(well, not all…but at least a good portion of it…)
Amazon ranking matters, let’s start with that. But for many authors, the math behind the ranking is unclear, as are the effects and the importance. In the next few posts, we’ll talk about all you ever wanted to know about Amazon ranking…or at least cover the basics.
What Do We Mean by Amazon Ranking?
Since this blog is for authors, I’m focusing purely on book ranking, and more specifically on the Kindle book ranking since that’s where most of us make the most money. Amazon has different kinds of ranking:
- category ranking: your ranking within the categories your book is in, eg gay romance in my case
- overall ranking: your ranking within the entire Kindle store
- special ranking: then there’s the special ranking, eg in new releases in your genre, author ranking, etc.
We’ll be talking mostly about the first two rankings because those are the ones that are most visible, though the last one can definitely matter, especially the new release ranking.
To show you an example of what I mean, let’s look at one of my books. This is the current ranking of my book Beta’s Love, which released yesterday.
As you can see, I have several rankings: I’m #6 in the category LGBT Romance, #5 in the category Gay Romance, and #5 in the category Gay Fiction. My overall ranking in the store for this book is #413.
This is the ninth book in a series that’s a smaller niche within gay romance, so I’m pretty pleased with this ranking. It’s not gonna last long, because I know from experience this niche is far less sticky than my MM contemporary romance books. We’ll talk more about that stickiness in a later post.
Before we continue, let me clarify some language. Technically, a low sales rank is a good thing. If you’re number 1 in the store, that obviously fantastic. However, it’s somewhat counter-intuitive as the same time, because we usually associate “dropping” with bad and “rising” with good. Here, it’s the opposite. Dropping rank is a good thing. Rising rank isn’t.
How Does Amazon Calculate Rankings?
The big question, of course, is how Amazon calculates these rankings. The exact “formula” is secret, as you probably expected, but we do know the three main factors that are used:
- recent sales and KU downloads: sales and downloads in the last hour to 24 hours
- sales/download history: sales and downloads over a somewhat longer period, most likely around 30 days. A book that has sold well over a period of time won’t be affected as much by declining sales than a book that didn’t do well to begin with
- sales/download history longer term: same as above but over a longer period
It’s important to note that for the purpose of ranking, KU downloads count, not actual page reads. If 100 people download your book, your ranking will improve considerably, even if they don’t start reading right away.
One blind factor is how preorders are calculated. It used to be that Amazon counted preorders as sales on the day the reader did the preorder. That meant fewer sales in release day, which hurts initial ranking, especially when authors promoted that preorder hard over a longer period of time.
However, that seems to have changed, though no one knows exactly how they are counted now. Some report that preorders no longer hurt your ranking, others disagree. A short preorder (under a week) can’t really hurt, is the consensus, though some authors still swear by not doing a preorder at all. Since Amazon has been glitching left and right recently on releases, I’ve done preorders on all my recent books.
All these sales and download numbers are compared to other books in the whole store (for the Kindle store ranking) and in your genre. Amazon says it updates every hour. I’ve found every two-three hours more accurate, but whatever.
Because it takes sales history into account, it can take considerably less effort to hold on to a top-10 ranking once that first week has passed. And if you’ve been in the top-10 of your genre for, say, two or three weeks, chances are you’ll have far fewer sales and downloads than others in the top-10 whose book is more recent.
That’s why it’s so hard to state how many sales or downloads you need to get a certain ranking. It really depends on whether you’re talking about getting that rank or holding onto it.
Rankings Are Relative
The most important thing to keep in mind (actually, the second most important thing, but I’ll get to that in a bit) is that ranking is relative, especially category ranking. It’s relative to how well books in your genre are selling, for example. Let me show you what I mean with a few more screenshots.
Below is my ranking for my book Healing Hand at 4 PM on release day. I hit #1 in my genre with a #174 overall store ranking.
However, just an hour later, I lost my #1 spot because another author who has released that day as well grabbed it…even though my overall ranking in the store had improved:
And the next day, my overall ranking improved even more (after I sent out my newsletter), but I was still at #2 in gay romance.
So even with a #128 rank in the store, I was still not #1 in my genre.
Now look at this ranking. This is for my book Slow Hand, which released April 2 of this year, right when the COVID-19 crisis hit. Three days after release, I was still #1 in my genre, but look at my overall ranking in the store: #476.
That’s how relative ranking is. I’ve hit #1 in gay romance with a store ranking of under #100, but I’ve also held it with a ranking of above #500. Categories ranking don’t really mean all that much in themselves. Besides, smaller categories are much easier to rank #1 in.
What Matters More Than Ranking
Does that mean categories don’t matter at all? No, because they do. We’ll talk more about that in the next post because a top-10 category ranking can have incredible benefits in promoting your book.
But at the end of the day, it’s not rank that matters, but bank. If I have a good ranking but not that good of an income from the book, what does it get me? Rank doesn’t pay my bills. Bank does.
Bank, not rank. That’s the bottomline. And rank can help improve that bank and we’ll discuss that, but focusing on rank alone is shortsighted. I know the thrill of that orange banner, trust me…but I’d rather see big numbers in my ReaderLinks dashboard, you know?