Wednesday, October 22, 2014

algorithms

When the thousand pound gorilla in the room has all the power, it behooves one to find out what it is doing. I did that regarding marketing and rankings of books regarding the thousand pound gorilla in selling books-- Amazon.

One of the frustrations for authors, who are not selling a lot of books, is to go to their Amazon blurb/advertising page for their book and see its rankings heading into the millions. In the case of rankings, being in the millions is not good news. It means you are where millions of other writers are at Amazon-- not selling-- or so I used to think.

My understanding of what rankings meant changed this month when one of my books had three sales in the first part of October. Good news. Rankings would improve. They always had after sales. This one had not. That's when I wrote them. 

One nice thing about Amazon for authors or anyone, they do respond. So we had email conversation where they told me the algorithms had been perfectly right on my book. Its sales were not reflected in its ranking because of how they do rankings, which takes into account the length of time the book has been out, other sales at the same time, and maybe some mysterious other factor which they won't reveal.

(Note to authors: even though I have always said we are not in competition with each other and that your sale doesn't take away my sale-- it does impact my rankings-- so much for camaraderie for those who understand how this works)

There are those, with a lot more expertise than I have, who have spent time to figure out Amazon's policy-- and written about it while warning their reader that it might be wrong since Amazon can change these at any time. Their sole accountability is to their profit margin.


Now, I personally have no interest in beating their system. I simply would like them to take the rankings off the advertising/buy page because it influences readers and has them thinking a book hasn't sold at all when in reality, it might be selling small numbers regularly. The reason its rankings show up negatively is that it's been out there a long time; and although it has had sales off and on, they have not been consistently high enough to keep it up in the rankings. A book out there less time will reflect one sale-- the old guy on the block will not. 
"A book’s Amazon sales rank gives a clue about its likely sales – but only a clue since Amazon doesn’t disclose the actual sales-rank-to-sales ratio. It will change anyway over time (hourly, daily, monthly), and it looks like it’s influenced by where a book is in its sales lifecycle – it treats the same daily sales from a new book differently from sales of a perennial seller." --from Digital Publishing 101 (the link above)
Interestingly, their representative told me that a book's rankings could go up or down when nothing had changed in its own sales.

My first thought when I grasped this, to my limited techie ability, was maybe I should pull my first published books, revamp their stories, add a few words, retitle, and bring them out in a few months as new books. Immediately I saw the problem with that-- what about the readers who already own that book. They would feel cheated if they purchased it under a new name. Bummer-- that is if you care about your readers.

Next time I bring out a new book though, I will look at it differently. What I need are a group of loyal beta readers who will buy my book as soon as it appears-- this makes its initial ratings look excellent. It keeps it where new readers can see it. By having a group ready to buy your books, a network (which some writers do have), you can get the jump on this system. Being the lone ranger, where it comes to selling books, is a losing game on the marketing end. 

It is also important to plan when a book comes out so that it's not when others are coming out. If you come out with yours while a big writer is introducing theirs, you won't show up so well either.  This is where again it benefits someone to not be one lone indie writer and work within big group or a publishing house. The truth of it is simple regarding rankings. You cannot sell a book nobody sees.

Understanding how this works, I see it pitting author against author. If I buy their books (as I have frequently done), it makes my own show up worse, at least if that author does not also buy mine... Okay, just kidding on not buying-- I am not about to cut off my nose to spite my face. When a book looks good to me, I'll buy it-- maybe even someday have time to read it.  

Amazon has the power. Are they using it wisely and fairly even where it comes to corporate published books? Who can force them to do so? Right now with monopolies no longer being broken up in the United States, nobody can do anything. Does this kind of monopoly only impact authors? Paul Krugman doesn't think so.
Book sales depend crucially on buzz and word of mouth (which is why authors are often sent on grueling book tours); you buy a book because you’ve heard about it, because other people are reading it, because it’s a topic of conversation, because it’s made the best-seller list. And what Amazon possesses is the power to kill the buzz. 
 Not sure what anybody can do about it other than-- be aware what is really going on. I am still grateful I have the opportunity to bring out my books without an editor forcing me to fit a mold. Amazon has done a lot for writers-- but we have to figure out marketing on our own!

2 comments:

Tabor said...

Marketing sounds really difficult to me. If it was just a matter of persuasion, you could be creative and persistent...but it is also a matter of getting to your possible audience to persuade them. I feel your pain in this.

Rain Trueax said...

It is true of every creative endeavor, Tabor. Once upon a time I was interested in getting my paintings and sculptures seen. I quickly realized I was no good at going to galleries to try and sell the work to them.

One really cool thing about marketing is it brings a challenge to my life at 71, something new and difficult, at an age where many have settled into patterns. I find it challenging but also kind of exciting and hearing what other writers do astounds and amazes me. Some of them are so successful at this whether that's a cool personality type, a network or just their own insights, I don't know but I admire it when I see it.

So while writing has been an ongoing thing in my life, all of my life, marketing is something I always avoided before but now am facing squarely. I know if you wanted to get your photographs out there in galleries, you'd experience the same challenges. It's both upsetting and good if you know what i mean ;).

I will add that, in your case, if you wrote a book that suited your blog readers, the kind of book they naturally would choose to read, you'd have a big advantage with a network built-in who wanted you to succeed, who would buy your books as soon as they came out. It was one missing link for me. I had a good readership on Thoughts but they weren't romance readers ;) . Oops! lol