Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NOT Watching the Numbers

One of the more difficult things I find is to ignore how my book ranks on any given bestsellers list. The primary example in my mind is the Amazon Bestsellers list. I’m sure there are many who may argue with me, but for a self-publishing author trying to sell an ebook, the Amazon Bestsellers list is the most important one to be ranked.
Yeah, this is the real sales chart of Nobody from the start.
What about the New York Times Bestsellers List? For any author, that is the preeminent list to appear. Your title appearing on that list announces to the world that you have arrived as an author. But good luck getting on that list if you are self-published. NYT has traditionally ignored self-published authors. The only exceptions to this are those who are selling millions of copies. It’s hard to ignore a self-published book that is being bought up by almost everyone and is being turned into movies. The New York Times only began listing ebooks less than three years ago, when it became impossible to ignore the sales figures in and the growth of the ebook market.
USA Today, another big list for an author to appear on, does list self-publishing authors, and they were an early lister of ebook rankings. More than a few self-publishing authors had sales of their ebooks skyrocket after appearing on USA Today’s list. I remember reading an article about two or three years ago that commented it was USA Today’s policy to list self-published ebooks that pressured New York Times to add ebooks to their list. (I think it is safe to assume that NYT would disagree with that notion.)
Still, the leader in ebook sales is Amazon. People looking to buy books for their Kindle, that is the first place they will go. When Amazon is listing a hot book high in their top-100, it will get noticed by people perusing that list for their next read. Also, a hot selling book will be automatically added to the weekly promotional email, advising readers about new books they may want to read. 
The importance of bestsellers lists brings up the chicken and the egg problem: do sales drive the bestsellers lists or do the bestsellers lists drive sales? The answer is, Yes, to both.
Your book won’t appear an any bestsellers list if it doesn’t sell any copies. It won’t necessarily appear on a list if it sells a bunch of copies. But it will sell a LOT more copies if it does appear in the bestsellers lists.
So why would I want to ignore where I stand on the bestsellers list if that ranking position is so important to selling more books? It’s because sometimes that number doesn’t exactly represent how well my book is selling.
I’ve sold a few hundred copies of Nobody since releasing it over two months ago. While this isn’t exactly raking in the dough, it does put sales of Nobody ahead of other books in fantasy and science fiction compared to when they were initially released and went on to become hits.
Since the release, I’ve watched my ranking swing widely up and down, ranking as high as #8,000, and sinking to as low as #200,000 and back again. Whenever it takes a huge dive in the rankings, it usually means that some big-name author has just released their latest title. My biggest single drop was about 80,000 ranks, a few weeks ago when Nora Roberts, John Grisham and Steven King all released new books at the same time on the same weekend. It’s happened a number of times, each caused by a top-end author releasing a title. It simply shows how the ranking system works on Amazon. It isn’t just your book being ranked, it is everybody else’s books, too. When someone’s goes up, others are going to get knocked down.
Watching my rank plummet like that was very disheartening. It doesn’t exactly help the creative process when I see numbers like that. That’s when the second-guessing begins. Did I make the right choice in pursuing this? Can I really afford to continue on with the second book?
Yet, within a day or so, my rank would snap back up to where it was before the big releases. Sales have continued at a fairly steady pace, which is not reflected by the rank. Or, perhaps another way of putting it is because sales have been steady, my rank keeps snapping back to where it was, in spite of the occasional big dips. Reviews on Nobody continue to be strongly positive.
Because of this, I decided to ignore the weight of my ranking. To avoid the issues with seeing that rank sink.
With positive reviews, steady sales, and a good start out of the gate, I believe that Nobody has what it takes to be a hit. It is merely a matter of getting more people interested in reading it. That means getting the word out.
What does it take for a book to be a hit?
The general metric seems to be around 10,000 copies sold would indicate that a book is a hit. But you have to take time into consideration. A book selling 10,000 copies over a 30-year period would not be considered as much of a hit as a book that sells 10,000 copies in a week.
A best seller would be selling 10,000 copies or more per day.
One author described the path of his novel’s success. For almost two years, it was selling about a dozen per month. It was the last three months of that period that something changed. His sales went from a dozen per month to a dozen per week and then per day. The next month he broke 3,000 copies in one month, then the next he passed 10,000. Another author gave a similar account. She wrote her book, put it up as an ebook, and went back to her regular life. She even forgot about checking up on her ebook. It was several months later when she hit an ATM machine and happened to glance at her receipt as she was walking away. The balance was several thousand dollars too high! When she got home, she jumped online to check her bank accounts expecting to find trouble and discovered that the extra money came from royalty payments. Her book had been discovered by readers three months earlier and became a hit.
Both authors quit their day jobs.
Successes like these help remind me that I can make it as an author. I just have to keep pushing it—and myself—along. Hopefully, this might also help other people make that decision to just go for it and start writing. What ultimately determines one’s success as an author is the quality of the story being written. If you can weave a good tale, people will want to read it.
So, while I do keep an eye on the numbers, I also try not to watch them too closely so I can focus on writing. There are a few hundred readers out there who are eagerly awaiting Dragon to hit the shelves!

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