A Brief View From the Top

I basically have two kinds of blog posts:

  • Here’s an announcement about my writing career
  • Let me tell you a thing about the writing business

I try not to sound too much like I’m bragging in the former, and I try not to get too wonky in the latter. I assume most of you are here because you like my fiction and want to hear more about it, or because you like my take on the industry and want to hear more about it.

I’m now going to tell you a story about something that happened last week that is both bragging (apologies in advance) and probably a lot wonkier than the average reader is accustomed to.

Why? Because it was pretty cool. Here we go.


Let me start by saying I am dangerously obsessive about my daily sales numbers. It’s bad. If there were a rehab for this, as soon as I got out of rehab for my Candy Crush addiction I’d be checking into it.

I have books for sale on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Apple, Google Play, Audible, and Createspace, and I check on them constantly. Do you want to know how I check? Of course you do.

Amazon, Nook, Kobo and Createspace all have something like real-time sales updating. For the latter three, I visit the dashboards every couple of hours. For Amazon, I use a program called Book Reportwhich is either the best thing to ever happen to me or the worst, depending on your perspective. It updates all my sales numbers, in dollars and unit sales, every fifteen minutes or so, and it makes a cool ‘ka-ching’ sound every time the numbers change.

Apple, Audible and Google Play only update once a day, so every morning I’ll log on once to check and then leave them alone.

About Audible

To say Audible updates only once a day doesn’t tell the whole story, because while this is true, it’s also true that Audible.com is two days behind. (I’m writing this on a Friday, and this morning’s sales numbers were for Wednesday.) This means if something exciting is happening with my sales there, I’m not going to know it based on sales numbers for two days.

However, there is also sales rank. But this is complicated too.

Sales rank is something very familiar to anyone who’s spent a lot of time in the Amazon ecosystem, because every single piece of media sold there has a sales rank attached to it, regardless of how many or few sales it’s gotten. (This is also true on Kobo and Nook, but I’m pretty sure their algorithms are different.)

Writers spend a lot of time checking their rank and worrying about their rank and trying to improve their rank, and occasionally trying to game their rank. Hundreds of thousands of words have been written on the subject of how rank impacts sales, how things like Kindle Unlimited impact rank, and so on. When Amazon split the rankings for free books and non-free books a few years back, empires fell and gods wept.

Audible doesn’t display rankings for any of their audiobooks on their site. However, Audible is owned by Amazon, which means those numbers exist. (If your book is listed as a top-60 best-seller on Audible, it’s in the same spot on Amazon, because they’re the same list. This will become relevant shortly.) I know how to get at these rankings, because I’m obsessive about real-time information and since Audible is two days behind, the only way I can tell if I’m having decent sales today is by checking the rank.

Wonky side-note, #1: Authors, the rank is found at Author Central. Go to Sales Info, then Sales Rank. Select the book you want, and then under Format, pick the Audiobook edition. Now you can be obsessed too.

What happened Friday

A week ago, on March 3rd, I went through my usual morning sales-checking obsession steps and discovered something really weird: the audiobook edition of The Spaceship Next Door was ranked at #22.


I had no idea why this was. The last time I’d run a promotion of any kind for Spaceship was a BookBub promotion in December, and that was for the ebook edition. BB promos will usually result in a large spike in audiobook sales, because the two editions are linked in the Amazon ecosystem. But the highest the audiobook ever got in rank during that December promotion was #84, and it didn’t last all that long.

This wasn’t caused by any promo, or rather, it wasn’t caused by one I scheduled and paid for. There isn’t really any way to do that with an audiobook because unlike with ebooks, I don’t have any control over pricing.

(The price you pay for one of my print books or one of my ebooks is the price I set. Audible doesn’t allow this.)

The rank went up every time I refreshed. By 11 AM, Friday, The Spaceship Next Door was the #1 ranked audiobook, overall, on Amazon and Audible.

As it turned out, my book was the Audible Daily Deal.

The Daily Deal is when Audible selects one book from their platform and marks it down for a day. I didn’t know it existed until The Spaceship Next Door was selected.

An unusual place to be

I think one of the reasons I hadn’t heard about it before this happened is that it’s not something self-published authors find themselves benefiting from all that often.

(Here’s the part where I drift from informing to brag-informing, if not just bragging, and I’m sorry, but I think this is useful information.)

I’ve been looking at the other books chosen for Daily Deal, and at the other books listed in the top 60—Audible doesn’t do a top 100, just a top 60, and you’ll have to ask them why because I don’t know—and none of them appear to be fully self-published.

Wonky side-note, #2: there are a lot of ways to produce an audiobook. The easiest way is probably to have a big-5 publisher already. If you’re an indie author, you can go through an audio-only publisher if one is interested. I was contacted by one for Spaceship and declined politely, but they’re out there and I’m sure they’re quite nice. Or, you can go through ACX.com, audition a reader there, and pay them for their services in advance of the audiobook’s release. (Or do a royalty split, which I don’t recommend.)

It’s possible to tell how an audiobook was published in most cases, because of the name listed under ‘publisher’ in the audiobook info page. As you can see from the above screen shot, my publisher is me.

