In Your Corner: Getting Started With Amazon Sales Rankings

online sales rankings ratings reviews

What are online sales rankings, specifically Amazon sales rankings, and what do they mean for you, a self-publishing author?

This is the question I’m going to set out to answer, at least in part, for you today.

Amazon, of course, has their own page and definition dedicated to sales rankings:

Best Seller and Category Ranks are based on customer activity – sales and borrows – of your book relative to the activity of other books. A book ranking #1 in Mystery & Thrillers is the book with the most activity in Amazon’s Mystery & Thrillers category. Books can appear in up to three categories. The book’s rank in each category will show under the Product Details section. Activities that may not be an accurate reflection of customer demand, including promotional Amazon Giveaway sales and purchases that are later returned, are not counted towards sales rank.

Rankings are updated hourly but may take 24-48 hours to appear. Rankings reflect recent and historical activity, with recent activity weighted more heavily. Rankings are relative, so your sales rank can change even when your book’s level of activity stays the same. For example, even if your book’s level of activity stays the same, your rank may improve if other books see a decrease in activity, or your rank may drop if other books see an increase in activity.

When we calculate Best Sellers Rank, we consider the entire history of a book’s activity. Monitoring your book’s Amazon sales rank may be helpful in gaining general insight into the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and other initiatives to drive book activity, but it is not an accurate way to track your book’s activity or compare its activity in relation to books in other categories.

The ranking for books with consistent activity histories that have been available on Amazon for a long time may fluctuate less than the ranking of new books, or books whose histories aren’t as stable. One sale of a very popular book may not influence its rank much at all, but one sale of a lower volume book may significantly improve that book’s rank.

Note: Each available format of your book (eBook, paperback) has its own independent Amazon Best Sellers Rank.

This is a lot to parse, but the main points to remember are these:

  • Your sales ranking is essentially an attempt to quantify your book’s popularity;
  • The release of new books, awards announcements, and book club recommendations (among many other factors) means that new books are always climbing the rankings, while others are dropping in the rankings at the same time—it’s a constant balancing act, and sales rankings are relative;
  • Even if you sell the same number of copies each month, your sales ranking will rise and fall dependent on factors outside of your control. As I mentioned in my last post, there are yearly rhythms to book sales that mean you need to sell more books at certain times just to maintain the same ranking relative to other months when book sales are lower for everyone;
  • Blockbuster books are constantly battling it out for the upper sales rankings in every category, and rankings mean less to popular books because they have other avenues to selling a lot of books. But for new books, indie publications, and self-published books? Sales rankings mean a lot more, because even one or two sales can boost an author’s sales ranking, and as a result, boost their visibility, which will itself boost sales. It’s a feedback loop that can work to your advantage.

Amazon also has a page dedicated to giving its sellers a larger-picture idea of what their sales figures represent, and that’s worth checking out as well if you sell on the website.

But what about the stuff that Amazon isn’t saying about its sales rankings?

Any number of websites out there at any point in time are happy to claim that they’ve “cracked the code” or “tamed the algorithm” or can help you “game the system,” but the fact of the matter is, most of them are offering something more along the lines of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) advice, which is totally well and good, but not quite the same thing as delivering on a promise to make Amazon’s system work for you.

At its core, Amazon is a business which is driven by its bottom line, which is to say, eking every possible profit out of both its customers and its third-party sellers. Their algorithm code is not fully public, and while we can speculate about ways to improve sales rankings, it’s entirely Amazon’s right to code their algorithm to ignore the little sales and boost the visibility of popular items, including those blockbuster book sales that I mentioned earlier. It’s not actually in their best profit-driven interest to be fair, even though it’s certainly in their profit-driven interest to discover new niche markets—which they often do by measuring how many readers access titles through their Kindle Unlimited offering—a service which rarely profits the authors themselves, as authors themselves often point out. All this is to say, we don’t actually know how sales rankings work, other than what Amazon itself has told us, and Amazon has more than one horse in the race to make money.

Next time, I’m going to look at what we know about preorders and how they affect sales rankings—so check back in two weeks for more on this fascinating and important subject!

online sales shopping cart

You are not alone. ♣︎

 

Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: An Unstoppable Summer

I promise not to get too Shakespearean in this post.

Promise!

