Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

The Anatomy of Amazon Sales

When I released THE REIVER as a digital short back in January, I had no idea what to expect in terms of sales, but I didn’t really have particularly high hopes. I’m nowhere near a household name, nothing I’ve ever published with any publisher has ever sold more than perhaps a thousand copies in digital format (and the print version of Behind the Red Door hasn’t even sold more than a few thousand copies), so it’s not like there are hordes of readers champing at the bit for the next Jackie Barbosa title. (That’s not an oh-woe-is-me observation, by the way, just the parameters around which I set my expectations.) The story had also been published in a print anthology, which meant that some people who might have been moved to buy it digitally if it had been new content had already bought a copy in print. It’s also only 8500 words long, and I know many people feel that even 99 cents is too much to pay for something that short.

So, with all those factors in mind, I figured if I made back what I’d invested in the cover art within a a year or so, I’d be happy. (That meant I had to sell about 150 copies.) As I’ve mentioned before, things have gone much better than that, and I wound up earning back my investment within the first two months it was out. This isn’t to say that I’m selling all that many copies compared to many folks I know, but I’ve been really surprised by the trends and I also find them very instructive when it comes to the relative value of various marketing strategies (which is, after all, what all writers want to know–how to market our books so readers can find them).

So, without further ado, below is an Excel chart of my sales since I released THE REIVER on January 17th through 4:00 PDT today:

All told, 1,235 copies have sold. In other words, a LOT more than the 150 I’d hoped to maybe sell in a year. It’s not particularly large number of digital books to sell in four and a half months (some folks are probably selling that many in a day), but based on the historical norms of books by Jackie Barbosa, it’s pretty fricken’ fantastic :).

But what’s particularly interesting to me in the data isn’t that I’ve sold a lot more books than I expected. It’s the way the curves for Barnes & Noble and Amazon go in completely different directions. When I first made THE REIVER available for sale, I sold about 10 copies on B&N to every 1 I sold on Amazon. Now, I’m selling about 2 copies on B&N to every 100 I sell on Amazon. To what to attribute this?

Given that I’ve never done much to promote this short story save tweeting and/or Facebooking links to it and mentioning it on my blog and occasionally in discussion on other blogs about what I see happening in digital/self-publishing, it really CAN’T be anything I’m doing. The lovely Jessica at Read, React, Review was kind enough to buy a copy of it as well as my Spice Brief and review them both, but as far as I know, that’s the only standalone review of the story available anywhere, so it’s not like there’s this big rolling buzz behind it or anything. So it must something about the actual sites and the way they’re constructed.

I’ve concluded that the single most important thing that drives sales on Amazon is not the Top 100 category lists–although it certainly doesn’t hurt to get into them–but the “Also Bought” lists that display when you are looking at OTHER books. As sales increase, the number of people who also bought a different but related book goes up, and as that number goes up, the number of books for which your title is in an “Also Bought” title expands as well. This has a cumulative effect, because as the number of “Also Bought” lists your book appears on increases, the number of new sales you goes up as well, which in turn increases the number of “Also Bought” lists, and so on. The more copies you sell overall, the higher in the Also Bought lists your book appears, as well, so the more sales you get that way, the more readers are likely to find your book.

The thing about this observation, though, is that NOTHING I did caused it to happen. The single biggest factor was probably the fact that, back in March, Kobo discounted the book (which it got from Smashwords) to 89 cents. This is something they are not supposed to do, but I’m glad they did, because it led Amazon to price-match and that, in turn, led to people finding it on Amazon, not because they were looking for anything by me in particular or even because they were looking for Scottish historical romances, but because the price was unusual/stood out. My sales spiked when that happened in the last week of March and then everything steamrolled from there, even though the price has since gone back up to 99 cents.

So here’s what I think now regarding promotion and marketing: the best promotion/marketing is to sell a lot of books. Seriously. That’s it. Almost everything else is of limited or unsubstantiatable value.


  • Courtney Milan May 31, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Actually, I think the Top-100 starts coming into play the higher up it you go. At #100, it’s almost nothing. At #60, it starts to matter. At #21-40, it begins to be self-sustaining, and for #1-20 it’s a huge thing. People click on “bestselling historical romance” and find something to buy on the first page, and that’s it.

    I say this because I have no also-boughts yet on UNLOCKED–there hasn’t been enough time. The reviews & announcement have given the novella a pretty big push, but for little pushes, you see a spike, and then a drop; for big pushes that get you past some magic threshold, they give you enough momentum to carry you to a point where sales are self-sustaining.

    I suspect that the also-boughts have a buoyant force, but I have no experience with them.

  • Jackie Barbosa May 31, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    You’re right, Courtney, the top 100 lists matter more the higher up them you are, and they do make a difference. I also think WHICH top 100 list you’re on matters a lot. THE REIVER has been in the top 100 of the Fiction | Anthologies list for quite a while now, but that’s not exactly a highly trafficked bestseller list. (By the way, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my categories right so that I’m in the Books | Romance | Anthologies list, as that’s more representative to the story, but I haven’t been able to FIND that category in KDP. I know you got Unlocked into that category, so if you can help me…)

    Anyway, the Historicals list (which I’ve cracked the high end of in the last few days) is a much higher visibility list, which means the higher up you can climb in it, the more sales you will generate.

