Thursday, July 12, 2012

Plunging The Bones of the Earth into Kindle Select

I’ve decided to take the plunge.

Creative Commons. No, this is not me.
Thanks for asking, though.
I’ve enrolled my novel, The Bones of the Earth, into Amazon’s Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP) Select program.

I’ve resisted this for some time. In fact, the first time I heard of Kindle Select, I objected to it. At the same time, though, I understood why Amazon structured it the way it did.

KDP Select is a marketing program, as well as a method for Amazon to reinforce its dominance of the digital book market. An author or a publisher who has published a book on Amazon’s Kindle store can choose to enroll it in the KDP Select program, which gets the book included in Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library. This allows member of Amazon Prime to borrow the book, free of charge. The author/publisher gets a share of the fund that Amazon sets aside to reimburse them for these free book loans. Lately, that fund has been around $600,000 per month, divided among all authors in the program according to how many times their books get borrowed.

Authors can also set five days out of every 90 during which their books can be downloaded for free. Otherwise, you cannot set your book for a free download on Amazon, unless you go through some tricks by setting your book for free on other sites (like Smashwords, Apple’s iBookstore,Kobo, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Book Store, the Sony e-bookstore or Diesel, to name the few that I know of) and hoping that Amazon matches their price. This has not always worked for me.

The catch

The downside to KDP Select is that Amazon demands exclusivity. If you enroll your e-book in Select and the Lending Library, you cannot distribute it through any other retailer, paid or not. If you do, and Amazon finds out, they’ll not only refuse to pay you any royalties on that book, they may withhold your royalties on all your other title sold through Amazon. They may even bar you from the Kindle digital publishing system entirely.

Creative Commons

This exclusivity applies only the digital books. Authors and publishers that have joined Select can still sell printed books any way they wish — or can.

I can understand why Amazon did this. It dominates the e-book market, and it’s not a charity. It’s a business. I’m not a lawyer, but I doubt this qualifies as an anticompetitive tactic. No one has to join the Select program. You can still sell books through the KDP system as well as every other digital channel you can find, and Amazon will still sell your e-books for you. And Amazon still provides lots of free tools for making e-books in the first place.

A large number of authors have signed up for KDP Select, including several that I know through social media and some that have even written guest posts on this blog. Obviously, they’re not that worried about the exclusivity clause — or they feel that the benefits of lending royalties plus increased sales more than offset the downside.

Many have written that the majority of their sales have been through Amazon, anyway, so they weren’t really losing much.

For my part, Amazon accounts for about half my sales; the other half is mostly through Smashwords, with a few other sales from the other e-retailers.

Select results

Rob Guthrie's magnumopus is now out!
 Some authors have found Kindle Select works. Those were RS Guthrie’s words on his blog, Rob on Writing. “Each of the past three or four times I have run one or both of my books free on Amazon, I have seen a nice increase in sales post-freebie,” he wrote in April.
In February, author Russell Blake (who guested here in December) reported on his blog:

Last month, I dipped my toe in the water by making The Geronimo Breach free for three days. During that time, I saw about 12K downloads. Not too shabby. Then, when it went back to paid, a funny thing happened. After languishing for the first day, it shot like a rocket, finally hitting #165 in the paid Kindle store.
So, it does work. Of course, both Guthrie and Blake outsell me by orders of magnitude. But the potential is there.

At time of writing,
number 6,554 Paid in
Kindle Store  — not shabby at all.

Do I really want to give my books away for free?

Of course not. I put a lot of work into them: planning, writing, re-writing, editing, re-writing again, throwing parts out, filling in plot and characterization holes. I engaged editors and designers, and I had to pay them. So no, I don’t want to just give them away.

But we all appreciate that free promos and cut-rate special offers help drive up sales, too. Free is a promotional tool that I’d like to be able to use.

Also, there are some multi-author book giveaway promotions that I’d like to participate in — but again, you have to be a member of Kindle Select.

Mostly, I want to experience that paid sales spike after the free promos. I understand that it’s only a temporary spike. At this point, I’ll take temporary.

As of July 12, ##431,700 Paid in Kindle Store. Let's see if we can boost that to the low hundred thousands, at least.
I promise to blog about my experiences regularly. I’ll keep you all up to date on my progress.


  1. I didn't want to give my books away either. However, I'm new to the business. Nobody knows me from Adam. so I decided the best way to get some coverage was to give them away (at least the first versions) in the hope the people would remember me when version two came out.
    I'll find out if the plan works sometime next month when number two of my four book series hits the market.

  2. Interesting. Be sure to post more about your experience with KDP, how it works for you, etc. It's something I'm interested in and I haven't had much chance to research it, yet, so any tips or pointers are always appreciated! Thanks for posting! :D

  3. I'll be giving it a shot in a bit as well...hopefully it will be a successful promotion for both of us!

    1. Thanks, Roger, Liesel and Jane, for your early comments. I will indeed post my results, as they happen.

      I just hope they happen!

  4. Thanks for sharing this - my first indie book will be released Aug 1, my second (the sequel) Sept 1. So I've looked at Amazon's site for the KDP program, but not done much other research. I'll be following to see how it's going!

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I deleted the full comment because it contained Jeff's private email address. Here is what he said:
      Jeff Bennington said...
      Hi Scott,
      I hope this works for you. Select isn't what it was a few months ago, but it is still helping to build lesser know author platforms. If you are interested, I wrote The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe - and it contains a lot of good information on how to manage Kdp select promos, pricing strategies and how to "layer" your marketing efforts for better giveaway results. I'd be glad to send you a complimentary copy.

      Thank you, Jeff, and I'll take you up on your generous offer!