This morning, I was puttering around in my basement watering some seedlings I’m getting ready for hardening off, and my cat started to get reaaaaally interested in one of the window wells on the side of the house. These are the sort that are lined in corrugated steel and are covered with metal bars for security (and to keep pets, etc. from falling in!). Like this:

This is not my basement. There’s no way I’m showing off all the boxes down there.

My seedlings are stacked on rising shelves by the window well receiving the most sunshine each day (in this house, it faces roughly east––just a quirk of the landscape around the house), and I have my work desk by another. A third is more or less inaccessible because someone (I won’t name who … but that person knows how I feel about it!) keeps every single cardboard box ever to hit our front porch. The fourth window well belongs to the cat. She will sit on the windowsill for hours at a time, looking up through those bars. I’m trying not to think too hard about the symbolism.

Small, scared kitten in a shelter cage. I promise my cat isn’t this sad, even if she sometimes looks like it. Why are cats so good at looking sad?

Now that I’ve set the scene (me, with watering can/repurposed juice pitcher; cat, at window) here’s what happened. My cat started getting that look about her (you know the one! it always spells trouble) and making those chirping noises cats make when they see birds. So I puttered on over and followed her line of sight–and it was a hummingbird!

Friends, I love hummingbirds. They were my mother’s favorite bird, and in the running for mine as well. (Also, there’s this scene in the new David Attenborough documentary on Netflix, Life in Color, where a male hummingbird is showing off for his lady friend that is just … shockingly good. As in, the quality of the filmmaking and the technology used for that documentary is wild. You can see individual hummingbird feathers! Up close! Amazing.) And this is how I discovered that a hummingbird is nesting in our basement window well, on a little ledge created by the window frame, just out of sight.

It’s also how I discovered the reason my cat is obsessed with that window.

The world is waking up around us for real, now. The evening news brings with it weather reports of increasingly unruly spring-summer weather out on the plains, the hummingbirds are out, and seedlings are up. High schoolers are on the cusp of graduation. Summer is, quite literally, just around the corner.

With summer comes new plans and changes to rhythms. It’s time to start thinking about big projects, both in and around the home as well as creative projects of the mind. What will you be writing this spring? How will you motivate yourself to sit down and plug away at the computer (or notepad, if you’re classy and not me) on a beautiful cloudless day? How will you schedule your goals and prep for publication?

What will you write? I think I’ll write about my mother, and hummingbirds.

I’d love to hear from you! What do you have going on this summer?

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

Elizabeth
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: Home by Midnight

In the story of Cinderella, our heroine must get herself and her carriage home before the midnight bell, when the spell breaks that has turned a pumpkin into a carriage and a poor orphan servant into a lady. In some tellings of the tale, Cinderella doesn’t quite make it in time, and finds herself mixed up with the pulp and seeds as her carriage reverts to its original state. I liked these stories the best as a child, mostly because I can’t imagine explaining that to a prince (or a mean stepmother). Then I would imagine the scene as it played out, with Cinderella explaining: “I’m sorry, I lied about everything and am not a princess, but would you like some pumpkin seeds for your garden? I understand this variety can grow to be the size of a carriage!”

Now, if you search for “Cinderella” and “Halloween” together online, you’re likely to pull up a list of absolutely useless Halloween costumes based on the Disney animated (or live action reboot) version. They’re cute, but they’re not demonstrative of an actual connection between the two.

But consider: On this particular Halloween––that is, October 31st, 2020––the night between Halloween and a candy-induced migraine of a Sunday is also the night in which we get to celebrate midnight twice. ÂNDˆa full moon. This particular pumpkin patch of coincidences, in which Halloween, Daylight Savings Time, and a full moon. This particular full moon will be the Blue Moon, as it is the second full moon in the month of October, and that is a fairly novel event, which explains the origin of the phrase “once in a Blue Moon” to describe an event that is rare. It’s kind of weird, but it’s also kind of amazing. What a year, right?

Halloween is an astronomical celebration. It is a cross-quarter moon, which I am just beginning to wrap my head around, that falls roughly halfway halfway between equinox and solstice. But don’t trust me, trust diagrams from the great and wonderful Internet full of amateur astronomers!:

There’s a lot of fun science behind this astronomical event, one definitely worth celebrating (maybe even in a Cinderella costume). It is also, of course, considered something of a spiritual event, with both its lovers and its haters due to its pagan origins. Of course, a person could say the same thing––that there’s a lot of fun science behind it––about each of these things: the Blue Moon, a full moon on Halloween, and Halloween as a cross-quarter event.

