Maximizing Digital Book Sales, Part 2

By Carolyn McCray, Author | @craftycmc

This article is Part 2 of a 2 part series covering the intricacies of digital book sales platforms and how to leverage this knowledge into greater sales.

In Maximizing Digital Book Sales, Part 1, I covered the two basic ways you get sales on Amazon and others (by external and internal sales) and then broke down the various ways that internal sales can come about.  I also covered the importance of categories and how they directly impact your ability to hop onto Bestselling lists in the most efficient manner. If you have not read my previous article in this series, I strongly suggest you do unless you are extremely fluent in these concepts. I also recommend that you read another article of mine “Best Practices for Amazon eBook Sales,” to be sure that your Amazon page is optimized for sales otherwise you might not see as large a benefit to your royalties.

This article covers what to expect as you increase your sales and how to leverage both external and internal sales into additional sales. From here on out I am going to show my inner math geek so please bear with me!

As a base line, let us say that you have a mystery novel. It had a traditional six week marketing campaign at the time of launch. It peaked at #1823 (you sold 48 books that day to earn that rank) on the overall rankings but did not hit any bestselling lists because it was categorized in the general mystery and thriller categories that were just too competitive for your ranking.

The average ranking however for your six week campaign was #4,902. On average, you sold 21 books per day over that 6 week period. For the next month your ranking sank into the #15,000s but at the 11 week mark you dropped sharply down into the #35,000s and over the past two months you slumped into the low #100,000 range. As we discussed in the first part of this article, Amazon puts books out into the recommendation queues that it thinks will sell. It appears to determine this based on how well you sell that day, that week and that month.

The example above is kind of the “natural history” of a title that did not gain “traction” at its launch.  Once its high launch sales numbers got “stale,” Amazon stopped recommending it and the book’s ranking fell off at pretty consistent intervals. Unless something drastically changes in this book’s marketing plan, it will simply sit somewhere between #100,000 – #300,000 averaging about 5-10 books per month.

So how do you gain “traction” and keep your sales “fresh” so that Amazon continues to put you out into its recommendation queues?  The best way I have found is to hit an appropriate Bestseller list(s).

In our mystery example, I would make sure my sales page was optimized and change the categories to less competitive ones such as “Women Sleuth” and “Hard-Boiled.” Had this mystery novel been differently categorized from the start, this book would have been “in the money” (meaning up on a Bestselling list where it gets more exposure and therefore more sales), its entire launch window.  And not just on two Bestselling lists but in the case of “Hard-Boiled” this mystery would have ranked #23!

And this assuming that sales would have stayed the same, which simply isn’t the case. Overall there is a fairly consistent step-wise increase in sales based on the different berths. On average once you hit a Bestselling list, even at the #100 mark you will see an approximate 5% lift in sales.

Between #50-100 there does not appear to be any great sales advantage. However getting onto the Top 40 Bestselling page does give you an additional 5% increase. The Top 20 Bestselling page, another 7% pop. If you are lucky enough to climb into the Top 10 Bestselling, add another 14% increase in sales if you are “above the fold” (in a slot that can be viewed WITHOUT having to scroll down any further) which is usually about rank #5.

Each step then from #5, to #4 etc usually results in an addition 5% increase with #1 giving you the greatest pop of 10%.

Remember that moving up these lists many times only represents a few extra sales so you can definitely tell by nearly instantaneous increased sales when you climb onto a new page or much higher on the same page.

Let’s take our example from above.

At the book’s height it would have hit #23. But let’s back up. Once it hit the #100 slot it should have garnered a 5% lift in sales which translates to about 2 more books sold. Once it arrived on the Top 40 page it should have earned another 5% increase of another 2 books. Remember that those 4 additional sales can convince Amazon that this book has potential and could result in it going out into the recommendation queues to garner a few more sales as well.

Conservatively I would estimate at least one additional sale.

So instead of selling 48 books they sold 52 (without ANY increase in marketing budget or social media push). Those four books could raise the book in rank enough to bring it to the #20 berth. Once on that front page we know that we get another 7% bump (off our 52 books now rather than 48) which translates into another 3-4 sales. Which more than likely would raise the book up to #19 and probably get us another internal recommendation queue sale.

So our revised sales total for our peak day would have been 57 books sold rather than 48. That represents a nearly 23% increase on same day sales.

