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Thursday, January 26, 2012

From Mania to Reality: The Results of My Amazon Select Experiment

The decision to give away my book was not an easy one. My fears were divided into two contradictory concerns: 1) that no one would download it and 2) that so many people would download it, there would be no one left to buy it when the promotion was over.
I needn’t have worried on either count.
If you want the short version of my KDP Select (or Amazon Select, if you prefer) experiment, and whether you should jump in yourself if you are an indie author, I will say this: Run, don’t walk, to join this program and try it for yourself. I gave away more books than I could have possibly imagined, and still sold more in the following week than I did in the entire month of December. For me, this program has already been a phenomenal success.
If you want to know the long version, read on:

Day 1 – The Free Give Away
I gave away the book for free on Tuesday, Jan. 17. I picked it because it was the beginning of the week (given MLK day on Monday), and weekends and holidays had never been particularly kind to me in terms of book sales. As I mentioned, I was nervous about how many downloads I would get. I was hoping for 1,000 or maybe, if I was really lucky, 1,500. I figured this was a big enough haul that it would give me some momentum for the rest of the week.
I was unprepared for the deluge that resulted. By the time I woke up at 6 a.m. E.S.T., I already had given away 75 books. It was an auspicious start, considering that the give away hadn’t begun until 3 a.m. my time and the data I received was delayed by roughly an hour and a half.
Throughout the morning, the number steadily rose, often enough that I could check it every two minutes or so and see it increase by 20 books. For a guy whose best sales day was 34 books, this was amazing. Around lunchtime, I noticed the rate had started to slow. I had already given away 600 books and I felt certain I would now reach my 1000 goal.
I wrote my wife a note telling her as much—already viewing the day as a success—and stopped watching the blow-by-blow sales figures. About an hour later, I checked the number, hoping it had reached 700 books. Instead, the book had exploded while I wasn’t watching. I had now given away 1300 books, or “sold” more than 700 in a single hour. I got up to fix myself tea. When I came back, that number had jumped 200 more.
By this time, I was giddy. I could keep refreshing the sales figures every second and watch them jump by two dozen every time. By dinnertime, I had given away 2500 books, far outside my wildest dreams. By the time I went to bed, I was past 4500 books and seemed likely to get to 5,000. When I got up the next morning, I had given away a total of 6,486 books (estimated). I reached #40 in the entire Kindle free store.
I’ll admit it—I tried to sleep, but had trouble. I was excited. It took me four months to sell 1,100 books. I had just “sold” almost six times as many in a single day. Secretly, I felt sure that the next day was going to be just as amazing. I had dropped the book’s price to $0.99 and hoped to build enough momentum to shoot up the bestseller charts.

Day 2 – Reality Pays a Visit
I sold—for actual money—73 books on Wednesday, Jan. 18. It was my best single sales day ever and pushed “A Soul to Steal” into the Top 100 Horror books on the Kindle charts, and near the top of two subcategories: Ghost and Occult.
You might think I felt pretty good about all this. But to be honest, I felt like someone coming off a great high, which I suppose I was. It’s tough to watch your book “sales” jump by 100 or 200 in a five minute period one day and then slowly watch them increase the next. Also, I had hoped that my 99 cent approach would goose the figures even more.
I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made a massive mistake. Sure, my book was now in the hands of 6,500 more people, but would they even read it? And what if I had just saturated my market?
Still, I was happy that the book was in the Horror bestseller chart, which was totally new for me. I had even beaten “The Shining” on that day. Even if only for a moment, that was a fantastic feeling.

Day 3 – Reality Kicks My Butt
If I was wary on Wednesday, I was even more concerned by Thursday that I had made a big mistake. Instead of rising at a slow but steady rate, I had sold only seven books by 7 p.m. This was at 99 cents. My novel had fallen off the Horror bestseller list and dropped down the subcategories to boot.
With the numbers so low and feeling I was back to where I had started before my free give away, I raised the price back to its original $2.99. Strangely, this seemed to boost sales a bit. In all, I sold 24 books on Thursday.

Day 4 – I Wake Up
At some point on Friday I realized I was thinking about this all wrong. I used Facebook ads—and spent a lot of money—to sell those initial 1100 books. The book had turned a profit, but barely. On average, I spent $15 to get $16 or $18 worth of sales, almost breaking even.
In a matter of days, however, KDP Select had changed all that. I had sold nearly 100 books in two days. Yes, much of that was at 99 cents, but still… It took me four weeks to sell my first 100 books. So no, I wasn’t in the Horror bestseller list anymore, but people were finding my book on their own. I wasn’t advertising anywhere or even posting on various Facebook pages.
I decided to stop focusing on the sales figures, except for the purposes of this blog post. Ironically, this new attitude seemed to produce good kharma for the novel. It sold 31 copies (at the regular $2.99 price) on Friday.

