Amazon’s Author Ranking And Why It Means So Little



Last week, Amazon introduced a new author ranking system based on the sales of an author’s entire portfolio, not just on the sales of individual novels. It’s supposedly intended to empower authors, and Mark Coker, founder of says “It’s a smart feature. It recognizes that the author — not the publisher — is the brand that readers care about.” Uhm, yeah…

Obviously, writers and authors everywhere in the world are already gaining neurotic momentum about it. It’s in the job description somewhere, I believe. “Go forth and screameth of The End Of The World each time there’s a change in the industry,” or something. Anyway. There was enough potential for anxiety, complexes and personal catastrophes waiting for freshly baked authors before, now midlisters are also given a tool to feel miserable and unworthy. Go Amazon!

The LA Times sums up the first reactions about the impact Amazon’s new author ranking system had on the tweeting writers community. No surprise there, the majority is appalled. Someone even called it a “celebration of the elite, not a helping hand,” and that’s a pretty accurate description of it, even though it’s emotionally laden. (Of course all rating systems and bestseller lists are lists of those who’ve succeeded, that’s the reason these lists were created in the first place. But anyway, that’s off topic.) John Scalzi also gave a neat description of who benefits from Amazon’s new brainchild right here. Spoiler alert: it’s not the average author.

This author ranking system bears a disadvantage to new writers with only one book in circulation, compared to more seasoned, prolific writers with 10, 20 or more different works concurrently out for sale. It also only takes sales into account that were made solely through Amazon, thus ignoring all sales through other vendors or channels which makes it inherently subjective and limited, but that’s only logical. What’s not so logical is the fact that so many writers allow such things to make or break their motivation and self-confidence.

It’s a business tool, people, not a fair judgement of quality. It won’t increase or decrease your sales, especially if you’re not among the top 100. In fact, I believe the further you’re down that list, the less it will affect you. I doubt readers look for new books to read based on author name and rank. They look for genre, maybe flashy covers and gripping blurbs, but they rarely give a rat’s ass who the author is unless he’s famous already. So if you’re an average Joe Writerguy, you won’t feel a thing. Nothing will change for you because of Amazon’s author ranking system.

My advice? Just relax. Take a deep breath, pet your kitten, take a bath with a good book and glass of wine. Just chill.

It’s nothing but a way to grade authors based on how much money Amazon makes off of their sales. It’s a way to attract even more sales from their own website, by generating buzz and displaying superficial, artificial order in the chaos of the literary world, and maybe sell some more Kindles in the process. It has nothing to do with the quality of your book.

No rating in the world is ever geared toward anything else but generating more sales through a segregation of what’s already proven to make money from the rest, and shoving that down the consumer’s throat before he loses interest and moves on to another website. That’s what ratings are all about. They’re not about quality, artistic value, or the author’s worth as a person. Ratings are business tools, nothing more, nothing less, and they are designed to serve that exact same business that created them and no other. No reason to worry if you don’t own Amazon shares.

I hear you thinking “but why would Amazon want to make authors feel miserable?” Well, because humans are competitive creatures, and miserable writers will try to sell more through Amazon so they can climb up the ranking. And more sales for them, means more sales for Amazon. Ka-ching! If this new ranking system motivates you to sell more books, great, go ahead, make mommy proud. But if it makes you feel miserable, fuck it. Its only purpose is to improve Amazon’s good guy image, while increasing their profits, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a good business strategy. Just don’t misunderstand it for anything else, and don’t define yourself or your work by it.

Bottom line, like always, is that the writing industry, and every single company that has anything to do with it, is in a constant flux of change. Just like our global society is in all areas of its complex existence, not just literature. And we can’t do anything else but go with the flow.

Maybe Amazon’s ranking will prove useful, maybe it won’t. Many will cry over it, many will use it to their advantage, and still many more won’t give a shit. When it will pass, like all things pass, what will remain are the writers and readers and our dedication to what we believe makes it aaaaall worth it: sharing fantastic stories.


Published by Veronica Sicoe

Science Fiction Author — I deliver the aliens.

12 thoughts on “Amazon’s Author Ranking And Why It Means So Little

  1. well said… if you need to know your author ranking you’re writing for the wrong reason.

    Vince Lombardi once said of the Greenbay Packers that every time they played they won. They didn’t, of course, but that wasn’t the point of his comment. Regardless of the scoreline, winning is about striving for mastery and exceeding your own expectations. In that regard, it would be possible for one team to beat another on the scoreboard and still “lose” in Lombari’s eyes if they didn’t push themselves beyond their potential. Or “win” even though they lost a game valiantly, playing like they’d never played before, etc. I feel the same way about writing. It’s nice to see a novel succeed, but the real measure of success is whether I’ve pushed myself to improve and excel beyond my previous endeavors.

    May your best writing be ever ahead of you and never behind 🙂


    1. Excellently put, and what a great attitude! Just my kind of thing, working and learning and always aiming higher. 🙂

      Thanks for the heads up and the great spirit, Peter!


  2. I usually stay far, far away from these discussions, as the drama that tends to surround the online literary world can be stomach churning if you dive deep enough, and amazon is definitely one of the prime breeding grounds for that drama.

    But I agree with what you’re saying here. It’s only a breeding ground for drama because insecure authors let it serve that purpose. The same goes for “review mafia” drama, the goodreads drama, etc. I think the best thing an author can do is make peace with their insecurities before they cast their souls to the wind, because there are a LOT of avenues for those insecurities to make you feel like you’re running through a crowd butt naked with dollar bills glued to your ass.

    And of course there’s that old observation that all that time worrying could and should be spent on that next book. Great post!


    1. You’re right, of course, having other people’s predilection for the dramatic and the wailing and crying turn your own energy against you, is sooner or later bound to happen if you step into the world of industry drama unguarded. It’s so easy to loose heart and momentum if you look at all the disasters that can befall you. The most important thing to remember is that everything is changing, all goods and bads come and go, and we should focus on the things that prevail — our stories and our desire to write.

      Thanks for the comment, and for staying away from that noise. 🙂


  3. I can see why people would freak out. And on the other side of the coin, I know some “amateur” authors churning out crappy books to build a bigger volume of published titles. Me personally, I don’t care. I have enough noise in my life!


  4. There’s no end to the things we could choose to angstify over in this writing life. Go to the back of the line, Amazon and take your ranking system with you. I’m too busy worrying about finishing my novel to squander precious panic on you right now. 🙂

    Thanks, Vero, for the voice of reason.


    1. That’s just what I’m talking about, Kern. Working writers have much more important and rewarding things to do than howl at marketing tools. Thanks for stopping by, and oh joy – have fun with the novel!


  5. Veronica, you’re always one of the smartest, most balanced, no-b.s. commentators out there! Thanks for this perfect, spot-on take of some more of the b.s. that’s out there!


    1. Thank you for your support, Les! You’re a voice of reason on top of much else, and I’m proud whenever we’re on the same page.


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