Wednesday, September 23, 2009

why Wednesday is my favorite day of the week

Sounds funny, right? Wednesday...? Yeah, but it's true. And I bet secretly there are a bunch of other obsessive-compulsive editorial types out there JUST LIKE ME who, if you backed them into a corner, would admit it's their favorite day of the week, too.



That's right, my friends: on Wednesday morning, Nielsen releases the previous week's book sale data to its paying clients.* I live every moment of my week before seeing the sales numbers in a state of breathless frenzy and nervous anticipation, and every moment after seeing them wondering how I can use them to make next week's numbers better. The weekend merely marks the difference between the "WhatcanIdowhatcanIdowhatcanIdo!?!?!" mindset and the "HowdidIdohowdidIdohowdidIdo?!?!" mindset. That, and nothing more.

I'll admit it, I'm a sales data fiend. I've seen other editors who are much more zen about the whole process, trusting in the divine power of their publicity and marketing department to handle their jobs at this point, realizing that sweat and blood and brow-furrowing on the editorial team's part can't do a whole lot once the finished copies are out of the warehouse. If only I could be one of those nice, calm, forward-thinking editors, and let go. If only I could look at sales data and think wanly, "how interesting." But alas, it shall not be; instead I live my life like a cocker spaniel who just KNOWS there's a steak up on the counter, if only they could jump high enough or con someone into dropping it.


Yes, it's early in the morning, but aside from having my epic fantasy reading to get through before work, I also have this last week's sales data to panic about. As usual, there's one title I'm particularly anxious about (usually, it's the book of mine that came out most recently). But I have many ancillary anxieties, as well, some larger than others. The old heartbreakers, for example--you know, the books you desperately loved that for some INCOMPREHENSIBLE reason never sold very well--I've mostly resigned myself to ignoring, although my eyes will pass over the latest numbers with indefatigable (if mild) hope.

Why do I care so much? Well, obviously I want all my books to perform well, and I want to be the first to know if something's taking off. But also, I want to know WHERE it sells (geographically, demographically, through which vendor, etc) so in my conniving mind I can try to come up with ways to capitalize on that. Knowing the sales data also helps me speak more honestly with the author and agent about how a book is performing and where, specifically, we should target our energies to improve performance. The weekly sales data helps me figure out if something specific we did this week helped a lot, or didn't help at all. Was that radio appearance successful targeting of the book market? Well, if you see a bubble of hundreds or thousands more copies sold this week than last, the answer might be yes; if the number is 17 copies higher, maybe we've learned it's not worth the trouble.

Also, I want to know if I think I can push for a reprint--not that this is my job, or that I even have any say in whether a book is reprinted. I was talking to an author friend this weekend, and she was surprised to hear the editorial department not only has no control over reprints, they are often informed of reprints only after the fact. Well, as I mentioned above, I am a control freak, and really, really like to know if I should anticipate a reprint--it helps me make sure I have any text updates ready in time, and new reviews or blurbs added to cover copy ahead of time, etc. So my idea of a nightmare scenario is being informed by the inventory coordinator that one of my books has been reprinted without my involvement! I try to prevent that by being on top of things.

Another thing I love about Wednesday morning sales figures are the freak surprises. Like when a backlist title from 1983 about some obscure 17th-century watchmaker suddenly rockets into the top 20 titles for the week--all via Amazon sales. Will we ever figure out why? Well, we can try. It's like a mystery--was this guy mentioned in the NYT? Did some formidably traveled blogger do a write-up of the book? Was it suddenly assigned to some random reading list for a college class with a gihumongous enrollment? Sometimes we figure it out; sometimes we don't.

Does being a stat hound help me in my job? I don't know. I do think absorbing all this data--not that I'd be able to stop myself from gluttonously poring over sales figured even if I wanted to--will eventually help develop my brain into a book-creating machine that understands what sells to whom and for how much and where, and why. I mean, maybe.

As usual, I have big hopes today for one of my books in particular. Please keep your fingers crossed for me. It is, obviously, totally life-changing, and possibly the best book ever published. Now let's see if Nielsen is going to play along...

*No, you can't ask me for any of this data, sorry; others have lost their job for less than disseminating sales data. Besides, it's not that interesting, unless you are an above-mentioned OCD editorial freak like YT.


Lydia Sharp said...

Fingers are crossed. That letter to the Publishing Gods about Very Nice Book almost got me to shed a tear. Almost.

Word of the day: gihumungous. Love it.

This post was so good, I can't even respond to everything that I want to. I'd end up writing a novel in the comment box. Just plain awesome. :)

Kate said...

Good luck am keeping my fingers crossed for you. From the marketing side when our books get released and we are waiting for the figures sometimes I literally can't sit still for jitters so I sympathise!

Kate x

Rachel Aaron said...

How do you get bookscan numbers? Does your company subscribe to them? Is there anyway an author could get access to her numbers on her own? Just for her books? I tried looking at the bookscan website, but it's really difficult to find any actual "pay us money" information. The top 10 list is nice, though.

Also, isn't bookscan an incomplete look? Don't they only get like 70% of sales or something due to lack of WalMart? (Hahaha, I'm going to start a band called Lack of WalMart).

Awesome write up! Veeeery interesting!

moonrat said...

Rachel--companies subscribe--if they can afford it. It's very, very expensive. Many agencies (especially boutique ones) have no way of paying that $$ so even most agents are without.

And yes, it's incomplete--it takes into account the national accounts: BNN, Borders, Amazon, Powell's, BAM, Walden's, you know. Also, many indies report--but not all; my guess is about 40% of indies report (and yes, I've done tons of research to make that estimate). But wholesalers (including library retailers, a huge market share) are represented nowhere. You're right that Walmart doesn't report, and neither do some of the other large "club" stores that sell tons of books. So yes, unfortunately, these numbers are just gauges.

