Saturday, January 19, 2013

Follow up to Demystifying .02 on raising those ranks

After my last post, I wanted to clear the air and emphasize something for newer authors. Do NOT be discouraged if your rankings are higher than 15,000 or even 50,000. That isn't a failure on your part, that's almost always how it goes for the first couple years. If I implied otherwise, I apologize. After writing for three years, this past year has been the first where (after 20+ releases) I've actually started to see the fruits of my labor and the first where I had the ability to track the rankings against any solidy numbers. The first two years tend to be about gaining some name recognition, building a brand (or two, in my case, as I write under my name and the pen name Chloe Cole as well), working on craft and learning the ropes in publishing. While the last year has been great, sales have NOT always been this way, and for the vassssst majority of authors, aren't at first.

Something else to note that I think is encouraging. The people who succeed in this business are almost invariably the ones who refuse to accept any less than that. BACKLIST = MONEY. People want content. That's what will raise your rankings. Especially in romance, IMO, a workhorse will out-earn most other authors. Sure, some talent is required, but I'm going to assume if you've been pubbed by a reputable (and note I didn't say Big) then you have a dash of that, and, frankly? A dash is all you need. What you need a FUCK-TON of is perserverence, which is entirely within your control. Isn't that awesome!? YOU decide whether you're going to succeed or not. It's very easy to give up when you've gotten your first (second, fifth, tenth) rejection letter. It's also very easy to give up when you've spent thirty precious family-time hours for a year and a half writing in the evenings and wee hours because you also have a day job, and then you get a check for $137 for the MONTH to compensate you for your efforts. At points it's downright depressing. But the people who WIN are the ones who push through it. KEEP GOING. Don't let it make you write less, let it motivate you to write MORE. To hone your craft and hunt down that elusive success.

Here's why: Math.

I know a lot of us writer types tend to shy away from math, but this is easy, trust me. It took me two and a half years of 10+ releases a year to finally be able to comfortably quit my day job. 10-13 manuscripts a year (even though in the beginning the were novellas clocking in at anywhere from 15-45k) is a lot when you have a family of 6 and a day job. But the universe doesn't go "Oh, Christine's been doing this for two and a half years! Let's award her with some success!" The universe doesn't give a shit about my books. What I mean by that is, if I had written 5 books a year instead, the timeline would have been vastly different and I can verture to guess somewhere around double. So instead of it taking me two and a half years, it would've taken me 5. If I had only written 2 books a year? More than ten years. And even that's a stretch, because there are diminishing returns once you start releasing that few. I'll be blunt. If you write romance and aren't already an established name, 2 books a year ain't gonna cut it. Too long between releases, no way to build momentum, people forget your name and the clock resets every time you release a book it's like starting fresh. Rather than relying on what is, to my mind, almost guaranteed (solid writing + steady, constant workflow = success), you're relying on being that rare person who catches lightning in a bottle with a runaway hit if you hope to succeed. That the stars are going to align and it's going to be the perfect genre at the perfect time and find the perfect, grassroot audience that's going to launch it into the stratosphere. That would be AWEsome.

But I'd rather rely on me.

I can't control the market, or what's hot, or how my book will be received. What I CAN do is take a hard look at the most my schedule could possibly allow me to write in a given year without sacrificing quality, and write exactly that much, no excuses. We all have them. But we also have to be honest with ourselves. You can't tell me you don't have an hour a day that you can carve out. Well, you can TELL me that, but I won't believe you. It might take some sacrifices, but it should. When you finally make it, that's what makes it extra sweet. That you busted your ass for this. That it was hard and you did it anyway. That you didn't let anything get in your way. I have four kids and up until a few months ago I also had a full time day job. I had no choice but to write at night, so that's what I did. From about 10 pm until 1 a.m. on weekdays, I wrote. I slept 5 hours a night, on average, and it was NOT awesome, or fun. But selling my first book was SO awesome and fun, it made up for every one of those nights. And so did all the other wins along the way. Clutch every one of them to your heart (your first cover, your first fan email, your first good big name review, your first check, your first time breaking the top 20,000 on Amazon) and WRITE. KEEP WRITING. Don't stop, even when the checks are small, even when that next book DOESN'T break 20,000, even when a review breaks your heart. KEEP GOING.

Maybe you're rolling your eyes. Maybe you have a busier life than me. Maybe you have two jobs and triplets. Maybe you CAN'T write three hours a day, even at night. Then commit to a smaller number, every day (including weekends and holidays to make up for the short word count). If you say "I'm going to write 1000 words (only an hour a day, for many authors), rain or shine, weekend or not, no excuses." If you did that, at the end of the year, you'd have written 365,000 words (which would be 10 novellas, or 4 single titles, or 7 category length). That's awesome production and can definitely sustain/make a career.

Across the board, Big 6, smaller pub, or self-pubbed, the writers I see selling books the most books consistently are the ones who produce a lot of content. Nora Roberts, Maya Banks, Vivian Arend, Lauren Dane, Marie Force, Bella Andre. That part of the blue print is there and proven: Write a lot.

Want to succeed? Follow it.

