Saturday, October 27, 2012

Winning in Amazon's KDP Select Program: PART 2

Questions are great. I love questions. Sometimes I learn more when someone asks me about a topic that I am passionate about. And yesterday a writer friend asked a very pointed question. This is exactly what she asked:
"Jeff why is it better for authors with fewer books to stay on KDP Select? Sorry, but I don't get it." - anonymous
Well, naturally I told her to come to The Writing Bomb for details. But I also typed the following reply with my phone… talk about an auto-correct nightmare! Anyway, I realized that if one person asks a question than there are probably dozens more with the same quandary.

Anyway, here's my answer to her question:
"Why is it better for newer authors to stay with KDP select?"

The reason is simple. No one knows who you are, and no other online book retailer will help promote you like Amazon... hands down.

Take any first time indie or small press author, drop their book into all online ebook stores and they will all sink to the bottom unless that author continues to write book after book, and promote heavily, and still may not sell much. Most new authors continue to promote heavily, trying to force their dream of mass sales and book signings, waiting, hoping for the magic to happen, and it rarely does. 

Why? Because no one knows who you are! Not you personally, but the rhetorical you, the unknown author, the first timer who isn't famous, who doesn't have 50,000 twitter fans, a platinum album, or staring in a sitcom. 

Amazon knows this, and so in order to create a marketplace where their author's are committed to them for the long haul, they created a system (that was already in place and effective) and offered it as an "on-demand" promotional tool for author's who publish exclusively with Amazon (KDP) -- a reward if you will. 

The reward is on demand promotion (1-5 days to sell your book(s) for free, renewable every 90 days) that can be targeted and controlled. It's the perfect answer to the unknown author. The author can give away thousands of copies (15,000+ is a good free promo result, and my average for my novels,  a drop in the bucket in terms of  millions of kindle readers). 

But why would an author want to give away so many books? Simple. When you give that many copies away, two things happen (the magic): 

 1. Readership Explosion: With KDP Select, a new author can grow a following at a rate never before possible, and will garner far more reviews than with sales that trickle in under normal circumstances. How is this possible? Visibility, my friend… visibility in the free store. Heck, I even sell more print copies during a freebie promo. 

 2. Consistent Sales Bump: Amazon treats free downloads like sales, thereby placing the author's book cover across their site in places like the "customers who bought this also bought" section below other books purchased by those who downloaded the free book, and often in the same genre. The residual promotion that Amazon provides is of course relative to the number of books downloaded during the free promotion. 

Here's the trick (well, one of them): Do this enough times and you start to target your audience because your book is consistently landing in your pre-selected category lists in the free store. Then, when you get the visibility from being in a category list, your sales can grow organically within days of returning to the "paid" store. 

Example: Twisted Vengeance garnered 18,427 downloads in my Sept. 2012 freebie promo. I scheduled the promo for 3 days, but kept it going one more day because I was #5 in the free store for 2 days straight and didn't want to stop the momentum. Two days later, Twisted was ranked #800 something in the paid store, selling very well. I raised my price back to $2.99 and made a few bucks. 

Now, what just happened besides giving away 18,000 books? 

1. Audience Growth: I gained a lot more readers from that promotion, as reflected in my post freebie reviews, and Facebook likes that came in after the promo. Not everyone who downloaded the book will read it, or like it for that matter, and that's okay. But you can be sure, there is a greater probability that I will gain a higher number of fans with 18K downloads than with 500 organic purchases.

2. Additional Sales Lift: The wheels that started spinning during my free promo continued after the "sale". NOTE: Free books don't add as much weight in Amazon's algorithms as a paid book (hence hitting #5 in free store vs. #800 in the paid), but that's okay, too. Amazon rewards sales with visibility. So if you continue to  promote with KDP Select every 90 days, getting that regular sales bump, and adjusting your price with the ebb and flow of your ranking (99¢ when your sales are down, and $2.99 or more when sales are up), your sales should continue to grow -- even more so if you continue to publish additional books. Why? Because every bump throws your book on more book pages, and then you fade, but then you bump up. Long term (1 year for me), it is working like a healthy looking Stock Market graph… slowly rising with dips and spikes, but consistently increasing sales. 

KDP Select gives you free promotion from the largest book retailer in the world! And the results improve with every new book. Why? Because not only can I lift my ranking using price decreases as an incentive (promotional tool), but I can also promote with targeted free days with multiple titles. That gives me two methods of attracting readers with every 90-day cycle. So if you have 2 books, that's 4 free promotional tools. If you have 3 books, that's 6 free promotional opportunities, and so on.

Like I always say, "books sell books". Unfortunately, many freshman Author's think their book will sell on the merit of quality. Sometimes that happens with luck, but rarely. There are over a million kindle books now. A million! Geesh!

Do you see the advantage of hitting the top #20 or #100 in the free store? Thanks to KDP Select, I have sat above, beside, and directly under Stephen King and Koontz. But get this, I am a nobody in terms of the world wide publishing industry. The name Jeff Bennington means very little to the vast majority of readers, and yet my "free book" promotions have placed my name and book covers in places I never thought possible. 

This program can market a relatively unknown like a big name author. With KDP Select, I beat out Heather Graham (Big time author in ghost category) often, because my promotions with KDP Select help boost me up there with the big boys and girls. This program can truly be the great equalizer for new authors, even if you only have one amazing book. And no other platform, with the exception of Kobo is doing anything like this.

Amazon has so many promotional tools to help market authors, it isn't funny! Take a look at some of these marketing tools they use: Bestsellers List, Hot New Release list, Movers and Shakers, Top Rated lists, Gift Idea lists, Top-100 Category lists, Tags,  "If you like" lists, "So you want to" lists, and Top Rated Author List (New: I'm currently #44 in Horror). 

The truth is… if you have 10 titles it's easier for readers to find you. And an author with that many books has probably grown his or her platform over the course of time anyway. But when you only have one or two titles, like most authors out there, KDP Select is the only program that can accelerate the long, time draining process of finding your readers.

Other sites list your book(s) for sale, but when you partner with the biggest book retailer in the world, and they are willing to help you find your audience, and sell your books, you get a much higher return, relative to what the other stores can do for you. And like all programs, there are a variety of variables that can impact one's success (cover art, reviews, product description, sample, book length, etc). And of course, there is always the exception, and a time for an author to pull out when they have outgrown the program. But in general, after one year with Select, I'm still very excited about KDP Select's power to promote.

By the way… REUNION is free Oct 28 - 30th during my little "Halloween Haunted Giveaway"

Jeff Bennington () is the best-selling author of Reunion, Twisted Vengeance, Creepy, and Creepy 2, and The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe. Creepy 3 is coming soon!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How to Win in Amazon's KDP Select Program

Nearly a year after joining Amazon's KDP Select program, I've learned how to work the system, and what it takes to have a successful "free promotion".

The rules have changed since December 2011, and many authors have zipped in and out of the "select" revolving door, perhaps at the peril of growing their audience. It seems some writers give it a quick try, but if they do not experience the success they hoped for, they bail out and jump back into the wide world of multi-platform sales (Kobo, B&N, Sony, iBooks, etc).

I've said it before and I'll say it again, after rolling in the select platform for almost a year, this program is still the best way for a newer/unknown author to increase sales, get reviews, get noticed, and shorten the amount of time it takes to find his or her audience. I saw the potential in this program early on, hoping it would give me world wide exposure. The result? It has accomplished everything I hoped for!

Why do I still like KDP Select? What has it done for me a year after joining? Read on.

Here are a few reasons why KDP Select still rocks:
  • KDP select is an equal opportunity promoter. Everyone gets a fair shake. So in terms of marketing, Amazon's Top-100 lists, both free and paid, are the best promotion tools available anywhere for the lesser known author. If your book hits the Top 100, or better yet, the Top-20 in the free store, you will get world wide publicity. And if you know the going rate to buy that kind of marketing power, you'll realize that it is VERY important to put everything you have into your free promo… it's so worth it. 
  • Authors with one book can get instant notoriety. In the past you had to grow your audience organically, and to some degree you still do. But the select program can actually accelerate that process when you give away your book(s). Put as simply as possible: a successful "Free Promo"  can help your book find its targeted "category list" in a matter of days, not months or years. If you select the right category and use targeted "key words", "tags", and your title is right, you will  discover that readers can find you much easier than if you are just floating out there in Amazon land. Of course there are many factors that determine a winning freebie promo, but I'm assuming you know about cover design, book description, sample, etc.
  • KDP select can literally grow an unknown author with one title into a Kindle reader household name and you do not have to be a literary anomaly. Readers around the world may not know you now, but if you keep writing, and keep promoting your book(s) every 90 days, you can definitely go from dozens of monthly sales to thousands. I'm not exaggerating! You just have to know how to promote your book. This may not happen the first time you plant that seed. But keep at it, and over time that tree will bear fruit!
  • KDP select is designed to lift quality books that are lagging. If you are not selling many books, your only hope in the past is to buy expensive promotions that "buy" sales. Well, you still need to do that to some degree when promoting a free book, but it's much cheaper to promote a freebie, and you can potentially reap a harvest of readers who might not have tried your book if it wasn't free - and make a few bucks while you're at it. I have 5 books now (3 in 2011, 2 in 2012), and my sales increase with every giveaway. Of course more titles makes a huge difference. But after a reader snags one of my freebies, they often buy my other books, too, which is the whole point of going free… to tease… to prod… to gain trust. And if you write great books, and you earn a readers trust, you've got 'em. You WIN! 
  • Huge growth potential with Amazon. With new readers buying kindle products by the millions there's an endless supply of readers, so I don't sweat giving away thousands of copies when there are millions of new readers opting into the Kindle world every month!
  • Rentals. I don't quite understand it, but Creepy, my little 99¢ short collection of scary stories gets about 100 or more rentals every month! Don't ask. I have no idea why. That's an additional $200 every month from that little book alone! I definitely wouldn't get that without the select program.
So what's the key to hitting the Top-100, or Top-20 in the Amazon Free Store?

Well, in my last six "freebie runs" as I call them, I've hit the Top 20, five out of six times, and the sixth time I hit #58 with Creepy, book 1 in my Creepy series. How did I do it? What is my system? Glad you asked because I do have a system. I'll tell you what I do, but first, I need to gain a little more credibility in order for you to take me seriously.

Here are my approximate year-over-year sales records for Sept/Oct 2011 & 2012 respectively: 

Sept. 2011   - 2,238 units (published 2 new titles that month)
Oct.  2011   - 901 units   
Total Sept/Oct 2011 = 3,139 units   (includes UK)

Sept. 2012   - 24,700 units (19,500 free/5,200 paid or rented)
Oct.  2012   - 10,082 units. After Reunion freebie (10/28) I expect to exceed 26,000 units!
Total Sept/Oct 2012 = 44,864 units   (Does not Include UK or other countries)

That is a huge difference, so much so that figuring the percentage of sales increase is redundant.

I average about 8,000 (small books) - 15,000 (novels) downloads with every freebie run. If you get 500-5,000, your after promotion sales will not do much for your post-promo sales. A <5,000 download promo could mean that there is a red flag. A red flag after a freebie run is probably a result of one of the following: poor cover, poor book description, or too little marketing. Obviously price isn't an issue during a freebie, and readers are probably less picky when they get a free book, so what does that tell you? It tells you that there isn't necessarily a problem with KDP select. Obviously Select still works; something else is broken.

So is KDP select still worth it? I think so. Is it for everybody? Probably not. At some point this program may become pointless for those with an established readership -- those with enough kindle readers that they can afford to branch out. But for now, it's doing exactly what I need it to do.

What's my system? I promote my free book. I don't just tweet about it. I don't just blog about it. And I don't just tell my facebook peeps. I actually list and/or pay to advertise it in as many books sites as possible. Some sites are free and some require cash. I usually budget anywhere between $70 to $100 per promotion (every 3-4 weeks). Below you'll find a list of the primary sites I use. I rotate my usage of these sites every 90 days. That's it.  

Here's my list of "Free Book" promotion sites: 
These resources are updated regularly at The Kindle Book Review.

  • Top 100 Best Free Kindle Book List brought to you by digitalbooktoday.com
  • The Kindle Book Review - lots of creative ways to promote free books
  • WorldLiteraryCafe.com (tweet Teams/Free day announcements for members [free])
  • bookdaily.com - get your book excerpt mailed to thousands of opt in readers
  • storyfinds.com - great site to promote freebies and 99¢ books
  • bargainebookhunter.com - Offers free promo & sponsorships.
  • eReader News Today – free ebook submissions
  • booktweetingservice.com – tweets to large audience $29
  • ebookswag.com - Promotes to a decent sized facebook crowd.
  • Freebooksy - Promote free books & offers paid features.
  • freeebooksdaily.com - Announces free books and does author interviews.
  • kindlenationdaily.com - large reach but expensive.
  • centsibleereads.com - up and coming free/low cost book promtion with a friendly touch
  • Kindle Mojo – a book promotion site for freebies and non-freebies
  • Kindle Book Promos - Free book announcements/Sponsorships
  • Book Daily.com - Emails daily book excerpts to their reader list
  • Author Marketing Club - FREE! Free day promos and book promos
  • BookBub.com - pricey but has a large email following
  • Bookgoodies.com - author features/reviews/free book posting
  • BookDealHunter – promotes freebies
  • Free Kindle Books and Tips – Promotes quality free kindle books
  • Free Today – Post free books. Facebook focused.
  • GetFreeBook.com – List free books
  • zwoodlebooks.com - Posts free books and reviews books

  • I hope this article helps. Let me know what you think. 

    Jeff Bennington () is the best-selling author of Reunion, Twisted Vengeance, Creepy, and Creepy 2, and The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe. Creepy 3 is coming soon!