More Thoughts on Amazon’s Bestseller Lists

Since The Wizard’s Daughters made it onto several Amazon bestseller lists (briefly in late November; then continuously starting a couple of weeks ago), I have naturally been interested in seeing how it rises and falls with sales.

This past weekend, it peaked at #35 on the Historical Fantasy List, #37 on the Medieval Romance ebook list, and mid-40s on the Medieval Romance book list. It’s generally been floating between the 30s and 60s the past week.

What’s been intriguing to me is how the sales don’t always translate into an immediate jump in the rankings, since of course you’re competing with other authors. A jump in sales might just reflect Amazon traffic patterns, and if other books outperform yours, your book will drop. Conversely, what looks like a slow sales day can still result in a boost if you’re outperforming others yourself. I’ve seen both patterns happening with TWD (and the latter as I’ve been typing this post).

Does being on the lists really translate to book sales? I’m convinced now it does. As much as I’ve been harping on the uselessness of Twitter in selling books, and the importance of your author platform, I know from watching my WP stats how many people are clicking through to Amazon, and though I am getting those clicks, they’re nowhere near enough to explain the rising sales.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the more sales you accumulate, the less tied the book appears to be to real-time sales data. This is fairly logical, but it is something I’ve observed.

If you’re wondering how to get on the lists yourself, I don’t have any magic bullets to offer, but my impressions so far are these:

  • Stay away from the crowded genres. You can get a sense of how crowded a field is by comparing bestseller list ranks to overall sales ranks. TWD is currently around 7,000, which wouldn’t even get it into the same zip code as the top 100 in Paranormal and Urban Fantasy. (Call this the Twilight Effect.)
  • Try to come up with new approaches and themes. Think hard about what you’ve read before, and do something different. With TWD, I tried to marry alternate history, romance, and steampunk in a way I hadn’t seen done before. That sense of “Whoa, this is new” is what hooks buyers.
  • Obviously do your best to make your book awesome, but in particular, make the beginning of your book as awesome as possible. It’s that preview section that has to do the heavy lifting in hooking potential buyers.
  • Make your book description equally awesome. Give readers just enough to make them want to click through to read the preview. You only have about five seconds to hook a potential buyer, so shorter is better than longer. Don’t bore them with reviews and other promotions, and excerpts are pointless—why read an excerpt when you can just read the preview section? If the opening to your book is weak enough that you feel the need for an excerpt, that’s likely your real problem. (Also, don’t forget the paragraph breaks—your description shouldn’t be a single big wall of text.)
  • Finally, I’ve said this before, but spend the money on a professionally designed cover. I can’t stress this too much. After you’ve slaved away for months or even longer on the insides of your book, don’t saddle it with a crappy outside. Like it or not, buyers judge books by their covers. The job of the cover is limited—it serves to get potential readers to click through and read your description—but critical. A weak cover can prevent you from ever getting your book off its launch pad. While you can certainly spend a ton of money on a cover, good ones aren’t really that expensive.

Obviously, there’s a lot more too it, but these are things to think about.


On Amazon’s Small Ponds

As I pen this post, The Wizard’s Daughters is currently #50 on both Amazon’s Historical Fantasy and Medieval Romance ebooks bestseller lists, and #58 on its Medieval Romance books list. This past weekend it was as high as #47. As impressive as that may seem, I am compelled to point out that so far I’ve sold no more than a couple of hundred copies in the month or so since it was released. So I hesitate to think of sales like that as constituting a “bestseller.”

The interesting thing has been watching how it’s been moving up and down, and in particular how those rankings correlate with its overall sales rank, which has peaked at around 7,200 so far. Yet, in browsing around, I’ve seen books with far higher sales rankings show up with no bestseller list rank. That suggests to me that Medieval Romance and Historical Fantasy are rather small genres, certainly much smaller than Urban Fantasy and Swords & Sorcery. (This observation is supported by the number of “long tail” books like The Mists of Avalon and the Outlander series on the two lists.)

I don’t mean to discount the value of getting listed, of course. I’ve noticed a definite sales bump since it happened. The book was flirting with the list for the past two weeks, but never got past about #70 or so before quickly falling off. Since getting into the higher tiers this past weekend, it seems to be “floating” in place, perhaps as the list generates sales.

The lesson here is probably one I’ve touched on in the past. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. It’s easier to stand out if you make an effort to be different. Here, reaching for the less popular genre lists seems to have paid off.