Can I Trust My Publisher?

Many authors struggle with the level of trust required between Publisher and Author.  A publisher needs the author to be honest about the work they are doing to support the book and the author needs to trust that the Publisher is paying the correct royalties.

One often hears an author complain that they think a publisher is not paying them all of the royalties due. It can sometimes seem difficult to believe that within a given period so few sales, or sometimes even none, were made. But when one comes to think about it, it is in actual fact the converse which is the difficult concept to believe. How is it that in a marketplace with nearly 8,000,000 different books in print a new author actually sells anything at all? After all, only a very small percentage of people ever read books these days and those that do tend to stay with their known and preferred authors. Readers are lazy and dislike having to find a new author.

To put that into context, stack up just one copy of each book currently in print and you would have a pile 22 times the height of Mount Everest. It´s little wonder then that many books hide unknown and undiscovered somewhere in the foothills. The majority of books, even those produced by big publishers and with a recognisable midlist author name sell fewer than 2,000 copies during their lifetime.

However, the question remains, can you trust your publisher´s figures?

Firstly the question to ask is why would a publisher hide sales from an author?  If an author is only selling a handful of copies then the royalties are going to be insignificant and no right minded accountant is going to risk potentially ruinous legal battles over a few dollars! On the other hand, if the author is selling well, why risk upsetting him? A successful author is an asset and a valuable commodity to a publishing house and one to keep happy.

Although on the face of it, it may seem that one simply has to trust one´s publisher, in reality it´s easy to check. Firstly, sales through retail outlets, including online retailers, are gathered by a central and independent organisation known as Nielsen´s Bookscan. These are the people responsible for compiling the charts. Every book with an ISBN is recorded in this system. Although these numbers are not generally available to the general public in the event of a dispute a report can be obtained from Nielsens. For a fee of course! The mere fact that this report is readily available in reality would prevent any publisher attempting to misreport sales as it is easily checkable and the resultant law suits would be terminal.

But can an author check sales without paying? Fortunately there are other tools available to an astute author to keep an eye on sales figures. In fact any sensible author should be using these tools regularly to check the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. How can one tell if that Blog Review that seemed like a good idea actually produced any results? Was that Facebook campaign actually worth the money?

First stop is your Amazon Author Page. The US site takes a feed from Nielsen´s Bookscan although it doesn´t include all territories it is very close. This will tell the author how many paperback or hardback books were sold and when. Not just through Amazon, but through all retailers. For kindle books, Amazon produce ranking graphs but not actual figures and although rankings depend on factors other than pure sales, again it´s a reasonable indicator.

An excellent tool on the web is Novel Rank. It is important to activate it to track your book as it will only report from the day it is activated for a particular title. You also need to access the data regularly or the book is made  ´Inactive´.

With these tools at an author´s disposal it is not only possible to keep a close eye on sales figures to check royalty statements but more importantly, these are valuable resources for the active author to manage their marketing activities more effectively.

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