When the Amazon KDP Select program first came out towards the end of 2011, people couldn’t say enough good things about it. Some authors were making a killing and getting their books widely read. It seemed that KDP Select was going to be the savior of indie authors everywhere.
Now, just over a year and a half later, things have changed.
For those who want to know the details of Amazon’s KDP Select program, please go here.
Basically, the way KDP Select works is that an author agrees to limit a Kindle ebook (print books do not apply) to Amazon for 90 days at a time.
In exchange for exclusivity, Amazon KDP Select provides the author with a couple of real advantages:
a) Paid borrows. You book becomes available for the Kindle Prime lending program. Kindle Prime members can borrow one title a month. If they borrow one of yours, you get paid, somewhere between 1-2 dollars. With my books priced around three bucks, I consider a borrow a sale. Not bad.
b) Promotions. This is the biggie—or used to be. For up to five days per 90 day period, you can promote by making your Kindle ebook free. The advantages of doing this are that your book is downloaded (hopefully) by thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of new readers and you will rise up the Amazon free lists, to have your book displayed alongside heavy hitters. Your book may also appear in the coveted ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought …’ section at the bottom of Amazon book listings. Although Amazon guards their algorithms closely, you are credited about 1/10 of a sale for each free download (as of this post). So, if you give away 5K books, that’s 500 sales, and you (hopefully) will enjoy a post-promotional sales bounce. This bump can last for several weeks after the promo, increasing visibility. Another benefit is that you are reaching new readers and some will write a (hopefully positive) review and, God willing, buy your other work.
The grim truth though is that, since its inception, the KDP Select program has become less effective as more authors use (abuse?) it and readers troll for free ebooks, leaving the paid ones on the digital shelf.
A little over a year ago, when I ran a two-day freebie for my thriller Sendero, I gave away over 7K copies and enjoyed a post-promo bounce of about 100 extra sales and borrows in the two weeks that followed. I also sold more paperbacks. For me this was a significant bump because my book was pushed well past the 100 sales mark (most indie authors sell less than 100 copies of their book) and these were new readers–not friends and family. Some of them were in the UK, a market I had not broken into. Pretty exciting for a new author. Total strangers around the globe were reading and buying my book.
Now, just over a year later, a similar freebie for Sendero generated about half those numbers all around. BUT it did sell copies of my new book (Who Sings to the Dead). Having multiple books is considered key to using the KDP Select program effectively and I personally wouldn’t run a KDP promo without it. Running a promo with only one book in your arsenal may not be a smart strategy.
Today, on any given day, it is estimated that there are over 4K free ebooks available. There are websites dedicated to promoting them. If you want to run an effective promotion, you really need to advertise it. That costs money. With my last promo I didn’t break even with my advertising costs.
Also, very few freebie downloads actually get read. Empty Kindles are getting filled. The estimated number of reads is around 1 per cent. There may be a lot of truth that something for free is not highly valued.
And, as readers become accustomed to free ebooks, many simply wait for a promo and don’t buy. Like the Internet in general, we all expect free content.
If you’re a small indie author, it’s a tough call. Your book can languish, unnoticed, amongst the other two million (a number that is rapidly growing) ebooks on Amazon. In the big scheme of things, with all the millions of Kindles out there, a few thousand free books are nothing, especially if you are reaching new readers.
So, if your book isn’t moving, why not give it a push with KDP? If you do, and you’re a small indie author, best to expect modest results.
