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What Numbers You Need To Know

What Numbers You Need To Know

A couple nights ago I did a blog about results addiction, the career-killing problem of watching numbers too much and other aspects of that addiction.

I got a number of questions about what numbers are needed in an indie career, so below I’ll give you my opinion on a way to be a good business person without being addicted to numbers and taking those numbers into your writing.


The New Workshops

I was not clear on one thing last night about the workshops. The new workshop Plotting with Depth is now on the schedule through March.

The older workshop we are bringing back, Interior Book Design will only be available for two months.



Got up late, spent time working on Smith’s Monthly, ran errands, did some steps, made dinner, worked on Smith’s Monthly, started to work on the new store by starting the first of the major moves, did more steps, did e-mail, and then got some writing done.

Again only two sessions with a break for a total of 2,250 words. Chugging right along, enjoying the book, just not giving it much time at the moment.

And I got over 10,000 steps three days in a row now. The streak has started. (grin)


December Workshop Schedule

All workshops have openings.

Class #51… Dec 7th … Advanced Depth
Class #52… Dec 7th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #53… Dec 7th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #54… Dec 7th … Ideas into Stories
Class #55… Dec 8th … Character Development
Class #56… Dec 8th … Depth in Writing
Class #57… Dec 8th … Plotting With Depth
Class #58… Dec 9th … Designing Covers
Class #59… Dec 9th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #60… Dec 9th … Designing Book Interiors

Classic Workshops and Lectures are also available at any time.


TOPIC OF THE NIGHT: What Numbers to Watch

A number of people asked about what numbers they should watch and still stay out of results-addiction problems.

If you did not read the blog a few days back about results addiction, scan down and do so now before going forward.

Also realize I am the CFO of a mid-sized publishing company, and I must stay informed as to the money and sales. And we have going on 550 titles selling on as many platforms as we can get them to and in paper. A lot of cash streams for me to track.

And I also sell some of my work to that same company. Not all, but a lot. So it would be tempting for me to follow numbers. And deadly for me to my writing.

So an easy answer is this question of what to follow is this: Watch the money every month. 

When the totals come in, put them in a spreadsheet. Make no corrections in your publishing program, just put down the total income per channel and the total income overall.

Then every three months, do a quarterly report of the totals for the three months. Start understanding the ups and downs of publishing sales. (It really is seasonal, folks.)

Then at the end of the year, look at it all in a yearly summary.

Wow, I know, sounds like a real business, huh? Yup, that’s what I am suggesting.

Act like a real business.

The WMG store (Called Pop Culture Collectables) has over 200,000 bits of inventory. We track all that by category by money and do a yearly inventory. For example, say in October, we sold $2,700 in books, $1,800 in comics, $2,800 in non-sports cards, $800 in watches and jewelry, $1,900 in toys and games, $1,400 in cars and trains, and the rest misc. (All numbers made up for the example.)

If I was silly enough to want to track that by numbers of comics, numbers of cars, numbers of books, it would take a full-time bookkeeper. And would get us no more information that would help us. The general categories by money does it just fine for decision-making.

Standard for this level of business since we have no reordering needs in the inventory. (All our inventory comes through the door and we buy it then or it is scouted and picked.)

So record your money every month, make no judgements or changes. But do record if you have a new book out that month, or did a promotion, or lowered a price, or if a world event happened. At the store we record weather as well, since weather changes how a day can go in a brick-and-mortar store.

Do a quarterly report of everything added up for the three months. Again note how many new books you had out in those three months, promotions, price change, world events.

Do an annual report.  Do graphs and charts and all kinds of nifty stuff.


Why of the money???

Okay, let me try to explain why copy sales mean nothing in this new world. Only the money really matters, just like how many small 25 cent toy cars we sold doesn’t matter at the store, only the money.

This last few weeks WMG did a bunch of lower-level promotions on one of my books and even though I had no desire to know, took great pleasure in telling me I had hit #1 on some bestseller list or another. I took that for how it was intended, that the book was selling. Great to hear.

But the book had been $5.99 and we had lowered the price to 99 cents for the promotion for a short time. The idea was to give it traction and other books similar to it traction in the long run. Great, a valid reason for a promotion and I agreed to it in the planning stages. Still do.

But in the short term, it illustrates the point about book sales vs money tracking. Say we sold 300 or so on Amazon over the two weeks, (numbers made up for this example since I don’t honestly know or care to check.)

