One of the things that I’ve learned in this publishing business is that sales beget sales.

You just have to look at 50 Shades of Grey to see what I mean. Readers who wouldn’t have picked up an erotic romance novel, let alone one with a BDSM theme can’t get their hands on this book fast enough! Yet, the fact that this is the best-selling book across all venues (Amazon, iTunes, B&N) says that readers are buying it because everyone else is and they want to find out what all the fuss is about.

This is true of any book on the best-sellers list. A book reaching the top catches the attention of potential readers who buy the book and keep it on the best-selling list. Do the lists drive each and every person in the book-buying population? Of course not. But enough readers look to the top sellers either by category or in general to make decisions about their purchases.

Which means, as an author … WE WANT OUR BOOKS ON THOSE LISTS!

Until I was published for awhile I never quite understood the ranking numbers on Amazon. (And now B&N is showing rankings on books as well, but no categories like Amazon) Here’s a good break down for Amazon sales that I think is pretty accurate:

Bestsellers Overall Rank 8,500 to 40,000 – selling 1 to 10 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 3,000 to 8,500 – selling 10 to 30 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 1,000 to 3,000 – selling 30 to 100 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 450 to 1,000 – selling 100 to 150 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 200 to 450 – selling 150 to 300 books a day
Bestsellers Overall Rank 80 to 200 – selling 300 to 600 books a day
Bestsellers Rank 50 to 80 – selling 600 to 3,000 books a day

But the fact is, no one has been able to crack how Amazon calculates its sales algorithms. Which makes sense. They don’t want publishers to somehow manipulate sales and therefore rankings, which of course would then push more sales.

a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, as for finding the greatest common divisor

With the number of books being self-published growing exponentially it seems Amazon is now revising their algorithms to change how FREE! and $.99 books show up on the lists. Did they mention this? Well, no. And as much as I love math, being a science geek and all … I certainly didn’t put the numbers together. But some authors who have had their books in the KDP Select Program–where you can put your book up for free for up to 5 days in a 90 day period–are finding sales after going free have significantly reduced from when the program began. The theory is that the change in algorithms is making it so you have to sell more at a lower price to make it onto the best-selling lists.

Check out THIS post that discusses in depth the changes at Amazon. The original posts by Edward Robertson can be found HERE. Whether you’re an author or a reader you should take a look. Go ahead, I’ll wait …

Interesting what Amazon appears to be doing isn’t it? Are they trying to move authors (and therefore readers) away from the FREE! and $.99 bargains where they make little or no money from sales? Hard to say. But many authors are finding better success with higher prices. Question is whether that’s getting them up on lists where readers are finding them and purchasing the books or are readers perceiving higher priced books are better quality? Wish I knew the answer.

What I do know … and what I’m advising authors just starting out in the self-publishing business … what worked two years ago for John Locke and Amanda Hocking, heck what worked for your author friend just six months ago probably isn’t going to work as a marketing strategy for a book being published today. $.99 rolled into hundreds of thousands of sales a year or two ago. I don’t believe that will work anymore, especially with Amazon (possibly) working to change the rules of the game. Check out THIS POST to see how I’ve used the FREE! marketing technique for my series. Am I saying NEVER put a book out for FREE! or $.99? Not at all. I’m simply saying, carefully look at your particular circumstances and find a marketing strategy that works for you.

So blog readers … Is your book buying driven by lists? Are there other factors that influence your choices? Of course I’m asking … you know me, I’m curious like that.


0 Responses to Sneaky Amazon

  • I can’t wait to see what the readers say. I do enjoy your posts.

  • Nina, great post! All of us trying to help readers find our books are standing on shifting sands to start with, and every so often a big wave comes along to threaten whatever stability we thought we had!!
    As a reader I am not a follower of the bestseller trends, but I still do pay attention –you never know when you may hear of a new author to love! I do like Amazon’s feature that shows what other purchasers of a book have picked up, since very often that leads to new discoveries within the same genres that I enjoy.

