Jun
08

How Many Books Will I Sell? Top 10 FAQs from Authors

By on June 8th, 2011

As a book promotion expert and book campaign manager, I receive a LOT of requests for consultations from authors who are preparing to publish their books. Some are experienced authors who have published in the past, either self-published or through a royalty publisher. Others are first-time (and usually self-published) authors. During our initial consultation, I tend to hear many of the same questions again and again. As these questions are so key to authors before they decide whether or not to do a full-blown “bestseller launch” for their book, I thought it might be a good idea to pull together my “Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions” I am asked by authors on almost a daily basis.

Q1: How many books will I sell during my online book launch?

First of all, let’s define “the launch” as a 24-48 hour period of time in which we will be driving traffic to buy your book. Asking how many books you will sell during that time is really like asking “How long is a piece of string?” It depends upon so many factors that we can only, at best, give a very broad figure. I have had clients who sell as few as 50 books during a launch and others who have sold around 1000. The average self-published author tends to sell between 300 and 500 books during a launch. Those with major publishers might sell twice that amount, not necessarily because the publisher helps with your promotion, but more because people recognise the “brand identity” of the publisher and are more willing to take a chance on the title. And of course, if you are not a first-time author you will probably sell more books if people know your name already. The key to selling more books is to devote a fair amount of time well before your launch to cultivate and grow your audience. That’s why I spend the first two months of work with my clients developing strategies and systems to build their platform and mailing list before anything else.

Q2: How do I become an Amazon bestseller?

If your book sales are amongst the Top 100 in any category on Amazon, you are technically a “bestseller.” You don’t have to be in the Top 100 of all books. There are dozens of categories and sub-categories on Amazon, and if you achieve a sales ranking in the Top 100 in any of these, you can say you are a bestseller. Of course, it is always nice to hit the “Top 20″ or the “Top 5″ or (best of all) the #1 sales rank in one or more categories.

Q3: How many books do I need to sell to be an Amazon bestseller?

Again, this is not a question I can answer definitively because being an “Amazon bestseller” is a relative title, and it depends upon: 1) how well other books in your categories are selling on your launch day and 2) how competitive your categories are. Some categories like “Religion and Spirituality” or “Business and Investing” are extremely competitive with thousands of titles up against many famous authors for the top position on the list. Other categories, such as “channelling” or “alternative medicine” are less competitive.

Q4: How can I choose the category I will be in on Amazon?

If you were to ask this question of some of the top publishers (I have), the common answer you will receive is this: “You can’t.”However, I have found this not to be 100% true. Let me explain.

First of all, when you submit a book for publication through Lightning Source (for example), you choose 2 “BIC” (Book Industry Communication) categories, which are standard categories that are used by all publishers and distributors. Now the problem lies in how retailers interpret these categories. Think of the last time you went to look for a book in the shops. Sometimes it might be in the “self help” category, while other times it might be in the “spirituality” section, etc.

Amazon “interprets” your BIC categories according to their “virtual” bookshelf. To make things even MORE confusing, Amazon UK, Canada and US might not interpret your book at all in the same way. Even major publishers have told me they have no real control over this. Some authors find their books placed in very strange categories. BUT here’s the big secret I have found: I your book is not ranking in the right category, you CAN get Amazon to change it via Author Central in the US and the UK. Just write to them and ask them to recategorise your book. My book The 7 Graces of Marketing was placed in the “accounting” category at first (NOT!!). When I wrote to Author Central, they very quickly and painlessly put the book into the cateogries I requested: business ethics and marketing/sales.

If you are unsure of what categories to choose, your best bet to get your book in the RIGHT category is to do some market research to find out which categories other titles appear that you feel are the closest in content or message to your own book. Don’t go for a “top level” category like “Business and Finance” or “Health and Wellness””. Go for a sub, or even sub-sub category. Get it as precise as possible. That will not only help you increase your likelihood of reaching the top of the ranks (as it will be less competitvie) bit it will also increase the likelihood of people who are looking for your book will find it, because Amazon’s system will group it together with similar books.

Then, make triple sure you get placed correctly, do two more things: 1) make sure your title, subtitle, back cover copy and description use keywords that help point the folks at Amazon in the right direction AND 2) start putting some TAGS on your book page that help people find your book.