Perhaps this is just me connecting the dots between two very different things, but I always think of Cinderella around Halloween, mostly because of that iconic pumpkin carriage scene. If there was indeed a ripe pumpkin on the vine the night that Cinderella’s fairy godmother transformed her into a high-status lady for the prince’s ball, then the events in the story may very well have happened on Halloween. There’s a shared wistfulness and aspiration behind the story of Cinderella and the stories of modern day trick-or-treaters (or since this is 2020, those folks who dress up for the day even though it’s difficult to go door to door safely in some areas due to COVID-19).

They are aspirational because they reflect some larger than life passion or desire. For Cinderella, that desire was to be seen for who she was inside and not be defined by her poverty. For many trick-or-treaters, often it reflects someones or somethings that they find interesting and compelling enough to put on as a costume. (Unless you’re an infant, in which case, it reflects your caregivers’ passions.) Kids dress up as superheroes, first responders, heroes and villains from any number of shows and movies and books––and they do so because they wish to be extraordinary too, deep down.

They are wistful because so often our lives take us in a different direction from those aspirations. (It’s extremely difficult to find available fairy godmothers these days who are taking on new clients.)

We as writers often feel similar things about the publication process, that it won’t ever possibly work because it’s too difficult, or requires specialized editorial or software know-how, and so forth. We are afraid of still being in the pumpkin as the carriage reverts, and feeling publication as an impossibility that one can only wistfully watch from afar as it happens to other people.

Today, as you go about your final preparations for Halloween (maybe complete with a splash of some Cinderella story), I want to challenge you to see publication as something that is, in fact, within your ability to achieve. This is where you see the connection between all of these different dots. Self-publishing exists for a reason. For many reasons. And unlike Halloween, to become a published author isn’t something that you can only ever be aspirational for. If you ever figure out how to get a radioactive spider to bite you, I want to know your secret. But suffice it to say, most Halloween costumes do not reflect achievable career paths. It’s extremely difficult for Spider-Man to pay the rent if he’s constantly running away from work to do a second, unpaid job of saving people and annoying Tony Stark.

(Yes, I’m a nerd.)

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But self-publishing isn’t some remote once-in-a-blue-moon possibility. It exists precisely to get you from your aspiration to whatever the complete opposite of wistfulness is. Celebration of past accomplishments, perhaps? Pride in a job well done, and pride in a dream realized. And it isn’t something that you have to do alone through impersonal computer-mediated steps. Self-publishing as an industry is absolutely packed with amazing people with useful and related skills who are not just happy to talk with you in a casual sense––they’re eager. And delighted to help aspiring authors become published authors, and then to welcome new authors to the author club.

This has been a year of feeling alone in the face of all the things our world is throwing at us. But don’t fall into the trap of including publication on that list. You can chat with your local librarians, your local bookstore staff, the excellent employees of self-publishing companies, and yes, you can chat with me too.

Don’t let yourself be frightened to publish––or at the very least, don’t let yourself talk yourself into a self-fulfilling prophecy of publication being impossible. Get yourself and your pumpkin carriage of a manuscript home (and published) by midnight––and see what kind of wonderful things can happen when you believe in yourself.

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.
pumpkin

In Your Corner: A Month of Romance (part 2)

Seamless pattern of Valentines Day candy. Fancy chocolate bonbons with love you message.

Let’s simply pick up where I left off in my last post, with the question:

Who writes romance?

The second question we have to grapple with when it comes to romance relates to authorship. As with readership (and our previous conversation on that), there are many misconceptions about who writes within this particular genre. And first, to deal with the elephant in the room: Yes, the Romance Writers of America recently went through a major reckoning with some internal racism that the organization really shouldn’t have been silent on, ever. I won’t say much more about it (but if you’re unfamiliar, you can read up on it in almost any major news publication, including the Guardian) other than to congratulate those who were willing to speak up and who have helped the organization evolve. What’s relevant here is that the Romance genre has history–and a lot of it, both good and bad and misunderstood. Outside perspectives have been almost as important to the Romance market as inside ones, with many of the 1800s and early 1900s Great Thinking Men dismissing the earliest English language novels (which were often romances, as is the case with Jane Austen’s) as frivolous and like as not to rot the reader’s brain and foul the author’s character. But of course, Jane was writing in a time of near-continuous war, and the other novels of the period were either examples of pure escapism or ponderous tomes that passed government censors. 

