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Amazon Questions

Here are some quotes about Amazon sales rankings, compiled by Sue Trowbridge:

Holt Uncensored:

Steve Rhodes writes:

The Amazon rankings don't mean much. A Wall Street Journal article from 1998 by Ron Suskind explained Amazon's rankings. He wrote the rankings "are updated hourly for's 10,000 top-selling titles, daily for the next 100,000 books and monthly for the rest of the pack."

Later he reveals "One sale a day can put a title in the top 10,000 sellers; a sale every few days can land a title in the next tier of 100,000. When the rest of the list is updated each month, rankings are determined by a complex mathematical formula based on the most recent sale and the time between sales."

The article concludes by showing even a small number of books ordered can have a big impact on the rank: "...wishing won't make it so, but action can work wonders. Lew McCreary saw his well-reviewed thriller 'The Minus Man' (Penguin Books, 1994) locked in's dark middle kingdom since the start of the rankings. He regularly checked the ranking over several weeks. It barely budged. Last week's slot: 680,281. 'I just want to know what to do to get under 500,000,' he said last week.

"After some thought, Mr. McCreary, whose day job is editorial director of CIO, a magazine for chief information officers, rallied the magazine's staffers at lunchtime. He told them he would reimburse them for the book's $9.95 purchase price if they called and placed an order. Five hours later, 10 books had been bought, and Mr. McCreary was making a run for glory.

"By 5:35 p.m. his rank was 368. 'I feel like I have the bends,' chortled the author, preparing for a night of celebration. 'I surfaced much too quickly. I just hope I can stay up this high until morning.'"

Author David Corn:

In the midst of my Amazon addiction, I managed to get out of the house to attend a party, where I overheard someone mention that an employee from was present. I sought this person out, introduced myself, and when I started to explain I was an author of a new novel, the Amazonite interrupted and said, "And you want to know about the Amazon sales rankings, right?" I confessed. He was patient, explaining that the ranking only indicates how a book sold in comparison with the others in a particular period of time, say an hour. Which tells you nothing about the overall performance of a book. He did not know--or would not say--how many book sales would comprise a noticeable bubble. "Total sales figures would be more relevant and meaningful," he added. "But there's no way Amazon is going to release that sort of data. It would be very useful to the competition if they knew how much of what Amazon was actually selling. So try not to sweat the ranking."

Publishing Poynters:

(Note from Sue: I have no idea where he got this information or whether or not it's actually true...) rankings. If your book is jumping between 2,000 and 9,000, you are selling 2-3 books per day. Here are the weekly ranges and sales:

Average Sales/Week
5 or fewer

More recent articles: 
Chicago Tribune: 
Amazon Explorations, by Patrick T. Riordan
Cornered Writers: 
Surfing the Amazon, by Morris Rosenthal

Q: How do I add/change information on my book's page at

A: Web designer Sue Trowbridge tells how to get started:

1. Go to the Amazon "Books" homepage. All the way at the bottom, on the right hand side, there's a link called Author's Guide. Click on it.

2. Find the section on the Author's Guide page called The Catalog Guide. (It's about 3/4 of the way down the page.) It offers a bunch of selections, including "Enhance your book's detail page by offering persuasive content." Click on the Catalog Guide link.

3. The Catalog Guide page offers a link to the Online Content Form. (I wish I could offer the direct URLs to these pages, but Amazon appends a long string of tracking numbers to the end of every Amazon URL -- probably so Jeff Bezos can monitor my every move!) Click on the Online Content Form link.

4. You will be taken to a page called the Book Content Update Form. To fill this out, you will need to give Amazon the name of a contact person at your publisher's, and your book's ISBN #. After filling out that basic information, you will be taken to a page where you can add up to five glowing reviews of your book; an excerpt from your book; your bio; and more.

If there are errors in the material currently posted,

Tips for Book Reviews

Thanks to Betty Webb, author of Desert Noir

To get your book reviewed -

1. CALL the publication you have in mind BEFORE you send that book. For all you know, they don't review your particular type of material, and calling will save tons of postage. Find out the reviewer's name. Talk to the reviewer -- say, "I'm a local (if this is true) writer, and my "Killing Time" has just been released. I think you'll like it because... (fill in the blanks). It's VERY important to have this little speech rehearsed in advance. Reviewers are very, very busy and don't have time to listen to a bunch of "uh"s and "er"s. If you are touring, make sure you contact reviewers in the area where you're having signings AT LEAST one month in advance - and make sure the reviewer knows you'll be in town at what bookstore on what date. That way the reviewer will know that there will be a local tie-in to her review, and most reviewers (at newspapers, at least) value this kind of thing. If you've already received good reviews, be sure to mention them.

