You would think that as we live in a world of unending streams of data that it would be easy to find out where your book sales come from. But the truth is that it is next to impossible.
No, I’ll rephrase that. It is impossible.
Online ebook and book retailers such as Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords give absolutely no buyer data whatsoever to self-publishers.
While Amazon does give basic geographic data, in the form of which geo-located store sold your book, it is rather irrelevant, as I buy my books from the US store, even though I live in Europe. The others, however, give you zip, zero, nil and nothing.
So how can you possibly know where your books are popular, or which demographic is more likely to buy your book? Or if you have returning buyers?
The disappointing answer is that you can’t if you rely on online retailers. And, it is not that this type of information is not gathered by retailers. Of course, it is.
But they would, of course, argue that there are privacy issues to be considered, which is only an excuse. Geographic, demographic and returning buyer data would breach no privacy laws whatsoever.
You can get data about your book sales, though.
If you have a blog or website, you can get some hints about your readers by using Google Analytics.
Now, let me be clear. This method will only give you hints and not definitive data. But when there is nothing, anything helps.
It will not give you sales data, but it will give you a clue as to where your blog or website traffic is coming from geographically, and what predominant age and gender demographic is visiting your site, and therefore, a hint as to where your book sales may be coming from.
It also gives visitor language, interests and affinity, new and returning visitors, the frequency of visits as well as user flow on your site. This is a fantastic tool to use to see how many visitors navigate to your book promotion pages.
To give you an example of how this data is useful, I noticed a little spike in my book sales recently. As I am not JK Rowling, these little spikes in my book sales are what puts beer in my glass, so I am always very interested in knowing where they come from.
If I can discover the reason or the location of the spike, I have a chance of building upon it.
By using Google Analytics, I was able to discover that I had a huge jump in traffic for a couple of days, from of all places, Russia.
Ok, don’t suddenly brand me as Marxist! But what caused this jump in my blog traffic was a comment I had made on an article on RT.
While there was a jump in my blog traffic originating in Russia, there was an almost equal jump from Norway, UK and Germany.
Now as Amazon does not have a Kindle Store in Russia, my spike in sales, which corresponded to my jump in blog traffic, perhaps came from the UK, which my KDP sales report in fact confirmed, but also possibly from Scandinavia and Germany. Why?
Because what is news in Russia affects these geographic locations.
I picked up a few sales on Smashwords at around the same time, but with no geographic data available from Smashwords it’s impossible to know if they were a result of my comment. But I can assume they may have been.
Commenting can help book sales.
One is that commenting on newspaper sites is a very worthwhile method of attracting potential book buyers.
I know there is the more than often given advice about commenting on book blogs, but this was a clear indicator that news sites may have much better potential.
Why spend the time posting an intelligent comment on a book blog that may get less than 100 readers, who are probably fellow authors, when the same investment in time could expose you to thousands of new potential readers?
Most news sites allow you to create a profile, which often allows you to add a clickable link to your website or blog, which has to be a plus.
The second is that by tracking and analysing your blog or website data, it can give you clues as to where to concentrate your efforts.
Mine are now clearly going to be registering and commenting on mainstream news sites to see if I can build more traffic, and perhaps replicate my recent sales spike.
There is a third lesson from this too.
If you want to sell books, never stop looking for new opportunities to promote yourself and your books online, and offline for that matter. Some will work, some won’t. The quote below is probably worth keeping in mind.
Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.
But analyse your data if and when you can, and you may be able to discover what is working and what is not working in your book promotion efforts.