Amazon Book Sales Rankings Explained

The following guest post comes from Rob Eager of WildFire Marketing. It first appeared on his blog

Have you ever suffered from a bout of Amazon fever? It’s a strange condition that can take over an author’s brain and compel him or her to peek at the Amazon sales ranking for their book 10 – 20 times per day. Each time you look, you pray that the ranking will improve before you check it again in another hour. Authors who catch this fever might even get up in the middle of the night to see how their rankings fared after the sun went down. Going cold turkey and avoiding the rankings altogether is an option. But, freedom from the fever sometimes requires an intervention, which is why I wrote this article.

I’ve battled the fever myself, and many of my consulting clients struggle with the problem as well. It can be addictive to see how your books are performing on Amazon, where the vast majority of books are purchased. Besides, it’s easy to reason that authors need a quick way to gauge sales without having to call the publisher, check BookScan, or wait for a royalty check.

However, most people know that Amazon sales rankings must be taken with a grain of salt. The company guards their algorithm like gold in Fort Knox. No one knows how accurate the numbers really are. In fact, even the staff at Amazon has admitted their system isn’t completely precise. Thus, why even bother?

Actually, Amazon sales rankings can provide helpful clues about the performance of a book during a campaign. Plus, the rankings can help compare how similar titles are faring against each other. Since Amazon practically owns the book retail market, it’s easier for authors to judge immediate response to specific marketing activities by checking one website. In addition, the rankings give self-published authors a way to prove that their sales can be every bit as good as an established writer.

Yet, what do Amazon sales rankings really mean for a book and should you care? My answer is yes and no. I don’t mean to sound hypocritical, but the reality is that the rankings can only provide a ballpark idea on actual sales. Amazon updates the rankings every 60 – 90 minutes, so the numbers constantly fluctuate throughout the day. A book could have a good ranking in the morning and a worse ranking that same evening. Therefore, you never get numbers that are solid enough to make big decisions on its own. At best, the rankings can show real-time sales momentum or a lack of consumer interest. If you want to draw any real conclusions, it’s always best to include actual sales data from more reliable sources, such as BookScan. But, is it possible for Amazon rankings to give any reasonable insights? Here’s an example.

Earlier this year, I helped a New York Times bestselling author launch a new book. During the pre-order campaign, we found that the Amazon sales rankings provided a decent indication of sales momentum. That’s because my author client offered a series of special gifts to encourage pre-orders. In order for people to receive the pre-order gifts, they had to go to the author’s website, provide their retailer receipt number, and tell how many copies they purchased. I captured this customer information each day in a database, and then compared the data to the book’s daily Amazon ranking over time.

Before I discuss the results, let me emphasize that everything you see is purely a guess. There are no hard and fast rules. Do NOT quote these numbers or assume they will directly match your specific book sales. I simply conducted this exercise to prove a series of other important points, which I’ll mention in a minute. Here’s how the Amazon sales rankings translated into customer purchases according to one book that I tracked:

Amazon Sales Ranking = Copies Sold on Amazon:
2,500 = 30 – 75 per day
5,000 = 15 – 30 per day
7,500 = 5 – 15 per day

10,000 = 25 – 40 per week
100,000 = 5 – 10 per week
150,000 = 1 – 5 per week

300,000 = 5 per month
500,000 = 1 per month or less

Note: Numbers ONLY reflect book sales at Amazon. Other retailers are not included.

Why would I show you this information when it’s just a guess that cannot be trusted? For several important reasons:

1. As you can see, a good sales ranking of 7,500 or less doesn’t mean you’re actually selling that many books. Those numbers mean anywhere from 5 – 75 copies per day. That’s quite a wide range and doesn’t mean you’ll get rich anytime soon. Even if you maintained sales of 75 copies per day for a really long period of 30 consecutive days, you would only sell 2,250 total units.

Therefore, there is NO reason to brag to anyone about your Amazon sales ranking. In contrast, there is no reason to get depressed if your sales ranking is worse than other authors or books you see. The only authors selling a ton of books on Amazon are those with rankings less than 500 who maintain that level for multiple months. Those are the icons of the industry with major publishers and massive resources behind their campaigns.

