In Your Corner: Getting Started With Amazon Sales Rankings

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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!

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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: Closing out National Poetry Month–strong!

April of 2021 is National Poetry Month, and we are almost to its very end! This poses an interesting challenge for those among us who are poets: while the rest of the world has been celebrating the works of poets they admire, writers of poetry have been girding themselves rise to the challenge of becoming the wordsmiths they wish to be. This challenge is not perhaps specific to April––but it is pushed to the front burner, so to speak. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, everything is just that little bit more difficult.

So what is a poet to do in a month set aside for celebrating poets and what they do?

3 suggestions:

– Set yourself a writing challenge.

The first thing to do, as a person dedicated to a specific craft and art form, is to continue working to improve your skill set. And as one of my past creative writing instructors used to say, “You will never be so good at this that you can afford to stop practicing.” (Which might explain why she gave me her copy of Baking Illustrated, now that I come to think of it.) Regardless, I’m grateful to her for never letting up, never allowing me to relax into the assumption that I’d learned all I was going to learn and raised the bar as high as it would go. That said, the old adage “Practice Makes Perfect” is … sometimes … wrong. To strive for perfection is to set ourselves up for failure every time, but to strive for improvement–to challenge ourselves to get better–will bear endless fruit. So set yourself a writing challenge, one that fits your routine and schedule and needs, and use it as an opportunity to hone your form.

– Go digital.

Many of my friends who went on to be poets–and there are many–have an aversion to social media. I’m not entirely sure why there’s more of this tendency among my poet friends than among my friends who went on to write prose and nonfiction, and I know that the authors I know are not a representative statistical sample of all writers everywhere, but the tendency seems common. It might have something to do with the intimate nature of poetry. After all, writing poetry is, like much personal writing, a deeply private act that aims to generate a public–or semi-public–product. So this April, I’d like to challenge you to go digital. Not just as a person, but as a writer. Experiment with a variety of social media options–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and more … and do so as a poet.

Find your readers where they live, and meet them there.

– Create a following.

But you know, don’t find them where they live in a creepy way like in crime fiction television shows. Dig into it like a pro: Once you’re on social media, take advantage of the opportunity to post snippets of your work, updates from behind the scenes as you write, and generally work to create the cult of personality that surrounds books with that oh-so-important “buzz” factor. This will help generate interest in your book, once you’re ready to publish … and will form a rock-solid foundation for your marketing strategy.

If you’re not comfortable projecting yourself as a poet into the digital sphere, that’s okay. There are reasons for those feelings, for reticence in engaging in deliberate self-exposure at a time when it already seems like everyone is already up in everyone else’s business. I simply hope, in my own small way, to encourage you with this reassurance: your work deserves to be read, and admired. You are a poet, even if you haven’t yet published your book of poetry. You will find a way to be heard, because that’s just the nature of being a poet, after all. You’ll get there, in your own time, and when you’re ready. Most of all, I want you to know that you have a community here who supports you all the way, whether it’s National Poetry Month … or not!

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: The Art of the Outline (I)

In the time that I’ve been contributing to Self Publishing Advisor, I don’t think I’ve once talked about outlines and outlining––at least, not as the primary subject of a post. That’s about to change!

I can’t think of a better time to address outlining and planning than after a year of great upheaval and disruption, when so few things went according to design and the world proved time and time again the old adage about one’s best laid plans:

Unfortunately for them, mice have neither opposable thumbs or the ability to write the Great American Novel––and I must confess, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was one of my absolute favorite books as a child, so I wouldn’t have minded if they did. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t find a nimble mouse detective nearly so appealing.

For those of us who do have opposable thumbs and the desire to use them for writing, we have long debated the merits and drawbacks of outlining, of sitting down to build the architecture of our next book before hanging the wall panels and window frames upon it. There are those who are naturally drawn to this kind of thing; I remember envying them as a college student. Such orderly minds! As you might have guessed, I was not made from the same stuff. I was, as many authors now phrase it, a pantser, perpetually neglecting to outline any of my papers the way that American students are encouraged to do from middle school onward. I have also neglected to outline most of my creative writing projects over the intervening years, leaning on long late-night writing sessions to finish out drafts.

As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve come to experience the importance of cultivating the kind of “organized thinking” I’d only admired from afar as a younger person. I may not be naturally inclined toward rigorous planning sessions, but as my ability to draft for hours on end late at night has attenuated over time, writing became much more of a challenge to be overcome than a creative endeavor undertaken as easily as breathing. Writing, it turns out, takes time, and I am merely human in that my time is limited … and growing moreso as I age, and competing concerns such as family and work jostle within my planner for all available waking hours. (And naps. Let’s be honest. I find naps more and more mandatory as I age, too.)

So it is that I’ve come to regard outlining as both a science worth mastering and an art worth ever refining by constant practice. And I’ll confess, I absolutely do still struggle with the whole concept. Why spend valuable time planning what to write when I might just as well be spending that time actually writing, getting underway for real? But I need this slower beginning to a large writing project, it turns out, and I will waste far less time later in the manuscript drafting process if I remember what beats I am meant to be hitting and by which page number (or word count) I should begin curving my story arcs toward their denouements. Many of my novel-length works would have required far less editorial work later on if I’d only planned ahead and then stayed on target instead of simply meandering wherever my heart desired at any given moment in the writing process.

