Survive Your Amazon Ranking with a Good Review

Or…The Dragon talks about the Amazon marketing blues today

(this is a re-post from May 2009 at the old dragon blog in response to an Amazon ranking article at this week’s Writers Weekly)

My fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods had been available at http://tinyurl.com/CMFGamazon for about a day when a friend of mine sent a message through an online group saying something to the effect of OMGlookatyourrankingonamazonlookatitnow. The note may have been in all caps.

I obeyed her to find my ranking at 200,000+. Well, that ain’t half bad for a then-unknown author with only one book out. But I recalled a warning a fellow writer gave at a meeting in the not-so-distant past. He cautioned that your book can perform much better in a day than the numbers/rankings at Amazon reflect. Here’s why: (remember, this was presented at a conference in 2009–Amazon may have upgraded since then)

The great and powerful Oz O’Amazon hides behind his curtain and sorts information every hour. He sends all those computer-language ones and zeroes skittering toward their end equations until, at about some point past the hour, according to the presenter, the rankings at Amazon.com change. This is every hour.

It’s enough to make an author bi-polar. And I don’t think you have to be a fantasy author like me who’s already half way to a state of confusion to develop the condition.

So I looked at my 200,000+ ranking for Choices Meant for Gods when my friend told me to, came back an hour later to a 100,000+ ranking, and visited that night to find a 68,000+ ranking. I was elated. Elated, I tell you! But I have seen numbers all over the board since then. One recent night when I was contemplating the arsenic-laced Kool-aid because my ranking had been down around 1,400,000+, I checked one last time to see what exact figure to include in my suicide note. I found the blasted thing back at 200,000+! How does that happen? (I think that hour’s traffic can be attributed to an Author Island blog post, actually, and I recommend every published author get in touch with DeNita Tuttle for her much-needed support.)

There are other ways authors can manipulate their Amazon rankings. First, I would ask if it’s worth your time and energy. Second, I would caution you against unscrupulous agencies preying upon the insecure or inexperienced in our industry. Beware of PR companies that want to charge a few thousand dollars to get your Amazon ranking up to No. 1. Look closely at what they’re going to do:
* What gimmick or free give-away are they offering when someone buys your book? Maybe you’re cool with a bedroom toy for a free giveaway if you’ve got an erotic romance to promote, but, for the sweet romance couched in my fantasy Choices Meant for Gods, a French tickler would definitely be over the top!
* Who are they going to align you with for promotional purposes? I’ll keep politics out of this blog post, and you probably want to keep political affiliations away from your romance, memoir, sci-fi, or mystery title, too.
* What sort of discount off your book are you going to have to take? If you’re just interested in building audience with a first book or a new genre, maybe giving up a small royalty in your contract is no big deal. For Choices Meant for Gods, I was so pleased to get my foot in the publishing-industry door that I didn’t fear the industry’s warning cry that I’d make no money on the first book. I went in with both eyes open, knowing this is an audience-building venture.
* How much are you going to have to pay? You have to weigh this marketing idea against other promotional and marketing weapons in your arsenal. In this day and age, few publishers hand out copious amounts of cash to authors for promotional efforts. Promoting and marketing your book is your responsibility. Luckily for me, ArcheBooks Publishing has some technologies in place to help its authors and the man in charge is a wiz when it comes to creating banners, flyers, ads for print or web, etc. Also in my favor: ArcheBooks Publishing has a stable of authors who have done this before and they could warn me against the predators who would seek out a fledgling author and scam her with an Amazon-rank-hiking scheme.
* Is your No. 1 ranking guaranteed? Just what will the company you’re paying guarantee to do with your Amazon ranking? Is it guaranteed for an hour? When is that hour—at 2 p.m. on a Saturday or at 3 a.m. on a Wednesday? Or is the No. 1 ranking guaranteed for a day, which I personally define as 24 hours.
These things are often a scam. Let me emphasize that for you. These things are often a scam. Please use your hard-earned money wisely and protect your hard-earned reputation carefully.

Now here’s something you can do to improve not just an arbitrary number, but your sales as well: get some good reviews. Do you know people who have already reviewed books on Amazon.com before? Those are good folks to talk to because they have a track record. Politely request they read and review your exciting new breakthrough work. Now, a person who already has a few reviews under his or her belt will carry more weight than your Aunt Edna who’s never heard of Amazon before, but, hey, if Aunt Edna’s the only person biting right now, she’s better than no review at all! (unless she pans it…)

Beware of site owners who are paying for reviews. Potential buyers will start to pick up on that and get turned off. You’re better off selecting your own reviewers who are doing it because they love stories, love to read, love to offer their opinions and love to get home-baked cookies in the mail. (I’m joking. I’ve never sent cookies to a reviewer…yet.)

And here’s an interesting fact for you. When a five-star review goes up on Amazon, the book’s sales are supposed to increase by 38 percent. That’s nice.

So manipulate the ranking at Amazon.com (or B&N.com) however you wish, but don’t let it rule your life. Seeing it at 200,000+ at 6 p.m. doesn’t reflect the 45 books that sold at 10 a.m., or vice versa. The great and powerful Oz hasn’t perfected a system to make you look good for the whole day with numbers, but you know what? I think you look good because you have a published book! Hooray for you!

And if you’re still working to get your book to that stage, there are tips and tidbits from interviewed authors here at Today the Dragon Wins to help you pursue that goal. We’re all pullin’ for ya.

“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

Market with an Online Book Tour

Lots of authors refer to the online book tour as a virtual book tour, but, trust me, there’s nothing virtual about it. It’s hard work, whether you have a tour service/PR firm helping you or not. I’ll discuss some ideas for making your online book tour a success at this blog (or you can come to one of my IRL presentations on the subject), and I invite you to stop by one of my tour dates for the upcoming Problems on Eldora Prime or What Choices We Made tours.