If you’ve chatted with any indie authors who are selling well (or even moderately well), you might have heard them say things like, “Sales really picked up when Amazon started recommending my book to people.”
No doubt your ears perked up, and you wondered, “How do I get Amazon to recommend my book?”
There’s a bit of a misconception that people in the Top 100 or even the Top 10,000 on Amazon are there because people are browsing through “Top” lists in their preferred categories. Sure, some people do that, but more people find new books to try there by seeing something promising in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section of a book they enjoyed or, even more likely, seeing something promising in their personalized recommendations page.
While nobody knows exactly how Amazon’s algorithms work, we do know that the company tries to help its readers find books, and it matches a person’s tastes with what’s popular in that genre
As an author, the more books you sell, the more likely it is that Amazon will help you promote your book (showing it on the dashboards of people who have proven that they like to buy books in that genre or niche).
I’ve heard Robin Sullivan of Ridan Publishing say that once you hit the Top 1000 in the Amazon Kindle Store, Amazon’s algorithms seem to really kick into gear, and you get a lot of internal promotion. She mentioned that she could ease back on her marketing efforts at that point, because she knew an author in the Top 1000 would be likely to stay there for a while, thanks to the recommendation system. (For those who want to hear more from Robin, I first heard her mention this in one of the podcast interviews she did over at Dead Robots’ Society; she’s been on a number of their podcasts, and I definitely recommend listening to them. Though she runs a small press, she’s used to working with self-published authors, and she uses many of the same marketing tactics as we do.)
Okay, you’re thinking, all I have to do is market my butt off and get into the Top 1000. Easier said than done, right?
I know. My first book made a few brief appearances there, thanks to sponsorships on popular ebook blogs, but quickly fell from that lofty plateau. As I write this blog post, my best sellers are in the 5,000 to 10,000 sales ranking range.
But, here’s the good news: Amazon still recommends my books to people. I imagine they don’t get quite the love that a Top 1000 book might, but I’ve had plenty of folks mention in reviews or notes to me that they first saw my book as a recommendation and tried it because it was only 99 cents (I currently have the first book in my series at 99 cents and the following two at $3.99).
In my experience, once you sell about a thousand books, Amazon starts helping you out with the recommendations. Even before then, you’ll see that your book pops up in the “Customers Who Bought…” section of other books in your genre.
Selling a thousand books can still sound daunting to someone who is just starting out, but I think you’ll find the idea a little less scary than trying to sell the fifty or one hundred a day it takes to break into the Top 1000!
Of course, you may find that in working hard to sell those first thousand books, your efforts pay off in a big way, and you’ll climb into that rarefied air. Good luck!