Does KDP Select work?

Posted on September 5, 2012 (Subscribe to Blog)

Recently I opted into Amazon's KDP Select program for a 2-day free promo of Island of Fog. Was it worth it? You betcha! It's too early to tell about long-term effects, but I can give you a brief rundown of the days before, during, and immediately after the promo.

For the last couple of years, sales have trickled in at around 30 a month for all my Kindle and Nook books combined, or 1 sale a day. Sigh. Obviously this is better than nothing, but it's nowhere near enough to retire on. I always thought it would be useful to try a free promo. The thing is, I can easily give away my own book anytime I want, but it's better to give it away through Amazon so that the download statistics are recorded and affect ranking and so on. Unfortunately an author can't just change the price of his Kindle book to $0.00. Amazon won't allow it.

But they do offer the KDP Select program. KDP means Kindle Direct Publishing. I'm already part of KDP, but their KDP Select program is where you opt in for 90 days and, during that time, are able to choose up to five days to run a free book promo. Just what I want, right?

The reason I took so long trying out the KDP Select program on Island of Fog is because it demands that I make the digital edition of the book exclusive to Amazon's Kindle – which means removing Barnes & Noble's Nook edition for the duration. I hate the idea of a Nook customer prepared to buy my book and finding it to be unavailable. But heck, it's only for three months.

So on August 23, with some trepidation, I opted Island of Fog into the KDP Select program. This means that the digital edition is now exclusive to Amazon for 90 days (until November 20). You'll note that it's gone from Barnes & Noble even though the others in the series are still there.

I ran my first 2-day promo on August 29-30.

Before doing so, I spent a few days plugging my book on various websites, blogs, and Facebook pages. There are lots of places an author can do this for free, sometimes in advance of the promo (where you specify the forthcoming promo dates) and sometimes during the promo (where the book is only accepted if the price is currently $0.00). I submitted my free book to maybe 20-25 different places.

I was hopeful for a few thousand free downloads but, honestly, didn't expect more than a few hundred. The total was 6025 in the USA, India, UK, and Germany (of which 5834 were in the USA). During these two days, my ranking shot up. I'm not absolutely certain but I believe the ranking during this period is specifically a "FREE" ranking, separate from the usual "PAID" ranking. Anyway, before the promo, all my books were languishing around 110K in PAID. The promo boosted the Kindle Store rankings dramatically, sending Island of Fog to #50 FREE and the others to around 25-48K PAID:

After the promo, the ranking for Island of Fog switched from FREE back to PAID and ended up at 180K. Ouch. But it was temporary. Sales quickly boosted it up the ranks again, although not as high as before. But remember, we're now back in the PAID rankings along with the majority of everyone else. The rank has been hovering around 3000-6000 ever since.

Before the promo, from August 1-28, I had managed 28 sales. See? Literally 1 sale a day. Anyway, during and after the promo (August 29-31) another 67 sales came in. The average went from 1 up to 22 sales a day.

September's total sales quickly rose to 166 in four days, which is 41 sales a day. My sales rank was around 2500 for a while, and I was listed as a best seller under three categories. Then the rank dropped to around 4500 and I lost those best seller listings. As I write this, on the morning of September 5, my rank is 6451 and my sales are 172. It seems like it's slowing, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will keep going even if it's at a slightly slower pace. I'm aiming to renew my efforts in promoting the books.

The way ranking works is largely a mystery because Amazon keeps it secret. Still, plenty of smarter people than me have figured out that it's an algorithm based on the number of recent sales – in other words, if I sold 100 books in one hour, my ranking could shoot up to best-selling status along with the Big Names. Long-term sales figures don't seem to mean as much as you'd think on Amazon. It's the here and now that matters, or the "Movers and Shakers" as they're called.

