Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Take (or two) on Author Rank

SF author John Scalzi has an interesting take on the new Amazon author rankings. He kicks off his post by stating:
"Amazon has started ranking authors by total sales via Amazon, updated hourly. This is certain to make a whole bunch of authors begin to freak out as they constantly refresh their Amazon author pages to see where they stand in the rankings..."
The "freak out" part is where I have a problem with Amazon's new set up. Personally, I think if a writer pays too much attention to all of this ranking business it can be counter-productive, quite literally. When a higher portion of creative energy goes into promotion and its accompanying worries over actual writing, then there's something wrong with the equation. Does that mean an author, specifically an indie or self published one, shouldn't do any promotion at all for his or her books? No, of course not. But there has to be a balance and I think some folks are more worried about, as Scalzi puts it, "gaming the system" for their current books, than the much more important challenge of writing new books.

Other than a pathetically low-key social media presence, my not too terribly complicated marketing/sales plan is to write books that readers want to read. Yup, that's the plan in its entirety. Hopefully, I'll write enough books that I can build up a decent backlist. With a decent backlist and enough readers reading my books, there's an outside chance that I'll be able to earn a living as an author (which is, no matter what you hear, the ultimate goal for any author). I don't care what my author ranking is (no I haven't looked) and I'm pretty gosh-darned sure that I never will care.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please let me know what you think about Amazon's new round of rank-o-mania in the comments.

9 comments:

Cassandra said...

The last thing indie/self-published/small press authors need is yet another rigged indicator of our (lack of) worth. I want people to read my book and, if they like, leave a review. I don't need a sales ranking or internet popularity contest for that.

Keith Robinson said...

I confess that I suffer from check-my-ranking-itis. Ever since my August promo I've been checking my rank continuously... and watching it descend.

The rank (for each book) does seem to tie in directly and accurately with sales, but there's a difference between big fish and small fish. For big fish, a high ranking means high visibility and yet more sales. For small fish, the ranking really is nothing but confirmation of low sales and therefore serves no purpose. It's just a number and I need to quit looking at it.

I do, however, check sales several times a day, even when there are very few to check. I keep a running tally in a spreadsheet, and an average per day, which yields a projected total for the month and fairly accurate estimated earnings... It's taking over my life!!

Must stop. Must write instead.

Roger Eschbacher said...

Cassandra: I agree. There are enough things messing with a creative person's head. No need to add another annoyance of questionable value.

Keith: Like you, I will admit to checking my sales (in my case, I allow myself a morning check). Usually, there's not much happening there but a sales bump can certainly put a spring in my step. For me it means someone's reading my book and that's all I really care about.

Keith Robinson said...

Right, but as you said, a writer doesn't just write, edit and publish novels purely for love (despite what many authors say). It's way too much work for that. I dream of a writing income large enough that my wife can give up her job, and then an even bigger income so I can give up mine, with the ultimate goal of... well, just writing and making millions (actually, enough to cover two regular incomes would be enough). Not too much to ask, is it? :-D

So money is important, and I enjoy every single sale. But I totally believe in writing the very best I can and having a loyal and ever-growing fan base. Hearing from readers who really liked my books is the best feeling in the world, worth much more than a couple of dollars in commission.

I particularly like it when people buy the other books in my series. People can buy the first and may not like it, but when they buy the second, the third, the fourth, and the fifth, it means they're true fans whether they tell me so or not. So in that sense, overall sales of each book are much more useful than hourly Kindle rankings.

Roger Eschbacher said...

Right you are, Wizard Robinson. I must learn to complete my thoughts (and not post before I've had both cups of coffee).

Okay, let's see if I get it right this time. To sum up: People reading and liking your books: good. Writing more than obsessing over various "rankings": good. Enough people buying your books so that you can earn a respectable living: very good.

By the by, I hold the same income goal as you. While a J.K. Rowling level income would be sweet, I'd be more than happy to "settle" for replacing both me and my wife's incomes with earnings from book sales. I'd feel I had arrived at that point.

Daniel said...

Since the beginning of the month, I've been checking my sales on KDP once each morning. That lets me forget about it for the rest of the day. I plug the figures into a spreadsheet that tells me how many books I sold over the past 24 hours and how many I've sold total. I also pop over to KindleNationDaily and use their eBookTracker to see my rankings over the past 24 hours. I plug the high and low ranking into my spreadsheet so I can see exactly how my sales compare to my ranking.

When I first heard about *author* ranking, I went over and checked my own ranking out, but that metric doesn't interest me on an ongoing basis. I don't quite see the point of it. I can do even less about my author ranking than I can about my book ranking!

My goal is the same as yours: I would like to replace my current income with book income and be able to write full time. I'm a freelance software developer, so I'll have to write some pretty darned popular books to reach that goal. In the meantime, I'll just have fun writing when I can.

Roger Eschbacher said...

Thanks for weighing in on the subject, Daniel. Seriously, is it too much to ask for to be paid enough for our books that we can tell all of our other income streams to kiss off? ;)

Jeff Bennington said...

Hi Roger,
I think the lists are extremely important to building your reader following. Not only are "category" lists important in helping readers find the books you are writing, the "Top 100 Author" list is yet another way to help readers find the writers who write the books that they want to read. In my opinion, getting on those lists are second priority to writing more books. Without those lists, no one will find your books and you will be that much further from your dream. Unfortunately, writers must be marketers as well as authors, especially independent authors. I know a few authors with a few titles now, who think lists do not matter, and all of their titles are not selling. Books sell books, but unmarketed books never find an audience. Those are my thoughts.
Jeff Bennington

Roger Eschbacher said...

Thanks, Jeff. You make some very cogent points. Of course you are correct in stating that it's necessary to build a following and market the books that you've written. My reaction to the Author Rank list is primarily fueled by an observation that some authors seem to focus almost exclusively on these rankings to the detriment of their writing. I know some author pals who are more concerned with gaming the system to increase various rankings than writing the next chapter in their WIP. That strikes me as the wrong way to go about it.