2. If the reviewer says she's not interested in your book, believe her. Don't waste your money on trying to convince her that your book is better than it sounded to her. Move on to the next reviewer on your list.

3. If the reviewer says she'd like to see your book SEND IT IMMEDIATELY, with a letter to remind her of the entire conversation - including the dates and places of your upcoming signings. Be specific in your letter. A while back I received a book and a letter which simply said, "This is to remind you" and I'm still trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be reminded of. Most book reviewers receive from 70 to 100 books per week, and we are too swamped to play guessing games. Make it easy on us.

4. If the reviewer doesn't want to see your book -- go to Plan B. Ask for a FEATURE ARTICLE, not a review. A feature article, which can be written by any reporter, including the reviewer, is about the interesting "facts" in a book or the novelist herself. If you're a pharmacist and writing a book in which pharmacy is used, that is a "hook" for a human interest article -- the reporter/reviewer can always ask local pharmacists for quotes, thus giving the feature article local color. If you've served time in prison, tell the reviewer/reporter how this affected your writing. This kind of stuff is all good fodder for human interest features. BE SURE AND HAVE FEATURE ARTICLE IDEAS PREPARED IN ADVANCE, before you call the reviewer. You need to think ahead about what material in your book will be of value to a newspaper's readers (but for a feature article, stay away from the book itself - just use the IDEAS and FACTS in the book).

Human interest features are especially valuable because they aren't stuck way back on the book page, and they are almost always given many more inches than a book review. To get a Feature article, you have to come up with some kind of a hook -- such as... I'm a local writer and I based this book on a true life local killing that your newspaper covered ten years ago; or... I'm a pharmacist and I based my book on what I know about pharmacy; or... I'm a book reviewer and I based my book on what I know about book reviewing; or... I'm a housewife and I based my book on what I know about making quilts, diapering babies, and canning jam. You get the picture. Remember that most newspapers do not print book reviews, but ALL newspapers are desperate for human interest features.

5. About one week after you sent the book to her, call that reviewer. Ask if she got the book. Be cheerful, say how excited you are that such a fine, fine reviewer will be looking at your book. Lie your little heart out. Remind her of your upcoming signing (if there is one). The thing to know about book reviewers is that we are used and abused all the time by people who are furious at us -- so by being nice to us, you'll be very different and refreshing. Ask the reviewer if she has any idea when she'll be reading your book, but don't press her. Remember those 70 to 100 books per week she's buried under.

6. About three weeks after you sent the book to her, call again. Remind her of your signing. If she's read the book and has decided to review it, ask her when the review might appear. If she's decided not to review the book, thank her politely for her time. DO NOT EVER GET SNIPPY WITH A REVIEWER. Reviewers have long, long memories. Always be polite.

7. If the review is a nice one, send a thank-you card (good manners never hurt anyone). If the review is a nasty one SEND A THANK YOU CARD ANYWAY, and tell the reviewer that you will definitely take her learned comments into account while writing your next book, and that you are very grateful she took so much time and energy over your book. Sounds crazy, but the reviewer will just about pass out in shock over your good manners. Secondly, she'll remember you and look more kindly on your next book.

8. Keep trying. Never burn your bridges by insulting or hanging up on a reviewer. Full time reviewers tend to keep their jobs for a long, long time (I've had my job at the paper for 11 years), so if you ever mouth off to a reviewer, you're screwed for a long, long time. Try to build a relationship with a reviewer. I have some writers who send me emails and Christmas cards (names you would recognize)! While this may sound crazy and like a waste of money, it's actually very smart. These savvy writers know that they are building recognition every time they do that. And it works. Don't think of only the book you're trying to get reviewed now - think of a long-term relationship with that reviewer for your fourth and fifth and tenth books! GOOD LUCK!


Tips for Book Signings

For no-big-deal events, from author M. Diane Vogt:

In response to a request from a friend, I put together these tips for booksignings based on my experience in promoting three books. Afterward, I thought perhaps some of you might be interested. If not, scroll past!

I have a few suggestions for making your signing a success once you get there. Feel free to disregard if you don't find them helpful or comfortable for you.

1. Have something you can give out to people who come in the store. As you know, I use book marks.

2. Approach customers. Don't wait for them to approach you. Most won't do that, either because they're shy or they don't know who you are or why you're there, or because they're not interested.

3. Figure out what to say when you approach them that works. For instance, I used to say "I'm a local AUTHOR" and most of them would look at me without any understanding at all. But when I said "I'm a local WRITER," they'd be very interested, talk to me, etc. Feel free to try this yourself and see if it makes any difference. My whole initial spiel is: "Hello! Would you like a free bookmark? I'm a local writer and the store is featuring my mystery novels today." Even if they don't take the bookmark, I give them the second sentence.

4. Figure out what to say after the initial grabber that will interest your readers. This is a trial and error process. What works for me in local stores is "This is a new series of mysteries set here in the Bay area." If they're still standing there talking to me, I follow up with a brief description that will fit both books. Then, a short description of each book. etc. etc. etc.

5. If they are still standing there, I then say, "I'd be happy to personalize a copy for you, if you'd like." You'd be amazed how many people don't know that's what you're there for!!!

6. Ask them how they spell their names before you personalize the books. It's astounding how many ways there are to spell "Jane." :)

7. If they buy, give them something else. I have copies of articles that have appeared about me in the paper and a flyer that lists some of the review comments I've received.

8. Put your web address or e-mail address on whatever you decide to hand out. When they buy, tell them the address is there and ask them to let you know what they think about the book. I've gotten some much needed "fan mail" this way. Then, I can ask the readers to post the fan mail to review sites, etc.

9. Have a GOAL for the signing. This really should be the first thing, but I'll finish with it instead. Usually, my goal is to sell all the copies of my book that the bookseller has on hand, and a few more, and to leave them with copies from my stock which they will later replace. Aside from the obvious reasons to do this, it gives me a mailing list of successful signings that I can then use when I'm setting up for the next book. And it gives me a great rep with the booksellers. Several have said to me "I ordered so many copies of your book because I know you'll sell them."

Hope this helps! And good luck to you!

Tips for TV Appearances

from author April Henry

In my job-job, I deal with the media, sometimes for stories we're trying to "spin" into something positive. At least Lisa's kind of TV exposure is designed to [be] positive.

Here are some tips:

- Dress in solid colors, with non-distracting clothing and accessories. I once had to go out and buy a doctor a different shirt because his narrow striped shirt was creating a moire pattern on the camera.

- Determine what your key messages are. Think about what the questions might be and rehearse your answers.

- Smile as often as is appropriate, and keep good eye contact with the reporter. Don't look into the camera.

- For TV, you probably need to wear more make-up if you generally use light make-up.

- While body language is great -- excessive or repetitive movement is not, such as rocking in a chair, or wild gestures.

- Avoid phrases like "As I mentioned before" or calling the reporter by name. These make it difficult to edit the story.

- If you are filmed as part of a story (rather than being the focus of an interview), the reporter is looking for good, short, emotional sound bitesof no more than two to three sentences.

- Bring copies of your book so they can show them in a cut away.

- If you have upcoming readings, bring that information.

I remember the book The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book had a lot of good tips in general and about being on TV in particular (and I bought it after I was published).

Good luck. I've been on good local TV and strange local TV (strange enough that I might use it in a book someday).

Tips for e-Book Authors

Although the "celebrate and relax" scenario, as recommended by some other well-adjusted writers on the board, is a Heavenly prospect, I am personally unable to unwind when a new release has hit the open air. If you are still restless, like me, here are nine things you can do to occupy the anxiety-ridden expanse of your post-published psyche, and to help your eSales :-)

In theory, a new eBook has a much longer shelf life in its market than a new printed release, so the time factor should not be as pressing with respect to reaching your market.

1) Take your time and gather more information on your market, your eReaders. I've found that surfing the newsgroup boards is the best way to find readers, reviewers and new eZines. The list is endless, and will continue to grow. Join the groups, make friends as you've done here, and subtly mention your title whenever appropriate. Via the Net, authors now have the luxury of direct contact with their readers--take advantage.

2) Gather reviews from anyone and everyone. Send inquires to all eZines and topic boards. Ask other authors to review your book. Make a web page showing off your reviews and include one or more in your signature (see below). If you really want a review from a certain publication, send them a CD of your ebook with a hand-written note and follow up in a few weeks (following up is key). Show an interest in their work or publication--everyone on the Net is a fledgeling entity, no matter how large their website, and we all need feedback and encouragement.

