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The Top 10 Things All Authors Should Know about Amazon
Contributor
Written by
Brooke Warner
February 2015
Outlining
Contributor
Written by
Brooke Warner
February 2015
Outlining

1. Your Amazon ranking has nothing to do with sales. Although many authors are obsessed with it and like to send out mass e-mails to friends and family when the number drops, unfortunately, all your ranking means is that people are looking at your page. While it might be argued that sales will inevitably rise due to more page views, the direct connection between ranking and actual sales is zero. It’s not that your ranking is meaningless; it just doesn’t mean your book is on its way to bestseller status.

2. Amazon employs scarcity tactics to get readers to buy books, and the impact on authors is that they think their books are constantly out of stock when they’re not! If you see something on Amazon that reads—“Only 3 left in stock - order soon”—fear not. It’s not true. It’s possible, of course, that if you’re traditionally published your publisher is low on stock, but usually that's not the case. And if you’re a print-on-demand author, your book can never be low on stock; Amazon has endless access to endless supply. My best advice to authors is to start ignoring this inventory notice altogether.

3. Your Amazon reviews carry weight. An author I work with recently told me that 50 is the magic number of reviews that triggers Amazon to start paying more attention to your book. After you hit 50, you get more visibility on Amazon. I’m just relaying what I heard, but since Amazon operates on algorithms, this makes sense to me. Therefore you must get reviews! Ask for them at every turn, especially when your book is just out. Consider what incentives you might be able to offer people to review your book. Each review you get is like a rock being thrown into a body of water where your book is a buoy. The impact of all those little rocks will ultimately help your book rise higher and higher to get a little more notice. And we all need that—because the sea of books is vast and your book is one lone buoy. Bowker reports that in 2013, 458,564 books (print and digital) were self-published. With those kinds of stats, you shouldn’t feel guilty at all if it comes down to asking (and asking again) for reviews.

4. CreateSpace uses Ingram’s services to get its books to the trade. The reason this is an important note is because, if you’re using CreateSpace to self-publish, you might also want to consider uploading your book to Ingram. Amazon wants all of its self-published authors to be Amazon loyalists—only on CreateSpace and locked into KDP Select (where Amazon exclusively sells your e-book)—but I believe that the more spread out you are the better. Ingram has better reach and a more streamlined system (which is why CreateSpace is using them). So use CreateSpace for whatever perceived benefit it has as an Amazon partner, and Ingram for everything else.

5. Publishers cannot control the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature, but you can. This feature is another of Amazon’s algorithms, and it’s all about the shopping cart. You can encourage your readers to buy a book you want to be associated along with yours, and that can get you linked up with a heavier-hitting author. There are workarounds to a lot of Amazon's formulas. Use them to your advantage.

6. Amazon is effectively cost-controlling your book. If you’re a KDP author (self-published through Amazon), then you know that you get a much nicer cut (70% as opposed to 30%) of your sale price if you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99. I’ve said in previous posts that I think this is akin to price fixing. And even though countless people have made compelling cases to me about why they will never buy an e-book for over $9.99 (and I get it), it’s important to note the power of Amazon’s conditioning. We do not believe an e-book is worth more than $9.99 because Amazon has trained us to believe it’s not worth more than $9.99. Nothing to be done about it; I just feel compelled to bring this up again.

7. If you see that your book is selling for lower than its list price, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get paid less. So, for instance, you might be selling your print book for $15, and Amazon is discounting it at their usual 20-30% off the list price. But then you’ll see that one day—maybe for a day, maybe for a week—that they are selling your book for $9. In these cases, Amazon is undercutting their own profit, and you get the same payment from them regardless. Amazon is huge on price experimentation, and they price books at their own discretion. If you’re traditionally publishing, you get whatever split your publisher is offering you AFTER Amazon takes its 50% off the top (based on list price, not what Amazon chooses to sell it for). So if your book is $20, Amazon takes $10 (unless your self-published and you set a lower discount). If you’re traditionally published, your publisher gives you 7.5% of that $10 profit (in other words, 75 cents). If Amazon chooses to sell that $20 book for $7, that's their choice, and they do it all the time, eating the loss both on the list price and the shipping. Which is why Amazon reports giant losses year in and year out and why their business model is crazy and why you’re right to feel confused by this practice.

8. You need to claim your book via Author Central. Many authors know this and somehow forget to do it. When you publish a new book, you must claim it. Claim books you’ve contributed to as well, if you can. Claiming books on Amazon is like collecting chips; you’re building your little empire and making your bio page more robust. Amazon Central is an extension of your author platform and should be tended to as such. Update your photo, bio, and other information as regularly as you would your website.