As another example, I consulted on a backlist book that consistently maintained an Amazon sales ranking of less than 500, which is amazingly rare. But, it typically sold only 2,500 – 3,500 copies per week. Yes, that’s way above average, but no one is retiring to a private island on those numbers.

2. More importantly, if you tell people that your book is a #1 bestseller on Amazon, it means absolutely nothing. Any author who makes such a claim smacks of desperation and a lack of ethics. Here’s why:

a. First, any author can mount a marketing campaign that spikes their book to #1 for a brief period of time – maybe one day or two. But, that spike is a fleeting moment, which quickly drops off. If a book gets to #1, you could use my chart above and guess that it sold 100, 250, or even 1,000 copies in one day. That’s good, but it’s still not that many copies.

Then, what about the next day when the ranking quickly falls off to 500, 2,500, or 5,000? Sales are back to modest amounts of 50 – 100 per day. Therefore, a brief spike to #1 doesn’t mean a lot of books were actually sold. In order to hit the legitimate bestseller lists, such as the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, or Publishers Weekly, you’ve got to sell around 5,000 copies or more in a week. (Amazon now has their own official bestseller list called Amazon Charts.)

Telling people your book made it to #1 on Amazon is like telling someone you’re the fastest runner in your neighborhood. It’s doesn’t mean you actually sold many books, and it doesn’t mean you’re actually a fast runner. Your neighborhood could be full of slow people. Or, a faster neighbor might have been out of town the day you decided to race. You get my point. No one really knows if it’s true, and no one really cares. Authors who make ridiculous claims about being #1 on Amazon look foolish, because they take an unverifiable number and make a big deal out of it. However, the public doesn’t look very smart either when no one challenges these preposterous claims.

b. Second, there is an even more bizarre issue. Some authors now claim to be #1 on Amazon in a specific category, such as women’s issues, advertising books, or even “children’s pig books” (yes, that category actually exists). These arbitrary categories are a distant cousin of the main Amazon sales ranking list. And, if you know anything about distant cousins in real life, they’re usually out of touch with the main family.

I’m shocked by how many authors and publishers will go out of their way to display “#1 Amazon bestseller” on their websites, press releases, blogs, Facebook pages, and even back cover copy. Are we so desperate for accolades that we resort to making up random awards with no basis in fact or actual sales data?!

Just because a book is temporarily #1 in an arbitrary category on Amazon means nothing. For instance, at the time of writing this article, below are rankings for three book categories that I randomly selected:

  • The #1 book in “Mortgages and Real Estate” is #3,353 overall on Amazon.
  • The #1 book in “Advertising Graphic Design” is #13,771 overall on Amazon.
  • The #1 book in “Mice, Hamsters & Guinea Pigs” is #34,444 overall on Amazon.

As you can see, being #1 in a specific category is a far cry from being #1 on Amazon overall. Not many books are actually being sold. Plus, the rankings fluctuate by the hour. So, claiming to be top dog in a random Amazon category is like claiming to be the biggest Chihuahua at a dog park. It doesn’t make sense.

Here’s the real issue. When authors make unsubstantiated claims about their Amazon rankings, they tend to ignore solid principles that could actually help sell more books. If you want to be considered a real bestseller, earn it through legitimate marketing efforts that create results:

  • Learn to master the pre-order sales process
  • Build a large email list
  • Create joint partnerships with other successful authors
  • Secure more speaking engagements and media interviews
  • Spend more money on advertising

For instance, what if I touted myself as the “#1 Book Marketing Consultant in the World”? Who sets the standard and how would anyone know the difference? I could display that title on my website, but you’d probably think I was a little over the top and question your ability to trust me.

Writing and marketing a book requires hard work that can already make an author seem a little crazy. Why make things worse by creating silly claims about a book’s Amazon ranking? Being an author with a book on Amazon is a rare achievement by itself. We get the unique opportunity to educate, inspire, and entertain the world. There’s no need to work ourselves into a frenzy and manufacture false accolades. Take this article and use it as my prescription to forever avoid getting Amazon fever.

