Let’s be honest. Whether you’re a debut author or a seasoned veteran, there’s always a slight fixation on the numbers. One of the few places that you can glean understanding is from the Amazon Rankings system. Is it perfect? Definitely not. Does it account for success in Indie stores? Nope. Might it be a bad barometer for someone whose book Barnes and Noble decided to back in a huge way? Or Target? Of course it might.
But here’s the thing. Amazon Rankings are a tool. I’ve always felt like we should use the tools we have to gain better understanding of the industry we’re in. I’m going to run through some concepts that I’ve noticed as I’ve watched the Amazon Rankings, and hopefully they’ll help out newer authors who are trying to make heads or tails of what’s happening:
8. Last but not least… Leave this if it isn’t useful. Honestly, if this stresses you out. Don’t look at it. Don’t worry about it. Write your books. Enjoy not looking at any of this. I am a very strategic person. I’m a numbers junkie. I 100% love to know how things work, and where I stand within the larger system. It’s just how my brain functions. So I want to know how all of this operates, and what the numbers mean. You might not. As with ANY writing/publishing advice, I’d encourage you to take what’s useful, and leave what’s not.
(***I moved this up to number one so that people who don’t really want to ruin their headspace on these issues can just avoid this blog post like the plague***)
1. Ranges- This is not full proof, but I have figured out a few ranges that exist on Amazon. If your book is in the 2,500-5,000 range for a week: you could expect anywhere from 500-750 book sales on Bookscan. 5,000-15,000 range would be closer to 250 that week. 20,000-30,000 is going to land you somewhere in the 100 range. I think anything beyond 50,000 should give you an indicator of 50 or less sales that week. Of course, this depends on your other activities. If I’m visiting a school or attending a festival, I might see these fluctuate accordingly.
2. How do I know I’m in bestseller range? Again, this is for young adult books, not for MG (which rely more on library sales) and not for adult (which has a much higher threshold to hit the list). After watching this for a long time, I think you have to go sub 1000 in Amazon’s rankings to hit the list. Again, this is not a flawless indication. Someone who’s backed by Indie bookstores in a really big way? They might have a weaker ranking and still hit the list if they’re moving a ton of copies through other mediums. It’s also dependent on the week. There are weeks in the year where you need to sell 2,500 books to hit the list. There are other weeks where you can slip on the list with 1,200. It just depends on what else is coming out.
This week, Tomi Adeyemi’s CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE actually hit #1 amongst all books on Amazon. It sat in the top ten all week. She will absolutely hit #1 on the YA list. I’d actually guess she’s moving anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 copies this week. That’s significant, because week to week, I think the top book might be selling 5,000-10,000. If you haven’t read her book yet? What the heck are you waiting for? It’s brilliant.
RESTORE ME by Tahereh Mafi has been in the top 500 all week too. I’d guess it crashes the YA list at #4 or #5 (behind Tomi, Angie Thomas, and John Green). There are two other books that I’ve been watching. One has been in the top 1500 pretty much the whole time. Another has stayed around the 2,000 mark. Either one could sneak onto the list at the 9 or 10 spot, but it’s a really competitive week, so it’s possible neither does. We shall see!
3. When is the best time to check these rankings? So I’ve seen days where my sales ranking fluctuates wildly. I’m not sure if Amazon has written about how these work, but some days I’ll see my ranking start the day at 18,000… before falling all the way to 72,000. But when I check the numbers the next morning, that “day” of sales is listed as 28,000. Again, I’m not fully certain, but it feels like you can see the “average” ranking of your book across that day when you look at it the next morning.
4. What’s the deal with these obscure categories? This book is the number one book in “Mysteries about Farmers”… What?! Our debut group has debated this pretty hotly. It’s assumed that the publisher can make some requests regarding which sub categories a book can be listed under. We all have noticed that the little orange tag that says #1 Bestseller in… that obscure category is a positive thing. It seems publishers and authors want that status because it does offer a slight “hey look at me” to anyone surfing around Amazon.
5. Is there such a thing as a Twitter bump? Your favorite author just shouted a debut author on Twitter. What the what!? You have to go check them out! Except Twitter’s not great about getting people to follow links, and it’s not guaranteed to move more books. I followed someone’s numbers after a shoutout by John Green. Dude has some 5 million followers. Has to increase sales right?! Not quite. The Amazon numbers fluctuated slightly, and were lower the next day. Note: It might, however, be more impactful at the indie level. If a bunch of librarians and booksellers follow John Green, they might be inclined to take his advice and write that book title down, so they can check it out at a later point. ALSO, there’s a slight difference between a quick shout out and continual backing. I have noticed that a big named author who talks up a book for months? That can have a serious impact.
6. TV Bump! – Obviously we can’t control being on TV, but that is clearly the biggest impact in sales jumps on Amazon. I’ve seen massive boosts to authors who appear on mainstream television shows for interviews. I think this might be a “duh” point, but it has clear-cut traction that Twitter shoutouts just don’t demonstrate.
7. Remember that the NY Times List is… bizarre. If you don’t already know, there are weeks when someone clearly outsells someone else, but the rankings don’t fully line up with the Bookscan numbers. This is, in part, because Bookscan isn’t fully accurate. It usually reports around 70% of sales for a week. So there’s room for error, and room for a book to be significantly boosted by a book tour, or Indie attention, or whatever. But there’s also some mystery behind how the NY Times makes it selections, and in that mysterious space there’s room for all of what I’ve said here to basically not matter. Sometimes the list shakes out in a way that seems to defy the numbers. It happens.
9. Things not covered here: Kindle sales. I haven’t followed these closely. The one thing I’d say about Kindle sales… A high ranking CAN indicate successful crossover. If a book is constantly in the top 20,000 or so, that means a lot of adults are reading it. That’s something to note as you weigh who is reading your book and who isn’t. I also haven’t mentioned Penguin Random House’s author portal. Apparently other houses don’t have something like this, but we get a specific, day by day update of sales. I think it’s delayed by a week or so as the numbers report, but it’s kind of amazing that we get such an insightful look at our numbers. I always compare those to my BookScan numbers to figure out how my book is really doing.
Anyways. I hope this was super helpful. Let me know if you have questions! Also, if you learned something from this article, consider making my Amazon numbers jump and buying Nyxia, my debut novel. Thanks for reading!