Marsha Canham's Blog

July 19, 2011

A matter of numbers

Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 5:50 pm

There is a lot of talk about numbers these days, as the indie revolution spreads.  Authors who have been riding the wave for a year or more write posts about their numbers being in the thousands each day, in the tens of thousands at the end of each month.  They talk a lot about strategy, and campaigns and how to improve sales, how to boost numbers, and you can almost see the eyes of the newbies spinning round and round, ka-chinging with thoughts of dollar signs and taking the easy path to riches.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality.

First of all, no two authors will have the same numbers.  Even if they wrote the identical book, with the identical title and posted it in all the same places…they would not have the same number of sales. 

I have author friends who are doing far better in sales than I am, and some others who aren’t. Every day, sales figures change. There are dips and rises, like riding on a roller coaster, and there are those who study those numbers and track them trying to find a pattern. Do books sell better on Wednesdays? OnHolidayweekends? This past July long weekend, some authors said their sales completely stalled. They sold one or two copies and they blamed this on the fact it was a holiday and people were away, they were at the beach, at a baseball game, at a cottage…  Yet I had one of the best sales weekends yet…almost 900 copies in three days…great for me, phenomenal to others, a disaster to some who sell that many in an hour.

Name recognition?  Yes, that could surely account for the differences between one author’s sales and another’s.  But if you apply that to me, my name hasn’t been before the reading public in over seven years, whereas others have been putting books out in print every six months.

The type of books I write? Absolutely, that is a factor.  I write swashbucklers. Action-packed, sexy, sensual swashbucklers that publishers pushed out of style in favor of shorter, character-driven books featuring vampires and girlfriends sharing angst and uncomplicated plot lines that took the place of pirates and knights and highwaymen.  There is a very good blog here  that explains why a lot of authors got turned off the big Publishing Houses. And an even better one here about why watching numbers can drive a writer crazy.

The bottom line is, if you listen to the numbers people post, and assume that you’re books will have the same results, you’ll go nuts.  If you assume your numbers will remain consistent or even continue to grow each month, you can go a different kind of crazy because good numbers one month can dip down to crappy numbers the next. It’s just the nature of the beast, and you take the good months in with the bad, but your sales are never ever going to be as good or as bad as someone else’s. The number will be unique to you.

One thing everyone has to remember is that those books stay up from now  until forever.  Your grandkids’ grandkids will be collecting royalties on them long after you’re dust.  So just take each week, each month as a gift you weren’t expecting, weren’t counting on.  Sure, it’s a numbers game, but don’t worry about anyone else’s numbers.  Don’t even worry about your own.  I stopped writing seven years ago because it wasn’t fun anymore, the publishers had taken away my creative freedom and based all of my print runs, distribution, marketing and contract negotiations on…you guessed it…numbers.

I’m writing again because self publishing has given me back my creative freedom…something every author should treasure like the hope freaking diamond.  Most new indie authors won’t know the true worth of that freedom because it has never been taken away.  Yet they run the greater risk of throwing it away themselves because they let the numbers consume them and they forget why they’re writing in the first place.

I write because I live in a small town inSouthern Ontario. I’m afraid of sailing. I’ve never held a sword, never drawn a bow, never galloped down a moonlit road in the middle of the night with a patrol of soldiers chasing after me.  I’ve never stood on a battlefield on a chilly morning and seen the steam rise off open wounds. I’ve never climbed a ship’s rigging or fired a cannon.  I’ve never slept with Russell Crowe, or Paul Newman or Errol Flynn, but I’ve I pictured them all in my mind and in my arms as I write love scenes. 

That…is creative freedom.  That is fun. And that is far more important to me than numbers.



  1. Wonderful post, Marsha, and a great perspective for someone like me who is launching my first two e-books this week. I’ve been “away” twice as long as you have, but I can’t worry about what may mean to my “numbers.” I’m thrilled to be in the mix again, to be a writer again (not that I ever stopped being one in my heart) and to think that new readers will be able to enjoy my books.

    LOVED the last part of your post. Beautifully put!

    Comment by Cynthia Wright — July 19, 2011 @ 6:09 pm | Reply

  2. Very well said. I self-published my 3rd book because I had gotten so discouraged after receiving requests from all the biggies and hearing my book didn’t fit. Two years went by while a plugged away at another book. I’ve self published this first of a series. And it is doing well. But I’m trying hard to just lose myself in the writing of the one I’m working on now and enjoy that creative process again. I’ve found that the business of publishing can drain the joy from you. Being about to write without that worry is very very freeing.
    I loved the ending of your blog as well.
    Write on,
    Teresa R.