What I do care about is that in a few months the money for that will come in.

300 copies x 35 cents = $105.00.

But the book before the promotion was selling a few copies a day at the higher price. (Made up, don’t actually know.) So say the book was earning about $5.99 x 65% = $3.90 per sale. It would have sold over the two weeks about 50 or so copies. It wouldn’t even have laughed at a bestseller list at that rate. But we would have gotten in about $195.00.

Sold six times the number of books, made half the money.  See why sales numbers are just silly to follow?? They mean nothing to a business. And they can mislead you and give you wrong data. Wow, sold 300 copies. That’s great.

Well, not so much.

So act like a regular business.

— Track the money every month. Only when it comes in. Not ahead of time.

— Then do quarterly and annual reports of the money.

If you do not know how to do this, go get some basic accounting books.

And of course, when you do your bookkeeping each month, you also record your expenses. And for each quarter, and for the year. How much did you spend, how much did you bring in gross?

So instead of always checking your numbers and worrying about making changes all the time, check the money every month, record it as it comes into your account, and then go write the next book.

At the end of a year, maybe make some changes. Or maybe not.

That is just good business. Much beyond that and you might have addiction problems that might, if left unchecked, slow down and hurt your writing.

We writers work between our ears. Anything that can hurt that is a bad thing. And the best solution is just act like a regular business.

Track the money once a month in your checking account. That’s where it matters in business.


The Writing of GRAPEVINE SPRINGS: A Thunder Mountain Novel

Day 1…. 2,450 words.  Total words so far… 2,450 words.
Day 2….5,300 words.  Total words so far… 7,750 words.
Day 3….7,100 words.  Total words so far… 14,850 words.
Day 4….2,250 words.  Total words so far… 17,100 words.
Day 5….6,300 words.  Total words so far… 23,400 words.
Day 6….2,450 words.  Total words so far… 25,850 words.
Day 7….2,700 words.  Total words so far… 28,550 words.
Day 8….2,100 words.  Total words so far… 30,650 words.
Day 9….1,450 words.  Total words so far… 32,100 words.
Day 10…2,750 words.  Total words so far… 34,850 words.
Day 11…2,250 words.  Total words so far… 37,100 words.


Totals For Year 3, Month 4, Day 13

Writing in Public blog streak… Day 824

— Daily Fiction: 2,750 original words. Fiction month-to-date: 42,000 words  

— Nonfiction: 00 new words. Nonfiction month-to-date total: 00 words 

— Blog Posts: 1,200 new words. Blog month-to-date word count: 9,900 words

— E-mail: 21 e-mails. Approx. 700 original words.  E-mails month-to date: 284 e-mails. Approx. 16,300 words

— Covers Designed and Finished: 0. Covers finished month-to-date: 1 Covers


You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Extra stuff for different levels of support and I will be adding in more as time goes on. Thanks for your support.

Or you can just toss a tip into the tip jar with a single donation at PayPal. Either way, your support keeps me going at these crazy posts.

And thanks.

If you would like to leave a tip just hit (Goes to WMG Publishing account, but I’ll get it just fine.)


  • Michael W Lucas

    Good post, Dean. Regularly checking sales data is the road to madness. When Author Central first came out… well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.

    But a question for you. It might be better asked over lunch sometime, but what the heck.

    I’ve got a couple of (short story) series. While I try to ignore individual sales numbers, it’s pretty clear that one series sells OK and one sells, well, let’s call it mediocre. I have few enough titles that it’s pretty obvious. They’re both things that I’m going to write anyway, because they’re fun. And the mediocre-selling series might explode one day.

    When I waffling over what to write next, I try to always let “the muse” have its way. Never argue with the subconscious! But in the back of my mind, there’s a bias towards “all else being equal, write what sells.”

    Would you tell me to ignore those sales number?

    • dwsmith

      Michael, see the danger? “…in the back of my mind, there’s a bias toward…”

      If you don’t look at the numbers at all, just the money that comes in, you would never know what is influencing you and digging into your writing.

      Next step is when your subconscious wants to write in the series that isn’t selling, you will find yourself thinking “Why am I wasting my time?”

      Oh, oh, that might be the story that takes off, but you are cutting off its legs in the writing because you think it won’t sell because you watched the numbers. Scary, scary stuff.

