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

Note: I originally published this article in April 2017. A lot has changed since then. The best free platform for tracking Amazon sales, NovelRank, shut down in August 2018 after Amazon canceled its access to sales data and booted its owner from the Amazon Associates program, which offers commissions to websites that link to Amazon products. In an announcement posted on the Novelrank website, its own wrote:

In August 2018, Amazon canceled our affiliate accounts as well as our API access (how we collected sales rank data), stating we violated their Code of Use. “Specifically, you are using our Content for reasons other than sending end users and sales to the Amazon Site.” I know this is heartbreaking for those who have come to depend on the service. It’s also heartbreaking for me as this was my job, my income, and it happened weeks after my wedding (first marriage!). I’m just as disappointed as you probably are.

Another good source for tracking Amazon sales, Pronoun, shut down in early 2018.

This leaves very few resources for non-self-published authors to track their Amazon sales. The original version article focused on NovelRank and Pronoun as the best sources for sales data. I’ve deleted those sections, resulting in a much shorter article that I nonetheless hope will be of some use to traditionally published authors.The big advantage of Novel rank was that it provided authors with estimates how many of their books were selling each day or week; this gave authors some basis for evaluating sales and royalty reports provided by their publishers. None of the services listed below furnish this information.


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 self-publish can get detailed numbers through their distributors. 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.”

The first three services listed in this article—Ebook Tracker, Sales Rank Express, and Authorgraph—track Amazon book sales only. The fourth one, Amazon Author Central, also provides access to sales data for print books—not only through Amazon, but also through bookstores across the United States.

Ebook Tracker

Ebook Tracker is a free site for tracking Amazon sales rank and sales price. It’s fairly easy to use; you simply register with the site and begin adding your books to a “group” using your books’ titles, ASINs (unique identification number used by Amazon to track products) or ISBNs. This will create a dashboard in which you can see all your Amazon sales ranks on one page.

Sales Rank Express

Aaron Shepherd’s Sales Rank Express is worth a mention because it’s been around for a long time and is fairly reliable. It lost functionality for about a month after NovelRank closed, as it had been pulling its data from NovelRank, but has since restored weekly sales rank data. As of Sept. 18, 2018, historical data was no longer available, and sales for Amazon Japan were also inaccessible.

The main downside is that 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.

Unlike Ebook Tracker, Sales Rank Express does not require a login. You do a search for the books you want to track and then click “start tracking.” Unlike with Ebook Tracker, you can’t save a list or group of books, but need to go through the search function each time. This is an advantage if you don’t want to have to deal with logins and passwords, but annoying if you have lots of books to track.

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.

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?

 

 

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 plug your sales rank into the Kindle Best Seller Calculator to estimate of the number of books sold per day and compare these to your publisher’s royalty reports. This is fairly labor intensive, however, as it requires knowing what your sales rank is every day of the year.

If you do decide to go this route, keep in mind that these 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.

So, authors, what do you think? Do you use any of these services 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.


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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.

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