Publisher Alley is a peek into Baker & Taylor’s sales data.

Okay, I’ll back up: There are a few key distributors who move books between publishers and stores. Ingram and Baker & Taylor are the biggest. Each one represents only part of a book’s sales.

Distributor info is highly specialized, and professionals pay dearly for access to it. Some writers’ organizations, such as Mystery Writers of America, have made deals for their members to have access to Publisher Alley at a low rate (presently $35/year).

Keep in mind: this is partial data. It reflects only the books that move through Baker and Taylor. What can be useful, though, is comparing your sales data with that of similar books. I find it helpful to see where I stand compared to other debuts in my genre, and to other books from my publisher coming out that same month. Also, for some books they list print runs.

Ingram, another distributor, used to have a phone number you could call to get sales data, using a book’s ISBN. That seems to be in flux right now. The latest number I’ve heard is 615-213-6803, but several authors have reported that it’s not working for them.

For a fuller picture, you’d need Bookscan. Membership to Bookscan is prohibitively expensive.

Really, only a royalty statement knows for sure.

Any advice for what a writer should do instead of staring uselessly at numbers? Exercise? Volunteer? Write the next book?

ETA: Two new sites I’ve just become aware of, for tracking Amazon sales specifically:

Title Z

Novel Rank

The best use for these that I can think of are for 1) tracking books that sell PRIMARILY through Amazon, not bookstores, or 2) to identify/quantify sales spikes in the wake of specific advertising or media efforts. I don’t want to obsess over my Amazon sales in general, but it may be helpful to compare the immediate effectiveness of different kinds of promotion.