You’re Probably Not Going to Sell Many Books

There are at least 9,674,094 ranked books on Amazon. I know this because one POD title I’ve retired is still listed, and that’s its current rank. It sold a whopping 2 copies before I removed it from sale back in early 2010.

These are ALL BOOKS, not split into hardback/paper/ebook/audio categories.

Note: I’m not a numbers guru or anything, just someone looking at the numbers and information shared by some indies in regards to their sales and rankings to try and gain an idea of the overall picture.

Of those, 90.7% are ranked higher than 900k. (For this purpose, “higher” equals “bad” rankings.)

  • 9.3% are ranked 900k or less.
  • 5.17% are ranked 500k or less.
  • 2.07% are ranked 200k or less.
  • 1.03% are ranked 100k or less.
  • .83% are ranked 80k or less.
  • .52% are ranked 50k or less.
  • .31% are ranked 30k or less.
  • .21% are ranked 20k or less.
  • .10% are ranked 10k or less.
  • .05% are ranked 5k or less.
  • .01% are ranked 1k or less.
  • .005 are ranked 500 or less.
  • .001% are ranked 100 or less.

A title allegedly needs to sell at least 1 copy daily to stay between 50k to 80k in rank.

80k is only .83% of all listed, ranked books on Amazon, going by my initial ranking number at the start of this post.

To stay within a 20k-30k ranking, a title needs to sell 3 copies daily. That is 25%-37.5% of all books ranked 80k or less.

To keep a ranking between 7k to 13k, a title must sell 12 copies daily. That is 8.75% to 16.25% of 80k books.

To maintain a rank of 1k or better, a title needs to sell 100-150 copies daily. 1k titles is 1.25% of those 80k books.

Titles with rankings between 500k to 900k are selling perhaps 1-2 copies per month.

It appears possible that 90.7% of all ranked books on Amazon aren’t selling even one copy per month on a regular basis.

Based on these numbers:

  • Only .01% of titles are doing really well on Amazon.
  • 0.13% likely earn “good living” money for their authors.
  • 0.31% earn from “living” to “pay some bills” money.
  • 99.55% of ranked titles are earning “pocket change” to having only sold 1-2 copies total in order to receive a ranking.

Of course, none of these numbers are absolute.

There are probably more than 9,674,094 ranked titles on Amazon, and of those, I have no idea how many are non-fiction versus fiction, or traditionally published versus self/indie published. I also have no idea how many authors are on Amazon, using more than one pen name, or how many titles belong to each author.

Nor can I state with absolute certainty the number of sales per day required to maintain certain ranks, since not every author or publisher shares numbers per title, nor is there any place to find ALL the numbers, and not just select slices of the numbers. Except for from Amazon, and Amazon’s not sharing. ;)

I do think it’s safe to speculate that the majority of these titles are self/indie pubbed, what with anywhere from 40k to 80k new titles reportedly being listed on Amazon EVERY MONTH.

  • 40k new titles per month equals 480,000 new titles per year.
  • 80k per month is 960,000 (nearly 1 million!) per year.

I think in 2010, it was 20k to 40k new titles being listed monthly, so I think it’s pretty safe to say there are a large number without rankings and the majority of all titles are self/indie published, because traditional publishing just doesn’t release as many new titles per year as thousands of indie authors can.

Nor do I have a way to discover the number of titles listed on Amazon without ranking and therefore, no sales at all, but it’s quite likely safe to say it’s also a large number.

Writing, regardless of how you publish, definitely isn’t a get rich quick scheme, or even a guaranteed money-earning proposition.

Over 9 million ranked titles available right now on Amazon. That is a LOT of books even with some listed in in more than one format. In my opinion, Amazon has the best search and cross-promotion functions of any book selling site, which is why a lot of authors say Amazon is responsible for the lion’s share of their sales.

With so many new titles being released on a monthly basis, and so few carrying ranks that indicate they’re selling even a single copy on any sort of regular basis, competition for sales is fierce, y’all. All it takes for a newly released title to receive a ranking is a single sale. A lot of us make our own first sale in order to check out formatting on our Kindles.

All the constant self-promotion (which so irritates many readers) by authors makes loads of sense when viewed in this context. Authors with fan bases definitely have an edge over those just starting out who don’t have fan bases, and that does include traditionally published authors who are now self-pubbing their back lists.

It’s a lot easier to write, release, announce the release, and then start writing the next book when you have a fan base that will do your promotion for you by rating/reviewing/spreading word of mouth.