Anyway, the point is that the number of sales per hour directly affects the ranks. I don't know what the exact figures are, but if I sell x number per hour then I start climbing the ranks, otherwise I start slipping again. If I climb high enough overall (say to around 3000) then I start showing as a best seller in certain categories. When that happens, sales increase because more readers find me. And as sales increase, so the rank climbs, and so on. By this reasoning, if I got to #1, I'd stay there forever – right?

The thing is, it's relatively easy to climb the ranks until you get near the top where all the big boys play. For example, if I launch a new book, its rank is probably going to start out somewhere around 2.5 million. Once I sell a couple, the rank jumps to a few hundred thousand. As I said earlier, my books were languishing around 100K based on the 1-sale-a-day average I was clinging to. Sell 15-30 a day and wham!, you leap up the ranks. But as you climb, it gets harder and harder to keep going. It's like a tall mountain. The first half is easy with its gentle slopes, plenty of space to move, and fairly easy competition. Near the top, though, it's much steeper and there are loads of really determined die-hard climbers fighting for room, elbow to elbow as they reach for the peak.

So I'm currently paused just below where the snow starts, looking up and wondering how I'm going to make it to the top. Still, looking down, I'm quite happy with the progress I've made in the last 10 days. :-)

A big THANK YOU to all those who gave me a helping hand up the slippery slope, whether you downloaded the free book, bought it, or promoted it for me.

Here's a quick list of places I promote my books at. Some of these are Facebook pages, while some are websites that also display listings on separate Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. The number of LIKES on a Facebook page is worth looking at; they range from a few hundred to several thousand. This list will change over time as I add more. Some sites are listed more than once because each list might be viewed at different stages of your promotion. Make sure you LIKE these nice people and respect their rules!

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Wednesday, September 5, 2012...

Wow, I loved reading your analysis and hearing all the good news with your sales. I will definitely be coming back to this post to try many of the handy links you tried. I am hoping to do some kindle select promoting of my next few books.

Wondering if you feel offering your books for free once and a while makes it less likely for readers to buy the book. Will some readers just wait until it's free?

My big question: I have several books not tied together in a series, so does offering one or two for free drive readers to try the other books not tied to the book that is for free?

Also, how many free books get downloaded by over eager readers and are never read?

I so want to see a free promo pay off with my books, but I am currently at the point where my sales are a trickle. All my reviews so far have been awesome. Do readers pay attention to reviews? I know it affects my interest in a book if I see some thoughtful reviews on Goodreads and amazon.

I think for your work, Keith, you have built such a sense of dependable delivery that more and more people see you as someone in this for the long haul.

I am so proud of you, and the drive your work displays.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Thursday, September 6, 2012...

Thanks Brian! Good questions worth delving into...

You asked, "Will some readers just wait until [the book is] free?" Well, possibly. Would you, though, as a reader? If you really, really wanted Island of Fog, I don't think $2.99 is a big price to pay. Or if you wanted it but were in no particular hurry, then sure, you could wait in case another free promo comes along — so in that sense I might lose a sale on the book. But if you liked the book enough, you'd hopefully buy the other books in the series anyway. So it's still a win-win for me.

Besides, the "lost sales" argument really only applies to people who KNOW about the book in the first place, ie, people who could have spent money on it but didn't. Think about the the 6000+ who downloaded my book for free during the promo. The vast majority of them probably browsed Amazon's "free books" categories and found my book that way. They would never have found it otherwise, therefore these are not lost sales but new readers. For me, that's 6000+ new readers who might buy the other books in the series.

That said, I won't be announcing a free promo weeks in advance. That would be foolhardy. A few days in advance will be sufficient! I'm pretty certain, though, that everyone reading this blog already owns Island of Fog, otherwise they wouldn't be here. :-)

As for non-series novels, I'd like to think that if a reader loves one of your freely downloaded books, he or she is going to be interested in what else you have to offer. Typically, if I like Book 1 of a series, I'll buy the others without question. Then I'll see what else the author has written and try those too, but only if the subject matter seems interesting. By that time, I already trust the author's writing skills — it's just a question of whether the story appeals to me. In fact, I'd say that readers would prefer to play safe and buy ten books from one author they really like than one book each from ten different authors.

