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amazon algorithm discussion on k-boards

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message 1: by Matt (new)

Matt Posner (mattposner) | 276 comments I read only the first page of this so far, but I imagine there is content here for Robust to discuss. All these consummate pros are debating the effect of Amazon's algorithm on sales, quarreling over re-promoting older books, grousing about Bookbub, etc. As I can barely keep my head screwed on from day to day in order just to write new fiction, I don't really relate to people debating about whether to put out a new book every 30 days, or people happy to have multiple books on the bestseller list. Obviously those aren't options for me. But is there any merit in what anyone is saying?

On the first page, an author notes having had sales drop by 2/3 in May. That happened to me in March and I am still at 1/3 of what my monthly sales were last year. Perhaps I should be happy I sell at all; I've reached the "bittersweet" stage with that and I'm trying just to write new things. Yet I suspected then, and suspect still now, an algorithm change of some sort.

message 2: by K.A. (last edited Jul 28, 2014 09:22AM) (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments Book sales have seasons.

The weather has a lot to do with it. Fall and winter are 'The Reading Season.'

Right now, Smashwords has a Summer/Winter sale for the month of July, to promote winter sales on the south half of the world.

There always appears to be an uptick in sales around Christmas that can last for a couple of months.

Andre knows more about it, and can explain it better.

However, before you take too much stock in what the Kindle Boards Bunch says - think about this:

When the Kindle first came out there were VERY FEW ebooks. Maybe a hundred thousand - written by early adopter writers, whose names are now legends: Konrath, Winters, Hocking, et all.

They sold their books for $.99 and made a killing because there wasn't much compitition.

Meanwhile, the Trade Publishers released their latest and greatest for $25 a pop.

The smart money (like Cool Main Press) released backlist and new writers ASAP to take advantage of the small market.

The KBB arrived on the scene and published ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. Thousands of Indie, like myself and the rest of us here - polished our work and published our best.

There was a Great Sea of Backlist that started first to trickle, then to pour and finally to flood the market.

The number of ebooks available soared to 5 million.

Which is where we stand today, 5 million ebooks available on Kindle and others. There are ways to get discovered, most of the require a tremendous amount of luck, coupled with the right niche genre market.

What hasn't changed is book-selling is still a seasonal market.

I'm still trying to discover if having a mailing list will do any good. I've decided to try getting local addresses, because everyone around here has a different ebook, Nooks, Kobos, iPads, Samsungs and Kindles.

message 3: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
K.A. wrote: "The number of ebooks available soared to 5 million."

This is the key point in your post, Kat. Thirty years ago 5500 new novels were published in English every year, and there were perhaps 500,000 in circulation from several centuries of publication. Bowker, the list of books in print, was contained in a large single volume. Honest; I handled it often, and any good library will have a copy in the stacks; you should inspect one because it will tell you instantly how huge the scale of the disaster is. Even thirty years ago, the conglomerates were trying to *reduce* the number of books published; it was one of the main purposes of the buy-outs that formed the eventual Big Six.

Then: "The number of ebooks available soared to 5 million."

Of course that would make discovery almost impossible! It isn't just that there are now ten times as many novels available, it is that a hundred times as many novels, or more, are being published in every year, and growing fast.

Back in 1984 fewer than a thousand of those 5500 new novels would earn their meager advances. A better test was to ask how many authors could get a *novel* commissioned, that is, paid for before it was written, There were not as many as a 100 in all the world. Add a handful of eccentrics like Len Deighton who didn't like taking the money until he finished the book, and you might just make a round 90 or a 100 maximum. That didn't mean every one of those 100 writers' books would sell...

I don't understand how the people on KB expected to be successful as writers. Most of them don't have the skills, the education, the background, or the correct attitude to be writers. They don't want to write, they want some perverse idealization of the "author lifestyle". A large percentage of them, who now write pornography, seemed to believe writing is a getrichquick scheme, no different from pyramid selling.