9. The sales information tab inside Author Central is not an accurate measure of sales. When you go into Author Central, they give you access to Nielsen Bookscan ratings, a helpful tool. However, Bookscan is not a measure of Amazon sales, nor is it a measure of overall sales. It accounts for approximately 70% of through-the-register sales. It’s not something authors can or should use to compare their sales against, though it can be a good general gauge for how well your book is performing.

10. Amazon is more author-friendly than they are publisher-friendly. This means that if you’re an author, you’re likely to get great customer service from Amazon, especially on the KDP side of the company. However, Amazon seems not to understand the limitations authors who are publishing with publishing houses face where their data is concerned. I’ve witnessed them make suggestions and recommendations to authors that simply cannot be accommodated by the author’s publishing house. This can be frustrating to authors (and publishers), but Amazon is its own organism, not too concerned about needing to understand how other systems work because its own is so dominant. They have an Amazon-centric view of the book world, and expect authors to conform to how Amazon does things. The note here for you, authors, is to take advantage of this by using and exploiting Amazon’s resources, but work with your publisher; don’t work around them. And don’t for one second buy into the idea that Amazon is “it.” Yes, it’s the number one online space for retail sales; but for most publishers, Amazon accounts for only about 30%-40% of total sales.

 

I’m sure there are things missing from my list, and I’d love to hear what you think all authors should know about Amazon—the good and the bad—given your own publishing experience. Chime in below!

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Comments
  • Alexandra, this is just a matter of tweaking your understanding on CS. CS has a partnership with Ingram which is how they have the relationships with Baker & Taylor and therefore libraries. Ingram has long-established relationships with thousands of vendors. CS, rather than create new inroads, simply decided that their expanded distribution would tap into Ingram's already-existing channels. So yes, you or they might say that CS has the relationship with B&T or libraries, but it exists because of piggy-backing onto Ingram. I'm super familiar with the library market as it's been one of the major outlets SWP authors have been interested in, and it's very unlikely that a self-published CS book would get picked up as a library buy. To get effective coverage in libraries you need to have Library Journal and Booklist reviews. Part of the challenge self-published authors face is that they're not eligible to submit to these review sites through traditional channels. I've written about how much I think this should change, but for now this is the reality of the traditional v. self-published landscape, and CS is not a distributor in any way, shape, or form other than directly to Amazon; Ingram, behind the scenes, is pulling all the weight. Which brings me back to my advice to upload on both platforms.


  • Comment by Alexandra Arres just nowDelete Comment

    Sorry, Brooke, but Create Space, the last time I checked has relationships with Libraries, same like Ingram, through the same Baker and Taylor. For libraries authors need registration with the Library of Congress prior to publication and the Marc records have to be on OCLC (World Cat) and Sky River. If the book is already published there are private agencies that can arrange this. One caveat: libraries buy on hype and demand. So having all your ducks in a row doesn't guarantee any sales, but at least makes you eligible. 

    www.AlexandraAres.com  

  • Thanks Brooke, I agree and do have my own ISBNs :) I've run into the prejudice against CS and wound up doing my own print run and providing stock myself for in-store book signings. But, it would be nice to have the expanded distribution so I will definitely look into uploading to Ingram too.

  • Anne, I think KDP is a much stronger program, in general, than CreateSpace. Amazon just hasn't been in the publishing space long enough to have the systems that Ingram has established, which is probably why they ended up partnering with Ingram for expanded distribution. KDP, on the other hand, is totally top of the line and I would argue better even than what we get using Ingram to distribute our ebook content to Amazon because of how many factors you can control and its ease of use. If CreateSpace could figure out how to be as effective on the print side as they are with KDP they would dominate the self-publishing marketplace. 

    You should not be prevented from getting your books into libraries if/when you opt into expanded distribution. It seems to me that you would be better off having your own ISBN, and then uploading to both Ingram (through Spark) and CreateSpace. Ingram is the fulfiller to the libraries (through Baker & Taylor). Createspace does not have relationships with libraries. I'm sure your local library is happy to have your book, but if you're wanting more national distribution to libraries and/or to bookstores, you actually have to have the expanded distribution. This is because of what Liz writes below—that bookstores both have a prejudice against CS books because they don't like Amazon and because you have to set your discount at 55% if you want your book to be in libraries or bookstores.

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Yes, Brooke. They will merge dup listings.

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Alexandra, Two main advantages of Ingram: 1) Last I heard, CS doesn't offer 90 returns to bookstores (couldn't find an update), so bookstores will not buy POD books that are not returnable, 2) Brooke stated it below,industry bias and print quality. Plus, 55% deducted from author royalty vs. 60% for CS.

