If you have read my previous posts on Amazon’s KDP Select Program, you will already know that I joined this program primarily for the five free promotional days Amazon gives you in exchange for selling your ebook exclusively with them for three months. (You may take these 5 days at any time during the three months.) You will also know that my participation in this program (both through borrows and free promotions) significantly pushed both my historical mystery books up the bestseller ranks in numerous categories, resulting in a substantial increase in my sales.
What you don’t know is what steps I took to ensure these promotional days were as effective as possible. That is what this post is about.
My goal here is not to persuade you to sign your book up for the KDP Program (I still think that McCray’s post on KDP Select is the clearest discussion of who should join), and if you want to learn about the pros and cons, just search in Publetariat and you will get a wide range of view points.
My goal is not to promise if you follow these steps your promotion will be successful. The KDP Select Program has only been around for three months and the information is only just beginning to filter out about authors’ experiences. For example, I know very little about how non-fiction books or literary fiction has succeeded in the program. It is only because I have had success in two of my own promotions that I am daring to offer suggestions. I want to caution you that these tips are based on very limited empirical evidence and on my reading about the promotions of a few others. Therefore, they should be read with caution.
Having covered my butt, here goes.
First Step: Make sure your book is ready to promote:
I will repeat what I have said before many times in my pieces on selling on Amazon: don’t start any kind of promotion until your book is “ready for prime time.” Getting your book on the free list isn’t going to get people to download it, read it, review it favorably, or buy your other books if the cover is amateurish, formatting and editing are sloppy, there isn’t a well-written description, your author central page isn’t complete or the book isn’t in the right browsing categories.
Second Step: Decide which book(s) to promote:
If you have a series where it matters which book is read first, offer the first in the series first. If you look at this from the perspective of readers, this makes sense. Many, if not most, readers like to read series in order. Therefore, if one of the goals of the free promotion is to gain new readers to the series, start them off at the beginning. For me this was Maids of Misfortune. My hope was that putting the first book up for free would encourage people to go on and buy the second. After the first promotion, the increase in sales in the sequel, Uneasy Spirits, demonstrated the efficacy of this strategy.
If you have stand-alone books or series books that can be read easily in any order, the question of which books to start with depends on your goals. For example, you might want to start with your loss leader-the book that is selling the least. Here the goal would be to get people to find that book, give it more positive reviews, and start it on the way to becoming a better selling book. This is why I put up my second book, Uneasy Spirits, for free in my second promotion. I wasn’t content with the bump in sales it was experiencing. It had only been out for four months, hadn’t gotten that many reviews, and was struggling to stay in the top ten of the historical mystery category. Putting it up for promotion in mid February got it up solidly in the top three in historical mysteries.
However, you might want to start with your strongest selling book, the one that you think has the best chance of getting the largest number of downloads and the largest subsequent bump in sales. I initially put up Maids of Misfortune for a second time only six weeks after the first promotion so that for one day both it and Uneasy Spirits would be free together. I did this because I thought that Uneasy would sell better in tandem with the first book in the series, which was probably true since the bulk of the downloads for the book came that first day, not the second when it was free by itself. But what I hadn’t expected is how well Maids would do this second time around–hitting the top 100 best-seller list for three days in a row. If your main goal is making money, you may want to put your best selling book up first and more often!
Third Step: Decide when and for how many days you should do the free promotion:
Remembering that you need to sign up in advance (although I signed up the night before once and the book went up on time), do spend some time thinking about these questions. I chose my first promotion for December 30-31 for two reasons. First, I thought a Friday and a Saturday would get me my largest market because I often find my regular sales go up on these days (weekend reading). Second, these two days came near the end of the Christmas vacation. You know, when the presents are put away, the guests are gone, and you are ready to put up your feet and try out your new Kindle before going back to work or school.
I did my second promotion a month and a half later, again on a Friday and Saturday but this time before the long Presidents’ Day weekend because Monday would be a holiday. Same idea. Holidays mean people read recreationally, and I wanted people to still be on holiday when the books shifted over to paid so that I would get some sales. This worked because Maids of Misfortune, which was only free on Friday, steadily improved its paid ranking on Saturday and Sunday, and by Monday evening had finally hit the top 100 list, where it remained for the next few days.
In short, think about timing. When do your sales usually peak, and what are your lowest sale days? Is there a holiday that you can tie your book promotion into (like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.)? Play around with this, who knows, maybe a Wednesday or a Thursday would work better for you than a Friday.
In general I would advise you to put a book up for free for no more than 2 days at a time. If your book doesn’t have many sales under its belt, however, it might take three days to get enough downloads to make a difference. Having seen how Maids of Misfortune did on its second free promotion, I suggest trying a 2 day promotion and then, after 6 weeks or so, doing a second one-day promotion to see if you can’t kick it up higher in the rankings the second time around. Remember it is all about visibility. The higher a book goes in both popularity and best-seller rankings after a promotion, the better the sales are going to be. See David Gaughran’s post on KDP Select and Popularity for a good discussion of this.
