Amazon’s KDP – sharing experiences

By PD Martin

We’ve had a few blogs recently on ebooks, including discussions in the Comments on sales figures, Amazon’s Lending Library and Kindle Select. I’m hoping there are others out there who felt their appetite was whetted rather than sated and that perhaps a full blog JUST on those two aspects would be interesting. I’m not saying I have the answers (in fact, I have a few questions!), but I wanted to open the discussions up and share my experiences. And I’ve got an important question for readers, too ๐Ÿ™‚

For those of you who aren’t aware, Amazon’s Kindle Select means the author must offer their book exclusively via Amazon, and in return that book can be borrowed (and you get $ for each borrow) and you can use five free promo days a month. The free promo days mean you offer your book for free and it heads up the charts. Hopefully!

So, a recap on the more recent ebook posts here at Murderati:

Former Murderati Brett Battles blogged on his secrets to success 
I blogged on the sweet spot for ebook pricing 

Alex blogged on her epublishing decision 

Zoe blogged on modern manners and social media 

Now you’re all caught up. 

So, Kindle Select. I did my first Kindle Select campaign with Coming Home back in May. I set it to run for 48 hours but after less than 24 hours, over 5,500 copies had been downloaded. I was excited and alarmed. Do I really want THAT many people to get my work for free? I foolishly stopped the campaign. I was in the top 40 of Kindle and #6 for Suspense (or was it mystery & thriller). Of course, later I realised the error of my ways, especially when Brett talked about 30-40K of downloads over three days.  

However, back in May I was excited by my first, tentative step into the Select program. You see, I saw a sales spike when I took Coming Home off the free promotion. In the following 48 hours I sold roughly four months’ worth of sales and I thought: “This is it. I just put one of my books up for free every couple of weeks and I can boost my ebook income.” I should also note, I didn’t do ANY promotion. Not even on Facebook or Twitter (I didn’t want to tell my readers and fans that they’d bought the book for $2.99, but others could get it free).

Anyway, a few weeks later I decided it was time to spike my sales again. So I put Coming Home up for a two-day free stint. Again, no advertising or promotion of the freebie. This result was COMPLETELY different. WTF? I got like maybe 300 free downloads. WTF? 

David DeLee mentioned in his comment on Alex’s blog that his more recent results with his free days haven’t been as good as in the past, and I’m wondering if maybe the first time you put it up for free Amazon ‘realises’ and advertises it some way? And Brett’s post mentioned that results haven’t been as earth-shattering recently either. So what gives?

It seems now we need to advertise and promote our freebies. Perhaps through social media (but we don’t want to turn people off – think back to Zoe’s blog last week) and maybe through blogs (Alex’s post on Tuesday is relevant to this one). 

Or is something else changing? Simply more players in the market, more authors going in for the free promos? Or maybe it’s something more complex. On Tuesday, Alex talked about the Amazon algorithm. Anyone out there give me more info on this? I’m not sure if this is to do with the ‘We recommend’ emails Amazon sends out or the free promo stuff. 

And finally, Amazon’s Prime Library. Again on Alex’s epublishing post, Robert Gregory Browne talked about some pretty high numbers in the lending department. But I’m literally getting lends in the double digits per month. So how do we promote our books in the Lending Library to get a share of that $600,000/month?

I do also have an important question for readers out there …would you be disappointed or annoyed in any way if you’d paid for an author’s work and discovered it was free a few days (or weeks) later? 

See…told you I had questions! 

19 thoughts on “Amazon’s KDP – sharing experiences

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    PD, you raise a lot of issues! Well, there ARE a lot of issues. I'm compiling some of the things I've learned so far, but I also don't want to burn out our readers with all of this scary e book stuff, so I'm trying to do it in stages.

    To address some of your questions – as I understand it, Amazon changed the algorithm and ranking system in May, so yes, it is NOT the easy ride to KDP Select success that it once was. Also, the second run of a free promo on the same book is not going to give you the same numbers as the first, because people have seen it already and assume they have it whether they do or not. There ARE a lot more authors running free promos, so there's a lot more competition. The Big Six publishers are also counteracting with their own free and cheap promos with massive advertising budgets.

    And yes, you SHOULDN'T have stopped your initial promo on the first day. I've found through doing this three times now that there's a snowball effect and you don't get the really good numbers until Day Three, after which you need to be watching closely and stop the giveaway if your numbers start to drop. That's okay, you know for next time!

    But I gave away 38,000 copies of Huntress Moon last week, and the book is now on the bestseller charts of all my genres and also being promoted as an Amazon Hot New Release. So I did it after the algorithm change, Rob did it after the algorithm change – it can be done.

    However – I think your chances of making it work increase exponentially with targeted promotion. And that's a a tricky thing, because NONE of us want to burn out our loyal readers with promo overload. That's just a rotten thing to do, we all hate it. So I think the key is being on the lookout for ways to reach people who don't know anything about us but might be interested in our books, and get the word out to them.

    It's a lot of work. Brett said it and he couldn't be more right – you have to run your career like a small business – and STILL make sure that you're giving yourself the time and space to do your best writing.

