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How to Get to #1 on Amazon (Or at Least How I Did It Twice)

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read
How to Get to #1 on Amazon (Or at Least How I Did It Twice)

The second edition of A Lesser Photographer, my book on minimalism for photographers, went to #1 in the pro photography genre sometime this month. I wasn’t expecting it, so I wanted to figure out why it happened.

It’s my second time at #1 in a genre, but that means nothing. The first time was for my book on Van Halen, which topped the music book genre for a while. That was about 20 years ago, when Amazon was a very different place and getting to #1 just meant people really liked your book.

After a pleasant period at the top (maybe a few weeks or months), a lot of underhanded stuff started going on from a competing author in the genre, who posted at least one fake review that got upvoted repeatedly. My book went from the top spot to barely selling a few copies a week. I couldn’t get help from anyone at Amazon for years. I swore I’d never sell a book through them again and published some B-to-B books from my website for next several years.

A lot has changed since then. Amazon now controls most of the market, and most of the potential audience for my books, whether I like it or not. I decided a few months ago to find out what would happen if I put away my grudges and played by their rules.

After paying to have A Lesser Photographer re-edited and re-designed, I re-wrote the book description away from the gear-focused minimalism (popular in the past) to creativity-focused minimalism (much truer to the book’s purpose).

Then, I plunked down money for an Amazon ad and refined the message of the ad until I felt good about it. I didn’t slave over any of it, so it could probably use a consultant’s touch, but this was just an experiment in my mind.

It took a while before the ad caught on, but the book finally started making more than the ad cost. So, I reinvested any profits back into the ad. I figured that’s what would make Amazon’s algos really happy. That’s when the ad caught fire.

Throughout March and April, sales of the book skyrocketed. I’m talking at least 10X. Maybe it was the quarantine, or the ad copy, or the longevity of the campaign, or the increased spending, but it was probably the combination of all of the above.

So, is the lesson “pay to play?” Pretty much. It’s the same lesson if you want to get to the New York Times bestseller list, which is all about who you know and guarded insider knowledge. To me, that’s shadier than Amazon’s scheme, which is simple: give us more money and we’ll let more people discover your book. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop, given my history with them, but so far this seems to be working.

And THANK YOU for reading the book and leaving your reviews. That’s really all I care about. Even at #1, books don’t really make any money. It’s all about getting it in front of more readers and not losing your shirt in the process. But you can bet I’ll keep making them as long as someone cares enough to read.