Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Best-Seller List Secrets

Just about every author dreams of making the best-seller list. The New York Times. The USA Today list. Amazon’s best-seller list. Costco’s list. There’s a ton of them out there. But it’s always a coup to get to say you’re a “best selling author.”

Well, today I have the secrets to the Amazon best-seller list, straight from ABC News.

The article starts off by saying that it’s not necessarily readers who choose the winners. Often times, it’s the discounts and store positioning of the books. It then goes on to say that today authors have to take responsibility for marketing their books - and part of that is tracking sales.

The writer, Marion Maneker, uses one nonfiction author, Andy Kessler, as an example. The author tracks his sales on Amazon after each marketing effort to see if there’s an uptick in sales. He can then see if that particular effort was worthwhile. The author, Andy Kessler, wrote:
I once hit No. 4 and stayed there almost all day. It was a Sunday. An e-mail newsletter had dropped on Friday night with a direct link, and I could almost hear mouses clicking all weekend.
According to the article, there are ways to “game” the system.
The simplest way to game the Amazon list is to gather credit card numbers directly at speaking engagements or through an e-mail offer, then turn around and plug the names and addresses into Amazon by hand.

It's raw data entry, but the applied effort can shoot a title to the top. Amazon is a "long tail" retailer. At the very top-- rankings No. 1 to No. 10-- a book could be selling 3,000 to 10,000 copies a week through the Internet retailer. So all it takes is, say, 500 to 1,000 copies manhandled through the system on a single day to get your book into the top ranks.
The writer of the article says there’s no point in trying to manipulate Amazon’s sales. It’s not like you’ll get a discount at superstores or a bonus. But I don’t think that’s why an author wants to be on a best-seller list.

I think authors know that being a [Fill in the blank] Best-Selling Author gets you more recognition, more reviews, and more sales.

Tell us why you would want to be a best-selling author on one of the big lists. (Once you've done that, pop over to The Blood-Red Pencil where I start a week-long series on Public Speaking for Writers. Today, the topic is: Organizing Your Talk.)
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27 comments:

  1. Hey, public speaking - right up my alley!

    I've heard a lot from both sides about manipulating Amazon sales to spike into the top ten. It's also tough, because Amazon is so big. When I was doing book launches all myself, I always did a book launch day on B&N's site, rewarding buyers with bookmarks & stuff for buying that day.

    L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”
    www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
    www.spunkonastick.net
    www.thecircleoffriends.net

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  2. Love the article on public speaking!

    Don't have the time to mess around with Amazon, though. I haven't even figured out their blog feature there.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  3. That's a very interesting idea, Diane. It sounds like it would be worth figuring out how to do a book launch day on B&N.

    Elizabeth, there is so much to try to figure out in this fast-changing Internet world, isn't there!

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  4. I'm with Elizabeth on this one. I haven't a clue how to find out how many of my books have sold on Amazon. I get a statement from the publisher, but that's hard to figure out as well. Grrrr.
    Karen

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  5. We should start a group, where each person is a mentor for the others in areas that they've learned or become experts in. We need a name. And members. And a password or secret handshake.

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  6. It would be nice to be on that top list but if I had to manipulate things to do it, I'm not sure it would be as valuable. Of course, marketing is everything, but it sounds like with Amazon it's just a matter of knowing how to work the system?

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  7. Really, people do that? Wow. It is the first time I hear about that. There is no fairness.

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  8. I wouldn't want to fabricate and manipulate a best selling rank. But I do want so dearly to one day have a book legitimately up there way high. Why? Money, baby - what else? lol. Plus it means the books are being read and peeps are being inspired and that's my mission.

    OK, off to the BRP.

    The Old Silly

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  9. My first book was on a best-seller list that actually was based on sales, not manipulation or mega corporation machinations. It was a publisher best seller. Of course, no one has ever heard of Avid Press, and yes, they’re now defunct. But, I guess the point is, it felt pretty good to be able to market with that Publisher Best Seller moniker. Plus, it just felt pretty good period. Still does.

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

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  10. I think when it comes down to it, I don't necessarily want to reach a "bestselling' status, because those lists can sometimes be wonky. I just seek a loyal following, and maybe *grin* a little name recognition.

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  11. Interesting article, Helen. And I guess not much has changed since Jackie Collins bought thousands of her book to make a best-seller list. Authors, with the means, have been manipulating best-seller lists forever. :-)

    Not sure I would want to spend the time trying to manipulate numbers on Amazon. In that hour or so, I could probably write a few hundred words on my next book.

    And totally off topic, you might want to check my blog today. I gave you the One Lovely Blog Award. :-)

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  12. The simplest way to game the Amazon list is to gather credit card numbers directly at speaking engagements or through an e-mail offer, then turn around and plug the names and addresses into Amazon by hand.

    No-one else a bit freaked out by this? It looks like he was opening Amazon accounts for a bunch of people without fully informing them of what he was going to do. I'm sure a lot of those people were avoiding using Amazon directly for their own reasons.

