Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bestseller - How Does it Translate into Numbers...?

Not a day goes by that I don't see at least one or two announcements cross my screen, proclaiming that the author's novel is a "bestseller." I often hit "reply" and congratulate the author but it always, always bothers me that I don't know what exactly does that mean -- in terms of numbers. And who has kept such count and provided it to the author?

I guess the ultimate question is: "Do the e-publishing houses have their own standards of what constitutes a bestseller - or is there an industry standard for this?"

One of my e-publishers holds an actual event as a standard for the rest of her authors. One particular author worked so hard on promo in his hometown that he sold 400 trade paperback copies of his novel, that was also available in electronic format. The publisher holds this number for print copies as the company's topmost standard for "bestseller." It's the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest for this particular e-publisher. However, she also holds 50 electronic copies sold as a "well-selling" book. And 100 e-copies sold represents a bestseller. The sales would be within 2 or 3 quarters - or in some cases within a year. A 100 e-copies of any novel sold in one year would represent a "bestseller" for this publisher.

Then there is the other publisher who considers 500 electronic copies sold in about 2 quarters as a threshold for bringing the book out in print format. However, she will make an exception (don't know the background of this) and now and then she will send a book into print after having sold only 200 e-copies. I've four publishers but none of them have given me their standards on what constitutes a bestseller. It's probably the reason why I constantly wonder how those other authors advertise their novels as bestsellers. What do they base their 'bestseller' tag on? And WHERE exactly is the given book a bestseller? On the, on fictionwise, on other e-book distributor sites - or if it's in print, how many paperback copies did it sell?

In Canada, and in traditional print publishing, 5,000 copies sold constitutes a bestseller. In US, it has to be 10,000 or more. Once again, St. Martin's Press might have a higher threshold for declaring their novel a bestseller than Random House but once you're in this category, it hardly matters.

Where it does matter, is in e-publishing and for all the e-pubbed writers, like me.

So...what is your understanding/take on the issue? What constitutes a bestseller for you? Who has the authority to declare any e-pubbed novel a bestseller and who keeps such statistics? I'm sure many of you have followed the NCP saga - and I am one of their authors - and therefore know that NCP no longer provides any numbers sold to their authors. They simply send a royalty check for copies sold during any particular quarter. The author is left to ponder just what does the dollar amount represent in terms of number of sales. It's also a mystery as where did these sales come from. Thanks for any input. Edita.


Tess MacKall said...

Judging from your research, it looks as though it's up to each publisher to establish guidelines. I would truly love to see a guideline set for all e publishers. I think that would be helpful and tell us a little something about sales too.

But sales figures seem to be a well kept secret. I had a book on the top ten best seller list of a publisher and I can honestly say the sales weren't all that great. So it's very confusing. However, I didn't go around and say I had a best selling book. I somehow couldn't quite bring myself to say that.

Guess maybe I should have and therefore boosted sales. lol

Great blog.

Edita A. Petrick said...

Thanks you, Tess, for taking time to comment. About 2 years ago, when my first e-book came out, I received my 1st quarter royalties. I looked at the check, pursed my lips and thought, "Well, I can certainly buy my youngest that good pair of basketball shoes...but that's about it." When my check for the second quarter came in, I sighed - since my sales declined to where I could buy one shoe - I emailed my publisher, basically wanting to withdraw the book.

I was shocked when she replied that she didn't understand why because it was selling "so well." At least for me, selling 150 copies of e-novel doesn't represent booming sales. Neither does selling 100+ copies of the said novel in print format. But apparently, to many e-publishers, this is...success. And when an e-publisher boasts that "some of our authors are making $10,000 per month" - those said authors will have 200+ books out at the very least, in whatever format, and their contract terms might be very different from mine - percentage-wise.

So, ever since that incident of two years ago, I frown and wonder each time an author - one I know and others I don't - comes on the yahoo loop and proclaims that their check was shockingly good or they have a "bestseller." For that reason alone I would love to see some kind -- ANY KIND -- of e-industry standard on this topic. Thanks again, Tess.

Morgan Mandel said...

Seems it's all relative. Small publishers don't have the same quotas as big publishers. If they did, they'd have a hard time keeping up with the demand.
Morgan Mandel

Ashley Ladd said...

As far as I know, it's different for each publisher. I think they usually mean their top 10 bestsellers of a given time period - which could mean a lot of different things.