    Comment by Teresa — July 19, 2011 @ 6:29 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Teresa, and good luck as well with your epubbing venture. Losing yourself in your writing is what it’s all about. *s*

      Comment by marshacanham — July 19, 2011 @ 6:37 pm | Reply

  3. Marsha, I love your posts because it gives new writers (I mean those of use who are still unpubbed because of the market.) inspiration. I will never quit writing fast paced swash-buckling historical’s.

    Comment by Patti — July 19, 2011 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

    • Good for you, because there are readers out there who want them!

      Comment by marshacanham — July 19, 2011 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

  4. What?????!!!! You never did it with Russell Crowe? I don’t believe that one for a minute. Come on, Marsha, you can tell us…and don’t leave out any details, either!

    Comment by Ruth Harris — July 19, 2011 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  5. Excellent post, Marsha. Well thought out, as usual, and clearly stated…and, oh, so true! I am thrilled to be back in the writing field. And it’s particuarly fun that we can do our own thing, eg, write what we love to write. And now that I’m involved in the social networking, it’s wonderful meeting and chatting with new friends. I remember back in my print days how thrilled I was to receive letters from people who had read my work. I would immediate sit down and write a return letter! Now, comments and responses are almost immediate. And, if I were to ever compare my numbers to yours, I would be totally depressed! LOL.

    And Ruth posed an interesting question…we’re all waiting a response to that one.

    Comment by Jill Metcalf — July 19, 2011 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

    • Behave Perkmeister, or no more chocolate banana bites for you. LOL I’ll send them to Russell instead.

      Hmm. *perk* Now there’s a thought….

      Comment by marshacanham — July 19, 2011 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

  6. Marsha
    First, a heartfelt thank you for the balanced perspective you’ve presented. Both intelligent and wise.
    Second, as a “veteran” author who is now about to digitally release contemporized editions of the first 4 books of a 22 book backlist, I too have been away from the industry, shoved aside by publishers because I wrote intelligent, complex, and very sensual romance novels, but (happily) not forgotten by readers. I’ve spent the previous 10 plus years as an editorial consultant, and my clients publish both traditionally and independently. That said, I’ve witnessed the roller coaster ride as it pertains to “numbers” and the financial expectations of an array of writers with regard to digital publication. Suffice to say, some are rational and some are wholly irrational in the expectations department.
    Ultimately, if you consider the digital revenue you may earn as a gift, that attitude will help one keep the entire situation in perspective.
    I applaud your blog!
    Laura Taylor (former Loveswept & Desire author)

    Comment by Laura Taylor — July 19, 2011 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

    • Laura, you’re very welcome, and welcome to the ebook revolution *s*. And yes, I consider each sale, each email I get from a reader, each comment I get on Facebook or Twitter or here on my blog…a gift. A huge gift for which I am always grateful.

      Comment by marshacanham — July 19, 2011 @ 8:08 pm | Reply

  7. I am not a writer, I am just a reader that loves Romances. Especially Historical Romances. I like them all, Pirates, Rakes, Highlanders, etc. Although you can keep Russel Crowe :).

    I am just sitting back now smiling as I snap up the backlist titles that keep popping up on Kindle. So many I haven’t read yet since they been out of print and the price is usually right too.

    So bring them on you wonderful authors, I’ll be here one clicking until my Credit card weeps.

    Now excuse me while I get back to my dark and handsome Lord. *grin*

    Comment by Atunah — July 19, 2011 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

    • Atunah, *gasp* why I’d LOVE to keep Russell Crowe! Thank you. LOL And thank you for being the voracious reader that you are, with such fine taste in books too *g*

      Comment by marshacanham — July 19, 2011 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

  8. I have been a fan of yours for a very long time. Your stories are my very favorite -I have read each of them over and over. Although you have not been in the public eye for seven years, you have been missed but never forgotten. It was a sad day when the publishers caused you to walk away. I am so excited to know that you are writing the swashbuckling, complex, romantic adventures once again!

    Comment by Priscella — July 19, 2011 @ 10:22 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Priscella *s* I’ve honestly been surprised, gratified, and honored that so many readers have said the same thing…that I hadn’t been forgotten. It really does put a smile on my face.