  2. Mike Cane

    >>>would you be disappointed or annoyed in any way if youโ€™d paid for an authorโ€™s work and discovered it was free a few days (or weeks) later?

    I think giving it away for free is doing more harm to writers than good.

    Do you know how many freebies are out there? EVERY DAY Kindle Nation Daily touts between 200 to 300 NEW freebies. That's EVERY DAY. And then there's the new Zero Dollar Books site that highlights the "better" of the free. That can be good for maybe 20-50 FREE books per week.

    I now have over 3,000 (not a typo) FREE Kindle books. Some writers have wound up giving away their entire work — so what is there left to me to buy to support them?

    My advice to is to stop ALL the freebies. Pros should abandon free and leave it to those who aren't pro. Why should pros compete with sludge that was done because someone *thought* they could write and banged out some crap during NaNoWriMo?

    If you want to do a promo, make it ninety-nine cents for a short time during the pre-Xmas or post-Xmas (choose ONE) season. Make people PAY so they'll VALUE it.

  3. Larry Gasper

    I wouldn't be upset if I'd already paid for a book and it came up for free. That's just the luck of the draw. I follow "Must Read Mysteries" on Facebook and there are free and cheap books by the dozen every day. I've found I've started passing on free books. I've got more than a hundred books backed up on my Kindle and don't see the point of adding more to the pile when I don't have time to read them all.

  4. Lisa Alber

    Hi there,

    I wouldn't be pissed if a book came up for free that I'd recently bought…That's the way it goes, and I think most Kindle owners know the drill…

    I'm glad you-all are discussing your epublishing adventures. I'm learning alot!

    Cheers, Lisa

  5. David DeLee

    I wonder if having a higher number of titles and higher prices have anything to do with it? I remember hearing somewhere Amazon was shifting the algorithms to favor higher priced work. I have seventeen titles up but all except five of them are short stories and priced at 0.99.
    I've spent the last two weeks researching and posting on marketing and promoting sites and haven't seen much of an uptic in anything as for as ranking and/or sales. So maybe, I'll just write more novella and novel length stuff and sell it for a higher price.
    A friend on another site coined the acronym WIBBOW (Would I be better off writing) rather than all this marketing stuff, and I think that's what I'm going to do. At least that I can control.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Mike, I think you raise some completely EXCELLENT points, and you might be entirely right about every one of them.

    But as a traditionally published author who is just now foraying into e pub, I can tell you that traditional publishers give away THOUSANDS of books to promote their authors, it's basic marketing. I was always praying for the most giveaways possible. So the fact that Amazon has made it possible for me to do the giveaways myself and reach even more potential readers that way – is just miraculous to me.

    I know for sure that most of the people who download my giveaways will never read them. Just like most of the ARCs and free books my publisher gives away will never be read. That's just life.

    But I trust that my books are good enough that a good number of people who DO actually read them will want to read more of my books. Many more, in fact. And that's where the future sales come in.

    That's the principle, as I understand it.

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lisa and Larry, I agree! And the authors I want to read – I'll pay full price for anyway, even if I grumble about publisher price fixing. Readers are obsessive, loyal, and actually fair, I find – we WANT to support our authors.

  8. PD Martin

    Sorry, all. As usual I'm late with Comments because of the time difference. It's morning here in Oz!


    Alex, thanks for the info and numbers for Huntress Moon. Next week I'm actually giving one of my middle grade/YA books away and I did select 3 days so your feedback is perfect timing. It will be interesting to see how Grounded Spirits goes next week, although I know figures are generally lower with middle grade/YA. I actually love reading middle grade and YA, but I know lots of adults don't. Harry Potter is the exception…or mums who read Twilight or Hunger Games before their kids!

    And thanks for confirming the algorithm IS to do with the Select freebies.

  9. KDJames

    I think part of the drop-off in readers picking up free books is simply overload. Back when the concept was new (Dec-Jan) it was sort of a dogpile. Free? Oh god yes, let me click on ALL THE BOOKS. But I think readers quickly realized (or at least, I did) that there's no way you're ever going to read all those books. And they become a sort of spam clogging up your TBR list when you're trying to decide what to read next. "Where did this come from? Who is this writer? Did I want to read this?" I know I've become much more selective about what I'll download for free.

    And yes, I agree with Mike Cane, it's true that people put more value on things they pay for. Then again, as someone without a fan base or a track record of sales (and even though I'm not "pro," I'd hardly define myself as "sludge" — do you see any middle ground, Mike?), I hold out hope that a few readers might someday read the free download of my book and enjoy it and come looking for more.

    Of course, it doesn't help that I'm about to publish under a new pen name in a completely different genre. Sigh. So it goes.

    Y'know, back before ebooks, all my very wise published friends kept repeating the admonition that it's all a big crap shoot. Well as far as I can tell, it still is.

  10. PD Martin

    Mike, very interesting perspective and thanks so much for voicing it. There is part of me that has this exact niggling feeling. Already my ebooks are 'cheap' — $2.99 and $3.99 — and I worry that free (or even $0.99 for a full novella or novel) devalues the work. Devalues MY hard work and the hard work of ALL authors out there.

