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When Amazon and Bookscan Had a Baby

by Laura Munson

Iím a bit afraid to write this article, the way someone who fears the mafia is afraid.  But I have to give voice to something that has seared the last year of my life with a fair amount of ludicrousness.  Itís just too juicy not to share.  At the risk of having big-time New York editors running at me with sharpened pencils and a slurry of sticky notes, I have to tell you: published authors donít have access to their book sales.  Not more than twice a year when the royalties reports come.  My book was published in April and I didnít see that report until November.  Isnít that stunning news? 

So how are you to plan accordingly, you might ask?  How are you to know where your hot markets are?  How are you to weigh whether itís worth it financially to choose the Birmingham, Alabama library request over the one in St. Louis?  Itís an exact science:  Eeny rock meeny paper miney flip a coin scissors.  Iím sure that this isnít the publishing industryís fault.  I mean they have troubles enough in the looming fact that the future might very well only hold digital books, never mind digital people holding those digital books, but thatís another story.  Or is it?   

All I know is that you canít fly out of the small town airport where I live for less than around $400.00, and thatís a steal.  Usually itís more like $800.00.  And so is it worth it to fly myself to Birmingham, leaving my husband and small children, missing soccer and baseball games and school plays?  I donít know.  You tell me.  Do people in Birmingham read a lot?  Or do people in St. Louis read more?  Eeny meeny.  And thereís more to this puzzle, because things tend to happen to the author when a certain amount of books have been sold.  Big things that might involve a pay check and help you budget things like Christmas and Spring Break, and if either are going to involve expenditures.


Donít get me wrongómy editor and my publicity team are my dream team.  I adore them.  Theyíd never put me in cement boots and throw me into the Hudson.  They bent over backwards to tour me around the country and land me spots on national TV and everywhere they possibly could.  And theyíre in the process of doing it all over again for the paperback release in a few weeks.  This is not about them.  But itís about somebody, and just who that somebody is, Iím not sure.  Itís a system that doesnít seem to work, not when it comes to the lowly writer as a businesswoman.  Any businessperson should be able to see sales reports to judge how to proceed in peddling what sheís peddling, shouldnít she?  Especially after the big launch.  Sure there are amazing salespeople out there working for the effort, but the writer canít contact them.  Itís a guessing game.  Maybe theyíre afraid the harebrained blundering writer might mess it up somehow.  Kind of like how they donít let you visit your kid at camp unless itís parentís weekend.  I honestly donít know.  But I better not wake up with a horse head in my bed, thatís all Iím sayiní. 

And thenÖthis winterÖall this changed, thanks, I think, to Amazon.  Amazon might be getting the biggest writerly blowjob ever, and it was just in time for the holidays, becauseÖwait for itÖwell Iíll take you through the door a different way.  The way my mother would want me to.  Politely: 





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As a writer of a recently published book, you never know whatís going to be in your email in-box in the morning.  Is your UK publisher wondering if you like the cover art theyíve chosen?  Is noon an okay time for a journalist from Tel Aviv to do a phone interview with you?  Would you be willing to do a Skype video call with a book group north of Boston?  Could you suggest a good therapist for a fanís husband in Tulsa?  Could you send signed copies of your book to your motherís bridge club friendís daughter and all her friends in San Diego?  Could you stop bothering your publicist about the paperback book tour?  Could you sign books at the local Costco this Sunday?   

ďSureĒ is the answer.  Especially to the last one, because youíll need to stop by Costco anyway since thatís where you buy your books since you canít afford to buy them for $24.95 and if you use your authorís discount with your publisher, it doesnít count as a sold book and you need books counted since you donít make any royalties until your advance is paid back in book sales.  Get it?  (Somebody asked me recently if I was a millionaire, now that I have a book that landed on the NYT best-seller list.  The answer is no.  Iím still trying to get my health insurance back and crawl out of credit card debt!)  Sold books steer the next few years of your life in more ways than you can write about here without ending up with that horse head in your bed, so youíre just going to have to take my word for it. 

Suffice it to say that there are all sorts of things I didnít know about being a published author prior to this experience, and even more things I donít know after the experience.  Itís been a year of these findings for me.  But the biggest surprise is this whole sales issue.  Until Amazon somehow teamed up with Book Scan and sent me a little email one fine winter morning that said, ďTo add to your holiday cheer, we've added several new features related to your books' sales on our new Sales Info tab.Ē  And lo, with a simple click I was dragging my cursor over the continental US seeing that, yes, 46 of my books sold in New York City last week.  And 14 in Seattle.  And one in Milwaukee, bless that personís soul.  And, oh look, zero in Wichita.   Well thatís okay.  We love you anyway, Wichita.  Maybe I need to fly on over and speak at your library.  If youíll have me. 

And as much as some writers think this is a cause for Zanax, I think itís one of the best gifts a published writer could get.  So, thank you, Amazon and Book Scan.  But no, I still refuse to buy a Kindle.


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Laura Munson is something of a publishing phenomenon. After writing fourteen novels for which she could not find a publisher, she wrote an article that crashed the New York Timesís website. Forty-eight hours later she had a publishing contract for her memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is. Her paperback will be published in April and she will be touring the country doing events. For her schedule please visit Events: lauramunson.com


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