How to Track Book Sales — Even When You’re Not the Publisher

When I first started joining online author’s groups, it seemed to me like every other person had “Amazon bestseller” in their signature. But it was a mystery to me how they tracked their book’s sales. I was on Amazon Author Central, but the sales data available there was piddly. It included my book’s current Amazon ranking, but I couldn’t check its rank on previous days. And it didn’t give me the absolute number of books sold.

Individuals who publish through Amazon’s Kindle Select platform get more detailed numbers. But at the time I was only publishing through traditional presses, and few of my publishers kept me in the loop about my books’ sales performance—unless you count quarterly royalty statements.

And that’s a shame, because knowing the details of your book sales can help you run your writing business better, in two main ways: marketing and independent verification of your books’ sales.

Sales rank information can help with marketing because:

  • You’re better able to determine which books need better marketing and can work with your publisher to improve things on that front.
  • You can make an informed decision about switching categories in order to attract the right group of readers to your product page.
  • You can use sales rank itself as a marketing tool. If your book achieves Top 10 or Top 100 status in its category, spread that news far and wide!

And why would you want to independently verify your books’ sales? The sad fact is that too many publishing companies are run by lying liars who have a tenuous relationship with the truth. Having seen the romance community screwed over by several in recent years, I rely on the old Russian proverb “Доверяй, но проверяй”—”Trust, but verify.”

In this article, I evaluate sales tracking platforms that are free to any author with a book on Amazon. And here are my conclusions:

 

 

Pronoun

Update, Nov. 7, 2017: Pronoun is shutting down over the next two months and no longer accepts new users. Please skip ahead to the next section about NovelRank.

Pronoun is an ebook distributor geared toward indie writers and self-publishers. It distributes to Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Kobo’s international affiliates (such as Mondadori in Italy and Thalia in Germany).

In addition to distribution, Pronoun offers several free services that are available to any author, whether they publish with Pronoun or not. My favorite are the sales tracking reports that authors can sign up to learn about their books’ sales and rankings, no matter who the publisher is. The only requirement is that the book is sold on Amazon. The address for signing up for this service is https://pronoun.com/sign-up/track/.

(If you’re already a Pronoun member, log in and go to https://books.pronoun.com/#/track-your-book instead.)

Pronoun distinguishes itself from most other free reporting platforms by providing sales rank by category and subcategory.

Categories and subcategories are how Amazon and other booksellers organize their books. Categories include one or more related genres, while subcategories divide them up by subgenre, length or format (such as anthologies vs. novels). Amazon has hundreds of subcategories, and it’s important to know which ones your books are in because some have lots of competitors, while others have fewer. You’ll have an easier time reaching best-seller staus in a small category than a crowded one. You can browse Amazon categories and subcategories here.

Getting Pronoun updates

I’ve signed up for notifications from Pronoun on all of my books and anthologies. Here’s what one of the emails I got last week looks like (click on the image to view a larger version):

image of email from pronoun ebook distributor listing Amazon rank and category statistics for Tracking Book Sales Rank
Weekly Amazon sales rank emails from Pronoun list overall rank, category rank, and percentile. Larger image in new window.

 

In addition to its weekly emails, Pronoun sends notifications if:

  • rank changes dramatically
  • your book is a top-performer in any of its categories
  • Pronoun has suggestions for categories in which the book might perform better.

Pronoun currently offers sales rank data only for books available on Amazon, but it has dropped hints about expanding its reports to include other retailers. We’ll see if that comes to fruition.

Even if it doesn’t, Pronoun’s category information makes it indispensable.

NovelRank

NovelRank calls itself “the best free resource for authors to track the sales rank of their print and ebooks on Amazon.” And they’re not just boasting. They really are good.

Here are some of the things NovelRank enables users to do:

  • Track individual books sales, not just ranking*
  • View Amazon sales in multiple countries
  • View sales rank data from the past day, week, month, season, or year;
  • Get hourly sales rank updates
*Pronoun reports individual book sales only for the books it distributes.

How to Use NovelRank

To get all this information, sign up for an account at https://www.novelrank.com/. Then enter the book’s title or ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) in the “Search NovelRank” bar on your account’s homepage.

search box located at bottom of page

Not sure where to find your books ASIN? It’s on on your book’s product page in the Amazon store, as in the illustration below. (Double-click on the image to enlarge it.)

Image of Amazon book page with highlighted ASIN.
Larger image in new window.

