Watching your digital book sales climb is exhilarating. Seeing them fall is heartbreaking and confusing. “What changed?” you ask yourself, feeling panicked. Did I slack off too much on blogging? Or forget to post in the forums? Did I take this success for granted for 24 hours? Frantically, you try to recreate the right combination of effort and luck that made it happen. Then you realize you don’t really know why the run-up occurred.

Sometimes, changes in books sales are obvious and logical. During weeks when I have three guest blogs posted and I’m active in the forums, the numbers go up a little and it makes sense. Other times, the sales shoot up for no reason. This month, they dropped for no reason.

I tried not to panic, telling myself it was temporary. But still, I kicked into high gear, posting in the forums, writing blogs, and sending out press releases. None of it seemed to make a difference. I even bought some ads, something I rarely do because it’s so hard to measure their effectiveness. But self-publishing is a small business, so reinvesting a little profit into advertising seems logical.

I crave logic, and these inexplicable fluctuations can make an author crazy. Particularly people like me: control freaks who want things to make sense. I want to know the cause and effect of everything. I want to depend on my efforts to produce predictable results. (Are you laughing?) So for months, I checked my Amazon sales daily. Because if I did something that worked, I wanted to know. How else do you learn and improve?

Yet sales often fluctuate for no rhyme or reason, so watching the daily numbers is a good way to give yourself an anxiety disorder—and not get much written on a new novel. But you have to keep writing new stories, because releasing a new book is the best thing you can do for sales of all your books. Proven!

So what’s an author to do? I’ve given up looking at daily sales. I still check my rankings on Amazon’s police procedural list every once in a while to see where my books are. If my titles are slipping off the first page, I ramp up my efforts for a while or maybe buy a small online ad.

But I’m trying not to obsess and to accept that I have little control over sales. I remind myself that making a living as a novelist was and is my dream, and that so as long as the bills get paid, I’m happy.

P.S. They’re climbing again, but who knows why?

Authors: What are your experiences with digital sales? Can you shed some light on the ups and downs?

  1. I never check rankings – think it would drive me nuts.
    This past quarter, I noticed something interesting in the details of my check. E-book sales were up, library sales were up, and physical retail sales were down. My only guess is more people are switching to digital and less people can afford physical copies.

  2. LJ –

    If your rankings dropped on Amazon over the last 30 days, it’s likely because they tweaked their algorithms for determining how they match books for “also bought” “also viewed” etc. They don’t publicize this change of course, but loads of authors have reported seeing these lists being based on a shorter timeframe than they were in the past. This means that books will not be able to “ride the wave” quite as long, but also means more opportunity for new books to pick up steam.

    On Amazon at least, most unexplained changes have to to with hooking into the myriad of ways they have of presenting book options to customers. If you’re really interested in looking for reasons, start clicking on the books listed on your books’ “Also boughts”. See how many of them list one of your books on page one of their own “also boughts” Even on page 2 or 3 or 4 on a number of decent-selling books can be indicative that you may start to appear before more readers.

    Obviously the bestseller lists are relevant too, though my suspicion is that only if you’re on the first page of a bestseller list will it have a direct impact, other than the top 100 overall paid or the top few pages of a huge category like all thrillers.

    – Ed

  3. Thanks, Ed. It’s good to have an explanation!

  4. To be honest, my feeling is I have no real control. I just try to market in the most logical way I can. If I see results, I’ll reapply my efforts in those areas. I don’t waste time on things that aren’t going to bear fruit in some way. In other words, I try to target my marketing toward readers, not just writers. I try to reach out to as wide an audience as possible. This is why I like Twitter.

    As for the results, I have no real control. I’m not going to lose sleep at night over it. But that’s me. 🙂

    PS: I think Ed raised good points about the algorithms. They make a difference, i.e., success on Amazon breeds more success. 🙂

  5. Oh boy, do I hear you. I have done radio shows with what appears to be no results. Is timing everything or do we watch the clock too eagerly? I think both. I have had newspaper articles! Results? Not measurable. We stay the course, do what feels right, and keep on writing. My second title comes out this summer and I have numerous sources of data to support this is the best thing I can do. Keep on writing!

  6. As a Kindle reader, I can only say how most of us seem to buy. We look in the genre we like most, and then list by ‘price – low to high’. Then we read the reviews. Anything that looks like it might be for us, we buy, as long as it’s an attractive price (less than £1 in my case). Not many people I know can be bothered with downloading samples. Then if we like a book, we go back for more by the same author. If, as sometimes happens, the next book in a series is really expensive, we don’t bother to get it and unfortunately the author falls off our radar. However, if the next book(s) are a reasonable price, we tend to download the whole series. (Note to series writers: please could you number the books in the title? Once they’re downloaded we can’t tell the order in which to read them!)
    I’ve just gone through this process with your Jackson books, loved The Sex Club, went back & got the rest. Keep up the good work!

  7. Wow – glad I clicked over just for Viv’s response! That kind of insight into the mind of a reader is worth my whole day reading book blogs! Thanks for sharing.

    I can’t keep track of what is making things happen. My sales had a huge jump in late March that has continued, but I have no idea what really happened to make things take off. If I could, I’d reproduce it every month. But right now I’ll just ride the wave and keep writing. That’s really all I can do.

  8. @John: I’m glad you found my post useful. The other thing I should mention is that we tend to pre-load Kindles before we go on vacation; some wifi away from home can be a bit patchy, so there may be a tie-in between sales and holiday seasons. Anyway, just looked you up on Amazon & downloaded your first Black Knight to add to my stash!

  9. Viv’s method of selecting reading material is similar to my own. When I like a new author, I’ll buy all they’ve published to date. Then I visit their websites to get added to newletters that give a heads up for upcoming releases. Also, I haunt websites of authors I already collect and check their links to the authors they recommend.

    Once I decide which e- reader to buy, exploring the imaginations of more writers will be affordable.

  10. I’m right there with you, L.J. I saw a sudden drop in my sales as well this month and couldn’t figure out why. Being a fellow control enthusiast, I tried to figure out what would cause such a change. I wondered if maybe it was because school was letting out and people just didn’t have as much time to read, or that with the start of summer, they’re spending more time outside and being active. I finally came to the same conclusion you did: It doesn’t make sense to obsess over numbers because that’s all they are. For those of us who have had successful sales, it’s easy to sometimes forget why we write in the first place. We do it because quite simply, we love it. If I never sold another book, I’d still write, because for me, writing is like breathing. I have to do it. Sure, having people read my work is wonderful, but it’s really all about the process, the journey, and my love for the written word.

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