—–

Rob Eagar is one of the most accomplished book marketing experts in America and a leading specialist in the field of direct-to-consumer sales. Rob’s consulting firm, Wildfire Marketing, has attracted numerous bestselling authors, including Dr. Gary Chapman, DeVon Franklin, Lysa TerKeurst, Wanda Brunstetter, and Dr. John Townsend. As an expert in direct-to-consumer marketing, Rob also helps companies and non-profits build Million Dollar Email Lists that create seven-figure revenue and donations. Rob is the author of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire (published by Writers Digest), which is considered the bible of book marketing.

“Fever” image courtesy of David Dominici Castillo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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How to make what’s old NEW again

Memo to every writer: even if your book is years old to you, it’s new to every reader who just now picked it up.

This is why your marketing role as an author is never over: as long as your book is available somewhere, it’s going to be new to someone, somewhere. In fact, as I take a break from writing new books, I’m finding more than enough marketing to do for my old books as I reach out to new audiences. Here are three of my favorite strategies for making those old books new again:

  1. Mine the treasure trove of content that exists in others’ reviews of your books. I make it a habit now to check every few months on each of my books’ reviews page on Amazon.com, because there are still new reviews popping up on even my oldest books. A new review means I have new content to share on my social networks about the book, and since my networks continue to grow, there are always some folks who’ve missed out on posts from earlier years/reviews. It’s a simple way to give my audience another nudge towards a specific book, and it just might be the nudge that leads a reader into new genres, as well. I know my reading tastes change with time; remembering that reminds me to continue to promote my books to both old and potential new readers, and it also leads to my second strategy…
  2. Find current events or posts or trends that you can link to the topics of your books. My Birder Murder Mystery series, for example, also deals with conservation issues, so whenever something such as wind farms or habitat destruction is in the news, I can develop and share content on the topic that points readers to my books. Likewise, when neuroscience is a trending topic, I try to post a few comments about the research that went into my science-and-faith thriller Heart and Soul and then include a link to the book page. By paying close attention to what other people are talking about, I can always find something to contribute to the conversation; if it catches the interest of someone, I’ve reached another reader.
  3. Review your reviews for new keywords. As you wrote your book, you probably had certain themes or angles that you emphasized. When you read what others thought of your book, however, you might find that they zeroed in on other facets of your work. As I wrote Saved by Gracie, my memoir of adopting our dog, I was intent on telling the story of how the dog helped me overcome my anxiety issues, but after a few book reviews came in, I realized that women were responding even more to the sense of shame we carry for being depressed. That discovery three years ago redirected my marketing efforts and continues to produce new readers today.

How do you make your old books NEW?

Making Connections as a Writer

Business People Meeting Corporate Digital Device Connection Concept

In my previous post, Connecting with People at Conventions, I discussed how writers can connect with people at various convention events such as exhibit hall displays, main sessions, workshops, luncheons, and receptions. While meeting people in person provides great opportunities for a writer to reconnect with key individuals as well as make new friends, most of the time writers need to communicate with people at a distance. Here are some ideas for connecting with people through technology.

  1. Magazine and Journal Editors – Even after you have written a book, keep writing articles for magazines and journals. You will find that writing these shorter pieces helps you pursue fresh ideas as a writer and keeps your name in front of readers. If you have met editors at writer’s events or conventions, send them an email to follow up on potential writing opportunities. If you discussed potential topics with an editor in person, send a query for an article that fits the publication’s current needs. If you have not already done so, connect with the publication through social media, liking the page on Facebook or following the account on Instagram, Twitter, or other social media sites. These social media connections will assist you in determining what articles are most suited to the publication and how a finished article will appear online.
  2. Agents and Publishing House Editors – If you are seeking to publish your first book through a traditional publisher, you most likely will need to communicate with a publishing house through a literary agent. During the publication process, your literary agent will give you suggestions as you hone your book proposal (nonfiction) or manuscript (fiction), so you want to find an agent who understands and enjoys books in your genre. If you have met a potential agent in person, follow up with a letter sent through email introducing your background (education, professional interests, previous writing experience) and a one-paragraph description of your potential book. If the agent is interested, the next step will be a scheduled telephone conversation to verify that the agent’s interests align with yours. After you sign a contract with your literary agent, he or she will communicate with publishing house editors until you sign a publishing house contract.
  3. Bloggers and Readers – If you have connected with bloggers and readers at conventions or speaking engagements, use social media to maintain the connection. Comment on blogs, guest post, and interact with readers through your social media accounts. Make sure you end each presentation at a workshop or speaking engagement with a slide providing your social media contact information. Focus on maintaining the social media connections with individuals and organizations whose values and focus match your readers. However, welcome connections that expand your reader base. Be aware that articles on the Internet can be taken out of context, especially with the passage of time, so use caution when deciding whether or not to write a guest post for a particular blog or agree to an interview.

How do you use technology to connect with people as a writer?

Connecting with People at Conventions

Happy businesswoman talking to colleague at lobby in convention center

Writers connect with people all the time through the written word. However, every so often, a writer might have the opportunity to connect with large groups of colleagues and potential readers at conventions. Think of conventions in the area of interest of your book, conventions of organizations to which you belong, and conventions attended by publishers and other writers. While each convention will vary in the number of attendees, the opportunities to exhibit books and materials, and the types of workshops offered, here are some ideas about connecting with people in three areas common to most conventions:

  1. Exhibit Hall Displays: In addition to being a great way to collect pens and small marketing freebies, exhibit halls offer the opportunity to learn about products related to your work and meet people in your field. Take the time to engage in conversation with people in display booths. If possible, take advantage of the chance to display your books and materials. Few writers will find it practical to pay for a separate display booth, but many writers can take advantage of shared display spaces. If your publisher has a booth at the convention you are attending, ask if you could have a time to greet people at the booth and sign books. If you are allotted a shared display space, prepare materials in advance that meet the set specifications for the space. In addition to your books, prepare small marketing materials that people can have for free that connect them to your business. Spend time manning your display space, but also set up the space to work for you when you are attending other events at the convention.
  2. Sessions and Workshops: The key to juggling time in the exhibit halls with attendance at the sessions and workshops offered at a convention is choosing the most relevant events to attend. If the convention involves voting during the organization’s business sessions, carve out time to make your voice heard by voting on the issues important to you and casting your vote for officers of your organization. If given the opportunity to present a workshop at the convention, prepare materials for participants and provide your social media and other contact information on the last slide of your presentation.
  3. Luncheons and Receptions: Luncheons, dinners, and receptions offer a more relaxed atmosphere to engage in conversations with people. Register in advance for the events where you will find people most interested in what you have to offer and  where you can connect with people that will help you grow in your career, business, or writing expertise. Remember that actively listening to other people is the key to making new connections. Talking to people from across the country or even around the world who have flown in to the attend the convention will expand your perspective and provide insights into the needs of the people you serve. Exchange business cards so you can carry on the conversation  long after the convention has ended.

How do you connect with people at the conventions you attend?

7 Slippery-Slope Reasons Writers Shouldn’t Blog

 

Yes, I know. I am a writer and this is a blog post about not writing blogs. Irony is everywhere. Embrace it. But this topic still matters because many publishers urge authors to start and maintain a blog. Should you? Start the slope with me, then decide for yourself:

