Note: The most important book on self-publishing I’ve ever read is now available here.
For a long time I ragged on Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Select program for self-published authors. (Case in point.)
If you’re unaware, KDP Select is a program that allows self-published authors a few unique promotion opportunities in exchange for being exclusive to Amazon. That means if you enroll a book in KDP Select you can’t sell it anywhere else, including your own website.
The main benefits are your book is added to the Kindle Lending Library where you get ~$2 each time your book is borrowed. And you also get 5 free promo days for every 90 days your book is enrolled in KDP Select. That means you can make your book free on Amazon and hopefully earn a bunch of new readers. (Luxury of Less is free right now, for example.)
Late last November I decided to give KDP Select a shot. I didn’t feel I could keep talking trash about it without knowing personally how it worked and what it did.
The following are my results. After which I’ll share insights from five other self-published authors.
First KDP Select Free Promo: 3 Days (December 17, 18, 19)
From December 1 – December 16 Luxury of Less had 46 sales, 1 refund, and 7 borrows. Each sale is worth $2 and each borrow is worth about $2. 52 sales/borrows x $2 = $104.
This isn’t very good. And one of the reasons I decided to give KDP Select a shot. Throughout the year sales started dwindling. A few hundred sales/month turned into barely 100 sales/month. Increasing sales of this book isn’t anywhere near a priority for me, but if I could do it with minimum effort I’d do what I could.
I didn’t do any research into optimal free promo day strategy so I decided to initially go with 3 days free, beginning on December 17. Those 3 days were phenomenal.
11,577 people downloaded Luxury of Less for free and it shot up to #16 on the Top 100 Amazon.com Free List.
237 sales, 11 refunds, 235 borrows.
All told, $871.75 profit from Amazon US for December 2012. (Plus another ~$50 from all the other Amazon stores combined.) Granted ~$900 isn’t a King’s ransom, but it was the best month Luxury of Less had ever had on Amazon. The only month that topped this was when I launched Luxury of Less on October 4, 2010 and generated $45k (revenue, not profit), but that story’s been told (and they were direct non-Amazon sales).
The free promotion bounce-back (meaning, increased sales) I’d heard others mention was legit. I was on track to barely pull in $200 from the book in December, but pulled in nearly $900 instead due to the extra visibility of the free promo days.
Second KDP Select Promotion: 2 days (January 17, 18)
By now I was nearly convinced that KDP Select legitimately helped authors build a readership and sell books.
From January 1-16 I had 95 sales, 3 refunds, and 30 borrows so things began sliding back to normal again. There was still a little bit of the bounce-back effect, but I was looking at finishing the month with less than 200 sales and about 50 borrows.
Would a second free promo bring with it a second solid showing of sales?
In 2 days I gave away 2,750 copies for free. Not bad, but no rushing up the Top 100 charts this time.
The month ended with 165 sales, 4 refunds, and 37 borrows. No sales bounce-back after the free promo. In actuality, it seems sales regressed even more.
Total profit for January 2013 was $390.32. To compare year-over-year, in January 2012 the book made $523.14 on Amazon and I wasn’t enrolled in KDP Select at the time. Meaning, I could also sell it from any other book seller I wanted.
What I was particularly interested in was Month 3, February, when I wouldn’t have any free promo days left to use. I failed to be clear earlier, but KDP Select is a 90 day program and you can either quit or re-enroll after 90 days. With where sales were headed I didn’t think I’d re-enroll and February would be a good indicator of the long-term effects of KDP Select.
February 2013 looked like this: 70 sales, 1 refund, 7 borrows. In other words: horrible. Total profit: $149.85.
My 3 month average profit during KDP Select enrollment: $470.64. This is less than Luxury of Less was making in an average month for most of 2011 and 2012.
March 2013 is even worse. So far (March 1-17) I’ve got 20 sales, 1 refund, and 5 borrows. The worst month I’ve ever had on Amazon. But even if KDP Select’s boost is only temporary, it was quite a boost the first time. Enough of a boost that I decided to enroll in KDP Select for one more 90 day period to see if I could repeat the same success
Which is why Luxury of Less is free again right now. Go download it. I’m using up all 5 free promo days all at once. I’ll report how it goes at some point in the future.
5 Self-Published Authors Weigh In On KDP Select
Hearing from me is one thing, but my results and opinions on KDP Select are just that, mine. So I reached out to some friends to see what they had to say.
- Colin Wright is the co-founder of Asymmetrical Press and author of Iceland India Interstate.
- Joshua Fields Millburn blogs at TheMinimalists.com and is the author of As A Decade Fades.
- Johnny B. Truant blogs at JohnnyBTruant.com and is the author of the Fat Vampire series.