And the effect is lasting. Let’s take the book’s average of #4,902 for the entire six week launch. Conservatively let’s say that we saw a 12% increase in book sales due to the being on the Bestseller lists (remember we were also ranking in the Top 100 on Women Sleuths so 12% truly is a conservative number). That means instead of averaging 21 books per day, the title sold 23-24 books per day. That rise in sales is probably going to get us another book sale out of the increased exposure in the recommendation queue which brings out total sales per day up to 25.

This more than likely is going to lower our ranking into the mid #3,000s which is pretty competitive for staying in the Top 40 on the “Hard-Boiled” Bestselling lists. Because of this overall lift in sales and the constant exposure in the Bestselling lists, your sales decline is going to be softened because you now have “traction.”  And the more “traction” you have, the more sales you are going to make, keeping your sales numbers “fresh,” and therefore not experiencing the steep drop-offs that you might normally experience the week or month after launch.

Now imagine putting paid advertising or social media promotions into the post-launch mix to take advantage or even augment your “traction?”

Normally if you can keep yourself in the Top 10 of a Bestselling list you can see sales that equal about 1/3 more sales than internal recommendation queues sales alone. Even if you do eventually slump in sales, I recommend “pulsing” your title. This pulse can either be a price drop to encourage more sales and get you back into the Bestselling lists or a combination of paid advertising and social media promotions.

In digital book sales, there is in infinite shelf-life and you can revisit your marketing strategy and recreate or even surpass your previous launch sales numbers by shrewdly choosing the best categories (which is a balance between how well that category “fits” your book and how competitive it is) for your novel, applying external sales to increase internal sales that eventually get you onto the Bestselling lists for not just added sales but “traction” as well.

Now before everyone starts to challenge the examples numbers let me say these are general estimate based on the fact that I monitor over two dozen title’s sales in real time and currently have access to books at nearly every level stated. The example I just gave was off a template of a recent launch.

Please remember that sales and ranking are relative to your previous sales record (the longer you sell well, the fewer sales you need to keep the same sales rank – an additional way to gain “traction”), the season, and even the time of day. During Christmas the sales numbers I gave may seem ridiculously low while during spring break they would appear ridiculously high. Hopefully this article will have impressed upon you how important your book’s categories can be and how landing within the Top 100 Bestselling Lists can significantly help your short term and long term sales.

If you have any questions, express your views or want to relate your own experience please leave a comment below. Also if you would like me to do a “snapshot” review of your categories please leave the following information in your comment; the link to your book, the two categories you choose when you first published your books along with the links to the Top 100 Bestsellers for those two categories and the link to at least one other bestselling book in an alternate category. I will get to them as quickly as I can, but even if I get swamped I promise to eventually get to each and every one of them!

I strongly urge everyone commenting to subscribe to the comments since many times far more information comes out in my responses than was able to fit into this article!

Carolyn McCray is a social media and sales consultant to writers and publishing houses alike.   And using the principle laid out in this article, her recent non-fiction book, “Dollars & Sense: The Definitive Guide to Self-publishing Success” debuted at #1 on the Amazon Bestselling list for Study & Teaching and reached #2 on the Authorship Bestselling list beating out such rock stars as JA Konrath and Zoe Winters.  Carolyn is also the founder of the Indie Book Collective, an organization dedicated to helping writers utilize social media to sell their books.

17 thoughts on “Maximizing Digital Book Sales, Part 2

  1. Joseph Harris

    Carolyn,

    This looksa smart bit of wokr, and thank you for it.

    But two pedant gripes. ‘Peaked’ not ‘peeked’; and ‘fewer’ not ‘less’ -‘…(the longer you sell well, the less sales you need…’.

    Joeph

    Reply
  2. Patricia McLinn

    Hi Carolyn,

    I found your optimizing article via Thurs DBW webinar. Thank you for such clear and useful info in both webinar and article.

    A few questions:
    — Do you recommend NOT using the Reviews section of the Editorial Reviews area if a book has them? Those reviews do show up above the PD. But wondering if you think it provides more impact to have the reviews within the PD?

    — You mentioned keeping track of your page to know if a 1-star review shows up, because it can kill sales. But if one shows up, is here anything to do about it? Short of asking for an abusive one to be removed, I mean. I have one on a book that is not that is not abusive — doesn’t make much sense, but it’s not abusive. Apparently others had the same reaction, because it’s 0 of 21 for helpful … and yet, there it sits, dragging down the stars. Sigh.