When you don’t have that fan base promoting for you, you do have to spend a LOT of time figuring out the marketing side and promoting your own books.

Even so, I still believe it’s all a numbers game after writing a “good” story. A few copies sold per title per month is going to add up as you release more titles. There is a tipping point between “pocket change” and “earning a living” which some of us will eventually achieve.

That tipping point may take years to reach. As has been said many times, writing success, no matter what your personal definition of success is, isn’t a sprint, but a marathon.

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Reviewing without Reading: Our Delusions of Grandeur

“If it’s not a Verified purchase, it’s a fake review.”

Let’s start out by saying that some people (quite often authors who’ve received less-than-glowing reviews) believe readers shouldn’t be able to rate/review a book on Amazon unless they bought it.

Amazon allows reviews of products whether the customer purchased from its site or not, as long as the customer has purchased at least one item from Amazon.

There’s some quibbling over whether or not the initial purchase can be a free ebook or not. I can’t test that theory, since my Amazon account is several years old and I’ve bought a lot of stuff. :)

Not every reader belongs to Goodreads, Shelfari, etc, and all of their social reading activity may take place in the Amazon forums and via book reviews on that site.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I don’t buy every book I read. We have a library here, and I make use of it. Library patrons shouldn’t be exempt from reviewing books just because they didn’t purchase copies.

Goodreads, Shelfari, BookLikes, etc. don’t require proof of purchase from their members before allowing them to review books.

“Three star reviews are negative reviews.”

That’s also usually stated by some authors, who for some reason, believe anything below a 5 or 4 star rating/review is just terrible and only left by “trolls” out to destroy their ability to sell books.

On Amazon, the stars count as follows:

  • 1 star – I hate it.
  • 2 stars –I don’t like it.
  • 3 stars – It’s okay.
  • 4 stars – I like it.
  • 5 stars – I love it.

On Goodreads, the stars count as follows:

  • 1 star – Did not like it.
  • 2 stars – It was okay.
  • 3 stars – I liked it.
  • 4 stars – Really liked it.
  • 5 stars – It was amazing.

Those are the two most popular sites to rate/review books on, so we’ll stop with just those two.

“It’s okay” isn’t a negative review, folks. It may not be the glowing praise you believe you deserve for whatever reasons, but it’s not OMFG terrible, either. Quit losing your shit over that.

Those who receive a 2 star review on Goodreads, or a 3 star on Amazon and pitch wall-eyed fits about them need to either stop reading their reviews, or learn to bitch privately to friends instead of publicly bad-mouthing reviewers. Reader/reviewers are consumers, and authorial bad behavior does tend to be noted and spread about.

People are going to form their own opinions about what they read, and that’s just as fine as YOU forming your own opinion about the books you read.

You don’t have to like their opinion, but you should give them the same respect you hope to receive when you air your opinions.

“They admit they didn’t even read the book.”

This is the part where my opinions may diverge from others. I’ve spent a lot of time browsing books on Amazon, reading blurbs and the “Look Inside” for them.

Sometimes, the blurb and/or Look Inside is simply awful. Badly written, no punctuation or incorrect overuse of punctuation, incorrect spellings, incoherent writing, etc.

An urge to rate/review those books pointing out their flaws tends to rise, but I don’t. I’m not the book police, and one of two things tends to be the truth for those books:

  • They don’t sell much or at all.
  • They do sell, and have good reviews, so while they’re not my particular cup o’ tea, there are readers who like them.

Plus, I’d rather spend my time writing and improving my own books. :)

Now, over on Goodreads, things are set up so that there’s no little box to tick to affirm that you’ve read a book before you can rate or post a review. In the “advanced” section of the review popup/page, you can tick one that says “I own a copy”, and supply information about it.

Apparently, the Goodreads rating system is used by some readers to indicate their interest level in books they haven’t read. I’ll be honest, I don’t really get that, since there is a “to read” shelf as one of the automatic shelves you start out with.

Creating new shelves isn’t difficult, so making a “to not read” shelf for books you never intend to read isn’t impossible. Or a “maybe to read” one for books you’re on the fence about. Basically, the tools are there to set things up, but some people prefer, rightly or wrongly, to use the rating system instead.

“Reviews sell books. Bad reviews tank book sales.”

