e. Distribution & Amazon Ranking

One of my first clients was an author who wanted to self-publish his second novel, after having self-published his first. He had only sold about a 400 copies of his first novel over the period of one year and he wondered about how to make sure he sold more, much more, of his second book. While I helped him sort out a marketing plan, I took a look at his previous book’s listing.

While there were obvious problems (with the book cover and lack of good editing), one of the glaring problems were that he had low-performing keywords and his book was listed under a generic category. He also hadn’t thought about multiple channels for distribution.

Hence, it was quite obvious that one of the reasons he wasn’t selling as many books as he potentially could, because the book wasn’t receiving enough exposure.

Surprisingly, tons of new authors make similar mistakes. They always choose one or two options as distribution outlets, generic categories, non-specific keywords and tags, single medium instead of multiple media, not attempting to take part in book awards and so on.

How to ensure wider distribution of your books:

Multiple media. Don’t just think of publishing your book in e-book or paperback format. Many readers love collecting hardcover books, so ensure you put out your book in hardcover format too. Make an audio-book. You can record the book yourself at a local studio and distribute it through one of the audio-book platforms, iTunes or even your website. Or hire a voice over artist at a reasonable rate from www.upwork.com or www.fiverr.com or www.peopleperhour.com and have them make an audio-book for you. If you buy your own ISBNs, instead of getting free ISBNs assigned to your book by Amazon KDP or Createspace, you will be able to sell versions of your book online or offline, via your own outlets. You can then make your books available for sale from your own website or Facebook page in PDF, MOBI or EPUB versions.
Use these software and platforms to create eBooks:
Audio-books platforms and creators:
  • Audio-book Creation Exchange. Creator platform that lets you sell through Audible, Amazon and iTunes, but so far, at the time of writing this, only available in US, UK, Canada and Ireland - http://www.acx.com/
  • Infinity Publishing. A paid platform, but worth it if you have the dough to roll out. They’ll take care of everything - https://infinitypublishing.com/
  • Audible. An Amazon company and quickly becoming one of the biggest platforms to your list your audio-book on - https://www.audible.com/
Resources on creating audio-books:
Multiple languages. If you’re getting traditionally published, I would strongly suggest that you negotiate with your publisher to include a clause that lets your book be translated in other languages for other countries. If you’re planning to self-publish then you’ll have to take care of this by yourself. Hire a translator with good credentials to get your book translated and list them on Amazon sites of those particular countries. You could even create a single universal link for your book, that would work in all countries where Amazon has services, using a service like www.booklinker.net.
Resources from book marketers on getting your book translated: Translating Services:

Multiple channels. One of the things you don’t have to worry about when you’re getting traditionally published is getting your book distributed through multiple channels. However, as a self-publishing author you’ll need to list your book on multiple sites through multiple book distributors in order to ensure maximum exposure. I’ve listed the most popular platforms that are a self-publisher’s best friends. I will not go into details about the pros and cons of each of the platforms, but I will link to more resources which will help understand the strengths and weaknesses of each of them and help you navigate them.
The most popular channels are:
  • Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon’s own and so far the #1 e-book creator distributor out there. KDP has also ventured into print books, however they are still in beta (at the time of writing this) and have had problems with paper and print qualities. https://kdp.amazon.com
  • Createspace. Acquired by Amazon in 2005, Createspace is the #1 platform to create and distribute both self-published paperback and e-book versions, throughout Amazon. They still don’t support hardcovers. http://www.createspace.com/
  • IngramSpark. Owned by Ingram, which is the world’s leading distributor of print books with reach in about 150 countries. They do charge a small set-up fee, but it’s worth the service since they support all formats including hardcover and will ensure a pretty brilliant distribution both online and offline in brick-n-mortar bookshops. http://www.ingramspark.com/
  • iBooks. Apple owned and operated and focuses on e-books only. Their distribution is not that widespread, but it doesn’t have to be, considering the number of Apple product owners who like to read on their devices and have access to iTunes. https://www.apple.com/in/ibooks/
  • BookBaby. A full-service e-book platform on which you can even hire editors, designers, formatting experts to polish your book. BookBaby also offers services in tiers, starting with a free tier, where your self-published e-book will be distributed to iBooks, Amazon, B&N, and Kobo etc. Paid services offer higher visibility and wider distribution. https://www.bookbaby.com
  • Smashwords. An extensive, aggregator network of e-books that has grown exponentially in the last three years. They only support e-books, they’re free to list on, and distribute to Kobo, iBooks, Scribd and even Barnes & Noble. https://www.smashwords.com/
  • Draft2Digital. Another aggregator platform which is free to use, and on the plus side they will even do all formatting for you. D2D still doesn’t have as wide a reach as Smashwords, but they’re developing networks rapidly and have excellent customer satisfaction so far. https://www.draft2digital.com/
  • Kobo. Kobo manufactures their own version of e-readers, which are great, to be honest and preferred by many readers. Kobo, in spite of having its own self-publishing platform, also allows aggregators alike Smashwords and D2D to sell on their platform. If you list on either of those two sites, chances are that your book will be available to Kobo users worldwide. The only reason to directly publish with Kobo, is the higher rate of royalties (70%) and that Kobo might just push your book ahead of the ones streaming in from third-party sites. https://www.kobo.com/
  • Lulu. Great for both e-books and print book distribution through Amazon, Ingram network and Barnes & Noble. https://www.lulu.com/
  • Blurb. Blurb is great for picture books or coffee table publications and boutique journals. They offer high-quality printing and are great for photographers, designers, and graphic artists who want to publish their books. http://www.blurb.com/

