Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Keeping track of your sales

By now, some of you are selling books. Lots of books, I hope. Today’s post is on how to keep track of those sales when you have more than one publisher.

A few weeks ago, I showed you one way to keep track of your business expenses. Today we're going to talk about how to figure out how individual titles are selling.

The chart at the left shows the start of a very large spreadsheet that lists all of my books for sale at Ellora's Cave, how many books were sold in a given month and how much each book made me in that month.

The blue numbers are sales for the year and the black bold numbers below that are the total numbers to date. 

This is a great way to keep track of sales when you have a single publisher. If you get paid quarterly, you would simply have fewer entries per year, but the set-up could be the same.

What you can't see from this small snapshot is the column over to the far right (very far right; I have a lot of titles out with EC), the column marked "total books" and the one beside it marked "total royalty". That adds up all books (and $) across all books for the month. If I've done my math right, the monetary number matches the one on my monthly check!

That database works great – if you have only one publisher. Those of you who self-publish, however, often have many publishers – and how do you keep track of several titles over several platforms?

Below is a pic of the top and bottom of one of my Excel files. Each venue has it’s own page; the set-up of every page is exactly the same. The months are listed vertically down the side and the book titles at that venue are listed across the top. On the right is a column for monthly sales for each title (the last column got cut off - it records the total royalty in $), just like I have for my EC sales sheet.

Every month I gather up the data from each of the major venues and plop it into the database. Believe it or not, Barnes & Noble is the best at providing real-time information that easily accessible. Even though the statements are stored on their servers “in the cloud,” I still download and keep a digital copy of each month’s report. Why? Because I’m paranoid something will get lost and I believe in having backups of my backups.

Smashwords pays every quarter, but you can get a monthly list of books sold very easily. Because they deal with so many affiliate sites, however, selling books through Kobo and Apple for instance, it might be several weeks, perhaps months, before Smashwords is paid for that sale. And the author doesn’t get paid until the publisher is paid.

You can either keep track of books sold by the month in which they were sold, not the month in which you were paid for it, OR you can enter a book into your database only once you’ve gotten your royalty in hand.

Either way works, but I prefer the former over the latter. It’s much easier for me to list the book as “sold” when Smashwords (or any site, for that matter) lists it as such and mark it off when the payment comes in, especially if you’re dealing with international sales—and currency exchanges.

Amazon is the slowest at getting out a decent monthly report. Their website states the formal report will be ready by the 15th of the following month and I’ve found that to be generally true. They have an option that goes back six weeks, but it isn’t always accurate, in my experience. I find it best to wait until the final report comes in and then transfer those numbers to my database.

A1 is short for A1Adultebooks, an imprint of Fiction4All. Not all my books are listed there (yet), but I keep a page for those that are. They’re very good at providing a daily report of books sold through their site and it’s easy to print out the report at the end of the month in order to grab the numbers I want.

And what numbers do I want? For these pages, I’m interested in only two numbers: The number of books sold and the total royalty paid out. The rest of the identifying info in the individual reports isn’t needed here (like author name, ISBN, time of day, for example).

You’ll notice the last page listed is one for the totals. That’s taking all the information on EACH of these venue pages and coming up with a single number for the month. How many copies of TIED TO HOME, for example, did I sell in March and how much money did it bring in? That answer is on that last page of the report.

I also get the total royalty I made in self-publishing for the month on that page when all the individual numbers are added together in the final column.

Such a format permits me to learn all sorts of interesting things. For example, my collection of short stories (Timeless Love) didn’t sell a single copy for the entirety of 2012. That tells me there’s a problem. Bad cover? No one likes short story anthologies? Bad stories? That takes further analysis. But it was this way of collecting data that first alerted me that a problem existed.

Another recent discovery is that, in February, I sold more ebooks via self-publishing than I did in January through Ellora’s Cave. First time I’ve seen a self-pubbed royalty report higher than that of my EC sales!

So now you have two ways of keeping track of your royalties: one for a single publisher and one for multiple publishers. Three guesses what your assignment is?


Set up a database of your books. If you haven't published yet, that's okay. Set it up anyway because you're going to sell soon and you might as well be ready. Use the above models as a guide and feel free to adjust to your own desires as you wish. I use formulas to do the math for me; if you need help with those, email me or check out the Microsoft Office site for help on the program.

As always, if you find this useful, please leave a tip!

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