Because so many of Romance’s greatest (as in, most anthologized) authors have been women, and English-speaking white women at that, it would be easy to assume (and many go right ahead and do assume) that Romance is the province of female authors and female authors only. Here again, the Romance Writers of America comes in very handy; their website provides some useful reportage on the state of Romance past and present. On a page they title “Romance Trailblazers,” one can find plenty of English-speaking white women authors, yes, but there are also a good sprinkling of authors who are none of these things, or at the very least not simultaneously. (On that note, don’t overlook RWA’s diversity and inclusion resources, which include this fabulous crowd-sourced list.) I would also point you to the diversity reports from The Ripped Bodice, the only exclusively-Romance-selling genre bookstore in the United States. The 2019 bestsellers reflect exactly the kind of diversity that has made the genre so popular and given it such staying power; it may not always be beloved of the critics, but Romance has never lacked for love among the people. The Ripped Bodice reports also lay bare some interesting facts about the main publishing houses and their romance imprints, which simply don’t reflect their diverse readership fully in the authors they publish. There are some opportunities for nonwhite authors opening up, but we still don’t see anything like a realistic reflection of reader demographics there. This also holds true if we’re looking at percentages relating to LGBTQIA+ authors, who are vastly underrepresented within the major publishing houses. Meanwhile, male authors have had a foothold in Romance writing all along, with authors like Nicholas Sparks and John Green representing some of the latest success stories.

Luckily, we’re in the business of self-publishing, and in self-publishing, there are fewer obstacles (I won’t say “no obstacles whatsoever,” since I can’t speak for each and every situation) to Romance authors than there are in making it through the Big Five. But I can say it time and time again until I run entirely out of breath: self-publishing is a democratizing influence on the market. Since anyone can self-publish, readers are shifting away from finding their books exclusively in the turning racks at local bookstores and in end-caps at the grocery store–and they’re turning to fanfiction sites like Archive of Our Own and to services like Wattpad. They’re also turning to subscription services like Kindle Unlimited and to individually sold (and well-reviewed) ebooks. The pandemic has seen that shift become something of an avalanche, with many readers unable to venture out and many brick and mortar bookstores shut completely or open only for curbside deliveries. 

The only downside of this shift is that there is no standardized reporting on ebooks. Since ebooks don’t even technically require an ISBN for distribution (this depends entirely on platform), there’s no way to track how many Romance ebooks there are out there in the world, much less report on who’s writing and reading them. And if we expand our notion of ebooks to include completed stories on web-based platforms, the numbers get even muddier. The best that can be done are “best-of” lists and compilations by reviewers and Romance influencers who have sampled widely–but even these lists aren’t representative of anything other than that one person’s taste or that one platform’s sales data. So while we can point to countless authors who both fill and subvert the standard profile of a white English-speaking woman author, we can’t point to any comprehensive reports. And we certainly shouldn’t take Amazon’s word on its own sales without a sizable grain of salt; any for-profit company, especially one with carefully coded algorithms to boost sales of particular authors who fit particular profiles, has its own best interests in mind, not the general public’s.

So if we can’t definitively answer our own question, what can we depend on when it comes to authorship in the Romance genre?

  1. Currently, the numbers that can be gathered about the Romance genre indicate that a majority of both authors and readers are women, that a majority of both authors and readers are white, and that a majority of both authors and readers seem to be getting their Romance novels in English. 
  2. The numbers that can be gathered and compiled into comprehensive reports either come from the Big Five traditional publishing houses or from for-profit companies like Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, and these industry stalwarts are largely responsible for the lack of diversity in which authors they choose to let in the gates they keep.
  3. A lot of work remains to be done to bring traditional publishing in line with its readership if it wants to take full advantage of a new generation of digitally savvy and diverse readers.
  4. Self-publishing in the Romance genre is, from all that I’ve heard, doing juuuuust fine. And by that, I mean it may just be the top-selling genre of fiction among self-publishing companies and free platforms. (And those fan sites? They’re, like, 90% romantic takes on movies, shows, and books that don’t quite go there on screen or the page. And a lot of those takes are … well. Check the tags on each story before diving in, since many of them fit the Romance genre’s alternate description: bodice-rippers.) Readers are hungry for self-published romance titles. And they’re hungry for diverse titles, whether we’re talking about gender or racial parity among authors, or representation of LGBT+ and other marginalized groups in content. Since the Big Five aren’t anywhere close to providing good numbers of any of these authors and actions, self-publishing has picked up the slack.

