Royalties

Well, I feel like a real writer now — I’ve received my first royalty statement! (And no, I won’t be reprinting it here. Sheesh!)

It’s sort of a strange feeling. For months now, friends, aquaintances, and even random strangers have been asking me, “So, how many copies have they sold?” To which I have shrugged and said, “Beats me.” Because that’s the truth. It’s not like I get phone calls from my publisher every day, shouting out, “Five copies just sold in a Barnes & Noble in Skokie! And a thirteen-year-old girl just bought a copy in Modesto!”

It’s a strange truism of this writing life, I’ve noticed, that the author is the last person to know anything. I was the last person to find out I had a two-book deal. I’m the last person to know how many copies my book has sold so far. When the time comes, I’ll be the last person to know that a movie deal has been hammered out.

I’m actually fine with all of that. It means I can focus on writing, which is the way I want it to be.

But what’s really weird is that even though I have this statement, I still don’t really know how many copies of my book have been sold!

Because first of all, this statement is up through September 30, 2006. My book’s official publication date was October 2, 2006. Which means that this statement takes into account those copies sold to stores before the book was available — there’s no way for me to know what sold after that point.

Second of all, this shows books sold to stores, not books sold by stores. So it’s possible that every copy on this statement is still sitting on a bookshelf in a store somewhere. (Probably not, but play along, OK?) Just as it’s possible that every copy on this statement sold to an eager reader. (Again, probably not, but again, play along.)

Third of all, stores can return books. For all I know, there are huge boxes of my book being shipped back to Houghton Mifflin as I type this.

So as cool as it is to have some numbers, I still can’t really answer the question, “How many copies have they sold?” At best, I can say, “Well, as of September 30 of last year, bookstores ordered X number of copies, some percentage of which have been sold to readers, another percentage of which may or may not be returned. And more copies may or may not have been reordered since and may or may not continue to be reordered in the future.”

Which, I admit, is still better than “Beats me.”

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