Recently I found myself on a site discussing how to gauge the real meaning of the Amazon sales ranking numbers which we’re told change hourly on a book’s sales page on the Amazon site.
First, two confessions. Number One: I am functionally innumerate. I understood not one word of what the author of the page was trying to explain about the complexities of the logarithms Amazon uses to come up with their rankings. Number Two: I am nonetheless as addicted as any other writer to checking that Amazon information. Why wouldn’t I be when it’s the only info I or any author has about real numbers? (Leave aside how you can say they’re real when you don’t know how they’re arrived at… There they are, on the printed page, and as I said, they’re all you have.)
That said I began this post wanting to tell you that just because you read something on the Internet does not make it true. The same site that was trying to give me authoritative information about the Amazon rankings insisted that royalty statements come from the publisher every month or three months, and show the numbers of copies sold.
Royalty statements from publishers who actually put books in bookstores (not print on demand or e-books or some sort of vanity press) come twice a year and reflect activity that took place six months previously. In other words: The sales activity for the months from June to December 2006 will arrive some time in the spring of 2007. And they do not say simply we sold this many books in that time. They reflect the fact that bookstores take books on the basis of sale or return, and do not pay the publisher until both are agreed that the books really were sold and are no longer in the store. But that judgment is further complicated by the fact that the books are not usually actually returned, though sometimes the covers are, but destroyed on the basis of some kind of honor system. (Which honor or lack of same is the source of many of the books you find in second-hand book stores or on E-Bay.) So your royalty statement which tells you only how the book was selling yesterday or maybe will sell tomorrow, but never how it’s selling today, has mysterious numbers (frequently disturbingly large) of amounts of money being held against returns. And in the next statement these numbers may not have changed. Leaving you wondering if the Second Coming will arrive before your publisher actually pays you anything beyond the initial advance. Which is why that advance is so important. And getting the agent who will maximize it is vital.
So bring on the Amazon rankings. They are transparent by comparison.
Tea will be served with the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen tomorrow at 27:07 sharp.