    And if you’re still willing to do mini-critiques at this very late date …

    Take your pick 🙂 http://ow.ly/6e8JZ

    TIA if you have an opportunity to answer & thanks again for all the good info already provided.

    Reply
  3. Carolyn McCray

    Thank you so much Patricia and I am happy to answer questions and give “mini” critiques any time!

    To answer your excellent questions in order…

    1. TAKE DOWN YOUR REVIEW SECTION 🙂 There did that express my feelings clearly enough 🙂 LOL
    But seriously, I always want complete and TOTAL control over my page and my reader’s experience. Those bulky, sometimes awkwardly written reviews are just a turn off, even from a simply visual viewpoint.
    But as always, do some research. See what your sales are WITH the review section, then remove the section and see what your sales do 😉

    2. Okay, the only problem with 1 star reviews is when they sit there at the top of the review queue. That can kill sales. If someone has gotten past all of your hyperbole and is still on the fence then on the right hand side they see a 1 star, that is enough to have them abort the purchase funnel.

    However once that 1 star is buried beneath even (1) 4-5 star review, its impact is negligible. And yes it lowers your overall star rating, but our goal is to get up and over 25 reviews ASAP so that any 1 or 2 star review has minimal impact on your overall rating.

    3. “Mini-critique”
    The first quote is a little dry. Plus it is only 4 stars. You want to start with fireworks. Also starting off with a quote that states that your work is “emotionally complex” engages the conscious mind immediately. I mean, it is great your work has that quality, however it made me think and given how tired I am this morning, I would have aborted the funnel because I can’t handle emotionally complex! 🙂

    The second quote doesn’t do much to stir my excitement either. You want your quotes to be painting a picture and right now I do not even know that your story is set in the West or is about rural life.

    Your overview… You probably already know what I am going to say. WAY too much info, names, places. It is just way too dense to build excitement. I would mention Wyoming, but I would punch up the prairies, the snow, the endless fields. Give me some stunning, haunting visuals to stir my imagination. Also do NOT hit the “complex” note. Again, that makes me think. If you want to convey complex talk about lush or rich or textured. Those convey great writing without making me think. If anything those words also make me feel comforted.

    Last quote. Dear goodness, complex again! I get that you want to convey your work is mature and well-written, however complex is a very cold word that can be very off putting. Warm up your description. If you write your promo well enough, the reader will get the meta-message of quality without you having to say it #repeatedly 🙂

    I would NOT put “originally published by.” That makes me think (which is always bad) why isn’t it still with them? Now I am wondering about your publishing history rather than being excited about your book!

    Also I would have a call to action. If you like _____ you will love ____
    Then promote your backlist. From your PD, I would have no real clue where this book was in your series or that you even had a series out.

    DRIVE SALES 🙂

    Hope this helped 🙂

    Reply
    1. Patricia McLinn

      A follow-up question …

      “If you like _____ you will love ____ ”

      As you saying “if you like warm & witty westerns you will love A STRANGER IN THE FAMILY”

      Or are you saying “if you like Mega Bestseller you will love A STRANGER IN THE FAMILY.”

      Reply
  4. Patricia McLinn

    Thank you so much, Carolyn. There was nothing \mini\ about that!

    It is greatly helpful in giving me the Drive-Sales pov. Sales is so not my comfort zone. Plus, I’m aware that as a buyer, I’m on the \conscious mind\ end of the consumer spectrum, and this is terrific for pushing my PD back to the part of the mainstream where most buyers resides.

    I’ve tweaked some PDs, but not enough. And A STRANGER IN THE FAMILY hasn’t been tweaked at all. With 17 books up, I’ve got a whole lot of tweaking to do.

    Oh, wait, you said to make changes and check it. So I can do a couple and then wait. Reprieve! 😉

    Thank you again for being so generous with your time and knowledge.

    Reply
  5. Bruce Nuffer

    Carolyn, in researching the bestseller lists, I am noticing something that doesn’t make sense to me. It seems that the lower you go into subcategories, the lower overall rank your book can have and still show up in the top 100. But it doesn’t look like that is necessarily the case.

