KDP Select Free Promotion: Discoverability Experiment, Part Two

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 5 rank in the Kindle historical mystery bestseller category. Their ranks had dropped to between 18 and 24 after Amazon added hundreds of titles to that category just before Christmas. The experiment in light of this goal was an unqualified success.

I used KDP Select to offer the Kindle edition of Maids for free for two days, December 30th and 31st. When the free promotion ended, Maids of Misfortune was at #1 in the historical mystery bestseller category, and it has stayed there. In addition, Uneasy Spirits, a sequel to Maids, rose to #8 during the promotion of Maids, and by the end of the first week after the promotion, it had risen to #3 in the historical mystery bestseller category.

What I had not expected when I embarked on the experiment was that Maids of Misfortune would also rise to the top ranks in so many other categories. But it did! When Amazon calculates its rankings, it includes the free downloads. So, when the promotion ended, those 14,500 free downloads moved Maids of Misfortune up to the 400s in the overall Paid Kindle store ranking and to the top 5 in popularity in the categories of mystery, and mystery — women sleuth, and historical romance. This made the book very easy to discover by a much wider potential market than ever before. (I published Maids of Misfortune at a time when Amazon let authors choose more than two categories; for sales purposes, this gives it an edge over other books, like Uneasy Spirits, that are in only two categories.)

This greater discoverability immediately translated into increased sales that have kept Maids of Misfortune up in the overall rankings during the week after the promotion ended. Last night, at the end of the first post-promotion week, Maids of Misfortune was #164 in the Paid Kindle Store and, while it has slipped a bit in the other categories, it was still #1 in popularity in historical mysteries, #7 in mystery-women sleuths, and #7 in historical romance. These rankings are high enough to make the book very discoverable — which leads to more sales — which leads to maintaining a high ranking — which leads to more sales.

The sales of Maids of Misfortune since the promotion ended have been fantastic. In November 2011, before the promotion, I sold 376 copies of Maids of Misfortune in all venues combined (Kindle US, other Kindle European stores, CreateSpace, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.) This was an average of 12.5 books a day. In December 2011, before the 2 day free promotion, I sold 433 books, with an average just under 15 books a day. In the week after the promotion ended, Maids of Misfortune sold 3183 books in total at an average of just under 455 books a day. Since I was no longer selling it in Smashwords and Barnes and Noble, these sales were almost entirely in the Kindle Stores.

Another unexpected consequence was the number of books I was now selling in the European Kindle Stores. In the 5 months before the promotion I was averaging 16 copies of Maids of Misfortune a month in these stores (primarily UK and Germany), but in the first week after the promotion I have sold 148 copies—an average of 21 books a day, pushing Maids of Misfortune up to #2 in the historical mystery category in the UK store.

I had hoped that the massive download of Maids of Misfortune during the promotion would eventually translate into a spill-over to Uneasy Spirits. I reasoned that, as people finished the first book, they might decide to buy the sequel. This in turn would lead to a higher ranking that would make it more visible. This has already happened. Before the promotion, in November 2011, Uneasy Spirits (which I published in mid October) sold 341 copies—an average of 11 a day. In December 2011, before the promotion, it sold 531 copies—an average of 18 a day. During the promotion and the week after, Uneasy Spirits sold 414 copies—an average of 46 a day (well over twice the rate of sales.) One result of this is that Uneasy Spirits is now showing up in the top 100 bestselling romantic suspense books, again making it more discoverable.

A final unexpected consequence has been the number of copies of Maids of Misfortune that have been borrowed by Amazon Prime members. When you “enroll” a book in the KDP Select Program, readers who belong to Amazon Prime can “borrow” the book for free for one month. I assumed, because I was a relatively unknown author and because Maids was priced at only $2.99, that few people would borrow it.  Why would they when there are other much better known authors whose books cost more to buy? Yet, in the first week since the free promotion, 766 people have borrowed Maids of Misfortune. That means I will get some, I don’t know how much, of the $500,000 Amazon has reserved to compensate KDP authors whose books were borrowed during January. These borrowed books also are included in the calculations that Amazon uses to determine the book’s rank, so they also help maintain its visibility.