PLEASE NOTE: All of the above is mainly with respect to PRINT books. For Kindle, you can actually SPECIFY two categories via Kindle Direct. These bypass the BIC settings altogether, as Kindle is an Amazon proprietory format.

Q5: Why don’t I see my book listed in a category on my Amazon listing?

You won’t see your book listed in a category unless it is in the Top 100 of that category. Until that time, all you will see is its overall sales rank, which changes every hour. Amazon US and Canada tend change just past the top of the hour, while Amazon UK tends to change at 40 minutes past the hour.

Q6: How can I find out in which categories Amazon will place my book?

It’s not always 100% reliable, but the best way to “guess” which categories you will appear is to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the screen until you see the words, “Look for Similar Items by Category.” There you will see several suggested categories that are likely to be where your book will be placed when ranked. If these categories look range or irrelevant, refer to Q4 above.

Q7: How can I track my rankings?

So far, Amazon does not have any legacy tracking system for rankings, which means you basically have to watch the rankings yourself like a hawk during the launch, as they change every hour. Typically, my clients and I stay up for the full 24 hour period in shifts, in constant communication on Skype, to watch the rankings. The only way I have found so far to “log” your success is to take screen shots. I use the program “Jing Pro” for this. There is a free version, but the Pro version is very reasonable, and has many worthwhile features. You can download it at http://www.techsmith.com/jing/. DO take screenshots of EVERY stage of your rankings. They make great images to add to your promotions when you are sharing the success of your book with readers, media and event managers. To track your rankings for OVERALL book sales, see Q8 below.

Q8: How can I track my actual sales?

Tracking sales is another matter altogether. Of course, the most reliable method is when you receive your royalty report and payment from your publisher or printer. However, these can some to you months after your launch. There are two ways I have discovered that can give you ball-park figure of your sales during a launch. Once is to use your Amazon Associates link on your purchase page, in which case you will see the sales appear within a few days in your Associates account. Another is to use an online tracker such as Novel Rank at http://novelrank.com, which can show sales on a daily and monthly basis. They also show, in numbers and in graph format, your overall sales rankings (not category rankings) over a given period. Bear in mind, to get the best from this service, you need to start tracking your book on their site several weeks in advance of your launch.

Another option is to sign up for Amazon Advantage, although as far as I can tell, you can only sign up for this if you will be directly supplying Amazon with inventory. If a company such as Lightning Source will be printing your books on demand or you will be using a subsidiary publisher, you will need to speak to them about whether or not you can use Amazon Advantage, as they will be fulfilling the sales and sending you the payments and sales reports (of course they will also have some sort of reporting system for your sales as well, which will tell you your overall sales, not just to Amazon).

Kindle sales are updated once a week in Kindle Direct.

Q9: How much money will I make on book sales during my launch?

This depends completely upon:

  1. How many books you sell
  2. The retail price of your book
  3. The cost of printing your book
  4. What your royalty arrangement is with your publisher (if you have one)
  5. Whether or not you use your Associates account for sales.

Let’s say you have a 250 page book that sells for $15 and you sell 500 books on your launch day. That is a gross intake of $7500. Amazon pays you according to whatever wholesale “discount” you have agreed to sell your books to them. Let’s say you have agreed to sell your book to them for a 55% discount off the retail price (a fairly common figure, although this can vary). That means they will pay your publisher 45% of gross, which is $3375. If you are the publisher, you will receive that money from Amazon.

From that amount, you need to deduct your printing costs. The cost of printing a 250 page book through a company like Lightning Source is around $4.15 ($0.90 per unit and then $0.013 per page), which means 500 books would cost $2075. Deduct that from what Amazon will pay you, and that leaves a net profit of around $1300.

If you are going 100% self-published, you will make the whole $1300. But if you are receiving a percentage of net from your publisher, you would take the percentage from this amount. Many subsidiary presses take 50% of net, which means you would make $650on 500 books. If you are working with a royalty publisher who pays you a given percentage of retail or net, you will have to calculate it accordingly.

