About Those Amazon Rankings

Ilene Schneider 2Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., one of the first six women rabbis ordained in the U.S., hasn’t decided what she wants to be when she grows up. She is currently Coordinator of Jewish Hospice for Samaritan Hospice, Marlton, NJ. She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries, Chanukah Guilt and Unleavened Dead, and is working on the third, Yom Killer. She is also the writer of Talk Dirty Yiddish.

Chanukah Guilt was nominated for the Deadly Ink David Award for Best Mystery of 2007; was one of My Shelf’s 2007 Top Ten Reads; and was a Midwest Book Review Reviewers Choice Book. Unleavened Dead won First Place in the Public Safety Writers Association Writing Competition for “Fiction Book Published.”

Please visit her website/blog: http://rabbiauthor.com or email her at rabbi.author@yahoo.com.

Yes, I know better than to check my rankings on Amazon. After all, they reflect only the sales of books, both print and digital, from the Amazon site. And, all rumors and evidence to the contrary, there are a lot of other outlets for book sales. Plus, the algorithm they use to compute the rankings are incomprehensible to mere mortals. I sometimes wonder whether the software engineers who developed the method completely understand it. As far as I can tell, all it takes to get a #1 ranking is to make sure that ten of your friends buy the book simultaneously at 3:00 AM, when no one else is making any purchases.

Chanukah GuiltAnd I recently heard that if you rank higher (which means the rank number is lower) than one million, you’re doing okay. I also read several years ago, before e-books made self-publishing respectable and the numbers increased dramatically, that there are 100,000 books a year published in the U.S., with 90% of them selling fewer than 100 books. Those figures put me in the top 10% for sales at the time.

I don’t particularly put a lot of faith into any of those figures, nor do I obsess about my sales. I admit, though, that when someone tells me she (it’s usually a she) loved any of my books so much she lent it to her mother, her sister, her next door neighbor, and her cousin’s doctor’s ex-wife, I am tempted to say, “Why didn’t you buy them their own copies?”

I also admit that I do check the Amazon rankings. Not as often as right after my first Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery, Chanukah Guilt, was published, but every now and then. Okay, more now than then.

Talk Dirty Yiddish 2But if I didn’t check those figures occasionally, I would have missed something interesting that happened after my second Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery, Unleavened Dead came out last November. All of a sudden, the Amazon rankings of Chanukah Guilt took a sudden upturn. (As a pleasant side benefit, I also began to garner more reviews of the book.)

You have to understand I’m probably the least compulsive person I know. I have no idea which shoe I put on first. I don’t keep checking to make sure the oven is off after I finish baking. (It sometimes isn’t.) I can’t remember when I last balanced my check book (I trust the bank), and if it weren’t for that annoying warning light, I doubt if I’d remember when my car needs an oil change. I do have a tendency to straighten picture frames on the walls, I do turn off lights when I leave a room, and I never read the comic pages until I finish the rest of the paper. But that’s it. Except for book series.

It was after the sales of the first book increased that I realized I’m not the only compulsive booklover out there who has to read a Unleavened Deadseries in order of publication. Whenever I see a recommendation for a new book in a series, I go back and read all the previously published volumes first. For the past three years, I have used my Kindle exclusively, so I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the order of the books in a series, as the publication date on Kindle is for the e-book, not the print one.

Anyone who writes a series learns how to give just enough back story in the newest books so it can stand alone, while not boring those fans who have read the previous ones. Sometimes, a writer will make references to earlier events; I’m never sure if the references are to a book that wasn’t digitized, or is just a random comment by the author. So I do more research; i.e., I check Amazon for the print editions of the books. Sometimes, it entails a trip to the library, so I can borrow the print-only book. It also means I put the one I’m reading on hold until I finish the older one.

I don’t care how understandable and enjoyable a book is on its own. I’m going to go back and read the books in order. If there’s a support group for people like me, I’m not interested. I figure I’m doing a public service for other writers by lifting their spirits when their older books sell another copy. Even if it is on Kindle.

8 thoughts on “About Those Amazon Rankings

  1. Whew! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who doesn’t balance my checkbook but who checks my Amazon ratings. Since I’m a debut author, for me it’s more about a fascination with watching the numbers jump around. But last night I decided that although it was kind of fun at first, that it’s more or less meaningless. It’s a lot more meaningful for someone to tell me that they loved my novel and can’t wait for the next one to come out! Unlike you, Ilene, I don’t insist on reading a series in order, but it’s okay with me if my readers want to!

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  2. I think the Amazon rankings (and the B&N rankings, both available through Publishers Marketplace) are made public to drive writers crazy. Period. Yes, I check, although I try to ration myself to only a few peeks a day. What I’ve found most useful and interesting is to compare my rankings to those of people I consider in the same pool (all right, the competition). I also enjoy watching coming releases crawling up the list, day by day up to release date, and I cheer those on, as if it was a horse race.

    But you’re right–all those rankings may be no more than three purchases in a short period. A low Amazon number does not mean you’re selling thousands of books per day. Not that they’ll tell you how many you actually are selling.

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  3. Um, Amazon tells me how many I’m selling (go to Bookshelf, then Reports, and pick the currently monthly one). I even get told how many bought and got a refund :(. Since my ebook is fairly short, the suspicion is that people are reading it fast and the returning it, Sigh.

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  4. Pingback: J’M GUEST BLOGGING AGAIN | rabbi.author

  5. Today was the first time I “discoverd” the Amazon rankings graph and I am not quite sure what it is telling me. My first book has only been on the market since June 2nd, so I’m often not quite sure what I am doing as I bump around inside the author’s pages there. Now I’m going to have to try this Bookshelf thing mentioned by Jean Lamb. Sometimes I am not sure that I even want to know. 🙂

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