• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Amazon: Surviving the Jungle by Caroline Finnerty

Writing.ie | Magazine | The Big Idea

By Caroline Finnerty

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With predictions that the UK e-book market is set to triple by 2018 and forecasters predicting that e-book sales will have outstripped print books in just four short years time, it’s fair to say that we are in the throes of a digital revolution. Almost 50% of adults in the U.S. now own an e-reading device but it’s when your elderly aunt tells you that she bought a book on her kindle that you know that e-books are here to stay.

Both authors and publishers are now realising how vital their online sales are. Many publishers are even opting for month early digital releases in a bid to garner reviews and word-of-mouth buzz before the print publication date. With an estimated 7 out of 10 e-book sales taking place on Amazon, it means that Amazon can have a make-or-break impact on an author’s sales.

But for many authors unless you are a really big name it is easy to feel invisible on Amazon. There is no enticing shop-front or display table helpfully showing customers the new releases like in a traditional bricks and mortar bookstore. There is no helpful staff on hand, ready to share their knowledge with you or handwritten shelf-talkers guiding you to their ‘recommended reads’. There are so many books on there both traditionally and independently published that it can literally feel like a jungle.

caroline finnertyAmazon has its own version of the bestseller list, which is known as the Amazon Sales Rank. This measures how well a particular book is selling compared to every other book on Amazon, with number 1 being the best selling book on the whole of Amazon. There are two separate charts for Paid and Free. It is calculated hourly and many an author (myself included) has developed an unhealthy obsession of checking their ranking (it’s great when you’re on the up but soul-destroying when you’re on the way down). Obviously the better your book is selling the lower your sales rank will be but how do you sell more books is the proverbial question?

Amazon doesn’t reveal how their sales ranking is calculated but we do know that reviews are key. When somebody reviews a book the Amazon algorithm places greater weight on this title and starts to suggest the book to customers in the ‘customers who bought this item also bought’ or ‘frequently bought together’ widgets. Or if you become a category bestseller e.g. ‘Contemporary Romance’ or ‘Crime Fiction’ you achieve more visibility when people browse the bestsellers in that category. It follows that the more a book is visible, the more people will buy it and review it, which will push the author higher up the chart. Think of it like getting a book onto the promotion tables or a stand near the checkout in a traditional bookshop – reviews are like the leg-up that a book needs.

So, if you’ve got a favorite author, they could use your help – write reviews for their books on Amazon and Goodreads.Of course every author loves to receive a glowing 5 star review but people tend to be suspicious of all 5 star reviews, you have to wonder if the authors friends and family have been working overdrive. I would argue that a 4 star review is a good thing – a healthy mix of 4 star reviews lends your reviews credibility. Or conversely, I often see reviews where the writer clearly felt it was mediocre book but they have awarded it just 1 star, which seems a bit harsh for a book that they clearly didn’t detest when perhaps 2 or 3 stars would have been fairer. From an author’s point of view, no review is better than a 1 star as it drags all the good reviews down so unless you really, really dislike a book, be careful of throwing out 1 star reviews as they are going to hurt the author’s sales.

The demise of bookstores and press reviews means that online reviews are more important to authors than ever before. They can either make or break a new title. So if you have recently read a book that you enjoyed, do the author a favour by writing a review and helping to spread the word.

How you help your favourite author online:

  • Write reviews for their books on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, iTunes, Nook or wherever you can. Remember that with just a few minutes of your time, you can jumpstart an author’s career.
  • Don’t download their books for free on illegal sites.
  • Spread the word on social media. Despite technological advances some things never change and you can’t beat word of mouth for selling books.

(c) Caroline Finnerty

Caroline’s lastest book Into the Night Sky is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here.

About Into the Night Sky

‘The story of the unlikely friendship between a boy and a man who come into each other’s lives when they are both in need of a friend.’

Conor Fahy is the owner of struggling bookshop Haymarket Books and is finding it hard to cope with everyday life in the aftermath of his partner Leni’s tragic death.

Conor’s best friend Ella Wilde is struggling with her own problems having just been axed from her job as a TV presenter after being caught shoplifting. She is struggling to deal with the weight of public disgrace and adjust to life away from the TV cameras. But is there more to Ella’s problems than just what appears on the surface?

Jack White is eight years old. He likes Ben 10, Giant Jawbreaker sweets and reading adventure books. He likes his Dad (when he doesn’t shout). He doesn’t like the bad monsters that are eating up his ma inside her tummy.

Rachel Traynor is the social worker assigned to Jack White’s case but sorting out messy family disputes is taking its toll on her. And it doesn’t help that she has had to say goodbye to the man she loves because he doesn’t want to have children with her.

Into the Night Sky is the story of four people who come into each other’s lives when they are each in need of a friend and how the bonds that form, change them all forever more.


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