There are few things more satisfying than publishing a novel: You get to make things up! You get to put yourself in other people's shoes -- and choose what kind of shoes they are! You get to make yourself laugh maniacally one minute and cry the next, then say to friends, "I meant to do that!"
Unfortunately, publishing a novel also means you're putting yourself out there like a big fat
piñata waiting to be whacked with a stick. Nothing makes this clearer than Amazon, where authors inevitably fall prey to constantly checking their rankings and reviews.
What makes Amazon so alluring? To put it bluntly, it's the thrill of the gamble. You've put heart and soul and probably at least a year into preparing your manuscript for the marketplace; now you hope it hits big, or that at least somebody besides your mom will read it. Authors are notorious for being anxious for approval, so this seemingly open window shedding light on our popularity draws us to the sill (or to the brink). If we were moths, Amazon would be a giant flaming bonfire; that's how badly we want to smolder in its light.
Pretty soon, instead of your author page saying, "You last visited this page on July 13, 2013," Amazon smugly says, "You've visited this page many times," with "too" understood before the "many." (It's kind of like knowing your ATM machine wants to spit out a receipt that says, "Really? Another $200 this week?")
The problem with obsessively peering through this window to see whether your book is ranked higher or lower than it was ten minutes ago is that the Amazon window is only slightly less cloudy than a glass shower door smeared with soap: Those rankings show only how you're doing in relation to other books bought that day.
The "Author Central" section of Amazon is somewhat more reliable. In that window, you can check out your "Sales Info" tab to see how your print books are selling. However, these figures include only about 75 percent of all retail print book sales in the U.S., according to Amazon's web site here.
Thanks to Nielsen BookScan -- that's the part of The Nielsen Company that measures print book sales -- you can now view your print sales through over 10,000 realtors, including Barnes & Noble and Target. The numbers are updated every Friday. However, once again, you need to be aware that these numbers don't tell the whole story. For instance, they don't reflect any sales you may have made through other avenues, like libraries, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club or wholesalers. You also won't find Kindle or other eBook sales included, since BookScan doesn't report those. Oh, and BookScan only tracks domestic sales, not international ones.
So how much can you glean from looking at your Amazon Author Central site? Amazon puts it best: "The Sales Info tab in Author Central is meant to allow you to see sales trends, but is not meant to replace reports you receive from your publisher."
The other thing to remember is that your book's rank may change capriciously even if you're selling exactly the same number of books on Thursday that you sold on Wednesday or Monday. Again, this is because the ranking on Amazon is only an indication of how well your book is selling in relation to other books.
It is definitely a thrill ride, publishing a book, but it's also a time to deliberately kick your Amazon addiction to the door. After publishing three books of my own, here's how I manage my own Amazon addiction:
- I let myself binge on Amazon for two weeks after a book is out, then allow myself to check only once a week. (I've tried doing it once a month, but I'm weak.)
- I visit my local independent bookshop because it reminds me of how wonderful it is to be a writer
- When I do view Amazon rankings, I remind myself that a book's rank reveals a trend over time, not actual sales
- For those one-star reviews, I cover my eyes, then remind myself that not every book suits every reader's taste, and that's what makes the world interesting
- Most importantly, I dive into another project, because the best part of the publishing journey for me is all about writing a new story