Things to consider if you are running your first KDP Select promo:
a) A promo that generates less than 5K downloads is believed to be ineffective with very little post-promo bounce. You may have to run yours for several days to achieve this.
b) Avoid running promos on the weekend and don’t have them finish on a Friday or on the weekend. I know, I thought people would be buying books on Saturdays and Sundays too, when they are relaxing and ready to read, but just the opposite appears to be the case. Readers tend to buy ebooks mid-week—when they’re at work! At lunchtime.
c) Run promos towards the end of the month. This will help Kindle Prime borrowers “see” your book at the beginning of the next month.
d) Important! If your ebook is listed for sale elsewhere, it needs to be taken down. This process can take a few weeks so, if you are planning a KDP promo, allow enough time to notify other etailers. I know one indie author whose promo flopped because she didn’t. She had already notified many sites that her book would be free on Amazon and it wasn’t. Ouch.
e) Don’t over-promote. If you run freebies too often, people won’t buy and will simply wait for the next promo.
f) Advertise: sites like KindeNationDaily and Bookbub (and there are many others) have promo ads you can take out. Without them, it can be tough to get the kind of traction you want.
g) Promote only one book (e.g. first in a series). If readers want to read your other work, they have to loosen the purse strings. Personally, I lean towards this.
h) Use a promo book. I have a collection of short stories I have run for free. Although this doesn’t generate a lot of free downloads, readers can sample my work and I do see sales and exposure on my other two books. If I were a supermarket, I would be loss-leading.
Another strategy, and one I’m going to use in future, is to feature a book at rare intervals for a promotional price of 99 cents. Although this will not generate the number of downloads a free promo will, each sale will be an actual sale and the book will go to a genuine reader.
Who knows what the next phase of indie book promotion will be? We are writing in a time of such rapid technological change that what was a hit a year ago is now collecting dust. But it’s not getting any easier getting your book noticed.
I forgot to mention the best sales strategy of all: write a great book that people want to read.
¡viven los escritores!
My advice to Indie authors considering Publishers Weekly Select to promote their books:
Like most Indies, I am always on the lookout for effective, budget-conscious ways to reach readers. And bookstore owners. And agents.
So I took the bait and sent $149 to Publishers Weekly Select, the PW program exclusively for Indie publishers. According to their website, they are “just the kind of people who can take a book and make it a bestseller.”
The way the program “works”:
“When you register, your book receives an announcement listing in PW Select–which is bound into issues of Publishers Weekly and appears online at publishersweekly.com. Every announcement listing includes bibliographic, marketing, and editorial information about your book–so you can promote it to booksellers, publishers, agents, and industry insiders. Additionally, every book listed in PW Select is automatically eligible for a review from Publishers Weekly. From the hundreds of books listed in each PW Select, approximately 25 percent are selected by our editors for a review. And, all authors registering with PW Select receive a six-month digital subscription to Publishers Weekly.”
That sounds great!
But, despite sending two copies of my latest book – Who Sings to the Dead – to their ‘reader’, I did not receive a review. OK, only 25% of submitters receive a review. I can live with that, although what I did get was pretty feeble. By the way, the review ratio, from eyeballing the magazine, is a lot less than 25%.
I didn’t even get my cover listed in the mag or on their web site. Most Indie submitters don’t get their covers listed. Not one little ragged jpeg. Just a sentence or two of listing information.
Not much for your money.
So what did I get?
An “announcement” that eerily resembled my own book blurb, but that had been run through PW’s Limited English Skills Translator and converted into some clunky language. They even added a typo. Free of charge. Here it is:
“Police fficer (sic) Nina Flores is hunting for a kidnapped Indian beggar girl in modern-day Peru. The suspected kidnapper resembles what locals call a ghost who hunts children. Or is this case connected to one 20 years earlier, during the country’s dirty war?”
That’s kind of awful.
I requested that PW fix the typo, at least. No response.
So I asked for a refund.
You can probably imagine what kind of response that got.
It’s pretty obvious no one at PW Select read the book. Or opened it. Or even copyedited their own blurb.
I’m supposed to forward this ‘listing’ to agents and bookstores. And industry insiders.
So I can be the next bestseller.
I would be ashamed to send this ‘announcement’ to anyone remotely interested in my book.
Which is OK as it’s near impossible to find the listing anyway.
As mentioned, this meager snippet is posted on PW’s website but good luck unearthing it, unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. None of their new release info is indexed to facilitate search. Searching on my book title returns nothing. Searching my name returns all of the ‘listings’. From there on you have to dig. Makes it a little hard to forward to those industry insiders.
