Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gaming the System

As I write this, the number one movie in the country is Gravity. I haven't seen it yet, but it's on my list. The number one TV show is The Voice - never watched it, don't intend to. The number one album is Bangerz by Miley Cyrus. Sorry, but I've seen enough twerking to last me the rest of my life. But, more importantly for the overall scope of this blog, the number one book, as ranked by Amazon, is The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus, Book 4) by Rick Riordan. It's a fantasy epic. Not my cup of tea, but obviously very popular. J.K. Rowling helped to increase the popularity of the genre with the Harry Potter books, and as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

As much as I wish it to be true, my books are unlikely to be found at the top of Amazon's list, or The New York Times bestsellers. Being two and three years old, my books - like most things that are ranked - peaked during the first few months following their release. That should give me some incentive to finish my third book as soon as possible and generate some excitement for all of them.

Independent authors like me, no matter how good our books are, have a difficult time getting noticed amidst a sea of an estimated 6,500 titles published weekly, in the US alone. This is according to Bowker, a leader in publishing industry information.

There are always exceptions, of course. John Locke and Amanda Hocking are just two independent authors who have managed to break away from the pack. Quality and a superior marketing effort go a long way in pulling a title up the charts.

That and fudging the numbers. I don't mean somehow buying 1,000 or so of your own books just to see it at the top of the list (although I've heard that it's been done). The trick is in how Amazon categorizes books. The aforementioned House of Hades is number one overall; it has sold more books in the period of time being considered than all titles currently sold by Amazon. (I can't say exactly how it's figured because Amazon's rankings are calculated hourly, and the algorithm that is used is more difficult to decode than NSA secrets.) Amazon, however, provides subcategories which narrow down the type of book and gives a ranking within the subcategories. This then allows the author to say that he or she is a number one Amazon best selling author.

For example (and I'm not going to be too specific here - don't want any maniacal authors coming after me) an author can claim to be number one because his book is number one in Books>Fiction>Mysteries>Detective>1940s>Nebraska>Corn Theft>Hog Rustling
That narrows it down pretty well. The author may have only sold one book, but it's number one in the category. It's probably the only book in the category. But he'll call himself a Number One Amazon Author.

I've got to rethink my own marketing strategy. I'm sure I could be a Number One Amazon author, too. All I have to do is convince Amazon to add a few subcategories. Protecting the Cittern would undoubtedly be number one in Books>Fiction>Literary>Families>Dysfunctional>Italian>Instruments>Citterns and The Ibex Trophy would take the top spot in  Books>Fiction>Historical>World War II>Italy>Corsican Occupation>Trophies

No problem. I'll have to change my Facebook bio to reflect my number one status!


  1. Love this analysis John, and probably very accurate...

  2. Congratulations to No. 1 Amazon Bestselling Author in two (sub)
    John Cammalleri is a Genius!

  3. What a hoot!! John - Could I put a link on my blog to yours? I'd love to share ...

    1. Thanks, Mary! I'd be honored if you put a link on your blog.

  4. Well done, John!

    You pull back the curtain to the Wizard of Oz!