Is ranking everything in the publishing world. The simple answer is yes. If people cannot see your book, they will not buy it. When you launch you’ll sell to friends and family across your social media platforms first, but once they’ve read it, how do you get seen by enough new readers to sell more.
You can write the greatest piece of literature in history, but without hitting the top of the rankings, you’ll never sell enough to make a living out of it. It takes a long time to get the ranking that you need up there and then a lot of work to keep it there consistently.
Celt was the first book that I published online back in January of 2014. I knew all along that it would be a long series so while I focused on Celt, I still had the concepts and character arcs planned over a few novels.
As you can see from the Amazon ranking image above, it spiked then drifted away eighteen times in a three-year period. Most of these spikes came about with me offering special reduced prices on my social media and my mailing list (I am self-published after all). It was still selling the odd book every month through organic searches, but I wasn’t promoting it (paying for Ads). I wanted to build a back catalogue so not running paid ads was a conscious decision I took early on.
People don’t risk reading new author unless they’re free or have a few books written with good reviews. Celt was getting decent reviews, so I just built on that while I wrote the next one.
Keep reading, keep learning
I was lucky enough to stumble onto a great book that gave my mindset a real shake-up. Write. Publish. Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant (with David Wright) was the book that started me looking towards the long game. Get it, read it, bathe in its honesty. The book also made me realise that I’d have to write a shedload to make a living from it.
One thing I was always going to do was give Celt away for free once I had three novels in the series. So, in January 2017, I set the price to zero on all other online stores and eventually Amazon priced-matched it. With a few promotions, I got it to No. 1 on the category charts a few times from December through to April. As you can see it’s bumped along near the top of the rankings with an average of 2000+ downloads a month ever since.
I know it seems that I am leaving all that cash out there, but this is the start of my sales funnels for the Gibbs series. It’s a loss leader, and the follow-on sales of the rest of the series are starting to kick in. It’s hard and calculating work, but man, I’m having a great time learning.
A note about Amazon KDP Select
I have also moved most of my books into Amazon KDP Select. This means that they’re only available on Amazon and not on any others online book sites. I have left Celt and Igazi (both the first book in the series) on the other sites as a way to funnel readers into the series. My decision to switch to Amazon KDP Select for all other work was two-fold
- Amazon is the largest online bookstore out there. The second largest bookstore is Kindle Unlimited – Amazon’s subscription-based site for accessing all the books in the Kindle Select bookstore. While I am not a fan of the power Amazon exerts on the publishing market, I’d be stupid to put my pride before making a living.
- Amazon’s algorithm is miles better any other book site out there. They store and analyse more search activity on peoples purchasing behaviour than any other. They’re geared to sell to their clients. It’s the way they make money which is why they’re not always author-friendly. They want the best products to be placed before their clients before they realise they need it. Recommendations, also-bought, sponsored posts, are all driven by reader’s buying and searching habits. They want to lead peoples choices and not react to them like other sites. If your book is highly ranked (and is part of a series), Amazon will actively try and get in front of people it deems to like it. No other site does this which is why I decided to move all but 2 of the eggs in one basket. It’s a risk, but over the long term, one I am happy to take.
Amazon emailing suggesting I read my own book.
The Long Game
For me, publishing is about the long game. Ranking matters to get the online stores to make sure your work is in front of the readers who like your genre. Be under no illusion that it takes time and hard work to get there. As satisfying as it is to have published your work, the belief that you’ll hit big with your first writing effort will only crush your expectations.
“All you need is the plan, the roadmap, and the courage to press on to your destination.” Earl Nightingale
Having more books online produces results too, so plan to write many pieces over a long period. There is nothing wrong with simply writing a single book as a bucket list item and uploading it for your friends and family to buy. To turn your love of writing into a career means changing your mindset. A long-term view, backed with hard work and a delusional amount of self-belief is required. In fact, if you want to make money, get a day job. There are more guarantees in the corporate world.
If you still think you want to try and make it a career, plan a long legacy of writing. You just might achieve what you’re after. Forget quick fame. It’s a journey so plan for the long game.
Tip: Have a read of Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts by Ryan Holiday. It’s another book that changed my thinking, and one that I’ll read every few years.
The Next Steps
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot” – Stephen King
I’d like to add to the great man’s illuminating quote. Learn as much as you can about Publishing. The modern writer, whether traditionally published or an Indie author, must understand and embrace the ever-changing world of modern publishing. You have to wear both hats. The notion that you only have to write a book and send it off to the published then sit back to reap the royalties is totally outdated.
So, what next?
Keep on writing. I want to be a full-time writer, so that’s a given. I have two series on the go, and two planned along with a children’s series. Many you have heard about me talking about working on a series of Graphic Novels – they are years away, and that makes me happy.
When it comes to rankings, the last word to say is they are important but forget about them at the beginning of your journey. Focus on the product that you’re going to put into the reader’s hands. They are the new gatekeepers. If you satisfy them, your rankings will only go up.