Days 5 and 6 – When You Least Expect It…
On Saturday, I had my second biggest sales day of all time. I sold 57 books and the novel rocketed back into the Top 100 Horror bestseller list. On Sunday, I sold 41 books.
This time I didn’t take it for granted. I knew from other blogs that my sales figures were likely to drop after a few days. Instead, I focused on the fact that I had just sold another 100 books in two days. Even if sales dropped to zero, KDP Select had been a successful experiment.

Days 7 and 8 – Back to Normal
I sold 9 books on Monday and 11 on Tuesday. In total, in my week since making the book free, I had sold 246 books. Considering I had sold only 211 in the entire month of December—and spent $345 on Facebook ads at the time—this was a remarkable feat.
No, my novel isn’t in the Horror bestseller category (honestly, it’s more mystery than horror, but never mind that for right now). No, it’s not selling dozens of copies a day.
But importantly, it’s still selling every day, with no help from me. As I said, I’ve spent a lot of money and time designing and redesigning Facebook ads. If you want to know how to sell your book using FB ads, I can give you advice (and will in a later post). But it’s an exhausting process trying to micromanage your marketing. For me to be able to sit back and sell 10 books a day without lifting a finger is exhilarating.
I don’t know how long it will last. It may be that sales drop off to zero again soon. But I will tell you this: I’m damn happy I tried Amazon Select. In the past week, the book has earned three more 5-star reviews, two of them clearly from people who picked up the book for free. I’ve significantly expanded the number of people who have heard about my book—and might buy the eventual sequel. My total (paid) sales have jumped to more than 1350 books. All in all, not bad for a week’s work.
Even better, I have four more promotional days to use before April. Will they be as successful? I have no idea. It may be that with so many authors using KDP Select now, the impact will be less. Or it could be that so many people have already downloaded my book for free that fewer will be interested this time around.
But you know what? That sounds a lot like my initial fears (no one will download it and no one will buy it later). They proved unfounded the last time. The only way to see what happens is to take another shot—and see what happens.
What about you? Have you tried KDP Select? What was your experience? Please let me and others know in the comments below. 


  1. This sounds a worthwhile experiment. Thanks for the information Rob

  2. I've been trying to add my comment for about an hour. In the end I have contacted a friend who is on blogger to post it for me. This post is from Oscar Sparrow. There is a big issue posting comments on this site it seems if you are an outsider.
    Look, I really appreciate the amount of time you have spent here quite selflessly to set out your experience. Poets do not even think about sales - just any sort of increase in awareness would be heartening. I am doing a free week-end now and it will be fascinating to see how it goes. So far I have found that free MP3 tracks and video trailers cannot lift poetry with the power of a hot air balloon. I have read your last few blogs and thank you for the way you have shared your knowledge.

  3. Oscar,
    Sorry it's having trouble commenting. Not sure what the issue is; I just use the basic Google Blogger template.
    Let me know how your free weekend goes. I'm interested to read about others' experience.

  4. Thank you for this, Rob - because I posted yesterday about not so great results. I'm very happy to see you doing so well and so happy with the results.

  5. Red Mojo,
    I read your (excellent) post yesterday. For the record, I DO think the sheer availability of free books can hurt overall sales. I, like you, have downloaded a fair amount of free books lately.
    I also agree with Renee Paulish that as more and more authors use KDP Select, the impact is likely to go down.


  6. I'm flattered to see myself quoted lol. Thanks for sharing your experience, it's good to know how others are doing and how we can help each other out...and it's Pawlish not Paulish :)
    Thanks Rob.

  7. Sorry about that Renee! It's what I get for commenting in a hurry.

  8. Wow, and I thought my 1100+ free downloads was something to brag about! I'm going to try the same experiment with my young adult novel and see if that makes any difference in downloads and actual sales.

    Good job!

  9. It definitely is, Melissa. A lot of this depends on the genre, day, random luck. I would have been thrilled with 1100.

  10. Great post, Rob! I've heard similar things from other authors (that offering their books for free kick-started sales). I'm thrilled for you!

    I tried this myself without success, but as I often say: what works for one doesn't necessarily work for all. I think you're in the majority, which is awesome. Hopefully more authors will give it a try and achieve similar results!