Well, it was time for another post, and Mike made the below comment, and once again, I was well into another long winded reply before I realized this was more appropriate as a post than as a comment. So once again, here is Mike’s question, followed by my reply:
You make some good points. However, I’m approaching this from a different perspective. While it’s possible that many of the people who bought Half Past Midnight would have eventually found it and bought it on their own, I don’t think it too likely. You see, I’m just one new, no-name author with a new book – among tens of thousands of others.
I view it like this – I’m an entrepreneur with a new product that I want to use to make a living. Therefore, I have three jobs with regards to this product; create the best product I can (within reason – there must be ROI), package it as attractively as I can (also within reason), and place it in front of people who might be interested in buying it so that it has the best chance of success.
I have covered the first two steps by writing a (hopefully) entertaining story, hiring and working with a first-rate editor, and hiring a cover artist and formatting company to wrap the product up in an attractive package. I’m now working on the third step, and my job is to get my product in front of as many of my target audience as I can, to see if it’s something they would be interested in buying. I think we can all agree that if they never see it, the odds of purchasing go down considerably.
But here’s the thing – if I simply place the product out there and hope people find it on their own, the odds of them ever seeing it remain very slim. Books that are way down on the sales chart tend to stay way down on the sales chart – unless something happens to raise them up. Look at it like this, if my book is rated #1000 in the Action/Adventure category, and #100,000 of all Paid books, what are the chances that Joe Q. Public will ever see it? It’s up to me to do something to make it more visible. And that’s where I have to learn to work the system.
When you’re ranked that low, you are among the tens of thousands of other new authors, many of whom are not really serious about making it as a writer. Most of them are going to be the folks who have always wanted to write a book, but never wanted to put in the effort that it takes to make it successful. (Remember the video that Justin put out on DRS?)
I like to think of this as the free-market version of the traditional slush pile. If these were the days of “traditional” publishing, there would be junior editors at the publishing house sifting through the slush pile, looking for the gem that is worth putting some time into. That is part of what they deemed as their job as “the gatekeepers”. But anyone in the industry knows that the traditional model has been turned up on its ear. The role of traditional houses as gatekeepers has been negated by the new technologies that make it so easy for us to self-publish. But the other side of that coin is that it is now up to the individual author to raise themselves out of that slush pile on their own.
As I said, most of the books that are that far down in the listings are stagnant. But believe it or not, that can actually work to your advantage. When a book is that far down, the sale of a single unit can temporarily move it up in rank. The sale of four or five books in a short timeframe can move it up quite a lot. I know of a fellow author whose novel went from around #196,000 to around #45,000 with only four sales in one day.
Now think about what can happen if you can sell a few hundred in a few hours! And beyond the abrupt climb in sales ranking, there is another, less obvious advantage that can be triggered here. You also stand a good chance of hitting Amazon’s list of “Movers and Shakers“. These are books that have jumped dramatically on the rankings charts, and there are a lot of people who watch that list to find the next “breakout” book – which in turn leads to even more sales – which brings you further up in the rankings – which gets you more exposure – which gets you more sales…
Remember my comments on the Ouroboros effect in my earlier post?
Now, I’ve heard lots of people more knowledgeable than myself talk about Amazon’s algorithms. I don’t pretend to understand it all, but I do know that getting your product out to as many people as possible is only part of the equation. To maximize your sales potential, you have to get your product out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible! Otherwise, you will never get the visibility necessary to continue to make the sales.
Basically, there are several things you want to use on Amazon. I already mentioned the Movers and Shakers list. There are also the Top 100 category lists and the “Also Bought” lists. These lists help keep you visible in the groups of people who are already interested in the kind of stories you write. Conventional wisdom also says that choosing your genre category or sub-category is also very important. I have read blog posts by other authors who will intentionally bypass an obvious category to publish under, so that they can hit another, lesser used sub-category with a higher ranking. I currently have my book listed as “Action & Adventure”, but I could just as easily have listed it as a “Thriller”. I don’t know how that would have worked out, but there is obviously some overlap, since during my POI experiment, HPM ended up moving into the Top 100 list for Thriller as well as A&A.
And I will go back again and mention that getting high enough in your sub-category gets you more exposure. And once again, more exposure means more sales, which can bring you higher up on the coveted Top 100 of all Kindle books sold. That’s not top 100 in your category, that’s all books. I keep coming back to it, but it all boils down to getting that exposure. You know the old ko-an about the tree falling in the woods, with no one around to hear? I don’t want to be that tree. I want to be the tree that people have to block off the road for, that stops traffic and has everyone’s attention. That’s the tree people notice.
I keep banging this same drum. Sorry. There are likely hundred of other ways to make it as a writer, and I’m doing my best to learn about them. But one thing I’ve learned that seems to work well is to get the best exposure you can that will give you a rapid climb in ranking. That has to be the result of some sort of advertising or marketing campaign. Whether it’s a day of free giveaways, or a paid ad, the best ROI seems to be exposure to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, to prime that old Ouroboros express.
On the other hand, you have to remember to keep working on the next project. Keep writing.
And on that note, I think I’ve rambled on enough here. It’s time to take my own advice and get back to writing.