When new books come out, or if an author hasn't heard from us in awhile, it's not unusual for us to get questions from authors about how their title is doing. The truth is we have no way to know for sure.
If we are not too busy, we will go to one or two affiliates and check the "best selling" ratings on the site to see where the title is listed and report based on that information, something any visitor to the site can do.
We do not get hard sales figures from several affiliates until up to 6 months after sales when we are paid. That's why we try to include date of sale in our reports. When we look at the various distribution sites for feedback, we can only tell which books have been searched, not whether customers actually bought them or not. We know, of course, if copies sell through Write Words Inc.'s web site, but we sell far more books through affiliates that we sell directly, because most customers go to the big sites.
Now don't get us wrong. It's a GOOD thing to e-mail your friends when a new book comes out, to send out press releases and talk about your title on newsgroups and lists where you may be a member, to do radio interviews and blog tours and in general beat the drums. It's helpful too, to provide a link from your website to direct sales to the Write Words site, as you make more money on e-books if they sell there.
If you e-mail a friend that your book is out and that friend looks up your book at Amazon, say, then the search engine there records the information whether they buy it or not. If you look it up yourself, that, too, is recorded. But the fact that the title was searched is all that is recorded. Best-seller lists from Amazon and other distributors are based on the number of searches, not the number of sales.
Actual sales figures only become available later, when the the distributor sites send spreadsheets and payment.