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: Optimize your Amazon presence!

Amazon is, for all intents and purposes, the powerhouse when it comes to the book distribution process.  It doesn’t seem to be a temporary thing, either; authors and publishers alike simply must acclimate to the fact that to sell a lot of books, they first must tailor their Amazon presence to be an attractive one.  And Amazon seems to have good intentions insofar as providing resources goes: its architects have dedicated incredible resources to creating better ways to connect authors with their readers.

There are a lot of ways to promote your book on Amazon, and since sales through this website may very well account for a large percentage of your overall book sales, it’s worth making sure you’re aware of all of the options!

amazon warehouse

The first step, of course, is to figure out what you’re doing right.

To do this, locate your book listing on Amazon by searching the title or ISBN.  Once your book listing is fully loaded, make sure your cover is showing.  If it isn’t there yet, make sure to upload a quality image for your readers to view–preferably at a high resolution.  Double-check that all of the information on display is accurate, and check back every few weeks to make sure it stays up-to-date and glitch-free.  This all is predicated on the assumption, of course, that you already have your book for sale on Amazon … but what if you don’t?

Create an Author Central account.

This account differs from the normal customer account you may already have on Amazon as a result of buying something (or many things).  An Author Central account allows you to better manage your books, and the process is free, so there are zero reasons not to create one.  To begin, navigate to authorcentral.amazon.com and register your profile, following the on-screen prompts to add your books to your bibliography, create a blog, edit or revise your online descriptions, and use a number of other tools on offer.

Returning to your book listing page, it’s vital that you include only relevant and compelling sales information with a positive marketing slant that will increase both your exposure and the number of people who actually buy your book.  That’s money in the bank!  Streamline your page to avoid the clutter of white noise (information that distracts from what’s really important) and reassess regularly.

Go for those reviews.  Go for them.

Amazon rewards activity on your Author Central profile page and on your book page listings, to the more reviews you have–the more people who will be directed to your book via Amazon’s search algorithms, and the more people who will buy and review your book.  Interesting Factoid Alert: This is the definition of a positive feedback loop!  You want your book’s activity to outweigh the activity on all other books of comparable genre, content, and publication date–so in a sense, it is a bit of race to rack up the reviews.  To get these reviews, it’s a good plan to:

  1. Write online reviews for other books.  This gets your name out there, establishing you as an authority, and will occasionally be reciprocated by those authors you review.
  2. Entice people you know to review your book.  And if you don’t yet know a host of eager reviewers, consider hosting giveaways or offering discounts to potential reviewers.
  3. Mark positive reviews of your book as ‘helpful.’  There’s a link attached to each review on your book that allows other viewers to gauge the review’s usefulness (and accuracy).  You can ask your other friends and followers to do this, too.

Books without reviews are like books no one is buying–Amazon’s algorithms tend to leave them out of search engine results and “If you like this, you might also like this” recommendations.  It’s unethical (and fairly easy for others to spot) to give your own book a five-star review, but you shouldn’t shy from asking others to.  The worst they can say is ‘no,’ and there are plenty who will say ‘yes.’

Share your book using Amazon’s built-in features.

Picture this: sending an Amazon-branded email to all of your friends and acquaintances.  Imagine that the email contains a large image of your book cover along with its retail price, star rating, and an enormous inviting button saying “Learn More”!  Well, this option exists, is free, and is almost ridiculously easy to use.  All you have to do is locate your book on Amazon, look at your sales detail page, find the “Share” button (usually on the right-hand column).  Click “Share” and crack open your list of email contacts.  You can enter the email addresses for anyone you know who might like to know about your book, following the on-screen prompts to enter up to four hundred people at a time.

Amazon also makes it easy to share your book listing on social media.  You don’t have to copy the link manually; just click the Twitter, Facebook, and other social media icons on your book listing page–and again, just follow the prompts to log in and post the link to your followers.  Easy peasy!  And the best part is … every ‘hit’ on your book listing page boosts your online presence and optimizes your Amazon page within their complicated system.  Give yourself a leg up and explore all of your options!

amazon warehouse

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, 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.

 

Top 5 Reasons for Self Publishing in October

Has publishing your book been on your to-do list for months, or even years? Does your book always get pushed to the end of your to-do list because you are overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities? Are you one of those people who always finds a reason to wait? Well, wait no more. October is the perfect time to take the leap into self publishing. Here are five reasons why.

1) Complete Your 2012 News Year’s Resolution

When the clock struck 12 on January 1, 2012, did you vow to publish a book this year? Now that it is October, are you feeling guilty for not fulfilling that resolution? Well, if you start the self publishing process in October, your book will be complete by the end of the year. A high quality self-published book typically takes 6-15 weeks to complete. If you start now, your book will be done by the end of 2012.

2) Get a Head Start on Your 2013 Resolution

So maybe publishing wasn’t one of your resolutions this year, but you want it to be one of your resolutions next year. Why not get a head start and start the self publishing process now? This way, you can show off your new book in 2013 instead of rushing to publish before the year is over.

3) It’s A Great Time for Spooky Reads

Do you write horror or thrillers? Do you want to write a children’s book about Halloween? October is a great month to work on these projects. The cool air and pumpkin lattes at your favorite coffee shop can set the tone for a fall book and help motivate you to complete great Halloween stories.

4) Avoid the Holiday Chaos

November through January are the busiest months for most people. You are scrambling around to shop for gifts, bake goodies and attend holiday parties. If you start the self publishing process in October, you can begin before you become consumed by twinkling lights and sugar cookies.

5) Free Amazon Extreme

Amazon Extreme is a marketing package (worth over $300) available through Outskirts Press. It helps self-publishing authors sell more books by taking advantage of the various options available through Amazon. For authors who start the self publishing process in October, the package is FREE! Yes, free. Click here to learn more.

So what are you waiting for? Make October the month you made your dreams come true.

ABOUT JODEE THAYER: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Jodee Thayer works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order 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, Jodee Thayer can put you on the right path.

Improving Your Book’s Presence on Amazon

Today’s post is by book marketing industry expert, Kelly Schuknecht.

After you self publish a book, assuming your book is listed on Amazon.com, you should thoroughly review and perfect the listing for your book and your Amazon profile.  Remember, this is your opportunity to sell your book to potential customers, so your presentation online, including on Amazon.com, is important.

3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Listing on Amazon:

  1. Get Reviews -Reviews tell potential readers why they should buy your book.  They will look at how many reviews your book has in each star category (1-5) and may glance through a few of them to find out what other readers are saying about your book.  If you don’t have any reviews, get some.  If you have some, get more.  Ask everyone you know who has read your book to post a review (preferably 5-star).  Actively seek reviews by contacting potential reviewers and sending out review copies.
  2. Add a Kindle Edition – Additional formats provide more opportunities for people to find (and buy) your book.  I suggest you price your Kindle Edition low to encourage sales.  These sales may turn into reviews, recommendations and even more purchases of the hard copy format(s).  I have my own Kindle and often find that if I like a book I’m reading, I want to buy the hard copy (particularly with non-fiction books).
  3. Utilize the Search Inside Feature -Amazon offers Search Inside the Book to allow viewers to virtually flip through the book.  Utilizing this feature is a good way to enhance your listing and make it easy for viewers to get a sneak peek.

Of course there are many other things you should do to improve your listing (and sales) on Amazon.  Brent Sampson, CEO of Outskirts Press has written an entire book on the subject, which you can find on Amazon here

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT:
Kelly Schuknecht works as the Director of Author Support for Outskirts Press.  In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, 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 at http://kellyschuknecht.com.