Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Question on Bestseller List--Part 1

I went back for the last 7 or so posts to gather from the comments all of the suggested topics we might cover. Before we get to the main topic for today, here are a few quick responses to some of the suggestions.

1. Think you could talk your editor into doing a tag-team interview with you?

Gina Holmes has just run a very fine two-part interview with my editor, Karen Ball, over on the
Novel Journey blog. Part 1 ran Monday, part 2 yesterday. Do check this out if you haven’t already done so. In part 2, Karen talks about marketing—a good follow-up to what we were discussing yesterday.

2. I checked the archives and only found one on plotting twists, but how about the nuts and bolts of how you plot out the storyline?

Actually, we did a nine-part series on plotting starting on August 18, 2005. That series then segued into the posts on twists.

3. (In response to the blurb on the
Coral Moon cover): "Bestselling Author of Violet Dawn?" Does that mean Zondervan already has sales figures for the book? Has Chelsea Adams had another vision? Or are they figuring no other author will sell as many copies of Violet Dawn as you? Or, because you are a bestselling author, do you get to add that to everything you write? Bestselling author of Safeway Shopping List. Bestselling author of Birthday Card to Aunt Phyllis. Bestselling author of Post-It Note: Pick Up Drycleaning After 2:30 Dentist Appt. I have no doubt Violet Dawn will sell handily, it just seems maybe the lads and ladies in marketing have gotten ahead of themselves.

I laughed at this one. The questioner has a valid point. I hope to give an answer in the next few days, but I’m still waiting on some information from Zondervan.

Now for today:

Would you do a post (or have you done one) about the way bestseller lists work? On a CBA title, how much does one have to typically sell to hit that list?

We have touched on the topic of bestseller lists in the past few months, but curious minds wanna know more. And I admit it’s a bit of a mysterious and convoluted subject, especially regarding the number of sales needed to make the list. (Nobody wants to talk actual numbers--that's so . . . crass.) So here’s the info I’ve gathered, some stated before on this blog, and some new stuff. If any of you sees some point I’ve not gotten right, please let me know.

The bestseller list for the Christian publishing industry is based on
STATS—a database compiled and sold by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). STATS uses ISBN codes to track actual sales to customers at participating bookstores, which, until last fall numbered 1000+. In other words, it's not the number of books shipped to a participating store that matters, but the number of those books that actually sell off the shelves. Many independent Christian bookstores, as well as large chains such as Family Christian, Lifeway, etc., reported their sales to STATS. Then last October came a few changes.

Beginning October 1 of 2005, a new reporting database came into play—
CROSS:SCAN. This database is compiled by the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA). The booksellers were worried that the publishers were somehow using STATS data to further sales to secular stores (this is the bottom line of the argument, as best I can gather), and therefore wanted to come up with their own alternative database, which allows a publishing house to view its own selling data, but not to view data from other houses as comparisons.

Some bookstores started reporting sales to CROSS:SCAN as well as to STATS. Others, such as the Family Christian chain (about 350 stores), pulled out of STATS completely and now only reports to CROSS:SCAN. As a result, reported sales that make up the bestseller list dwindled from 1000+ stores down to a current 650 or so. This trend may continue if more booksellers pull out of STATS.

Confused yet? There’s more. Now, starting May 1, ECPA has scrapped its old STATS program for the “newest generation of channel-wide sales collection and interpretation” called
Pubtrack. According to ECPA, Pubtrack “is specifically designed to improve data collection and analysis for both publishers and retailers while simultaneously protecting data integrity and confidentiality.” In other words, Pubtrack is ECPA’s response to CROSS:SCAN, which was CBA’s response to STATS.

Question: Will the new Pubtrack satisfy booksellers enough so that those who pulled out of STATS will become part of Pubtrack? If so, the number of booksellers reporting sales numbers to the database upon which the bestseller list is based would rise again. Which would be a good thing, because in general, the more participants in the database, the more accurate the data. But this realignment may take a number of months, as booksellers decide what to do.

Bestseller lists are titled two months ahead of data. The current one is the
May list, reflecting sales in the month of March. So the first list reflecting data from Pubtrack, I'm assuming, will be the July list.

Tomorrow—sales needed to hit the fiction bestseller list.

Read Part 2


Stuart said...

Sounds like it might be easier to plot a hyperspace route through a sub-space singularity than to figure out exactly what makes a CBA Bestseller. :)

And what is it with the paranoia about divulging actual sales numbers? Seems like even authors have a terrible time getting a hold of what their book is doing.

Wandering Writer said...

Wanted to take a moment to thank you for the time you take to write about things like this. There are so many aspects of the publishing business that are confusing and you always seem to be able to put it together so that we can understand it better.
I understand that figures can be skewed if someone gets friends/family to purchase all on the same day.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Thanks, Brandilyn. I appreciate you demystifying this whole process.

Maybe I'm the only one who reacts this way, but when things are murky, I tend to dismiss the CBA best-seller list as irrelevant. After all, to me it does not translate into meaningful numbers. Your explanations make me interested again.

And I always did wonder how they could post the May best-sellers on May 1st!


D. Gudger said...

It seems like one needs a PhD in statistical analysis to figure this out.

I'm still struggling to understand, so this is what I think it all means so far: In the Christian bookselling realm, there are several databases gathering sales info. The bestseller numbers are skewed by how many retailers belong to a specific database, meaning the #'s only reflect sales from database members.

Are secular store sales excluded from these numbers?

Also, how is placement of a book in a secular store determined? I'd love to see your books in the "thriller-suspense" section so non-chirstian readers can pick them up. Won't that increase sales too?

I'm curious b/c as I work on my novel, I'm trying to decide if I want a CBA publisher or a secular house to buy the ms.

Kristy Dykes said...

I always enjoy your blog, Brandilyn. Thanks so much for spending time writing it and giving helpful information about publishing.

michael snyder said...

Good stuff. I don't think I could acurately 'splain it to my kids. But then, you already knew I'm not that smart.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Margo Carmichael said...

Thanks, Brandilyn, for pointing the way through this murky maze! I'm enjoying it.