In Your Corner: Getting Started With Amazon Sales Rankings (Part III: The OTHER Algorithms)

First of all ….

happy 4th of july independence day

Hopefully this newest addition to my latest series of blog posts finds you resting at home, or on some lake shore, or on a deck somewhere, with a large glass of sweet iced tea at your elbow and the scent of grilled burgers wafting on the warm summer breeze. Wherever this finds you, and whatever country you might reside in, I hope that you’re having a splendid afternoon.

Over the last month, I’ve been slowing down and taking a close-up look at some of Amazon’s most useful––and oft-controversial––features when it comes to selling and marketing your self-published books. First, we looked at sales rankings. Next, we looked at pre-orders––and how pre-orders can affect sales rankings. Today, we’re going to spend some time with Amazon’s other algorithms––the ones that you might not even know about, but which are just as important in respect to sales.

First of all, before we get started, a quick proviso: I am neither a computer programmer nor a systems specialist. I’m coming at this subject as, I suppose, a studious and well-informed amateur. I don’t just read about these algorithms––whether we’re talking about Amazon or Google or eBay or any other profit-making enterprise that uses one––once and consider myself knowledgeable; if anything, the most important thing I’ve learned over the years is that the algorithms are constantly changing and being reinvented, so we all need to be constantly dipping in and out of the subject to stay abreast of the latest developments.

What algorithms are those?

An algorithm can be broad in its scope or more constrained; it will vary depending on the needs of its users and the business that develops it. In the case of Amazon, most of what I’m about to talk about are aspects, or mere elements, of what the larger algorithm is capable of. They can be talked about on their own, since they’re units of code with separate goals and applications, but they ought also to be talked about as part of a much larger whole. Amazon has a whole subsidiary––A9––that is dedicated entirely to developing search engine technology and coding architecture.

Amazon’s sales ranking algorithm feeds into its search engine and look-alike (AKA “recommendations”) algorithms in predictable ways: the higher your ranking (the lower your ranking number), the more popular your book is, and the more tried-and-true and the more likely it is in Amazon’s eyes that your book will be salable if it links it to other products. Therefore, if your book achieves a good sales ranking, it’s more likely to be boosted by these other algorithms (or units of the larger Amazon algorithm) and the more likely it will be to show up in front of new readers when they go searching for other products on Amazon.

Amazon’s algorithms are capable of cracking your book open and mining it for information, too. We’ve all heard about the insanity taking place over at Microsoft with its book platform in weeks past, and we’re all aware of the copyrights complaints leveled at Google for its book platform over the years, and Amazon is just as big and just as bad (or good, depending on your perspective) when it comes to picking through your original content for details it can use. This is particularly true if you enable the “Look Inside” feature when selling your book, or if you put up an e-book version for sale through Amazon. For the most part, this mining process is benign in intent, with the goal of figuring out what bits of what you’ve written are most likely to appeal to customers and making that accessible to them. It does, however, also mean that Amazon gets to use your content in ways that haven’t fully been mapped and analyzed yet––particularly since most of Amazon’s algorithm is, as a proprietary development, not transparent to public assessment.

The real value of reading up on Amazon’s algorithms is a heightened awareness of the balance between personal and public rights, between copyright protections and the engine of a profit-driven market. There are too many forces at work, and too many nuances to each of those forces in question, to truly “get to the bottom” of any one question we might have about how things work and how we ought to make decisions as authors, but it certainly pays to keep an eye on the headlines and one foot in the door of learning about advances in algorithms as they happen.

And ultimately, even when it seems that you’re just grist in the wheel of profit-making, you do have allies––us here on the blog, and all of your fellow authors in the business. We’re here for you!

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, and I’ll make sure to feature your thoughts and respond to them in my next post!

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: Getting Started With Amazon Sales Rankings (Part II: Pre-Orders)

online sales rankings ratings reviews

Last time I wrote, I sought to answer one very important question for self-publishing authors: What are online sales rankings, specifically Amazon sales rankings, and what do they mean for you, a self-publishing author? I spent some time tackling the definitions of and usefulness of sales rankings to the average indie author, and set out to debunk another question as well: What about the stuff that Amazon isn’t saying about its sales rankings? Which, as it turns out, is a lot. Pretty much everything, in fact!