    I can totally see that for you, the Also Bought list isn’t currently a factor (although it will probably become one down the line). On the other hand, you’ve had a bit more push/buzz for Unlocked (and it’s totally deserved!). Having seen what a positive Dear Author review did for sales of my contemporary last month, I know just how valuable that is in terms of driving sales, and when the price is only 99 cents, that’s can’t hurt, either. I think it’s also safe to say you have rather better/stronger name recognition out of the gate than I do (I know I am always champing at the bit for another Courtney Milan book).

    Anyway, I couldn’t be more thrilled to see how successful you’ve been with Unlocked. By the same token, however, I want others not to despair if their sales don’t take off fantastically right out of the gate. Sometimes, it just takes a little patience for the sales to start rolling in.

  • Courtney Milan June 1, 2011 at 7:33 am

    The only categories Unlocked is in:Historical Romance and Romance Short Stories.

    The rest of that stuff? Amazon made it up. No clue as to how it got there.


    I finally have an also bought bar!

    I don’t know if the sales on UNLOCKED will in any way be sustained–honestly, I don’t see how they can be! But I am pretty ecstatic with the way things have gone so far.

    • Jackie Barbosa June 1, 2011 at 9:02 am

      Regarding the categories thing–what you said about Romance Short Stories tells me that that’s the “category” you specify in KDP to wind up on the Romance Anthologies list. I made that change yesterday, thinking that must be it, and it appears I was right. That’s definitely a better top 100 list for my story to be in :).

      As to whether the sales can sustain, well, at SOME pont, you have to figure you reach a certain level of saturation such that nearly all of the people who will ever be interested in buying your book have actually bought it. Where that point is and how long it takes to there is a complete unknown, though, and the fact that more and more people are buying ereaders/tablets/etc. every day, thereby increasing the pool of people who are interested in buying digital books makes it even hard to guess when you will reach saturation.

      Although my sales have been relatively modest, so far, every time I think the book has peaked, it goes and peaks again. So I’ve decided to stop guessing where and when it will level off and then go down. It’s kind of like being on a rollercoaster with my eyes closed, lol. We might as well enjoy the ride!

  • Leslie Dicken June 1, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Congrats on your great sales! I hear from just about everyone I know who puts their books up for sale how well they are doing.

    Not sure what I’m not doing right — unless my story just plain sucks! LOL!

    IMPROPER NIGHTS has been out since late February and I’ve barely sold 200 copies. I’ve had a few reviews, I have it for FREE at Smashwords also Amazon isn’t matching the price.

    I feel like the only one out there who IS NOT making the big bucks. Luckily, I have earned my cost in creating the cover, etc., but so far no big paycheck. Sigh.

    Best of luck to you and Courtney!

  • Jackie Barbosa June 1, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Hey Leslie,

    I think 200 sales isn’t half bad–I certainly didn’t expect more than that initially! If you look at the curve on my Amazon sales data, you’re pretty close to where I was at the end the same time frame (3.5 months out from release). The only thing that pushed my curve upward was that 89 cent price matching, which frankly was a complete booboo on Kobo’s part and shouldn’t have happened. (Amazon almost NEVER price-matches free on self-published books, by the way, although it seems to be doing it a little more often in recent weeks.)

    One thing I notice when I look at your book on Amazon is that you aren’t showing up in the Top 100 for Books | Romance | Anthologies. Based on your overall rank in the Kindle store, if you had the Romance Short Stories category selected for your book, you WOULD be on that list, so that’s something you should probably change post-haste. It might not generate a huge jump in sales to be on that list, but I’m betting it would have a marginal effect, which would in turn affect your Also Bought list, which would in turn affect your sales, and so on and so on (and scooby dooby dooby :)).

  • Leslie Dicken June 1, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Wow, I thought I was in Romance Short Stories! Okay, going to change that now.

    Thanks for the feedback. 🙂

  • Leslie Dicken June 1, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    One thing I notice when I look at your book on Amazon is that you aren’t showing up in the Top 100 for Books | Romance | Anthologies. Based on your overall rank in the Kindle store, if you had the Romance Short Stories category selected for your book, you WOULD be on that list, so that’s something you should probably change post-haste.

    Made the change and still don’t show on any Top 100 lists. I thought I might need to be closer to the 5K mark….???

    Appreciate the help, anyway!

  • Anthea Lawson June 3, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks for being so candid and thoughtful about your process & numbers, Jackie! ever since my short story in the MBO Regency Romance collection came out last July, I’ve been meaning to make it available digitally. Finally, the wave of e-publishing carried me forward. 🙂

    It will be so interesting to see if my numbers follow a similar curve to yours, at least on Amazon. B&N is already much, much smaller (only ten sales so far). The story debuted digitally on May 11 and as of tonight (June 3) I’ve sold 53 copies. My goal was to sell 100 this year – so hooray for low expectations~

    At any rate, it’s an exciting new journey. I’m thrilled to have such great company along the way, and I’m certainly enjoying watching the shooting stars like Courtney blazing the way ahead.

  • Anthea Lawson June 3, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    PS. Leslie I notice you are in the top 100 in Romance Short Stories! #35 tonight. Woohoo!

  • Interview with a Publisher – Twilight Times Books June 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    […] The Anatomy of Amazon Sales by Jackie Barbosa http://www.jackiebarbosa.com/2011/05/31/the-anatomy-of-amazon-sales/ […]

  • avis November 29, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Hi Jackie,
    Just checking for your books on Amazon.ca but all I found was the Red Door. Aren’t your other books available there as well?

    avis the reading idiot


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