    • Gail – You said it so well. This whole publishing gig, rather traditional or self, is such a crap shoot. There are definitely strategies that work in the authors favor but not one method that guarantees success.

  • Seems like as quickly as we learn “the rules” they change them. 🙂

  • It is interesting…I have noticed a shift in the short time I have self published. This industry has changed so quickly and with Amazon they are doing so much..I just wish we all knew how it all really worked..

  • Too bad things couldn’t stay the same, but it really did seem too good to be true.
    Everyone says the algorithms might change again. I wouldn’t count on it. Actually, I wouldn’t count on anything.
    “Just write a better book” seems to be the only thing we can control now. And MAYBE it will get a little attention.

    • LL – And there it is … the only thing writers can control and that’s the quality of their next book. In this changing world of publishing I think it’s the only really stable advice we can get/give.

  • Fascinating, Nina. I freely admit to having no clue how things work in Amazon-world. I do know the likes and tags and number of reviews come into play. So it isn’t necessarily the best books, but the best networking that wins out. Not too different from any other kind of sales, I suppose. It’s exhausting sometimes just trying to keep up.

    • Cindy – That’s a great point, likes, tags and reviews do seem to be part of the mathematical equation as well. And yes, it is sometimes exhausting trying to figure out what’s best for our book in terms of pricing and marketing.

  • The faster I go the behinder I get. Thank you Lewis Carroll. 🙂

  • To be concerned about which algorithm is used, first I have to sell some books! At $2.99 on Kindle, you’d think it wouldn’t be too much, but even when Free on KDP only 1,090 were given away! Granted, I’m new to writing Paranormal-Romance “fiction,” and my “Immortal Relations” is very different from most books in the genre’. At least one person who actually bought the printed book said, “I believe I have found my holy grail of vampire novels” and it’s had five stars from the few who did look at it. So, maybe it just takes a lot of luck to get “read?” I’m almost finished writing the sequal and I’d sure like to have to worry about Amazon’s algorithm before the second book is published! LOL

    • GD – I have to say, it sounds like you’re one of the authors that is certainly affected by the new algorithms. It’s interesting that Amazon seems to be changing the rules when they’re the ones who began the Select program so authors would have an easier time of offering their books for free to get “found” by readers.

      I have some suggestions if you’re interested. Feel free to email me about some possible marketing strategies nina @ ninapierce. com

  • Great information, Nina. I’m about to embark on a two week Booklovers Buffet promotion with over 150 authors selling books for .99 cents. We did this in December as a Holiday promotion and I think many people did well, but I have a feeling this time will be different. I agree, less buyers are purchasing the .99 cent books–mainly because there are so many FREE ones. If they want to try out new authors, they have a lot of free choices. If they are going to spend .99 cents, they’d rather spend 3.99 and get a book from an “established”author who has a few books out with lots of good reviews or has been in those top 100 lists.Increasing the quantity of options on your cybershelf and writing quality books while consistently remaining visible seems the only sure way to successful selling, no matter how the algorithms change.

    • PJ – That’s a great promotion opportunity. I also participated in December, but didn’t have the success of other authors. Here’s hoping readers pop over for the sale as I know the authors at the Book Lover’s Buffet have some high quality books.

      With all the changes going on in the publishing industry the whole psychology of book pricing is enough to drive an author insane!

  • I watch my numbers on Amazon like a hawk. Sometimes a book can hit a bestseller list when it’s numbers are in the 20k. Other times they are in the 6k numbers and still doesn’t hit one. Go figure. I become exasperated by websites showing the bestseller lists and the first 50 are FREE. How is FREE a bestseller? They need a best-downloader category for these books. I have my books tagged, reviewed and liked and still when I search for them by one of the tags, I rarely rarely find them. However people find them is beyond me.

