So I have enough confidence in my stories now that I feel like it’s “okay” to market and promote them. (For some reason, I got over the hangup of publishing them long ago.) I’m learning that with marketing the stories, it’s useful to make sure that they a) have a current, defined market, and b) the cover, description, and story match that market’s current trends (and outshine them when possible). More on promotions later.
So how am I finding that current, defined market? I started with some advice from Chris Fox in Write to Market. I think he’s correct in the assumption that indies should start with Amazon in order to find their market, but I could be wrong. I am, however, starting with that assumption because I have to start somewhere. I can’t know what I don’t know (and I can’t trust other people’s advice) unless I start somewhere and see what works for me and what doesn’t.
(Warning: full nerd to follow. And keep in mind that I wrote this a few days before I posted it, and the sales rankings numbers and positions may have changed.)
Go onto a book’s Amazon page. Let’s use Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 as a jumping off point (it’s a bestseller on the Locus Bestseller List that I looked up for a different reason). Scroll down to find “Product Details.” (Check out the line “Sold by.” If it says “Amazon Services LLC,” then it’s indie OR published by an Amazon publishing division, like 47 North; look here for a list of Amazon publishing divisions.)
At the bottom of the Product Details block is the “Amazon Best Sellers Rank.” The first line will say, “#7,142 in the Kindle Store” or similar (print books and audio books have different ranking numbers and different labels; make sure you’re looking at the Kindle edition and not the print/audio one).
Anyway, that number is the Amazon sales rank. Low is good (#1); high is bad (#bajillions). There are sites where you can guesstimate what kind of sales that’s equivalent to. Here’s one.
Let’s look at New York 2140’s rankings. #7,142 overall; #62 in Hard Science Fiction/Kindle; #90 in Hard Science Fiction/Books; #162 in Space Opera.
Click on Hard Science Fiction on the Kindle bestseller list. You should see the top 100 bestseller list for Hard Science Fiction on Kindle. To the left is a list of other categories you can look through.
Let’s take a look at the current #1 on the list, Split Second by Douglas E. Richards. It’s in Kindle Unlimited (aka Kindle Direct Publishing Select), which means it’s exclusive to Amazon; you can tell by the words “Kindle Unlimited” at the top of the book cover on the list. It has 3,954 reviews and costs $2.99.
Click on the picture to open the book’s Amazon page and scroll down to the sales ranking. It is #9 in the paid Kindle store, and #1 in a bunch of categories that do not include Hard Science Fiction. Yes, you can be ranked in a BUNCH of categories, but Amazon won’t list them all, just what it believes the top 3 to be.
Hit the back button to go to the top 100 Hard Science Fiction list again.
Scroll down to #20, Starship Liberator, and click that. The overall rank is #1,891.
Go back to the top 100 list.
Underneath the bottom row of ranked books is a series of links, 1-20, 21-40, etc. Click on 81-100, then scroll down and click on the #100 book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. It is currenty ranked #11,320.
To sum up:
In Hard Science Fiction, the top seller is ranked pretty low. This tells me that it’s selling a lot of books. Yay! People like Hard Science Fiction as a category. The #20 seller is #1,891, or lower than the 4-8K range. Boo! This means it’ll be hard to break into the top 20 in that category, which is where you can pick up a lot of sales (because it’s on the first page for that category). The #100 seller is #11,320, which is under the 25K limit. Kinda yay? That means that there’s probably money to be made along the “long tail” of the Hard Science Fiction genre, but it’s still going to be hard to get into that top 20.
The #1 book can be guesstimated at 3682 books per day (using the calculator I linked to earlier, which, admittedly, might be way off; Amazon’s not saying). The book price is $2.99, which translates (at 70% profit) to 2.09 to the author per book, or about $7700 per day in profit to the author.
#20 is selling ~92 books per day at $3.99, or $2.79 to the author per book, making $256 per day.
#100 is selling 15 books per day at 11.99 (over 9.99, or the cutoff for the 70% profit level). Now, if that were an indie book, that would be making the author 3.59 per book, or $54 per day. However, it’s published by Random House, so who the heck knows what the Phil K Dick estate gets out of it.
Other factors: #1 and #20 are both indie published and on Kindle Unlimited, which means that page reads are a factor, and I haven’t found any guidelines for that. They are also, by definition, only making money via Amazon for their ebook versions (where Random House has fingers in all major ebook markets, as far as I know). #1 is also going through CreateSpace (Amazon company) for its print version; #20 is going through a small press (look at the publisher line for the print versions). The audio and CD versions are both through Audible (look at the publisher line; also an Amazon company).
The sales ranking on all three books may be affected by print and audio sales as well as KU reads; we don’t know. But this is my best guesstimate at this time.
What I did was to find a cluster of categories that a) most resembled the books I was planning to write, and b) fell into the guidelines of being not-too-hard-to-break-into, and not-too-easy. While I was doing this, I looked at all the books in the top 20 and established that there were a few authors who were doing great financially, at least according to the sales calculator I used (making hundreds to thousands a day). I’ve followed those authors and am studying their covers, descriptions, books, marketing, and promotions–even their release schedules–to get a better sense of what may be positively affecting their sales.
In any boostrapping process, you’re looking for loopholes. This is how I’m currently (and iteratively) looking for loopholes in how to find “my” niche. Although I doubt I’ll stick with just one.
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