With all this said, a more useful alteration to the original question would be:

Is there room in the Romance genre for me?

And the answer is, of course, yes. YES. There is definitely room for your personal voice and take on Romance, and there is a readership eager and ready to read what you write.

As for what to write, we’ll start to tackle that in my next post. Watch this space!

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: A Month of Romance (part 1)

 

gettttttttt

This being Romance Awareness Month, I thought this would be a great time to tackle the genre here on the blog .We have never done a deep dive into romance before, which I find somewhat surprising, given the number of romance authors I have worked with over the years. So today, we’ll be breaking new ground as I start a new series following the publishing and marketing processes behind releasing a romance novel into the world.

(If you do not write romance, never fear! Many of the steps through which a romance novel must go are the same or quite similar to the steps through which books of other genres must go as well. You’ll simply need to apply your own lens to the information in order to apply it to your work.)

Today I want to ask two very important questions we all have ready-made answers to, but which I think we must revisit to discover what’s really going on.

Who is romance for?

In 2016, Nielsen compiled its research on genre readership into one very handy infographic: “Romance Readers by the Numbers.” While I’m including the infographic here, I absolutely encourage you to read Nielsen’s entire report! It’s full of fantastic information that totally re-oriented my perspective on romance readership.

nielsen-romance-readers

At its base level, many of your assumptions are true––of a majority. But I think it’s taking a closer look at those minorities, because if you consider that more than one in four fiction books on the market in 2015 was a romance, and that 16% of the readers reading those books are not female, that still leaves you quite an important market share––compared to, say dystopic science fiction. Nielsen hasn’t updated these numbers in a few years, but if the percentages hold true, that could equate to around 32 million reported units being read by men. Sure, women might be reading five times that many books, but 32 million is not an insignificant number if you’re smart in how you promote your book.

The same holds true, of course, for other minorities! Consider that more readers are not white than are not female, percentage-wise––up to 38 million readers of color relative to the (admittedly rough) 32 million calculation for male readers. And while the Nielsen infographic doesn’t have room to show it, LGBT romance ebook sales are on a sharp rise now that its authors have moved from fanfiction websites into the main stream of publishing and self-publishing. 

Keep in mind that Nielsen can only track books that are sold and tracked with ISBNs, and only about 1/3 of the ebooks sold in the year covered by the infographic (2015) had ISBNs. With ebooks soaking up around half of book sales overall, with that percentage leveling out but still growing (especially during quarantine), that’s a BIG chunk of ebooks that are just … an unknown quantity. Another report from the same year says that “the 2015 Smashwords sales report shows that 89% of their sales are fiction with romance taking 50% and erotica another 11%. K-Lytics indicates that romances on Kindle outsell cookbooks, for example, by a factor of 27 to 1!” Publishing numbers are still, five years later, trying to figure out how to measure and quantify and compare numbers coming from platforms that aren’t selling the written material they’re publishing, or that are publishing paid stories that are not in “book” format. Consider WordPress, storytelling podcasts, and interactive book apps like the ones created for Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar (as an easy-to-remember example). 

One also has to consider the old library sales that “if you make it, they will come”––readers have to know something exists and is attainable before they come looking for it. So if the Nielsen’s reported readership doesn’t match up to what you know your friends and fellow readers are interested in but aren’t being offered, that might be a sign that you need to help carve out a new niche. It’s not easy, but when it works––wow, does it work! Consider young adult fiction, which wasn’t a significant market share before the one-two punch of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Now there are dedicated rooms in libraries and bookstores dedicated to that readership. You can definitely launch new trends!

So yes, the majority of romance readers are white and female. But a significant number are not, and for many authors that means that yes, there is room for your unique take on romance. 

This ran a bit long, so I’m going to answer my second question next time so as not to overwhelm you just now:

Who writes romance?

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.