In summary, Amazon is a business and its sales rankings, like its search algorithms and its “if you liked [x] you might also like [y]” algorithms, are both private and proprietary. Which means they don’t have to disclose what human and algorithmic assumptions are built into the process—what fundamental things Amazon believes about the way you, and all people, work. Quite apart from the potential for unconscious (or sometimes conscious) biases to perpetuate things like racism, sexism, and other -isms—especially if leadership and oversight isn’t constantly and thoughtfully looking out for such things—the fact remains that algorithms such as those used to determine sales rankings can be helpful, but require a significant human component in order to work in your favor.

This week, I’m going to ask (and hopefully answer) another important and related question:

What is the relationship between pre-orders and your sales ranking—and how can you make this relationship work for you?

preorder

Pre-orders can actually have a negative effect on your sales ranking—at least during the first week or so after your book launches. This is because pre-order sales are more spread out, and their dates of transaction will not be lumped together with the other books sold during your first week, even though the actual physical or digital books will be distributed at the same time as your first-week sales. And the more you sell in a short amount of time, the higher your sales ranking will be during that period. Others have written and spoken very eloquently on this first-week problem, so I won’t go into detail about it here, other than this quick summary.

There are other reasons why pre-orders are a good idea, and these deserve a little bit of your time and attention as well. Just to name a few, opening up your book for pre-orders provides you with a promotional opportunity that you wouldn’t otherwise have, and provides an actionable way for readers to purchase your book right away when they first hear about it, rather than requiring them to wait and plan to buy your book later—as we all know, instant gratification may not be a human ideal, but it is a very human reality. If readers can’t buy your book the first time they hear about it, many of them are liable to forget about it altogether. A pre-order option means that during your heaviest promotional period before your book launch, you can get your readers to commit to a purchase even though they’ll have to wait for delivery. You can then spread your pre-order link around all of your various social media platforms and digital presences, ensuring that it’s easy to find your book paired with your name everywhere it appears.

And yes, a pre-order period also allows you time to refine your promotional materials. It’s one thing to edit and edit away before your book launch, but a soft release like a pre-order allows you to test your language in the field and see how readers and potential buyers respond … and then make changes as you go to better appeal to them. This holds true for any advertising or website monetization you might run during the pre-order period, as well.

The biggest benefit to a self-publishing author of making pre-orders available is the reviews! Normally, a book can’t be reviewed on Amazon before it’s available for purchase, distribution, and arrival. (Goodreads allows reviews as soon as a book is listed.) But with pre-orders, a huge chunk of your readership will receive your book on the first day it’s out, and you’ll start getting reviews immediately. Reviews are the most powerful marketing tool of all!

So, while your pre-orders can negatively affect your Amazon sales ranking, it’s only for a few days, and it will only truly make a difference if you don’t make use of the pre-order period for the aforementioned optimization. Pre-orders can in many ways prove a useful training ground for promotion and marketing, meaning that your book launches to higher acclaim and attention than it would otherwise. It’s wise to see the larger relationship in context.

Next time, I’m going to look at what we know about Amazon’s other algorithms—so check back in two weeks for more on this fascinating and important subject!

online sales shopping cart

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, and I’ll make sure to feature your thoughts and respond to them in my next post!

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: 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. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, and I’ll make sure to feature your thoughts and respond to them in my next post!

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: Summer is Coming

Look, we know summer is just around the corner, and we also know you’ve all been mainlining the latest season of *ahem* a certain popular fantasy show, so here’s our thirty-second shout-out:

brace-yourselves-summer-is-coming-quick-meme-com-4945958

Okay, now that that‘s done, we can move on from wisecracks to talking about preparing for summer book sales and marketing plans.

