Back at my old day job as an editor for Zenith Press, I would sometimes have authors call with concern about their Amazon ranking. “I was at X just last week, now I’m at X-1,245,619. What happened? What can we do?” My stock answer was to explain that no one really knows the algorithms Amazon uses to kick out those rank numbers. I had a joke to go with it, if the author seemed in the mood for it: “I think there’s just a big room with numbers on the floor, and a chicken walks through the room and wherever it poops, that’s your Amazon ranking.”
My opinion hasn’t changed much over the years. Exult in good numbers, it’s fun, but try not to get to hung up on the bad ones, because what the hell do they really mean? Let’s take a look at one of my little efforts, “The Squid that Came to Phil’s Basement,” a humorous Lovecraft pastiche. It was originally published in Space and Time Magazine in 2014, and I recently made it available as a Kindle Single. I’ve done almost no promotion for it, just a Tweet here and there, some Facebook posts, some earlier blog posts. I don’t exactly have millions of followers, so these things don’t reach a large audience.
For the week of 5/22, my average rank in e-books was #1,289,791. That was up 30% from a month ago, when it was at 1,841,556, but down 25% from last week at 1,034,844. But if we drill down into some niches, like, say, horror comedy, then my ranking skyrockets to #515. Huge leap, right? But there’s only about 1,600 titles in that category, putting me low in the top third. Could be worse, but, hey, I’m in the top third! But wait . . . how many sales gets me in the top third of horror comedy e-books? Let me check my sales for the week of 5/22 and . . . oh. Nada. Zip. Goose egg. I didn’t sell a single copy of “Squid” the week I was 515th of 1,626. So, what, did those below me sell negative numbers? How do a bunch of books that sold nothing get assigned a specific ranking? Maybe only 514 titles actually had sales and all the rest of us were ranked at 515. I do know that one week I bought a copy myself for my iPad so I could see how the final product looked, and that week my average overall rank jumped up to somewhere around 500,000. One sale propelled me from around a 1,000,000th to 500,000th. How does that work? That’s just it. No one knows.
Or maybe there is a way to figure it out if you put in the time. But that time, like trying to understand the current presidential campaign, is better spent writing. Or reading. For example, you could all buy and read “The Squid that Came to Phil’s Basement,” and then I could see what my Amazon sales ranking does. Just as an experiment, you understand. For a friend.