How Authors Can Stress Less Over Their Book Sales Metrics

When I started writing my latest book Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, I engaged the coaching services of Cathy Fyock, “The Business Book Strategist” upon the recommendation of a fellow author. Even though I’ve written books before, I believed in the power of having a coach and Cathy has been continually helpful in many ways.

Cathy recently asked me to do a “mastermind” webinar for her community of authors. I shared key concepts from Measures of Success that could help authors stress less over the ups and downs in metrics like website views, social media engagements, and (most importantly) book sales.

Authors, like most entrepreneurs or business leaders, look at metrics. It’s really tempting to react to every uptick or downturn. But, not all changes in a metric are meaningful. There’s going to be variation in ANY metric, whether that’s book sales or the number you see when you stand on the scale each morning.

“Process Behavior Charts” (one of the key methods I share in my book) allow us to filter out the “noise” — or the routine fluctuation in our performance measure. There’s no reason to react to small ups or downs. It’s certainly not worth the time spent researching or trying to explain the fluctuations. Process Behavior charts DO help us find “signals” — data points or trends that show there has been a significant and/or sustained shift in our metric.

Process Behavior Charts are easy to create and easy to use. They’re far more helpful than a report that shows “web traffic is up 9.7% compared to last month.” How do we know if a 9.7% change is typical or if it’s unusual? Process Behavior Charts tell us… they give the “voice of the process.” We have to be willing to listen, though.

Here is a Process Behavior Chart of daily Amazon Kindle sales:

The “Upper Natural Process Limit” is a calculated number — it’s based on the amount of day-to-day variation that exists in a baseline period. The “Lower Limit” is essentially zero here. The chart predicts that daily sales will be between zero and six… unless something changes in the system (better promotion, more advertising, etc.). It’s a “predictable metric” over this time frame — and I’d expect it to be so into the future unless something changes.

The last few day’s sales (not shown on the chart) have been 3, 4, 5, 3, and 3 — in the expected range of variation. I shouldn’t get too excited about selling five books, nor should I get upset about selling zero.

Every data point there is “noise.” There are no trends. Instead of reacting to every up and down, I should focus my efforts on improving overall average sales by improving “the system” — which might include writing more articles like this that promote the book and appearing on more podcasts.

Here is an edited version of the recording that starts with Cathy introducing me. I’ve edited out the Q&A for the sake of time. If you have any questions about this approach — whether it’s for authors, entrepreneurs, or managers in any setting, let me know.

And here is a link to the slides, via SlideShare.

What were Cathy’s notes and key takeaways? She shared them with me:

  • What metrics are really most important to authors? Book sales? Website traffic? Social media metrics? Reviews? Closed business? Attendance at webinars? Evaluations from training?
  • The difference in noise and signals and how to tell them apart: noise = normal fluctuations within a range; signals = something is happening (and we should probably pay attention and find a correlation to what we’ve done)
  • Two data points do not a trend make.
  • Determine a fluctuation’s range (Mark’s addition: a blog post on how to do this or see my book).
  • Notice signals: one point outside the range; 8 clustered together; 3–4 closer to the limit than average.
  • Question: What are the metrics that authors should explore regularly? What’s a good way to measure/track/evaluate?
  • When there is a dip or spike, how do we determine the cause?

Update: Below shows my most recent daily sales… I see multiple “signals” that suggest a statistically meaningful increase in the average daily sales. I see nine consecutive points above the average. Then, I see two individual days of sales above the “upper natural process limit.”

The chart tells me something has changed, but it doesn’t tell me what has changed. Only time will tell if this higher level of sales will be sustained or not…