A Peek Into Amazon Sales Figures

By John Gilstrap
Since its creation a decade or so ago, amazon.com has provided one of the very few sources of sales feedback for authors. At a glance, we’ve been able to tell what our sales rankings are, as determined by whatever top secret algorithm they use to determine such things. If you’re obsessive about it, you can watch your numbers fluctuate wildly, from number 3,500 in the morning to number 350,000 in the afternoon. The trick is to decipher how rankings translate into sales.

As I write this on Thursday, January 13, the Kindle sales rank for my book Hostage Zero lies at 2,007—its first foray above the 2K mark that I’m aware of. Given that there are a bajillion books out there available to be ranked, though, one would think that that still represents a fairly robust sales velocity.

By contrast, the Kindle sales rank for Tom Clancy’s new book, Dead or Alive, sits at 28. Given the distance between the rankings—and the fact that we’re talking Tom Clancy—I wonder what that translates into in terms of actual copies sold.

As luck would have it, I’ve recently stumbled upon a website called novelrank.com, which uses algorithms of its own (or maybe just old fashioned spies) to monitor Amazon sales data and translate it into useable numbers. The results are interesting.

The Kindle Store has sold 73 copies of Hostage Zero thus far in the month of January, which earned it an average January sales rank of 1,718. Clancy’s Dead or Alive, with a month-to-date average sales rank of 21, has sold 253 copies in the same period. Last month, beginning with the book’s December 14 laydown date and a debut sales rank of 6, Amazon sold 493 copies of Dead or Alive from the Kindle Store. (I don’t have December figures for my book because I didn’t trigger the tracking function until January.)

For what it’s worth, the hardcover edition of Dead or Alive saw an average sales rank in January of 75 (it’s 105 now), with 1,010 hardcovers sold.

If the results gleaned from novelrank.com are reliable—and I have no way of knowing either way—my first impression is that the gross numbers seem low, though I admittedly have no basis on which to judge such things. The spread surprises me, too, with Clancy selling only 12-15 copies more per day than I do, despite a four-figure difference in ranking. Admittedly, that all must add up to a seven-figure delta between our incomes, but I would have thought his numbers to be several times what they are.

If nothing else, novelrank.com is a fun tool.  It lets you type in the title of any book, and if someone has already triggered the tracking function, you can see how it’s doing.  If they haven’t then you can trigger it yourself.  It’s a shame that my friend and blogmate Michelle Gagnon is weaning herself from the Internet, or she’d be able to see how her sales are doing.
Okay, that was mean. . .


0

Beginning A Series

by John Gilstrap
http://www.johngilstrap.com/

On Wednesday, Joe wrote of the trauma of ending a series. He likened it to a death in the family, and that seemed apt to me. I think that’s also the way fans feel when they know that a series is coming to an end. I confess to feeling a certain melancholy when J.K. Rowling placed the final period on the Harry Potter series. There was a sadness to the conclusion of the saga, of course, but for me it was more than that. I had come to look forward to my annual or biannual journey into the story. It was a passion and a pastime that I could share not just with my son over those years, but also with people on the subway.

Remember Jack Ryan? In the early ’90s, you couldn’t board an airplane without noticing that 80% of the male travelers had their noses buried in one of the Tom Clancy novels. Personally, I lost interest in Jack Ryan’s saga toward the end, but during the time he was important to me, he was very important to me.

Steve Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger, Bob Crais’s Elvis Cole and John Miller’s Winter Massey are more literary friends with whom I love to spend time. Oh, and Jeff Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, too. Sneaky Pie Brown not so much, but then I’m not much of a cat person in real life. Once they start talking, my powers to suspend disbelief fail me. That said, I’d walk a mile to hear her friend Rita Mae give a speech. I heard her once at Magna Cum Murder in Muncie, and she was a hoot. More recently, I’ve bonded seriously with Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas.

In June, I launch a series of my own, and I confess that I’m worried. I’ve always written stand-alones in the past, and I find the prospect of this long-term relationship with Jonathan Grave and his friends to be a bit daunting. In the early draft–all 750 pages of it!–I found myself developing so much fodder for future books that the main story for Grave Secrets (the first installment of the series) became hopelessly bogged down. I fixed it, and now the story is really tight, and I’m thrilled with it; but now I have to write another one. Same characters, different story.

And more pressure. It’s one thing when fans buy your books because they like your writing–that’s the main (only?) dynamic in stand-alones–but now some percentage of fans are going to buy the next book because they like the characters to whom they were introduced in the first. That’s a good thing, of course, but it adds a whole new dimension to crafting the story. The last thing I want to do is disappoint readers, and it seems to me that by creating a new series, I’m increasing the likelihood of doing that. Remember when Clarice Starling fell in love with Hannibal Lecter at the end of Hannibal?

Okay, I could never disappoint readers that badly, but I still worry.

0