    Plus, I've only recently joined the ranks of Kindle owners and already I'm 'over' freebies. I found particularly the children's picture books (which I downloaded for my daughter) are terrible. I deleted most of them once I'd flipped through them. Mind you, I have nowhere near a 100, let alone 3,000. That's a lot of books ๐Ÿ™‚ Having said that, I've also picked up some great free books by established authors who are selling well. Even Murderati's Zoe Sharp – I got her Fox #1 as a freebie, and then downloaded number 2 once I'd finished the first.

    And very funny re NaNoWriMo ๐Ÿ™‚

    Now, I would have left this comment at that…except Alex responded before I got online this morning and she does bring up a good point. Traditional publishers do organise giveaways. Mmm….

    It really is a catch 22. On the one hand, the danger is that it devalues your work AND with so many authors doing freebies, Kindle owners might NEVER buy/pay for a book. Big problem. On the other hand, it can really help to boost your book's ranking, which means many other people notice and buy your work. Plus in the ideal world it has a flow-on effect for your other work. Just like I bought Zoe's Fox #2.

    Great points on this one, Mike and Alex!

  11. PD Martin

    Hi Larry. Yes, I'm passing on free books, too, even though my Kindle list is much smaller than yours. I don't get much time to read (shocking for an author, I know) so I have to be realistic about what to download.

    Lisa, thanks for letting me know about your feelings of a book being free after you'd paid $ for it! And I'm glad you're learning a lot. I am, too ๐Ÿ™‚


  12. PD Martin

    David, I like WIBBOW, too. And it's pretty much exactly what Alex was questioning in her blog on Tuesday. Are we better off just to write and get more books out there than spend time doing social marketing and promos? Quite possibly, yes! And that's interesting about the price point. Perhaps the shift is away from the $0.99 price point. The pricing info from Smashwords I posted in my blog a couple of weeks back did show sales peaks at $0.99 and $2.99 but I'm sure all that data is very fluid. It could easily have changed just in the past month or so.

    Regardless, once I've caught up with my Murderati comments I'm going to write! Hope you're doing the same ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. PD Martin

    KD, I think you're right. It's free, it's free…click, click, click! And I know exactly what you mean about some of the 'free' titles 'clogging up' your Kindle and TBR list. Very interesting analogy re spam. It may well be that within a few months authors stop doing free for this very reason. But who knows, huh?

    And I think there is a middle ground (and a massive middle ground, at that) between sludge and 'pros' – who I think can probably be loosely defined as authors who've been published by traditional publishers in the past. There are lots of success stories out there of authors who got rejected by agents (or publishers) and then went on to build a solid ebook list and even hit the best seller lists. And for every one of those, there are probably a thousand excellent writers who haven't 'made' it. And that's the difficulty with this business (traditional publishing AND ebooks) no one seems to know why some authors take off and some done. My publicist once said that very thing to me. There was a lot of buzz about a particular author whose sales were doing extremely well (way better than mine) and she said "Your books are just as good, if not better, than his. I've been in this business for 20 years and I still don't know why some books take off and others don't."

    Obviously these words are kind of comforting and kind of not!

    I'm doing the different pen name thing at the moment, too. It is hard – starting a new 'brand'. I've just changed all my book descriptions of my Pippa Dee novels to start with this: "Grounded Spirits is a new offering from author PD Martin, whose first five crime fiction novels have been published in 13 countries to date." Not sure if that will help or not but I figure at least it shows people upfront that I'm 'established' under another pen name.

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Honestly, I think the rhythm and proportion is probably just exactly the same now with e books as it is with trad pub: About nine months just cocooning with writing and never getting dressed, and three months having mani/pedicures and putting on the good clothes and doing heavy burnout promotion, either running around the country or running around online.

  15. PD Martin

    Alex, you've helped me identify my promo problems. I don't get enough manicures and pedicures! And come to think of it, I probably need new clothes, too.

  16. Alexandra Sokoloff

    P, if you knew how much I HATE sitting still for a mani/pedi (except for the massage. THAT you can do all day long…)

    But when you reach for that book to sign it, and your hands are the only thing the reader is looking at….

  17. Reine

    PD, I have enjoyed all the posts about marketing and ebook promotions. It is interesting as a reader and a writer. To answer your question, I never wait for the price of a book to come down if I want to read it. For that reason I am sure I would not be angry were I to miss out on a free download.

    Rarely do I download freebies that have not been promoted on author and book websites that I enjoy and respect. It is very unusual for me to happen upon a free download offer while browsing. Lately free downloads seem overabundant. I don't understand why, but I now find myself feeling pressured by them. It doesn't make sense to me, but I do feel that. I hope I get over it soon.

    About the results with free download days not being as good as in the past– I wonder if this has anything to do with a kind of flooding making certain books seem less valuable. Maybe appreciation is lost after a critical point determined by a yet-to-be discovered formula like P รท E ยฑ F x G = -B [Author popularity divided by exposure, plus or minus perceived future availability, times the genre, equals fewer bites for the freebie with fewer post-freebie sales]. Mm. Marketing cannot use the reliable math of high school algebra or the good-enough calculations of aerodynamics. Publishers try to use it. As writers you know what that leads to.

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