      Comment by marshacanham — July 20, 2011 @ 12:41 pm | Reply

  9. Marsha,
    Thanks for sharing. I’m so glad to see your books on Kindle. I’ve read your entire list, and still own about half in paperback. When I saw your first e-pub release, I had to get it–it was one of the one’s I didn’t still own, followed by the Robin Hood Trilogy, which I’m concluding right now. Indy publishing has benefited both readers and writers. After ten years of working toward selling to a NY publisher, I’m going indie myself. I wish I had name recognition, but I wouldn’t have that with a NY house either, would I? I’m so glad you’re writing again, and I can’t wait to read your new book.
    Teresa Elliott Brown

    Comment by Teresa Elliott Brown — July 19, 2011 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Teresa, and I wish you all the best success with your ebooks!

      Comment by marshacanham — July 20, 2011 @ 12:41 pm | Reply

  10. Marsha,

    You’ve been my inspiration for many years. I’ve been writing for well over fifteen years and told that my type of books don’t sell. Well, I’ve released two westerns and my third, a swashbuckling tale called Wrong Kind of Paradise, will be available by the 21st of this month. I love the gritty, plot-driven, historical stories that you write and only hope that I do half as well as you do. Cowboys, vikings and pirates…oh my. What else is there?

    Thanks for being the wonderful writer/ artist that you are and for inspiring others like me to chase our dreams. I’m tired of editors telling me they love my stories, love my writing but these stories aren’t selling. Maybe it’s time they give the readers the choice. Because I for one am tired of what being put out in today’s publishing world.

    Comment by Suzie Grant — July 20, 2011 @ 4:52 am | Reply

    • Suzie…

      The best revenge for being told your type of books don’t sell well…is to watch them sell well *s* Hmmm. Vikings. Now there’s something I haven’t tried yet.

      Comment by marshacanham — July 20, 2011 @ 12:43 pm | Reply

  11. good post. I try to avoid places where people are only talking numbers. Too easy to attach ego to them and they don’t merit ego.

    Comment by Scott Nicholson — July 20, 2011 @ 11:37 am | Reply

  12. Scott…exactly. Ego has no place in this business, especially if it’s fragile. You can be up so high one day and crashed so low the next you don’t even see it coming. Bragging is great if you’re in the Guiness Book of Records, otherwise, it’s just a lot of words that make people snicker…or worse, turn them completely off.

    Comment by marshacanham — July 20, 2011 @ 12:47 pm | Reply

  13. Excellent post, Marsha. I really enjoyed it. Keeping things in perspective, and not focusing entirely on the numbers, is key to eliminating much of the angst. As for swashbucklers, how wonderful that indie publishing has made it possible once again for all of us who love these books, and your writing, to read them again!

    Comment by Daisy Dexter Dobbs — July 20, 2011 @ 3:13 pm | Reply

    • Dixie..thank you. I’m working on the sequel to The Iron Rose as we speak. Pirates, ships, sea battles… augh! I love it. LOL

      Comment by marshacanham — July 21, 2011 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  14. DAMN… I love this post. Usually when we first start out self publishing it goes:

    (1) FUN
    (2) NUMBERS
    (3) FUN

    We start out fun… we’re writing, publishing, watching those who talk to sell thousands of their books… we celebrate, envy them in a good way, and work hard.

    Then we get down to the business side… the book(s) are out and we need to sell them. So it becomes all about numbers. We track, we obsess, and that’s okay for a while.

    And some of us get down on ourselves. (I know I have.)

    And then one day we wake up and realize why we started this in the first part… FREEDOM and FUN.

    Again I’ll say it – I love this post.


    Comment by Jim Bronyaur — July 20, 2011 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Jim. And yes, I know all about getting down on ourselves, it’s also the nature of the beast.

      Comment by marshacanham — July 21, 2011 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

  15. Marsha is my friend, and I always enjoy her pithy blogs, but today I enjoyed reading all the amazing and thoughtful comments that this blog garnered. I’ve just gotten my feet wet, and don’t have much in ebooks that I’ve uploaded myself. My numbers are small but steady, and I’m not complaining.

    Comment by Virginia Henley — July 20, 2011 @ 9:09 pm | Reply

  16. Great post.
    Someone — I believe his name begins with a K — said that this is a marathon, not a sprint. You could be the turtle, or the hare. You can always start over. You can always write another book. Today’s dud could be tomorrow’s bestseller.
    For all practical purposes ebooks are indeed forever. Treat your ebooks as diamonds. Diamonds only you could have made and cut with love.