 

Go back and add your ASIN in NovelRank. NovelRank will return a message saying that you don’t have that book added to your account yet, and asking if you want to track the new book. Select “track this new book”:

select "Track This" at bottom of the page

That’s it! Check in after a day or two and the book will have an updated ranking, sales information, and more.

Ranks

NovelRank offers all these statistics via a dashboard with separate tabs. The first tab is called Ranks and shows the current rank and sale info for the current and previous month, broken out by country. In the photo below, it only shows Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk because those are the only two Amazon stores where this particular anthology is available.

Sales Rank and Sales Estimates Worldwide table from NovelRank for Tracking Book Sales Rank
Yikes! Only 5 sales in the past two months. That’s an anthology that needs a promotional boost. I’d better get in touch with the publisher. Larger image in new window.

Details

The next tab is Details, which gives the highest and lowest ranks in each Amazon store since the book’s release.

Sales Rank Statistics table from NovelRank for Tracking Book Sales Rank
Larger image in new window.

 

Charts

The final tab to provide sales and ranking statistics is Charts.

Sales Rank and Sales Estimates Charts from NovelRank for Tracking Book Sales Rank
Larger image in new window.

The Sales Rank Chart on the left is a little counterintuitive. The lower the squiggly line, the better your sales are. That’s because the X-axis represents a number-1 ranking, while the higher numbers represent lower rankings. (The higher the number, the lower the rank.)

Also note the menus on the bottom of the page.

  • Domains lets you choose whether to view sales from all Amazon stores or a specific one.
  • Timeframe allows you to view sales and ranking information from the last twenty-four hours, the previous week, the last thirty days, the last ninety days, the last year, or since the book’s release.

Other Tabs

The Social tab lets you easily share your book’s rank via social media, while the Widget tab equips you to display your book’s current sales rank on your website. Downloads lets you save your sales data in a CSV file.

Under the RSS tab, you can also subscribe to get hourly sales rank updates via RSS updates to your computer or phone. That’s a bit too obsessive for my purposes, but I’m betting it’s handy for people who want to make claims like “An Amazon Top 10 books in the English language!” even if that’s only true for the exact nanosecond in which the book was purchased on Amazon Japan.

 

Other tracking platforms

Authorgraph

Authorgraph is a cool little website that allows readers to get their ebooks signed by their favorite authors. That feature is worth a whole separate post, but I wanted to mention it here because authors who register with the site can get weekly emails from Authorgraph about their books’ absolute Amazon ranking (ranking among all Amazon books, not by category). It’s not the best way to track sales, but it’s a nice little perk if you sign up to Authorgraph for its main purpose.

Amazon AuthorCentral

AuthorCentral is a sales tracking and promotional platform open to any author who has books available on Amazon. Amazon stores in each country operate their own associated AmazonCentral platforms, with services varying from country to country. Here, I’ll limit my discussion to the US.

Please note that ANYONE can sign up for an AuthorCentral account with US-based Amazon, regardless of where they live, as long as they have a book available in the US store. In fact, you’re welcome to have AuthorCentral accounts in every country where your books are sold, and you might want to, because each country’s AuthorCentral reports only on books sold in that country.

Amazon AuthorCentral (US) allows authors to track:

  • Estimated print book sales by US region, pulling data not only from Amazon, but from 75% of book sales nationwide
  • Estimated print book sales by week, based on the same data as above
  • Amazon sales rank
  • Amazon author rank

The first two services are provided via Nielsen BookScan, which pulls point-of-sale data from over 10,000 online and brick-and-mortar retailers. BookScan estimates that its retailers account for three-quarters of book sales in the United States.

I like BookScan because it helps present a fuller picture of a book’s sales performance. For example, the Untethered anthology, which only has so-so sales as an ebook on Amazon, has decent print sales. If I didn’t look at BookScan, I wouldn’t know that and might draw the conclusion that it’s underperforming.

Interestingly enough, Amazon’s reporting on sales at its own stores is less detailed. You can get sales ranks for your books against all other books sold through Amazon US (not by category) as well as your author rank (but if you’re a romance writer and your name’s not Nora Roberts, don’t bother looking). Amazon lets you break out the data by:

  • today
  • the past two weeks
  • the past month
  • the previous six months
  • the last year, two years, etc., or
  • since Amazon started carrying your book

Interestingly, Amazon does not report on the actual number of books sold. You have to go to NovelRank or join Kindle Direct Publishing to get that info.

