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"How Are the Book Sales Going?"

It's a question I get quite often, and sadly, the most correct answer is, "I don't know."

With my first book, back in 2008, I really had no idea how well it was selling for almost two years, and even then the numbers I was given didn't mean much because I knew so little.

Publishers pay an advance on a book when they offer a contract. The author gets "paid" in that way, except then the publisher holds that much money back from royalties as the book sells. If an author gets $100,000 (don't I wish), the book has to earn that much back for the publisher before she gets more money (It's called "selling through"). Add to that the fact that bookstores stock books with the understanding they can return them if they don't sell within a given time. That means a publisher can't count a sale as a sale until they get the returned books and subtract them from what really sold. (Confused yet? That's the current state of publishing.)

Those two things add up to a long wait time for authors. Many books never sell through, so the author never sees a cent after that initial advance. Though I'm one of the lucky ones who receives regular royalty checks, I missed a whole year's worth when my main publisher went bankrupt a while back. That money just disappeared into the court system.

As you can see, the traditional publishing system makes it hard to tell which books are selling. When I'm asked about sales, all I can say is that once or twice a year, there's a check.

New tools make it a little easier to find good information in certain venues. Amazon and Audible are great about giving a daily update of how many of which books sold today. It's nice not to wait years to get paid, and there's even a chart that tells how many pages of my books have been read on Kindle each day. That can get to be too much information, but it is fun to see which books people are actually reading and how fast they're getting through them.

Something that's interested me lately is that all my books, even some of the older ones, are selling pretty steadily. That means (I think) that people are reading one book then seeking out more of what I've written. Since my topics are widely varied within the mystery genre, I don't know if that's a good thing or not. Someone who loves Simon & Elizabeth might not react well to Loser the Loser or Seamus the Dead Detective.  I like to think if a reader is only looking for a good story, she won't be disappointed.

How are the book sales going?

Honestly, it's fun to see sales climb. It's nice that money appears in my bank account regularly. But I'll never be an author who chases financial gain. I went into this field because I love writing books that make me and a certain set of readers happy. Sales are just one way to tell if I'm doing that.


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