Tips and Tricks - Amazon and The First 30 Days

2012-Jun-29 -> from the free-advice-take-it-or-leave-it department Tags: tipsandtricks writing amazon 

Amazon is a fickle thing. They keep lots of secrets, and play hard to get. But there is little doubt that a good understanding of Amazon's ways can go a long way toward having a successful book launch. In fact, Amazon has so much control over your success as an author, that you absolutely must take the time to understand how they work, or you'll only frustrate yourself trying to get your books to move up their ranks.

If I Knew Then What I Know Now...

Many of you know that I'm a full-time software developer by trade. I write my books in my spare time, and publish them as a hobby. I bring this up only because it gives you some background on how I look at the world. I don't see things through a normal person's eyes. If you've ever spent time with a software developer, you'll know that we see things from a unique perspective.

When I look at a system, I don't just see a black box with an input and an output. I see all the inputs and how they relate to each other. I see how a small change in one can create a big change in another. I see the processes, data structures, algorithms and code involved in that system. I can't help it.

It drives my wife nuts sometimes.

Here's the thing: I didn't start looking at Amazon in any real detail until just recently. But now I understand so much more. I wish I had done this a long time ago.

On With the Show

When you first publish a book on Amazon, their system will file your book into a number of lists:

  • Bestseller Lists

  • Popularity Lists

  • Recently Tagged Lists

  • Recently Popular Lists

  • New Release Lists

  • Movers and Shakers

  • Hot New Releases

  • 90-day New Releases

  • and many more.

A great many of these lists are then subdivided by genre, price, and so forth. Amazon is basically just a complex filing system. For the first thirty days, forget all of those, except the New Release list. This is a list of all books that have been released in the last thirty days.

Why forget all the others? Because Amazon's current sales rank system (THE list) bases your position on many factors, but most particularly your last thirty days of sales. If you don't have thirty days in sales, it doesn't count this against you, it simply considers what you DO have. But for the first thirty days, you enjoy some extra publicity. All those grand slam blockbusters that fill the top of the bestseller lists are not in the New Release list (unless they are less than thirty days old) and many of the greatest books of all time are not on this list. It's just you and a whole lot of other fresh meat.

For the first thirty days, if you focus your promotional efforts using a layered approach, you can drive your book to the top of the new release list and pick up a whole lot more sales from people just browsing. More sales = better sales rank = more exposure on Amazon = more sales. See how it works?

Setting the Fire

If you're looking to really make a run at being the next great indie author, consider this advice: don't just create sparks all over the place and expect things to burn. Lay out your tinder, your kindling, and then your wood on top, and when the time is right, you'll only need one spark to set that blaze.

This was a piece of advice that I was given by a very wise indie author by the name of Rodney Walther. He's sold more than 30,000 copies of his book, Broken Laces, and is still sitting up in the top 1000 month after month. So there must be something to this.

What does it mean? It means stop floundering around and wondering what to do. Use a planned approach. Get lots of people on your side: Twitter friends, Facebook friends, book bloggers, reviewers, and yes, even some paid promotions (select these wisely!). Have them all focus on promoting your book in that critical first thirty days, and make sure to carry some forward as well. If you pull it off, your sales rank coming out of those first thirty days will carry you forward for a long time.

A Note About Amazon Select

If you know me, you know how I feel about this program. Having a successful book launch is all about exposure. Limiting yourself to Amazon for your eBook is only going to limit your exposure. You may not see tremendous sales on the other sites, but I promise you, if you remove your listings, you will see a drop in your exposure on search engines like Google.

Even if you do choose to embrace Amazon Select, I don't recommend using a giveaway promotion anywhere in the first ninety days with your book on Amazon. Each time your book goes from free to paid, your sales rank resets and is recalculated based on the last thirty days of sales. The catch is that the freebies you give away are not counted 1:1 with sold books. It is more like 10:1 free:sold, meaning you need ten free books to equal one sold book. Not only that, but long term sales ranks barely consider freebies. If you supercharge your first thirty days on Amazon, you'll never need to use a free promotion for exposure.

Putting It All Together

There are hundreds of factors involved in a successful book launch. Amazon's algorithms and understanding how it all works is just a small piece. You absolutely must have at least a decent book to begin with, a professional cover, a good blurb, and lots of other stuff. Don't cut corners. Get your book professionally edited, take the time to set up web pages, blogs, etc before you go live. Build up some hype about your book, and get people excited about it.

Good luck!

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9 Comments(3 Pending Approval):


By Amber Dane on Sat 30 Jun 2012 01:54:35 am [ Reply ] Good post, thanks for sharing.

