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Has it really been since the end of November when I posted last? Hurray, holiday season, and all that.

I’m prompted to write this post because of a certain paranoia about book sales of The Ultra Thin Man. Oh yeah, Swenson, how’s that going? Well, in reality, authors don’t really know for quite some time. My book’s only been out about five months. The reporting period for Tor that I’ve fallen into is July – Dec, and I’m told that actual royalty reports for that time period don’t go out until late April. It’s a long time to suffer in silence.nielsen1

To be honest, I’ve been mostly nervous because of a sales bellwether that’s become fairly well known since Amazon started allowing its authors access to it: BookScan. It’s owned by those folks with the television ratings, the Neilsen Brothers. No, wait, that’s a carpet and flooring company. Well, Neilsen, the TV people. They did a SoundScan, too, for music sales, and its success lead to BookScan. BookScan relies on point of sale data from a number of major book sellers. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 Nielsen BookScan’s US Consumer Market Panel covered 75% of retail sales. (Having added Walmart recently, they say it’s now 80%.)

So if I go to my Amazon account and look at my BookScan account, it should be showing me 75% of my actual number of sales. Well, no. Well, maybe. Truth to tell, the number is all over the map. I’ve heard 50%, I’ve heard 30%. I’ve heard lower.  I stare at that number on my account, the number of hardcover copies sold (and remember, the data for this is coming from most high street booksellers, but not from every book store) and I despair. Oh my god, this is horrible. That’s it?  This number does not include ebook sales, by the way, but still…   It also doesn’t include library sales, and my book was listed twice in Publishers Weekly as a book receiving a starred review, and often that means extra library orders. Nor does it count international sales (not a factor for me, as of yet, with no foreign edition forthcoming). It also doesn’t include independents. Really, it’s just trade sales, point of sale.

Well, it was time to bite the bullet. A fellow Tor author said, “Call your editor and talk to him. You can discuss numbers.”  And earlier this week, I did, catching him in his New York office. First, right up front, I’ll tell you that the ebook sales are pretty low. I was surprised at the number, actually. It’s not unheard of for this to be the case, while the ebook is priced at $12.99 and the hardcover is out. It will probably sell 2 – 4 times as many copies when the price drops (when the trade paperback is out later this year).

Then I heard the hardcover numbers. My body relaxed instantly. Nutshell? A better than average debut, at least at this point in the game. But then again, still not stellar, and maybe I’m still on the edge as far as them taking on book two, because these don’t necessarily mean point of sale numbers. Because, returns. So book two may be dependent on trade paperback sales, library sales and ebook sales continuing forward. Returns have come in, although relatively low at the moment. If there’s to be really yucky news, it would make itself known in the next month or so when stores are doing their post-Christmas returns.

But the point of all this….my Neilsen BookScan number?  Turns out it is only THIRTEEN PERCENT of actual hardcover sales. [Edit: Thanks to some in-the-know information from publisher Sean Wallace of Prime Books, note: returns don’t factor in to this number. The number my editor gave me are what’s out there in distribution, and so the sales number may actually be lower. And a rough estimate there, based on what can be seen from library holdings of my book so far, brings that number Bookscan is reporting closer to THIRTY percent. And remember, this is just my scenario.]

There are many who say BookScan is fast becoming irrelevant, particularly in today’s shifting book market. Me, I just would love for this book to do well so I can sell the next one! Have you been waiting to buy that ebook or take the plunge and fork over the bucks for that spendy hardcover? Wait no longer! If nothing else, BookScan numbers remind me that sales could be a lot better.