As a self-published author, you’re no doubt already well-aware that book sales are seasonal. According to this excellent report from Springer (which is dedicated to taking a numbers approach to publishing), the winter holidays remain the season with the highest book sales, followed by summer. The report writers state that:

In early January, the lowest median sales over the years is close to 15,000 copies a week, a number higher than the highest median sales of any other time of the year except late December. For fiction, a similar but less pronounced peak is observed during the summer months with median sales surpassing 10,000, likely due to book purchases in preparation for the summer vacation. In nonfiction, there is no such summer peak. During these periods of elevated sales a book needs to sell more copies to make it to the New York Times bestseller list than during other months. We also note that in general, fiction books sell more copies than nonfiction, a gap which is largest during summer and decreases considerably during the holiday season, where the sales of both fiction and nonfiction are significantly elevated.

The writers also point out that not only are “the first year sales are the most important for a hardcover,” but also that “most fiction books have their peaks strictly in the first 2–6 weeks [… while] for nonfiction, even though peaks at weeks 2–5 are common, the peak can happen any time during the first 15 weeks.” While on a surface level this might lead one to believe that it would be smart to time a book’s publication with an upcoming sales peak, the reverse may actually be the case. As the Springer report’s authors point out, one has to sell a lot more books during a sales peak than at any other time of year to hit bestseller lists—or see a boost in the Amazon sales rankings. This is because there is more competition during sales peaks (winter holidays for nonfiction, and both summer and winter holidays for fiction). Your sales ranking, for those who may not know, shows how high you rate compared to other authors and books in the same category—the lower the number, the more popular you or your book is. (There are separate rankings for authors and books.)

A book can see successful sales at any time of year, of course, and a refined marketing plan is probably more of a determining factor when it comes to sale than time of year of publication, but it’s well worth keeping certain questions in mind: Can you make effective use of your sales ranking (on Amazon and elsewhere)? That may just be a deciding factor in what you choose to do next in your summer marketing plan.

Next time, I’m going to break those sales rankings down for you, and demonstrate how you can use your Amazon sales ranking to better market and sell your self-published book!

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, and I’ll make sure to feature your thoughts and respond to them in my next post!

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.

Self-Publishing News: 2.5.2019

February concept. stationery and notebook, business background

And now for the news!

Some highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing!

In past weeks, we’ve revealed some rather … mixed … information on the state of self-publishing, with some researchers arguing that sales are way up, and others insisting that actually they were completely terrible. In the interest of covering all of our bases and ensuring equal coverage for all concerned, here’s an article from Books + Publishing this week covering Amazon’s newly released sales figures. The most pertinent details? Writes the article author:

For books, authors earned more than US$260 million (A$359m) from the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select Global Fund in 2018, totalling more than US$840m (A$1.16bn) since the launch of Kindle Unlimited. Amazon said, ‘hundreds of thousands of authors have self-published millions of books through KDP since launching the service in 2007’. Amazon said that ‘thousands’ of authors earned more than US$50,000 (A$69,000) from KDP royalties in 2018, and more than 1000 authors earned over US$100,000 (A$138,000).

Good news for Amazon, obviously, but how reliable are these figures? And how do they compare to other indie publishers and self-publishing companies? We’ll have to wait for comparative reports, it would seem.

More industry coverage comes from the Locus magazine for science fiction and fantasy, one of our favorites of the genres. This article ties into the report we mentioned last week in our Self Publishing News section, and provides further insights, specifically calling out the report for including zero-earnings authors who may not yet have published or not published recently, or who have not made self-publishing a dedicated part of their lives. Says the article,

It’s hard to tell how meaningful the data is, since the 5,000 respondents (drawn from the Authors Guild membership and nearly 20 other organizations and self-publishing platforms) are not necessarily a complete cross-section of the writing community. Fully a quarter of those surveyed reported receiving zero income from books or writing-related activities in 2017, which does tend to drag aggregate numbers down. Counting only those writers who actually made book-related income in 2017 (63% of those surveyed), the median income was over $20,000, and average income was over $43,000. A total of 38% of respondents also earned writing- related income apart from book royalties or advances, mostly from events and appearance fees, freelance journalism, and teaching writing. Given the increasing numbers of self-published authors and “hybrid” authors who self- publish and use traditional publishing too, one inarguable conclusion is that more authors are being paid – at least a little – than ever before.

Accounting for the zero-earnings authors provides a much rosier outlook than the naysayers previously have given, and tempers the worst of the emotions swirling around the Author Earnings report.


spa-news

As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

icon logo self publishing advisor