Put a log on a fire and it will burn. Tend to the log and it will continue to burn. Eventually, the flames will go out. The lesson? A single log can only burn for so long.
Where am I going with this?
When publishing a book, it’s tempting to stare at the screen and hit refresh until your fingers bleed. But watching numbers and graphs can quickly become a huge time-suck. Do yourself a favor, step away and move on. Sure, your new book needs a little attention, a little push to get it out to market, but your next book needs a lot more.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. That book you just published has a babysitter: Amazon. That’s right, Amazon. For the first thirty days, Amazon is going to give your baby a lot of attention, offering visibility and opportunities to lists and recommendations that are only open to newborns. In other words, the flames are burning bright, leaving you with zero excuses to procrastinate any longer. Get to work.
But we’re authors, and we need to know how our baby is performing. Even as I’m writing this, I’ve checked the ranking of my latest book once or twice… okay, three times. Don’t judge.
What I’ve come to learn, what I want to share, is the realization of there being very little we can do to raise the visibility of our books across Amazon’s pages. And while a BookBub ad or Pixel of Ink listing will briefly spike visibility, ultimately it is Amazon who controls how much visibility our book will get. Give your book a nudge in the right direction and then get on with the next book.
Are you obsessive like me and want to learn more? If you’re squeamish about knowing what happens to your baby when you click the publish button, I’d suggest turning away and reading something else. Might I recommend my new crime thriller, Killing Katie—one of Amazon's Kindle Monthly Deals at just $1.99. Yeah, I just pushed my new book. Like I said, don’t judge. By the way, I’m joking. There’s nothing squeamish about knowing what Amazon is going to do to your book and all the hard work you put into it. Read on.
Exactly how does Amazon perform some of its magic? What are their behavioral programs that predict the future of our books? Very simply, their software calculates which of the newly published books are worth growing and which ones to ignore.
When I hit publish on my first book (seems a lifetime ago), I truly believed the readers would come almost immediately. The truth is, even with good marketing, blog tours, ad space and doing all the things we’re told to do, we have little to do with the success of our books.
Why? In part, there is something working for, or against, newly published books. You can’t see it, you can’t game it, it’s those software programs I mentioned. Amazon employs a collection of algorithms to govern a book’s overall visibility—choosing where and how it is shown to their audience. Some call it zon-juice or zon fairy-dust. Others say it is lottery luck. Whatever you want to call it, Amazon's algorithms give a new book just enough visibility in the first thirty days to proof any possible sell-ability. Not sure sell-ability is a word, but it works here.
What happens if the new book is deemed sell-able? A flood of zon-juice is awarded in the form of recommendations to thousands of readers. You’ll know when that happens. Your book climbs the ranks, gain momentum, reach the peaks of list after list, literary agents start calling, and it begins to rain money… or so I’m told. And what happens to the new books that use up their thirty-day allowance? Visibility disappears—also known as the thirty-day cliff.
I know, I know… I'm framing the potential outcome like a lottery win. And in doing so, I’ve made success on Amazon sound utterly daunting. No worries. The majority of newly published books go nowhere after thirty days.
As authors, that leaves it up to us to grow our audiences organically. The best method in doing so is to take advantage of places like Goodreads and reach new readers through mailing lists. I’ve been exploring how to build a mailing list with Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Forum: http://www.selfpublishingformula.com. I highly recommend all authors visit his website and watch the videos. Don't rely on Amazon or Apple or any of the other platforms. These are your books, your products, your sweat and tears to work.
A note about writing another book—adding a log to the fire—publishing soon after the first will help visibility. Some authors even suggest writing an entire series and then publishing each book every thirty to sixty days. Sounds reasonable, but I haven’t tried the approach. Too impatient.
What I’m recommending to you, and for me, is to leave the new book alone and get on with writing the next one. You never know which book will take off and take your backlist with it. Increase your chances by publishing more books.