A few weeks ago, Amazon added an extremely exciting new feature to its Author Central program which, at the time, I was too busy with pre-Christmas scurrying to notice. Today, however, my brain has returned to normal levels of Exciting Publishing News-detection and I practically started skipping when I logged into my Author Central account and realized that weekly sales data from Nielsen BookScan is now available for free to authors who sell their books on Amazon.
In case I’m overwhelming anybody with too much lingo (Author Central? BookScan?), here are some quick definitions:
1) Author Central is a free service provided by Amazon.com that lets authors maintain profiles, post blogs and videos, promote events, and track sales data—all through the Amazon.com website. If you sell your books through Amazon, you should definitely take the time to sign up, upload an author photo, and write a bio. It takes five minutes and it gives potential book-buyers one more thing to click on when they’re considering your book.
2) Nielsen BookScan is a service that tracks sales of print books in stores across the country. It’s estimated that BookScan catches about 75% of retail book sales (meaning that the BookScan numbers for any given book don’t reflect the exact total number of books sold—just a good estimate of how a book is doing on the market). Most publishers subscribe to BookScan and many media outlets do too.
Now that Amazon is giving away BookScan data for free, authors have access to more information than ever before about the strength of their book’s sales, the effectiveness of their promotional strategies, and even the location of their book’s buyers. (Oh, just one thing to keep in mind: BookScan only tracks the sales of print books, so tracking e-book sales is still up to you).
When I explored the BookScan data for my book for the first time this morning, I discovered all sorts of things I had no way of knowing before. For example:
-In the past four weeks, the print edition of my book sold 287 copies.
-Of those, 14 copies were sold in Los Angeles, 14 were sold in New York City, and only 1 was sold in Indianapolis.
-In December, I sold the most books during a week in which my book was reviewed on a mental health blog. (Coincidence? Maybe. It will probably take a few months of paying close attention before I learn how to recognize the real correlations.)
-If my book sales were an animal, they would be a friendly old workhorse: steady, dependable, never really bucking or galloping but moving peacefully along, munching on carrots.
What can authors learn from this kind of information? Well, for one thing, we can target our promotional efforts (interviews, book tours, etc.) to parts of the country where people seem the most eager to buy our kind of book. Authors on book tours can check BookScan data to see if their reading at a bookstore in Minneapolis resulted in greater sales in Minneapolis for that week. Authors can also use BookScan data to get a better idea of their book’s selling style. For example, does your book “sell itself” or do the numbers bounce around wildly depending on how many conferences you speak at?
This week, I encourage anybody with a book in print to sign up for Author Central and get familiar with Nielsen BookScan. The more you know about how, where, and why your book is selling (or failing to sell), the wiser you’ll be about how to promote your book.