Choose the right keywords, tags and categories.
When you list your books on online portals, you often have to choose keywords, tags and categories under which your book will be listed. This is to ensure that readers are able to find your book as close to their requirements, when they perform a search on the portal. New authors often think that choosing a popular and generic category will make their books easy to find. That is simply not the case. Niche categories and tags will place your book on top searches in its respective categories. And top level search placement is what you want for more book sales. I go into more detail with categories and keywords in the “Amazon Ranking” part of this section.

It is not very easy to get your books in to local bookshops, but it isn’t impossible either. Most of the time it is about paperwork and having a good product. Author Kristen Martin says:
“For local/indie bookstores, go to their website/go to the store and see if they offer a consignment program. Most do, and this is an easy way to get your books in a physical bookstore. For the larger box stores, like Barnes & Noble, they require a media press kit and copies of the book be sent to their Small Press Department. Requirements will vary, so it’s important to do your research before submitting anything.”

Given that Amazon is, so far, the largest online bookseller in the world; it would be fair to hold its listing algorithm as the standard. Amazon has their own set of parameters that they use to determine the ranking of a book (ABSR). And these are the parameters you’re looking to hit, with your book.

First up, why is a good Amazon ranking important?
The answer’s pretty simple --- higher ranking equals more exposure equals more sales. Amazon lists all best sellers at the top of each of their categories, and for obvious reasons, the top of the page is the most prominent (and the best) place to grab a buyer’s attention.

ABSR stands for Amazon Best Seller Ranking. Note these numbers whenever you buy or list a book on Amazon:

These numbers represent the “rank” the book is listed at in each respective category that it has been assigned (the text on the right, in blue). The lower the number, the higher the rank, more visible the book, more the exposure to buyers, more sales.
We have to keep in mind that just because a book is an Amazon Bestseller, doesn’t mean it’s the best book in the category. Mostly because the primary reason a book (or any product, for that matter) is labelled with that coveted orange tag that says “#1 Bestseller” is because of the number of sales it has achieved over a certain period of time, and that too in comparison with the performance of the other books in the same category.

A few good practices to follow based on Amazon’s algorithm:
The Amazon algorithm is definitely not complicated to understand, contrary to popular belief. But it can be a little unreliable at times. The research done on this by John Doppler* and Matthias Matting**, gives us really solid parameters on which we can base our practices. Considering the fact that sales volumes are the primary reasons for a good ranking, you can follow a few really good practices to boost your book’s position.
The table on the next page tries to highlight the most prominent practices and how it affects the ranking of a book. It is absolutely not necessary for you to follow all of the practices listed. They are only guides as to how you can wield a certain amount of control over you Amazon ranking.

