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Selling books on Amazon – What happens with a second book in the series

Posted in Distribution, Just for Writers, and Publishing

I try to keep most of my blog posts focused on my books — characters, writing, and so forth. But I am also running a business and every now and then I think you might find it interesting to understand a little about how it works.

I published book 1 of The Hounds of Annwn in early October, 2012, and released book 2 on January 1, 2013. This series is aimed at fantasy readers, but I have a strong secondary audience of foxhunters who also care about the topic. There are millions of fantasy readers and only a few thousand foxhunters, but I know the foxhunting crowd and am known to them for hunt country photography, so I had a built-in initial audience to tell about the books and to go to for editorial reviews. This has been great and I'm very grateful for their support, but it's imperative for me to come to the notice of the much, much larger fantasy audience. That's made more difficult by the unfortunate fact that few fantasy blogs will review independent authors.

One measure of penetration for Amazon is to see what's in the “people who bought this book also bought…” category on your Amazon book page. Initially, this was blank, but soon book 1 began to accumulate references to books the foxhunting community likes, such as the Rita Mae Brown foxhunting mysteries. I kept hoping I would begin to see general fantasy books listed, but for the initial three months that wasn't the case.

Since book 2 has been released earlier this month, things have become very different. It's still in its “recently published” period which is driving a certain amount of general discoverability. Sales for both books together so far this month (there's a week to go) have exceeded sales for the first book for the preceding three months all together. Book 1 is being bought at about twice the volume of book 2, which is what you would expect for a series.

The “people also bought” categories are, however, very different, and I think I've learned something important about how they work. Book 2's “also bought” categories are extensive and contain almost nothing except other fantasy titles (and book 1). This is terrific — it means the general fantasy crowd has finally stumbled onto the book and is looking at it. But the “also bought” category for book 1 is unchanged (except it also links to book 2). And yet, people are buying twice as many of book 1 as book 2 and I think most of the buyers are fantasy buyers, not foxhunters.

So what's happening? Here's what I think…

Fantasy readers come across book 2 because it's “recently published” or because they're referred to it by the “also bought” links. They discover it's book 2 of the series and either go to book 1 directly, or link to it in the “also bought” list. Then they buy book 1 (and sometimes book 2, too.) So the “also bought” list for book 2 shows general fantasy titles and book 1, and the “also bought” list for book 1 shows the original foxhunting titles and book 2. I'll know I'm over the hump for fantasy discoverability when the “also bought” list for book 1 starts showing general fantasy titles, too, but that hasn't happened yet.

I'm selling almost as many trade paperbacks as ebooks (thru all my channels combined), but that's partly a feature of the foxhunting crowd, who prefers them, and my initial push into local stores.

I can't help thinking that the change in attention from the fantasy crowd is coincident with my entry of book 1 into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest earlier this month. I suspect that some of the staff at Amazon take a look at the entries as they go by and maybe some of them are moved to buy the book. I sold several copies in the first days following my entry.

The other very interesting thing is what has happened to my author rank on Amazon this month, for the two fantasy titles. It changes hourly, but here's the surprise I found this morning:

Fantasy Ebook: 377 (lowest had been 5,500) – there are 39,000 Fantasy ebooks on Amazon USA
Fantasy Book: 812 (lowest had been 12,000) – there are 51,000 Fantasy paperback books
Books Overall: 14,263 (lowest had been 370,000)

My volume cannot possibly be large enough to generate this, at only about 26 paperback and 70 ebooks via Amazon this month so far, so I don't understand how it's possible. But I'm certainly pleased! Now I just have to keep it up with the quality of my books.

I also got my first order this month from CreateSpace's extended distribution channel, so I must be starting to get some visibility from the wholesale market. Terrific!

UPDATE – I was right, the ascent up the Author Rank wasn't my doing, but Instapundit's kind reference to my books. I'm gradually descending back to my more natural level.

UPDATE 2 – One day later, the world has changed again for my books on Amazon All the tags for my books have vanished, and the “also bought” categories have entirely changed. Book 1 now has a mix of old foxhunting and new fantasy titles, 11 screens' worth, where yesterday there were 6. Book 2 now has 1 screen's worth, where yesterday there were 10. Clearly something substantial has changed yet again in the algorithms, and this time not to my benefit. Bad enough to have moving targets, but you'd think they'd bother to tell you?

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  1. Wish I had your problems! Love the covers, especially no. 3.

    January 25, 2013
  2. Thanks, I like that artist, too. I was lucky to find her (iStockPhoto).

    I feel very sure that the Author Rank is unearned, but if I knew what triggered it, I’d certainly try to make it happen again.

    January 25, 2013

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