Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sell through

This post is part of a series I've been doing on the Business of Writing. Today we're talking about that all-elusive sell-through.

Sell through is publishing jargon that came into being when authors started getting advances. The publishing house would upfront the author a royalty payment of an agreed-upon amount (big name authors got big name advances, most authors got a couple of thousand as an advance). There would be no more money for the author, however, until the royalties reached the same amount as the advance. The "sell through" point.

In other words, if an author received an advance of $5000 on her book, she wouldn't see another penny until she'd sold enough copies that her part of the price totaled five thousand dollars. The book would have "sold through" (or past) her advance and her publisher would be happy. She would be too, because now she'd start receiving royalties again.

In self-publishing, though, sell through is probably more accurately called a profit/loss statement.

It is how you determine if a book has actually made you money...or not. It's another data point you can use to make decisions about promotional efforts, cover art...a whole host of business decisions! Remember, as a writer you are running a business. Whether or not you are self-pubbed, knowing your data is the best way to keep your career moving forward.

This is a spreadsheet for Tied to Home. As you can see, the book is a slow starter, but I've already earned a profit. Between the cover art and an ad I bought, I spent $80; the book has earned me a total of $152.56. This gives me a profit of $119.84. 

(And yes, these are actual numbers. I truly believe we do newbie authors a disservice by hiding what we make on a book. Most books I publish have a stronger start, but some don't even do this well. Be honest about what you do or don't make. How else will others learn?)

What these numbers for this book tell me is that I can afford to do more paid ads. The one I ran appeared in January (although I bought it in November - that's a fault with this spreadsheet that needs fixing. I want a better way of knowing when the ad ran to see if it made an impact on sales. A comment in the January box will probably be sufficient).

This spreadsheet also makes me feel good. Okay, so the book isn't taking off and selling a ton of books every month. But it is selling and I've made money.

It also tells me I might want to look at some externals. Although I've made a profit, the book isn't selling as well as I think it should. Knowing this, last week I changed the blurb in all listings to working that linked it to the rest of the books in the series. I also updated the title on Amazon to reflect that it is part of a series so that, if someone searches for "The Sweet Spot series" it will come up. Tied to Home is one of several stories written by the members of the Sizzling Scribes. All the books are set in Port Clef, Connecticut and explore love and romance--and sex, of course! Making sure all the books in the series point to all the other books in the series should boost sales for all of us.

(Working with a group of authors for promotional purposes is the topic of an upcoming post. :) )

The bottom of the page is cut off, but I have a separate page for each of my books. It helps me to keep track of what ads I've bought and where they are; for my older books I can tell if there's a pattern to the sales (again, another blog post for another day: looking for patterns).

Data is your friend. The spreadsheet above is one data point. You can use your sales records to see what platform it's selling best on as another. Each piece of information helps you inform your decisions, helps you run your writing business.


Set yourself up a profit/loss statement for each book. If it is a newly-published book, setting this up and keeping track will be easy.

If the book has been out a while, use your sales records and your account information to help you re-create the records. And if you haven't set those up...what are you waiting for? {g}

Play safe! If you find this useful, please pay what you can for the ideas.


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