    Comment by Andrew Ashling — July 20, 2011 @ 9:58 pm | Reply

  17. I love it! I stopped writing creative fiction for 7 years after a negative (and, to be honest, *correct*) reply from a NYC agent. I got in my own way — nothing she said had to stop me, but I turned to academic and business writing and away from the muse.

    No more! I self-published my romance last month, have two others under a different pen name, and I’m in the middle of writing two *more* right now. I’m having more fun than ever!

    Comment by Harper Alibeck — July 20, 2011 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

  18. Great post and very timely for me as I had started to obsess over the numbers, or should I say lack of them. Your post kind of brings some sense back into the equation. So thanks for sharing your thoughts. You have reminded me why I started writing in the first place and perhaps now is the time to forget the numbers and to get on with the fun part which is the writing.

    Comment by declanconner — July 20, 2011 @ 10:30 pm | Reply

  19. Marsha,
    I’ve been watching as you restart your career. I read all your books years ago, and loved them all. I pretty well stopped reading the romance genre because of the changes the publishers pushed through. So, I’m with you. Glad to see you’re back. Cudos from Wingham.


    Comment by canadianadvisor — July 21, 2011 @ 12:10 am | Reply

    • Peggy…thank you. For the comment as well as the support. I confess I was a bit leery coming back after 7 years…that’s a lifetime in author years without a new book on the shelf. But the readers have been terrific, the emails have been uplifting and I’m so thankful for each and every post, email, and word of support.

      Comment by marshacanham — July 21, 2011 @ 2:16 pm | Reply

  20. Marsha, you really hit the nail on the head. In some ways, I think book sales have always worked the way you describe. We just didn’t know it because NY keeps its authors in the dark. Getting information that’s nine months old (or older) on arcane royalty statements didn’t help. Now we can track sales every day, just like other businesses can, and when we come right down to it, that’s what we have–businesses. Ours is the business of entertaining readers, but we have a product to sell and now we are better informed.


    Comment by Alexis Harrington — July 21, 2011 @ 6:51 am | Reply

    • Alexis…I think the straw that broke the camel’s back for me seven years ago was an error made by an assistant editor. I had called up about something or other and innocently asked how sales were going on my book. She was new and flustered and inadvertently send me the addy to a website that tracked sales. That showed me they had the technology in place–and why wouldn’t they with computers in every bookstore–to report hour by hour, just like Amazon does now, the sales figures for every book. Within a couple of hours I had another email from her asking me to please not pass that website along to anyone, that she shouldn’t have sent it to me in the first place. *snort* Guess not. But that pissed me off more than you can imagine, to know that if they wanted, they could change the archaic system of accounting and payments from twice a year to every month or every other month if they wanted to…but of course, why would they want to do that? Authors had been putting up with it for forever, giving publishers the right to use our money, interest free, for six months until they had to pay us something. I keep asking, and I’ve never had an answer…what other business only pays it’s employees twice a year, an uncertain, un-guaranteed amount (and usually nothing at all) ? And how many of those employers would settle for the same terms? HAH. None, that’s how many.

      I’m rambling again. Maybe I should turn this into another blog LOL

      Comment by marshacanham — July 21, 2011 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

  21. Excellent points and I so understand the part about having one’s creativity squeezed out.

    Comment by Lyn Cote — July 21, 2011 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

  22. Great post, Marsha! The urge to compare ourselves to other writers on every level – number of sales, promo, size of traditional contract -is what really beats a person down and destroys creativity. This is a lesson I must remind myself on a daily basis!

    Comment by vanessakellyauthor — July 21, 2011 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

  23. Marsha,

    Thanks for this wonderfully-said post. I completely agree with you. (Your swashbuckling books sound like fun; I’ll have to check them out. :-))

    As someone who also left writing a couple of years ago (due to certain health issues), I have to keep telling myself to keep concentrating on the writing, because that’s where I get the most fun, not to mention that I don’t notice any of my aches and pains when I’m writing.

    And as someone who only uploaded her book (first in a series) at the beginning of July, it’s tempting to look at the figures, esp. if you keep seeing people on Kindleboards who are selling hundred per month or per day. That’s discouraging, and I was actually bummed out about it yesterday. When I decided not to worry about the cover at this point and finish the rough draft, all of that talk of sales and the “right” kind of cover went out the window.

    Wow – I’d love to have your sales numbers! Here’s to continued good sales for you! 🙂

    Comment by Nancy Beck — July 22, 2011 @ 3:49 pm | Reply

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