Edita A. Petrick said...

Thanks, Ashley, for taking time to comment. And I agree that for e-publishers, a bestseller probably means books by their authors -- but what exactly does any e-publisher consider a "bestseller" in terms of numbers? 100 e-downloads of a novel in 6 months...500...? And how often do they come up with these "bestseller" lists? If it's a certain number of downloads per...oh, say 6 months then they should be able to (technically speaking) give such a statistic only twice a year - and even then only after some time - and yet, newly released e-pub is being promoted as a "bestseller" - I'm just trying to find out what exactly that means - and what is it I'm congratulating the author(s) on. Thanks again. Edita.

Amanda Young said...

There doesn't seem to be any way to judge what makes an ebook a bestseller in this industry. I know what number of books I need to sell in order for myself to be happy, but that number probably varies a lot with what others consider a good sales month. The best place I know of to judge for yourself is the EREC site. Emily Veinglory has a graph of sales averages on her site for many of the epubs and that may help.

Ashlyn Chase said...

One thing about traditional pubs and their "bestsellers" that I recently learned is that all they have to do is send that amount out to bookstores. Even if 50% are returned unsold and go into landfill (which isn't unusual)the book is still proclaimed a bestseller.

epubs, however don't pollute the earth with "bestsellers" and for that I say 'Thank you!'

However, I do wish there were an industry standard. At my epub selling less than 100 copies per year means you can ask for your rights back since it isn't selling well.

At one of my old epubs, the top 10 sellers were called "best sellers" even if they only sold 10 copies.

Interesting topic!


Edita A. Petrick said...

Thanks, Amanda and Ashley - you've both hit on another thing that's "nagging" me - how do I determine for myself what "happy sales" represents for me? And I have a horrible feeling that 'how a novel does' largely depends on WHO publishes it - of course, this is my feeling based on my experience. But I think that at least one of my novels would have done significantly better had it been pubbed...with someone else. Today, I know what I didn't know 3 years ago - how easy or how difficult it is for a reader-customer to BUY OFF the e-publisher's site. And while a publisher may be nice to work with, when it's frustratingly hard to buy off the publisher's site...that must affect sales too. Every day in this business is a harsh-lesson experience. Thanks for your comments. Edita.

Amanda Young said...

The publisher you choose does have a lot to do with it. I believe so, anyway. I have a strict list of about 5 epublishers I would ever submit to, and that's it. I can admire people who are brave enough to go with a smaller/newer company, but I won't send them my work. Too many of them go under.

Cheryl Wright said...

When my first novel made it to the epublishers 'bestseller list' I was elated. When the royalty payment came in, I hit the earth with a thud.

Querying the publisher I found out the 'bestseller list' was based on their top selling books, (which absolutely makes sense) but at that point, the sales rarely went above ten copies per book – even the bestsellers!

What I've learned since then is epublishers rarely do as well as print publishers. If you go into epublishing (as an author) and expect to make thousands upon thousands of dollars you're living in la-la land. Epublishing is totally different to offline publishing in many ways. (And just one of the reasons most epubs use POD.)

As an author you need to be diligent about which publishers you submit to, and if at all possible, you need to have some idea of their sales figures. Okay, pretty impossible -- unless you know one of their authors "really" well.

In my own experience I sold more copies in six weeks than the publisher sold in eighteen months. And you guessed it, I pulled the book.

I think what everyone needs to keep in mind is sales figures are really no-ones business except your own. Do you go about asking NY published writers what they earn? I doubt it.

The same applies in epublishing. This probably sounds a bit harsh, but many writers believe they'll be rolling in money once they've been epublished. It doesn't work like that.

I love to write fiction, but it won't make me rich - I learned that very quickly. So I feed my fiction addiction by writing non-fiction, which is where the money really is.

If you enjoy writing fiction and can afford the fact you won't become a millionaire, go for it. Don't worry about the sales.

If you need the money, check out some of the sites like "Show me the Money" where you'll get an idea of what sales are like with a number of publishers – big and small.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I sold 100 copies of my suspense thriller Dead Witness in the first week. I thought for a self-published novel that was pathetic, until I gained the attention of Overwaitea Foods, then Sandhill Distributors. I would never label my novel a best seller. It seems to be a term too easily throw around these days.

Thanks for your thoughts, Edita. They always make me think.