Who’s Pointing At You? Amazon

The Also Boughts on your page are an important indication of what readers are buying along with your books. But those particular Also Boughts are only part of the story. What’s really important is which books are pointing back at you. Let’s use my long-suffering book Liberty Boy as an example again.

As I explained yesterday’s post – Please Don’t Buy My BookLiberty Boy was dragged down into the ranking depths after having no Also Boughts for months thanks to an Amazon snafu. I eventually fixed that problem in a fairly crude way by running a 99c Countdown and throwing whatever ads I could get at it.

The promo itself did okay and sold a few hundred copies for me. But I didn’t target the campaign in an optimal way. If you look at the Also Boughts which appeared afterwards, I had lots of books outside my target category (Historical Fiction). This meant I suffered a dead fish bounce – i.e. no halo effect – something I’ll talk about more in a future post.

For now, just look at these Also Boughts:

Not a complete disaster but far from ideal. The first is a Western, the second is one of Mel Comley’s psychological thrillers, the third is a box set of two of my historicals (I think I ran that free at the same time to try and pair them), next is a mystery, and then, I think, some action/adventure. Bit of a hodge podge.

Glancing at your Also Boughts is a just a quick-and-dirty way to check if you have a problem or not. A bit of triage, if you like.

To dig deeper, you need to try and find out who or what is pointing at you in the Amazon system. What are you paired with? Amazon doesn’t make it easy to find this out, but there are two ways of doing it.

First, you can manually click on the books in your own Also Boughts, and then page through to see where you appear on their Also Bought strip – with closer to the front being better, obviously.

If I click through to that first title, Yellow Hair by Andrew Joyce, I’m nowhere in his Also Boughts. Which means some of the purchasers of Liberty Boy bought his book, but very, very few of his overall purchasers bought mine (the discrepancy probably being explained by his book outselling mine by a fair bit, and my only sales really coming from that promo period when they were likely featured on the same day).

The second title tells the same story. I know Mel Comley – she’s a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She has sold well over 1 million books. Should I be excited by her appearance in my Also Boughts?


While she has a rabid audience for her thrillers, those people do not read historical fiction. There is no crossover, not in any meaningful terms. And you can see that in her Also Boughts – all similar books to hers, and mine doesn’t appear anywhere. The only reason she is in my Also Boughts at all is probably because we were on something like ENT on the same day and were likely grabbed at the same time by a bunch of dealhunters (and I haven’t sold much of that title since).

Checking the connections this way is a little time-consuming. There is another way to see, at a glance, the connections between your books and others – yasiv.com – which uses the Amazon API to give you a visualization of which books you are paired with. It’s a free tool which can be quite illuminating. And disturbing.

This is the hood where Liberty Boy is hanging:


Wut? Where did everyone go? This is not a good sign. Maybe if we zoom back a bit we can find some friends.

Hmmm. It appears I have a very diverse group of friends, but that means I kind of end up hanging with no one. Michael Reisig’s adventures are all in a nice tight group above me. Bill Myers’ mysteries are a close-knit group on the right. A bunch of Mark Dawson and Dale Brown and James Barrington thrillers are hanging together to the south – different authors but similar audiences… to each other.

But not to me.

They are not my people, nice and all as they may be. These authors aren’t writing for my readers, so when my book gets recommended to those readers, they don’t buy, Amazon thinks my book is terrible, and buries it in landfill.

(Note: if your curious what yasiv.com looked like when Liberty Boy was broken and had no Also Boughts, it was basically like it was the last book in the world and had no readers to enjoy it. Which… was apt.)

To contrast, here are the Also Boughts for Let’s Get Visible – all the right types of books, including the other book in the series in the #1 spot. Perfect.

And here’s Let’s Get Visible on yasiv.com (note: when searching on yasiv.com, make sure to switch to the Kindle Store, as it defaults to Books, and give it some time to load up):

Man, look at all those connections. How To peeps know how to hustle, let me tell you.

Visible and Digital have now moved to the edge of the party after not being promoted in forever, but they used to be right in the middle of that wonga-orgy and it was quite something.

I’ll dive back into the sweaty throng soon enough, both with those books and some new stuff for writers (more on that soon, but if you really want a sneak preview, check out my Facebook page).

But even being on the edge of this brings you a bit of action – which just goes to show that a sustained period of well-targeted marketing will yield pristine Also Boughts. And then they will have a huge pay out over time, even years later.

Visible is hanging out with all its buddies, so when the system decides to recommend my book (usually after a sales spike), then it’s emailing my cover to all the right readers, and they generally respond with clicking on the over and buying, and then Amazon decides to keep recommending my book.

