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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.

I’m sure my Amazon page will become a source of intense scrutiny once my book goes on sale. For now, I’m just keeping my eye on it in a housekeeping sort of way: Making sure my cover is there, and my book description. That sort of thing.

The info that most writers focus on is their Amazon ranking. This is found under “Product Details” and is usually an enormous number. This number reflects your rank among all the other books on Amazon, based on recent sales. If a lot of people buy your book at once, your rank will shoot up to a lower number (meaning, nearer number 1). But it will just as quickly drop down again. It can be exciting to see a surge, and depressing to see a drop. But what you’ve sold “today” is less important than many, many other things.

I have a fluctuating ranking already, based on pre-orders. If you want to know what your rank means in terms of recent sales, I found this chart (though I can’t vouch for its accuracy):
http://www.fonerbooks.com/surfing.htm

Your star ranking, from reader reviews, is an obvious thing to obsess over, but I don’t have any of those yet (my book is not yet on sale). As with GoodReads, I’ve been advised by those who have been through this before me to avoid dwelling on reader reviews. They are not for authors; they are targeted at other readers. Let the readers talk among themselves, candidly. If you do read them, and find a review you feel is unjust, WALK AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Do not respond, not on Amazon as a comment, and not on your blog. Every reader has the right to their opinion.

I’m also going to keep my eye on “Discussions” and “Lists” that mention me, but not intensely.

I’ve made an Amazon author page. It’s basically just another page where readers can find aggregate information about me. I put up my pic and a short bio and a link back to my website. BookTour.com automatically added all my tour info.

Because of Amazon’s recent monopolistic actions, some writers are offering alternatives to Amazon in their buy links. IndieBound, Powell’s and Barnes and Noble are popular options. I link to them all.

Readers: How much do Amazon reviews sway your purchases?
Writers: What’s the most frequently you ever checked your Amazon rank?

I got sucked into GoodReads when my publisher did a giveaway of ARCs of my book. I watched every day to see how many people had registered for the giveaway. This kind of unhealthy obsession with numbers seems to be a stage all new authors pass through. Longtime pros eventually hit the stage of giving it up, but, to a debut author, numbers are crack.

I did notice something interesting: quite a few of my favorite books there have average ratings in the three-star range (out of five). These are some of my favorite books, by well-respected authors.

Really, I think it’s a good policy to assume that most books that sell widely will have wide responses to them. I have resolved to not let myself get caught up in readers reviews, and to steel myself to be happy with a 3 average or above (yes, of course I still hope for “above”).

Goodreads is one more place where readers can find me if they like. I’ve put up a bunch of my favorite books on my “bookshelf” there, so people can get a sense of my taste and reading history.

Are you on Goodreads, or Shelfari, or LibraryThing? Which would you recommend most, as a reader or writer?