So that's what I have to say on that. There are exceptions. There are people who come out and their first book takes the world by storm. There are people who do it in less than three years, and maybe it only took four books for them, or maybe it took them five years to get published and put their time in that way, but they got their ideal publisher and sold well right away. I'm not saying my way is the only way. I'm also not saying I'm in the same realm as the authors I listed above. I'm just saying that, if we want to be (and why wouldn't we? They're all amazingly successful and showcase the many paths to get there, Big 6, small pub, self-pub) and we want to put ourselves in the best possible position to succeed, we need to write more. Submit. Write again. Submit. Don't stop.

Don't wait for success to find you. Go hunt it down like a fucking kickass wolverine and then TAKE it. Kill it and drag it back to your den with you where you can use it to make success stew. Maybe pair it with a lusty red wine and a bright frise salad.

Or some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

So in a nutshell: Want better rankings? Write more.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Demystifying Rankings (for those of us who just GOTTA know!)

Okay, so I’ve been hemming and hawing on whether to write this post, mainly because I don’t want to mislead anyone. That said, I feel like authors are hamstrung in a lot of ways because we have one of the few jobs in the world that often requires us to do our work without any real knowledge of what we’re going to be paid for it when all is said and done. And, as we all know, knowledge is power (specifically, sales # can help us to determine a promo budget, to see if a series might not be worth continuing with, to plan for family vacations, to see if you need to increase productivity, among other things), so I’m going to go off the premise that SOME knowledge and information (even if it’s incomplete to some degree) is better than NONE and spill the beans on MY experience with Amazon and B&N rankings, and a ballpark range of what your rankings might mean in terms of copies sold.

Here’s what I did. Every day for the past eight months, I recorded my daily average ranking (as Amazon fluctuates around hourly and BN fluctuates constantly unless your ranking is over 1000 at which point it is only updated once a day at around 7:45 a.m.—again, this varies but it’s close) for my books that are in the under 20,000 ranking range. One of these is self-published, and the others are not. The reason I didn’t do them all is because I have 23 books and that would be a major time suck, and frankly, the data on the older ones just isn’t that important to me. For my purposes, tracking a book that is selling less than 5 copies a day(which my older books are) isn’t going to change the way I do business. Don’t get me wrong, even 2 copies a day at one vendor and 3 at the other of each book when you have a large backlist is great! It’s the “it all adds up” factor. So 20 books at 5 copies a day each is 100 copies a day total. If my cut is a dollar, those older books are making 3k a month. NOT too shabby! But the information on EACH book for 2 or 3 copies a day isn’t worth the time it would take me to capture it for the purposes of this experiment, so I don’t do it.

Keep in mind, the only books I know PRECISELY what I was selling each day is the self-pubbed one. The others are based on two things:

#1. My royalty statements


#2. I was lucky enough to have a publisher share with me about a week’s worth of daily sales numbers (which REALLY helped me drill down some solid estimates as a jump off point).

So based on those two things, I was able to assign a sort of “guesstimate” to various ranking windows, which I was able to tweak over the months until they were close enough that I was consistently “guessing” my sales for the month to within less than 15%. It took about 4 months of tweaking etc, but over the last four months, I’ve stayed within that range (and this month was less than 5% off). I also shared these numbers with three author friends who later contacted me to say that they had used these #’s to guesstimate their sales, and my #’s were very close to their actuals.

Here’s what I came up with (rounded to the nearest five):


Overall Ranking Copies Per Day

10,000-15,000 5-10 (these seem to fluctuate a lot more at this level, some days it’s more, some less so the range is weird and wide, I had #’s as far out at 3-14)

3,000-10,000 10-40

2,000-3,000 40-60

1000-2,000 60-100

500-1,000 100-250

200-500 250-335

130-200 335-450

My highest Amazon ranking to date was 132, so I can’t say beyond this, but Theresa Reagan offers additional information in her chart (which can be found here in full) for the top 100. (Also note that our numbers jive pretty closely, which was good to see as it makes me feel more confident about the numbers I have here).

Theresa’s #’s:

65 to 80 550 to 650 books a day.

20 to 65 650 to 1,100 books a day.

10 to 20 1,100 to 2,000 + books a day.

5 to 10 2,000 to 3,500 books a day.

1 to 5 3,500+ books a day.


Overall Ranking Copies Per Day

10,000-15,000 5-10

3,000-10,000 10-20

1000-3,000 20-25

600-1000 25-50

400-600 50-70

200-400 70-90

90-200 95-200

70-81 200+

50 250-300

20-49 300-480

16-20 480-700

10-15 700-1000

6-9 1000-1199

2-5 1200-1500

My highest BN ranking was #2 (for a short time), so I have no info on #1 (which, I imagine, could range from a flabillion like 50SoG or something less jaw-dropping during a week/day/month where there is no blockbuster like that. Either way, if you’re #1 for any length of time, I wouldn’t worry about any of this stuff, lol! Go get a drink with an umbrella in it and nap on your bags of moneh!)

So that’s it. My experience (with the understanding that it’s not an exact science by ANY means!) *Revised: Please see my next post about my experience with publishing and how I got to this point. I had a lot of great feedback about this post, but a couple people had said that they were discouraged by these numbers as well. That was NOT my intention, and I'd like to address that, exactly how long it took me to get to here and what I believe authors can do to get their rankings up.

If anyone has anything to add as far as their experience, anything I can do to drill this down more is welcome! Hope it helps!