  • It's also the exact point I make in #4, that CS uses Ingram for distribution. To punctuate Liz's point, Alexandra, CS doesn't have expanded distribution. They use Ingram. In my opinion Ingram has superior print quality and doesn't suffer from industry bias. At SWP we actually are able to flag and attempt to delete secondary listings on Amazon. Liz, can you do that directly through Amazon as well? Ask them to remove secondary listings?

  • Dear Liz, thank your for explaining this. Very interesting. Can you please tell me what is the value added of Ingram over Create Space in Expanded Distribution? 

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Alexandra, skipping Createspace and going directly to Ingram doesn't solve the issue with resellers. I know, I use Ingram. It is the same. Why? Because INGRAM is the issue, not expanded distribution with Createspace. As stated below, CS ED is using Ingram, ergo "the issue." It is a double-edged sword. If you want access to bookstores and libraries, you need to offer 'trade pricing' and returnability on your books. Createspace alone doesn't allow trade returns, without that you are not going to sell to the trade. Plus, there is an industry bias against Amazon. Trade terms open you up to resellers. People who buy your paperback can resell them too. They also create a secondary market. You can't eliminate it, only minimize it. So, using Createspace for Amazon and Ingram for all others is the best combo for profits, but it won't change the reseller situation.

  • Great post Brooke! Thanks. I'm constantly sending messages (asking for help and giving feedback) to both KDP and CreateSpace. Most recently, as I approach the launch date for my next novel I questioned CreateSpace as to why they can't make my book available for pre-order like I can with KDP. I also queried why you can't set a launch date. As soon as you 'approve' the proof, CreateSpace launches your book (they say it will take between 3-5 business days before it appears on Amazon). In my experience it's gone 'live' within a day. I complained that it makes it difficult to target a specific day for your launch. They thanked me for my input and said they would share my suggestions with the 'decision-makers'. Another ah-ha moment I had was when I was attempting to set up dates for my KDP direct free book promotion. I like to do as much as I can in advance! Even though the Kindle version is now available for pre-order, I can't schedule the promotion until it goes live. Again, leaving me biting my nails because I've already promoted the free download on 'launch day' and now I don't know if that will be possible until it goes live and I go in to schedule it! Even with these 'glitches', overall I'm happy using KDP and CreateSpace for self-publishing... for now!

    I'm not clear on the discussion regarding expanded distribution. The only problem I see with expanded distribution is that if you have your own ISBN# and don't use the CreateSpace provided one, you can't use the option to distribute to libraries. I don't mind that... I hand deliver copies to my local libraries. They've been happy to accept them. 

  • I didn't know about this, Alexandra, and again I'd be interested to know what cost those resellers are getting the books for. I totally get what you're saying, that they're underpricing books and therefore maybe seem more attractive than all the the other retailers out there. I've seen these third-party sellers out there, and at She Writes Press we actually work to get those listings removed. I agree with you that CreateSpace's expanded distribution is a total waste, however. All they've done is partner with Ingram, and it's really Ingram's distribution that you are getting when you sign up for expanded distribution with CS, so why not just cut out the middleman (CreateSpace) and go directly with Ingram. That's my thinking for sure.

  • Thank you Charlene. Yes, you can use Create Space just to publish on Amazon and they are  a great company. Only the expanded distribution is problematic for authors. 

  • This conversation Alexandra is most helpful. I am going to be careful with Create Space and I'm assuming from what you're saying I can get involved in Create Space without expanded distribution...right? And then go after expanded distribution from Ingram...did I read you correctly? 

    Good information. Thank you!

  • I think the solution is to get Create Space without expanded distribution, and secure expanded distribution with Ingram.

  • But Amazon gets 30% from the authors and another percentage from resellers, so at the end of the day, when a paper back is sold, the percentage that returns to Amazon from both pockets (author + resellers) is much larger than the average bookstore. The person who holds the bag here is the author. Resellers have thousands of titles and even if they make penny for sales, they have volume. 

  • Re Brooke: I don't know their discount. But the fact is that as a Create Space author you can only have expanded distribution channel (which means everything but Amazon; libraries, websites, indie books stores etc) if you give these resellers the right to sell your own book, right next to you on Amazon, for a fraction of the price, and instead of getting full royalty you get a fifth of your initial royalty. You'll often see a paperback for sale on Amazon say with $15.00, and right underneath you see it is available from other sellers as 'new' for a fraction of the price, and then "used, and "as new" for say $1.49... it's your own new brand new book that they bought on demand. It is a big deal Brooke and here is why: When a bookseller takes a 50% discount to sell your book, they a) buy several books and b) they supply the venue. So there is value added for the authors. The resellers on Amazon don't supply the venue (it belongs to Amazon) and don't buy say $10 or $100 copies per title. All they do is create unfair competition for the authors. And Amazon forces Create Space authors to these unfair terms to drive the prices as low as possible.  