- Sean Platt can be found at SeanMPlatt.com and is the co-author of the serialized fiction series Yesterday’s Gone.
- Betsy Talbot blogs at Married With Luggage and is the co-author of Dream Save Do.
Let’s do this round-table interview-style. (Not as cool as Gangnam Style, I’m sorry to say.)
1) Why did you decide to use KDP Select, thereby making your book exclusive to Amazon and unsellable everywhere else?
Colin: I thought I would give it a try. I only have one book tied up in negotiations from outside parties, and 3 months isn’t a terribly long time. The benefits also seemed interesting — being able to promo books for free through the Kindle ecosystem, especially.
Joshua: I like to test things out—to grow by learning, by doing, by failing from time to time. Fortunately, this little experiment wasn’t a failure for me.
Johnny: I think KDP Select is unparalleled as the start to a marketing funnel for books, meaning that it is, IMO, of limited use to people who only have one book and no backend off of that book. But for a series, KDP allows me to make one book free to drive sales of the others, which it reliably does. It gets people off of their asses to check me out who wouldn’t have otherwise.
Also, KDP Select plus an email list is the fucking magic formula. Take my book Fat Vampire 3. I made it free and it sold some on its own, but then I told my list and 505 people clicked through in the first few hours to get it. Those downloads drove it right up the chart and will continue to do so. It’ll peak tomorrow in all likelihood, then possibly back down as the promo ends. Right now, it’s ranked 515 overall and #15 in the horror charts. Once it’s visible like that (horror is a big, popular category), the “WTF” factor and a good cover/title will cause people who wouldn’t otherwise have seen it to download it, causing it to rise higher. The current #1 horror book is ranked #62 overall. I’m not saying I’ll got that high, but if I did, top 100 is a BFD in terms of maximizing the funnel stuff and the sales bump that happens when a book comes off of free.
The other stores don’t let you play this little game. You have to get “discovered” there, whereas free promos on Amazon allow you to send yourself up the charts, driving sales on all of your books.
Sean: We have specific funnels for all of our titles, with several episodes leading into a season. Because of this, using KDP Select to make an episode free drives purchases towards sales of that first season. While building our publishing business last year, and trying to move as many different series to market as possible, it made most sense to focus our efforts on production, and keep our titles in one place. No one besides Amazon had the reach, and coupled with the ability to flip a switch and turn our titles free and work our funnels, it was an easy decision. When we were on Nook and iPad, they accounted for roughly 5% of our sales.
Betsy: Another author friend recommended the program to us as a way to climb in the rankings using the 5 “free” days. We had 2 books out at the time, and the majority of our sales were already coming from Amazon (more than 90%), so we didn’t see it as a big risk.
2) What have been your results? # of free downloads? # of sales (and lending library borrows)? Or more generally, did you see an increase in sales after joining KDP Select or after a free promo?
Colin: For the free promos, I’ve had about 5-10k for nonfiction, and 1-3k for fiction (though these numbers may be skew, since I’m very new to fiction). I’ve had little traction on the lending library — a few dozen reads, tops.
Joshua: I made my last book free for five days and received just over 21,000 downloads. I’ve had other books get 5,000–13,000 downloads in a five-day period. Part of the success (i.e., the reason for these numbers) has to do, partly, with the my already-established audience. That said, I’ve been able to attract a ton of new readers by offering my work for free for a short period, which has led to increased sales after the promotional periods, as well as on my other books.
Johnny: I don’t see any benefit of being in Select other than during promos except for borrows, but there aren’t many of those. Typically 10ish a month for a decently popular title, maybe. But during the promos, I’ll often see 750 downloads or so in the first day. That’s what I can get on my own if I’m lucky. But what you really want is to get picked up by pixelofink.com. It’s kind of a crapshoot (except that they pick up popular books with a lot of reviews more often than others), but if they DO pick you up, a 2-3 day promo can drive 20K plus downloads. I haven’t seen this yet, but Sean and Dave have.
Promos benefit sales in two ways:
- Sales of the book that was on promo after the promo ends. There are always a handful of these. It’s a nice bump and always exceeds what you’d normally get in the same time by maybe 2-3x… if you’d have gotten ANY sales without the promo. This effect used to be huge, but Amazon changed their algorithms, so now this is an “icing on the cake” thing that ends up being minor.
- Sales of other related books. THIS is why you do promos. For instance, downloads of Fat Vampire 3 are already driving sales of FV 1 and 2, because people what to read those first. Last month, a promo on FV 2 did the same for immediate sales on FV 1. Conversely, when I do a promo on 1, I see sales of 2 (and next time, surely 3 as well), but those sales take longer to trickle in.