Trying to explain the phenomena, I looked more closely at the list of books in the historical mystery category, and I realized that those higher priced books ($8 and above) by better known authors (like the Maisie Dobbes series by Winspear, Gabaldon’s Lord John books, or King’s Russell-Holmes series) are not in the Amazon Prime lending program. Most of the books that are available for borrowing are by indie authors like myself, who can recognize a good promotional tool when we see one and who have control over the decisions we make about our own books. One apparent result of this is that Maids of Misfortune and other indie-authored books are ranked higher than those higher-priced and better-known books in the historical mystery category.

In summary, enrolling Maids of Misfortune in the KDP Select Program turned out to be much more successful experiment than I ever imagined it would be. Not only has it made this book and the sequel, Uneasy Spirits, more visible in the Kindle Store through high rankings in a number of categories, but the rankings have produced a large number of sales.

I don’t know how long this pattern will last, and I can already see a slight slippage in total books sold per day. KDP Select gives authors the opportunity to do promotions like this for a total of five days in a three month period, so I still have three more promotional days that I can use, if necessary. But there is no getting around the fact that in the first week of January 2012, I sold 3,515 books. And that — by any measure — is wonderful news for this indie author.

At the end of January I will post Part III, an analysis of the success of the experiment at the end of a month, but, in the meantime I would like to hear from those of you who have also experimented with the KDP Select program to learn what your experiences have been.

10 Replies to “KDP Select Free Promotion: Discoverability Experiment, Part Two”

  1. I can see how books not entered in the program can suffer then in rankings, since they don’t have that extra boost of selling the freebies. I had wondered why one of my books which had sold a lot of copies still had a low ranking. I think the answer is here.

    It seems almost mandatory now for a book to be part of the Select program. I’m not sure if I like that idea, especially since I know some of mine can never participate due to my past publisher’s screwups in not getting them off of other sites.

    Morgan Mandel

    Morgan Mandel

    1. Dear Morgan,

      Thanks for your comment. What I don’t know is if this is a permanent game changer, or if it is simply going to make the rankings more volatile. Not every person who has enrolled in Kindle Select has had the same success as I have, and I don’t know how long before the next freebie knocks my books down the rankings, or whether doing a second or third promotion will have the same effect.

      I feel like this might be like the 99 cent pattern. Those authors who jumped in about a year ago, offering full length novels in certain genres at 99 cents (i.e. Hockings), seemed to have great success. And lots of other authors jumped on the bandwagon. This did make it more difficult for those like me who kept their books at $2.99, the price that used to be very competitive. Over time, however, it seems to me that 99 cents no longer guarentees big sales and is again being used more just for promotional purposes.

      I do think, however, that this is going to start to affect Barnes and Noble and Smashwords sales, because even before this promotion many indie authors like myself have felt that our books aren’t reaching the right market because of difficulties in the browsing category structures offered in these bookstores. I am selling as many copies of my sequel, Uneasy Spirits, a day on Amazon as I sell in a week at Barnes and Noble, and it won’t take much to convince me to put this book in the KDP Select, even if I don’t use the free promotion on it. A good discussion about the problems with the Barnes and Noble browsing categories can be found here. http://bit.ly/yNBQTd

      M. Louisa

    1. Wow. My promotion for The Pict went live today. So far, since 7:00 AM, about 400 copies have been downloaded. Pushed my rating from around 10,000 to around 500. Thanks for this amazing tip, M. Louisa!

  2. Sounds like a great way to launch an e-book by an unknown author, like yours truly. I’ll give it a shot in a couple of weeks and report back on my progress. Thanks for the marketing tips!

  3. Louisa, this is astonishing! I’m especially interested in your knowledge of Amazon’s ranking practices. Is there somewhere that tells us how Amazon does these things? And whether there are tools (like the KDP plan) that can help us with discoverability? Thanks!

  4. Hi Louisa, I’ve had great success so far with my Kindle Select Experiment. You can read the 8-Part series on my blog at http://www.cherylktardif.blogspot.com.

    I was skeptical at first, but my after sales have been consistently higher than normal, even 6 days after my free promos ended. And with over 40,000 new readers reading free copies, I’ve seen it affect reviews and sales in a positive way.

    All the best to you and anyone else who decides to take the plunge. You’ll never know unless you try. 🙂

    Cheryl Kaye Tardif

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