In this week’s post, I want to demonstrate the power of what Mark Coker calls the “rise of the indie author collective” (The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success). Indies Unlimited is every bit a part of that rise, that revolution really, one that has eroded the power of traditional publishing and significantly democratized the entire process.
Now, there are as many tips and tricks out there for helping independent authors “maximize their brand” or “utilize the tools of the internet” as there are slightly dodgy-looking punters at a female mud wrestling contest, and the debate continues to rage over the effectiveness of reciprocal Facebook “liking” or Amazon “tagging” every bit as fiercely as it does over that of Mona’s standing moonsault and tilt-a-whirl crossbody press on Dolores back in the Fifth Round.
And I have no more answers to those questions than your average… well, dodgy-looking punter at a female mud… But enough of that; in the tradition of great pitchmen everywhere… I wanna tell ya about what works, folks!
On March 17, our colleague here at Indies Unlimited, the redoubtable Jim Devitt, showed us a neat if at-first-glance confusing trick. Well, confusing if, like me, you’re more than a little dense when it comes to the arcane ways of the mighty Amazon dot com. In his post, Jim explained a method by which you change what is known as the “category path” of your book on its Amazon page and effectively reduce its number of competitors by fine-tuning that path, or string. Now, I’m not going to completely humiliate myself by outlining each and every wrong turn I took after my initial wild misinterpretations of Jim’s instructions. Suffice it to say that, after a number of emails between Amazon and my heartbreakingly clueless self, I did manage to end up with two slightly more customized category paths. Read Jim’s post—including the comments section in which I also humiliate myself publicly (okay, sensing a theme here)—for a much better nuts-and-bolts explanation than I could honestly provide (I can do nuts, no problem, just not bolts).
But the point is that I did finally arrive at these two new paths, and noticed that in one of them in particular (Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Travel > United States > States > New York > New York City), I was already ranked at #4. It so happened that someone bought my book that day and I noticed it move up to #2. Which is when it dawned on me that if I asked enough people to buy it over one short, frenzied period of time, there was a chance it could make the #1 slot, however temporarily, thus giving me a bone fide Amazon #1 Bestseller! The only question: how far ahead in Amazon’s mysterious ranking algorithms was the current #1 seller in that particular category path, and was it catchable? I didn’t know. But I wanted to find out.
So I called in all my favours from the boys downtown… well okay, from my slightly bemused and mainly bespectacled writing cohorts and colleagues from within various Facebook groups. Essentially begging them to buy my book, I even lowered the price, which is the equivalent of leaning into the passenger side window and flashing acres of cleavage while making kissy faces. Not a good look, in other words. And perhaps my lowest point to date as an independent writer was when I found myself with my finger poised over the Buy Now With 1-Click button… and clicked. Yes, I admit it here for the world to mock me with: I bought my own book. For which I later did penance by dragging razor wire through my spleen and driving carpet nails into my perineum.
But also, some very kind people, most of them my colleagues right here at Indies Unlimited, felt sufficient
excruciating embarrassment sympathy for my plight that they dug deep and shelled out for my lonely little book. Cue a couple of tense hours refreshing the Amazon page and watching the ranking (what on earth did we do for fun before the internet? Torture the kids with crocodile clips and car batteries? Prank the neighbours with elaborate setups involving loud hailers, flamethrowers and wolverine feces? Oh wait, yeah, we read books), until… well, it worked. Just like that (if you doubt me, click on the embedded photo above).
I was gobsmacked. #1 in an admittedly gerrymandered category, but no matter. It was a real bestseller. Which is especially ironic, since it has never sold well, being both short and nonfiction; pretty much guaranteed niche market material. In fact, I don’t mind admitting that its usual overall ranking fluctuates somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000. And that brings me to another point: the book’s overall Amazon Kindle Store ranking peaked at around 22,000, which prompts me to ask: if a small number of near-simultaneous purchases is enough to lift one eBook hundreds of thousands of places in the Amazon lists, are the vast majority of eBooks really selling as well as we’ve been led to believe? Is this an example of the so-called long tail, and did I just witness my own book advance from its usual place partway down the tail to somewhere nearer the front… yet still essentially a part of the tail? Okay, we’re getting into areas outside my expertise, which is admittedly not difficult, but it’s nutrition for cogitation, don’t you think?
What I take from this, however, is that the power of social media and our potential for collective action gave me a bestseller, as it could give you a bestseller, and as much as an observer might accuse us of gaming the system, we still put in the effort and discovered it was possible. And that surely stands for something in a world in which the little guy often feels excluded by the arcane rules of gargantuan corporations; rules that appear only to benefit those already at the top. Hey, Coker’s right. We’re not so little after all, not when we’re many.
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David Antrobus is a contributing writer for Indies Unlimited and author of the nonfiction book Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip. For more information, please visit the IU Bio page, and his website: The Migrant Type.