The ‘bound’ issue of Publisher’s Weekly that included my announcement (along with 202 other hopefuls) was published in the April 2013 issue, in a skimpy magazine that resembles the kind of thing you toss out with the ads in your Sunday newspaper. And good luck finding your listing there too. Kind of like the classified ads but wedged together into one article. Or whatever it is. With typos.
So far, no calls from New York agents.
Or industry insiders.
Why am I not surprised?
I fell for it. Buyer beware.
Publishers Weekly used to have a good rep.
What I have received, however, are unsolicited phone calls and emails from various book promotional web sites and services (that no one has ever heard of) offering me even more services. For a fee.
OK, what else can you, the Indie author, get out of my PW Select experience?
If you have $149 to promote your book here are two suggestions:
1. Sign up for Goodreads (if you are not already a member) and use the $149 to purchase copies of your book and send them to winners after you enroll your book in a Goodreads giveaway. You’ll probably get a few reviews out of it. I did. And some nice connections with readers.
2. Buy gift copies of your ebook and send to readers/friends/potential reviewers. This will also provide you a small ‘sales’ bump if done in a short period of time.
¡viva los escritores!
You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
A recent article in the New York Times brought to light the process of buying reviews to promote books online. I’m not going to mention the author’s name because he doesn’t need any more publicity. But as an Indie author struggling for attention, it disgusts me that some authors game the system and cheapen the review process by buying fake reviews.
But it’s not the end of the world.
What bothers me about the article is the implication that somehow this is a symptom of Indie publishing. I suspect reviewers for hire have been around a lot longer than the Indie publishing boom. The New York Times has been remarkably slow in picking up on the Indie/eBook trend and like many established gatekeepers of the publishing industry shun Indie books, many of which are eBooks. Does the NYT have an ax to grind? Maybe they don’t want to lose their exulted status as key book reviewers.
A book with many good reviews will attract eyeballs (and search engines) but ultimately an author still has to write a good book. And as more than one person has said, a book with too many good reviews looks like a plant. Lipstick on a pig. As a reader, I can spot a fake review from a genuine one. I won’t buy a book that has shills promoting it. And if I buy a book simply because a bunch of strangers are talking it up, what does that make me?
Buyers have the option to preview an eBook first or return a book that doesn’t satisfy.
There are other ways to sway you into book-buying: web ads, promotions, ‘blog tours’, Twitter, Facebook. As savvy consumers, we know that. Do I buy a product simply because a celebrity endorses it? If I do, shame on me. It’s the American way to oversell. Don’t we almost expect it?
It’s called Buyer Beware.
It means that you have to use your own brain and not someone else’s to decide if a book is any good.
It has always been that way really.
Promoting Your Indie Book: 13+1 Things You Might Want to Know
Last year, when I began promoting SENDERO, I read a terrific piece on what steps to take or, more importantly, what to expect as an Indie author starting out on the road to getting my book in the hands and on the e-readers of others. I WISH I had kept that link because the author had some wonderful insights. (So if you think you’re out there and reading this, please ping me and I’ll display your link in all its glory.)
Here then is my own list of rules, some seeded from that piece, some from others, plus my own observations. Much of this is common knowledge amongst Indie authors but it may help newcomers and possibly amuse you. And it will probably change in six months. Viva los escritores!
1. Talk it up. Not easy. Most writers are introverts who sit in dark little rooms and bang out unpublishable prose*. We are, by nature, introverted and modest. Now some writers should be modest. But not you. You wrote a book the world needs to know about. So tell people. If not you, then who? Carry business cards promoting your book in your wallet or, if you prefer, purse. I prefer a wallet. Hand out cards when you talk about your book. What—you don’t have business cards promoting your book? Automatic disqualification. See the business card step. For authors who have a physical book, keep a box of books in the trunk of your car (this tip from JA Konrath.) Sell them cheap, at cost, give them out (to the right people).
