Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Getting High in Amazon Rankings

It's Day 4 of the giveaway of my novel and I promised to blog openly about the experience with exact statistics. I've also been learning valuable facts along the way so I'm glad I did this. Sometimes it's only by experimenting that you find out how the publishing market works, and although I felt I knew about ebooks, the past few days have demystified Amazon and Kindle even more.

I woke up to find my novel in the Top 20 in the ranking for literary fiction on Amazon UK. It was also doing well on Amazon US but it's a bit harder to work out the ranking system there. I'll keep trying! You'll want to know how many downloads took the book to that position. Overall there were 307 downloads, with 113 in the UK.

The book continues to do much better in the US, despite me being a London author, with 187 downloads in the US by this morning. The remaining downloads were in Spain, France and Germany, where I have author friends on various social networks. I'm not sure whether the higher number of downloads in the US is due to more enthusiasm for ebooks and social network promotions there, or if it's due to the higher number of Americans in my social networks - probably a bit of both. I thought it was Brit Lit but it does seem to strike a chord with American readers, which I've been very pleased about.

Getting high in the rankings is important as a book needs to become visible to potential buyers if it's to take off on its own and go viral. For this to happen it does also have to be a good book, and I'll leave readers to judge that about my own novel. However, seeing the novel in the top 20 made me realise that the free ebook giveaway idea does let authors gain visibility for their books in a way that would normally be impossible without the high promotional budget of a major publisher.

It's not as easy to give a novel away as people may think, as I said in my previous post. But if a novel can get to such a high position in the rankings with just a few hundred downloads it's certainly possible to gain visibility. A book can slip down the rankings just as quickly, of course, and after the techniques described in my last post to invite friends and social network contacts to get the book an author can run out of fresh ideas.

One of the things I have found out is that it's important to encourage people to press the Like button by your book on Amazon and to add a review, even if it's only a sentence. This moves books up in the rankings, as I could see when I looked at the top literary fiction books on Amazon US, listed in price order from lowest to highest. Books that cost more could still appear higher than a free book if they had a number of Likes and reviews.

I have to be careful about contacting too many people asking them to press Like or to post a review, even if they give me feedback saying they enjoyed the book. As a publisher I'm more wary of annoying others and doing anything to damage the reputation of the company or the authors on our list at Ward Wood Publishing. But I think it's important for authors in general to invite readers to support them in this way. People just don't seem to do it if you don't ask. And people don't usually mind - I know I don't. Some may get annoyed with you but you just have to steel yourself for that, be polite back, and maybe go away and have a little cry!

The other way to make sure your book has a chance of appearing high in the rankings is to check you have it in the right categories in your Kindle settings. Unfortunately Amazon only allow two categories to be set so I chose Literary Fiction and Fiction/Humour. It's much harder to get high in the rankings for all fiction books, but it's possible to gain this visibility in your genres. Being in the right category also helps readers find you - readers who are looking for your type of book.

I realised the importance of this during the giveaway, as my book was in General Fiction and Women's Fiction (I hadn't chosen these settings). It isn't Women's Fiction, and General Fiction isn't specific enough to help people find it in the rankings. In fact Women's Fiction doesn't come up easily when searching genres either. So these two categories were useless during a giveaway and I realised they are useless in general in terms of helping potential readers find your book. When choosing categories for your book, it's worth taking a look at Kindle Books on Amazon and seeing which genres are easy to find.

We had to waste 12 hours of the giveaway period changing to the right categories but it was important. I didn't exactly choose to waste this time, but if you take a look at your Kindle settings by editing them, Amazon will take your book offline until you Save and Publish again. Once a book is offline you have to choose Save and Publish to get it Live and Amazon check it for hours first then slowly update each server for each country. So don't take a look at your Kindle settings during a giveaway - it's important to sort them out beforehand.

I have managed to keep the downloads going at about 100 per day without nagging people individually to download it or to support it in other ways. This is partly because there are people who will mutually support even without being asked too persuasively. These tend to be people who have a particular interest in ebooks or in the other technologies involved in ebooks, such as social networking.

