Self-Publishing Part 11: Amazon Lists, Best of This, That, or the Other Thing ​

by wlancehunt in Personal Narrative

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

Amazon lists appear at first flush to be the Holy Grail of big-data sales accuracy. Amazon knows what was sold, when, by whom, to whom, and for some Kindle versions, even how many pages have been read: Finally, the El Dorado of sales accuracy.

Except it’s not.

Starting with the obvious, these numbers, by definition, includes only those books sold on Amazon, and then exclusively for a particular region. While it’s the number one book retailer in the world, it’s hardly the only one. Even online. At best, it’s a snapshot of total sales, which has an unknown relationship to total sales so it could be a quite accurate or utterly inaccurate picture of life outside that ecosystem, or frankly even within—the sales they report on the Author Book Page comes from Neilson Book Scan*, which already starts with about only 85% percent of sales. On average. Depending. Further, the numbers are severed into physical books and Kindle books. Then, for their top selling this or that list, the books are sliced up into many subcategories, which may or not be genres as most people recognize. In other words, one’s not looking at Amazon’s Big Data numbers at all, unless, perhaps, the author publish through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), and Amazon become both publisher and exclusive bookstore, and here, we must trust them, like all publishers, less of course what sales don’t count—bulk and the like.

For an example of how odd some numbers can be, we’ll follow one path, drilling down from the starting page to the book itself. Starting on the Best Sellers in Books, the landing page is a blend of fiction and non-fiction, with broad categories on the side, which can be drilled down into various subgenres such as Literature & Fiction>World Literature>Russian.

That path leads to a page that starts with War and Peace. Rather an old book to be competing with. It’s had a one and a half century head start. To get something more up to date than failed Napoleonic conquests, one would need to access the “New Releases” tab on the top of the page. Which, unfortunately for Russian writers, simply brings the viewer back to the main page listing new books, and the process must be begun again. This time drilling down to Russian, the number one book finds “Сollection of poems by Mayakovsky.” That’s early 20th century, at least, so only a bit over a century headstart. It’s a new translation from what I can tell, thus slipping onto “Amazon Hot New Releases” so, perhaps it actually is sort of new.

After clicking on the book cover, there is more information about the book, including at the bottom of the page it rankings in various lists:

So, yes a reader can drill down quite far, but how “Poetry of the era of the proletarian revolution” ended up as #25 in the Kindle Short Reads for Teen and Young adult, is quite beyond me, unless it’s a school assignment someplace. That especially considering it’s stuffed between to A Gift for Lara (The Love Letters Series Book 1) and Overcoming Shyness on that same list.

So this collection of translated Russian poetry from the early decades of the twentieth century has 4 ranks: in all Paid Kindle purchases (nearly 19,000th), #4 as a physical book in Russian World Literature, #5 as the Kindle version of same, and then $25 in the non-genera, specialized, “teen and young adult, over two hour short reads in Kindle format”. In other words, Amazon gives a writer a lot of different ways to appear high on a list, diluting what value there is to showing up on one. Like a statistician cutting and re-cutting a set of data to force it to show something—anything at all.

So, even the big data “just the facts” driven Amazon lists are massaged to appeal to their clients, who are legion and splinter into multitudes of niches, likes, and wishes. Amazon obliges everyone by providing slews of just-so lists, teasing the physical from electronic, paid from not, and then multiplying the ways a book can look good, or at least better than near book 19,000th best selling. Who’d want that lame thing?

That’s still a damned sight better than A Perfect Blindness’s # 3,389,121 bestselling rank. But, diving into the slivering of categories, it does a vastly better, #9,143, in “Books>Literature & Fiction>Genre Fiction>Urban life” (whatever that is exactly); or the somewhat better #29,782 in “Books>Literature & Fiction>Erotica>Romantic” (which I understand better, yet wonder about it qualifying for); or the better #90,562 in “Books>Literature & Fiction>Contemporary” (Where it does crack the Top 100—thousand).

I just discovered while doing this exercise that the Kindle version is no longer up on the site, which is odd as that is the only way at least one friend has read it. (On a call to KDP—Kindle Direct Publishing, which I have never had any dealings with—they told me to contact iUniverse as this seems to be something on their end: More lost time. After calling iUniverse, I found out that Amazon kicked all iUniverse kindle books off their site because Amazon thinks they have multiple stores. Or some such thing. No idea. Still not resolved a week later. That is rather gumming up some plans I have…..)

Now, it so happens that I’d snagged the genres the Kindle version had been pushed into back when it first got published, i.e., had no real rankings (dead last?):

  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #673,585 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

o          #3796 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Urban Life

o          #8385 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Urban

o          #66349 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Contemporary Fiction

Notice that in the now de-listed Kindle version was doing much better overall coming in at #600 k, vs. #3.4 million. Was much better in “Urban Life” and “Contemporary Fiction,” but includes “Urban” genre, which it’s just not. I specifically excluded that genera. (I was able to it got taken off eventually.)

By the way, an informed source at the Author Learning Center—Amy Collins of New Shelves Books, a book sales, and marketing agency—explained that these rankings mean far less than where your book appears in searches. I.e., getting ranked highly feels good and looks good on sales copy, but as for having your book appear when people do a search for something to read, it’s only a lesser part of the algorithm that figures out which titles to display the potential reader. Keywords, it turns out, are more carry more weight, especially if they include other titles or writers the book is similar to. Search for Less Than Zero, or Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, the algorithm finds those in reader reviews of A Perfect Blindness and add those facts into the mix to decide what books to display the reader down in the “Customers who bought this item also bought” area at the down the page a bit. (It’s not there yet, but it’s up against Jay McInerney, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, and books like Fight Club, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, so I shouldn’t expect a few words to kick these titles/authors off the list of 100 odd titles there. But it is a start.) Other things that matter include the number of reader reviews (with 25 being some sort of magical number), number of editorial reviews, average rating of reader reviews, how often it’s looked at and sold/vs. looked at and passed over, and if it’s using paid advertising, which should come as no surprise: Amazon is a company driven by profit.

So, being #3.4 million isn’t doom. Just a bummer, a knock on the ego. But as she also said, publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

Speaking of marathons, A Perfect Blindness has been out for almost 6 months. Next time, I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of this long run, including a couple of things I second guess now, and a few that are good, and the realization that keeping at it, persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. (Stealing from Calvin Coolidge as well as Scott Marshall, the guitarist of Mercurial Visions.)


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2 Responses to “Self-Publishing Part 11: Amazon Lists, Best of This, That, or the Other Thing ​”

  1. A marathon indeed, great write up

    • wlancehunt says:

      It’s moved from being a tournament to a marathon: traditional system is a tournament with people dropping out, or getting dropped out (all those rejection slips, which I’m quite familiar with) and only the those that survive getting admitted to the published club to a marathon where getting published isn’t the problem any more, it’s getting noticed. Which takes a beastly amount of time. Thanks for reading, and dig your thought on loving to write as it’s the only time you feel free. I hear man. Feel you.

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