If this is you, relax: you’re completely normal. Everyone does it.
And the intimate knowledge indie authors have of their sales truly is a blessing. Tracking sales before and after an ad or other promotion is incredibly valuable information in judging its effectiveness. Tracking sales over a longer period of time can show you seasonal changes. Comparing sales of different books can show you which ones move faster and perhaps even influence what you will write next. (That New Adult flying off the shelves? More of that please!)
So tracking sales is not inherently bad, just like social media is not a demon. It’s all in the management.
Your First Book
I tracked sales of my first book every morning (entered it in a spreadsheet) for a year. Every morning. Including Christmas.
Yeah, I dare ya’ to beat that level of obsession. (I know wherefore I speak when I talk about sales-checking fever.)
However, I learned an incredible amount of information during that time, and now I can look back and see how far I’ve come in terms of moving books. So, for your first book, it’s only natural to want to carefully monitor your sales. The danger, of course, is that you will let it affect your mood – becoming horribly depressed if sales don’t meet your expectations or wildly excited when they exceed them. Either one is dangerous. If you can spend a couple minutes each morning (or evening, whatever) logging your sales without losing your mind, then it can be well worth the time to gather this data. Keep in mind your long-term targets – maybe put them at the top of the spreadsheet – and if you can’t do it without making yourself crazy, stop. Only check weekly or monthly.
Books Two Thru Infinity
After you have more than one book, tracking sales can quickly become unwieldy. The problem is less about mood and more that sales checking will simply take up too much of your time. You need a way to be more efficient with it. After I had two novels and three short stories out, I went to monthly sales tracking, with three caveats:
1) Tracking Income, Not Sales: I set up my spreadsheet so I could update my sales anytime during the month I wished, in case I wanted to have an idea of how things were going for the month. I also set it up to estimate total income from all sales – in essence I now have one number to track. And income is a good way to keep your eye on the long-term: individual titles may wax and wane, but if you’re trying to stay in business as an author, tracking monthly income gives you an idea how close you’re getting to that.
2) Tracking Break-Even: I still try to keep a handle on whether an individual book (or serial) is breaking even. This helps with more meta decisions like, Should I continue to write serials or do novels make more money? (Answer: novels make more, but serials make enough to justify still spending time on them.) Or Do my romance novels sell more than my science fiction? Etc.
3) Tracking Promotions: When I run an ad or a particular promotion/release, I will track sales for a week before and a couple weeks after. The effectiveness of any given promotional strategy (and ads in particular) will vary over time, so this information can help with future promo decisions. I don’t track every promotion this way, just the major ones.
Sales and Income Reports
Once you have multiple books out, tracking even the monthly sales and income can be time-consuming. Especially given that none of the Big Four have remotely similar report formats. Fortunately, there’s tracking software that will suck in all these disparate formats into a database of your sales! Nice. TRACKERBOX is written by an indie author for indie authors (I absolutely love that part of it). I’ve been using it since before they were able to suck in Apple’s reports (which are a nightmare) – now they support reports from 14 vendors, far more than I’m actually on. The main disadvantage of TrackerBox is the graphical interface isn’t that great. However, you can query the data and export whatever data you want to Excel and plot it there. Another disadvantage is that you have to wait until the reports come out to enter them into TrackerBox (obviously) – and some of those don’t come out until weeks or months after sales occur.
I use TrackerBox mostly for data storage now – so I have a place where I’ve accounted for every sale. I still use my spreadsheets to track my monthly sales, estimate my monthly income, and later, enter that income when it arrives and compare it to the estimates. But with 19 titles now, and more to come soon (especially more serial episodes!), I can see a near future where the spreadsheet simply will be untenable. I’ll have to rely more extensively on TrackerBox, but I’ll still want to keep an eye on currently monthly sales, so I’ll probably figure out some way to estimate with the spreadsheets.
Overall, having a “monthly sales” perspective cools the sales-checking fever and keeps your eye on the long-term health of your business. Which is where it needs to be for you to succeed.