Maximizing Digital Book Sales, Part 1
By Carolyn McCray, Author | @craftycmc
I think it is safe to say that everyone from the Big Six to smaller publishing houses to the independent author would like to sell more books. And given the extremely crowded “virtual bookshelf” on Amazon, etc it is extremely difficult to get your book (s) noticed.
How do you rise above the “noise?”
This two part article is going to tackle exactly that question. The first part of the article will go in-depth regarding the importance of choosing the proper categories for your book and the advanced use of tags to maximize your book’s exposure. The second half the article will focus on what to expect from your book sales and how you can leverage the internal recommendation systems, especially of Amazon, to enhance your bottom line. Also know that the vast majority of advice given in these articles can be applied to other digital sales platforms such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc.
However, before we can begin to discuss categories and their importance, we must first understand how sales arise on Amazon.
The first type of sale is the “external” sale. This is a sale generated by you (or your publisher) through either paid advertisements or social media promotions. You have “externally” pushed a reader from outside of Amazon directly to your book’s sales page and generated a sale. This sale did not depend at all upon Amazon’s internal recommendation systems.
Since external sales are a topic all of their own, we will not discuss them in any great depth here, however it is important to understand that, while external advertising is usually consider a low yield investment, if you use external sales to help drive internal sales you can many times double or triple your ROI. We will discuss that aspect of external sales in the second half of this article.
Which leaves us with “internal” sales. These sales are generated by your book either being randomly found through genre searches (which is the lowest yield of all), by your book being placed in front of a potential buyer through one of the many recommendation queues that Amazon has running, or by a reader finding your book by browsing a Top 100 Bestseller list.
Obviously, you cannot rely on high sales from readers interested in your genre searching through hundreds if not thousands of books and stumbling upon your book and liking it enough to purchase it. A much higher yield internal sale is generated through Amazon’s internal recommendation system. Currently (since they do change frequently based on what appears to be the load on Amazon’s servers) these queues are…
“Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…”
“What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item…”
“Customers Who Highlighted This Item Also Highlighted…”
“Continue Shopping: Customers Who Bought Items In Your Recent History Also Bought…”
As you can guess the lower down the page a queue is positioned, the less effect these queues are at driving sales.
Basically, the “king” of internal recommendation queues and therefore sales is the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” This queue is directly beneath your book’s sales information and is filled with books represented by fairly large book covers. This queue is placed in a prime position on the page and is extremely eye-catching. Unfortunately the only way to drive your book into this vital recommendation queue is by selling more and more books. Amazon rewards increased sales with increased placement in the recommendation queues.
But how exactly do they determine how many times your book goes into the recommendation queue? Well, no one but Amazon knows that for sure. They are extremely guarded about the exact mathematical matrix they use for recommendation queue placement.
However, we can make fairly educated guesses regarding some fundamental criteria that Amazon uses to both rank a book in overall sales and then place the book into a recommendation queue. Overall Amazon seems to reward books based on hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly sales performance.
We will discuss why that matrix is important in the second half of this article.
The last way a reader can find your book internally is in Amazon’s bestseller lists. These lists are generated purely based upon sales (although clearly a complex logarithm is used for this placement as well which will be discuss in the second half of this article).
So to sell as many books as possible we would like our book out into the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” and Bestseller Lists queues as much as possible. As stated above the recommendation queue is based on sales and therefore as the author or publisher you have very little control over placement.
The Bestselling lists however are a completely different story. The reason is that you control which bestselling category your book is listed under. Ultimately you will need to sell enough books to climb into those bestselling lists, however it is vital to understand that not all categories are created equal. The number of books within the category and their relative sales are what makes a category more or less “competitive.” i.e. more or less difficult to join.
Clearly as an author or publisher you want to be able to qualify for a Top 100 list as easily as possible with the fewest sales as possible. Why? Because even at the #100 berth, your book gets added exposure that can translate into sales. The higher you climb amongst the Top 100, the more internally generated sales you will see. We will discuss this in far greater depth in the next article.
How does one know if any given category is more or less “competitive?”
Research. You want to investigate each category’s “buy-in” value. For both the #100 berth, but also the #1 berth (because let’s face it, we all can dream). Let’s take for example a crime novel. Many people would simply click the “General Mystery” & “Thriller” categories. Because the book is in fact both a mystery and a thriller.
However we need to dig deeper to truly understand how categories can effect sales.
If you go to the General Mystery Top 100 Bestsellers List and click on the #1 title. This book is OVERALL ranked #16. Clearly we are not going to top that list any time soon. However the more important “buy-in” number is how easily can we get into the #100 berth? Go to the General Mystery Top 100 Bestseller List #80-100 and click on the #100 title. It is ranked #776. Clearly you would need to sell a large number of books consistently to even dream of nabbing the #100 berth in this category.
And the general “Thrillers” category is equally competitive. The #1 buy is overall ranked #2! And the #100 bestselling title is ranked #856.
So unless you are selling about 65-100 books per day you can forget to even grab the #100 berth for either of those highly competitive categories. But what about if this crime drama had a female sleuth and was fairly hard-boiled? Well, that opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
Let’s look at the Women Sleuth Top 100 Bestsellers… Yes, #1 is still hypercompetitive (Jayden Skye topped it), however the #100 ranking was #2,288. It is a far cry easier to rank #2,288 than either #856 or #776 (#2,288 equals about 20-30 books/day). Therefore the “Women Sleuth” category is a far less “competitive” category. It is easier to get onto and move up this bestseller list than either the Mystery or Thriller bestseller list.
Before we draw this example to a conclusion, let’s look at the “Hard-Boiled” category. It’s #1 “buy-in” has a ranking of #43 (lower than any of the others, but clearly not an easy rung to reach), however its #100 ranking is only #6,646! Obviously this category is a far “softer” or less “competitive” category. You would need to only sell between 7-11 books per day to gain a berth in this list.
If I were consulting this author/publishing house I would strongly urge that they reconsider their categories and switch from the General Mystery and Thrillers categories to the less competitive categories to gain better exposure and enhance their sales. Because remember the more books you sell by ANY means, the more Amazon rewards you with increased exposure through their internal recommendation queues.
Now as you begin to really investigate categories and dig around in the various bestseller lists you will begin to notice that there are many Kindle Bestselling Lists that are not reflected in the categories you have available to choose when you select your categories at the time of publication. Amazon officially gives no explanation for this and many times customer sales personnel will give you the official, “there are no Kindle categories by that name.” Then of course you send them a screenshot of the Bestselling List that clearly states that it is a Kindle list, and they tell you they have no official explanation.
But no matter, this should not stop you from joining the ranks of these “hidden” bestseller lists.
Let’s return to our example. If you go to the Mystery category you will see that under its banner is an option of the bestselling list, “Series.” However if you go to your KDP page, and try to select this as one of your official categories, you will find it does NOT exist as an option. Yet clearly it is an official Bestselling List. Better yet, it is a far less “competitive” list since the #100 “buy-in” is only #15,388. That means you would only need to sell about 5-7 books per day to make it onto this bestselling list.
But how do you get your book qualified for this “hidden” category? Appropriate tagging.
Now tagging has gotten a hugely bad rap and I am not going to go into the abuses that tagging can create. What I am talking about is intelligent, selective, strategic tagging. For this author/publisher, I would recommend that not only do they tag their book with “mystery series,” but also ask their social media presence to tag and “agree” with the “mystery series” tag. Again, Amazon does not give specifics as to how many tags generate a category listing, however though experience, it normally takes between 25-50 tags to obtain Amazon’s attention and place your book into that “category” and qualify you for that bestselling list.
So that wraps up this first portion of the article. 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.