Self-published authors are hostages of algorithms. Who and how many potential readers get to see one’s book in any online bookstore is determined by a secret cabal of algorithms operating mysteriously in the darkness behind the bright digital storefront of these online bookstores. There are books written that purport to teach self-published authors how to beguile these algorithms to favor them. And, of course, you can bribe them with folding money in the form of advertising.
Now, I can’t say how well, if at all, these methods of manipulation work, since I am content to let them work their magic however they care to. But since I do nothing to manipulate them, I can show them in operation.
Let’s start with the Case of the Mysterious Abrupt Slump in my Smashwords sales, as illustrated in the chart below. I wish I had taken a screen shot of it last year so you could see how the release of Beneath the Lanterns affected my sales, and then the redesign of the Smashwords bookstore affected them, but both those events are now off the chart. I’ll use sales figures instead, but first the chart.
The chart below is of monthly sales that extends beyond the daily sales chart above.
Sales July 2018 -- Dec 2019
From the chart you can see that we were plugging along at about 140 - 150 copies a month until September 2018 when the release of Beneath the Lanterns goosed sales, though by November that boost as fading. The January 1st update on Smashwords reversed that slide, and the release in March 2019 of Sailing to Redoubt more than doubled my previous sales all the way to October, when it was abruptly halved once again – as illustrated by the chart. Sales boosts across the board with a new release is explainable. The difference between my July 2018 sales and my Oct 2019 sales may be explained by having two extra books to sell. But the large and lasting boost following the publication of Sailing to Redoubt is much harder to explain. Two extra books would account for some of the rise, but not all. And the sales of Sailing to Redoubt are nowhere near explaining the elevated sales, since The Bright Black Sea continued to be my best seller. But the most mysterious workings of algorithms is the abrupt drop in sales on the 6th of October 2019. I can't explain that. I have to believe that it was a change in Smashwords' algorithms in how they listed books in their store.
My second example of the whimsy of algorithms is, The Mysterious Affair of December 30th, which occurred on Amazon at the end of December, as illustrated by the chart below.
That first jump in sales was on Boxing Day (Dec 26th) of 59 copies sold, no doubt because the proud new owners of Kindles and Fire Tabs were looking to fill their new devices with inexpensive content. Sales then, naturally, tapered off until, for some mysterious reason, we have that big sales jump, of some 264 books sold on the 30th of Dec. The bulk of those sales came from the sale of The Bright Black Sea and The Lost Star’s Sea. At that point The Bright Black Sea was the #5 best seller on the free space opera bestseller chart and in the low 600's in all of the free books on Amazon. Since I did nothing to boost sales, whatever caused that jump in sales was Amazon’s doing. And since I have no friends in Amazon, it must have been the work of those mysterious algorithms.