Trying to rank a book for the first time on Amazon can be baffling for a new author. Most authors are creative people and once we finish writing the book, the book is done. But in the life of the independent author, the game is just beginning.
The information in this post doesn't come from any official source, but what I have gleaned from my many successful books on Amazon.
Know what Amazon wants from you is the first step to selling enough books to make real money. This is the first part in a series of posts designed to turn you into a bestselling author.
In part two, we will use these factors to structure a bestseller launch.
- Factor #1 – Do people who see your book listing buy your book?
- Factor #2 – Do you send new customers to Amazon?
- Factor #3 – Do people who buy your book actually read it?
- Factor #4 – Do people who read your book leave a review?
Factor #1 – Do people who see your book listing buy your book?
This is critical and a lot of authors ignore this at their peril. This is a long way of saying that Amazon tracks conversion rates. If two similar books appeal to the exact same customer, the page with the higher conversion rate will get the lion's share of the traffic.
To improve your conversion rate, you need an awesome cover, a great book description (sales copy) in HTML, and amazing reviews.
What a lot of people miss with their first book is setting up an Amazon Author page at authorcentral.amazon.com.
This page allows you to add more sections to your book listing page (that make you look more pro). You can add editorial reviews, about the author, and other great sections to make it look like you are published with a real imprint.
You can also create your author profile so that when people click on your name it shows your picture. There is nothing worse than a book with Amazon's generic author silhouette. (The author profile is also a great place to share a link to your website.)
Another way to improve your conversion rate is to offer more versions of your book. My top books come in Kindle, paperback, audiobook, and hardback.
A lot of new authors just post an ebook and this looks amateur hour. It lowers your actual ebook conversion numbers, but it also flags you as an independent author.
Get your other editions ready at the same time as you are prepping for launch. You can run your audiobook through ACX.com (owned by Amazon) and your hardback should be through Ingram.
I honestly added hardback bc almost no independent authors do and I want to be one step ahead. I didn't think anyone would by it, but I was wrong. It not only increased my conversions of the other editions, it generates actual sales.
The key to the listing is to think of it as a SALES PAGE and not a catalog listing. Do everything you can to improve your listing and think about driving the sale.
Here is another super sneaky trick. Look at these stars -> ★★★★★
Amazon HTML lets you make images like these stars. You can just copy and paste these. You CAN go for fancier code, but I don't like to fly to close to the sun.
Factor #2 – Do you send new customers to Amazon?
There are plenty of people who throw a book up on Amazon and leave their success up to The Fates.
Amazon is looking for partners, not remora fish.
When you are launching a book, sending in traffic from outside sources shows Amazon that you are in the game with them.
This means buying ads on Facebook, running social media campaigns and buying solo ads/mail drops.
The more external traffic you send, especially during your launch sequence, the more Amazon will love you.
When I walk through the structure of a launch in part two, you will see how this process works and the right times to send external traffic.
Factor #3 – Do people who buy your book actually read it?
If you think that Google studies your behavior online, you have no idea what Amazon is up to.
They track your Facebook friends (to see if you get a bunch of reviews from them) and every IP address you have ever logged into Amazon from.
They are masters of retargeting and rather than sell your data to their competitors they use it to maximize sales.
Everything you do on a Kindle goes into a database. Amazon knows how fast you read and every single word you click on for a definition. I can't guarantee that this is true, but I believe they keep an intelligence index on every reader. They know how smart you are, the words you don't know and how fast you read.
That's why they say “estimated time to finish this book.” That number is not aggregated, it's personal.
All this data means they know if people engage in unusual behavior when reading your book. And here are the red flags to watch out for:
1. Does it take them longer than usual to read your book?
This is bad because it costs Amazon money. The slower the read, the longer until the next sale. It's not about absolute speed, it's relative. Does customer A read your book slower than similar books on the topic?
This is a sign that your book is boring or convoluted.
2. Do people stop reading before they finish?
This is an unfortunate reality. Many people download books they never start and start books they never finish.
It's not the kiss of death, but the more people who start your book without finishing it, the lower your overall book score will be.
Sometimes people will start reading your book and bounce to other things they are reading and come back. This means they read your book over a few weeks instead of a few days. This isn't nearly as bad as someone starting your book, stopping in the middle and returning it (via Kindle Unlimited) or even worse asking for a refund.
3. Do people finish your book too quickly?
This is a serious red flag trigger and it's only been active for about two years. Authors/marketers a few years ago would buy/swap reviews to get initial momentum on Amazon. It's hard to get the first reviews and they can make or break a book.
If someone downloads your book, spends 2 seconds per page and at the end leaves a glowing review Amazon will ghost that review.
It will just disappear.
However, if that person used Amazon's book rental program, Kindle Unlimited, and you get caught (which you will) – Amazon will ban you for life.
You get paid on every page read in that program. So a fake reader gets your book for free and Amazon then pays you for that. This is fraud and it's a big deal. Don't steal from Amazon.
This is the least likely problem, but I wanted to give you a head's up on how the algorithm works.
Factor #4 – Do people who read your book leave a review?
Amazon is always asking the question, “what have you done for me lately?”
Reviews are the lifeblood of their system and they analyze the reviews in great detail. This is done 100% by algorithms, not humans, so bear in mind that you are getting judged by SkyNet, not a human employee at Amazon.
Reviews are judged by:
1. Conversion rate.
What is your sale to review ratio? The better this ratio, the more love Amazon will send your way.
2. Length of review.
Three paragraph reviews are Amazon's favorite length and you'll notice that they tend to rise to the top of book listings.
3. Quality of reviewer.
Just like books, every single customer at Amazon is ranked. Whenever you say a review was helpful, you are upvoting that reviewer. You get to review the reviewer.
People with low-quality reviews, too few purchases, or who trip Amazon's red flags can get banned from writing reviews (sometimes unjustly.) Remember, it's a computer banning them not a human.
A review by a Vine member or an Amazon top 1000 reviewer is worth more than a review from someone ranked in the millions. Higher review rank means they are trusted by more people. Thus their reviews are weighted more heavily.
It's also why every new author emails the top 1000 reviewers asking for a review and Amazon no longer publicly shares those email addresses as of March 2018.
4. Format of review.
The lowest of all reviews is the rating. You click 1-5 stars and never write anything. At the other end of the spectrum are multimedia reviews. Pictures and videos are GOLD.
I have a blog post teaching my followers how to create and post video reviews to Amazon. It's a really convoluted system that most people can't navigate.
This walkthrough is hands down the reason I have more video reviews than 99% of the books on Amazon.
Pictures are really great too. Ask your audience to post pictures of them holding your book in their reviews. It's super awesome social proof.
One reader drew a picture of a robot holding my book and it's STILL showing on my main page two years later.
These factors are just the beginning of the process, but hopefully understanding them will start to turn the murky confusion of ranking a book on Amazon into something just a little clearer.
The more guesswork we can remove from the process, the easier it will be for you to turn your books into successes.
Make sure to read part two of this series, The Structure of a Bestseller Launch.