By Julianna on Sat 30 Jun 2012 03:17:59 am [ Reply ] Hi Thomas, Thanks for the informative blog. I'd love to see some of the tips and tricks you consider worth looking into for that first 30 day push (or links to sites you found really useful in that regard). I know there are tons of ebooks out about it - I've read several and they have some great ideas - but the market's always changing, and you've just waded into the deep end, so I figure you've got a lot of good "near real-time" data on what's working and what isn't. :-) Cheers and continued good luck!

By Thomas A. Knight on Sat 30 Jun 2012 07:19:16 am [ Reply ] Julianna: There is no silver bullet, and no magic formula. I will absolutely write a blog post about what has and has not worked for me though, since this appears to be a popular request in the wake of this post. :)

Amber: Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

By Brian Holmes on Sat 30 Jun 2012 11:39:24 am [ Reply ] This is interesting information and not something that I would have thought of, but you are right. If you can get exposure on any of these lists you will get more sales from browsers of those lists. Thanks for reminding me about the blurb, I need to go add that right now.

By Rodney Walther on Sat 30 Jun 2012 03:36:51 pm [ Reply ] Hi, Thomas. Thought I'd offer a few comments. First, I am also a software engineer (more business analyst than code slinger these days), so I can appreciate where you are coming from.

I do believe that the initial launch is important, and that a steadily burning fire is necessary to ongoing success. One correction: unless Amazon has changed things, the Hot New Releases list lasts for 90 days. I rose steadily on this list, even reaching #1 in several categories, before the Hot New Releases period ended.

The one thing I've learned over the past 18 months is that *I* do not sell many books. Any Facebook posts, Twitter blasts, and message forum posts that reference my book make little difference in the big scheme of things. However, I have The Most Amazing Salesman Known to Man in my corner. This salesman is Aunt Ammy (Amazon) herself.

Aunt Ammy keeps her secrets close, and yes I'd love to know who buys my books, what is the ratio of browse-to-purchase, etc. I want (need?) that information -- at least that's what I used to think. It's true that Aunt Ammy has top-secret algorithms. What I wouldn't give to know what she knows.

But here's the cool part. I don't NEED to know. What's important is that The Most Amazing Salesman Known to Man knows the secrets and then acts on them. This is exactly why I cannot complain about her secretive ways--Aunt Ammy does the heavy lifting and suggests my books to readers ON HER OWN TERMS. And her approach is working.

What seems important, as you said, is the recent history of sales. But what's huge, HUGE, HUGE!! is the "Customers who Bought xxx Also Bought yyy" section for one's book. This Amazing Salesman is most efficient when she's been trained who to target her marketing to. If someone's a new author and offers their book for free, Aunt Ammy can't learn much from the relationships to other books sold.

In my case, readers of Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks get my book (Broken Laces) recommended to them regularly. As a matter of fact, I've received 3 reviews where the reader said they had "accidentally" purchased my book! This tells me that Amazon regularly suggests it, and that readers (mostly) blindly take Amazon's suggestions.

This wasn't blind luck. I carefully considered my target reader when I rolled out the book. I want that TARGET READER, not ANY READER. Because the TARGET READER will respond well to my book, offer recommendations to friends, etc. I used Amazon tags to both inform potential readers and also train Aunt Ammy herself. I carefully selected categories that were appropriate, yet also offered a chance for the book to move up the charts.

I hope to repeat my success with my new novel, but it will likely live or die based on the readership of my first novel.

Sorry to ramble, but wanted to throw in my two cents. Good luck, everyone!

By Hart Johnson on Sun 1 Jul 2012 10:42:32 am [ Reply ] Great info Thomas-it has been mostly mysterious to me. I've trusted my publisher knew what they were doing and thought I keep checking my ranks in various categories, I have trouble even finding myself on a lot of these lists I know I ought to be on.

At some point in my future, though, I'm sure I will self-publish, or maybe small-publisher publish, and I know all of this is valuable. Definitely passing on the link for my friends already headed this direction.

By Thomas A. Knight on Tue 3 Jul 2012 07:42:23 am [ Reply ] Thanks Rodney! That's some great info. There are actually *2* new release lists, one that lasts 30 days and one that lasts 90 days. The 30-day list is what I'm focusing on here because you have such limited competition in this list. Once you hit the 90-day list, you need to be able to float on your own (though I wouldn't let up on the promotional stuff), and once you're out of the 90-day list, it's really sink or swim. :)

Hart, Brian: Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you found this info helpful. :)

By Abby on Mon 5 Dec 2016 06:39:25 am [ Reply ] If you unpublish your book for a few days, then republish it as a new edition, will it reset your chances to be in the Hot New Releases?

By Thomas A. Knight on Fri 15 Sep 2017 01:19:53 am [ Reply ] I don't think so. I'm pretty sure Amazon is smarter than that. ;)

If you unpublished it, and then republished it as though it was an entirely new book, then yes, though you would basically be starting over at that point, and would lose all of your recommendation engine purchases.

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