Just How Inconsequential Amazon Really is to Book Sales

I’m writing this on December 14, 2016 but you will not see it for many months because I have posts stacked up in the queue. What sparked this post is a statement from an interview in Francine Silverman’s “Book Promotion Newsletter.”

I’ve been getting this newsletter for many years. Like all things I receive on a regular basis, sometimes I read it and sometimes I don’t. I generally don’t nuke it from my inbox until I’ve either skimmed it or it has sat there for a month or two.

Yes, the article of interest was meant to enforce the concept of appearing on radio talk shows to market one’s book. If you have a good speaking voice, don’t stutter, aren’t prone to the occasional not-allowed-on-radio words and don’t get flustered from pressure it can be a good thing. Actually, if it is a prerecorded and edited for air interview it can be a great thing, unless it is edited to make you sound unhinged or idiotic, then it can be a horrible thing. The focus of the article wasn’t what caught my attention. The ease with which my mind wanders to something shiny is exactly why I prefer written interviews I can work on over a period of hours.

The first time, the phones just lit up with people waiting to ask me questions—it was electric! The next day my book reached #17 out of ALL the books on Amazon.com. In that one month I got over 400 emails and at least 50 phone calls, and sold over 1,500 books.

Think about that little snippet. While 1,500 may sound like a lot of books to most of you, it isn’t enough to “live” on. Assuming you can find a location where $30K/year is enough to live comfortably, you would need to clear $20/book. With the bottom feeding pricing assigned to many books on Amazon you really need to sell more than 30K copies each and every year to “make a living” as an author.

Even more telling is the math about reaching #17, even for a nanosecond. Sales for the entire month were only 1,500. Just how few books do you have to sell to break the top 20? Just how few books is Amazon really selling over all for a title to break the top 20 of all books? Do the math! Think about all of those big name authors with television commercials announcing their latest title like James Patterson. I would expect something with that kind of marketing behind it to be selling thousands of copies per day world wide, not duking it out in the top 20 with people selling 1,500 in one month from a radio interview.

If you want to be an author, keep your day job. Know that writing a book is not a lottery ticket where low cost equal high reward. Writing a book is a business and as such has business expenses for professional editing, cover design, etc. If you try to Dollar Store the services you use, the product will show it and be in a clearance bin almost as soon as it is released.

If you are a good writer with interesting stories you can _eventually_ “make a living” at writing. The one part of that interview which was really missing was discussion of the long tail. During the months following the spike to 1,500, just how much, if any, did sales increase of the author’s other titles? That’s how a good writer eventually makes a living writing. Each new title sells X thousand copies and a few months after the marketing splash Y hundred/thousand copies of older titles also sell.

One thought on “Just How Inconsequential Amazon Really is to Book Sales

Leave a Reply