This is probably the most FAQ I get! And my response is to shrug and say “I don’t know.”
When you self publish, you know this. But with traditional publishing, you are basically on a need to know basis. Yes, you can bug your publisher, but after a while it feels like..nagging. Or you can patiently wait for your once a year royalty statements (this in itself requires an amount of trust in the company). I know that Geography of Water hasn’t been all that successful in terms of the book publishing world and this is largely due to lack of publicity (someone told me yesterday that it was the best book she has ever read!) and, to be honest, niche. If you occupy a small corner niche and not the mass market airport book realm, you just aren’t going to sell that many copies. I don’t think the vast majority of people really appreciate good writing and by this I mean the average person, not YOU (just take a look at the airport books).
But we don’t do it to make money, right? When I learned from a reader that a library has 13 copies and there’s a waiting list, it makes my heart soar! Yes, it would be great instead to get my $2 per copy if someone had bought those copies from a bookstore, but I love libraries. And isn’t there enough stuff floating around the world? If people can check it out and read it and then return it, maybe that’s better for the environment. And if it’s in a library, it won’t get tossed for decades! That book will be in the library after I’m long gone! That is a cool thing.
So nope. I have no idea how either of my books are doing. I do know that it’s time to invest some time in promotion though. Like I said before, you really need to do this before your book comes out. If there’s a lesson I’ve learned, it’s not to happily sign a contract without asking what publicity will be done for your book. Ask! It makes the difference between winning awards/reviews by prestigious places/book sales. But even after a book is out there are things you can do. I’ll be looking into those soon.