One frequent question from new independent writers is “What tool can I use to track my book sales?” They're looking for the right tool to fetch and consolidate all of their sales data.
In genealogical circles, a similar question is “Who can tell me about my family's ancestry?” and it's the subject of an amusing and sardonic tall tale that tells of the search for the file that contains all the answers.
The same answer applies to both: “Sorry, buddy, you gotta do all that work yourself. Nobody's already done it for you.”
If you're only distributed by one retailer, like Amazon, or you're using one of the current tools that make a serious effort to capture some (but not all) of your unit sales — and that satisfies you — then this is not the article for you. I won't be critiquing the currently available tools because none of them can provide a single platform for tracking ALL your sales in ALL your channels, nor provide you with all the information you want to track, if you can.
You're going to have to build that yourself.
Let's start by exploring what, in an ideal universe, you would want to track about your book sales over time, and why.
The devil's in the details…
Sales by month (units and $)
Surely it's not too great a burden to go to each of your channels just after the end of the month to get your basic numbers. For me, that's
- Direct: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords
- Distributors: (Kobo, Smashwords), PublishDrive, StreetLib, IngramSpark, and AuthorsRepublic (audio).
But that doesn't really tell you much except what to expect on a royalty statement when you get paid. Nor does it account for other kinds of sales, such as direct sales at a book fair, books sold on consignment in local stores, or your ecommerce sales. So that's incomplete.
And it also doesn't provide the information you need to draw trend and analysis data, unless you keep such details as Title, Format, Price, Language, etc.
For marketing and promotional purposes, you also want to see the details of “which retailer” for the distributors, as well as the country.
Then there's the question about what level of detail should get into your actual accounting system, vs tracking and analysis. After all, when royalties arrive, you have to record them somewhere. Your accounting system is where you track money, but it's not a good place for all the non-financial detail. It cares about monthly sales by royalty payer, not the details about individual channels.
You need two levels of information:
- Simple per-royalty-payer financial information and physical inventory tracking (those book boxes in your garage)
- Highly detailed sales information at the deepest level available from your channels and distributors