  • B. Lynn Goodwin

    Interesting information. Thanks for sharing it!

    www.writeradvice.com

  • Alexandra, this is very interesting. Do you know what cost resellers buy the books at? Is it 50%, or lower? I think that's the most important thing. Because if it's 50% then that's the same discount retailers would get, and there's probably not much of a case. But if it's lower then I think you have something here.

  • Excellent points and column, Brooke!

    I would like to make an observation: Paperback discounts affect Create Space authors a lot, and here Amazon acts quite predatory and against the interest of the authors, encouraging a race to the bottom of book prices.

    Let me explain:

    If we opt in for the Expanded Distribution Channel of Create Space (Ingram, independent bookstores, any other selling outlets besides Amazon) we, the authors, are forced by Amazon to give re-sellers a huge discount. However this discount doesn't come with ANY strings attached for the re-sellers; say buy a minimum 100 copies of my book in exchange for your fat discount, and don't compete against me on Amazon.

    These re-sellers buy our books On-Demand, put no skim in the game, and enjoy this big discount. Why?

    Then they sell our own books on Amazon at half price, creating an unfair competition for the author who is selling there. Sure, the author gets paid for any book sold by re-sellers, but only $1 dollar per instead of $5-6, had people bought the book on Amazon directly from the author/publisher. And also, the consumers get used with the idea of spending peanuts for a brand new paperback of the highest quality; just like they pay peanuts for the kindle edition. (Less than the cheapest bottle of wine). So the authors/publishers are screwed. A new paperback that would cost $15 if sold by author/publusher is sold on Amazon by a reseller for any amount between 0.49 cents to 5 dollars, so we lose MOST of the initial margin, and they don't offer us any value-added...no large volume buys, nothing.

    I tried to raise this with Amazon, asking to give re-sellers these big discounts only with a minimum volume of books sold AND without the permission to sell your new book on Amazon, below yours, at a price that undercuts yours. No answer.

    You girls think we can rally a movement to support this goal?

    www.AlexandraAres.com  

  • Mariana Dietl

    Great post, Brooke. Thanks tons! 

  • Charlene Diane Jones

    Overall I really enjoy Amazon. As an indie self pub author my first poetry book is out there called Bliss Pig. It must have arrived at Amazon through the diligence of Dundurn Publishers, a small house here in Canada. Then my self pub novel The Stain is almost finished the first three months, complete with two give aways and one series of five day freebies for the e version. I just like the idea of giving the book away. That's probably weird, but I am thrilled people are reading it, wanting to win it, (hence 2 giveaways). I'll likely run the book again for another three months before trying out Smash Words and some other formats. 

    This way of doing things allows me to also be building a platform, for instance finding this FAB site, gaining friends on Twitter etc, making community in other words and oh yes, time to have been finishing and polishing my second book Medicine Buddha/Medicine Mind a non fiction short book about the meditation practice of Medicine Buddha and how that practice and Vajrayana meditation in general parallels findings in Neuroscience. 

    Now, I also became a publisher, called heartongue press, in order to publish some funny, quirky, insightful, indescribable life necessary poetry by one Linda Stitt. We've called the book Talking to Myself. Here is where I have run into massive frustration with Amazon. I kept telling their crew that whenever I uploaded the book, the titles were out of line, the poems started at the bottom of some pages etc They kept sending and resending me the same instructions which did not work. 

    I went to Youtube and found a short there that helped with the titles but the poems still straggled mercilessly. Finally I contacted a professional conversion house and was made aware poetry has to be coded almost by hand. Every line. So it's more complicated than whatever Amazon is telling us. 

    Linda is paying a professional for this last step so her book will be perfectly laid out, lined up etc. I have learned a great deal. If you're publishing poetry, remember it's a different cat to try to upload. 

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Both ranks are accessible in Author Central.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    There's only one rank you can see on your page: Amazon Best Sellers Rank. This is the ranking I'm referring to. If there's an Author Rank I'm not sure where an author can see that.

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    It wasn't clear from your post. Also, trad vs. indie has some differences. But I think it pays to be clear, especially for those who don't yet know the difference.

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Depends on if you are talking about Author Rank or Sales Rank. Two different animals.