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My KDP Select Experience: Thoughts on 92,000 Downloads

Well, my “free” period for “Just This Once” ended January 8, 2013, with a total of 92,297 downloads over five days. The book was #1 in the Kindle “free” store for almost 3 days, and in the top 10 for a lot of its run.

Why? I’m still not sure. I had had pretty good success the other times I’d used the KDP Select “free” days, starting with my very first one, a bare seven days into my “publishing career,” when I had over 14,000 downloads in three days. But still, there were many fantastic books by well-known authors available during those five days. Why was mine #1? Mostly, it’s a mystery, and I’m humbled and grateful to everyone who downloaded. I still think a lot of this was “Wow, did I get lucky.” But here are some thoughts, based on my former career in marketing.  I pass them along in case they help somebody else who’s thinking, “Should I believe those KDP Select success stories and try it? Give up the ability to publish my books anyplace else? And if so, why the heck would I give a book away for FREE? Doesn’t that just devalue it?”

1) The Marketing Part. Marketing is pretty much a black art. I have an MBA in Marketing, and I quantify everything it’s possible to quantify, but after 10 years in publishing marketing, a lot of what I do is either common sense or instinct. Here’s some of it:

  • Cover, title, subtitle, blurb. Really, I think it was “Escape to New Zealand” that did the trick. Because who doesn’t want to escape to New Zealand? I sure did! You also need a cover that is appropriate for your genre, but is still eye-catching. In my case, I noticed that a lot of covers were dark, so mine are light. Get the covers professionally done, and consider getting professional help with your blurb. Cover, title, blurb: Those are the three things that sell your book, and you have only a fraction of a second to catch the reader’s attention. So polish them just as much as you did your prose.
  • Reviews. It’s better to do a free period once you have some reviews, like 10. I think one reason I did well this last time was because I had more than 30 reviews when the book went up, and the average rating was pretty good.
  • “Touches.” There’s a rule in marketing, especially direct mail marketing which is what I used to do, that it takes 7 to 12 “touches,” or impressions, to make a sale. That is, your book has to look familiar in order to reduce the risk of buying it, even if “buying” means clicking to download for free. I did some advertising and some book tours that I think may have helped.
  • Maximum information. I put a short excerpt from each book on the product page, so people wouldn’t have to click to “look inside” to see that the writing didn’t stink. Again, reducing the risk. The book may be free, but people don’t want to waste their time.

2) Why Give It Away for Free? As a marketer, it makes me kinda nuts when people, especially indie authors, ask this. The reason is, nobody knows who you are! You may have written the best book ever, but nobody’s heard of it. There are something like 1.5 million books in the Kindle store. Your big enemy is anonymity. Anything you can do to let people know about you is going to help you. And even if, yes, 115,000 people have got your book for FREE, there are millions more potential readers out there. But they don’t know about it!

Because Amazon shows the “free” listings right beside the paid ones, if your book gets into the Top 100 in its category during its free run, you are going to get a LOT of exposure. Even if it doesn’t, even if only 100 people download it, that is 100 people who didn’t know about it before. In any case, wouldn’t it be SO COOL to have even 100 people read the book you worked so hard to create, and to explore the world in which you’ve spent so many happy hours? The biggest thrill by far is when people write to tell me they enjoyed my book. That is just the best.

And yes, there is a sales bump after the free period. In my experience, you’ll have paid sales of, max, 5% of your free downloads–not only on the subsequent books, but also the free one. Yes, lots of people won’t read it, or at least not right away, and only about 0.1% of those who read it will review it. It’s not much, but it’s something–and a whole lot more than before the free period! In my case, two days after the free period ended, my Amazon “author rank” is #252, and all four of my books are in the Top 100 in their category. “Just This Once” is, as of this writing, #170 overall, #14 in Women’s Fiction, and #35 in Contemporary Romance in the Kindle Store. I could NEVER have done that without the exposure the free period provided.

***UPDATE: My overall “Amazon Author Rank” eventually reached 105, and “Just This Once” got all the way to 85 among all books in the Kindle store. (Didn’t stay there, but spent about five days in the Top 100.) And yes, people are buying the other books too, and even the paperbacks. January, after my free promo, turned out to be the tipping point for me. My sales have fluctuated, but I’ve stayed within the #120-1200 Author Rank in the eight months since the giveaway.

Caveats: I think the “free offer” thing works best if:

  • You write genre fiction (or cookbooks–they seem to do well too). Romance, mystery, thrillers seem especially good. But I’ve seen plenty of serious literature up there too.
  • You have a series, and you’re giving people the chance to buy the first book in the series (I actually gave away the first book and, when I was about to publish the fourth book, the SECOND book as well. You may think it’s crazy to do that, but all I can say is, it worked. See “millions of readers out there” remark above.) It also works if you have other books for them to buy if they liked your free book, even if it’s not a series.
  • You keep the price low after the book comes off “free.” (In my case, it’s 99 cents. I make almost no money on that, but again, at this stage, exposure is more important than money.)

All I can say is, thank heavens for KDP Select! And also, thanks to the agent who told me that “New Zealand rugby” wasn’t a good hook for a romance novel. She’s the reason I self-published. Because I was pretty convinced that it was.

 

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Lina Angelides
Lina Angelides
7 years ago

Once more, thanks for the books, all four finished now – what will I do now? lol.
How did you publish the paperbacks? I’ve looked at online publishers ie Lulu – did you use anything like that our KDP?
Look forward to your next book(s).
Lina

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
7 years ago
Reply to  Lina Angelides

Hi Lina, I used CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s paperback publishing arm. I’m only offering them on Amazon right now, but that’s mostly because I’m lazy about it, haven’t bothered. I mostly did the paperbacks for credibility/marketing, rather than expecting to sell a ton–by far, most of my sales are of the ebooks. But it’s fun to have “real” books too! And CreateSpace was pretty simple.

Lina Angelides
Lina Angelides
7 years ago
Reply to  Rosalind James

Oh, thanks for that Rosalind – I was looking at Lulu and hadn’t realised Amazon did something similar, will explore.
Your books, as I mentioned to you in an email, have inspired me and writing is underway!
tēnā rawa atu koe

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
7 years ago
Reply to  Lina Angelides

Good for you! That’s great!

Darlene
Darlene
7 years ago
Reply to  Rosalind James

Thanks for sharing your thoughts/strategies! Great info. Congratulations!

Michele Harvey
Michele Harvey
7 years ago

So far, your blog has been the most informative for me although I still find KDP select confusing. For example, books enrolled in KDP select are free from the Kindle Online Lending Library (KOLL) for Kindle Prime users. Don’t you make money when those books are borrowed? The free ones during the 5 day promotion don’t earn you any royalty but I’d like to hear about whether the KOLL benefitted you and other participating authors in KDP select. Thanks

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
7 years ago
Reply to  Michele Harvey

You’re right, you don’t make anything on the free books during the promotion. As far as the Lending Library–Yes, you make your percentage of the fund (latest, about $2.30/book borrowed, but it varies). I’ve found that KOLL borrows are about 10% of sales until you get into bigger numbers (like 10,000 or so books a month), then they’re about 15% of sales. Unfair, but there you go. When you’re not selling much at all, you won’t get borrows. People are looking for a more sure-fire thing for their one borrow per month, so they tend to go for books with… Read more »

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