KDP Select & Free Books

Last week, I pulled The Wheel Mages from iBooks and Smashwords (the places it was available other than Amazon) to enroll it in Amazon’s KDP Select Program. For those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, KDP Select is a program offered to authors who distribute their ebooks exclusively through Amazon. Read more here.

The benefits of KDP Select are that the author is able to offer promotions through Amazon where he/she/they can give the book away for free for a limited period or at a reduced cost also for a limited period. It also enrolls the book in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program where a reader can purchase unlimited digital downloads of books in the Kindle Unlimited Library for $9.99 a month (think Netflix for books).

First order of business for me was to run one of these promotions I’d heard so much about. So I did a giveaway blitz this weekend, impromptu (which probably doesn’t come so highly recommended, I think planning is usually better but this was a test run of sorts), and I learned some things! Which I will now share, along with the results of said promotion.

People like free stuff.

Okay, so maybe this doesn’t actually have to be said, but there are some lessons to be learned here. Let me start by saying I am one of those indie authors who really balks at the idea of giving my book away for free. I’ve done it before through Instafreebie with much, much less success, but it’s still not my favorite thing. I spent close to $5,000 on The Wheel Mages. I already think it’s worth more than its $3.99 sticker price, and I do genuinely wonder if authors (especially indie authors) hurt themselves by offering their books for free so frequently. There’s this thing in the creative professions where people often feel they have to do a lot of free work for “the exposure”. I wrinkle my nose when I hear that term. What other industries require you to do free labor “for the exposure”? My 9-5 is in the law, right? One of the many things I’ve learned in this field is that a lawyer doesn’t learn how to practice law at law school. Just like most other professionals, lawyers learn how to practice by training under a seasoned lawyer. But you don’t ask someone to go to law school, put in all that time, money, and effort, and then require them to work for a firm for free for awhile “for the exposure.” They need exposure, true, but they’re paid while they do it. So this free work for the exposure idea has never really sat well with me. It seems intrinsically devaluing to my labor and education.

Still, my artistic purity or sense of fairness or whatever was not helping me sell books. Exposure (I’m still cringing, y’all) helps sell books. For the record, I don’t actually think this “for the exposure” problem is soley an indie author problem. I think it’s abundant in all the arts and in traditional publishing as well. Traditional authors give their books away for free or reduced rates all the time too. Art just doesn’t have the value I feel it should. But I’m digressing again.

So, back to the things I learned. People like free stuff. A lot. Since The Wheel Mages came out in November, I’ve sold something like 104 copies across all platforms (digital and paperback combined). I surpassed that in digital downloads in less than hour of the book being listed as free on Amazon. An. Hour. With essentially no marketing, just a quick post on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

What does that tell me?

Well, it tells me people are, in fact, interested in reading the book. Which is good news. It means my cover and blurb are probably working, because even if the book is free, people aren’t going to download it unless they’re interested in maybe at some point reading it. I hope, anyway. So, as much as it pains me to know I’m giving away all these free copies, this was valuable information to gather and it did give me some sense of validation.

My target market is American.

Also might have gone without saying, but there are a lot of international book bloggers, Goodreads reviewers, and bookstagrammers out there, so I was curious about this.

Okay, so now seems like a good time for some data. Everyone likes data, right?

All total, I gave away 397 copies of The Wheel Mages. 311 of them were downloaded in the United States (78.3%). The next highest market for me was, unsurprisingly, Great Britain, where 36 copies were downloaded (9.1%). Mexico came in third with 18 copies (4.5%) and the only other country to come in with some decent numbers was Denmark (10 copies at 2.5%). I’m confused about where Canada and Australia (other large, English-speaking countries) are at, but whatever. Shoutout to Mexico and Denmark, y’all are awesome.

Anyway, what this tells me is that my audience is largely American and British, which isn’t surprising since Amazon is based in the U.S. and the United States has traditionally controlled this market. This information also mirrors ebook sales trends overall where the United States dominates the English-speaking market at 77% of total ebook sales with the UK right behind at 15%. Good news. I’m standard. This information also tells me where I should focus my marketing efforts and helps me determine which reviewers to target. Although I still love international reviewers, so if you’re one of those, don’t despair, I see you.

The first day of the promo goes better. Or maybe Saturdays are just better. Unclear.

More data. Saturday’s downloads (though I sold to less countries, interestingly) were higher. There were 224 downloads on Saturday (56.4% of total downloads) as compared to 173 on Sunday (43.6%). I’m sure a lot of factors go into this. I marketed a little bit more Saturday (I posted twice on Twitter on Saturday and twice on Facebook and on Sunday I didn’t post on Instagram at all). By Sunday maybe the novelty had worn off, or maybe Saturday is just a better day to download because you have the whole weekend in front of you. The jury is still out on this one, but I think if I do this again (I probably will), I’ll try a one-day download window maybe on a Friday or a Saturday. Now I’m honestly just curious. I like statistics, though I was never particularly good at it.

It doesn’t take that much to get your book to rise in Amazon’s bestsellers ranks. Which is good because visibility.

When you publish in an age group and genre as saturated as mine and one that’s mostly dominated by the powerhouses of traditional publishing, it’s hard to get anywhere in Amazon’s sales ranks. This means you’re basically relegated to the back pages of searches which isn’t at all all that helpful.

Giving the book away for free helped bump me up by stimulating lots of downloads over a short period of time. I’m not going to lie, this was a little bit exciting until I remembered I wasn’t actually making any money off these “sales” nor was I actually doing much of anything except letting my book float out there, but I think it’s worth mentioning because visibility is still important. And really, brain, can you let me have this one thing?

