Once upon a time there were no rankings. When my first novel came out there was only the publisher who told you if you were selling or not. You hoped you were and a second print run or a third print run or a fourth print run was great news. You received royalty statements every quarter but that was about it. After a point you were essentially blind to the progress of your book. You didn't really know if it was selling or not except for your royalty check and once the book had been out for a while that dwindled down. So, you just assumed some people were buying your book. That assumption now has a number tied to it--your Amazon ranking.
The Amazon ranking of your book is very mysterious. It bobs around and moves or it doesn't move or it moves the way you don't want it too and then suddenly for no reason it will plunge and you feel like hey something is really happening here only to see it zoom back up the next day. Your confidence takes this same ride (irrationally so) and you feel like you are being successful or not because a computer changes your ranking in relation to millions of other books. Talk about being in public with your clothes off.
Hitting a bestseller list is a high but when you fall off it you are left with almost a sense of failure. Why didn't people continue buying your book? So you follow that Amazon number as it rises and rises and your ego falls and falls. It is human nature and yes we create for many different reasons, but put a score board on the Internet calculating your level of success or failure and you have the hell of Amazons ranking. There is some logic to the ranking though.
Go do some major publicity, television, NPR, a good print feature in a major newspaper and you will wake up to a much lowered number on the ranking. Sometimes it plunges down to the double digits and other rankings pop up (75 in humorous novels 52 in literary humorous novels) Now you are really excited and you imagine thousands and thousands of people buying your book. Could be. But then, as the publicity fades, your number slowly climbs back up and you feel helpless to stop the ascent. Why doesn't somebody buy a book somewhere and do something about that damn number!
I have had people come up and tell me they saw my ranking go up and they saw it come down. Very unsettling for the author to have essentially your income posted out there. But this is the way it is and so you zoom in and out and check your books occasionally. Sometimes you have a very good day after checking your ranking and sometimes you have a bad day. It just depends on your number.
William Hazelgrove's latest novel is due out in January. Rocket Man