Velocity and Trajectory

This is a guest post by Dorothy Grant, Peter’s wife.

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Sarah just informed me that the Giant Obvious Change to Amazon’s algorithms wasn’t so obvious – not to authors who are busy writing and moving. So, let’s talk about organizing book promotions in the current market.

About the time Amazon shook up the writing world by releasing a competitor to Scribd and Oyster (namely Kindle Unlimited, or KU), it also implemented a major revision to its sales ranking algorithm. The obvious impact was that KU borrows have the same impact on sales rank as an immediate sale, but no payment is made until 10% of the text is read. This had the effect of decoupling the strict cause and effect relationship between a book’s actual sales and its sales rank.

However, Amazon also implemented a more subtle but much more massive change to the algorithm. The name of the game for promotional visibility is no longer velocity (i.e. the number of sales over a shorter time period like an hour or a day), but trajectory (i.e. the number of sustained sales over a longer period, like a week or a month). The old way to get visibility on Amazon was to promote something by stacking all of your release announcements, advertisements, tweets, and parties on the same day. Now, Amazon keeps track of your trajectory – and the more sudden and sharp your sales spike, the more sudden, sharp, and swift the subsequent decline in rankings. The new way to get visibility is to grow your sales over a period of several days by promoting them across many places and outlets, spreading out the impact of high traffic and large sales.

The objective remains the same: getting your book into the top-100-for-genre, hot new releases, movers and shakers, or top rated lists. The first two are the most important lists for a new release. They’re where people tend to look for new things to read in a given genre. Getting on those lists also gets your story onto the ‘also-bought’ pages of other high-ranked stories in that genre, which will be the major driver of long-term sales.

Why did this change? In a word, Bookbub. Bookbub became so successful at helping the authors who bought a place on its promotional mailing list, boosting their rank higher in the Kindle Store, that it was essentially becoming a new gatekeeper, charging for access to the top-100-in-genre lists. Amazon is customer-centric. It built those lists to be populated by the customers, for the customers. Having a company essentially start taking them over, with entries that were curated by a handful of editors who charged several hundred dollars apiece, was contrary to the very spirit in which the list was built.

This isn’t a new thing: in fact, the same manipulation of lists and ranks was why Amazon changed its associate program to require that no more than X% a month be free downloads, and why it no longer carries your free store rankings over to the paid store when you start charging for a story. (Pixel of Ink was the reigning king in the market during the heyday of free price pulsing as the major promotional tool. However, PoI’s assistance in boosting a free book’s rank no longer carries over to its paid ranking, so it’s affected in the same way as BookBub by Amazon’s new approach.)

So, how has the promotional market responded? It’s learned that a large percentage of promo list subscribers aren’t there for the deal as much as they are looking for an email a day that gives them something they haven’t seen before, guaranteed to be a minimum level of readable. Promo lists have flourished, with lots of small competitors trying to find a better niche and become the next Bookbub. (Personally, I’m rather partial to The Fussy Librarian and Ebooksoda – they have a higher proportion of books that look interesting enough for me to click through and buy them.)

Authors are using stacked promotions across lots of smaller promotional companies, staggering the heavy-hitters on sales to give a better growth curve. When they can’t get into Bookbub (50% of the slots are sold to the Big 5 traditional publishers, so it’s a pretty fierce competition), we stack and stagger the second-tier promo sites like E-Reader News Today (ENT), One Hundred Free Books (OHFB), The Midlist and Free Kindle Books and Tips (FKBT).

A typical savvy non-release promotion, these days, looks like this.

Day 1
Ebookhounds
Book Barbarian
Free Book Feed

Day 2
Indie Book Bargains
Choosy Bookworm
The Fussy Librarian
GoodKindles
Awesome Gang
OHFB

Day 3
Booktastik
Bknights on Fiverr
Just Kindle Books
Read Cheaply
Mailing List Announcement (that is, sending out a mailing list announcement of the sale.)

Day 4
Genre Pulse
Ebooksoda
PeopleReads
ENT

Day 5
Bookbub

In fact, the new bleeding edge of promotions is to keep a spreadsheet of which sites release in which timezone, and arrange the smaller players so they stagger promotions throughout the day. I know people are doing this to great effect, but I can’t guide you there yet, because I’ve been too darned tired with my day job lately to sit down and start playing with the nuts and bolts of that.

For release promotions, authors are staggering the release announcement – first to their mailing list and then to social media (or vice versa). Where they used to try to get all their friends to shout about its release on the same day, and chew fingernails when announcements often came in a day late or as other people had time; now that’s a feature, not a bug.

How long will it stay this way? Until someone else figures out a way to game Amazon, and Amazon responds. But for right now, that’s the word from the marketing trenches.

As for release launches – Peter has just published Stand Against the Storm, Book 4 in the Maxwell Saga!

An emergency recall to his ship short-circuits Senior Lieutenant Steve Maxwell’s plan to get rid of a long-standing personal burden. Instead, he finds himself dumped into a war zone on a peacekeeping mission hundreds of light years away. He doesn’t have enough people, equipment or information. Left in the dark, he has to rely on uncertain allies with their own agenda.

Even worse, it’s not the Fleet’s war, so he’s not allowed to shoot back – much less shoot first. Neither side is observing civilized rules of engagement. The bodies are piling up.

Steve’s been ordered not to act… but there are times when cold, hard reality trumps orders.

So far the reviews are great. Take a look for yourself!

37 Comments

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37 responses to “Velocity and Trajectory

  1. I just noticed the difference too. I had a sale yesterday, and I didn’t even know it because instead of jumping to 100,000 (From below the million mark) it didn’t budge at all.

    Now one thing I want to know is why, out of 80+ “also boughts”, I don’t appear in even ONE of their also-boughts. Some of them are nearly as low as I am.

    • Actually, today I finally had the jump in the rank. Now to see if the falloff speed has changed any.

      I also noticed just how strongly Amazon separates out the Erotica category. After putting it in Erotica for a little while, and taking it back out, there is actually a gap in the author rank graph equal to that period.

  2. Perfect timing since I have a book coming out in 6 weeks now. I’m wondering if I should run a sale/promotion of the first book in the series with your outline, before that launch… And I’ve really been debating leaving the novels in KU. The rate on the borrows had really dropped.

    • Laura M

      I just put Manx Prize in KU this month and can’t say I’ve noticed any difference. I will, however, study this list very carefully. Thanks, Dorothy!

  3. Gah. Promotion. I need to do this. Even if it makes me want to run away screaming.

  4. Good information. I did a release yesterday and was still able to climb ranks pretty quickly, I did notice that the ‘spike’ of sales didn’t push me into the top 100, which is why I’m trying to broaden my reach. I’d been noticing similar with some of my other books as well. The shift with KU is one I’ve noticed in particular, though it’s odd because I’ll see a spike in sales from some of my older books/short stories and it won’t show the ‘borrow’ from KDP for days sometimes, basically until someone passes the 10% mark.

  5. Jon

    Does this mean Larry Correia’s book bombs are not as as effective as they once were? I applaud Mr Correia’s efforts to help other authors get noticed and I’m wondering if perhaps maybe he should encourage these those who participate in his book bombs to spread out their purchases over the space of, say, a week or so.

    • Laura M

      Larry’s last book bomb still seemed to work very well. Although not in the top 100, John C. Wright’s novella soared into the 800s. It just took a while.

    • Yes, they are less effective… in as much as he can no longer draw people in with the excitement of “You, too, can make the rank jump! Buy this book and watch the web change!”

      On the other hand, he has a very committed crowd of fans who love to read, have money, and like doing things for a good cause. Oh, and trust he’ll only recommend something that’s not grey goo. So you see here the raw power of a Larry recommendation… is quite powerful.

      • Also, a lot of people won’t see or act on a book bomb the first day or the first week, so it ends up having trajectory too.

        • *nod* I was going to point out that this makes the word-of-mouth type campaigns a lot more powerful, exactly because the increase will be slower.

          Sure, the jump will be slower– but that happens for the competition, too.

  6. There’s something wrong here. The first line should read:

    “This is a guest post by Dorothy Grant, Peter’s wife.”

    That shows up when I go directly to the article, but it doesn’t show up when I load MGC’s home page. My apologies for any confusion. I’ve no idea why I can’t see it sometimes. Anyway, kudos and thanks to Dorothy for a great post!

    Peter

  7. Thanks for doing this, Dorothy! I was going to line some things up for post-KC Con…this will help nicely.

  8. Reblogged this on Colfax Den and commented:
    Interesting. For those also doing the indie author shuffle…

  9. Reblogged this on Kal Spriggs and commented:
    Good info for all authors in general, especially indies:

  10. In a way this is great information. In a way it is depressing as heck, because of the old “it takes money to make money” problem. You need the sales to make enough revenue to buy the ads and placement to get the sales. (Assuming you do not have 1) a Fairy Godmother, 2) A Sugar Daddy, 3) the winning lottery ticket in some form or fashion.)

    • Or you don’t start off using just the free listing sites. Or you don’t do a free run, where many of the small sites don’t charge for a free listing, only for a paid (99 cent and up) listing.

      There are ways. There are ways.

      • Well, thanks to your suggestions I now have two promos set up in Mid-March for Pixie Noir, preparing to launch Dragon about two weeks after that. I paid out $8 to Fussy Librarian, and I’m splurging on $28 for the EbooksHounds Daily Deal + Ebook of the Day.

        Now, the book will be on sale, so I won’t directly make money. However, I have a small ‘ad’ budget set aside, and I haven’t really been using it as I don’t have the time to market the way I ought to. I’m just too gosh-darned busy. But the monies put out for finding new readers will come back. I probably wouldn’t do this with a first book (couldn’t, likely, as most places have stringent criteria about how many reviews before they will accept you). But to keep momentum rolling? Sure.

        Also, I’ll report here on results.

  11. hlvogel

    Laura, thank you for explaining this. I’d heard Amazon had changed the way their algorithm worked but had not had time to dig up any details. My second book came out 12 days ago and I’ve been trying to compare sales ranks from the first book and the new one. (My books are released by a very small publisher, so I don’t have immediate access to actual sales data.)

    I’ve been sort of depressed by the significant difference in sales rankings. Now I understand there’s simply no good way to compare the two because the sales ranks were compiled under significantly different situations.

    Now I’m off to dig into the various promotional links you provided. All in all, this has been an extremely informative and useful post!

    • Laura M

      I think this is the post with an identity crisis. It comes from Dorothy, she who is a wily and learned marketeer.

      • hlvogel

        Oops, thanks for pointing out my mistake, Laura! I should know not to write comments when I’m tired!

        Dorothy, thank you for writing this! Beyond that, see my message above for the rest.

        • No worries. 🙂

          You can still get a rough comparison, but you have to keep in mind your sales rank will lag any sales by about 4 hours. If you’ve been watching your sales rank hourly (fairly standard with releases under the old algorithm, this is a good reason to take a deep breath, find something to do other than press F5, and take the measure of sales rank only every 4-6 hours. Better for you, anyway.)

          • Hit enter too soon. (And didn’t fix my parentheses.

            Just adding that with the brand new release, I’ve been able to only check once a day, thanks to Brain-Eating Day Job. I’m seriously looking at leaving the 12-hour days and going freelance as a virtual assistant to authors later this year. Then I will be able to keep more on top of when to time promotions, and the results.

    • Pat Patterson

      Henry, I’m reading Scout’s Oath right now. I am a day late in review posting, because I finished Duty From Ashes on my no-keyboard device, BUT I will rectify that as soon as I post this.

      • hlvogel

        Thanks Pat! I hope you’re enjoying the book and look forward to your review (whatever it ends up saying).

  12. Pat Patterson

    I’m rather confused about this 10% KU thing. I f I download the title to my laptop, reading it with the Kindle app, and then return it after I’m finished, is THAT when they determine I’ve read more than 10%? Or, do I have to read it online for them to know?
    It would bug me immensely to discover that the 42 MGC books I’ve read since the last week in October have not been credited to your accounts.

    • Laura M

      Somehow, Amazon knows. This is what it tells the authors: “You’re eligible for royalty payment from Kindle Unlimited each time a new customer reads more than 10% of your book for the first time. A customer can read your book again as many times as they like, but you will only receive payment for the first 10% read.”

      Amazon does not address your on-line question, but the way I read it, the ‘zon Just Knows when you reach 10 percent. I bet you have to turn your wifi on from time to time.

    • When you connect your kindle to wireless, it reports back on furthest read location on books. This allows it to offer to sync your kindle with any other kindle you own, or device with a kindle app. (Since I read on my phone during breaks at work, this means when I pick up the actual kindle on a weekend and tap the same book, it come up “furthest read location is X. Do you wish to go there?”)

      The reporting tool for syncing does double-duty as reporting when you’ve read more than 10% on a borrow. Theorettically, if you bought a book, downloaded it, and transferred it via USB to another device that is not internet-connected, it would then never know. But that’s too much like work.

      • Pat Patterson

        Thanks! I asked Amazon, but the answer I got back was for an author asking about royalties, not a reader making sure credit was given.

  13. Oh, link! Link I forgot to put in, but will help you! (Sory, just got home from Day Job.)

    http://www.readersintheknow.com/list-of-book-promotion-sites

  14. celebran

    Thanks for the great article and the links to the book sites. And because I’d missed it the news about Peters release. I’d missed that and had to go buy it.

  15. I noticed this last year when my new releases moved up into the top ten is multiple categories. I was having huge sales, and nothing really happened, at first. Then the rank slowly started to crawl up until I hit the top 100, then slowly worked through that until I hit the top ten.
    The nice thing about it, is between bk 2 and bk3, I stayed in the top 100 until bk3 came out. I just wish I had been faster on book 4, because then I would have had even more titles in the top 100!

    I appreciate that Amazon is working to try to stop people from gaming the system, I just wish they stop people from gaming the exclusive list at the 99 cent price point, because that hurts the people selling real books at higher price points.