  1. Blogging can create a dopamine addiction, a Pavlovian instant-feedback dependence. Especially when you’re working on manuscripts that take a year or three; it’s a long silent drive with no one in the car. That immediate rush of reader response can derail the long obedience of writing (riding) patiently to a distant destination. And clearly, then…
  2. It also steals precious time away from long form writing and from writing articles with larger readerships and influence. Even if you only post once a week (as I do), even that can take the entire day, which means one workday out of five is gone. Not to mention the time taken to respond to every comment, which you absolutely should do.
  3. Because of this, and because you never have enough time to write, and because you know #1 and #2 are true, you will then decide to write your blog as efficiently as possible, which then means hasty pasty work that can degrade your artistry and your own standards of excellence. You blog to create a “brand,” but maybe your blogging “brand” tarnishes your book brand? But…
  4. It won’t matter and you won’t care because now advertisers are at your gate and you’re soon selling so much merchandise you realize you could do this full time with a few small adjustments to your editorial content and your wardrobe and your housewares, which you now feature because you’ve become such a commodity you spend most of your time taking photos and signing contracts rather than crafting paragraphs. Or…
  5. Just as easily, You become a political crankcase. Though you never plan this, the immediacy of blogging, the outrageousness of current politics and the catharsis you imagine awaits you after verbal tirades and blood-letting on your blog can oh-so-siren-song you into becoming a self-righteous rant-er in your beloved space which you once intended for the literary care and feeding of others. It will happen so gradually you won’t even notice until eventually…
  6. You will see yourself as a social/medical/educational/historical/everything commentator as knowledgeable about every current hot issue as the next guy and, armed with opinions you no longer want to waste, you deputize yourself and spend your energy preventing the demise of the free world or whatever your current passion has become now that you’re a Truth-warrior and Word-slinger rather than a writer. But also, you could slide the other way and…
  7. Care so much about your readers who are themselves tired of the sensationalized fake-newsy rants of the blogosphere that you spend your time devising outlandishly clever posts that occasionally include YouTubes about goats to prod your weary readers into liking and sharing your freakish brilliance. In other words, you’re writing simply for their attention rather than writing about what you really care about which doesn’t work at all, Or it does work and because you now have 50,000 followers, you decide to run for political office or move to L.A. to try stand-up comedy. Failing in both, you move back in with your parents and get a job designing slipper socks. You forgot you ever wanted to write.

You could end up here OR, you could slide another way and discover that life is strangely riddled with holiness and your weekly posts press you to find the divine you might otherwise miss. And around those words a collection of strangers begins to gather into neighbors you soon love who join you in this weekly act of holy listening. And before you know it seven years have gone by and you know many by their names and this wondrous crazy life now belongs in some way to all of you. And you may sell more books or you may not, you don’t keep track because you’re too busy writing and writing and all you know is you never want to stop.

Should you blog? You decide.

Seven Steps to Guaranteed Success as a Writer

Every author seems to have a different idea of what “success” in their field means to him or her. For some, selling at least five thousand (in Canada) or ten thousand (in the States) books, thereby qualifying them to claim the lofty title of “Bestselling Author” is the goal on which they set their sights. For others, maybe it’s a hundred thousand copies, or a million.

For some, it isn’t about the numbers, but about awards. But which award is the one that will make them feel as though they have finally arrived? Is it the Carol? The Christie? The Pulitzer? I’ve noticed several big-name authors who have won awards in the past entering the contests again, so maybe one award isn’t enough. What, then, is the magic number?

Or maybe it’s a certain amount of positive feedback, a sufficient number of glowing reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, recognition at conferences or even on the streets, enough followers on social media.

You see the problem. Success is a wildly ambiguous and deeply personal concept. Chasing that elusive label can be and, I suspect, is in most cases, a discouraging, disheartening, and depressing endeavor. The intended audience for our work can be mind-numbingly uncooperative when it comes to providing us with the accolades, reviews, purchases, and general awestruck-ness in our presence that would finally push us up to that mountain peak we are continually scrambling to reach. So too, for that matter, can agents, publishers, editors, and judges of contests.

Success1

A month ago I posted on this site about my love-hate relationship with Christian writing awards. I have to admit I am coming down a little harder on the side of love these days as my books are currently finalists for five awards. Am I encouraged? Definitely. Am I grateful, honored, and excited? Absolutely. Am I able to bring myself to claim that I am now a successful author as a result of these affirmations? Not even close.

