What I Learned From Tracking My Amazon Sales Rankings

Sales don’t just come out of nowhere. They’re directly linked to book promotion.

Photo credit: kaboompics, CC0 Public Domain.

My debut novel, The Biographies of Ordinary People, has been available for pre-order for a little over a month now. (The book releases this May.)

I’ve been checking my Amazon Bestseller Rank pretty much continuously since the pre-order launched, and quickly discovered that the majority of the sales spikes were related to specific marketing events—that is, people weren’t buying my book because they saw an Amazon recommendation (does Amazon even recommend books that are only available for pre-order?) or because they were finding me randomly online.

Instead, they were finding me because of direct, targeted effort on my part—and my effort was translating directly into sales.

If you don’t know how to access your Amazon Bestseller Rank data, the first thing you need to do is sign up with Amazon Author Central. From there, you can set up an Author Page, connect your books, and start getting your sales rank data.

I recommend only checking this data three times per day. You may have the urge to check it every hour, but I promise you have better things to do.

Like figuring out ways to promote your book and keep that sales rank high.

This graph shows my Amazon Bestseller Rank, as of this writing. Let’s figure out why that graph looks the way it does.

The Biographies pre-order launched on February 14, coming out of the gate with an Amazon Bestseller Rank of #11,896. This means that, of the one million books available on the Amazon Kindle Store, my book was the 11,896th bestseller on February 14. Not bad for a self-published debut!

Sales stay high for the rest of the week, though you can see the line begin to trend downwards as all of the people who are most excited about pre-ordering The Biographies of Ordinary People go ahead and pre-order it. These are the people who’ve known about Biographies for a while and are eager to read the book: my social media followers, my Patreon supporters, and—most importantly—my mailing list.

After my core group of readers goes through the pre-order process, the Amazon Bestseller Rank begins to show a pattern of dips and peaks. No peak is ever as high as that first-day peak; the highest peak so far, on February 24, only puts me at #54,273. (Still, not bad!)

But nearly every peak is correlated with a specific instance of book promotion or marketing.

The February 24 peak, for example, most likely derives from this post:

I’ve been writing “This Week in Self-Publishing” articles on Medium every week, making sure to tag them with popular tags like “writing,” “books,” and “self-publishing.” This article was especially popular because people want to know how they can get their self-published book professionally reviewed—and I share all the steps I took to submit Biographies to BookLife, Kirkus Reviews, BlueInk, and Foreword Clarion.

The next peaks, on March 2 and March 8, are a little harder to pinpoint. I was on the JoCo Cruise between March 4–11, and I wasn’t doing any online book marketing during that time because I didn’t want to pay for cruise ship internet. I was handing out promotional cards with Biographies pre-order info on them, and I did hand out a few cards on the evening of March 2, so maybe that was it. I can’t say for sure.

I do know exactly what caused the peak on March 17:

I wrote this article about my friend Marian Call’s new album Standing Stones, and noted that one of her songs asks the same question that I ask in my forthcoming novel.

It’s important to note that I didn’t write the article just so I could name-drop my book; I mentioned (and linked to) Biographies the same way I just mentioned (and linked to) Marian’s album Standing Stones. In both cases, they belonged in the conversation.

But that article got a lot of engagement, and some of that engagement turned into pre-orders.

The extended peak on March 20–21 came after I sent another email to my mailing list:

I sent this email for two reasons: first because I wanted to announce that my book launch would be at Seattle’s Phinney Books on May 23, and second because I wanted to give all the people who had recently signed up for my mailing list a gentle reminder to pre-order the book.

It worked.

(It didn’t hurt that my first article on The Verbs published on March 20, either.)

So far, all of these marketing efforts are self-generated. I’m not to the point where other people are writing blog posts or articles about The Biographies of Ordinary People—I’m hoping that will come after the book releases in May—which means that if I want to keep my book visible, I need to do the work myself.

Right now, I’m trying to branch out into interviews and podcasts. I don’t want every post that mentions The Biographies of Ordinary People to be one I wrote, after all! Getting other people involved in the conversation will be good for both of us; I’ll get to share Biographies with a new audience, and they’ll get to share their work with my core group of fans.

And I’ll be able to tell, right away, if that translates into book sales. ❤

Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer, a senior editor at The Billfold, and a columnist at The Write Life. The Biographies of Ordinary People just got its BlueInk review and she is so excited.

Freelance writer at Vox, Bankrate, Haven Life, & more. Author of The Biographies of Ordinary People.