Of course, it’s one thing to say such a thing and it’s another to actually feel convinced that it’s true. Plenty of teacher, professors, and fellow writers have tried to convince me of the value of outlines, and yet I wasn’t ready to feel that truth until I’d stopped just short of finishing multiple projects because I couldn’t figure out how to get them back on track. This isn’t an issue for me if I have even a vague plan when I set out of what the point, purpose, and closing mood were supposed to be.

I know I can’t persuade you to outline before you’re ready, as I took a couple of decades to reach that conclusion myself. You might be one of the lucky ones, like those planners among my college acquaintances who seemed born thinking in bullet points, but truthfully outlining is a practice that can be picked up at any stage of life, and any stage of a person’s craft. You might be like me, and find yourself boxed into an ever-more-cluttered brain corner by the increase in mayhem brought on by 2020. And if you’re just on the cusp of leaning that way, of maybe taking your first baby steps into the outlining world, I hope my words of affirmation here will prove the encouragement you need in order to try it out.

I thought I might take this topic a little farther next week and offer some practical how-to tips of what to do once pen hits paper or you sit down to type up that first outline. There are so many competing ways of doing it––what do you think? Would seeing some options prove useful to you?

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

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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: Do we still need to talk about the pandemic?

Writing and publishing is difficult enough without added challenges being added on top of the usual brainstorming, crafting, editing, strategizing, and marketing that self-publishing authors take on as a part of the process. (Allowing, of course, for some variation, depending on existing skills and assistance provided by third parties.) We heard a great deal last year about some of the pandemic’s additional challenges last year, particularly during the summer, but much of that conversation has either died down or been reframed as a part of the “new normal.” So I just have to wonder, do we still need to talk about the pandemic outside of its health- and social-specific effects? Is it still worth grappling with the “extras” that COVID-19 has added to our writing and publishing lives?

I, personally, happen to think that we are entering a new phase of this whole thing. By and large, one year in, we’ve figured out how to live with the restrictions and their consequences (eagerly or otherwise). Two vaccines have passed all the standards that need passing in order to achieve wide distribution, and state governors are working on specific distribution plans for each state. Where I am just now, many of the restrictions themselves have begun to loosen, although most people I know are still being fairly cautious. Some schools are back in operation. My favorite bakery reopened! … and then closed again, then reopened again, and so on and so forth a number of times as the occasional worker came down with the virus. By and large, we are now well-acquainted with this open-closed-open-closed-etc cycle, and well-acclimated to last-minute changes in plans as the knock-on effects of the virus continue to manifest.

But what about when it comes to books? I see that the news posts here on the blog have dealt occasionally with the effects of COVID-19 on the publishing industry since March (summary version: book sales are up, particularly in digital, and so too with digital library offerings, as more library users make use of them). Most of the data, however, is coming from traditional publishers and indie bookstores (which are still struggling). Publishers Weekly (and probably many other organizations) keeps an updated list of COVID-19-related cancellations and postponements––again, privileging the traditionally published lineup, which is usually decided years in advance.

Getting a handle on just how this same situation is affecting those who choose to go indie is another matter. For one thing, self-published books don’t require the same long (up to two-years!) run-up to release as their traditionally published cousins, so there are very few compendiums of upcoming indie publications to build buzz. As we’ve seen throughout this last year, it is entirely feasible to progress from initial thoughts through writing and publication within two months with self-publishing, although we don’t recommend that many sleepless nights to everyone who wants to publish in the next year. (Chances are, anyway, that you have already been working on a manuscript before you read this post.)

Where do we look for self-published book statistics these days? Publishing through Amazon might be an indicator (and the company does love to release its self-reported statistics when they’re good news for them), but due to Amazon’s diversification and movement into the traditional publishing sphere with its own imprint and so forth, “publishing through Amazon” can look any one of a hundred different ways. It is not necessarily a good indicator of general self-publishing statistics anymore, in my opinion––the data I’ve seen talks big about the total amount its authors have earned in the last year, but the company hasn’t released any comparative reports to pre-COVID-19 times, or on whether their authorship has remained steady, much less grown.

About the only people reporting on the effects of COVID-19 on self-publishing are individual authors themselves, on their blogs or in their newsletters or social media feeds. To my knowledge, no one has a good handle on how many books are self-published even during a good year, much less this last year (this is because ISBN purchases, while tracked rather well, only apply to those authors who choose them––and they aren’t required for the publication of ebooks). Perhaps I’m so stuck on this because I myself work in the industry, and I want to know just how the virus’ long-term effects will challenge and/or benefit those authors I work with on a daily basis. Do we even know?

I’ve heard by word of mouth and on social media that many authors are struggling to write because of the persistence of work-from-home directives continuing for a large sector of the marketplace, and because many schools are also either working remotely or in hybrid systems. I’ve also heard that there is a huge wave of pandemic-related works in the pipeline for publication in the near future, although most traditional publishers haven’t quite gotten there without cutting corners. I’ve heard a lot of stories involving children’s books, particularly, when it comes to pandemic-related publications this last year, with the first ones appearing within months of the outbreak, published by schoolteachers and grandparents and other caregivers. But these are just the stories that I, Elizabeth, have heard. I am not representative of the entire industry, for sure.

What have you heard? Do you think we still need to talk about the pandemic when it comes to self-publishing, as I do? I’d love to hear your stories. And as always, I’d love to hear about your 2021 writing goals. ♣︎

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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.