My Online Date Using the Almighty Amazon Algorithm (Part 1): Say Hello To My Ugly Friend

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.


If someone doesn’t think you’re hot, the next best thing for them to think is that you’re ugly.”
Christian Rudder, “The Mathematics Of Beauty, OkTrends, January 10th, 2011

“The gist of it is this: if you price at $.99, you must sell more copies to be ranked comparably to those selling at higher prices.
Joanna Penn, How Amazon Recommendation Algorithms Help Sell Your Book,” The Creative Pen, April 21, 2011


Ever tried online dating before?

Actually, that was a rhetorical question; 74% of singles say that they go online to look for dates these days. Given those statistics, then, there’s a good chance that you’ve dabbled on all the main sites—,,, and the like. In that case, the chances are also good that you’ve thrown a profile up on the site The Boston Globe called “the Google of online dating”:

If you have had profile on OkCupid, then here’s where things may get a little, er, uncomfortable. Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten the “Ugly Friend Email.” What is that, you ask? Why, it’s an email that, according to, is sent only to a select group of its subscribers. It reads:

We are very pleased to report that you are in the top half of OkCupid’s most attractive users. The scales recently tipped in your favor, and we thought you’d like to know. How can we say this with confidence? We’ve tracked click-thrus on your photo and analyzed other people’s reactions to you in Quickmatch and Quiver.

Your new elite status comes with one important privilege:

You will now see more attractive people in your match results.

This new status won’t affect your actual match percentages,
which are still based purely on your answers and desired match’s answers. But the people we recommend will be more attractive. Also! You’ll be shown to more attractive people in their match results.

. . .

Suddenly, the world is your oyster. Login now and reap the rewards.

And, no, we didn’t just send this email to everyone on OkCupid. 
Go ask an ugly friend and see.


How do I know about this email (the contents of which, by the way, prompted The Consumerist to write a piece called “OKCupid Is Hiding The Good-Looking People From

Us Ugly Freaks”)? Well, because on one sunny, morning recently, it dropped into my inbox with all the subtlety of an email from an African prince trying to access his encumbered fortune with my help.  How on Earth did this come about?

As the Amazon bestselling author of two romantic comedies, I’d spent the last two years focused exclusively on my writing career, with little time to spare for anything so inconsequential as, you know, “finding a soul mate,” “falling in love,” or [shudder] “dating.”

However, at a recent conference, I looked up from my champagne flute to discover that I was surrounded by women. Lots and lots of women. In fact, the only person in a half-mile vicinity with a Y-chromosome was the college-aged guy half-heartedly passing around a tray of hors d’oeuvres.

I closed my eyes, sighed heavily, and thought: It’s time.

Sure, I was reluctant. Before my writing career took off, I’d tried, and had served some hard time on Hell, I even lasted an entire day on! My experience was that there were very few “diamonds” hidden deep inside miles of “rough” the length and breadth of the Earth’s mantle.

Still, I’d read a little about, and done some research on the Harvard educated, mathematician founders of the site. And as someone who’s benefited greatly from the Amazon algorithm—that elusive, mysterious formula Amazon uses to calculate book rankings—I was in a position to appreciate this factoid, courtesy of an ABC News piece featuring  the site: “[T]hey match people up, applying statistical algorithms to their user profiles.”

Consider for a moment the process by which you upload a profile to OkCupid:

1. Create an account.
2. Write an interesting description.
3. Upload eye-catching, attractive photographs.
4. Set the locations in which you want to be viewable to potential dates.
5. Wait for interested parties to find you.

(Optional, but common):

6. Wonder why your profile seems to trigger “suggestions” for individuals whose photos look like they were snapped inside a prison cell.
7. Do a half-hearted “match search” for approximately five minutes.
8. Declare entire endeavor a waste of time.

Hey—wait just a minute! Is this the process for online dating, or does this describe self-publication? Hmm…

If you’re an author, and you’ve ever engaged in online dating, then you’ll no doubt quickly see how similar these two processes are (including 6-8). That’s good; it’ll help you digest what comes next.

About four months after I uploaded my first novel, The Frog Prince, the book became an Amazon bestseller. One of the first questions I was always asked during Q & A sessions at workshops and conferences for the next two years was what I called The Dreaded Marketing Question: “What did you do to successfully market The Frog Prince?”

My go-to response? A blank, dumb look, and then a half-hearted, “Well, that’s a really interesting, complicated topic that we could spend all day on. Unfortunately we’re running out of time, so…”

Here’s the truth: I didn’t do anything to market The Frog Prince; I simply completed steps 1-5 as you see above, fixed up my book’s hair and makeup, and waited to see whether or not the Almighty Amazon Algorithm would think it was “hot.”

Now then: What do you have to do to ensure not only that Amazon thinks your book is “hot,” but that it bellows this information to the world like a drunken frat boy cruising the clubs with his buddies? And what exactly prompts OkCupid to send you that coveted/controversial “go ask an ugly friend” email that supposedly reserves your profile for the hottest singles in the online universe?

Short answer: Exactly. The. Same. Thing.

Longer answer: See “My Online Date Using the Almighty Amazon Algorithm (Part 2): Don’t Be Ugly By Accident.”

And, as always, thanks for reading.

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Expert Publishing Blog
Elle Lothlorien

About Elle Lothlorien

A “military brat,” Elle Lothlorien was born in Germany and spent her childhood in such far-flung places as Puerto Rico, Charleston, S.C., Italy, and Washington D.C. Sadly, the only language she ever became semi-fluent in is English. Elle’s first two self-published romantic comedies, THE FROG PRINCE and SLEEPING BEAUTY went on to become Amazon bestsellers. She is considered a “reluctant expert” on the business of electronic, independent publishing (also called “indie-publishing”), and frequently writes and speaks on the topic. Elle lives in Denver, Colorado. She keeps two dachshunds around the house to provide comic relief. Find out more about her and her books by going to her website, or by following her on Facebook and Twitter.

2 thoughts on “My Online Date Using the Almighty Amazon Algorithm (Part 1): Say Hello To My Ugly Friend

  1. Jess Lourey

    Dude, I’m still waiting to hear how online dating is going for you. 🙂 I’ve given myself early release from eHarmony and am back to focusing on the writing. Ah, the games I play with myself.

    1. Elle LothlorienElle Lothlorien Post author

      Hang in there, Jess, part 2 coming next week (hopefully Monday, 9/16/12)! Until then, know that you’re not alone, and there IS a way to get better results–both on dating sites AND Amazon. No games, just a little bit of knowledge (which, it turns out, goes a looooong way in both arenas).



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