  6. Best of luck with the promo, Scott. Let me know a few days beforehand and I'll schedule a few tweets in for you.

  7. Well, the good news is that even one sale will bump your book up out of the 400K range to less than 100K. In fact, one additional sale will bump you up another 10K or more. It doesn't take much, really. Getting below 20K seems to be where you really need to rack up some sales.

    I've been in Select for 6 months and I'm finally leaving it this month. It is a great way to get visibility for a new title, but how it works out in the long run seems to depend a lot upon the author. The authors who have multiple titles for cross-selling seem to benefit the most from the post-sale bump: it lasts longer and it translates into sales of their other titles. Also, some authors get a lot of borrows through the Kindle Owners Lending Library, which is worth about the same as a book sale at $2.99. I got very few loans, so the only advantage for me was the free promotion days.

    When I went free, my book got 5,700+ downloads, and made it to #71 in the top 100 free Kindle list, #2 in Fantasy, and #3 in Action/Adventure. Things dropped off quickly after the book went off free, but my paid store ranking has stayed below 80K since then (before the promo, my book was in the 400K range as well.) Other "one book" authors I've been in touch with had results like mine, but found going free a second time didn't do nearly as much. They did get a boost, but just a small incremental one. I believe that most of the sales I'm getting now are due to my new blurb and my price change (I went from 99 cents to a more "respectable" $2.99).

    I wish you the best of luck with Select. I think it is definitely worth doing for a while. It's easiest to join Select when you first release a title, of course, so you don't have to pull it out of the other channels. I would recommend that new authors give it a shot for at least one 90-day period and then decide whether or not to stay in based on how well it works for them.

    At this point, I have nothing to lose by leaving Select and everything to gain by getting my book wider distribution through other channels.

    1. Thanks very much for this information, Daniel. It's very useful, and great to get some hard numbers to go along with those rankings.

      The question is, though, does the ranking just indicate sales? I've seen a lot of people writing about Amazon's algorithms, so I wonder, does the ranking factor in the number of reviews, or is it just based on sales?

      And does anyone have any idea on the total number of titles on Amazon Kindle? I'm 400,000 out of - how many?

    2. I'm not sure about the total number of titles. But I know your ranking can go well over 1 million.

      From what I understand, yes, your ranking is directly tied to sales. Reviews have nothing to do with it.

      Going free used to have a substantial impact on your post-free ranking, probably because it gave you more traction in the Amazon recommendation engine. Amazon changed that back in April or May, so now the post-free bump is small and short-lived. You and I both missed out on the golden days of going free with Select, but it still helps get exposure for your title.

      Going free does give you a little bit of momentum, but only your book can keep the momentum going. A book that attracts buyers with a good cover and effective blurb will be able to make good use of the brief period of extra exposure it gets. Otherwise, you can expect the effects of going free to wear off after about a week.

      I think you'll do well with Bones of the Earth.

  8. Anonymous5:49 PM

    I enrolled my 2nd novel in KDP select and just had my first 2 free days this week. The response to the free books was more than I could have imagined and pushed my rank up with Amazon those two days, but today I am back down in the lower regions. I'm hoping the sales will spike in the next week or two from all the buzz that we generated. Good luck with your book!

  9. I'm looking forward to hearing about this. I think there might come a day I will be ready to do it myself.

  10. Terry Tyler1:26 PM

    Scott, this might interest you, and anyone else who is looking at doing the KDP Select free promotion - it's an interview I did on Joanne Phillips blog about my experiences with the free promotion - I've done three!

    1. Thanks! That interview was very helpful. I'm going to take your lessons and plan my first giveaway carefully!

  11. Hmm...I have all 3 of mine in the KDP program and was extremely excited when 2 people borrowed my book last month. They say Amazon gives you more exposure when you have your book enrolled, but I really haven't seen that, but I'm not a prime member, so I can't say for sure. As to the free books, They do really well. In fact the last time I had one of my books for free it made it into the top 50 of free e-books which was really exciting and my paid sales went up afterwards and have been holding pretty steady. I will keep my books in there and hopefully things will improve, but...I have my newest one coming up free tomorrow and Saturday and we'll see how well it does. Try it. 90 days goes by faster then you think and you can always pull it out after that.

  12. I think Amazon must have changed the algorithm once more, because my last promo saw me give away 27,000 books (17k Gray Justice, 10k Gray Resurrection) but instead of getting over 100 sales a day when it went back to paid, I got a peak of 50 on day 2. Despite giving away over 13,000 copies of Gray Justice in the US, I might have got to the top 500 but sales have been relatively poor.

    Looks like the KDP ship has sailed, so it's up to Amazon to come up with a damn good reason for us authors to stay with them exclusively. If they rely on this model for much longer, I can see more and more authors once again adding their books to the Smashwords shelves.

  13. Anonymous12:52 PM

    I'm on my third free promo right now. the first resulted in 8500 downloads, then it sold and sold after it went back on paid and took two months for sales to peter out, but the first month was fabulous, resulting in one month's wages that exceeded anything I've earned at anything else in my life. the second promo had half as many downloads and the spike after gave me half as much money. This third promo is slower than the other two, but I'm still clocking up a respectable number of downloads. I'm crossing fingers and toes that I get some earnings out of it.

    I have two days held back, so I hope to have finished the sequel to the current book before the three months of this session run out, then I can, hopefully, generate sales for the sequel.

    I have to say that if i hadn't done the first promo, my novel may well still be languishing on the bottom of the very deep Amazon rankings ocean - and it still doesn't do well in America, being very British humour.

    1. It sounds like you got great results, although the diminising returns you mention seem to be common. Most writers who have done these things before are also noticing that they're not as effective as they were at first.

      One distressing thing is that the effectiveness wore out quickly - the whole program only began this past January!

      I have published some of my own results in a subsequent post: