Self-Publishing – A Rat Race

The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. (Lily Tomlin)

Self-publishing seems like a cozy thing to do. You are free to choose any topic, free to write any way you like, free to set your own schedule … in short: a fantastic opportunity to express oneself and to share your ideas with the world. But as with anything on God’s green Earth, you gotta read the small print. There’s a good chance that self-publishing sucks you into a rat race filled with uncertainty, stress, anger and sleepless nights.

You chase the Amazon ranks like an addict chasing the drug that will bring his doom. You rush to finish the next book before the previous one drops out of Amazon’s “new releases” list. You are downright angry at an invisible algorithm that doesn’t make your book appear in the “also bought” list. You spend hours and hours of searching new ways to be seen and spend hours and hours frustrated when you can’t achieve the visibility you desire. You are happy about the sudden rise in sales and wonder obsessively about the following drop. You feel fantastic about the praise and are devasted for days about a bad review. If you get sucked in, there’s little left of the original idea: express oneself and share the ideas.

Any book takes a lot of work. The actual writing and researching, the creative process, is only a part of it. Thorough editing takes patience and time. You have to proof-read your book until you can’t stand the sight of it. This is the only way of making it error-free if you don’t intent to hire an editor. You have to format the whole thing for Kindle properly, including making it pass the EPUB validation (which will most likely cause you to scream at your innocent computer screen on more than one occasion), make the right book cover and write a catchy blurb. Then comes the worst part: marketing. Like a desperate and lonely vacuum cleaner salesman you go from virtual door to virtual door, begging for attention and feeling dirty all along. All for this little gain in visibility and rank, the self-published author’s cocaine. Then come the rollercoaster sales and reviews. If you kept your cool up to now, this will get to you. It’s amazing how much a negative review can hurt. But it’s just part of the job.

The rat race is on and you are rat #2,534,287 trying to find your edge. Remember the original idea? The expressing and sharing thing? Rat #2,534,287 doesn’t, all it wants to do is chase ranks.

I’m not making a case against self-publishing. I’m making a case for remembering why you do it or want to do it. The original idea that made writing your first book a joy. The first book! Just pure creative process. No thought wasted on ranks, promos, new releases, also boughts, pricing, … That’s how it should be. And that’s why I’m taking a break from publishing, to get back to this state of mind. I want to be me, not rat #2,534,287.

Computing and Tracking the Amazon Sales Rank

The webpage http://www.novelrank.com/ provides a very neat simple way to track the sales rank of any book on Amazon. This service is completely free.

The sales rank is computed from the sales rate. The more a book sells per day, the lower the rank will be.  Here’s an approximate formula, taken from: http://www.edwardwrobertson.com/2013/02/a-quick-way-to-calculate-amazon-sales.html.

100,000 / rank = sales per day

So if a book is on rank 50,000, it sells about twice a day. As far as I know, a borrow counts as a sale and a free download as one third of a sale.

I use novelrank to track my ebooks. This is what the output looks like (launch of “Great Formulas Explained”):


Indeed a neat tool to see how a book is performing. Note that the tracking starts on the day you add it, dates before that are not shown.

As you can see, during the period when no sale is made the sales rank increases more or less linearly at about # 50,000 per day. The average rank during this time can be calculated by the formula: final minus initial rank divided by 2. When a sale is made, the rank makes a discontinuous jump to a lower value.

Quantitative Analysis of Top 60 Kindle Romance Novels

I did a quantitative analysis of the current Top 60 Kindle Romance ebooks. Here are the results. First I’ll take a look at all price related data and conclusions.


  • Price over rank:


There seems to be no relation between price and rank. A linear fit confirmed this. The average price was 3.70 $ with a standard deviation of 2.70 $.


  • Price frequency count:


(Note that prices have been rounded up) About one third of all romance novels in the top 60 are offered for 1 $. Roughly another third for 3 $ or 4 $.


  • Price per 100 pages over rank:


Again, no relation here. The average price per 100 pages was 1.24 $ with a standard deviation of 0.86 $.


  • Price per 100 pages frequency count:


About half of all novels in the top 60 have a price per 100 pages lower than 1.20 $. Another third lies between 1.20 $ and 1.60 $.


  • Price per 100 pages over number of pages:


As I expected, the bigger the novel, the less you pay per page. Romance novels of about 200 pages cost 1.50 $ per 100 pages, while at 400 pages the price drops to about 1 $ per 100 pages. The decline is statistically significant, however there’s a lot of variation.


  • Review count:


A little less than one half of the top novels have less than 50 reviews. About 40 % have between 50 and 150 reviews. Note that some of the remaining 10 % more than 600 reviews (not included in the graph).


  • Rating over rank:


There’s practically no dependence of rank on rating among the top 60 novels. However, all have a rating of 3.5 stars or higher, most of them (95 %) 4 stars or higher.


  • Pages over ranking:


There’s no relation between number of pages and rank. A linear fit confirmed this. The average number of pages was 316 with a standard deviation of 107.


  • Pages count:


About 70 % of the analyzed novels have between 200 and 400 pages. 12 % are below and 18 % above this range.