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  13. When you say you're a best-selling author, hardly anyone ever questions it, so I guess to the reader, it doesn't matter how you got on it. But I think it would matter to me.

    Anton, I have no idea how he did it as far as ordering for them.

    Thank you for the award, Maryann. I'm going to pop over and see what it means!

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  14. I wondered how many it took to hit some of the Amazon lists. My debut hit the top 100 gothic romances (though it's not gothic but I figured out that's where they categorize paranormal romances) at least 4 times that I saw in the months preceeding its release. I knew people were buying it, but I didn't know how many. And it was soooo cool to see it ranked higher than many of my favorite authors. Yes, I took a screen shot. LOL

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  15. Ooh, Judi, that's a great idea, taking a screen shot! I like it. I would also frame it, but that's just me. ;-)

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  16. I think if I called myself a "best-selling author" I'd like to know that I really was - not by some strange manipulation of numbers. I AM a best-selling author of mystery games - simply because my games sell more than anyone else's. That's fine and is warm-feeling-worthy.

    As for the helping others find their way through the mysterious ways of internet marketing etc. sign me up. Passwords and secret handshakes are excellent.

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  17. Helen,
    I think the most common way to game Amazon is to have a huge book launch and give away tons of free goodies to everyone who purchases a book on Amazon on a specific day. There are actually a couple of companies that do these campaigns. I've received many e-mails from authors -- mostly nonfiction and primarily Internet marketing types -- asking me to buy their books on a certain day and offering gifts they say are valued at thousands of dollars. The buyer collects the gifts after e-mailing the receipt for the book. Of course, most of the gifts are e-books "valued" at outrageous prices. These are donated by the e-book authors, and they all do this for each other. They get most all of the sales for that book in a single day. Even if they never sell another copy, they can claim to be an Amazon best-seller.

    Lillie Ammann
    A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

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  18. Hmm. All this manipulation makes you wonder if a listing as an Amazon Best-Selling author really means much. But it probably does to the reading public since they're not aware that the system can be skewed.

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  20. I have yet to figure out Amazon's system, much less manipulate it! I'd simply like to be on a best seller list for the ease of promoting future books and getting reviews.

    Now I am off to Blood Red Pencil because I really need help with public speaking. Even thinking about it makes me want to hide in a closet!

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  21. Jane, once you make the list, you can use it in just about all future marketing material. I recently read CJ Box's latest in the Joe Pickett series (I'll review it Saturday) and at the top of the cover, just under his name, it says: National-bestselling author of Blood Trail. I believe that was the first in the series, 8 books ago.

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  22. Helen, There are the other kinds of bestseller lists, too. I was lucky enough to top the BookPeople list with my book. (This probably only means anything to people who live in Austin! BookPeople is a major independent bookstore.) Of course, it was a matter of timing. You have to be the top seller the week the local paper runs the BookPeople list. I don't know how you could predict that.

    Take care--Joe
    ---------
    author of EVACUATION PLAN
    Winner of the North Texas Book Award
    Finalist for the Violet Crown Book Award
    joeoconnell.com

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  23. Seems like as soon as a list is automatically generated there's a way to automatically trick it too. I'd love to be any kind of best-seller, but I'm not sure I'd love it enough to go to that sort of effort.

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  24. Joe, I bet more people know about BookPeople than you think. It's like one of the largest independent bookstores in the US, I think. Did the dates coincide with a signing there?

    Sheila, I'm with you on that!

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  25. Oddly, my bestseller status didn't come at my book launch there (which sold 84 books!). That wasn't a newspaper list week.

    I think I was just sending a lot of customers their direction on the right week--about two months after my book came out--and the stars aligned.

    Joe
    ---------
    author of EVACUATION PLAN
    Winner of the North Texas Book Award
    Finalist for the Violet Crown Book Award
    joeoconnell.com

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  26. Considering BookPeople is a big independent, certainly the biggest in Austin, the paper should post their biggest sellers every week, I think.

    I also think it's great that you hit the list 2 months after your launch!

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  27. We're planning as SEND WITCH TO THE TOP day for the sequel to Rowan of the Wood, trying to hit the Amazon best seller list.

    It's for visibility.

    It would be great to be a "best selling" author, and I guess we already are, as we were the top seller for our (now former) publisher, our current publisher, and a bookstore in Round Rock...

    Hmmm... maybe we should say "best-selling!"

    The thing is, unless it's a "big boy" list (NYT, Amazon, USAToday, etc), "best seller" doesn't mean much in the marketing realm.

    I certainly will use "best seller" when we hit a major list.

    We want to hit the best seller list on Amazon for the visibility. The most difficult thing we've found is to be visible among all the other authors and books and information out there.

    More visibility = more sales
    More sales = more fans & more money
    More money = not losing our house and more time to actually write

    :-D

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