Your Amazon Book Page

This is the lowest tech option, but if you don’t want to sign up for any of these services, you can check your book’s current Amazon ranking by going to its page and looking under “Product Details.” This section appears under the book cover image, summary, “customers who viewed this item also viewed,” and sponsored products.

At the end of the section you can find the book’s overall rank in the Kindle or Amazon print store (depending on your format), followed by its ranking in various subcategories. (Tip of the hat to author Jodi Payne for pointing this out to me.)

These rankings aren’t very informative, though. They change throughout the day and might not say much about your book’s overall performance. Still, if you happen upon the ranking when you’re book temporarily hits #1, congratulations!

There must be a programmer somewhere who knows how to pull Amazon’s category rankings throughout the day into an RSS feed, then send that feed into a chart for tracking category rank over time. But I am not that person. Any volunteers.

Ebook Tracker

Ebook Tracker is another free site for tracking Amazon sales. There’s nothing really distinct about it in my mind, but if you hate all my other recommendations, you might as well check it out.

Sales Rank Express

Aaron Shepherd’s Sales Rank Express is worth a mention because it’s been around for a long time and does the job it says it will do. Alas, I don’t use it because the bright colors on the homepage make me want to gouge my eyes out. I mean, seriously:

Aaron Shepard's Sales Rank Express for Tracking Book Sales Rank
Now imagine staring at this on a 27-inch screen. Heck no! Larger image in new window.

If it arouses the same eye-gouging instinct in you, I’ve got good news. SalesRank Express uses NovelRank’s database to determine sales information, so really, you’re not missing out.

Knowing Is Only Half the Battle

It’s all fine and good to know your sales numbers, but there’s not much point unless you plan to do something with the information.

Marketing

If your sales are low, it’s time to get to work.

Research alternate categories and keywords. Talk to your publisher about pricing. Do a push for reviews. Rewrite your blurb.

And if they’re high? Congratulations! Boast about it–politely, of course—on your website, on your book’s sales page, and in your cover letters.

Verification

You can use NovelRank’s estimate of the number of books sold and compare these to your publisher’s royalty reports.

Keep in mind two things:

  • When you’re double-checking your sales figures, always make sure that the time period you’re looking at on NovelRank lines up with the time period included in your royalty report.
  • NovelRank’s numbers are estimates, not hard-and-fast figures you can use in a court of law. A discrepancy of a few books may be due to book returns or similarly above-board activity, but large differences could mean it’s time to take advantage of the clause in your contract that says you have the right to examine the publisher’s accounting records. (You have an accounting clause, right?)
image of ebboks to illustrate tracking book sales rank
Photo by DW Lewis on Pixabay.

Summary

So, authors, what do you think? Do you use Pronoun or NovelRank and find them helpful? Do you prefer a different method for tracking sales? Or is following rankings a waste of time that could better be spent on writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

I hope this post will be helpful to you in your writing career. If you like this kind of content, please consider making a donation via my tip jar to keep this blog going. You can also browse other tips for writers and submission calls. Thanks!

Read more tips for writers or browse submission calls.

To get a weekly roundup of all my posts for writers, sign up here.


Web Hosting

8 thoughts on “How to Track Book Sales — Even When You’re Not the Publisher

    • Thank you! And thanks for your feedback on the earlier draft. I hope I managed to clarify some of the more confusing points of it better in this version.

  1. Dale, this is amazing. Thank you.

    Of course, it sounds as though you have to spend hours following this stuff, along with everything else we authors do. But it’s great to know it’s there.

    • Actually, once I have it set up I only look once a week or so for about five minutes to check if there’s anything really noteworthy. I’m sure there are people who obsess, but it’s not required.

      And thank you!

  2. Hi, i found a new book sales, rankings, and reviews tracking app called BookCore. It works pretty good and they also have good support if something needed. It works with Amazon, iBooks, Google and Smashwords.

    The best thing about it is that it’s completely free. There is also demo on their site which does not require any registration, so before you register in, you can try how it works.

    Hope it will save you some time, money and effort 🙂

    • Hi Jan,

      The problem with BookCore is that it doesn’t address the central problem this article seeks to solve: tracking book sales when you aren’t the publisher. BookCore can only be used by publishers and self-publishers, and requires the log-in credentials that the publisher/self-publisher uses when they upload books to Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay, or Smashwords. It also looks like it won’t track sales for these separate stores when books are sent to them through a distributor like D2D or Pronoun.

      I’m sure it’s useful for indies who upload to each store separately, but not for authors like me who publish both independently and through traditional publishers.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: