Saturday, 30 November 2013

KDP Select - What is it and should you use it?


When I brought out my first book, The Five Day Writer's Retreat, in March this year, I didn't enrol in Amazon's KDP Select program. However, bringing out my most recent book, The Nice Guy's Guide To Online Dating Profiles, just two weeks ago, I've decided to enrol it and see how it goes. I get a lot of questions about KDP Select, so let me explain my reasoning and how it is useful.

First of all, what is KDP Select?
Amazon's ebook self-publishing platform is called KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). It is the easiest way to get an ebook listed on Amazon, you just go to their website, sign up and then load your book up through them (you need to have it all formatted and the cover already created, you just upload it and they turn it into an appropriate file format and put it on for you).

When you upload your title to KDP, you will be offered the chance to join KDP Select, which is slightly different to just KDP. KDP Select is a program that you enrol in for 90 days at a time. With this program, you promise that you will exclusively sell this ebook through Amazon for the 90 days (though you can do what you want with hardcopies), in return they give a number of benefits such as higher royalties in certain countries, the chance to be paid for Amazon Prime members to 'borrow' your book, and the chance to do a temporary promotion of your book for free, just for 5 days within the 90.

When I brought out my first book, I was put off by the fact that I couldn't sell my book elsewhere. I wanted to sell it through my own website, as well as use Smashwords to get it onto Barnes and Noble, iBooks, etc. I assumed that the sales from these other avenues would make up for any benefits that the program could offer.

My other logic was that the biggest thing they offer is that you can give your book away for free. However, I didn't want to give my book away for free! I had worked hard, and it deserved to be paid! So, they could just keep their program.

Since then, I've realised a few things:
1. For the majority of indie authors, about 80-90% of their sales come from Amazon. All the other platforms such as Barnes and Noble only make up a small percentage of sales, particularly at the beginning. Therefore, going exclusive for just 90 days is not a big loss.
2. If you don't have a very large platform, for example 1,000 dedicated followers who would all buy your book the first week it came out, offering your book for free is the best and easiest way to get noticed. It is sometimes the only way to get noticed.

Let me explain how this works:
First of all, there are literally millions of books on Amazon and other online bookstores. Yes, there are also millions of readers, but I am not exactly sure how I expected those readers to find me. If they did find me, why would they buy my book? How often have you bought a book by an unknown author that hasn't been recommended to you? I've done it occasionally, but really not that much. So, even if they did find me, strangers are not going to pay full price for a work that they have no proof is going to be any good.

So, indie authors need to overcome two problems: they need to be found, and they need to convince people to take a chance on them. Amazon has set up systems to overcome this, but it does require some movement of your books. 

Amazon actually has a very good marketing system. Once some people start buying your book, Amazon will add you to their recommendations, you know the 'customers who bought this book also bought this one...'. If you can start appearing in these, you are suddenly being found by readers who have never heard of you. This expands your reach beyond what you can do yourself.

Next, they also help promote you as an unknown author in two ways. First, they allow readers to write reviews. Shoppers feel more secure when they can see other people have reviewed and liked a book. The more reviews, the greater likelihood someone will take a chance on you. Second, Amazon creates lots of different lists which you can get yourself ranked upon. If you can get yourself in the Top 10 of any of the lists, then not only are more people able to find you, but they also have more security that you must be good (because other people are buying you).

This is all great, except that as most new indie authors will tell you (and as I found out with my first book), you need sales in order for any of Amazon's systems to start helping you. This is where listing it free really comes in.

The Advantages of Listing It Free:
There are people constantly searching the free promotions on Amazon that will take a chance on almost anything. My aunt's book, which is a very specific book about church abuse and bullying got 79 downloads in two free days, and this is considered a very low amount. However, these were 79 people who would have never found the book otherwise.

Now, sadly not all the people who download your book will bother to read it, and if they bother to read it, only a few of them will write a review. However, it is still one of the easiest way to get reviews (especially if you put a call to action at the end of the book asking for them).

But even if you don't get anyone reading your book from the free sales, you still start moving up the sales rankings, and still get added to the 'customers who bought this...' marketing system. Though, as of March (I think), Amazon did change its algorithms, so that 'free' sales are not worth as much as paid sales, but if you don't have any paid sales, it is still a great way to start appearing on some of these ranking lists. There are also specifically free ebook lists that you can climb.