What I wouldn’t do is use all your 5 days at once, since it is my impression that, no matter how high you go in the paid rankings after a promotion, your rankings will almost certainly begin to slip after a month (if only because you are being bumped down by the latest book coming off a free promotion). If you have used up all your free days at once, you have to wait until you renew your enrollment into the Select Program to do another free promotion of that book, and by then your book may have slipped back to where it was before you started promoting.
I also think that you shouldn’t offer a second free promotion too quickly after a first promotion. I put Uneasy Spirits up for one day, two weeks after its first promotion, as an experiment, and had a very dismal number of downloads (less than 400, compared to the nearly 9000 downloads it got on the first free promotion). There are other possible explanations for why this second free offer didn’t do as well as the first. I didn’t publicize it as widely as I did the first and it was free on a Thursday, not my best selling day. But I think the main reason for its poorer performance was that it was just too soon. I put one of my short stories up for free at the same time and it did much better than the novel –even though people were only getting a 99 cent deal on it — but it hadn’t been free for months.
Fourth Step: Advertise the promotion:
1. Make a list of friends and family you want to notify by email. Make a template of what you want to say along the lines of:
“I have decided to make my first historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, available on Kindle for free for two days (put in date) to make the book more visible to readers. You could really help me kick off this promotional campaign if you could tell as many people as possible who have Kindles or can download Kindle books to go get their free copy at: (then url.)
Thanks, and I will let you know how well we did when the campaign is over!”
Then I would send this email out just a few days before the promotion starts so that people have a day or so to spread the word, but not too long so that they forget.
2. Find and sign-up for the Facebook pages that promote books and ebooks. These pages change fairly frequently so, in the search bar on your Facebook page, type in words like Cheap ebooks, Kindle, free ebooks, or appropriate genre terms (mystery, science fiction, historical fiction) to find pages that let you post about a book promotion.
3. Check out the blogs and websites that specifically promote ebooks in general, cheap or free ebooks, genre books, and indie authors. Some ask for a fee, others are free. I wouldn’t pay much, if anything, until I had done at least one promotion. You may not need it. Since many of these sites need advance notice, if you are going to do this, start early–one to two weeks in advance.
4. Do some BSP (Blatant Shameless Promotion) on the appropriate pages for the groups you belong to (Good Reads groups, yahoo groups, Kindle Boards, etc,). This works best if you do it the day or two before, since some of the messages on these sites don’t get read right away. Always give the day of the week and the dates of the promotions so that people won’t think the book is still free when the promotion has ended.
DO NOT promote yourself on pages or message boards where this is against the rules; this angers people and wins you no friends or fans.
5. Post something related to your book but something more than just an announcement of the promotion on your blog. See this post that Abigail Padgett did the day her free promotion started on the first of her Bo Bradley mysteries as a good example. This can be another way of getting out the message and peaking people’s interest in the work.
6. During the promotion, tweet or post on your Facebook pages several times, reminding people of the promotion, mentioning how it is going, and thanking everyone for their help. Don’t be afraid to brag if your book is doing really well. I discovered some of the fans who read my messages enjoyed commenting on how much they had liked the book and recommending it to others. Some will thank you for reminding them because now they were going to tell their mother/sister/friend about how to get a free copy the book. Your friends will be gratified by your success and want to know how you did it.
I want to make it clear here that you do not necessarily have to do all of the above to have a successful promotion. For example, for my first promotion I didn’t contact any of the sites listed in #3, and I contacted only a few of them for the second promotion. If your book is already doing fairly well in terms of sales and ranking, and is in a lot of different categories, you may not need to do a lot of work ahead of time. But if you are promoting a book that hasn’t been selling well, or is on one of those large categories like historical fiction or contemporary fiction, with no sub-categories and lots of free books being listed, then advance promotion may be very necessary to get you the initial downloads you need to become visible on the free lists.
Fifth Step: Keep track of some basic data on how the free promotion went.
The day before the promotions, I noted down the ranking of not just the book I was promoting, but also my other titles. I recorded the overall ranking and where it ranked on the one subcategory where it was in the top 100 (for both the best seller list and the popularity list.) Then during the promotion I wrote down these same rankings, plus the rankings in the other categories where the book started showing up about 3 times a day (the morning, mid-day, and at the end of the day.)
With the new dashboard Amazon has set up it is now easy to discover immediately after the promotion ends how many free downloads there were. I continued to write down this data for about a week after the promotion, because it took a while for the books to reach their highest spots on the paid list. Since I always note what my sales are each night I have also been able to watch the way in which the books’ overall sales have continued to be higher than before the promotion, despite later slippage in ranking.
Why do I do this? Probably because my training was in the social sciences and I like analyzing data (I did a computer analysis of working women from the 1880 manuscript census back in the days when you used punch cards to enter the data.) But it also helps me make decisions about staying in the KDP Select or doing other promotions.
So, has this helped? If you have had a successful promotion and have something to add, I would like to hear about it. If you did something like I did (putting up a book too soon) that you feel hurt your promotion, do share, so we all can learn what to avoid. KDP Select and the free promotion is in its infancy and the more we learn from each other, the more we will all be effective in reaching a wider audience with our work.