JES said...

Knowing the sales data also helps me speak more honestly with the author and agent about how a book is performing and where, specifically, we should target our energies to improve performance.

Once you identify where (and among which audience(s)) a book is or isn't doing well, do you think it's better to put more resources into boosting the book's performance (a) where (and among etc.) it's already doing well, or (b) where (etc.) it hasn't broken out, maybe against expectations?

(All the usual qualifiers: "all things being equal," "I know it depends," and so on.)

From the title of the post, I was sure this would be a bloggy extension of your "days of the week as verbs" Twitter theme. :)

Sarahlynn said...

"I am a control freak, and really, really like to know if I should anticipate a reprint--it helps me make sure I have any text updates ready in time, and new reviews or blurbs added to cover copy ahead of time, etc."

Yes! This frustrates the heck out of me. In editorial one of my major annoyances was the notification of a reprint with very little warning (if any). Argh! Hopefully I'm in the office today with a neatly updated reprint file! Hopefully the author is quick with email! (Because sometimes authors are notified about errors rather than the publisher.)

When I was in Marketing it was even more annoying because I had to rely on the editor to remember to tell me after production told her about a reprint. And sometimes there was an important marketing consideration for a reprint, like putting a burst for an important award win on a cover.

Those frustrations were why I had to budget time to scan through regular stock reports before we finally started discussing reprints at editorial meetings. Ahhhh.

moonrat said...

JES--sure enough, it depends!

But, for example: say the author is based in the Chicago area. I can look and see that for some reason there's not much movement in that area. Then we can start trying to harness more regional attention, arrange more events, invite local press.

Or say I notice her book *is* selling strongly in her home region. Then I try to splash around that info to all her local press and set up events...

Oh wait. It amounts to the same thing.

Ok, the short answer is "I grasp at any straws, and when I have data, I can pretend I'm grasping scientifically."

CKHB said...

Do you think it's worth it for authors to pay for the single-title BookScan info when they're published? I heard it's something like $85 per book.

Charles Gramlich said...

I did not know about this, but I hope someday one of my books (or more) feel the sudden surge of sales.

moonrat said...

CKHB--I don't know. I think if you're ocd like me, it would be a mess of a time not knowing. But at the same time, knowing might make you panicky, too. All the numbers you've heard your entire life are so artificially inflated that most authors feel bad about what they see. Even when they're doing well.

If I were an author... I would probably get it. Because I'm a control freak. But should you? You might be more zen without.

Cat Moleski said...

You're so cool. Funny and cool.

Ann Victor said...

Good luck for the special book. Hope the sales figures are just what you'e hoping for. We're panting along in solidarity! Pant. Pant.

And some more interesting insight into the publishing industry, thanks!

Donna Gambale said...

When I was an editorial intern at a publishing house, I got to use Bookscan ALL THE TIME. Mostly to research comp titles' numbers. Now that I'm completely immersed in the YA world while writing my novel, I absolutely itch to have that information at my fingertips again!

Also - I laughed out loud when I read "I live my life like a cocker spaniel who just KNOWS there's a steak up on the counter, if only they could jump high enough or con someone into dropping it.
Pantpantpantpant." SUCH great imagery.

I love how dedicated you are to figuring out the science of sales. If it makes you feel better about your Bookscan OCD, I hope to one day have an editor that invested in my book's success!

I'm crossing my fingers that you got good news!

moonrat said...

update: it was OK news.

now what shall we do for next week...?

WendyCinNYC said...

I love that you are like this, Moonie, although it probably doesn't do much for your blood pressure. My goal is to become more zen, but at heart I'm an OCD girl. Maybe I should just learn to embrace the anxiety.

The Sesquipedalian said...

Good luck on that special book!

I can appreciate your attachment to those numbers. The right number can be as exciting as the right word.

Rebecca Knight said...

Oh, my gosh, you sound like me. I'm a control freak, too... or as I like to call it "organized." ;)

I'm glad your news was okay! Here's looking forward to an awesome week coming up!

Bruce Pollock said...

Not asking for your sales figures, but could you PM me with mine?
Just kidding (or am I?)
But, generally, what would good numbers be for a non-fiction book in its first week?
And let's say, for the sake of argument, your author's book came in on the low side. How would you break it to him--or would you wait until he follows up?

Kimberly Kincaid said...

If I had that kind of information at my disposal, I would be no more good. I mean it. It would freak me *right out* to know! You're my hero for being so ironclad about the numbers.

As a yoga instructor, I'm endlessly in pursuit of Zen. I am also very reliable for crossing things if you need extra luck :)

It's a crazy life, but someone's got to be double-jointed...

Glad your numbers were okay!

Kate said...

This is just fascinating!

Sarita said...

I nominated your blog for a blog award. Take a look at my blog to see what it is.

Sara said...


The Nielsen Entertainment Data Center will be moved from White Plains to Cincinnati on 10/7.

Please note the following:

1) During the move, BookScan US, Barnes & Noble US, and Borders US systems WILL NOT be available from 8:00 pm ET, 10/7 (Wednesday) through 8:00 am ET, 10/12 (Monday)

RCWriterGirl said...

All I can say is Wow. It would be great if all editors were as enthusiastic as you. This data sounds really useful. I hope it gets passed onto agents an authors, even if editors don't feel like looking at it. If I ever get a book deal, I'll ask my editor for this data.

Alaska friend said...

A belated comment, but just want to say: you are such a kind editor (and helpful blogger), Moonrat. Thanks for explaining all to this to us. I, for one, would LOVE to work with editors who track these numbers and are willing to share the nasty specifics with writers. (And yes, it does turn one's stomach, but not knowing does the same thing.)