I could make a list of titles, including some of my own, that don’t have many (or any) reviews anywhere, yet still sell. I could make another list of books that have loads of bad ratings/reviews, and still sell – which would also include some of my books. :)

Are there some people who won’t buy unless they see a lot of reviews? Sure, but of those who do, a likely surprising number discount both 5 and 1 star reviews, preferring to focus on say, the 3 star reviews, which they feel are less biased.

The growing publicity involving paid reviews, review trades between indies, and the family/friends review hustle have had an effect: People view glowing 5 star reviews with suspicion, and are sometimes suspicious of all reviews.

Review systems have been gamed too much for many to place any faith in reviews at all.

On the other hand, I’ve seen a decent number of indie authors discuss how a single 1 star review decreases or even completely stops sales of the book that received it.

So there are cases where bad reviews can negatively affect sales, and those cases seem to be mostly for indie books. Ergo, good reviews help sell, bad reviews sometimes hurt sales.

“Sometimes” because bad reviews, depending on their tone, have also been known to sell books.

In other words, the argument can certainly be made that rating books you haven’t read can affect their sales. There’s also the theory that your average consumer expects reviews to be honest and solely about the book/product, and how honest can a rating/review about something you didn’t use/read/experience be?

  • “I haven’t seen the new Superman movie, but it’s the best Superman movie ever.”
  • “I haven’t seen the new Superman movie, but it’s the worst Superman movie ever.”

How the hell can I possibly know whether the new Superman movie is good or bad if I haven’t watched it? And why would anyone give a damn what I think about it when I haven’t watched it?

I don’t know if I’m an average consumer, but let me tell you what I usually think about bad reviews: The person didn’t like the book or food, or in the case of other products, they flat didn’t know how to use it/put it together/or had unrealistic expectations: “I’ve been using this lotion for two days, and see absolutely no difference in my skin. It’s a scam, a bad product, and no one should give this company money!”

If I do look at a review, and see “I didn’t read/use/watch” in it, I move on. That review’s worthless to me as a consumer. If I’m taking the time to read reviews, I want the opinions of those who actually read/used/watched whatever the item in question is.

“If you didn’t read it all the way through, you shouldn’t be allowed to rate/review it.”

I call bullshit on this one, people. There are books that I’ve invested my time reading, and reach a point when I give up on them for whatever reason. If a book bores me to tears and I can’t finish it, it’s perfectly all right for me to review it and say so.

If a book starts out well, but degenerates in some fashion halfway through, I absolutely can review it and say so.

I do NOT have to buy a book and read it to the very last page in order to have the right to rate/review it. I can check one out from the library, and I can give up on reading it, and still rate/review it because I’ve had an experience with that book and formed an opinion of it.

If I’m not interested in a particular book for whatever reason, I don’t buy, rate or review it. I don’t personally see the point in letting everyone know I have no interest in it, because honestly, who the hell cares if I’m interested in it or not?

No one, since nobody is standing beside me while I’m browsing for something new to read.

Some people might be interested in what my opinions are on the books I have read, but those people are usually my friends that read and have tastes similar to mine, or perfect strangers that do check ratings/reviews before making purchase decisions.

However, in the grand scheme of life, my opinions on anything don’t matter to most people, unless that person’s a politician trying to get my vote or someone who lives with me. :)

I think the “danger” for us lies in gaining online “popularity”, and we begin to believe our opinions are the end all, be all of whatever the subject is, to the point we think we wield some sort of real power over others.

If you use the title “guru” for yourself, you may have succumbed to said danger. ;)

While humans are herd animals, we’re also predators and a superbly cantankerous bunch. You or I may have a group of people who believe we shit gold, but the world at large doesn’t believe that.

Efforts to convince the world at large that we do, indeed, shit gold are doomed to failure for 99.9998% of us, and it’s a sure bet that our efforts will draw the attention of people who will make it their mission to prove to us and anyone else who glances their way that we don’t shit gold.

It’s something to think about, and your mileage may vary if you suffer from delusions of grandeur. ;)

For the record, I seldom bother looking at reviews for books, though I will for other products. Most of those I have looked at are the hilariously over-the-top type, such as for the 3 Wolf Moon tee, or “negative” reviews someone’s complained about online somewhere (and the someone usually IS an indie author).

I read the reviews left for my books, and appreciate them all, good or bad, because I view them in the light of something I wrote affected the reviewer enough for him/her to take that extra step, and hey, that’s pretty cool.

But it’s not unique. All sorts of folks write stuff online every day that others react to. :)

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