3) Read up on the eBook industry and keep current. Join eBook and eAuthor newsgroups to network. Some authors are pooling their resources and marketing dollars to reach markets together. Many libraries are starting to offer eBooks on loan to their patrons. Find out if those libraries know about your book.

4) Prepare yourself for the evolving technology. You want your eBook to be available in all electronic formats. eRocket, SoftBook, Palm Pilot and other hand-held readers already have a captive buying audience. Next year there will be more. Make sure your book is ready for each new wave of eReaders, and that the proper online vendors, i.e., Amazon, B&N, Fatbrain, etc. will have access to your title. Before long, you'll see eBooks promoted in physical bookstores. Be ready.

5) Attend conferences. Meet your peers face to face. Pass out cards, bookmarks, or whatever other inexpensive materials you can think of to promote your book. Don't be shy. You want the world to read your words and the world starts with one person.

6) Promote your publisher. The more hits your publisher gets, the more exposure you get. Let your publisher know that you are spreading the word so they will improve your book page and feature your title. Forward your reviews to your publisher and your retailers. Ask people to link to your publisher and your personal site. Look at other publisher's sites and see if your page measures up.

7) Make a database of your contacts and readers. Include them in a newsletter, or in any updates you have to your title and your writing career. People are interested in your progress and will want to be affiliated with your climb to success.

8) The rule of advertising is to entice your market seven (7) timesbefore you can expect an impact. The human skull is thick. Pretend that we are all children, who have to reminded to wash our hands seven times before coming to the table. Eventually, your promotion will stick through repetition.

9) Most importantly, make a schedule for what you are going to do on a regular basis, so you won't drive yourself nuts:-) Contact 5 new reviewers/authors/eZines per week. Schedule a time to do it. Make a list of activities and schedule an hour or two per day to complete them, so it won't interfere with your writing. Whether you are published online or in print, it takes years to establish your name and to acquire a loyal following. Think of it as a long-term investment. You are steering an elephant across Asia. China is really there and the silk is as beautiful as you have imagined--you just have to stay on course until you see the Great Wall.


An hour of marketing a day is enough to sooth my spirit and reinforce my goals

Todd Hayes

Tips from a Professional Bottle Washer

by Natalie Thomas of Independent Spirit Publishing

Lee Meadows wrote "I suspect that the pioneering kind of work being done by our colleague Natalie Thomas will become the wave of the near future. Though she may not see its true value just yet, being author, publisher, editor and chief bottle washer, she and others just might be paving the way for us."

How kind of you! Thank you Lee!

Lee's right, it hasn't fully sunk in that there are more people watching me than I am aware of. Sometimes I do have an awareness of it and I feel sort of panicky. But mostly, I am living on adrenaline and I am a pioneer only by accident.

I've come up with an article (OK, I didn't intend for this to be an started off as a simple response to Lee's comments and it went out of control) that you can freely distribute to anyone who might be interested. Those who aren't interested should scroll now, because this turned out to be longer than I thought it would.

Wisdom of a Chief Bottle Washer

1. Fight for distribution. I have an account with a biggie, Baker & Taylor. I also have an account with It's made a difference. Most of my sales are from the Internet, where readers are paying full price for my books. However, having the big names for distribution gives my publishing company credibility. There IS a screening process, particularly with Baker & Taylor, so libraries and bookstores feel better about working with me. Sure, the discounts I have to give out are too high, but I find the name (B&T) worth the cost.

2. Take on an entrepreneurial spirit. I don't do what "everybody else" does. If it works for "everyone", we'd all be rich by following someone's step-by-step method. Besides, I CAN'T do what the publishing industry says to do. I don't have the resources. Each of us has the potential for finding readers who like what we write. Reaching those readers doesn't have to be through the typical publishing channels of conventions, booksignings, bookstores. Creative publicity, approaching people in a new way, and coming up with a fresh approach to marketing can overcome obstacles.

3. Go for broke, literally. I'm not saying everyone should do this. But if you know deep down in your heart that you have what it takes, you only get one shot at this life. Go for it. I paid for my first print run with a credit card. No one read the book before I published it, I honestly never expected that I'd make it this far. Turns out the book was riddled with errors and needs to be rewritten, but readers want this book--they want all of my books, including my embarrassingly amateur first novel. I had to start somewhere. And I had to be willing to be "bad". If I'd waited until I was good enough or wealthy enough or mature enough or experienced enough... I wouldn't be working on my fifth book today.

