Monday, May 23, 2011

Star Chamber For Librarians

There have been a number of articles and posts about what's been happening down in Los Angeles with the school board, but this latest one is a real heart breaker. Lawyers, a judge, and I recall even hearing about police officers. It's an offensive theater of the absurd that shows just how little respect employees are getting in today's environment, and of course how little respect school librarians get. And not just in LA.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

The BoingBoing Bump

On Thursday, a bit more than a month after Napier’s Bones was released, Cory Doctorow posted a review of the book on BoingBoing. Up until then the book had been selling okay, consistently but with no great spikes. Its orders had been large, as mentioned before pretty much the biggest that CZP had received up until that point, but the two sales tracking tools I’ve used to monitor things had not shown any significant jumps in numbers (and here let me note that I cottoned on to both of these a little bit late, and so missed any account of sales right out of the gate).

The first tool is offered by a company called NovelRank. They keep track of your Amazon sales for you, and I have it set up to see the numbers from Amazon in the US, Canada, the UK, France, and Germany (where I’ve seen a couple of inexplicable spikes in sales). These are not Amazon Sales Ranks, mind you, but actual quantities of books sold. And now I get to own up to the fact that I was an idiot and didn’t set it up early enough to get a good grip on how the Kindle edition was doing. I’m a dope, yes. Learning curve and all that.

The second tool is offered by Amazon themselves, and, ironically enough, doesn’t keep track of Amazon sales. Instead, it gets the Nielsen Bookscan numbers from bricks and mortar stores across the US. The claim is it’s only giving about 75% of the actual sales numbers, but it’s a cool site to use, showing sales from actual cities and geographical regions, and even highlighting those parts of the map as desired.

It should seem obvious how useful those two tools are, especially when put up against the numbers that Amazon offers at its most basic. You know those numbers: when you click on a book, you’ll be told the Amazon ranking.

The morning of the BoingBoing review, Napier’s Bones had its reverse peak, so to speak, sitting at 789,000 in sales on, around 138,000 on A few short hours later, it peaked at 1961, and at 221. These were, I believe, the highest numbers ever for CZP. And for a short while I had great fun Tweeting the numbers in various categories and locations. Allow me to run down a few of them for you:

94 on’s Fantasy list.

14 on’s Fantasy subcategory of Magic and Wizards (Kindle edition). 42 for trade edition.

Kindle hit 1101 overall, 10 in Occult, and 31 in Contemporary.

At, it was 1 in Magic and Wizards, 8 in Science Fiction, and 31 in Contemporary. And that 8th position meant I was the only Canadian author in the top 20.

At it jumped from around 689,000 to 2294. There it was 8 in Mystery & Crime, and 99 in Scientific, Technical, & Medical. And that category raised an eyebrow.

In Germany, it went from over 95,000 to 1254. And France, for some reason, has been a flat line the entire time. No interest there, I guess.

Now here’s the thing. It’s fun and goofy to track these numbers, but you can’t let yourself get caught up in it, because it can become a ridiculous obsession. And even more important, you have to remember that these numbers are relative. The sales figures are only in relation to how other books sell, and not giving real numbers, books that have actually crossed the transom, physical or electronic.

I won’t go into actual amounts sold, at least not yet. It’ll be a few days before the Bookscan numbers show up for this week, and I have no idea how things are selling in Canada anywhere other than on And the Canadian numbers, I am told, are only estimates.

The BoingBoing bump is a very real thing, that much is obvious. But I think there has been more at play than just Cory’s excellent review. As big and popular a website as BoingBoing is, I think more has probably come out of Cory tweeting about the review, both via BoingBoing’s Twitter feed and via his own. At least a couple of dozen people retweeted his Tweet, and there were, I’m sure, plenty of people who paid attention to the Tweets that ensued. And some of those retweeters added their own comments expressing their interest or else pointing someone else towards the book because they thought it would be of interest.

As far as numbers go, Cory himself has over 130,000 followers on Twitter, BoingBoing has well over 80,000 (many of those are cross-overs, I’m sure), and the retweeters varied from as low as 7 followers to up over 6000, with the average probably being several hundred. However it’s stacked, though, that’s a lot of potential eyeballs. There will be no miracle here, though, no 50% of everyone seeing this buying the book. But every little bit counts, and interest was shown by people who might not have heard of the book otherwise, so that’s a major win.

I guess the lesson here is that social media can indeed help get the word out, but first you need to catch someone’s attention. Not everyone is going to get their book plugged by Cory - he gets dozens of books every week, and there’s no way he can read them all, and when he does read one he has to like it enough to want to write about it. But BoingBoing is not the only place writers can take their books. There are plenty of other blogs and review sites and tweeters to approach, not all as big, but all with their own followings, and if word gets out, slowly or quickly, it’s a Good Thing.

The other issue, though, is quantities. I’ve seen numbers suggesting that over 500,000 books are published every year, and I wonder if, in this age of POD and ebooks and self-publishing, that that might be a low ball estimate. The book had better be special, had better have something to say and some way to catch the eye and, in the end, had better be well-written to get that attention.

And then, the author had better be ready to hustle some more, because these things don’t usually sell themselves.

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