If you use your Amazon Associates link during your launch, you can earn between 4% and 7% of your retail sales as a commission. In other words, if Amazon were to sell 500 books at $15 (although they will tend to sell it at a lower price), you would make an extra $0.60 – $1.05 per unit. You ALSO make a commission if your buyers happen to buy other products at the same time. It all adds up, so it’s worth making sure your links are in place during a launch.

Please note that these figures are accurate as of this edit (July 26th, 2011).

UPDATE DEC 2011: I’ll be writng another article in the New Year about chosing the right royalty structure for your publication and different ways to use eBooks/Kindle to drive traffic to your print book. Be sure to subscribe to this blog to stay on top of new info articles.

Q10: What’s the real benefit of doing an Amazon bestseller launch?

I’ll be honest with you: it costs a heck of a lot more to run a bestseller launch than you will receive in immediate monetary returns. I think you have probably already deduced that doing an Amazon bestseller launch is NOT going to make you lots of money selling books. So it does beg the question why people bother to do them at all, and why people like me are continually booked months in advance to do these launches.

So here are some of the real advantages of doing an Amazon launch:

  1. It builds your online platform significantly, which ultimately leads to more business for you
  2. It establishes long-term relationships with dozens of networking partners
  3. It raises your credibility as a professional, which has an impact upon your income
  4. It establishes you as a leading expert in your field, making you a sought-after media guest and keynote speaker
  5. It just plain feels great to say you’re a bestselling (especially a #1 selling) author

Deciding to do a bestseller campaign should not be an impulsive decision, nor should it be entered with rose-coloured glasses. My most successful clients are those who entered our work relationship with this level of understanding. They did not have unrealistic expectations, and they took the “kudos” of their bestseller status to build stronger and more viable businesses that could only have come about as a result of their Amazon bestseller campaign. I think most of these would tell you their decision to do a launch made a positive difference in their business.

I hope this article is useful to any of you who are currently preparing to publish a book in the coming year. Please do leave comments below and feel free to contact me via the contact form at http://spiritauthors.com/contact if you have any questions about this content, or you wish to discuss an upcoming launch.

And, as always, don’t forget to subscribe to the Spirit Authors blog for regular tips for authors, both established and aspiring.


Lynn Serafinn is a transformation coach, book promotion coach, radio host and bestselling author of the book The Garden of the Soul: lessons from four flowers that unearth the Self, as well as the upcoming book The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell. She also works as a campaign manager for mind-body-spirit authors and has produced several #1-selling book campaigns. She is the founder/creator of Spirit Authors, a virtual learning environment and community that offers training, coaching, business-building and inspiration for mind-body-spirit authors, whether established or aspiring. As part of her work with spiritual and self-help authors, she also regularly hosts large-scale online virtual events (usually free of charge) with world-class speakers on a range of mind-body-spirit topics. Subscribe to her Spirit Authors blog at http://spiritauthors.com/category/news/ so you can receive more useful tips and news about upcoming online events. While you are there, do check out the excellent and affordable online courses for authors available.

If you are an author seeking 1-to-1 support or campaign managment for your upcoming book launch, you are also invited to request a free consultation by filling in a contact form at http://spiritauthors.com/contact. Please note that full service campaigns require a 6 to 8 month lead-in time, so be sure to contact Lynn well in advance of publishing your book.

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  1. Thank you for the information. It is very helpful.

  2. Great article Lynn, thanks for sharing.

    On the point of how many books or ebooks people can sell….

    While those from recognizable publishers tend to do better, the key for self-published authors is to find joint-venture partners who are targeting the same market that self-published authors are targeting and get them to promote to their lists.

    It’s really a matter of how many eyeballs you can get in front of -how many people who would be interested in your topic. I like to shoot for a minimum of 150,000 because only a fraction of those will actually open your email and then a fraction of those will actually make the purchase. (The rate is about 30% in the health field and 10% in Internet Marketing, to name a couple.)

    And if you can get with the biggest movers and shakers in your industry you will sell a lot more because their lists will be better and they will be better at marketing to them. So shoot for the biggest players you can get to.

    I hope that clarifies the point for people.

  3. Peter Jones says:

    Really useful post. Thank you.
    It has also just seen me run around the place like a crazed footballer as I now know I can officially call myself a ‘bestseller.’
    You have made my day!

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