You Never Know about Numbers

In fact, you can’t count on numbers. I get a certain amount of amusement over indie authors who are so obsessive over their numbers, particularly on Amazon. How many sales per day, per week, per month. How many from this country or that. Which books are selling the best, and should this one go Select or that one go free. I suspect it’s the most obsessive people who are most thrilled when sales either take off, for no apparent reason, or most upset when they drop like a stone, again for no apparent reason.

But numbers are interesting, and I’m not entirely immune from paying attention to them, and wondering what’s behind them. As I’ve said before, I don’t do much in the way of promotion, so if my sales numbers trail off, I just figure that’s the price I pay. What’s more interesting than the numbers, though, is the patterns, and watching to see if what seems to be a pattern is just a random perturbation of the universe, or whether there’s really something there.

I’m noticing what seems to be a pattern, but may just be the result of random perturbations. Smashwords pretty much died for me, so that’s when I started selling on Amazon. The SW drought continued, while Amazon just got better and better. Recently, Amazon tanked, more or less, a phenomenon that other writers were also experiencing and chalking up to various outside forces such as the runup to the presidential election.

November continues with lousy numbers on Amazon, with a grand total of five sales in the first 18 days. But Smashwords has suddenly come back from the dead (though it’s still pale and shaky) and given me six sales since the fifth of the month. And the oddest part of it is that two of those sales were for The Darkest Prison, which had sold zero copies in its first six months. Go figure.

So what does all that prove? That you can’t count on numbers, and it’s better for your sanity if you don’t try.

Other numbers that can give you fits if you pay too much attention to them: blog page views. A big spike can mean something important or it might mean nothing at all. If it’s followed by a few new subscribers, all well and good, but don’t count on it.

More numbers. I wiped my visible word count from the NaNo site, but discovered that the stats page still shows the daily counts. I’m still working on The New Serfdom when I’m in the mood, and have added a couple of thousand words. I’m thinking about updating the stats page just in case I get a sudden burst of ambition sometime before the 30th. It could happen. Or not.

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8 thoughts on “You Never Know about Numbers

  1. I’m always interested to read an author’s experiences with selling their books on Amazon and Smashwords. I admire your courage in revealing all. Most writers are only too happy to trumpet a brisk seller, but fall silent when things aren’t going so well. You do us all a service by giving us a glimpse of indie author realities. Keep this in mind, though. When your numbers are small, there are no discernible patterns because you don’t have enough data to reveal them (if they are indeed there).

    Catana, your NaNo experience this year risks generating a serious psychological complex! You are so ambivalent about the whole thing that you resemble the proverbial “cat on a hot tin roof.” Post-traumatic stress disorder anyone? Sense of humour definitely required.

    1. I’m well aware that small numbers don’t add up to anything, but I seem to be neurologically designed to identify patterns. I don’t take them seriously in cases like this.

      Yup. Very ambivalent. It could almost be my middle name. Also bridge-burner, cliff-leaper. Nobody should ever count on my future plans because they can change in a heartbeat. That’s how I live, which makes it easier on the rest of the world that I now live alone.

  2. Catana, I wonder if the spike in SW sales might have been caused by the increasing sales of Apple, via iPads, which Mark Coker wrote about in a post a few weeks ago and which was picked up by Jaye and others. In case you didn’t read it, he was saying that publishing on Amazon only, risked writers missing out on Apple sales, which are beginning to make some kind of impact in the market. Sorry I’m being so vague, but you know me. Anyway, it stuck with me sufficiently to pass on to a number of clients. Maybe that’s it – who knows?

    1. These are direct sales from the Smashwords site, Danielle. Our stats page shows where sales come from, and sales to the other sites show up separately and later. Sometimes much later, depending on their own bookkeeping. There’s one chart for SW direct sales, and another for the sales channels you’re signed up for. I’ve had hardly any sales at all from the others, none at all this quarter.

  3. I’ve found November a quiet month too so far. I’m hoping it will pick up in the Christmas & post Christmas period.

    A revival of Smashwords would be good – I prefer using them to Amazon but as you say there seems to be very little activity there. I suspect it mostly works for authors who are relentlessly driving the traffic there themselves rather than often relying on people finding it. I think the presentation of the site leaves something to be desired, not least the eye-boggling titles that probably scare off many a casual visitor.

  4. “So what does all that prove? That you can’t count on numbers, and it’s better for your sanity if you don’t try.”

    This.

    Now that I’m dependent on sales for my income, I’m longing for the days when I Just Didn’t Care what my sales numbers were. Wish I could go back to those days.

    1. But that’s when the number are most likely to affect your sanity — when they’re truly important. From what I’ve seen, for most people, they just become an obsession or possibly a hobby.

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