Book Sales and Royalty Statements


Image from Flickr by Leo Reynolds

Image from Flickr by Leo Reynolds

“So, how are sales going?”

I get this question a lot, along with the more direct “How many books have you sold?” I wish I could tell you. Unfortunately, published authors can’t track their sales in real time.

The only indication I have of how day-to-day sales are going is watching my Amazon rankings, and I have no idea what they mean. I don’t think anyone does, really. The ranking is depicted with a line graph which sometimes spikes, which maybe reflects sales, but you can’t tell how many or where the sales came from.

Other than that, I rely on semiannual royalty statements, and even those don’t tell me much. I can see how many ebooks sold in the prior six-month period and how many books were sold via direct sales (purchased through the publisher’s website) because those sales are final. Distributor sales are different, however; those books are returnable.

For example, for my book launch party at Changing Hands Bookstore, the store purchased 70 copies of The Fourth Wall. Fifty people showed up, half of the copies sold, and the host had me sign an additional 12 copies for the shelves. So that’s 47 books; what happens to the other 13? The bookstore can return them within a certain period of time.

So for my July royalty statement, those 70 copies show as distributor sales, but I don’t get paid yet because the sales are subject to return. My January statement will reflect how many books the bookstore returned, and then I’ll get paid for the remaining sales. Make cents? See what I did there? 😉

Yes, Nielsen BookScan tracks retail print sales which Amazon reports, via Amazon Author Central, on a weekly basis. But that’s not an accurate number; not all retailers use Nielsen BookScan. Amazon estimates the number at 75%.

Anyway, I’m still trying to find an appropriate and satisfying answer to “How many books have you sold?” without burdening my well-meaning friends with the above info. I guess a good answer is this: “More than one and less than a million, but who’s counting?”

Authors, how do you respond?

Happy Halloween, everyone!


  1. Hi there Elizabeth,
    I usually shrug, smile and change the subject!

  2. This is a *little* easier to know when you’re self-published. Amazon keeps track of print books and Kindles sold on a monthly basis and sends out royalty payments right after that. One thing I can relate to wholeheartedly – it’s very weird that people want to know sales numbers! I like your answer!

    • Hi Linda,

      Oh, that would be nice to see the statements monthly. It would be even nicer if you could see the referring website, like, did the buyer click over from Goodreads, author website, a book blogger’s site, etc. It’s hard to measure marketing efforts without knowing that information. Thanks for commenting!