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Monday, August 12, 2013

How Novelrank Works, And Why We Care

I am a nerd. I am the kind of nerd who enjoys doing her own taxes, and who spent twelve years trading geeky derivatives on Wall Street. So buckle your seatbelts, kiddies, and nerd out with me for a minute, 'kay?

For years now authors have been obsessing over their Amazon ranking numbers as a sort of hobby. But an Amazon ranking, aside from supplying fodder for your next psychiatry appointment, doesn't tell you what you really need to know: how many books have you sold at Amazon? Since the ranking is proprietary, without 3rd party help it's little better than a measure of your popularity, emotional stability and self worth. (I'm kidding. Sort of.)

Enter Novelrank.com. This 3rd party website helps authors track their Amazon.com sales. To use it, you must submit your book's Amazon page to the Novelrank database. An author should do this just as soon as the book has an Amazon ranking. (Hit the big blue Track Your Book button, and paste in the Amazon URL.)

When your book has been entered into the database, Novelrank starts watching your rank for you. Not only does it save this information, but it does something even more useful. (Quick Disclaimer: I have reverse engineered this understanding of how a service like Novelrank could be built, but it is entirely possible that the site actually works in a different way. Nevertheless, thinking through this algorithm helps authors understand how sales vs. rankings are related. So bear with me.)

While a ranking doesn't tell you how many copies your book is selling, a close look at your ranking relative to books nearby does. Suppose your book is currently ranked 12,345. And then suppose you snuck a peek to see which books were ranked 12,344 and 12,346. An hour later, you checked those three books again. If they are still ranked tightly together, then it's a safe bet that none of them sold a copy since the last time you looked. Books which don't make a sale should float around together, drifting up and down on the waves in a group, like so many pieces of driftwood.

But if your book (or one of its neighbors) sells a copy, then that book would vault out of its standing with the others, and find new neighbors at a lower (better) ranking, right? And then a website like Novelrank could watch your target book in relation to its new neighbors. Lather, rinse, repeat.

For accurate results, more than two book "neighbors" would have to be watched, of course. But you get the general idea. The result is a way of accurately estimating how many sales your book has made at Amazon, and when. Novelrank keeps track of your book's sales and stores it. You can graph your sales over time, for American sales and also at international Amazon sites. Since many traditional publishers don't update their authors' sales terribly often, this can be valuable.

Other tools for monitoring your books progress in the world include Amazon's Author Central and Random House's author portal. (More on those in a later post!)

Sarah Pinneo
is a novelist, food writer and book publicity specialist. Her most recent book is Julia’s Child. Follow her on twitter at @SarahPinneo.

1 comment:

Danny Adams said...

Novel Rank doesn't seem to be tracking my Amazon sales, but sales via the publisher's website. N.R. lists a total of 4 sales of the book since it came out in January, the total from direct sales. It's sold quite a bit more on Amazon.