Okay, perhaps this one will be a little too much “under the hood” kind of stuff. Sorry about that. But this collection I’ve released is a good one to talk about when it comes to Amazon sales figures and Amazon rankings. If you pay attention to me, you know that Tomorrow in All the Worlds is a fun little set of stories that came out of the Boundary Shock project I participate in. The collection was released a couple days ago, and has run up the charts into semi-respectable territory before plateauing. I suspect it will be on its way down … well … eventually.
I say it’s a good project to talk about Amazon rankings (from the perspective of an author, anyway) because it’s the kind of project that I know has limited ability to make a dent in the larger categories. You will not find TIATW at the top of the amalgam of Kindle Books, for example. Just will not happen.
I say TIATW is a good project for this discussion also because I’m recently back from a writer’s workshop wherein there was the usual discussion about what success looks like in the world of indie publishing—or publishing as a whole, for that matter. And because one of the underlying threads in these conversations invariably rests upon phrases like “don’t read your reviews,” and “how do you figure out Amazon’s algorithms?” Admittedly, the healthiest answers to these questions are to not worry about reviews or algorithms, and to just move forward with your next project.
And yet we are all human. Humans are hardwired to want feedback.
What is more direct feedback than sales numbers and category ranking? Seriously. I’m an engineer by degree and general demeanor. Numbers you can chart over time are like ambrosia. Except, of course, when the numbers stink.
Herein lies the conundrum.
I also put forward that any publisher worth their salt that doesn’t work to at least understand the value of Amazon rankings—or how the other services work—is essentially engaging in malpractice. As a publisher, it is your job to understand market dynamics.
So, yeah, when the book launched, I watched as it started down in the deep seven digits, and then sold a bit and marched up, then sold a bit more and marched up even further. By “marched up,” I mean in its little sub category of Anthologies, wherein it was sitting at #199 when I last checked. Of course I’m rooting for it to go higher, but I have no idea whether it will. And, to be honest, that’s not completely why I’m watching.
In reality, I’m watching as a businessperson.
In doing this, I’m watching to map sales numbers to rank movement. Yes, I can read lots of people who will tell me what’s happening, but the world changes on a dime these days, and the fact is that launching this kind of niche product gives me the opportunity to judge things for myself. When I’m watching ranks in these smaller categories, I’m asking myself questions about how much difference one sale makes, or velocity—how much difference does a sale make in day three vs. day one?
In these small categories, you can get a feeling for what’s real.
Example: late the night of first launch, after I was fairly sure sales had gone quiet for the night, I bought my own book. It cost me $2.99, but I’ll get paid for it, so the overall expense was more like a buck. An hour later the rank jumped something like 40 points. Now, that and five bucks will get you a small coffee at Starbucks, but I figure I “learned” something. Yes, I’ve been around a while. No, that result did not surprise me. Based on what I’d seen of the numbers and where the book was in the ranks at the time I played with it, I literally predicted that kind of bump as I was making my buy. But what I learned is that (1) yes, I understand Amazon’s scoring well enough, and more important (2) they haven’t substantially changed the concept since the last time I was paying attention.
I fully admit to having the human/writer in me rooting the little collection on, urging those numbers higher. But that’s not the point of my work here. And, I’ll admit that when the numbers fade—which for this project will almost certainly be fairly soon—I’ll have to fight the despondency that comes along with the ebbing tide. But, perhaps not oddly, looking at it this way is valuable there, too. I already know the numbers will fade. The question is how long will it take? Will a review slow the process, and by how much? When the “random” spike of sales hits a day or two later, how far will it bump again?
So, yeah, when writers talk about reviews and rankings and whatnot, I know what they are talking about. From the perspective of the creative brain I agree that focusing on these things is a pretty big danger. If you can’t separate your creative from your business, I agree its best to just ignore it all and move onto the next project.
But if you can break that plane of thought, and if you have the right project at the right time, you can use this kind of data to get a real feel for how the world around you works.
For me, that’s important. Or at least kinda fun.
Then again, maybe I’m just weird.
You can help keep the little collection that could in the upper ranges of its little niche by grabbing your own copy!
Yesterday is death. Today is decay. Tomorrow is discovery.