2. Try everything (within reason and the confines of the law and it doesn’t involve spending a load of money on web advertising). More than one reader thought Penelope Cruz should play Nina Flores, the protagonist of SENDERO, in the motion picture. I found Ms. Cruz’s US agent and sent him a copy of my book, suggesting she might consider it. This is an example of trying everything. I’m still waiting to hear back, BTW.
3. The steps you take that you are absolutely sure will pay off will OFTEN not pay off. So you thought all your family and friends were going to go wild when you released the efforts of your life’s ambition and help you out by buying your book and talking it up to everyone they know. Some will. But many won’t, including family and close friends. This hurts. They are bad. They keep saying they are going to buy your book (if someone says this more than once, don’t waste any more time on them and don’t buy Girl Scout cookies next time their kid comes around). Some will tell you they always wanted to write a book and will tell you all about it and want to know who to contact. Some will tell you they bought your book but didn’t buy it. Ask them what they thought of the ending. “Oh, I haven’t actually started it yet.” Some will ask you for a freebie or want to borrow a copy. You learn who your friends are, a sad, but necessary by-product of promoting your book. Get over it. And move onto another step that MIGHT sell your book.
4. The steps you take that you least expect to pay off will sometimes pay off. I went to dinner at a neighbor’s house when I first released SENDERO. I am a software developer by day and so is my neighbor. I fully expected an evening of unbridled geekery discussing hash table search algorithms but beforehand I dutifully handed out my business card (note: I had business cards in my wallet) promoting the novel because that is what I was told to do. “I wrote a novel,” I said meekly. To my surprise, my neighbor, who never reads anything other than programming manuals and sci-fi, invested 99 cents and downloaded my thriller to his PC using Kindle software. And he liked it. And he told people. He blogged it. Promoted it on the neighborhood web site, generating much chatter and quite a few sales. Who woulda thunk? So try everything, at least once (again, within reason and the confines of the law and it doesn’t involve spending a load of money on web advertising).
5. The green-eyed monster. Those fellow writers you’ve been networking with and work-shopping with? The same ones who told you (but not others) how great your work is? You’ve read their rough drafts and gone to their readings and book-signings. Now they are remarkably silent when you’ve got a book to promote. They don’t tell their friends, mention it on their Facebook pages, call their agent, twitter, blog, send smoke signals, nothing—even if you ask them to (and you shouldn’t have to—they know how it works). But you did ask them because you are ‘talking it up’ and ‘trying everything’. The same people still have 90 illegible pages they’d like you to critique for them. Or hand you a business card for their book when it comes out. It’s an eye-opener. Don’t burn their houses down. But don’t waste any more time on them. As they say in AA, ‘stick with the winners’. Move on to people who are cool and deserving of your friendship. And keep doing things that MIGHT yield results.
6. Promote others. No one is asking you to promote crap. But if you see good work from your peers, say so, and tell others. They deserve it and someone MIGHT do the same for you.
7. The people who buy your book and help promote you are special people. Thank them. Help them in their endeavors. If they write, buy their books. Write reviews of their books.
8. Avoid expensive web advertising. The few sales it generates won’t warrant the money you spend (and it can be a LOT of money). SENDERO received a starred Kirkus review. Wahoo, I thought: I’ll just sit back and wait for the flood of Amazon orders once the review goes live on the Kirkus web site. I got a few (and I mean FEW) sales out of it. Spending five thousand dollars on a custom Kirkus advertising campaign targeting book industry people would have been insanity. I could send each one of those people a copy of SENDERO for a few hundred. Web ads rarely return their investment.
9. Business cards. Bookmarks don’t work. No one uses them. If you’re selling an eBook, even more so. Those snazzy postcards you see cost way too much and get tossed. Business cards are affordable, fit in your wallet or purse, and fit nicely in other people’s wallets and purses. There are plenty of online business card sites. Use an eye-catching pic of your cover (make sure you spend time and money on the cover), with a catch line, and a link your blog. (What? No blog? Easily remedied.) Hand out your business cards when you talk about your novel and put them in your correspondence (Christmas cards) and the covers of your book when you have a physical book to sell so that the person who bought your book can give them to the next person who will buy your book when he/she hears how great your book is.