    • Margie – You’re the second person to mention that free books are on bestseller lists. On Amazon they clearly separate them, which I think is really good. And it’s true what you’re saying about lists. I’m not sure how the algorithm throws books on lists. Sometimes it seems like it’s the categories and other times it seems like the tags.

      And I’ve never searched a particular book with a tag. But if you click on your tags on your product page it will pull up all the books with that tag with the one with the highest number in the first position. I’m not really sure how readers use the tags for searching without clicking on a tag at the bottom of a product page. Anyone know? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

      • What shocks me is for example, if my book is ranked 8,000 at Amazon, what ranking is it on the tags? I searched pages and pages of my top tags came up empty. I’m glad somebody is finding me because I can’t find me!

  • Hi Nina,

    As a reader, two things matter to me after the name of the author: Tags and reviews.

    Tags: I am particular about the genres I buy and read. For example, I prefer erotic romance over mainstream romance. If it’s erotic and well-written, I’ll read most any sub-genre. If its tagged Christian or lesbian, I avoid it like the plague.

    Reviews: I read as many reviews from as many sites as I can find. I ignore one-star reviews.

    • Kathleen,

      Be careful when using tags to chose a book. Sometimes people go in and add tags that don’t apply to that book. I’ve had erotic romance added to one of my books when it’s definitely NOT erotic. Be sure to read the book description. 🙂

      • That’s a great caution, Elysa. Tags added by readers are sometimes misleading. I suppose reading the blurb AND checking the tags would definitely help readers be sure they’re buying a book in the genre they’re looking for.

      • To be sure. It also really irks me when an author tags their book with my name.

        • Margie – I know of some readers who put other author’s names on books to help others find a book they might like in a similiar genre. But yeah, I don’t think authors ought to do it.

    • Kathleen – Thank you for speaking up as a reader. Authors are always trying to figure out how to get their books in front of new readers. It’s nice to know that tags and reviews do make a difference. Thanks so much for stopping by today.

  • As a reader, the lists don’t mean anything to me. But as a writer, I’m totally obsessed with the lists and how my books are doing.

  • I don’t think it’s so much Amazon being sneaky, but as agency pricing (hopefully) winding down, they want to remain competitive with NY. They proved their point with KDP and the Select program, and now want to present a glossy, professional face to the world now that they are the focus of so much attention. Why have a bunch of free and 99 cent ebooks clogging up their site, particularly now that after 18 months of press, readers are growing wary and disinterested in cheap ebooks (look at folks paying $9.99 apiece for all three books in the Fifty Shades trilogy! And the books weren’t cheap when they were with the original publisher). IMO, it’s good for authors, because it will force them to step up their game and not rest on past successes. It also resets the value of a book (the reason why publishers created Agency pricing: fear that readers would devalue books when they saw cheap ones online, and sales all over the place).

    As for lists, I don’t pay attention to them. I pay attention to buzz, and if the buzz aligns with what I like to read, I’ll check it out.

    • Evangeline – “Sneaky” was tongue in cheek and I do agree with you about Amazon realigning themselves. It will be interesting to see how this will all shake out through the coming year.

      And like you, it’s word of mouth that sells a book to me as well. I can’t say I’ve ever looked at the lists other than to find out where a friend’s book ranks. Thank you so much for stopping by.

  • The way I found books on Amazon was to type in terms in their Search bar at the top of the page. This works really well for nonfiction. I then look at the “Customers Also Boughts.” Once something ends up in my shopping cart, I look at the “Items Related to” my shopping cart.

    For fiction, it’s hard to tell. I’m trying to think back to before I because a writer and had writer friends. I would say I started with favorite authors or genre’s. Let’s say I liked Agatha Christie. I’d go and look at her books and scout out the “Also Boughts”. I’ve never searched a tag. I ought to try it and see what comes up.

    So for me, it would be interest in a general area, let’s say “Jewish women’s fiction” and Amazon’s search bar that leads me to the books.

    Hope this helps.

    • Rachelle – Hmm, I suspect there are other readers out there who rely on the “also bought” feature. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *