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 Smashwords.com 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.