4. Crank them out. I didn't stop writing. I didn't wait until the first book started to sell before working on the next. I knew that being a one-book-wonder was not going to get me anywhere. Also, I had a burning desire to write a better book, to prove that I could be more polished, that I could be an author that people would respect. I wanted to prove to myself that being self published did not mean that I was inferior to those who had a publishing contract. All it meant was that I had to work harder. Without editors, copy writers, webmasters, agents, publicists.

5. Work hard. I was inspired by my failures. The more I failed, the more determined I was to work harder to beat the failure. I wanted to win! So I declared myself a winner who hadn't won yet. And I pushed even harder. My husband and I are very proud of the cover design of my newest book. It's the most professional looking by far and even has a fantastic quote on the front cover. How did that happen? Experience, hard work. We learned how to use the publishing and design software after many tedious hours. One of us (usually me) would entertain the kids while the other would tinker with the software. "If at first you don't succeed..."

6. Learn all you can about marketing. I studied marketing in college, it was my minor. It was also my best subject (an A student). I did worse in my major, which was German. No, I'm not fluent and I can't for the life of me figure out the importance of those classes to my life now. But anyway ... my point is that I have an education in marketing. Most of that education has actually come after college, via publishing newsgroups and reading up on the gurus (Dan Poytner, John Kremer). Oh and that "Swim with the Sharks" guy, whose name escapes me. The biggest thing I learned was to find my target market and learn how to give them what they want. Who likes my books? There's something for everybody in this world, we just have to find the people who want what we have to offer.

7. Get to know your target market and give them what they want. I used to hide behind my publishing name, thinking that I should look like a "real" author who has a press behind her. And I got nowhere. Turns out that I wasn't very interesting when I was trying to be like everyone else. I discovered that the people who were buying my books were those who read message boards or lists where I posted personal things about my life. I was chatting with friends, and being myself. When I finally realized that nearly all of my customers were people who were seeing personal glimpses of me either online or in person, it registered that what people wanted was for me to be real. My real life personality is similar to my fictional detectives Serena and Karyn. I'm sort of a mixture of the two. I didn't plan it that way, it evolved. But readers have discovered that if they like me, they like my books. So.... armed with that knowledge--that readers did NOT want a slick promotional campaign in which I am trying to be something I'm not, I went completely the other way. I put personal photos on my site, I added a chatty message board that I visit daily and have fun with, I have stopped kissing up to people. I'm not rude, but I speak my mind. I don't let people get away with snubbing me, and I stick up for myself. I'm not saying that YOU should let it all hang out. Maybe your target market doesn't want that from you. You need to learn who your target market is--who's buying your books and why? What do they want from you?

7. Promote others. "Cast your bread upon the waters and soon it will come back to you." I actively promote other authors. Someday, somewhere, I'm sure that it will benefit me. But meanwhile, it's the right thing to do--when I know something that might help someone else, I won't hold back. When I'm in a position to promote someone along with myself, why not? Helping someone else never works against me. Instead, it works for a mission bigger than myself. (And it has to be honest in order to work--I won't comment on someone's books until I've read them)

8. Improve the product. I invite readers to tell me if they find mistakes in my books or if there is something that they wish I'd done differently. Then I listen, and act on the suggestions that I agree with. I agree with about 90% of the comments I receive. I am sincerely grateful when readers tell me what they are thinking. It only works when I'm sincere. So if I feel peeved with someone, I don't say much. When someone helps me, I express my gratitude.

9. Think of yourself as a product. I have learned that, while I once thought that being a writer meant making up stories at home and living a relatively people-free life, I need to think of myself as a product. My image is on my books, on my site, in press kits. Natalie the product has to complement the image of my book series. As much as it feels strange and disassociating to view myself this way, the reality is that it's far too late to go back now. I wish I'd taken my parents up on that offer of getting braces put on my teeth way back when. When I'm feeling insecure, I tell myself that I'm marketing a product, just like marketing my books. I sure wouldn't put my books out there without strong copy and powerful review quotes. I need to present myself the same way, with confidence.

10. Be willing to scratch the whole thing. I have to be willing to say: "This is not working", "I've botched this", "I need to try something else", "I've humiliated myself beyond repair", "It's time to keep my mouth shut"... In other words, humility goes a long way. I will fall on my face sometimes, and I have to learn not to let that bother me. Nothing will happen without taking risks.

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