*John Doppler’s https://selfpublishingadvice.org/amazon-sales-rank-taming-the-algorithm/
**Matthias Matting’s http://www.selfpublisherbibel.de/test-how-amazons-algorithms-really-work-myth-and-reality/

FactBest Practice
  • Books that are priced at Free are treated and weighed the same way as books that have been promoted at a price. They are also listed on separate lists.
  • Running a promotion with KDP Select, or putting up paid ads on Amazon will allow the platform to post your listing on sidebars, marquees and “Suggested for you” sections, that will make buyers click on your book’s page and may lead to increased sales.
  • Listing on KDP Select or Kindle Unlimited doesn’t affect the ranking.
  • But downloads, even the free ones, count. As mentioned above, running a promo with KDP Select for a few days where you give away your book for free will lead to downloads, that will count towards increasing your rank.
  • Ranking doesn’t depend on the number of reviews you get on the book or the ratings that it gets. A book could have the largest number reviews and all 5 star ratings, but still not be a “#1 Bestseller”.
  • But reviews, rather good reviews and high ratings on Amazon lead buyers to confirm their purchases. So you’ll have to continue pursuing reviews from trusted sources.
  • Even though your sales numbers may be high, your book may still show up later (after lower ranked books) in search results. When the search feature comes into play, results that are shown to the buyer depend on relevance of keywords, categories etc. Not on sales numbers.
  • Choosing keywords carefully is important. For egg., if your book is about fashion, just selecting “fashion” and “clothes” is not going make your book appear early in searches. Instead try and hone in on niche keywords like “skinny jeans” or “taffeta”.
  • Your Amazon ranking depends on the sales of other books. Even if your ranks #1 in a certain category, you may still rank #300,000 in another category.
  • Classifying the book under the correct categories is of paramount importance. Your aim is to choose niche categories rather than broad ones. For eg, instead of just choosing “Science Fiction & Fantasy”, go a couple of steps further and choose “Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Dystopian”.
  • Sales numbers take more than 24 hours to update, so even if you capture a lot of sales or downloads, it may take time to affect your ranking. This is also based on how much a rival book performs in the same 24 hours.
  • Nothing much you can do about this, except to continue with your marketing push.

7 things you can do to increase your chances at getting a higher rank on Amazon:
  1. Pricing. Research on how to price your book. Check out books in your genre (exact genre) and with similar stories and take a look at how much they’re priced at. Set a similar price. Barring free promotions and price promotions, which are effective, as discussed in section 3.2 of this chapter, many first-time authors are always tempted to lower their prices thinking that a lower price gives their books a competitive edge over the popular ones. It most often doesn’t. It only tells buyers that you may have an inferior product.
  2. Run a pre-order campaign. Amazon does count pre-orders as sales, so your book will have a chance to hit a high ranking, maybe even #1, even before it releases.
  3. Run a free promotion on KDP Select. Downloads are counted (refer table above), hence you want those downloads to boost your rank.
  4. A keyword-rich title and description. This point is more for nonfiction writers. Choosing a great title that includes a keyword your potential audience may search for is crucial. The same goes for descriptions. Use bullet points and mention features. For fiction writers, bullet points are not necessary but don’t just stop at copying and pasting your book blurb into the description.
  5. Categories. Look for the #1 bestseller in each category that your book should ideally be in. You could even type a few potential keywords that best describe your book, into the Amazon search bar. And then take note of the top search results that come up. Click on the topmost results that match your book’s genre and take note of the categories those books are classified under. Those are the categories you should be assigning to your book.
  6. Reviews. Verified reviews, editorial helpful reviews, buyer reviews, reviews by Amazon Top Reviewers, may not count towards ranking, but they’re what buyers look at before making a decision. So ensure your product is good enough to gather good reviews and ratings.
  7. Author Bio. Keep this updated and with the latest info. Also try and make it interesting. Not all the times, but sometimes readers like to get to know more about you and want to find out about your other works. You need to make it easy for them.

Don’t lose your head over it.
In all seriousness. The best thing you can do is to make sure you put up an error-free, well-designed product and to get the word out to wherever possible. The rest just depends on an algorithm on which you don’t have any control. So don’t get overwhelmed by the system of rankings.

Learn more about ABSR and how Amazon works:


To Sum Up

Book marketing, at first glance, can look like rocket science. But the fact remains, that it’s not difficult at all. It is more time-consuming than anything and requires commitment and consistent efforts. At any point of time, it might seem futile to research keywords or maintain social media accounts, or to write fresh posts. It might become a problem to spend a lot on professional editors and cover designers and Google ads and so on. It might even feel like a lost cause that most new authors chase after, especially when they see dismal numbers on their book sales.

But the best thing to do is take a pen and paper and jot down the best strategies that you, as a brand-new author, can undertake and afford. And if there’s one other advice I have to give – something that I’ve learnt by working with authors over the years and watching the experts do their jobs –is, start early. Don’t wait to start marketing your book.

Good luck!