Sales Reporting: Too Much of a Good Thing?

I’ve never been traditionally published, but from what I read their sales reporting is abysmal; six month reporting intervals, inconsistent sales numbers, and long periods between paydays.

Amazon’s KDP platform has a wonderful reporting system. I see purchases within a few minutes of the sale with running totals for the month. Even Barnes and Noble’s Pubit! system shows daily sales, with current and prior day eventually rolling into a monthly sales report. Kobo’s new Writing Life platform also has at-a-glance, up to date sales reporting. This is a tremendous improvement over the archaic legacy system I understand traditional publishers use.

That said, while it’s great that I have the ability to see these sales numbers in near real-time, there is a downside. If left to its own devices the desire to see how sales are doing in a particular hour can breed compulsion.

This compulsory act can feed anxiety, and is often time-consuming and exhausting.

I first discovered this when I released my debut novel in September, 2011. Back then the book was selling less than two copies a day, so I’d check and check and check and check throughout the day, only to see the counter roll over by one, maybe two. While it was exciting to see when that book or two sold, the other dozen times per day when the book didn’t sell ended up as disappointments.

As a result, I started checking sales once a week and that helped. I’d see larger quantities sold each time I checked the report and I wasn’t wasting valuable writing and editing time fussing over sales counts.

Of course I fell off the wagon again and went back to checking hourly. Eventually I settled into a routine of checking morning, noon, evening, and midnight. This was still a bit excessive, but it was better than checking two dozen times a day.

Then I released my horror novel, The Desolate, and fell back into my old hourly, obsessive patterns. The book is new, so the slow sales are anticipated, but I found that I was letting that fuel negative feelings and self-doubt. After two days of that nonsense, I gave it up and haven’t checked sales for the past week.

And you know what? Everything is just fine.

I’ve actually gotten more work done because I’m not obsessing over minute fluctuations in sales numbers throughout the day. I’m focused on my writing instead, which is where I should be spending my time anyway.

Of course I want to know how things are selling. For one thing, I need to know what my next payday is going to look like. I do have bills, after all. But I can check once a month for that information as royalties are paid monthly, 60 days in arrears.

So why would I need to check sales multiple times throughout the day?

I asked myself what I would do differently with intra-day, hourly sales information. Let’s say that in the morning I’m ranked 7,000; in the afternoon I’m ranked 9,000. By nightfall I’m back up to 6,000. There’s nothing I’m doing now that I’ll change as a result of this information. I won’t write a different book, I won’t start spamming Twitter or Facebook, I won’t jump off a bridge and I won’t start writing paranormal romance.

In other words, the information won’t be used to change my course of action later on in the same day. I’ll have the same titles for sale, I’ll be working on the same projects and I’ll be advertising just as I would or wouldn’t have been doing beforehand. Since I won’t be using the information to change a short-term strategy, there’s no reason to keep checking it throughout the day.

My strategy changes are done for 30-day periods. When I raised prices on my books I left them there for 30 days. That allowed the distracting noise to wash out, showing me what happened month over month. I ended up rolling prices back as a result of the loss in readers, a conclusion I came to using sales figures aggregated to a month level. No daily or hourly sales fluctuations affected this decision.

So I’m beginning to think that I really only need to check sales maybe once or twice a month, provided I don’t need the information to make a split decision (which is rare, if ever).

Look, I’m not telling anybody what to do. Do what works for you. But, if you find that checking sales numbers is driving you nuts, then it might be a good idea to tone it back a notch and allow longer intervals to pass between reviews. For me it has provided more time for writing and reduced the anxiety I was feeling.

My goal for August? Go the entire month without checking sales. Can I make it? Well, I suppose it depends on how strong the compulsion is versus how strong my willpower is. Right now I’m feeling pretty good about my willpower.

Game on!

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One thought on “Sales Reporting: Too Much of a Good Thing?

  1. Brian J. Jarrett December 9, 2012 / 1:12 am

    Well, it’s been six months and I’m still addicted to checking sales numbers. So much for moderation. I suppose there are worse habits.

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