What Is Considered A Good Promotion?
I said that my aunt did a two free day promotion, and got 79 downloads. This is considered a reasonably low success rate. When I did it for Dave's book, Tom Grafton Vs. The Environmentalists, in three days we got about 380, which is a much better number, but not great.
Based on what other indie authors say, it seems that above 250/day for a non-advertised promo is good.

How Do You Make It Better?
Now, the interesting part. There is now an even better reason to try doing free, you can get free advertising on other websites because of it. 
There are a whole lot of websites and mailing lists that send out emails promoting books that are free on kindle. Some do ask you to pay, but there are many that are free, you just have to give them a week's notice (though they can't guarantee you will be featured).
Someone is advertising your book for you, and getting it in front of people who would never have seen it otherwise. How great is this? And they only do it because you are listing it free.
If you do get featured by one of the big ones, such as Pixel of Ink, then your free downloads can be in the 10,000's. This can shoot you up the rankings, and means you are much more likely to get reviews, which can equal sales later.

The problem with this is that it is very hit and miss. There are hundreds of lists out there, and it takes time to submit your book to them all, and they may or may not even bother to run it. And even if they run it, you don't actually know how many people will read it. I did Dave's first promotion without any external advertising, and we got about 380 over three days. The next time I submitted the promotion details to probably around 20 different websites with plenty of advanced notice, and even paid the 'guaranteed' fee on some of them to make sure it was listed, and in two days we only got about 220. So it doesn't automatically mean it will get you anywhere. And even months later, we only got one or two reviews from the promotions. However, I have noticed that a lot of people in GoodReads have added the book to their shelf because they got a free copy, so that's an extra way to be found.

And Even Better?
The best benefit of this is when you have more than one book for sale. If you only have the book you are offering for free, you get some advantages from everyone downloading it, in that you are in the marketing system, but you have pretty much lost all those people you have touched. (How often do you remember a single book you read a few months later and make the effort to see if the author has written anything else?)
But, if you have more than one book available,when they find you through the free promotion they have something to actually spend money on. This is particularly true if the books are in a series. (and you are giving away the second one for free.)

So How Can You Make the Most Of Your Promotion?
1. You need the book to look attractive: great cover and good description.
2. Try and get as many reviews beforehand as you can. I know that part of the purpose of this is to get reviews, but you should have a few already up to encourage people. Send out review copies before you actually publish the book so that you can get some reviews as soon as you can. A lot of the free kindle promotion sites will only take books with a certain number of 4+ star reviews. So the more reviews you have, the better chance you will be picked up by a website to promote.
3. Price your book a bit higher just before the promotion starts. A $4.95 book for free is much better value than a 99c book for free. Just don't be ridiculous. 
4. Organise your promotion at least a week in advance. Most of the websites require at least a week's notice before the free promotion starts in order for you to be featured. A few will only take promotions on the day it actually happens, so keep note of these and come back on the day to do it.
If you are looking for sites to submit to, I recommend goind to those listed at the Author Marketing Club submit your book page (you don't need to sign up to the club, just go to this website and click on each of the links at the bottom:
5. Get the word out on facebook, twitter, any way that you can. Most people don't mind being offered free stuff, so let everyone know that they can support you by downloading a free copy of your book. Once people start downloading it, you go up in the 'free kindle book' rankings, along with other rankings.
6. Run the promotion for more than one day. You have a maximum of 5 days you can use in any combination that you want. One day is usually not enough to get the ball rolling, so you will need to experiment with 2-5 days. With Dave, I wasn't particularly happy with three days, because we started to drop off the front of the 'free books' listing, and so didn't get much on the third day. But if you list it for two days, and it's going really well, you can always add on extra days as you go.
7. Time it: from what I've heard, the weekends are better for listing, because more people are searching. But in some fields there are certain days people are looking for new content, so know your market and target your promotion days to them.
8. Analyse, rinse and repeat. Work out which parts worked well for you, and keep trying until you start to really take off.

I am currently running a free promotion for the Nice Guy's Guide on Amazon, and would love your support downloading my book for free (and then reviewing it if you get the chance!).
So if you are reading this on the weekend of the 30th Nov - 1st Dec 2013, I would appreciate it if you took two minutes to stop by and download your free copy. If you wanted to got the extra mile, let your facebook friends or twitter followers know that they can pick up an awesome book for free just for this weekend!

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