SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Like many published authors, I’ve developed a psychological disorder known as OCA: Obsessively Checking Amazon.
This happens when you get a book listed on Amazon.com, and find yourself waking up in the middle of the night just to check the book’s ranking. When you don’t sell many copies (that would be most writers) your entire day can be made with one sale, or broken by the precipitous ranking drop that comes after that one sale.
My fourth book came out in May, and my wife had to use a Taser and a crowbar to pry me away from the internet before summer arrived. My rank peaked in mid-May at 68,201, which sounds pretty good until you realize that the previous February, for reasons that remain a mystery, my overall rank hit 9,093.
Of course, that counts only Amazon sales, as opposed to sales from other sources. I keep a box full of books in the trunk of my car, just in case I stumble across an unwary victim—ahem, reader—with a few bucks for books.
The other thing is that Amazon rankings aren’t determined by just the number of copies sold. There’s the question of velocity … in theory, if I sold two books in an hour I might get a higher ranking than if I sold one book a week for a month. There are other factors, which are very mystical and may or may not involve a bearded wizard manning a supercomputer.
That appears to be what happened in February. I sold a few books close together, or the wizard sneezed.
Through most of the long, outside-instead-of-reading summer days, my overall Amazon ranking hovered in the high 300,000’s. That sounds pretty bad, but with everyone self-publishing these days, and everyone else putting older print books out as e-books, there are millions upon millions of books for sale. For instance, I found The Ghost Of Dibble Hollow, a 1965 book that I loved as a kid, now available on Amazon.
Then, in early August, my ranking suddenly shot up 200,000 places.
My first thought was that word was getting around about my recent release, The No-Campfire Girls; after all, it only came out a few months before. (Yes, for those of you paying attention, this was written before I discovered my newer novel had been released without my knowledge.) Maybe campers were coming back home and looking for a fun read. Maybe it was about to catch fire, no pun intended. Maybe I could pay off my credit cards! Word of mouth is a great way to sell books.
It turned out to be, in fact, a small flurry of sales of my first book, Storm Chaser. It came out in June—2011. Don’t get me wrong: the book got great reviews, and I sold a lot of copies early on, but three years is a long time in the publishing industry. When it comes to publicity, I’ve been concentrating on The No-Campfire Girls and my novel that comes out in October (*ahem*). Why now?
I don’t know.
You thought I’d have an answer, didn’t you? Silly readers.
There is one possibility: my October release, The Notorious Ian Grant, is a sequel to Storm Chaser. I tried to write it so that you didn’t have to read the first story to appreciate the second, but I’m not going to tell anyone that. If you find that out, you might not buy the first one. So maybe someone was interested enough in the second to go back and read the first.
The problem is, I haven’t cranked up the publicity machine (which works about as well as my old lawn mower). I’ve been busy doing summer stuff, or trying to get people to buy The No-Campfire Girls, or checking my Amazon rankings. I don’t think I’ve even mentioned Ian Grant, who’s somewhat notorious, in the last few months. Besides, if it’s all about the sequel, why was there no uptick in sales for my related short story collection?
So in the end, I don’t know. I went from a rank in the 350,000’s to breaking 100,000, and I don’t know what—if anything—I did to make a difference. Most writers are good at writing, but stink at selling.
We don’t know how to make those Amazon numbers dance. We don’t know the best way to attract a publisher, an agent, or a reader … even if we’ve accomplished it, most don’t really know how. A good turn of phrase? An attractive penname? Getting our query letter to them on a Wednesday before lunch?
Occasionally a writer will figure out what worked for them, tell other people, those other people will try it, and it won’t work. Nobody knows. You might as well hire that wizard with the beard, only he’s getting better money as the head of the Amazon IT department.
I guess I’ll just keep whacking away at it, and occasionally take my frustrations out by writing … this. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to check Amazon.