Even if they are serious, they're still not writers, they're marketers. When I say "the best publicity is a new book", I mean a full-length, fully rewritten, fully edited book, all of which takes time and thought. They have perverted this common advice into the churn of publishing one erotic short story a month (and calling it a novel!). That's positively reinforcing feedback loop (a bad, bad thing, a guaranteed runaway process) that just results in more and more crap being published, and visibility and discoverablity for the rare gem being further reduced. Soon everyone on KB will be publishing a new item - what? a bad haiku? -- once a week, and by next year it will be once a day, and then once an hour. This is getting ridiculous.

By the way, like everyone else with his mind in gear, I forecast this the week I came into indieland, and was shouted down as a Jeremiah. I'm waiting for those dumb blinders who abused me for prescience (not much -- it took no genius to feel this coming) to apologize but I'm not holding my breath.

message 4: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
The problem with Amazon's algorithms is that they are Amazon's algorithms.

First of all, Amazon arranges them to increase Amazon's short-term profits, secondly Amazon changes them arbitrarily and sometimes grossly all the time without notice to anyone, thirdly they are not transparent (no one knows what they are except the men who set them at Amazon). They have nothing to do with literature. I think it was Matt who remarked a couple of years ago that they appear to be arranged to give already popular books greater exposure and sales.

I took a look at that KB thread Matt refers to; I didn't read far. It's depressing. It seems to be taken as axiomatic by far too many in it that what a writer does is try to game the Amazon algorithm. Well, if what a writer does is game the Amazon algorithm, then I'd rather not be a writer. I didn't sacrifice a seven-figure salary, a bigger expense account, a Learjet and hot and cold running miniskirts, not to mention sharesholders stroking me every hour on the hour, for anything as petty as gaming Amazon's self-referential algorithms. (Here's the irony of it: As mass motivation psychologist, even more as an economist specializing in demographics, I'm a boss statistician. I used to knock off algorithms to increase my clients' profits -- for instance the Agostini-Jute Formula for the Placement of Retail Locations aka malls -- between the car and my table at the Waldorf. If I put my mind to it and gave the time, I'm probably more likely to break Amazon's algorithm than anyone in that thread. But of course I won't waste my time on such futile trivia.)

Fortunately, I can go back to the theatre or films or automobile or electrical engineering, or advertising, or graphic design. I wonder what the pornographers have to go back to.

Even more fortunately for me, I can remain a writer with the house Gemma and Bill built for me, or even go back to Big Brother (I've had two offers this year, though one of them would have led straight back to Amazon within months...).

There is no disguising that the indie experiment has turned sour, and not just to writers like me who experienced the gentleman publishers in their final flourish before the conglomerates took over. Hell, even however many of the Big Six, er, Five, er, Four as Amazon hasn't destroyed by 4pm today, are starting to look good.

message 5: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
In those Slush Pile articles that the usual idiots took wrong in their usual spittle-spraying manner, I described how I discovered that in among the indies there were publishable writers to possibly the same number as the existing authors of trad publishing, a huge number by the pre-KDP history of publishing, but only a tiny fraction of a per cent of the new "authors" in indieland.

I feel really sorry for writers who by the quality of their storytelling should be published but were excluded from publication by the commercial realities of trad publishing (and for the older ones, though less often than is now said, sometimes by its inbuilt snobberies), and who now that they can publish easily are drowned in the morass of sewerage spouted via KDP (and Smashwords, and Apple to a much less extent -- Apple is the only one who tries to maintain some editorial control, and that only for decency's sake) by "writers" who I've said from the beginning are not in my profession.

But should they stop writing? Of course not. The writing is its own end. Publish the books and wait. If the books are good, eventually something happens. You get a prize (often for a book not as good as your first passions), you sell a book for a film, a cult develops, and suddenly you will feel rewarded.

It's only the fools who look, in the first instance, to maximize instant monetary reward for their writing, who should find something else to do.

message 6: by Matt (new)

Matt Posner (mattposner) | 276 comments I did read those slush pile articles, Andre -- a year or two ago, and I remember a past discussion of them here or on Kboards. Your argument is unimpeachable therein.