This effect is cumulative, and you’ll get more out of it each time. It’s like having regular sales to boost your business and is pretty damn reliable if you have several related titles.
Sean: Yes, 100% of the time we have seen a spike in sales after a KDP Select promotion. However, I must clarify that this is primarily due to us having funnels in place, built to capitalize on one free title leading into other paid titles. Most authors do not do this and are then disappointed when they don’t see results, post promotion.
Betsy: We had over 5000 free downloads of our first KDP Select book, Getting Rid of It: Eliminate the Clutter in Your Life. This pushed the book up in the Amazon algorithm, meaning more shoppers saw it as a recommended book, and we saw our sales increase 20% long-term because of it. In fact, it is still our best-selling book. What helped even further was having a sneak peek of our other book, Dream Save Do: An Action Plan for Dreamers, at the end, which also boosted its sales over time. But we were lucky to get our book in during the early days of KDP Select, because later the algorithm changed to make free downloads count for much less than actual purchases. We didn’t know this, of course, because Amazon doesn’t publish this info. So when we launched our third book, Strip Off Your Fear: Slip Into Something More Confident, the thousand downloads on launch day didn’t do a thing for our ranking or long-term sales. In hindsight, it was a mistake to launch as a free day and to count on the bump in the algorithm from it.
3) Did you previously sell any of your books on other platforms? If so, how did they do?
Colin: I used Smashwords for a while, but the books that seem to do best there are romance and mysteries — things where people get favorite pulp writers and stick with them. I’ve also used iBooks, but the extra hoops you have to jump through to publish wasn’t worth it (I may try them again soon, however, as the process has changed since I last used it, and it does seem to be the best option for image-heavy published materials at the moment). I tried Nook and only had a few sales, so despite it being crazy-easy to publish to, it wasn’t worth spreading myself that thin. Interested to see how Kobo does, but I think for the moment it’s Amazon’s game and we’re all just playing it.
Joshua: Yes, I’ve tried all of them: Nook, Smashwords, taped to the side of bathroom stalls, etc. But now, all seven of my books are available only in print (high-quality trade paperback via Create Space) and on Kindle, five of which books are available in audiobook format (via ACX.com which distributes to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes), all of which formats (i.e., paperback, Kindle, audiobook) are linked to my Amazon Author Central page.
Johnny: I put my book “The Bialy Pimps” on Nook and Apple. I don’t believe it sells at all. It’s an effort vs. reward thing. I could do it and get sales, but it’s not enough to be worth my time, IMO, when I could spend that time writing more instead.
However, The Bialy Pimps wouldn’t be a good KDP Select candidate anyway, because it’s only one book.
Sean: Yes, we originally had Yesterday’s Gone on all other platforms. It did abysmally. We do believe it will do better the second time around, once we have the additional titles to back up the first. We are now starting the process of migrating our entire library, starting with Yesterday’s Gone Season One. All other titles will follow, on all platforms.
Betsy: We previously sold both Getting Rid of It and Dream Save Do as PDFs on our website and through E-Junkie. They did okay, but you really need a bigger platform. Your audience will either buy it or not, and after that you need new visitors. A site like Amazon is perfect for aligning your books with buyer needs.
4) Will you continue to renew your KDP Select membership every 90 days? Are you open to testing other platforms or are you convinced Amazon is the way?
Colin: I will for my fiction, for the time being. I think it really has the potential to be a great program, but at the moment there’s little draw for folks who aren’t already heavy-sellers. If Amazon provided more promo — did some digging for hidden gems — I think they’d draw a lot more authors to the dinner table and expand their library greatly.
I’m absolutely open to testing other platforms. Amazon has the best ecosystem right now, but I’m hoping someone else steps up and becomes the Pepsi to Amazon’s Coca-Cola. We need that kind of competition, as much as I generally like how Amazon does things.
Joshua: I’ve renewed several times already. I will continue to do so as long as I continue to find value.
Johnny: As above, I just don’t see the need right now [to test other platforms]. It’s not that I’m convinced Amazon is the way, but applying the 80/20 rule, it’s where I want to put my time. I do continue to renew.
Sean: Yes, I believe for us 100% of our titles for the time being will start their life as Amazon Select titles for the first 90 days so we can take full advantage of the free promotion, then they will “graduate” away from Select and onto other platforms.
Betsy: We decided not to renew after our last couple of free days didn’t give us good long-term results. Nothing ever beat our first experience, which was back when free downloads were counted the same as purchases. How I wish it were still true! Now we have our books in print and ebook through all the major retailers.
Luxury of Less is free from March 18 until end of day March 22.