Selling Science Fiction and Fantasy on Amazon: Flying Blind When It Comes to the Details

by | Jan 28, 2012 | Blog | 9 comments

Well, the book is launched and it’s selling far better than I had hoped, so I am very happy. My first sales goal was to try to get to 1000 copies sold before November (the earliest possible date for the sequel), because having that number—based on what I’ve read—is when The Galactic Mage will get into the Amazon system that recommends it to people who buy similar types of stories from other writers. I really didn’t know how long hitting that number should take for a new writer with only one story out so far, but for the moment, it looks like it might be possible to beat that goal, maybe even by a lot. I’m crossing my fingers. (Well, except when I’m working on the next book, because it’s too hard to type with my fingers crossed. Try it, you’ll see.)

The “writer me” is thrilled it’s selling so well. However, I have to say that the professional “marketing me” is pretty frustrated at not being able to tell where sales are coming from. Writing is one thing, but marketing is another. While it’s fun to make jokes about how marketing is “all drinking and guessing,” the reality is that metrics and tracking systems exist, and the uber marketers use them. Now, I’m not trying to say I’m an uber marketer, but I’m also not on my maiden voyage.

I’ve got ads running on Facebook; I’ve got traffic coming in from my Shadesbreath articles on HubPages; and I’m getting a lot of direct search traffic to the site. But I can’t tie any of that traffic directly to unit sales. For example: while using the “Insights” feature of Facebook, I can see that I’m getting a spike in page views and “likes” on the page, but I can’t tell how many of those views or likes went and bought the book (if any).

Another example: I can see on the Facebook ads reporting page how many impressions I have gotten, and I can even see the click through rate and action rate (clicks/likes) from those clicks, but again, I can’t directly link any given action to a purchase.

Same goes for the traffic coming to my website from Shadesbreath on HubPages. I’m getting lots of visits from there. The Galactic Mage landing page is getting tons of hits and video views, and the bounce rate for that page is almost 60% where all the other pages are in the 30s and 40s. Normally I would say that 60% figure is bad, but since the call to action on that page is essentially “Leave now and go to Amazon to buy,” I think that page is actually working as planned. It’s arguably the most interesting page on the site, and it has the higher bounce rate, which probably indicates success on the point of sending people off to Amazon. But again, I have no way of proving that.

Amazon is the only one who knows where the traffic is coming from on their sales page, and I can’t find any reporting from them that lets me know. It seems insane to me that they wouldn’t want me to know what parts of my marketing efforts are working, so that I can replicate them. If I’m spending money or time on marketing that doesn’t work, I can shift to what is working. They make more sales when I do.

They get a really good cut of what I sell (I only get $1.71 out of a $14.99 paperback. My percentage is much better for the Kindle version, but still, sheesh!). So, to me it seems like they should WANT me to know what is working, since I’m paying for it, making it essentially free marketing for them. Eventually they’ll kick in; if the book sells enough, then they’ll notice it and start to kick in too, push it around in places and let people know it exists (that’s the point of hitting the 1000 figure mentioned above). But why not help out in the beginning by just releasing the numbers? I’m not asking for email addresses or other information on the people reading. I know why they don’t want me to know that: they don’t want me to go direct for book two and three. I get it. And I also get that they provide a really great system for selling, so I’m not bitching, despite how much it seems like I might be. But my point is that reporting should be more detailed. They should be assisting me in increasing sales by giving me the insights I know for a fact they have. Seems paradoxical to me.

Anyway, that’s where I am right now, driving towards that first 1000, so I can, in theory, get some muscle from Amazon and the sales side. One way you can help, if you feel like it, is to write a review for me on Amazon after you read the book (which you should, if you haven’t, because it’s awesome). Hopefully you will have liked it and will say nice things. But, I can’t control that part, so, I won’t try.

If you’re interested in learning more about Facebook ads and that sort of thing, I’ll probably do another blog on it. I will, however, mention that I am using the “Fanreach” marketing strategies stuff that Brian Carter put together. It’s a series of videos, plus he’s got a blog that he covers FB topics and issues. It’s been extremely useful, even if I can’t actually connect the clicks and likes I’m getting on Facebook from his strategies to actual sales in a direct one-to-one way. I will say, even if you are a total scrub rookie at marketing and advertising, his stuff is totally approachable. If you are trying to sell a book or promote a business or whatever and want to try Facebook out as a marketing platform, he’s been very helpful to me. His videos are very low key; he jokes around, even rambles sometimes, but all in a very comfortable and informative way. I’ve learned a ton from his videos. I’m charting my progress on that front, and will write about it more when I figure out what’s actually happening. I’ll also be covering the review process next time too. I had no idea Amazon had such a meticulously designed system for that, and one that’s getting more so the more people try to game it using bribes and rebates.


  1. Kashif Ross

    Hey. Thanks for this post. I guess I’m “competing” with you on Amazon. I released my book on the third and I’ve climbed the hot new releases chart as well. However, I know my fortune is running out and need to find a way to keep my success on track. I was planning on messaging you with a “teach me oh wise one” type of message but I read this post and realize you’re unsure as well. Either way, I’m so looking up to you! I’m going to check out those Facebook videos and take action tonight with something. Best.

    • John

      Hi Kashif. I think it’s great you got yours out and up. That’s the hard part. As far as the list climbing, I wish I really knew what was working. Seems like FB has to have contributed, but, as I mentioned, no way to tie it together. You’ll enjoy learning it though. It’s important to think like a business person as much as like an artist. Mainly though, keep making new books. I’m noticing that the top of the best seller list is filled with series (5 or 6 Pier’s Anthony’s old Bio of a Space Tyrant book, and 4 or 5 or more even of the Wool series, even two different ways to get Orwell’s 1984). So, keep cranking them out. And good luck!

      • Kashif Ross

        Thank you for the reply. I’m working on the second novel right now. I noticed the same trend. Currently, my goal is to put out three novels this year so I can comfortably make the first novel free.

        I hope things continue going well for you!

        • John

          I’m hoping to get one more in the series out this year, plus some other projects unrelated to The Galactic Mage. We have to remember to think first of the reader, no matter how much we want to get our list count up. Devotion to the prose, the story and the finished polish first, always. Or having a large list won’t mean anything.

          Keep in touch, and maybe once we get through drafting the next ones, we can swap reviews, help each other out in the marketing department. Take care and have fun climbing the list!

          • Kashif Ross

            I definitely agree. My schedule is a little different than most writers. I quit my second job and have a lot of time to dedicate to writing, well over 60 hours per week. (I’m still used to being a student animator, which requires meticulous planning and polishing for very long hours). I also hire copy editors and cover art designers. I’d never take shortcuts for this. But you have my email so please feel free to contact me later in the year when you’re done and want to link up.

  2. LS

    Just finished your book. I found it surprisingly good (quality in fantasy is often mediocre).

    Strong points:

    – very well written
    – awesome dialogues
    – great characters
    – great magical system/world (very well introduced, showing not telling).
    – easy too read

    Weak points:

    – SF story is weaker, a bit boring. You may have brought the infection sooner, to rake up the tension.
    – the love story has reached a very dangerous point: it made me think the letter 43 of Tolkien ( It is definitely credible from Adlin’s POW, who loves a mythical version of Orli. But less from Orli’s POW. I wonder how you’ll make the relationship mature (or end?).

    On the whole you did a great job, and I’ll gladly read the sequel.


    • John

      Hi LS. Thank you for the feedback. It is really gratifying to hear from readers. I agree that a good deal of today’s fantasy can be bleh, and I really want to do the genre I love so much justice. We’ll see how it goes for the rest going forward, eh?

      I just read that letter, very interesting, particularly in the light of more modern literary theories. I’m sure a few feminists have probably had a go at a few of the assumptions there, as critics are wont to do.

      I will do my best to keep the characters as real as possible. I’m trying to walk the line between being realistic and fantastic with this story, and, well, only time will tell how it works out. Speaking of which, I’m off to work on it now.

      Thanks again for reading and for taking the time to let me know what you thought.

  3. Hunter

    Hey John,

    Just bought your book off amazon. It just popped up on my recommended list. I’ll probably finish it today and give a review. Hope It’s good 😀


    • John

      I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for giving it a go.