Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Author Central - the Devil in the Details

Yesterday I shared a link, via twitter, to a New York Times article I found kind of amusing. In “In St. Louis, I’m a Failure”, author Matt Richtel talks about amazon’s new-ish offering for authors, Author Central, via which – among other things – you can get regional sales data for all your books.

I pounced on Author Central as zealously as any author when it first appeared, and immediately suffered the shivering horrors that are the special domain of the paltry-selling author. I wobbled between shame and fear every time I checked my stats. But eventually, the novelty wore off, and it was more of a snooze to view than anything. I mean, really, why disappoint yourself over and over and over again when it’s out of your control anyway?

That’s still my basic feeling about the thing, though every time they upgrade it, there’s a minor flurry of commentary much like Richtel’s article. He’s funny, though, which is why I tweeted it.

But then, my editor Adam jumped in with a few comments of his own. They didn’t fit neatly into the 140-char format so I’ve assembled them here:


hey authors, did you see this? did it make you wince? tell the truth now


Makes me wince a bit not not because I want to control info flow to authors but because of Bookscan becoming increasingly unreliable, and as an editor part of my job is to give authors CONTEXT, which Amazon# s don't necessarily. To rely totally on those numbers would also be engaging in the same fallacy authors may accuse publishers of: making it all about one set of numbers re the past, instead of plans for the future & putting your efforts behind what you believe is quality.

I just want to illustrate this with a little tale of my own. When AFTERTIME came out last year, I had high hopes, not just because I loved writing that book but because Adam had worked so hard on its behalf. Simply put, I wanted him to feel like his efforts were worthwhile.

But oh, those Amazon numbers. They went from unimpressive to downright flaccid to flatline in what seemed like no time at all. I was traveling at the time, and I remember sitting in a coffee shop with my long-suffering tour partner Juliet Blackwell, whining about how my career was over and I’d be lucky to get a job selling bagels, and she was telling me to shut up and let her work when the phone rang and it was my agent Barbara. Calling, I was quite certain, with the terrible news that Harlequin was canceling the series due to the book's shocking underperformance.

That was not the case.

I won’t blather on all the boring details, and let me make it clear that the book didn’t blow the socks off any charts, but it turns out that Amazon numbers did NOT tell the whole story. Since then I have learned a few more interesting things about who buys what on Amazon…information that has, frankly, convinced me it would be prudent to mostly ignore the statistics. They simply don’t matter enough to be worth my time.

Hey, by the way, you could do a lot worse than to follow Adam. He’s pretty damn smart. You could follow Barbara too, and Juliet, if you’re so inclined, and then you’ll have a 360-degree view into my career. For what it’s worth ☺


Anonymous said...

It's out of your control is the key point, as is true of so much of what we all worry about. :) And I don't think you'll ever need to sell bagels. ;)

Judith Starkston said...

I'm also sure you won't have to sell bagels, but you would be the sassiest and liveliest bagel seller around--which is why, of course, your books will sell quite well, because they have that same voice behind them (not to mention promoting them). It was fun to catch up with you and Julie at the Sisters in Crime conference.