    Here’s an example I noticed this morning: If you search the category Books>Teens>Religion & Spirituality, you find that the book in 100th place is ranked #270,789. But if you go one level deeper to Books>Teens>Religion & Spirituality>Christianity you find that the book in 100th place is ranked #187,911.

    I don’t understand this, since presumably all the title in the Christianity subcategory would also be available in the more general Teen>Religion & Spirituality category.

    Can you explain what’s happening here?

    Reply
    1. Bruce Nuffer

      One more example: In Books>Business & Investing>Personal Finance, the first item in the list has an overall rank of #423,252, while the second book has a rank of #137! This is really messing with what you say here…

      Reply
    2. Bruce Nuffer

      Never mind. I am an idiot. Instead of clicking the bestsellers link, I was choosing the category from the left-hand column and assuming the titles were listed in best-seller order. Doh!

      Reply
  6. helga zeiner

    Dear Carolyn,
    I just found you via twitter and follow your articles now.
    I’m a writer that previously published in Germany – the traditional way – and have opted to go the indie way now with my first novel written in English.
    Here is my question:
    Is there any point to join book competions to help e-book sales, and if so, can you recommend or do you have a list of the more important ones one should submit a novel to?
    tks for your attention
    Helga Zeiner

    Reply
    1. Carolyn McCray

      Competitions do not directly increase sales, however winning the award and putting that on the cover and promoting it within your PD does enhance reader confidence so can help with your sell through 🙂

      Reply
    1. Carolyn McCray

      No worries.

      Your page has all the makings of a great page, it is just a little long in the tooth and the overview is a bit long.

      Hone in on your best quotes. Usually 3 at the top, the overview, 3 more quotes, a call to action (if you liked Nora Robert’s, etc) then a brief shout out to your other books. You might want to check out my Optimizing your Amazon page for more details.

      You would also be a great candidate for creating a sales nodes, but I know that you house is in charge of that. But price pulsing within your backlist could really help your overall sales 🙂

      Reply
  7. Nicci Lane

    Carolyn,

    Thanks so much for this article. I’ve wondered a lot about how amazon’s rankings work.

    I have a mystery novel that didn’t have any marketing campaign and was impossible to even find for the first week – it wasn’t even listed on the \past 30 days\ releases.

    I never really get much below 20,000 in ranking.Do you have any suggestions on how to better categorize it – or would that even matter with a ranking that’s so low?

    thanks again- going to read all your other articles now

    here’s the link to the book:

    http://www.amazon.com/DEAD-IN-THE-WATER-ebook/dp/B004YTSW4O/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1319959230&sr=8-4

    Reply
    1. Carolyn McCray

      Nicci,
      Do not become discouraged. Your launch is simply the first few weeks of your sale’s life. You can, and should, get some milage out of your royalties 🙂

      I would strongly recommend that you read my article discussing Optimizing your Amazon Product Description.

      Doing a “snap shot” of your PD (product description), my first concern is over your cover art.
      I get the vibe you are going for, however your graphic, which I am assuming is a dead woman face down in a pool, on first glance (especially at the thumbnail) looks like… well…a booty crack.

      At the very least I can say that it took me going to the larger version and even blowing that up to know what the graphic was. Not good. Very seldom are people going to give your cover art more than a brief glance.

      So I would recommend keeping your groovy vibe, but clarifying the central figure/graphic 🙂

      Then onto your PD, I would follow my recommendations in my article. Quotes up top, overview, quotes, call to action.

      Also you need way more reviews/likes. Go to social media for those meta-message builders.

      I would also suggest that until you have more books out, that you lower your price to 99 cents. Right now you are in the name building/discoverability phase of your career and I just don’t see that 2.99 price tag helping, especially with such low reviews/like numbers.

      Hope this helped!

      Reply
  8. Nicci Lane

    Thanks so much Carolyn!

    It definitely did help. I’m going to redo the cover and try to get some more reviews – I didn’t realize before what a huge difference they make. As to the price, I originally put it up for 99 cents and it didn’t sell any – it only started selling some when I raised the price- so i thought maybe it got lost among all the 99 centers. But maybe it was just coincidental and I should try lowering it again. It’s worth a try!

    Also – I am planning to put another book up soon – but seeing as how it’s a different genre- still a mystery but more like dark, sexy romantic mystery, I was thinking I should put it under a different name – do you think that’s wise?

    Thanks again – I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your advice!

    Reply

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