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Monday, March 20, 2006

Bookselling [updated below]

I just found out, to my delight, that my book has sold a good proportion of its ridiculously measly, but very Renaissance, print run. My royalties manager writes:
According to our computer system, there are 132 copies available worldwide which, when you add in the sales/frees already distributed, approximately equates to the 600-copy print run.
Weirdly, he also wrote:
The life volume sales of your title to date are 403 copies. In addition, there have been 114 non-royalty sales/frees. We have just calculated royalties to the end of 2005 at which point your royalty sales stood at 393 copies, unfortunately just slightly below your 400-copy royalty threshhold.
I can't quite figure this out, since 600 - 132 = 468, but 403 + 114 = 517. Does this mean that 49 copies of my book are somewhere "available worldwide" but not actually sold? Somehow those 49 copies seem to have fallen into a Guantanamo-like black hole that is outside the parameters of both "life volume sales" and "copies available worldwide." Can anyone enlighten me? This is apparently par for the course, since the manager says the total "approximately equates to" the run. I suspect this has something to do with returns, since my royalty statement (which has thus far totaled $0.00, but it looks like next year I will receive at least $12.50) always notes that the figures are subject to some adjustment due to returns. But I still don't quite get it.

Another conundrum: A plurality
of the 114 "non-royalty sales/frees" are the free review copies the publisher sends to journals. I think my publisher sent about 50 of these, a pleasingly high number since it increases publicity and the likelihood that the book will get a fair number of reviews, even if it will never get anywhere near 50 reviews. I bought maybe another 25 copies--non-royalty sales all--to distribute to friends and patrons, in the hopes of acquiring a sinecure like Master of the Cinq Ports of something. That leaves something like 40 copies unaccounted for. Have forty people out there been buying copies of my book at the non-royalty rate? This could occur in a few ways, I think:
  1. Someone buys a copy at the MLA or another conference where discount rates apply;
  2. Someone who has published a book with my publisher buys a copy at the author's discount rate;
  3. Someone who has read a manuscript for my publisher chooses my book as part of his or her compensatory allotment of gratis books.
Perhaps there are other forms of non-royalty sales that I'm forgetting here. Still, 40 seems like a large number, especially since the publisher brings only 1 or 2 copies to conferences. I sort of like the idea that these sales fall into category 3 and that my book has become very popular with people who review manuscripts for the press. Because that would seem to bode well for future manuscripts of my own, since I think when someone is reading your manuscript for a press, preconceived notions about the author are about 90% of the battle.

One last calculation: according to WorldCat, my book is owned by 207 libraries. Now, WorldCat is very spotty with non-North American libraries; they catch some of the biggest UK ones, and an Asian library here or there, but with nothing like the level of comprehensiveness of their US coverage. For instance, my book is not listed as being owned by Cambridge University, which is highly unlikely for a number of reasons. Since my press sells better than most outside of the US and the UK, let's say there are an additional 30 library copies out there, for 237 total. Subtracting this from the 403 royalty sales to date leaves 166 copies purchased by individuals. Add in the 40 non-royalty sales that presumably also fall into this category, subtract (say) 5 copies purchased by my non-academic friends and family, and we're left with a grand total of 201 academics who have made the decision to purchase my book.

I have no idea how I should feel about that.

And no doubt a lot of those calculations are very fuzzy.

Update: In the comments, Sharon Howard from Early Modern Notes (part of our Many-Headed Multitude) usefully suggests Copac as a union catalogue for UK research libraries. Searching this catalogue yields 7 further libraries not listed in the WorldCat results for my book, though strangely enough still not Cambridge (the oddity is that my book is published by Cambridge UP). And in fact, a search of the Cambridge library system directly from their website reveals that they do indeed own a copy of my book. Anyway, Copac is a useful site, clearly better than WorldCat for UK libraries, and thanks to Sharon for alerting me to it. I had never heard of it; I wonder how many US academics have?

Narcissistic autobibliography really knows no bounds.

  • At 3/20/2006 08:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Copac might be a useful place to look up whether your book is in the main UK university research libraries (including Cambridge)...


  • At 3/21/2006 03:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    one thing I did was put those ink-laden anti-theft tags in my book, you know, those tags that spray ink on the shoplifters trying to steal leather jackets. What I was hoping is that I would be able to do a person count of who has read my book, but the problem is that I haven't yet seen an academic covered with paint, and if I did, I wouldn't know if s/he had read about the C19 my way, as I now call my field, or if s/he had stolen a leather jacket. But that's what you should try.


  • At 3/21/2006 05:52:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Now that's a good idea, Jameses. Or maybe I could implant a GPS device in the book so that I can keep track of their locations in real-time around the world.


  • At 3/22/2006 02:22:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    I can't answer the question about the mysterious 49 volumes, but, as someone who spent all of grad school working part-time for a couple of different academic publishers, I can suggest where the extra frees/non-royalty copies might have gone: a) some were undoubtably sent to the initial scholarly reviewers of your manuscript and/or proposal (as well as to people such the indexer, freelance copyeditor, cover designer, etc., if they were used), b) some may have been requested in lieu of an honorarium by the reviewers for OTHER manuscripts or proposals (as you probably know, most presses will send you either a dinky honorarium or twice that amount in books for your services), c) if you had permissions for artwork, some copies may have been sent to the permissions-granters, and finally, d) some may have walked off with various interested editors, editorial assistants, and interns (anyone who works on a book at any stage gets or is entitled to a copy). I myself filled out my own library nicely with books in my field.


  • At 3/22/2006 02:28:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    la lecturess,

    aha, that's helpful. I think your category b) is the same as my category 3) if I understand you right--someone reading a MS for the press selects my book as part of the honorarium (which for my press is indeed either cash or twice the cash amount in book value). But I didn't know about categories a) and d) and had forgotten that some of the libraries in category c) did indeed request one gratis copy.


  • At 8/02/2007 06:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    About a year behind, but I followed a link here ... but in case you're still wondering about why your CUP book isn't in the Cambridge catalog, it's likely because they are perpetually years behind in cataloging new books. It should appear in the catalog and become available to users in around 2018.

    (Despite the fact that they get one copy of every book published in the UK handed to them for free, the UL is not the best library for keeping up with current developments in the field.)


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