Talk about friends with benefits.

But let’s also look at a fiction example. Here’s that Mel Comley book that popped into my Also Boughts. What does her Yasiv friendzone look like?

Sorry for zooming back so much, but I had to capture the full awesomeness of this picture. You can zoom in yourself here, but let me talk through what you are seeing.

Bottom left is a super tight group of Mel’s main Justice series. It has something like 12 books, it’s hugely popular, and those books are all paired tightly together. This is perfect, and it means that whenever Mel promotes one of these titles, she’ll get a ripple effect across the whole lot (yet another reason to write a series!).

In the middle is a bunch of other books Mel has written on her own, and some she has co-authored with Linda Prather. And then up top are more of Linda’s books, with groups of other books in the same genre off to the right.

Great stuff all round.

Takeaways & AMS Ads

Also Boughts aren’t just about what is on your Amazon product page. You really need to pay attention to what is pointing towards your book.

I thought it was important to make the clarification as sometimes people can see Big Name Author as #1 in their Also Boughts and start celebrating. That’s not bad, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t mean that all of Big Name Author’s readers are suddenly going to get recommended your book.

However, if you somehow pop into the #1 slot of Big Name Author’s Also Boughts, then that is great and you should see some action from it. Especially if you can rustle up some promo for yourself before you get dislodged.

Finally, I had a question yesterday about AMS ads, and particularly the scattergun approach some authors seem to be adopting, and whether this affects you – the example was given of my book Liberty Boy and the different genres being advertised there.

Not quite historical fiction but it’s nothing to worry about. If it’s going to hurt anyone, it will be the authors targeting you in a such broad way, not your own book.

You don’t need to worry what others are doing. All you need to do is figure out who your Ideal Readers are, where to reach them, and how to do that exclusively – with some laser guided marketing bombs which will explode dollars all over your royalty checks.

And I’ll have much more on all of that very soon.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

38 Replies to “Who’s Pointing At You?”

  1. Thanks so much for this analysis David. I’ve been following you on Twitter and haven’t responded until now, though I read everything you write. But this information is priceless and I thought it deserved at least a comment :). We’ve just started using Yasiv for my sister’s books (she’s a suspense author. I’m her ManaSis – sister manager) and your previous post made us realize how deep we should look, how careful we should be when choosing our keywords and that marketing is a highly sensitive game. The most difficult part is reaching the right readership and we’re still working on it because when we started out we were more multi-genre than now. Your posts will help us focus and at least help us learn from your experience. So thank you.

    1. I think a lot of us have walked the same path. We overdosed on the freedom of being indie – and didn’t realize the side-effects. My first release was a kind of literary slipstream short, next was some old-school SF, then non-fiction, then HF… yeah. All under the same name, all scattergun marketing trying to broadcast to the world and encourage crossover. Not ideal.

      I should have known better. Digital marketing is always at it’s most effective when it is targeted, and Amazon’s system – I understand now – is also built to reward that kind of precision marketing. So doing it right is not only cheaper and better, it will actually help you much more over time. It just takes discipline (aka my kryptonite).

      1. Seems like you know better now. And so do we. The problem is it’s not easy to target and as you say you need both patience and discipline. For us, the first book was an experiment and we learned a lot from it. Now hopefully we’ll do it right though it does feel a bit like starting over. We just need to remind ourselves that if we invest the time to analyze the market now, we’ll have more time and hopefully more readers (and money) later on 🙂

  2. When you write something for which you honestly can’t find comps, this is going to be a problem. But better a problem known, than wondering why your ads are not doing much of anything. Thanks.

  3. Bless, thanks for the mention, David. Yes, it’s always good to write in a series, it certainly helps your also noughts, that is when the mighty Zon doesn’t mess around with things. ??

  4. Another interesting blog. Thanks, David. I think an author needs to start closer to home, with books in a series, with well-chosen titles, subtitles, categories and keywords. Even if the books are not in a series, the covers should gel together imo. I’m still struggling with all this with my Ben Jordan books.

    1. Right. When I look at the very biggest sellers, they always have a certain coherence across everything – covers, descriptions, tagline, categories, marketing, the works – everything is pulling together and aimed with a laser beam focus on their Ideal Reader.

      I’m actually working on something which will help authors analyse the whole chain and help pinpoint where they are losing readers, and what needs to be tweaked. Still early days and just fleshing it out but I think it’s going to be a slightly different approach than anything else out there. It was going to be the 2nd edition of Visible, but it has outgrown that concept now and is it’s own thing. It’s pretty cool… I think. I hope!