So what is the solution? To continue to blindly stumble along, attempting to achieve some random number of readers or books sold or reviews in order to feel that I am now a success? Or is it possible that I, as a Christian author, need to look at the whole success thing from an entirely different perspective? If so, the perspective that is inevitably the best one to try to view things from is that of Jesus. During his time on earth, Jesus said some radical, countercultural things about success. He suggested that “making it to the top” in the eyes of the world was not only a poor measure of success, but could, in fact, be considered spiritually detrimental because it is those who are the least in the eyes of the world who are the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

Not that we should refuse to work hard or strive for excellence. Quite the contrary. Working diligently and doing our best honors God. The difference is in the motivation. The Bible teachers that everything we do should be done as to the Lord, and not unto man. By that standard, our success cannot truly be measured by sales, awards, or accolades bestowed on us by other human beings.

For an author who believes, then, success can only be defined by whether or not our work accomplishes the purpose God has for it. So here, in my humble opinion, are seven steps to follow in order to be guaranteed success in your writing:

1)      Listen for and receive the words God has for you to write

2)      Study the craft so that you can write those words in a way that honors the one who gave them to you

3)      Humbly accept feedback and editing that makes the work better and stronger

4)      Pray about the best platform for your work to appear on

5)      When the story or teaching God has given you does come out in written form and become available to others, seek His guidance as to the best way to use the resources of time, money, and connections he has gifted you with in order to market and promote that work

6)      Pray that God’s will may be done through the words you have written

7)      Leave the results to him

If I follow the above steps and don’t find success in the eyes of the world—however I or other people may define that—I can still trust that the plans God has for my work have been or will be fulfilled, whether or not he ever reveals those plans to me. And I can let go of all my strivings, and rest in the sure and certain knowledge that my work is a resounding success.

Are We Authors or Salespeople?

bookI’ve been in a quandary lately. I’ve been writing for 6½ years on my blog, self-published my first book in 2013, and came out with my best book, Hot, Holy & Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design, through WordServe and BroadStreet Publishing last year. And I’m still not making much income.

Yes, I wholly appreciate the deal my agency made for me, and it was a solid entry into the traditional publishing market. But the truth is, while we’re happy for the Max Lucados and Francine Riverses of the publishing world, the majority of working authors don’t make a huge income.

Other than good timing and a spat of luck (or is it?), what can we do to increase our income?

Thankfully, I have two close friends with marketing backgrounds. Not so thankfully, they recently told me everything they think I’m doing wrong in marketing myself and my books. Okay, I’m actually thankful for that too, but it was tough to hear them chide me for not pushing my product more.

Why have I struggled with effectively advertising my book? With talking up my writing and speaking? With marketing my brand?

Part of it is that I’m by nature not much of a salesperson. I was that introverted kid who, when asked to fund-raise for whatever activity I was involved in, barely made her quota because selling to people was such a painful experience.

Another part is this sense that I’m in ministry, and shouldn’t my primary goal be helping people rather than making a buck? Yet Romans 4:4 says, “When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.” Even people in helping professions deserve to be paid. And you and I both know that writing a book isn’t an easy task: You earned a paycheck.

Practically speaking, I need to fund my ministry. I could get a job doing something else that promises a specific and consistent income, but then I wouldn’t be able to keep writing—at least not at my current rate. Some of you are currently working jobs you’d love to quit so that you could focus on your writing and your godly message. Increasing our income means we can pay our bills, build a nest egg, and still write. We don’t need million-dollar mansions, but we do need enough to take care of our families. As 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

One more challenge is that while it can be hard to sell generally, it’s even harder to sell yourself. Sure, we sell our content and our stories, but our name is emblazoned on the book cover. And as Christians, we might wonder if it smacks of pride to be pushing our brand — our brand being ME.

However, I’ve realized that it’s not about me, J. Parker, being a success. Rather, I’m passionate about my message. That message reflects what I believe about God’s design for marriage, and it’s a message I want to get out to as many wives as possible. Spreading a godly message or theme is a worthy goal, one many Christian authors have.

Thus, I’m trying to make a mental shift to talking more about my book, to seeking out advertising opportunities, to promoting my writing and speaking in new formats and forums.

In short, I’m becoming a salesperson.

Because when my book sells, my family benefits from more income, but my reader also benefits from reading my book and God’s message is spread even further. That sale is a win-win-win.