At one point, I reached #15 in YA fantasy coming of age books and #16 in epic fantasy which sounds niche but isn’t really. Anyway, I might have gone higher but this was as high as I caught it. Check it.

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For comparison purposes, I’m now #859 in Coming of Age and apparently so low in Epic Fantasy it’s not even worth Amazon mentioning it. So yeah, for a glorious moment, my book got to be on the very first page if someone searched “epic fantasy”. Which is actually kind of exciting to my nerd senses.

If you have a series, free books are helpful.

Okay, final point here because this is getting long. If you’re an author with a series, running a free book promo on the first book is helpful. Probably the most encouraging thing of the whole promotion is the effect it had on my preorders for The Blood Mage. They have doubled already. Okay, that may sound more dramatic than it is, because honestly, I had 3 preorders before the promo and I have 7 now, but seriously, that’s awesome. I’m not discrediting that. It means people downloaded the book, read the book, and liked the book enough to want to BUY the second one. That’s fantastic news, and as I’ve said before, every sale matters.

Have a great week everyone!

❤ Aimee

Next week on the blog: My feelings about Kindle Unlimited. Don’t want to miss it? Make sure to follow.

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10 thoughts on “KDP Select & Free Books

  1. Aimee, will you get data on how many of those people ‘read’ (or get a certain percentage through) your book? I’d be so curious about that too!

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    1. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for my nerves) no! The only data I get on pages read comes from the books from the KU library and even that isn’t a full picture because I only can see pages read not how many people checked it out or how far they read. So if I see 1,000 pages I don’t know if it’s 10 people reading 100 pages each or 2 people reading the whole thing. The only reason I could tell from this one was because it was clearly only 1 person. Anything more than that and it’s blurry. I’m also curious but I wonder if more information might serve to make me more neurotic 😜

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      1. Whoops! I actually realized I was responding to information you don’t have yet! I already wrote next week’s blog on Kindle Unlimited and its whole pages read tracking with graphs and everything and was responding thinking that was the blog I’d posted today! But it’s not… next week’s blog is about Kindle Unlimited and its pages read tracker so yes! There is more data but it’s still unclear in a lot of ways (as is my brain apparently).

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  2. Most interesting, and unfortunately, very sad. I can’t believe that many people only bought your hard work because it was free. What does that say about our society? We will pay hundreds of dollars to go see singers, movies or sports, but won’t pay 3.99 for a piece of lIterature, something that they can keep forever and enjoy again and again. I’m glad your book has reached a new audience and I hope this translates into real sales as the ranking rises and Word gets out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s a really frustrating part of the business for me, although I try to tell myself it’s less of a reflection on me than it is on branding and marketing in general, in some ways. I think it’s like that in every field, tbh. You don’t start making real money until you’re visible/known. I mean, you’re right, we do spend hundreds on, for example, singers, BUT we only spend that kind of money on well-known singers. I’ve definitely been to concerts where the band isn’t that well known that were free or super low cost, then when the band gets big, their ticket prices increase. Gotta spend money to make money or something, right?

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  3. Aimee,

    Glad to hear that you decided to go Select; I really do think it’s the best thing for new authors. Close to 60% of my income has been from pages read. Note, though, that promos are not the biggest advantage, imo, of Select. The biggest impact is that Amazon counts a borrow the same as a sell in their algorithms. Thus, 1 book sold + 1 book borrowed gives the same rise in rank as 2 books sold. Considering that 60% of my money comes from borrows, that means Select more than doubles my visibility. (I think, but am not at all positive, that a free download is counted as 1/10 of a book sold.)

    Most authors consider the use of paid sites to advertise promos an integral part of their launch strategy and marketing. A few thoughts on that for when you’re ready:

    – There are three ways that discounting a book + paying promo sites earn you money. 1) Direct revenue for sales during the promo (if you’re at .99 instead of free). 2) Tail – the increase in sales you get from the rise in rank that the promo gives you. 3) Sell-Through – sequels and any back-catalog books sold.
    – Maximize tail by maximizing Amazon rank. Amazon’s algorithm (according to someone I trust who has done the math) seems to favor increasing sales over a number of days. Thus, it’s best to start your promo with small sites, move to medium sized ones in the middle, and save the larger ones for the end.
    – It is very difficult to get a positive ROI when you only have one or two books in a series out. Paid promos are far more effective after your series are finished.

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    1. Thanks for the insightful comment as always! I didn’t know that about 1/10 of a free book in terms of sales ranks, that’s really interesting! So it looks like my initial impression about not having to do so much to move up in ranks is right but it’s actually even less than I originally thought you had to do, lol!

      I did actually try a go with BookBub a few weeks ago, but was rejected. I thought I probably would be as I understand a lot of their criteria has to do with how visible your book already is (in terms of number of reviews and such) and that they’re more likely to accept a book if there are more books in the series out, so my editor recommended I try again sometime after the second book is out, which I will probably do. Unfortunately, I’m running very low on income to throw at a third book right now, so I’m going to have to either get these two to make me some of my investment back or slow waaaaay down in my publishing schedule until I can save up more money/finish paying off the costs of the second book. Which might be good as I’m actually getting ready to potentially pitch a separate manuscript traditionally as well, so we shall see!

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      1. If I remember correctly from your previous posts, the price you pay for editing is really in line with that traditionally published authors pay. Indie authors … tend to pay a lot less. My production costs per book (editing + cover) average well under $1000 each.

        Until I gain a much larger audience, it’s hard to count on a book earning more than $2,000 to $3,000. The only way I can keep producing books is to keep my costs down.

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  4. I’m very particular about editors and editing and am really happy with my current team. Their prices are actually quite reasonable for the amount of work they put into my manuscripts, so while I have seen editors charging less, I wouldn’t change mine 🙂

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