I don't know how many books are downloaded for free and never read. I'm sure there's a ton! Some voracious readers seem to read the entire book within a day or two, others within weeks. Otherwise the book will probably gather cyberdust. Heck, there's no limit to the number of books in one's Kindle library. I bet some people have hundreds of free books sitting there, an entire bookshop of their own.

As for reviews, I believe most readers pay attention to them, but personally speaking, I look for negative reviews first. Sometimes a negative review is a case of sour grapes, which I ignore, but sometimes it offers an intelligent critique. I like to find out what's wrong with the book before I find out what's right with it. It's like when I book a hotel. I read the negative reviews first. If everyone is complaining about the terrible breakfast but otherwise it's a good hotel, and I don't plan on dragging myself out of bed until lunchtime anyway, then the terrible breakfast won't bother me. With books, I look for reviews about stuff that would upset me, like bad grammar, typos, protagonists that make unrealistic choices, and so on. If there are enough complaints of that nature, then I might not buy the book. Glowing reviews are fabulous to have if you're the author, but as a reader I look for reviews that offer genuine, fair critique.

All that said, at first glance people are naturally drawn to 4 or 5 star overall ratings. And I should have mentioned in my post above that some promotional websites will only promote your book if it has a 4+ rating with at least 5 (sometimes 10) reviews.

I also should have mentioned above that I'm now receiving "borrows," a feature that's only available with books enrolled in KDP Select. Basically, "Amazon Prime" members can borrow books, and the author earns royalties on those too. The royalty rate changes each month but currently seems to be around $1.70 per borrow — and I've had 62 borrows for Island of Fog in September. Go figure!

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Thursday, September 6, 2012...

Disappointed to hear some sites won't list if it doesn't have 5 reviews. I have four reviews for two of my books and all are 4 or 5 star. Drats.

Thanks again for sharing so much of your experiences.

Just wrote a chapter where Ned finally encounters a dragon. It was so delicious to write.

Comment by LIZ on Monday, October 22, 2012...

Mr. Robinson and Mr. Clopper, Just so you know - yes I did read the reviews, and while I greedily accepted 1 and 2 for "free", I did buy books 3, 4, and 5. I like Amazon's availability to borrow a book a month for "free" as a prime member. Please keep in mind that realistically if I, the customer, only use Amazon prime for reading books, that I am through the prime membership, paying around $6.50 for each "free borrowed" book. So for the first two books I wanted to check out how your writing skills were and whether the tale was worth the 5 book effort. I bought 3-5 right away for two reasons: (1) I knew I'd read them all before the next month and $2.99 was a really good price; and (2) I'd rather use my "free prime" borrowed book in November to try out another writer. Turns out I am now impatiently waiting for the Spring to come around. :) If other consumers are like me, you just need to continue with the advertising and point them to Amazon for another month. I promise - "free" is good, but for Amazon users, we are still paying...

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Monday, October 22, 2012...

Thanks for a customer's perspective, Liz! When someone borrows one of my books, I get paid almost the same as if that person had bought it. The current "royalty" is about $2.29 for a borrow and $2.74 for a purchase. As a customer, it's technically a free borrow... but since you don't use Amazon Prime for anything else, I wonder if it's worth it for you in the end? My wife has Amazon Prime and we take advantage of the better/free/faster shipping rates, so I'm sure we earn out our Prime fees in the end, and then of course any book borrows are a bonus. I guess it's how you use it that counts.

Thanks for your support in any case! Much appreciated. :-)

Comment by E.S. IVY on Saturday, July 6, 2013...

Thanks for your explanation of Kindle Select and your promotion efforts. I'm looking into planning what to do for release of Book 2 in a MG series and this was really helpful!

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Saturday, July 6, 2013...

You're welcome, E.S., and the best of luck to you!

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