Friday, May 24, 2013

Zen and the Art of Amazon Rankings

When I first looked into indie publishing a few years back, I recall coming across a statement that the average self-published book only sold nine copies.  Nine!  I don't know where the person making that statement got their stats, but it was a little frightening to me. Authors put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into their writing; the thought of only selling nine copies might be a little discouraging. 

I was recently discussing this subject with a friend, who felt that the obvious solution to selling  more books was to get ranked on one of Amazon's bestseller lists.  This struck me as a lot like the which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg scenario:  in order to sell more books, you need to get ranked on one of the lists.  In order to get ranked, however, you need to sell more books.  In other words, my friend's advice wasn't a real solution, but more of an objective.

Needless to say, every author wants to sell a lot of books.  (Or at least I assume they do.)  Thus, while my sales numbers are still modest, I was thrilled to see Sensation break into the Top 100 in one of its categories on Amazon a few days ago:

Sensation: A Superhero Novel
Kindle Edition


Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,661 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

It actually debuted at No. 97, so I got the thrill of watching it climb higher.  (It actually reached as high as No. 32 - Woo-hoo!!!!)  Of course, it was difficult to get anything done for the rest of the day.  It was a lot like when you first earn money via AdSense; you just want to sit there all day clicking the refresh button, waiting to see how much the numbers change.

I'd like to argue that the novelty wore off after a day or so, but that's nowhere near the truth.  I'm actually still on cloud nine about it, but to a certain extent basic human nature began to reassert itself.  In essence, I started to get greedy. It wasn't enough that I was ranking in the "Fantasy" category; why wasn't I ranking for "Superheroes" as well???

Frankly speaking, I didn't think it was a completely unfair question.  After all, "Fantasy" and "Superheroes" were the two categories I selected for this novel.  Moreover, when I looked at the numbers, my rank in the Paid Kindle Store was actually better than some books in the Top 100 in the "Superheroes" category. (No offense to any authors currently ranked on that list.)

Anyway, I called Amazon to woodshed them over the issue, but apparently I overlooked one of the essential variables in the algorithm used to calculate rankings:  time.  I had thought that perhaps I had listed my book in the wrong category, hadn't chosen the right keywords or what have you, but the representative I spoke with (who was very helpful, by the way), told me that my book was definitely in the proper category.  However, she also said that the length of time that a book has been out and selling well also plays a factor. 

In short, it appears that the Amazon rankings are even more complex than I initially thought.  Obviously it's not enough to just sell a certain number of books (although that is undoubtedly the first step); you also have to sell consistently.  Unfortunately, I don't think I'm quite there yet in terms of selling an expected number of books each day. Hopefully, that will change in the near future.

In the meantime, I will sit here with my fingers crossed, constantly clicking the refresh button and praying that the ever-elusive "Superheroes" category will soon pop up.

Update (5/26/13):  In accordance with what has now become part of my daily routine, when I woke up this morning I checked to see how I had fared overnight and was pleasantly surprised to see the following for Sensation:

Finally, I made it into the Top 100 in the "Superheroes" category!  I didn't think it would last, but at present I'm still hanging in there, ranking at #18 in "Fantasy" and #86 in "Superheroes."  It's hard to make it onto these lists and even harder to stay there, so I won't be surprised if the ranking algorithm kicks me off later.  Still, I'm excited about having made my debut in the rankings, even if the judges do decide to strip me of my crown later.  Clearly, I'm getting a lot of support from readers, and for that I am truly grateful. I'm praying that the book continues to resonate with an ever-expanding audience.

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  1. Hi Kevin,

    I can see where you get the Amazon Best Sellers Rank from. Where does the other info come from? I don't see it on my two published novels. Does it appear in the same place on the screen once you're in the top 100?


    Andrea Zanetti
    Author, Garden Plot Mysteries: Death in the Forsythia, Grounds for Death

    1. By the way, I found you through your second Zen posting on Joe Konrath's site. Thanks for all the great info! Cheers, Andrea

    2. Andrea,

      Yes, the other information appears once your book is ranking in the Top 100 of a category. Also, if you go to the bottom of your product page, there should be a section entitled "Look for Similar Items by Category" which should tell you the categories that currently apply to your book.

      Thanks for mentioning my guest post on Joe's site. Hopefully some of the info will prove useful.


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