      There is something to be said about the old system (still in most traditional publishing) of not knowing numbers for nine months after publication of a book. And two years after you finish it. Already past caring at that point. (grin)

      Never a valid reason, no matter what anyone says, for writing something just for sales numbers. If you are going to do that, might as well write for traditional publishers under contract because the freedom to not do that is one of the wonderful things about indie.

      But just my opinion.

  • Byron Gordon

    Fascinating post, Dean. If I’m reading you correctly, then my super-awesome spreadsheet breaking down sales by title/month/outlet is not only a waste of time but potentially quite harmful to my writing. Well, I learned a lot about Excel making it so not an entire waste of time.

    Since I stopped updating that nearly a year ago (after a while I got tired of typing 0’s) that is actually an incredibly encouraging thing to hear. I understand the collectibles example with categories but not quite how it translates over. Do you categorize e-book/print/audio or by genre or by distributor? Is there a benefit to even breaking it down that much?

    It would be really easy (seems almost too easy) to make a spreadsheet to track monthly income/expense and automatically compile that info into quarterly and annual reports. The only real ‘benefit’ I’ve ever gotten out of my previously mentioned monster spreadsheet was realizing which one of my titles is my best seller. Which I’ve occasionally tried to write a similar story, like you said to build off of its success, but never gotten anywhere with it mostly because I was only writing the story for sales. And that IS work and it sucks.

    • dwsmith

      Byron, we break it down by channel. So yes, ebook comes in through some channels, paper through others, audio through others.

      And yup, when you let the numbers in your writing world, seldom do good things come of it, and nothing good in the long run. Long run, numbers in your writing can kill a career by simply grinding you down to “what’s the point.” (Possible subject of tonight’s topic…)

  • Stefon Mears

    Dean, I certainly understand the importance of focusing on the money and not the copies, but isn’t there marketing value in passing certain breakpoints in copies sold? They’re not small numbers — 50,000, 100,000, 1,000,00 and so on — but I have seen them used on book covers from time to time.

    • dwsmith

      I suppose, if you get up around a million copies or so, it might be. Not sure if that isn’t an excuse to track numbers though. (grin)

  • Linda Jordan

    So Dean, if you’re not tracking sales of individual books then how can you figure out if a books ‘earned out’? If I’m tracking time and money spent writing, editing, covering, etc. to figure out return on investment and I don’t track sales then how do I have a clue when any given book has made everything back? Or if it hasn’t and never will?
    I may have misunderstood the whole ROI thing then. Still trying to figure out the business thing.

    • dwsmith

      Linda, books don’t “earn out” like a standard manufacturing product. They simply return investment per year. And you never get your money back, it is invested.

      Reread the ROI posts. And sales numbers, meaning numbers of books sold mean nothing. Only thing that matters is the monthly money. Only thing.

      So if you have say $24,000 in investments in your writing in ten novels, then to make a 10% return you would need to earn $2,400 PER YEAR. Or about $200 per month over all your books.

      Not once in there do I say you need to track sales numbers. Numbers of books sold. Track it by total money over the entire month compared to your total investment. I’ll do another post tonight or tomorrow explaining this again how this not tracking numbers works with ROI so everyone is clear.

  • T.A.K.

    Quick question: You are big on learning. But you don’t think reading reviews of our own books is a good idea.
    Isn’t reading reviews a good way to learn? By reading reviews, I often come to understand how something I do or don’t do can change the way a reader experiences my story. I understand that you say a writer should write to entertain himself, in which case he won’t really care how readers experience stories, but on the other hand, a level 4 writer understands how to control the reader–and I’m not sure a writer can learn how to do that without understanding how actual readers respond to elements of her stories.

    • dwsmith

      Oh, heavens, no. A review isn’t a lesson given by someone who knows what they are talking about, it is an attack, either positive or negative, on your writing. And positive reviews if you read them can even be more destructive then negative ones.

      The idea of trying to learn from reviews just made me shudder. If you try to go that way, mark my words, your writing will be frozen in a year.

    • Devin Harnois

      This is what happens in reader reviews. Reader 1: “Ugh. Character A was so boring. He dragged the whole book down.”

      Reader 2: “I loved character A! I hope there are a dozen more books with him in it!”

      So what the heck can you learn from that? People have different opinions?

      Just go entertain yourself.

  • John

    I often wonder if people subconsciously try to shun tracking the money for fear of coming off as greedy. Keeping an eye on the money just might be the most neutral means of determining where you stand.