10. Social networking. Yes, yes, get on Facebook, create an author page, blog, twitter, use a mainframe, but you know what? There’s a lot of noise out there. And it’s getting worse. A LOT of people are plugging their book while you try to plug yours. Do you really want to sit through someone’s ‘interview’ or read some canned blurb? Neither do I. It’s just plain sad, not to mention, ineffective. Blogs. Get one. There are plenty of freebies. I like wordpress. Put stuff not always about your book on your blog. Link to stuff you like (like my book—IF you like it). Promote people who deserve to be promoted. But don’t think any of this is going to sell a lot of your books. Do it but don’t overdo it. Get out to readings and open mikes. You also need time to write your next book. And you need to get past the other authors, multiplying like rabbits, and out to the READERS. If you crack this last step, please let me know how you did it.
11. Promote but don’t constantly bleat on about your book. There is the 1/5 rule (1 self-promotion for every 4 ‘fun’ posts) but that feels kind of arbitrary to me. If you’ve got something new to say about your book, say it, but find other things to say too. Books your colleagues wrote. Interesting articles about writing. Jokes. Whatever. People don’t want to just hear about your book. They don’t want to buy life insurance from you either.
12. Money. If you thought you were going to make money, then I just feel sorry for you. Maybe you will eventually—maybe—but for now, if you sold some books, particularly to strangers, then you scored a tremendous victory as an Indie author. Someone actually invested in your story about people who never really existed doing things that never really happened. How cool is that?
13. Email signature. Put a simple catchy hook to your book in your email signature. Stick your blog address in there or the link to your trailer (trailer optional—one of the things you might try but don’t spend too much).
14. Write a good—or great—book. Pretty obvious but it should be the first step really. Is your book properly edited? Formatted? Is the cover eye-catching? There is a LOT of competition out there—by some accounts up to 150 indie books are being released PER DAY. Why should people pay money and invest precious time in your creation?
* Unpublishable prose: I’m sorry if you thought I meant your prose was unpublishable. But most of it is. Do you know how many hours of jamming it took for the Stones to come up with the riff for ‘Paint It Black’? I don’t either but it was a lot: many, many hours for that one little gem. That’s why the Stones used to be one of the greatest bands in the world. In the early days the Stones lived and breathed their music and boiled months of sweat down to three minutes. But I digress. I have one five-page short story that came out of a 300 page novel. The other 295 pages sit on my hard drive, where they deserve to be. The short story is the riff that was worth saving (maybe).
Libby Fischer Hellmann wrote an interesting post today on some of the potential repercussions of Amazon’s new Select program–where Amazon Select members can borrow up to one book a month and authors have the option of making the book free for certain periods in order to (hopefully) boost sales. The big downside seems to be that readers might be waiting for freebies rather than buying when books are not free.
As a newly self-published author with one book on Amazon and modest downloads (yet!) my mouth waters at Ms. Hellmann’s numbers. However, it is ominous so see what the trend might be. I myself have downloaded free books I would not pay for. And I have not yet read one that has changed my mind about buying more by the author–but perhaps that, too, will change. And the rest of the world might be different.
My approach is to keep the book cheap—but legacy publishers are not going to do that. And established authors shouldn’t have to. A lot of time, work and expense has gone into most of the books you see on Amazon, and the cost does not always reflect the value. The author is frequently trying to make the work affordable in order to attract readers.
I hope that eBooks are not taking the same route as content on news sites. Originally news sites tried to charge but people simply wouldn’t pay. So news sites gave content away free with the hopes that people would subscribe. Now that many people get their news from the web, more news sites try are trying to charge again but the expectation has been set that information should be free. Hence the quality of some of our news.
You do indeed get what you pay for.