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Thursday, March 8, 2012

How KDP Select Made Me a Bestselling Author


It’s no secret I’m a big fan of KDP Select. The first time I did a free promotional day, I was blown away at how many downloads the book received.  I was also pleased with the resulting sales a week later.

But that was nothing compared with my second experiment with free promotional days. Instead of building the suspense, let’s go straight to the numbers—and then I’ll explain why I had so many more sales the second time versus the first. Below is a chart of paid book sales for the first seven days after my free promotional event.

As you can see, the free promotion in February vastly outpaced the one in January. In January, I sold 73 books in a single day, at the time a record for A Soul to Steal. In February, I sold 351 books in a single day. I had two other days where sales topped 220. All told, I sold 246 books in the seven days after the free promotion in January—a number I was very pleased with at the time. In contrast, I sold 1,250 in the week after the February promotion. (Side point: I priced the book at 99 cents for two days following the January promotion, but I did not lower the price in February, leaving it at its regular $2.99.)

So, what changed? Why was it so much more successful the second time than the first? While I can’t say anything with certainty, I have a few educated guesses as to what happened.

1)                  The book got a new, more professional cover
Of all the factors, I believe this is the most significant. I liked my old cover, which you can still see here, but it screamed self-published. Accordingly, while folks had no hesitation in downloading it for free in January, they didn’t rush to buy it afterwards. Sure, it got a boost, but not nearly what it would have likely received had I changed my cover earlier. Please take note of this, indie authors. If sales aren’t where you would like them to be, your first thought should be to look at your cover. If it doesn’t look like a Big Six cover, it’s time to get a new one.

2)                  I ran the promotion for two days instead of one
Following the advice of several other authors, I ran my promotion across two days (a Tuesday and Wednesday), rather than just one. I’m a little unclear on exactly how much this helped, mostly because more than 10,000 people downloaded the book on the first day and “only” 5,000 downloaded it the next day. Still, given how much weight Amazon’s algorithms put on popularity, the combined downloads were enough to keep A Soul to Steal front and center in the Kindle store over the weekend. Had I just done a single day, I’m not sure that would have happened.

3)                  I engaged in market layering
In January, I stopped all advertising prior to the free promotion. I had been using Facebook ads successfully, but was hoping the KDP Select experience would free me from being dependent on them. In February, I wanted to follow Jeff Bennington’s advice and “layer” marketing following my free day promotions. (If you want more details on this strategy, check out Jeff’s excellent how-to guide “The Indie Author’s Guide to the Universe” here). As a result, I turned on the Facebook ads again in a big way, spending $50 a day and using my two most successful ads that I had. I also used World Literary Café’s Social Media Mania to promote the book. It’s difficult to know how much impact this had individually, but it’s not a coincidence that the same day the promotion ran was also its most successful. A free excerpt received more than 2,000 hits on that day. Was it worth the $40? Easily.  Overall, Jeff is right. If you want to ensure your book’s success after using a free promotional day, your best chance is to layer on marketing as heavily as possible.

4)                  I changed my genre and hit several bestseller lists
If you look at the January numbers, you can see the boost in sales fell off rather quickly. After Day Five, they largely fell back into “normal” range. But after getting such large numbers in the initial days after the February promotion, my sales continued to be far stronger than normal for a much longer period. Even now, sales are decidedly better than prior to the free days. Why? Well, for starters, the novel hit #1 on Amazon’s Ghost bestseller list, and #4 on all of Horror. 
       Over that critical weekend, it also charted high on the Suspense, Thriller and even the very competitive Mystery and Thriller bestseller lists. This actually brings me to another point. In January, my book was slotted under Ghost-Horror and Occult-Horror. But in looking at the Kindle store, I felt like I was narrowly limiting the novel’s exposure. Yes, the novel qualified under Occult, but I was essentially doubling down on Horror. Honestly, I’ve never been entirely comfortable slotting A Soul to Steal there anyway. It’s a mixture of several genres, including mystery and thriller. Looking at similar novels by Blake Crouch and Joe Konrath, I decided to switch genres, abandoning Occult and moving to Suspense. This can be risky, and you must make sure you aren’t changing genres arbitrarily, but the novel truly fits under Suspense. As a result, I likely received more downloads on the free days from people looking for thrillers, and not necessarily horror books. And I definitely received more exposure by appearing on those bestseller lists. Once I was part of those lists, the book continued to receive higher than normal sales even after the initial boost from KDP Select was gone.

Nothing, of course, lasts forever. Although these numbers are very exciting and I continue to have higher-than-average sales, if you look at the bestseller lists, A Soul to Steal has largely tapered off. I also have no idea if this kind of success is repeatable. It’s possible that every free day brings less of a bump because so many people have already downloaded the book. I may look back at this as the novel’s high point.

But all in all, this experiment has been a gigantic success. I’ve had more positive reviews in the past week since the promotion than at any time since its initial publication. I’m receiving regular Facebook posts complimenting the novel. Beyond sales alone, the novel has clearly attracted more readers—many of whom are excited about a forthcoming sequel.

I can’t guarantee others will have the same experience. J.D. Currie has a nice round-up here of what others have reported, and it’s clear there is variance. But I will say this: Unless you are selling great numbers on Nook, iBook or Smashwords, there is no good reason not to try this route. It might not pan out, but if it does, you could find your novel is suddenly a bestseller.

6 comments:

  1. Hey! It sounds like you did everything right, marketing-wise! Congrats! But I'm sure this is a beautifully written book (that counts too!)

    I'm right now in the middle of my book promotion: it's FREE on Kindle - DEATH ON FACEBOOK: find out who's dead on Facebook, chuckle, ha ha! (if you haven't got it yet, hurry, 9 march is the last day of the free promo)

    Well, we'll see how goes...so far I'm ranked #19 in the literary fiction bestseller list, not bad! I've never been anywhere before! Very, very happy but we'll have to see how that translates in sales...

    But your experience has me hopeful! Thanks for reporting on it so trasparently, very helpful.

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  2. Great analysis. Thanks for the report out! And congrats. :)

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  3. @Claude, I downloaded your book. Can't wait to check it out. Good luck!

    @Laura, thanks. I'm normally the type of person who keeps things close to the vest, but watching Joe Konrath reveal sales numbers has been incredibly helpful. I figure if it's so helpful for me to read about his experience, others might benefit from mine.

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  4. HI ROB, Congrats! I'm excited to see your success. You deserve it; you studied, you planned, you plotted. Here's to the next round!

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  5. Thanks, Jeff!

    BTW, your book is great. I promise I will write a review when I'm finished.

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