The wonderful Selby Evans, a patron of the arts in the virtual world of Second Life, blogged about the giveaway on his site Virtual Outworlding. I noticed the results in terms of immediate downloads of the book to his large and mainly American following. Downloads in the UK were given a bit of a boost by Anne Welsh's blog, and as she's a librarian with a following of booklovers, that really helped.

Even these quick blog posts support ebooks and authors, and in fact if bloggers use their Amazon Associates link to the giveaway they could earn commission on any other books the buyers get while there so it's worth their while identifying good giveaways and writing about them. I continue to be surprised by the way the giveaway has increased sales of my printed books, especially my poetry collection, but also the novel, so links to the giveaway could also have earned bloggers commission on these sales.

Contacts who share the link on Facebook and Twitter also help keep interest going in a giveaway, and again I haven't asked for this too much but would encourage authors in general to do so. It's human nature to need to be invited to do a thing and to be reminded. The amount of support authors could get is much higher than I've achieved but I need to be careful about possibly annoying others due to the other sides of my work.

With one day to go I still have some new ideas to draw attention to the giveaway and will report tomorrow on the final statistics, the additional tips and techniques used on the last day, and the way forward with a book that's high in the rankings once it has to start being sold again. And of course all of this has to be fitted in with a busy work schedule or perhaps all authors could achieve more with a giveaway.

If you have tips of your own about free Kindle promotions, please leave feedback. I'd like to gather as much advice together as possible.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Adele. As you may know I run regular workshops on epublishing and marketing, and I've followed several authors with interest as they've experimented with giveaways. It's something I've resisted so far as so much work goes into writing a novel that I feel there should be some reward for the author. I've got all my books into the top 50 in their categories by concentrating (paid for) sales into a 24 hour period, and kept them there for a few more days by getting likes and reviews as you suggest. However, it does seem worthwhile giving one book away for free if you have other books available, as there does seem to be a knock-on effect as readers get to like your work and want to read more. My book 'Brighton Sucks' is the first in a trilogy, and when the second is published I will make the first one free, as sales are dwindling now anyway. This is something I've watched a few authors do very successfully with series of books. Thanks for sharing your statistics, it's such a new market that information like this is really useful. Good luck with your book - I shall go and make sure I've liked it, and will leave a review once I've read it.

  2. Thank you Jarek. This is useful information. The experiment with a giveaway partly helped as many of the techniques would also work for a 'paid' book. The challenge is keeping a book high in the rankings after a free giveaway but I can now see how that could be done.

    I agree writing a book is a huge amount of work and should be rewarded, and also that giving books away for free too often could create the perception that our books maybe aren't that good and couldn't sell. But I can see that a temporary giveaway doesn't create this problem. In fact I've had more people buying the print version of the novel during the giveaway than before it. I didn't expect that.

    They are also buying my poetry collection, so it mustn't have created the perception that I'll be giving more away free. I've found the increased sales of print books during the giveaway both surprising and encouraging, as it shows a giveaway can be far more successful than the large amounts we have sometimes paid PR companies to help promote our authors at Ward Wood Publishing.

    I agree that it's probably best to save a giveaway until a book has been out for a year. This is the anniversary of Everything is Free as it was launched as an alternative Christmas novel last year. So it has had its shot at the market at full price.

    It's also quite nice to let a large number of people have the book for free as times are hard and people are cutting back on buying books. Those who love books tend to buy too many and then cut back too.... So a giveaway does reach a lot of people who maybe wouldn't have bought it even though they rather fancy it.

    All in all I can say it has been a very positive experience with no negatives, and has set my mind at ease that it's a very effective marketing tool that could be offered to other authors I publish (I thought I should be the guinea pig!)

    It has also made me feel there are different ways I will offer the book after the giveaway, as I have become very aware of how the Amazon rankings system works. The power of the like button and the need for reviews, plus the relatively low number of sales to get high in visibility, have been a surprise. I hope this information has helped other authors and publishers.

  3. yeah, I agree with you that it is easy to become popular in US, one main reason is that US has much larger numbers of people and more open than UK.

    I usually sell on amazon, US business is much better than UK.
    But still your books can get popular in your country or the world!

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