  5. If these posts are leading up to a new book, I’m buying it. Now I need to go back to Yasiv and figure this stuff out. I have a permafree first in series that was clearly being buoyed up by Amazon through January, but in February sales slipped and it’s a real struggle to keep them up. I figured that a major factor could be the also-bots being poisoned by all the other free titles people were randomly snapping up. I have a BookBub on said permafree at the end of the month (my first! I have that quote of yours about BookBub raining money on your face on Pinterest) and am thinking of taking the title off free after that and really improving my targeting, while the follow-on sales from the BookBub (hopefully) keep some income going. The permafree strategy 10X’d my sales for a while, but I’m looking for a long-term growth strategy and I’m not sure this is it. Is there any advice you can give me about the whole permafree thing?

    1. It is going to be in a book, but I’m still deciding what form that will take. I was halfway through updating Let’s Get Digital and starting to think how I would update Visible, when the idea for something a little different, more expansive, came to mind. I started fleshing that out and I think I’ll just run with that instead.

      I’m on BookBub at the end of the month. We can be BB buddies!

      As for permafree, i’ve only played with it a bit. I’ve seen people taking different approaches – rolling that series in and out of KU, alternating the permafree title, going big on promo once every three/six months and letting it slide inbetween, spacing out the promo and keeping it constant, using Facebook ads to keep it afloat, BB PPC ads – but I don’t think there is one clear best practice here. It really depends on your current situation, how many books you have in that series, your sellthru, your budget, and lots of other things.

      I hope to tease all or some of that out in future posts – and certainly will in the book.

  6. Hi, David. First of all, thanks for all the of the amazing information you share! I have been reading your blog and your non-fiction books for years. You are very generous.

    Second, I would like to say that any information on cleaning up polluted also-boughts would be very welcome. An author doesn’t actually have to make a mistake to have this problem.

    For instance, about a year and a half ago, one of my audio books, Hunters Unlucky, was selected for Audible’s Hidden Gem Sale. Hunters is a long epic fantasy that cost me over $4,000 to produce in audio. I expected to make that money back over 3-5 years. However, 8 months after release, the book was selected for that sale (something completely outside my control). The results were amazing! It sold over 2,000 audio copies in 5 days, made back all of my costs of production, and sailed on merrily into the profit zone. The book garnered hundreds of possessive reviews. Additionally, I had signed that contract when you still got 50% plus an escalator, so this was all really fantastic, right? Lightning in a bottle!

    Except… A year and a half later, my also-boughts for that book are still heavily polluted with books from unrelated genres, all them my companions from the Hidden Gem sale! I can see it graphically on Audible, and when I go to yasiv.com, I can see that it’s a problem on Amazon, too. The books pointing at Hunters are lots of unrelated titles from that sale. Hardly anyone finds the book any more except through my other books. This is very frustrating, as I feel it’s some of my best work, and people who find the book often tell me they read it (or listen to it) over and over. But nobody finds it!

    This event was completely outside my control. Audible chooses these titles themselves. It seems like madness to say no to something like this, but the truth is, I couldn’t have said no if I’d wanted to. It’s their site. They can promote as they see fit, and the the result will link books together that have nothing else in common.

    So, yes, please please tell me how to fix this. I’m not an author who normally sells 2000 copies in 5 days, so trying to reproduce that effect (to correct it in the right direction) seems really daunting. It seems impossible.

  7. I’ll be talking in future posts about that, but are you talking about audiobook also boughts? I haven’t paid more than cursory attention to those so I can’t guarantee they work the same way.

    But let’s assume they do for a moment. Your problem then becomes about how to promote your audiobook – and you have way, way less options than with an ebook, as I’m sure you know, because we don’t control the price.

    So what can you do? Well, if the book is Whispersynced, you will at least get some spill over into audio from any spike in e-book sales, so you will have to try and engineer one of those. And, in fact, what might work much better for you in this instance is a big free promotion on the ebook.

    Then when readers download the freebie, the system will prompt them to get the audio add on for just $1.99 – and many will.

    There might be other ways, and it with take a big free run to affect those audio also boughts at this point, but that’s all that springs to mind right now.

    1. Oh, you are right about the freebie translating into some audio sales via Whisper-sync. I had not thought of that. Thank you. Because this epic is a stand-alone, I’ve been very shy about doing freebies runs. But maybe I should bite the bullet and do it just for the also-boughts.

      For my part, I am 100% convinced that Audible’s also-boughts influence Amazon’s. I don’t know all the ins and outs, but the books pointing at Hunters on Amazon are utterly unrelated titles from Audible’s Hidden Gem Sale. The event happened on Audible, but it absolutely (heavily) impacted also-boughts on Amazon.

