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. ♣︎



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.

Marketing BASICS : Selling Readers ON Your Book, Not Just Selling Your Book to Readers

Welcome back to my series on marketing B.A.S.I.C.S. here at Self Publishing Advisor, of which this is the fourth installation.  Three weeks ago I got the series underway with this introductory post, followed by an exposition on the “B” in B.A.S.I.C.S. (“Building an Online Presence“).  Last week, I answered the burning question of “What does the letter “A” stand for, then?” with a not-so-simple answer tackling various ways and means of “Ascertaining Your Ideal Reader.”  This week, as you might have guessed, we’re taking a look at the next letter in B.A.S.I.C.S. as we examine just how to go about Selling readers ON your book––and not just selling your book TO readers.  If the distinction seems a touch unclear, consider it this way: there are a lot of reasons why people do or do not buy specific books, and it only rarely can be defined as ONLY a financial transaction.  Ultimately, a book’s larger success can be credited to the author’s creation (and after, cultivation) a fan following made up of readers who really love and connect to the book.

As I mentioned last week, this series emphasizes marketing for new or first-time authors, but this point––this letter “S”––carries a lot of meaning for even the most experienced of authors.  There’s no point in an author’s professional career––even a blockbuster success of a career––where free passes are handed out.  No matter what stage of the self-publishing process you are at, you must continually strive to connect to your readers, and to create a product that is more than just attractive to them––you must strive to create a product, a book, that blows them away.  Each and every time.  This, too, is one of the most important and foundational of steps to crafting a successful marketing strategy.

selling a book

So, how DO I sell readers on my book?

  • Even before you publish your book, build community.  Spread the word!  Launch countdowns and promotions (like giveaways of Advance Reader Copies, or ARCs) on social media early.  And don’t forget to reach out!  Many first-time self-publishing authors find their most passionate advocates to be other members of the indie community.  Why?  Not only do they understand the rigors and narrative of self-publishing, but they’re by and large a welcoming bunch with extensive and generous networks––networks made up, in part, of avid readers looking for their next great book.  You shouldn’t approach the indie publishing community, online or off, as a chance to steal eggs from someone else’s basket, though: humility is a quality that belongs in the self-publishing community every bit as much as it does in fairy tales.  And, seeing a little of themselves in you, many established indie authors will be willing to put in a kind word for you with their readers.  One day, you’ll be able to pay it forward in the same way.


  • Share.  You’re not just selling a book––you’re selling the larger narrative surrounding your book, and that narrative intersects with your own life in ways that you won’t always be able to predict.  A key ingredient to selling readers on your book is to follow in Steve Job’s footsteps and be your own product’s biggest fan; your book is a beautiful and wonderful thing, and your enthusiasm for can be positively infectious.  Never be ashamed to share with your readers your passion for what you’ve created, and to do so in as many creative ways as you can think of: radio and blog interviews, posts to Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr and Vine that reveal the “behind the scenes” elements that give a book its own life and render you, the author, into an interesting character in your own right.  (And trust me, you ARE interesting!  You’ve written a book, after all.  You’ve put a piece of yourself out in the world for other people to engage with and respond to.  Whoa.)


  • And last but not least: Publish the book that you would want to buy.  If you’re only halfway sold on the concept, execution, or presentation of your book … well, let’s just say that readers are usually looking for the same things in the books they buy as authors really want to see in the books they publish.  Give every detail of the process––from conception through creation to final publication––the same level of care and attention that you might give to a priceless work of art.  The comparison is only fair, as your book is art.  And I, for one, can’t wait to read it.

Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,

Self-publishing Guest Post: Transacting Book Sales

The Book Doctor on managing book sales transactions for the self-publishing author.

Q: When I bought your book at a recent seminar, you used a credit card company that notified me via e-mail of my charge going through. Can you tell me about the company? Who are they, and how do I contact them? I need to have the ability to accept credit card payments when I sell my books, so I am shopping around.

A: The company I use is ProPay, and it can be found at A colleague highly recommended ProPay, and I have been completely satisfied with the service I get. Through ProPay I can take almost any credit card by e-mail, phone, or in person and later transfer those funds to my own bank.

Share this Post

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at

Book Sales and Self-Publishing

In my time writing and working in publishing, I’ve interacted with many authors.  As you may imagine, discussion often involves author goals and determining the best publishing options to meet those goals.  Who doesn’t want to sell books?  Some authors have even made poor decisions the first time around; it helps them realize that it is never too late to switch to a better publisher.

Very often I hear the following question: “How many millions of books do you think I will sell?”

My answer is best summarized by this information, which tallies the actual BookScan sales figures for all published books in 2004—a typical year in the publishing industry:

Only 10 books sold a million copies or more.

BookScan is like the TV-ratings for books, and these figures do not track non-bookstore related sales. Far more books are sold outside of the book trade (to book clubs and catalogs, for example).

Some self-publishing options actually open the distribution door to all those venues and more, without the up-front printing costs of off-set printing.  The publishing world is changing and authors are taking advantage.

Share this Post

Self-publishing Advantages – Fill in the Blank…

I sat down today to a quick brainstorm outlining the advantages of partnering with a top notch custom self-publisher, but came up just shy of double digits. Help!

Self-publishing Advantages top 10 list:

1 – Authors are required one-time only upfront investment…

2 – Authors only have to purchase books they know will sell…

3 – Authors have the control to set their own book profit or royalty percentages…

4 – Authors set their custom wholesale book pricing…

5 – Authors set their book’s retail price…

6 – Authors can work with a design team on their unique custom book cover…

7 – Authors are in control of the editing and proof process, publishing nothing they don’t expressly approve…

8 – Books don’t see print caps and never go out of print…

9 – Authors keep exclusive rights to their work

10 –

– Karl

Share this Post