Wednesday, June 29, 2011

numbers, Numbers, NUMBERS

Project Author asked me the other day what the hardest thing about writing Regarding Ducks and Universes was. This is what I replied: 
The writing is the fun part. I enjoy all aspects of it -- filling up a blank page, research, editing... Well, except maybe for proofreading, because you're supposed to be concentrating only on finding typos and such in the manuscript, but I always want to keep making edits. Not big ones, just little details here and there. I hope I didn't drive my editor nuts doing that!
The business side of things is a different story. At some point you have to let go of the book and suddenly there are deadlines to worry about, reviews, sales numbers, marketing, promotion… It was all a bit overwhelming at first, but I am getting to the point where I feel more comfortable with that stuff.

Thinking about it some more, I've realized that part of it is that nowadays a newly published author is faced with a barrage of numbers, some of which I found myself obsessing over even before the official publication date of my debut novel. For aspiring authors out there, here they are, grouped into four categories:

(1) For starters, we have the numbers that serve as a measure of your writing efforts:

The daily word count. I shoot for a thousand words a day. I've found that that's often unrealistic, especially on days when I need to do research. I try to reach it anyway.
  
The manuscript word count. It edges upward day to day, except when I trim the ending of a chapter or edit out a scene that turns out not to work within the story. The MS count gives you something to say when people ask, "When is your next book going to be done?"

(2) Then there are the numbers that serve as a measure of your sales:

Amazon rank. It's updated hourly and it's different for the print version and the Kindle version, should you have both available. The e-book rank is usually higher (that is, better) since there are fewer books to compete with in the Kindle store (currently just under a million listed.) Other places to find rankings to obsess over are Barnes & Noble (including the Nook, if your book is on it – mine isn't yet) and, if your book is available internationally, on Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Germany, and so on.

Bookscan data, the number of print books sold in the past week, broken down by geographic area. Available in Amazon's Author Central.

And finally, the sales statement sent by your publisher, including, of course, any earned royalties. I receive statements monthly and pore over them with an obsessive parent's eye.

(3) Then we have the numbers that serve as a measure of your promotional efforts:

The number of people who entered your latest giveaway. These can be quite high (on the order of a thousand if you list your giveaway through Goodreads or LibraryThing) or on the low end if you list the giveaway on your blog but don't have many followers yet.

The number of to-reads (people who have shelved your book on their virtual bookshelf on Goodreads, LibraryThing, or Shelfari and think they might eventually get around to buying it.) There's usually no direct relation between these and your actual sales numbers.

The number of friends/likes you have on Facebook, Goodreads, and other social sites. (I'm not big on friend counting, so I don't worry too much about these. Then again, that might be why the "like" count on my Facebook author page is only up to sixty-eight.)

If you have a blog, there is also the number of daily hits to keep an eye on. 

(4) Finally, there are the numbers that reflect people's opinions of your book:

The book's average rating on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Barnes & Noble, and other sites. I cannot emphasize this enough: People's opinions of your book will vary. You'll get five-star reviews and also one-star ones from people seriously lacking in reading taste. Move on.

Also of interest are the Top 100 lists on Amazon and in the Kindle store in the book's category. There are ones based on sales, and others on the book's average rating. Regarding Ducks and Universes tends to slip in and out of the Top 100 rated category in Science Fiction > Adventure as it and other books accrue ratings daily and get shuffled around.

Speaking of lists, it's good to be on them. Goodreads has ones like Beautiful Book Covers of 2011, Books That Make You Laugh, and Hate the Book, But Can't Stop Reading It! (My own book is on two out of those three, as it happens.)

One last thing -- of all the numbers listed above, only the daily word count and the related MS count are fully under your control. Something to keep in mind!