How Amazon Recommendation Algorithms Help Sell Your Book

Guest Expert: Joanna Penn

A few weeks ago my friend Joel Friedlander sent me an email (partly shown left) that he had been sent by Amazon which recommended my novel Pentecost next to John Connolly whose supernatural mysteries I really love to read myself.

I was absolutely overjoyed by the news! I put it on Twitter and also received the tweet below showing that Pentecost is being shown in the list of books that other people have bought. Subsequently I have seen it come up myself when I’ve gone in to look at other fiction books of a similar type.

This is evidence that the Amazon algorithms are kicking in and they are starting to market Pentecost themselves. These algorithms are top secret and no one knows for sure how to ensure this type of thing happens, but here’s what we can infer.

  • Rankings get you noticed. Pentecost has been in the Religious Fiction rankings since Feb 7th when it launched. It goes up and down but basically has been in the Top 40 or so for that bestseller category and around 2500 overall in the Kindle store. It has also been in the Top 100 of the same ranking in the UK but that site seems to run entirely separately from the US store.
  • Ratings and Reviews make a difference. Pentecost has 32 reviews as I am writing this with 4.5 star rating on This is more than a whole lot of big name authors and clearly Amazon pays attention when readers are enthusiastic about a book. (THANK YOU so much if you have left a review – it makes such a difference! If you love a book, the author will be very grateful for a review!)

Why is this important?

Amazon have an amazing amount of information on readers. They target you with offers that you often find irresistable! They know the types of books you read and offer you similar ones. This is gold for authors as it means that Amazon can reach people with your book who would never have heard of it otherwise.

Why did Amazon do this?

Clearly it’s not for your benefit! They are a business and want to make more money so their algorithms look for the books that are selling in specific genres and they try to sell more of them. It’s an entirely business point of view but it benefits authors who are selling well – regardless of the publisher! That is a very key point because I can’t hope to get into a bookstore near you with my novel, but I can hope that you’ll get an email from Amazon recommending my book (if you currently buy books in this genre anyway).

As an author, have you seen evidence of this recommendation algorithm and do you have any ideas on how it works? As a reader, do you pay attention to Amazon’s recommendation emails?

Joanna Penn is an author, speaker and blogger. Get your free Author 2.0 Blueprint and How to Be an Author Workbook at Joanna has a podcast featuring interviews, inspiration and information on writing, publishing and marketing which goes out on iTunes and has over 2000 listeners per week. Connect with Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn or Facebook

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