At Common Good Books in St. Paul.Last night, my book's Amazon ranking was 34,771. In the sub-categories, it was the 28th best-selling book in the "media studies" category, and the 58th best-selling book in the category of "journalism memoirs." (There are 57 other journalism memoirs out there? All selling better than mine? How can this be?)
A few hours before that, my number had been somewhere around 475,000. And a few days before that, it was up around 22,000. The highest I have ever seen it was 11,000, shortly after I spent an hour on one Public Radio program, followed immediately by an hour on another Public Radio show. (Minnesota, and Illinois.)
What makes it fluctuate so wildly is anybody's guess. I'm assuming that a few books sold in order to make my ranking rise to 22,000, and then a lack of sales for a while made it plummet again. But Doug suggests that maybe the opposite was true--maybe a whole bunch of other books sold on Amazon that day were returned, forcing their numbers down and mine up.
When I want to make myself crazy, I go to Amazon and I check my ranking. There isn't an author alive who doesn't do this, and I suspect that it drives us all nuts, partly because we don't really know what we're looking at--it's not clear what the Amazon rankings mean, or how they are calculated. All we know is that we want to get to No. 1, and that most of us will never get anywhere close to No. 1.( That spot is reserved, I believe, for Jonathan Franzen, and that was before Oprah picked his book again.)
These rankings, of course, only reflect books that are sold on Amazon. They do not reflect books that are sold at Barnes and Noble or Borders, or at little independent neighborhood bookstores, or directly from the publisher, or at special events such a Society of Professional Journalists get-together at a local bowling alley (where I sold about eight books).
So in that way, I can tell myself that a lousy Amazon ranking is actually a good thing--it means that the book isn't selling on the Web because it's flying out the doors at the little indie bookstores.
It wasn't Amazon, after all, that hosted a launch party for my book. It wasn't Amazon that invited me to read, or put out a little sandwich board with my name on it, or displayed my book in its front window, or set up dozens of folding chairs for me, and a lectern (well, music stand), or provided cookies for guests, or stayed open a little beyond closing time in order to let everyone hang around and chat. It's not Amazon that allows me to actually meet readers face-to-face, and talk with them, and sign books for them.
So, yeah, do I wish that my Amazon number was closer to 1? Of course I do, even while what I really hope is that whoever wants to buy my book in the future finds it at a local neighborhood bookstore (most of which have Websites that are just as convenient as Amazon's, if you can't get there in person) and buys it there. We must keep these lovely endangered places alive.
I just checked and my Amazon number is now 73,118. I have got to quit doing this.