Archive for February, 2009

Estimating Sales, Part III: Converting Amazon Sales Ranks into Sales Estimates

Friday, February 27th, 2009

If you want to estimate the sales of your own book, one of the best ways is to estimate the sales of the closest competition. There are other sources of sales data, such as Ingram’s iPage, and Bookscan, but I’m going to discuss the more complex process of turning Amazon sales ranks into estimates of sales through Amazon here.

Their sales rank formula shifts and is proprietary, of course, but one thing we do know is that it’s always roughly inversely proportional to sales, over any reasonable range. Most of you just came to a screaming halt, didn’t you? Well, it’s not as arcane as that sounded. You can do this, really. Yes, really.

Once more, in English, and taking one step at a time:

If you look at books that are selling roughly similar amounts, then you can say that Amazon’s sales ranks can be inverted (divide 1 by the rank), and the result will more or less proportional to sales.

Proportional to the sales means you can find a number to multiply the inverted ranks by, and you’ll get an estimate of sales through Amazon.

To find the number, I recommend that you look at Morris Rosenthal’s Foner Books site. He has a page, here, that gives a graph of sales per week and sales rank. I’ve never found a better correlation that’s publicly available.

Pick a sales rank number that’s in the middle of the range you expect your book to inhabit. Go down that line in the graph until you hit the red line, and then run across to the sales per week axis. Jot that number down beside the rank. (Oh, and yes, the graph looks a little different than you may be used to, but don’t worry, it’s more accurate because the axes are logarithmic.)

Now, multiply the sales per week (or year, if you prefer) by the rank. That’s the factor of proportionality. If you divide your resulting number by sales ranks that are close to the one you chose, you’ll end up with an estimate of the sales for that title.

Caveats: First, sales ranks change quickly. Use the middle of the range that each title inhabits.

Second, you’re only estimating sales through Amazon. Only you know whether that’s likely to be 12% or 75% of the sales for this title.

Third, this is most useful for estimating the sales of titles that are competing with yours, or for estimating those numbers in order to get a rough ballpark estimate of the potential sales of your future title.

And last, but never least, if any of the calculations I describe seem to you to be giving you a wrong answer, if the answer is just plain “off,” rely upon your experience and judgment, not on the spreadsheets.

So, who has a question about this? A suggestion for improving it? Or something else they’d like to raise?

I’ve Written A Book, Should I Self-Publish?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I have some very hard-to-hear advice: not all manuscripts are meant for publication. There’s no way for me to know if yours is or is not, but you can do some things to determine whether it is or not. There are other things you can do to try to get traditionally published. I’ve blogged before about those issues.

Lately, you’ll hear a lot about self-publishing. It may be something you should consider, but it may not. What questions should you ask?

1. Why am I publishing this book, and what does that imply about the best path?

2. If a mainstream publisher is your first choice, why are you reading this post? Go read some of my others, and at least a couple of the agent blogs.

3. Your market:
–Who is my book designed for?
–Why will they want it?
–What else do I know about them?
–Where can I find them in large groups, and how can I market to them through those clusters?
When you can answer those questions, you can estimate the likely sales of your book. And yes, this is your problem, ultimately, no matter how you publish. If your books don’t sell, you’re going to have a very hard time accomplishing any goals with them.

4. Should you use a self-publishing service? If your likely sales are more than 50 to 100 copies, then you should probably avoid so-called self-publishing companies. Why? I discussed it here. (These services are also called on-line publishers or POD publishers, by the way.) Using one of them will limit your potential sales in most cases. (I have several other posts on estimating sales, and add more regularly. Walk yourself through them, if you’re not experienced in this industry.)

5. Can I run a business?
5a. Can I sell my book to others?
Being an author is being in business, but the penalties for ignroing most of the implications of this are relatively small. When you self-publish, that’s no longer true. And you’re going to have to be responsible not only for the back office nitty gritty, but also for the marketing. Many authors have a hard time accepting that necessity or performing in those roles. If you’re one, don’t even try self-publishing. It’s not going to make you happy.

6. Do I have the time and energy to learn a lot of new things? Publishing is complicated, and it’s very easy to make expensive mistakes. After your first book, things do get less confusing, but it’s not going to stop being a learning experience. After 18 years in this business, I’m still learning something every day.

7. Do I have enough money to do my book justice? Trade publishers spend about $20,000 or more to launch a single title. You don’t need anything like that much, but you do need some money. You’re going to need to buy ISBNs, and register your copyright. You’re going to need some software, and a lot of books on the various disciplines of design and marketing and production. You may need to pay for a print run, etc.

NB: You do not need a so-called POD publisher in order to print POD. You can directly approach any printer, once you have established your own publishing identity. Buying the ISBN and learning something about the business are more or less prerequisites.

8. Do you really understand what you’re getting into? Publishing is addictive, and most people who try it do get hooked. Before you start, do you have permission from
–your spouse or significant other?
–your immediate family?
–your accountant?
–your mental health professional?
I’m joking, of course, but it’s also true. This will drain your bank account, absorb your time and attention, and generally take over your life. You’ve been warned!