The magic of Amazon sub-lists

This is less of a deeply informative post than a quick observation, really. I’m off for Southern France–I’ve always wanted to say that!–for two weeks and things are hectic here.

Thanks to a KDP Select “free” bump, I’ve sold almost 600 copies of A Reason to Live since August 6. Besides making me giddy and a little delirious, it’s also demonstrated some interesting things about that little-known self-pubbed writer’s friend, the Amazon sub-list.

To wit, we all want to be on the Kindle Top 100, but being in a sub-list Top 100 has its benefits, too. I’m guessing, but it seems safe to assume that many readers cruise the Amazon lists to find new books because they’re counting on other readers to have already threshed the wheat from the chaff (a false assumption, I think, but I’m going with the flow, here).

Lost in the Library
More to the point, savvy readers are going to haunt the sub-lists more often than the generals for the same reason you don’t randomly wander around libraries hoping to stumble across the latest Jim Butcher novel (though, having seen many libraries “front” popular books near the doors makes me wonder…). If you want Jim Butcher, you go straight to the Fantasy section.

Same here. So when I recently hit–and stayed–in the Top 100 of Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Hard-Boiled, I didn’t really understand what kind of bonanza I had found. Hard boiled fans are specific and focused; many wouldn’t pick up a cozy mystery or “cat sleuth” caper (a real sub-list, folks) if their life depended on it.

A Reason to Celebrate.

Result? I’m tucked in with the likes of Michael Connelly, Robert Parker, J.A. Jance, and Robert Crais. When fans of those series want something new, well…there I am. A Reason to Live is legitimized simply by being in the presence of those other hard boiled best-sellers (it doesn’t hurt that it’s a damn good book with a striking cover and a pretty swank blurb). Hurray for targeted marketing!

Based on my ups-and-downs on the Hard Boiled list (read: obsessive refreshing of the browser window), I was able to figure out–very roughly–what it takes for me to get on that list and possibly its “parent” lists. Why is this difficult?

  1. The only number Amazon always publishes is your overall Paid sales rank. If you aren’t in the Top 100 of a sub-list, you’ll never know where you stand until you break into that list, i.e., you could be #101 on the Hard boiled list, but your rank will remain a mystery.
  2. Amazon has many sub-lists that it does not make available to you to pick upon publishing via KDP. These “phantom” sub-lists only appear when you break into that list’s Top 100.
  3. Since every sub-list has a wildly varying number of titles in them, you may break in with fairly low sales numbers (i.e., if you write epic poetry about fire jugglers in the fjords of Montenegro, you’ll probably have a permanent Top 100 ranking in that sub-list if you sell just 1 chapbook. Not so with popular sub-lists, where you might have to sell 1,000 just to make #100).

Why is this important? Because you may be able to calculate when you’re close to breaking into your book’s Top 100 by watching your overall Kindle store rank.

Then, with practice, patience, and skill you may be able to bump yourself into your Top 100 with well-timed tweaks: dropping price, buying adspace, holding a giveaway, posting a contest, etc. While those are good promotional tactics at any time, it might behoove you to keep a trick in your back pocket for those times when 30 sales might put you onto a Top 100 list. Or, if you’re unsure about shelling out $$$ for adspace, this might be the criteria you need to take the leap.

For my own categories, I found that Hard Boiled and Mystery rankings–intriguingly–followed “powers of ten” very closely:

Overall Kindle Rank Mystery Hard Boiled
>#10,000 ? (not in Top 100) ? (not in Top 100)
~#10,000 ? (not in Top 100) ~#90-100
~1,200 (highest) almost in Top 100? #6
(didn’t happen…just guessing)
#100? #1?

What this tells me is that, had I broken #1,000 in the overall Paid ranking, I not only would’ve taken over the #1 spot in Hard Boiled, I probably would’ve broken the Top 100 in Mystery (its parent list).

For example, as I write this, Karin Slaughter’s Fallen is #100 on Mystery…but its overall Kindle Paid rank is #1,046. If Fallen falls just 100 spots, my prediction is that she’s off of the Mystery list. Were she on the Montenegrin fire jugglers sub-list, she might have an overall Kindle Paid rank of #147,000, but be able to stay on the sub-list for a long time.

The moral: If you find yourself on a juicy sales run for whatever reason track your rankings closely. Find out what sub-lists Amazon puts you under, then record the “break point” for each of those sub-lists. Be ready to unleash the promotional hounds when you’re right on the cusp and you may find yourself riding a whole new wave as those Top 100 sub-list readers, trawling for a new book, find you.


Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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Posted in My Books & Titles, Tip Tuesday, Tips for eAuthors
6 comments on “The magic of Amazon sub-lists
  1. Nice analysis. Glad to know I’m not the only one playing the refresh game when one of my books are on a run. : )

    And congrats again on your continued success to date!

  2. Wo3lf says:

    This is a dream-come-true event, Matt. Congratulations and thanks for the informative post.

  3. yoga-adan says:

    i wanna hear about the trip to the south of france! 😉 as a sublist interest of mine 😉

  4. As a reader, I can say your assumptions about our (well, my) behaviour are pretty close. I tend to start with the top 100 list, and then, depending on time available and how completely I have forgotten the current size of my TBR list, I wander down through the sublists (not found the cat sleuth yet…must check that one out!). Usually a bunch are also on the main list, but those that aren’t (yet) are often little gems!
    Have a great time in France – I’ll wave as you fly over!
    Huge congrats on the sales! Soon, I’ll be able to say I was following you before you became famous 😉

  5. Matthew Iden says:

    Thanks for the comments and well-wishes everyone, and sorry I haven’t replied lately. Internet access has literally been broken or non-existent everywhere my wife and I have gone (admittedly, we’re also looking at Roman ruins and drinking wine more than we are chasing down T1connections, lol).

    Hope to catch up with you all upon my return!

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