanational.org

Western Writers of America, Roundup Magazine, 1012 Fair Street, Franklin, TN 37064-2718, www.westernwriters.org

Copyright 2006 by Steve Carper

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