A key element in a book proposal is your sales history. Of course, you can ignore this if you’ve never published a book before. But if you have published, either with a traditional publisher or independently, your sales history must be included in your next book proposal. Here is an example:
The Bestest Book Ever (XYZ Publishers, 1996) – 12,449 sold
The Other Bestest Book I Wrote (Independently Published, 2014) – 1,028 sold
An Even Better Book (FYI Publishers, 2016) – 6,699 sold
Seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it? Many authors only list the titles but not the numbers for fear that the poor selling title (see the above example) will hurt their chances of a book deal. It might be true, but if the numbers are left blank the editor will always ask for the numbers anyway. Some will try to hide the poor performing book by leaving off the sales numbers and instead say, “Over 20,000 of my books have been sold.” We know that trick.
What about Author Purchases?
If you publish with a traditional publisher you have the opportunity to buy copies to sell at your speaking events. The royalty report from your publisher does not include those purchases in your royalty report because they don’t earn royalties. For example, I know one author who bought over 10,000 copies to use as a fund raiser for his ministry but the royalty report only showed sales of 2,000 copies. Those 2,000 copies were sold to stores and through online retailers.
This means the book did not sell very well in the marketplace. But how should you show that in the next book proposal? Can you claim 12,000 sold or only 2,000 sold?
There isn’t any one right way to do it. I would not recommend claiming 12,000 sold because most of them were not through a normal sales channel. If you or your organization is able to make a large buy, then I recommend making your guaranteed author purchases a feature of the proposal…as long as those number are significant (5,000 or more). Maybe include that buy back guarantee as part of your marketing section.
But if you are not buying thousands of copies it won’t help your proposal to mention it. In this case I recommend reporting only the sales shown in your royalty report.
If you independently publish you get to include all sales! A major publisher may ask where your books were sold in case yours sold in special circumstances.
What about Kindle Unlimited Sales?
KU (Kindle Unlimited – part of Amazon) ebook sales are a challenge to report in a book proposal. KU sales are the number of pages that a KU subscriber has read in ebook form. To be a part of KU the ebook has to be exclusively sold on Amazon. The author is paid a set amount of money per page read. (Last September that rate was $0.0044253 paid per page read.)
The statement from Amazon may show 20,000 pages read. How do you report that? Do you divide the number of pages in your book against the number of pages read? If your book is 200 pages long and they report 20,000 pages read, do you count that as 100 copies sold? No. Technically no books were sold at all, at least how it has been traditionally defined. Subscribers pay a monthly fee (currently $9.99 a month) and can read any book enrolled in KU, no limitation. Individual books are not sold, per se.
The point of sales history in a book proposal is to show a book’s performance in the marketplace. Since a book (or ebook) as a unit is not sold in KU it really cannot be counted as a unit sale. Note that none of the major publishers have their titles enrolled in KU because of the exclusivity requirement and the potential for reduced revenue on titles that are only partially read.
For your book proposal I don’t recommend showing KU pages read since they don’t correspond to a traditional sales channel that a major publisher currently uses. But If your KU numbers are very sizeable then mention it. For example:
The Other Bestest Book I Wrote (Independently Published, 2014) – 1,028 sold [2.5 million KU pages read]
What About E-Books?
Another question that comes up with ebook sales in a book proposal is the retail price issue, primarily for those who independently publish.
If you sold 10,000 copies of your self-published ebook, congratulations! Recently editors have been asking, “They sold 10,000 ebooks, but at what price?” If all the sales were between 99¢ – $3.99 a major publisher isn’t as excited because they are hard pressed to sell their ebooks at a higher price. [Please don’t turn the comments below into a discussion of how to price ebooks, that is a conversation for another day.]
What publishers are looking for is a one-to-one corresponding sales record which they can replicate or improve upon within their own sales channels.
What publishers are looking for is a one-to-one corresponding
sales record which they can replicate or improve upon
within their own sales channels.
Note that in the sales history examples above I did not distinguish paperback, hardback, e-book, or audio sales. Just a grand total. The complete number is often all you need. There are times where the break-down information is requested, so keep track of it, just in case.
Keep a Running Total of Lifetime Sales
While I’m on the subject, keep a spreadsheet or document that tracks the lifetime sales of all your books. Not every royalty report will keep a running total for you. It is up to you to keep records. As soon as you get a new statement, spend a few minutes updating your records. You will be glad you did!
Do you keep track of your sales? If so, what software do you use?
What questions do you have related to this topic? I’ll try to answer them below.