KDP Select Free Promotion — Discoverability Experiment: One Month Later and Feeling Fine!

As stated in Part One, my goal in joining the KDP Select program had been simple, to get my two Victorian San Francisco historical mysteries, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits back up to the top of the Kindle historical mystery bestseller category. And, as I wrote in Part Two, not only did I achieve this goal, but I also had fantastic success in selling my books immediately after the free promotion was over. In addition, I was now selling a significant number of books in Kindle, UK, and I had started to have a large number of borrows of Maids of Misfortune, all unexpected but delightful consequences of enrolling a book in the KDP Select program.

While not everyone has had the same kind of success using KDP Select, a number of authors have reported large numbers of downloads, followed by better rankings, and increased sales. These suggest that my experience was not a fluke. See David Kazzie’s post “How Amazon’s KDP Select Saved my Book” as one example.

However, there also seem to have been a significant number of authors who have been disappointed with their results. Caroline McCray, one of the most successful KDP Select authors, has done a very thoughtful post on the pros and cons of the program, with a clear description of how factors like the percentage of your sales that are on Amazon and your rank on the best seller lists, can affect how useful using KDP Select might be for you. I can see that I fit her description of those authors who might benefit, since 96% of my income came from Amazon in 2010, and I was already on one of the best seller lists on Amazon and close enough to the top 100 in other lists to mean that an increase in sales would affect my rankings and make my book more visible.

Now that a month has passed, as promised, I am going to report on my numbers and what my strategy for the future is going to be.

My two-day free promotion of my first historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune was December 30-31, 2011. During those two days the book was downloaded 15, 576 times, and, the first week it went back on sale, the average sales of Maids of Misfortune and my sequel, Uneasy Spirits, combined, was 501 books a day (the price of each book is $2.99.) The second week in January the average number of books sold was 253 a day (and I had stopped thinking that I was going to be in the big leagues with Konrath and company.) The third week the average was 151 a day and the fourth week the average had dropped to 107 books a day. For the whole month, the average number of books sold was 236 a day. (A vast improvement from the 31 books a day for November or 35 books a day average for December that I had been selling.)

And, although my sales steadily dropped after the first week of January, by the end of the month I had, nevertheless, sold a total of 7,323 of books. Seventy-five percent of them were Maids of Misfortune; the rest were sales of Uneasy Spirits. (In December the newer book, Uneasy Spirits, made up 55% of my sales). In addition, 1272 people borrowed one of my books as part of the Amazon Prime Lending option.

I have to take a deep breath here. This month, my income was more than twice what I made in any given month in my entire career as a full professor of history (not being the Newt Gingrich kind of historian — smile.)

Apart from the sales and the money I made this month, which will go a long way to cover the income I lost by retiring to write full time, there is the fact that the free downloads exposed me to so many more readers, which should sustain my sales over the long haul for my subsequent books. I know that people say that those who download books for free may never read the books, but this month I have received 16 more reviews for Maids of Misfortune, 13 of them 5 star reviews, and they were clearly from people who had downloaded the book and read it immediately.

As I hoped, the increased sales in Maids of Misfortune resulted in increased sales for my sequel. Uneasy Spirits sold an average of 20 books a day in both November and December (the book came out in mid October), but the average for January was 48 a day.

So, what are my plans for the future? Since it appears that I am in the midst of a steady, albeit a gentle, slide downwards in sales, I will use at least some of my remaining KDP Select promotion days for Maids of Misfortune in February, if only to see if there will be a similar bump in sales. I confess I am assuming the increase in sales will be less, but it might at least arrest the downward slide.

In addition, I have entered Uneasy Spirits into KDP Select, and I will also do a free promotion of it. As a sequel, (although it can be read as a stand-alone) Uneasy Spirits will probably not do as well as Maids did. But if it only garners me more positive reviews, I will consider the promotion a success. After reading a discussion on the Kindle Boards where readers expressed frustration at downloading a book for free and discovering that they were going to have to buy the first book in the series, I decided that I would put both books up for free for one day and then possibly continue the free promotion for the sequel for a second day.

Who knows if I will have even a tenth of the success of my first promotion? But, whatever happens I will be happy if I gain more readers and more information about how promotions work. For me, half the fun of being an indie is being able to experiment. If something doesn’t work, I change strategies; if it does, I celebrate. And I get back to writing.

M. Louisa Locke