With the caveat that I don’t know how many people invent publishing houses for their own titles, when I reviewed the top books mine was the only one that looked like a book self-produced through ACX. The rest were publisher/studio products.

I’ve had my share of good sales days in the past. Most of those came from BookBub promos, and if you’re a writer and reading this right now, you’re nodding, either because you’ve had a BB promo of your own or because you’ve been trying to get one for a while now. They’re expensive, but they’re worth it. The odds are pretty good if you’re one of my readers, you found me because of one of those promotions.

But I’ve never seen anything like what happened with this Daily Deal. It’s the difference between a promotional company (like BookBub) promoting a book through a distributor (like Amazon) and a distributor promoting a book directly.

The thing is, I don’t think a lot of other people have experienced this either, because there aren’t a lot of self-published authors seeing ranks that high (however temporarily), and because Audible is a smaller and younger market, and because most of the books reaching these heights are with a publisher.

Snarky side-note: if you want sales numbers, don’t ask a publisher. They don’t know the numbers, and if they did they wouldn’t tell you.


Q: Did you do anything to get your book considered for a Daily Deal?

A: No. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a way to go out and get a Daily Deal, at least not for us self-published folks.

Q: Did they ask first? Or notify you ahead of time?

A: No and no, but who has two thumbs and isn’t complaining? This guy.

Q: How long was it ranked?

A: it was ranked #1 for about 26 hours, which was how long it took for the following day’s Daily Deal to take the top spot. The ranks for the days following were #4, #11, #15, #29, and #46 before falling to the current rank of #72. In other words, it remained in the Top 60 for an entire week and is still in the top #100.

Q: Why is Top 60 important?

A: As long as a book is in the Top 60, it’s displayed on the Audible website with a little banner that reads “Best Seller”. It’s also on Amazon, under Best Sellers->Audible Audiobooks.

Q: How many sales is that?

A: On the day of the deal, there were 8774 downloads. The following days: 196, 204, 313, 168, 178.

Q: Does this mean 196 sales will get my book to #2?

A: No. I’m pretty sure Audible is using a version of Amazon’s rank algorithm, which weighs historical sales. This means all of the sales ranks I saw this week were being pulled upward by that big day with 8774 downloads. The further I get from that day, the more representative my rank is. That’s why even though the biggest day after Friday was the 313 on Monday, my rank still dropped that day.

Q: Did you see any downstream impact?

A: On the day of the sale, my ebook numbers were huge, but they returned to normal after that. I’m seeing a sales impact in the other audiobooks, but not as much as one might hope. In fairness, the Immortal series is in a different genre, and Spaceship is a standalone. Also, Audible.com rewards subscribers for one-a-month downloading habits, so the impact may be forthcoming.

Q: How much did you make from all that?

A: I’m not going to actually answer this question I asked myself, both because that would be even more obnoxious than I’ve been to this point, and because I don’t really know, and won’t until sometime next month.

Audible’s split is 60-40. They get 60% and the publisher gets 40%. If I’d gone with a royalty split when I did the audiobook, I’d get 20% and the narrator would get 20%.

Assuming I had a publisher, I’d get whatever percentage of my contract I was supposed to get out of that 40%. (Unless the publisher was non-exclusive with Audible, then I’d be getting a cut out of 25%.)

This is why I’m glad I both turned down the publisher, and didn’t opt for the royalty split.

What I’m getting 40% of is whatever price the buyer paid, and this could be a different amount depending on any number of things.

Here’s why: the list price for The Spaceship Next Door on audio is $24.95, and it’s basically impossible to buy it at this price anywhere, because Apple has it for $21.95 and everyone else is price-matching that. I’ve also seen it marked down further, to $19.95, in the past few weeks. If you make this your monthly download with an Audible subscription, the price for the download would be the equivalent of the monthly subscription cost, which is $14.95. The price for the book during the Daily Deal was $3.95. Finally, if you bought it after buying a copy of the ebook, you’d pay $1.99.

This is why I can look at units downloaded all day long and not have any idea how much I made. For any one download, I could have earned as little as $0.80 and as much as $9.98.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this extremely long breakdown/brag session, and that it was informative and not too annoying. If there’s interest, I’ll update the sales numbers from time-to-time. Could be, a month from now I’m right back at the level I started from, only with another 10,000 possible future readers of my possible future books. Could be, I’ve reached a new plateau in daily sales.

We will see. Until then, if the individual responsible for Audible daily deal curation is reading: thanks! I’m glad you liked the book. Please tell me where to send a gift basket.

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  1. Dave Davenport on March 11, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks for the insight intoyour world. I did find it interesting and I am glad you are successful. I found you through a Book Bub deal and I am glad I did.

  2. Ryan Thomas on March 12, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    I only have my personal experience to share. I was recommended The Spaceship Next Door on my Audible app while browsing for books. I subscribe so don’t pay the ‘list price’ it says on there I’m sure. But glad I did, it was a great listen and following that I dove into the Immortal series on Audible and am eagerly awaiting to listen to ‘Immortal and the Island of Impossible Things’. I’m tempted to read to the book but the narrator is so good I think it even adds more to the experience.

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