Adaptation Redux

I wanted to follow up on this blog post I did the other week about adapting to the ever-quickening changes in publishing. I had mentioned how I used to check the New York Times Bestseller lists weekly but failed to mention what I've been checking in its place.

You see, landing on the New York Times Bestseller list is basically every writer's dream. The moment it happens, you become a New York Times Bestselling author, which will be printed on all of your books for rest of your life. I think if I ever became a NYT Bestseller, I would want it added to my tombstone.

But the thing is, it's pretty difficult to land on that particular list. It's not an exact science in terms of weekly sales -- unlike the USA Today Bestseller list which is based on BookScan numbers -- but still, for the most part, it does represent the bestselling titles for that week.

And the thing about bestseller lists, once you get on it, you usually stay there for a bit.

The reason being, of course, is that many readers check these lists and then buy their books based on what's on the list. So when a book appears there, more and more readers buy that book, and so the book maintains that spot for a week or two or three.

Except the truth of the matter is that nine times out of ten those books are on the bestseller lists because of the publishers. The publishers put in a lot of money -- make a large investment -- so, when the book's released, they're going to do what they can to earn back on that investment. Which means a much, much, much larger marketing push than for your every day novel that was given a small advance.

Of course, reader word of mouth sometimes help, but even that isn't always a guarantee because then you still need to rely on the publisher to have enough copies in stock to sell. And then, too, it helps if those copies are actually in bookstores, preferably on those tables in the front when you first walk inside.

Anyway, what I've found myself checking more and more is the Kindle Top 100 (which is not a weekly list but an hourly list). This is a list that, like the New York Times, every writer wants to be on. Only here it's more realistic for just about anybody to actually make it.

If you look at the top 10 Kindle titles right now, two of them are by self-published writers. The one book has been in the top 100 for fifty-five days; the other book has been there for thirty-two days.

How have they stayed there so long? Well, because of visibility. When readers check the top 100 -- and believe me, they check often -- those are the first books that they see. And guess what -- those two books are both 99 cents each. An impulse buy. So readers buy it, simple as that. Not every reader buys those books -- I know I don't -- but enough that it maintains that spot.

It seems 99 cents is the price for self-published books to get to the top 100 and stay there for awhile. Granted, I have seen self-published books priced at $1.99 and $2.99 get there and stay for awhile, but not as long as the 99 centers. Which again makes sense as it's an impulse buy for the reader.

For the writer, though, is 99 cents a good price to sell a novel?

It earns you 35 cents a unit sold, yes, and when you're only selling a handful a month, that doesn't add up to much.

But when you're in the top 100? You better believe you're selling a couple hundred a day. And the more days you stay in the top 100, the more you climb, the more you sell.

So in that case, a 99 cent ebook makes you some decent money.

A $2.99 ebook, earning you 70% royalties, will earn you even more.

Even if you were to sell two hundred units at $2.99 a day, that earns you about $400.00. Stay there for even ten days ... that's more than many of us make in an entire month, and that's just on one book.

But, you're probably asking, how does one get to the Kindle Top 100?

Well, that's the thing. Nobody really knows. There are authors I've seen who have made it and they're not even certain how they did so. It all comes down to luck, really. And, well, having a great cover and product description and -- bonus -- a great book.

But yeah, luck is a major factor.

Me, I've seen my sales rise and fall over the course of a day and sometimes an hour. Once The Serial Killer's Wife got as high a ranking as 2,788, and I think I had sold between ten and twenty (or maybe thirty) that day, and those had all come around the same time. It is possible to manipulate sales; some writers try to get their fans to buy their book at a certain time of day all at the same time. Which is a great idea. If enough people are willing to do it at the same time, the sales ranking of the book will certainly soar, and if the writer is lucky, they might just land in the Kindle Top 100, where readers who weren't familiar with their work might give them a try.

Granted, no matter what we as writers do, there's no guarantee that our books will ever reach the Kindle Top 100, just as there's no guarantee they'll ever reach the New York Times Bestseller list.

Except in the case of the Kindle Top 100, everyone has a chance.

And, personally, I like those odds.