The bookselling market is now over 90% luck-driven. This is the only possible outcome of the five million ebooks described above. There can be no calculated strategy to rise out of five million. Merit is too widespread to be relevant. Yes, these K-board pornography writers are putting out crap, but they are putting it out and selling it and making money, and their lack of self-doubt is enviable.

message 7: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments There was a spate of people taking their books down. It happens every summer. I suspect it will take place again every summer.

5 million is a lot of e-books.

I think half of them are porn - it always amazes me that porn sells so many copies.

message 8: by Matt (new)

Matt Posner (mattposner) | 276 comments Porn is the largest entertainment sector in the US and I don't know why either.

message 9: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments And it's illegal. (shrug)

message 10: by Andre Jute (last edited Jul 29, 2014 03:04AM) (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Do you mean by "taking their books down" that they removed them from sale because they weren't selling? That makes no sense. Books go through selling cycles, and anyway most books have a natural term when its major possible market has read it or decided to give it a miss, and moved on. There is a bell curve in it's initial life, then a long slow period, and then perhaps if the author establishes himself, it starts growing again, but this process is normally measured in decades, not months.

message 11: by Matt (new)

Matt Posner (mattposner) | 276 comments Perhaps these entrepreneurs took their books down in despair (at lack of sales)? Or because they weren't proud of them anymore? Or because they were cluttering the search results so that their more saleable books didn't appear? Or because they planned to revise the books? Or because they had a change of business plan?

Let them take the books down. There are so many bad books at amazon ... I often hear of a book with a promising premise, especially on Twitter, but then when I look at the blurb and the reviews at Amazon I realize the book will disappoint me because of problems with its quality of writing, and so I do not purchase.

message 12: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Matt wrote: "these entrepreneurs"

That's wickedly precise, Matt.

message 13: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments These were romance writers who have taken their books down. I thought they were good stories, but they never caught on.

I've gotten discouraged, too, but I've hung in there. Always trying something a bit different, and publishing a few more of Mom's short stories as I get the chance and can find cover art.

You can imagine what it would cost if I had to pay a hundred bucks or more for over 350 short stories.

message 14: by Matt (new)

Matt Posner (mattposner) | 276 comments The low end cost of a graphic designer to make a book cover is probably $150, and the costs get much higher. I have only done two of my own covers -- I have ideas and know graphic design software a little, but lack the talent to execute anything attractively -- but overall, learning how to design covers well is a desirable skill. Many covers go wrong because the images don't feel smoothly blended. A photo of a model is superimposed against a natural background setting, but obviously doesn't belong there because of the light or the photograph's resolution; or a contemporary-looking person is used to portray a fantasy character. It looks wrong.

message 15: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments I struggle with it.

Years ago, I was an Art Major. However, there weren't any computers then, so I never learned graphic design in a digital environment.

There are people on who will design an ebook cover or create an illustration for $5. Pretty neat, that site.

I saw an illustrator who would make a marker illustration on a 3x6 card for $5 at one of the local fairs. He wouldn't do covers for me, there were too many. :-)

message 16: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
You want stock art, Kat. There's plenty for free on the net. We use it all the time even when the book will carry custom art -- it's just so much quicker than setting up a shoot, waiting for the photographer, all that messing around.

Graphic design has nothing to do with art. It's a technique of arranging images and type for efficient communication and persuasion. Avoid "designers" who want to express their own personalities rather than convey your product message in the most efficient manner; a dead giveaway is when they use phrases like "cutting edge".

message 17: by K.A. (last edited Jul 31, 2014 06:04AM) (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments Good advice.

I know to keep the designs from looking cluttered and to use bright colors.

Not into 'cutting edge' graphic art. I'm too old for the new stuff to look good to me.

I needed a shot of a picnic basket the other day, so I grabbed one of my old faithfuls and filled it with food. Lets see if I can get it to load here...