      And, as you know, what happens on Audible is mostly out of our control. The people at ACX are pretty nice, however. I’ve thought about calling them and begging them to include me in a fantasy sale (just fantasy! No other genres!) I sort of feel like they created this problem, and they should fix it. Hmm.

      1. Is it in KU? Is it long? Maybe you will pick up some nice page reads after the promo which will offset the sales loss and cover at least part of the promo cost for the freebie. Plus you can make it do two jobs and put a strong email sign-up CTA in the front and back so you are getting extra value from the run… as well as helping to solve your original problem.

        It’s far from a slam dunk, but I can’t think of anything else that might help with this – aside from the Audible fairy granting your wish. Also, of course, there is a danger that the ebook also boughts will get scrambled from the free run – but they usually sort themselves out a few days after, especially if you get any kind of bounce.

        Maybe better than doing nothing and having it bug you?

        1. I had it in KU for a while and it didn’t do very well. It’s an animal epic, beloved by adults with fond memories of Watership Down and by Millennials who grew up reading those Warrior Cat books and are now a little too old for them. That demographic doesn’t seem to be very active in KU.

          FB adds for Hunters *do* great, though. I use them to get mailing list sign-ups, giving away about a third of the book (along with some short stories) in exchange for a sign-up. I could make Hunters free on Amazon and run those adds for the book instead of the mailing list. I think that might work. I just really don’t like the idea of giving the entire epic away, because it comes to a satisfying conclusion with no follow-on novels. However, I recently published a related novelette, so that would help. If a bunch of people bought that $2.99 story after getting the main epic for free, I’d still do just fine.

          Thank you for brain storming with me! You are the best. 🙂

  8. David, been reading your blog for a long time, ever since I caught wind of you via Joe Konrath’s blog. A question I’ve had for a long time, and it’s one you may not even have a clue in answering, but this particular topic is along the same rabbit trail:

    I’m preparing my second book/ebook to be released as soon as I complete the whole editing/cover design/layout process. Betas, queried editors (back when I was pursuing trad publishing) and a few others have compared my writing style to that of another, more successful author, who writes in similar genre, and is targeting the same demographics. I’d love to ride this author’s coattails and take advantage of their readership and fanbase. My thinking, of course, is that, well, if you like their works, then maybe you’ll like mine too! Just wondering about release dates. Would you suggest releasing before the other author? Same time? Just after? None of the above? Which do you think could make it more likely for me to land under their Also Boughts?

    1. Hey, I wrote you a rather lengthy response which seems to have disappeared into the cyberether… let me see if I can recall it.

      The long answer will require a blog post (or several) and I think I’ll do that over the next few weeks, but here’s the short answer:


      Okay, okay, here’s a slightly less short answer:

      I don’t think timing your release with another author’s will do anything for you unless you have a pre-existing relationship with that author and can organize some tight cross-promo which will ensure that your respective readerships will purchase both books in meaningful numbers (and, indeed, continue to do so afterwards). However you can target that author’s readership in a variety of ways: Facebook ads, Bookbub (CPM) ads, group promo, box sets, and so on. I hope to dig into this topic a little more soon because it’s a great question.

  9. Thanks for these tips, David !
    Strange things, Yasiv doesn’t seem to work for French books (or at least mine.) Sure, I don’t have like a ton of products pointing go mines, but I checked and I do have some. Still, Yasiv gives me a result of 0. Pity, it looked like a cool tool

  10. Great post, David! I’d forgotten all about Yasiv. When I put my own Book 1, I get a lovely little cluster containing all the books in that series plus the spin-offs, and nothing else — just my own awesomeness all together in a group. But it’s an island. There’s absolutely nothing linking to that island. Which is oddly ironic, because the first book takes place on a secluded island.


    1. Remember that Yasiv can glitch from time to time. I have one book which looks like this in Yasiv, but that doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground. If I actually look at the books which might be pointing at it on Amazon, I see that book in their Also Boughts.

      Yasiv is a very handy tool for some quick triage/possible insight, but certainly not infallible.

  11. Thank you very much for this! I just checked Yasiv and the good news is that the book I’ve published is hanging out in exactly the right place. The less good news is that it’s pointing at 3 great titles, but nothing is pointing at it. How can I make that happen? I am treating this first book as a bit of an experiment, & reading my way through yours before I publish the next one! (and the next, and the next) 😀

    1. Hi Fiona, Yasiv is only really useful in a diagonostic sense – indicating that there might be problem, rather than being definitive or infallible. It often doesn’t pick up Also Bought connections between books, particularly ones pointing at you. For that, and to be sure, you really need to check manually. Which is laborious, but the only way I know of.

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