It's official: I'm wasting my life checking my book's Amazon.com rankings. Even now, as you're reading this Powell's blog, I'm checking Mentor: A Memoir's rankings to see if, after you've finished reading my entry, you've bought my book. I know you should buy my book from Powell's. After all, its editors are giving me this space to promote my book so I can... check my Amazon rankings. Now, I want to be a loyal Powell's customer, but Mentor isn't on Powell's "Indiespensable" books list, which tells me this: I'm dispensable! In Powell's eyes (thanks for allowing me to blog!), my memoir's paperback is literary Kleenex. So, I have to go back to Amazon which loves me and ranks my hardcover at... fuck!... 106,481. How is this possible? Twenty-two hours ago, it was #51,520. Have 55,000 people fallen out of love with me? Are they returning my book by the boatload? And my paperback ranking: #26,074! Eight days ago they were ranked, respectively, #1,458 and #4,747. The Kindle version: #625. Why did so many Amazon buyers love my book then? Okay, a NY Times review helped. Ditto the Washington Post. But the A- from Entertainment Weekly two days ago? Nada. Niente. One-point-eight million readers and maybe one of them — tops! — buys my book. But this morning I received mixed signals. My hardcover number had fallen dramatically because its delivery time is now "1 to 4 months." Its first printing sold out less than a week... on Amazon. But you can buy the hardcover from Powell's. I just checked. But there's only one copy left! Quick, stop reading, buy it! But, wait. Why isn't it discounted? First, I'm not "Indiespensable," now I'm not discounted? I'm blogging for you. You like me! You like my book! At least, you like the paperback edition. You have 25 copies at your "local" warehouse, and 17 at the "remote." And it's discounted! Thirty percent. Gracias. But, actually? I wish I didn't know this. Now I have to check how many paperback copies you have in stock in addition to checking my Amazon ranking, which — fuck me! — just fell to #28,776. This morning it was #8,311. My Kindle number sank, too. I wrote it off for dead at #11,116. But, wait! Two hours later, it's #5,126, #18 on the "Authors" list, and #94 on the "Memoirs" list! So, am I happy? Not really. Relieved, maybe. But, since Amazon updates its rankings hourly, I have to check again in 17 minutes.
For any author not at the top of the Times bestseller list, Amazon rankings are a drug. They're literary crack. Also semi-meaningless because Amazon doesn't disclose numbers: not how many Kindles it's sold, or if your ranking represents the number of books sold, the number of hits on your book's Amazon page, or a combination of both. But it's the only cheap high middling-selling authors can get on new grub street, although it leaves a terrible hangover when your rankings inevitably drop. So why do I do it? My book is still the book it was 20 minutes ago and someone, somewhere, may be reading it right now. A stranger. Someone a little lonely, maybe. Someone who could use a little bit of what my book has to offer. And, while I'm staying up half the night checking my rankings, this person has drifted off to sleep, perhaps a bit happier after reading my book, and planning to send me an email in the morning to tell me so. And if by then I haven't lost my perspective with regard to literature entirely, then the single email that turns up in my website's inbox tomorrow will make Amazon's rankings from number one to five million worthless because my book will have done what I'd hoped it would do: connect with someone whose embrace and understanding can't be ranked, and whose appreciation of my book can't ever be changed.
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Tom Grimes is the author of five novels, a play, and a memoir. He edited The Workshop: Seven Decades from the Iowa Writers Workshop, the creative writing program from which he graduated. He now directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Texas State University.
Books mentioned in this post
Tom Grimes is the author of Mentor: A Memoir