The Ebbs, Flows, and Tsunamis In The Publishing World

HOME / The Ebbs, Flows, and Tsunamis In The Publishing World

March 9th, 2024

Just in case you were wondering…  What’s it like to publish a book and see how it does in the eyes of the purchasing public and those who take the time to read it?

Answer: It’s a bit befuddling, it’s very complicated, and it’s a lesson in highs and lows. I’ll explain.

When your book first comes out, you have a big choice to make. Do you just let it seep out into the world silently and hope that people discover it? Or, do you put the promotional and PR pedals to the floor to get the word out?

I have always chosen Option B. Releasing a book to the world without letting the world (or our corner of the world) know about it is the proverbial tree falling in the forest when there’s nobody there to hear it. Does is it make any noise? Consider a silently released book to be that tree.

This time, with my third book “The Lost Manuscript” I had the advantage of having a publisher who could arrange a presale release on Amazon. For my first two books, my previous publisher graciously replied “No, we can’t do that.” Okie Doke.

Between myself and Elon Werner, who handled the PR for the release, we spread the word, distributed a very well-written press release, and put a full-court press on via social media.

I’d never done a pre-sale before, so I didn’t know how that would go. The presale date was about three weeks before the actual print release, and I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Would people tie up a bit more than $40 for a book they wouldn’t get for likely another month?

Well, that’s the tsunami I referenced in the headline. It was a massive pre-sale. It was stunning to me. Truly epic, heartwarming, and reassuring. But, always maintaining a bit of skepticism in my usually optimistic brain, I quickly switched gears to “Well, maybe everyone who is going to want to read it just bought it and the well is already dry before it’s actually released…”

When October 3 rolled around, and the book hit the market “live” on Amazon, the results were, indeed, a little less stellar than the first two books, neither of which had the benefit of a presale, but it was a still a very strong response. We sold a lot more books, and then had to deal with shipping problems that delayed delivery a few weeks in many cases. That was frustrating because I couldn’t do anything about it but apologize. Meanwhile, my publisher and Amazon played an amazing game of “pass the hot potato” as they both insisted they were ready for the release and for shipping. That can’t be true, obviously, but by now I don’t think I’ll ever know and I guess it doesn’t matter.

As the last five months have unfolded, I’ve kept a keen eye on the Amazon ranking for “The Lost Manuscript.” I’m not obsessive or anything. I only check the ranking about 12 times a day.

How many books have we sold so far? I have no clue. This is yet another of the tedious parts of the equation you have to patiently wade through like a mud bog.

I get paid my royalty based on what the publisher sells to Amazon or other platforms. In other words, I get paid on the wholesale results, not the retail. I don’t get paid by Amazon at all. As for the payment from the publisher, I get paid a large percentage of the “net profit” which means everything in the world gets deducted out of the income before I get my little slice. It’s a few bucks per book. You’re not going to get rich doing this.

Amazon accepts returns, so they don’t consider a book they purchased from my publisher to be in the official “SOLD” column for 90 days, just to make sure it doesn’t come back. My publisher then asks for 90 days to compile the numbers and finally send me a check. So, you’re talking 6 months from the time the first book is sold to when I might see a check for millions. Or thousands. Or maybe even dozens, of dollars.

I’ve been told I should know the numbers and begin looking for a check in April. When in April? I’m sorry, that’s apparently classified information. You need an Alpha Clearance for that.

And what about that Amazon “ranking” thing? On my sales page, you can see my book’s overall ranking based on all the books sold on Amazon. There are more than 3 million books on Amazon, so anything under 1 million means you’re in the top 1/3 of all the books they sell.

There is also a ranking for my category, which is “Motorsports” and that just compares my sales to all the other books in that category, which covers everyone from racing biographies, to photo compilations, all the way to how to tune up your hot rod. If you take the overall ranking and then look at the category ranking, you at least get a somewhat clear picture of how your book is doing based on the success or failure of your peers.

We opened at Number 1 in the Motorsports category. That was a stunner and I had to blink twice to believe my eyes.

How’s it gone since then? Ebbs and flows, but every time I think “OK, that’s it, everyone who is ever going to buy this book has bought it. Many of them have then given it to someone else who now doesn’t need to buy it. We’re about done.”

And then I get up the next morning and it has shot back up into the stratosphere once again. It did that yesterday. I was convinced we were over the hump and the book had seen its best days. And then this morning we were back up to Number 32 in the category and just around 85,000 on all of Amazon. The son of a gun surprised me again.

We have to be getting near the end though, right? Within a week or two the book will have been for sale for six months. Half a year. It can’t keep ebbing and flowing like this forever.

As for my conjecture based on things like rankings, reviews, and word of mouth, I think this book has easily outsold “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” and “How Far?” We shall see, but that’s my gut feeling just based on the buzz.

So, books are very much like record albums. Remember those? They get released to much fanfare, initial sales are a land rush, and then the sales taper off after the most ardent fans have bought and played the grooves out of it. OK, maybe not “Dark Side Of The Moon” by Pink Floyd.

That album broke, and probably continues to break, all the rules. Did you know…  “Dark Side Of The Moon” spent 736 continuous weeks on the Billboard Top 200 chart? That’s insane! Most artists would be thrilled to spend a week there. And it hopped back up into that chart many times after the consecutive weeks were over. It is an anomaly. Like Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak and Cal Ripken’s consecutive game streak, this one is likely to never be broken.

“The Lost Manuscript” is fine book, and I’m very proud of it. Damn proud, actually. But it’s not an anomaly. It’s getting to be an old book now, slowing down… But it still as the spunk to jump back up with the big boys when I least expect it. It’s still got some spunk!

What that leads me to is the realization I’m an author now. So it must be time to do the author thing again, even though I haven’t yet been paid a penny for this last one. That will happen. I didn’t do it for the royalties, although I happily accept them. When I do get paid, I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, Book Number 4 is in my head. It’s percolating. It’s coalescing. I’ve got a fictional character in mind, and a time line, and a mental outline. I haven’t written any of it down yet, but I will soon. I mean, I gotta do that author thing, right?  Stay tuned.

Thanks for bearing with me through this blog drought. I had all my focus on the book. Now I’m ready to do it all over again.

As always, if you liked this post, or the info, or just anything about it, there’s a “LIKE” button at the bottom. I’d be honored and grateful if you clicked on that.

I will actually be here again soon. April is going to be a month for me unlike any I’ve ever known. A huge honor is coming up. I’ll write all about.

Oh, and if by chance you haven’t bought The Lost Manuscript yet, you (and everybody else) can find it here:


One of these is not like the others…