I’m one of those writers who, while I love crafting words to make a story, also have this strange love of all things numbers.
About 90% of you just had an icky shudder run down your spine.
I was chatting on the ride home from ACFW a month ago with Carol Award winner Patrick Carr. Patrick is a fellow numbers lover, a math teacher by day and former engineer.
In our chat, I finally found someone who does the same thing I do — follow the numbers!
Granted, the numbers can royally stink. I’ve known a lot of authors who purposely do NOT look at their sales numbers or Amazon rankings because it is depressing.
I get this. Oh BELIEVE me, do I get this.
But the thing is, there can be power in numbers if you use them correctly and don’t overly obsess.
Any savvy business person knows the key numbers of his business off the top of his head. In a previous career, I was a corporate payroll manager for a billion dollar company. (Yes, I knew their annual sales numbers…). One thing our executives required was that all corporate managers know their numbers. At any time, I needed to be able to spout off total annual payroll dollars, number of employees (and by company too, as we had 16 of them…), and a host of other metrics related to my department. The point was to be an expert on your area of influence, and an expert knows their numbers.
Numbers matter. They tell us a host of facts and help us make wise, educated business decisions.
Below is a list of numbers I think would be useful and necessary to all (published) writers who are treating this whole publishing thing as a business. (Because not all of us are… and that’s okay!)
1.) Profit and Loss. Basic accounting here. Income minus expenses = profit. If that number is a negative, it’s a loss. If you’re operating at a loss, two things to do: Increase income and/or decrease expenses. I suspect many of us operate at a “loss” for the first few years. It’s our start-up cost, if you will. But keeping an eye on profit and making sure you’re not overspending is a sign of a good business-savvy writer. Don’t wait until the end of the year when you do your taxes. At least once a quarter, do the math. Make a plan for the next month. You’ll be more fiscally responsible for it.
2.) Trends. I tread lightly here. Paying TOO much attention to trends (i.e. checking our Amazon Sales ranking on a daily or *ahem* hourly basis, not that I would EVER do that…) can be counterproductive, because you waste WAY more time than it’s worth. But following trends, especially after particular marketing events you’ve done, is super useful. You can get an idea of the value of your marketing dollars, whether spending $X amount of money for an ad on that blog was worth it or not-so-much. I’ll be the first to say, I am a firm believer that marketing value is about more than the immediate hard-dollar sales impact. It’s about building your brand and getting your name out there, and a GOOD marketing campaign will have worth beyond anything you can see on immediate sales trends. BUT! If you have little or no impact on the short-term, chances are you’ll have little or no impact on the long term either. So check those numbers, know what they mean, know what your “normal” is. Then use that information when formulating your marketing plan.
3.) Goals. In the accounting world, you have “sales budgets” but in the writing world, I call these sales goals. What numbers do I WANT to hit and NEED to hit? Personally, I usually set my goal number really high, but not so high it’s unattainable. Mostly because for ME, I like to hit goals. I don’t always do it, but if I have a good, high goal, some internal oomph in me says, “Hey, I’m lagging, I need to step it up!” Other people need smaller goals, and that’s good too. Set that goal, and when you achieve it, set a higher one. Regardless your method, set sales goals and work to achieve them.
4.) Platform numbers. At ACFW, I sat down in a pitch session with an editor from a publishing house and in our talk, we chatting about social media. I rattled off a few of my numbers…total fans on my FB page, total friends, etc. She wrote the estimates I gave her in a notebook and nodded, saying, “Good. I was just going to ask you that.” Publishers want to know your numbers too. What is your reach? Even if it isn’t as big as you like, know your numbers. Be proud of them, because you’ve worked hard on your platform building. (Then see #3 about setting goals to achieve that next level!)
5.) Your agent’s phone number. Just sayin’. It’s a nice number to have for when you get overwhelmed at the numbers and need to be talked off of the ledge! (Not that I’d ever do that to Sarah…) Oh, and your accountant’s phone number would be helpful too if you have a little tic in your neck after reading all this!
A few numbers to not worry about….
- Hourly rate. I’ve known a few people who log their writing hours and then once they are published, calculate out how much they “made” per hour on that book. My advice: Don’t do it. If your sales numbers don’t depress you, THIS number surely will! It has no intrinsic value, because it’s hypothesizing that you wouldn’t have written those same hours at a rate of zero. And let’s face it: We probably still would have.
-Nitty-gritty details. Number of blog comments per year, number of Facebook likes on comments, number of tweets, number of gross sales vs net sales (really, you only care about the net). So borrow from the Bible… Meaningless, meaningless, they are all meaningless. Only spend your time on the numbers that have value in knowing them.
Let’s chat: How you do look at your numbers? Do you study them or just leave them alone, figuring they are what they are? Any interesting ways you’ve put your numbers to work for you and used them?