Thursdays with Amanda: Demystifying Amazon’s Sales Ranking System

March 28, 2013 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In the spirit of full disclosure (because that’s what I feel Thursday’s with Amanda are all about), I figured it would be helpful to demystify Amazon’s Sales Ranking system. Well, okay…it’s AMAZON, so we can’t completely demystify it, but I think there are some clues that if every author knew them, it would make the whole thing less confusing and more do-able from a marketing perspective.

We all know that the sales ranking is an indication of how well a book is selling on Amazon in comparison to all of the other books sold on Amazon. Okay, that part is easy enough.

And we also know that the top 100 rankings show up on a special list. Furthermore, we know that there are lists for each category, and a book can rank in THOSE top 100 lists without ranking in the big one. And we know that a book that appears on a top 100 list (ESPECIALLY the main top 100 list), will get more attention and lead to more sales.

Again, this is pretty basic stuff.

What isn’t as easy to determine, is HOW MANY BOOKS DOES AN AUTHOR NEED TO SELL TO GET INTO THE TOP 100? Heck, how many do they need to sell to get into the thousands? The ten thousands?

Here’s where I get very transparent with you, folks. So brace yourself, because I’m about to throw myself and my book out there to the wolves.

My book, The Extroverted Writer, was e-published on March 15. I did a soft launch, because I knew I’d be super busy, and plus, the conference season doesn’t really start until April. So, knowing I’d do a much stronger push come April, but also knowing that book release week is one of the few windows of time in which you can do a hard sell, here’s what I did…

1. I announced the book on my Facebook page.

2. I announced the book twice (I think) on Twitter.

3. I appeared on the Spacefreighters Lounge blog on March 18.

4. I announced the book’s release on this here blog and enlisted your help on March 21.

5. I asked my authors beforehand to Tweet and review the book as they were able (with zero pressure to do either, of course).

And here’s how those couple weeks have gone…

Out of the gate, my sales ranking hovered in the 20- and 30,000s. It dipped during the weekend, but when the blog post hit, it was right back up there. It stayed there for the rest of that first week, as Tweets went out and all of you gave a helping hand (THANK YOU!).

Now are you ready for the truth?

In that first week, I sold less than 100 books.

So what does this tell us?

For a book priced at $4.99, apparently it doesn’t take all that much to get a decent ranking.

Now, this past week, in which I haven’t done much to promote the book at all, I’ve been selling about 1-2 books a day. And my rank? I hover in the 60- and 80,000s.

Again, not too shabby for such small sales numbers.

So why am I telling you this? Why am I baring my soul and my “meh” sales numbers?

I think it’s a wakeup call. It shows that you don’t need to sell millions of books to position well on Amazon. 

Next month, I have about 5 blog posts lined up, along with a webinar, a writer’s conference, and I’ll probably be doing a Facebook promo campaign. So next month, I’ll be seeing whether I can break into the 10,000 ranking range…and again, it’s not as difficult as you may think.

In my experience helping authors do ebooks (a service we offer our authors), I’ve noticed three very valuable things that I’m taking to the bank:

1. Once a book sells 300-400 copies, Amazon begins helping your efforts by recommending the book much more. I’ve seen this double sales by the following month nearly every time.

2. A book with a ranking of 5,000 or so is likely selling 500-800 books per month. That’s not impossible to achieve no matter who you are.

3. Most authors, when they sell 1,000 or so books in a month, they start to give up. They figure they’ve done their part, and now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the ride. Or life gets in the way and their marketing plans become optional.  And that’s when their sales immediately start to fall, meaning Amazon really is a top of mind type of deal. People buy your book depending on how aware they are of it. If you fall off the radar with your marketing, they’ll stop buying it.

Because my book is an ebook that I published myself, I have all the time in the world. I can choose my promo months and schedule it out for what works for me. But any author working with a traditional publisher doesn’t have that luxury. You need to hit the ground running the moment your book releases, and you shouldn’t stop for a breath until 6 months out, when your publisher is beginning to gather and analyze sales info.

A hard truth, but after seeing these numbers…after seeing how it’s really not that hard to make a good impression on Amazon…The whole thing seems a bit less daunting and impossible, doesn’t it? I know it does for me.

Because I KNOW I can sell 300 books in a month. Three hundred books, being the tip of the iceberg.

Do you KNOW the same thing? Do you believe you can do it?

Posted in Marketing and Platforms

  • Laura L. Smith

    very helpful and TIMELY with the launch of Playlist Fiction ebook line on Monday!

  • Meghan Carver

    Wow. Thanks, Amanda, for being so transparent. Someone recently said that they were technically an Amazon bestselling author, but the numbers of books sold didn’t match my definition of bestselling. It seems that Amazon has their own definition. Perhaps I need to reconfigure mine? And yes, I believe I can do it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.luedeke Amanda Luedeke

      All bestselling lists are relative. I’ve been told the NYT lists are based on a handful of store sales over a certain period of time. So yes, be open to reconfiguring how you view the best seller status…because I think it’s doable!

  • http://isaachooke.com/ Isaac Hooke

    Check out Theresa Ragan’s post on Amazon ranking: http://www.theresaragan.com/p/sale-ranking-chart.html

    • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.luedeke Amanda Luedeke

      This is amazing and so helpful. Thank you for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/KitTosello Kit Tosello

    Thanks for this, Amanda. You might be interested to know that while window-shopping on Amazon today your book came up in the first group of books recommended as “new for you.” I wasn’t yet aware you had a new book, but I recognized your name–thought to myself, hey that’s the agent who blogs helpful info! I grabbed it on Kindle. Best wishes for a successful launch.

    • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.luedeke Amanda Luedeke

      Yay! Thanks for the support. And for letting me know I’ve made it to the “recommended” section. Very cool.

  • Becky Doughty

    Amanda – thank you for sharing your experience. I’m self-pubbing my serial novel in volumes (3 monthly episodes to a volume) on all the e-book sellers, too, and I’m trying to grasp this whole system. I’m constantly reminded of how much is on my shoulders to make this work, but I believe in my material, and I know there are others who enjoy the series, so I just need to continue LEARNING the ropes. Your information from personal experience (not another sales pitch!) is very helpful.

    Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/themelissablue.author Melissa Blue

    Having a low ranking and hitting a list heavily relies on what category your book is in. Still involves velocity and how many other books people in your category are selling. But, you’re absolutely right it doesn’t take massive, massive sales. I write contemporary romance and it’ll take 300-500 sales in a day to hit that list (high on the list where the visibility makes the sales for you.) My much smaller category for Multicultural and/or African American takes 50-100 sales to have a decent position on their bestseller list.

    Now getting there and staying there is the tough work, especially if you can barely move 30 books in a month. So, I’ll just say most overnight bestsellers worked a long, long time to get there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Reynolds/100001730976071 Steve Reynolds

    Hi, Amanda, this post makes me want to possibly consider an alternative (and higher paying) career in the janitorial arts or food service industries… :-) Happy Easter to y’all…Stevie

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