Book Sales Figures

Book Sales Figures – What do they mean? What’s good? What’s bad?

These are a few of the questions we get asked every day by authors and publishers trying to understand their book sales statistics and numbers. Let’s look at these today.

What do they mean?


Depending on where your book sales numbers are coming from, they can mean a lot or they can mean very little. For example, many authors try to extrapolate book sales figures from their Amazon sales ranking or from the number of friends and family that told them they would (or have) bought their book.


Two pieces of information here:


1. WAY more goes in to Amazon sales ranking than actual book sales. Yes, that’s true.

2. Everyone who knows and loves you will promise to buy your book. Some will. A lot won’t.


How to find book sales numbers: True sales numbers come from a couple of places.


1. Nielsen Bookscan – Nielsen Bookscan tracks book sales from independents, chain brick and mortar stores, Amazon, big box stores, many specialty stores, Clubs and several .coms. Your Nielsen Bookscan sales figures are the closet to accurate that you will get for sales through the register. They can’t, and don’t, track direct sales, back of room sales and/or corporate sales. The percentage of the market that Bookscan captures is a topic of debate but rest assured, if you’re doing well on Bookscan you’re doing well.


2. Your Publisher – If you are traditionally published you will receive royalty statements a couple of times a year. These are direct statements from your publisher of all sales shipments (and returns) for your book. This statement will show the total number of books shipped, the total number of books returned and any rights sales.


3. Your POD company – Some of the POD options such as CreateSpace provide real time updates on book sales. Others may provide weekly or monthly reports.


4. Your self-publishing company – Most self-publishing companies will provide your book sales figures monthly. They will include your print sales as well as your eBook sales

What’s good?


It depends! We’ve all heard that statistic that most books sell less than a 100 copies. Is that MOST books or is that most self-published books? How accurate is that data really. One of my favorite blog posts on this topic is a couple of years old and you can find it here: “What Are Average Book Sales?”  The reality is that “good book sales figures” is completely subjective. Of course, everyone wants to sell a million copies of their book. Very, very few people will do so. I suppose “good” can be defined the following ways:


1. Your goals – If you’re a speaker, therapist, financial planner or other professional and 50 book sales brings you 50 new clients/opportunities with a significant pay out. Then 50 copies might be great!


2. Your production costs – Believe it or not almost all publisher lose their shirts on the first print run of any book. That’s because that print run is front loaded with all of the editorial, design, production, PR, sales and book marketing costs. The revenue actually comes in the following print runs. In today’s POD world, it’s tougher to measure that because the first print run may be a single book. “Good” book sales, to start, are actually enough sales to cover your investment in your book. Unfortunately, this may take you a year or more to earn back  but once you break even, that’s a good place to be. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t.


3. Actual sales figures – Set a realistic goal for what you believe is “good”. The key word in that statement is realistic. Your goal may be to recoup your costs (see above). It may be to increase your business (See point #1). It may be to literally sell 5,000 copies of your book. Just remember when you set your goals….publishing a book is a marathon and not a sprint. You may catch lightning in a bottle the first time out but it’s far more likely that you will be pounding the pavement, working hard on marketing your book, pushing your contacts and continuing to promote your book for several months before it “pops”.

What’s bad?


A favorite client of mine defines bad as: “rolling a donut” on Nielsen Bookscan. In short, if he has a week with 0 sales, that would be bad. The good news for him is that it hasn’t happened and he’s sold over 1,200 copies of his book and continues to get weekly sales on Bookscan. Other clients would say that “bad” is defined as not recouping their production costs. What’s “bad” for them isn’t as important at the individual who does not see an increase in their business as a result of their book.


1. Bad is no sales. Let’s face it.


2. Bad is sinking tens of thousands of dollars in to your book and seeing very little, to no, return on your investment


3. Bad is any sales analysis you do in the first 12 months after your book is released. Remember: marathon not a sprint. Unless you are “rolling donuts” week after week, any sales analysis you do too early isn’t going to look to good.




You can see that there’s lots of answers to the book sales figures debate and the reality is success, or failure, is different for every book, every author and every publisher. What we do know is this: Give your book it’s best shot. If you put all of the pieces in place (professional design and editorial, sales, distribution, marketing and PR) you are giving your book its best shot.


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