Nope - can't show it from Smashwords or my Facebook page. Better luck next time.

message 18: by Daniel (last edited Aug 18, 2014 05:50AM) (new)

Daniel Roberts (Daniel-A-Roberts) | 467 comments I can't... I haven't... oh hell. How can I say this and not sound rude? LOL

Okay, in the old town I used to live in, around 1800 people max, called Dunnellon... there was this bunch of ladies who liked to gossip. If I recorded any of their conversations they discussed, one of many things would have been assumed.

1. Dunnellon was a bloodbath town where everybody died at least seven times in three days.

2. The town's only stop light would go out when all the men plugged their electric shavers in at the same time every morning.

3. The Rainbow River was neat until somebody shut off the garden hose that created it.

4. The Dunnellon Police Department was filled with lizard men aliens who pretended to be human.

5. Sex wasn't so great after the age of 90.

Please understand, these old ladies numbered about seventeen. They talked about this stuff all the time, to each other, at least ten times a month.

Who cares, right?

Well, Kindle Boards is almost the same kind of deal. If I was to sit around and read all of their drivel and take it to heart, I would be a wreck. I can't take anything said on the kindle boards by the 'talking heads' that crow like little old ladies in small towns, who think they know it all, sound like they know it all, only to never realize that all of their speaking is only limited to their own, small, mostly unknown existence.

Sure, they can hit on a few topics of interest, but over there, it's all self service and nothing more.

Take it with a grain of salt. If anything they say seems to reflect what is happening outside of their small universe they have created for themselves, chalk it up to coincidence.

Believe me folks. You'll all be much happier for it.


On Edit: Present Company is excluded from that analogy. Everyone I know here on Robust has and always will be sane. I too go over to KB to throw up a post on my next novel release, and perhaps out of morbid curiosity, browse a few topics. Maybe I reply to one. Or two.

And that's it. Otherwise, I would be burning a hole in my brain, one that wouldn't need to be there.

I hope I got my point across without sounding like an ass.

Love you folks, like brothers and sisters. I know I don't say or show it much, but it's there.


message 19: by J. (new)

J. (jdrew) | 1 comments Maybe late coming to this thread. I agree wholeheartedly that trying to guess what Amazon's algorithm is a waste of time. Better would be to write better books. Perhaps figuring out what category best fits a book has value. Good covers are essential but paying for them can easily break the bank. Wish I was able to do my own but so far I haven't even tried. Bottom line I think is to keep writing (or if you think you should give up then you probably should). I will continue because I can't help myself. Sales are slow, perhaps cyclic though I don't have enough history to be sure of that. If the book is any good then each one that sells should up my potential to sell more of the next book. Naive, maybe but since I'm going to write the next book anyway, it keeps my outlook positive. My ramblings.

message 20: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Daniel wrote: "... Dunnellon ..."

You're such an entertaining observer, Daniel, it comes as no surprise to me that the self-important, who are of course congenitally humorless, hate you.

message 21: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments I stopped going over there on a regular basis. After 3 years of the same people posting the same stuff, or new people posting the same old stuff, I got bored.

It's more interesting here.

Besides, kboards doesn't sell books. I'm not sure it ever did. It may have, in the beginning, but it doesn't any more. How do I know? The people who sell the most books don't hang out.

message 22: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Roberts (Daniel-A-Roberts) | 467 comments Andre Jute wrote: "Daniel wrote: "... Dunnellon ..."

You're such an entertaining observer, Daniel, it comes as no surprise to me that the self-important, who are of course congenitally humorless, hate you."

You make number three! On my man-cave of an office, upon my physical desk top (real one, not digital) I have two grooves. Now I just knifed in number three!

Thank you! Among the tens of thousands of people who have known me to any extent, large or small, you're the third one to actually understand. ^_^

And to be honestly clear, the knife I used is a small pocket knife, good for carving grooves and peeling apples at best. Not one of those murderous Rambo survival knives...

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