Report on my latest KDP Select Free Promotion: Getting into that Holiday Spirit

Well, Amazon announced its new Kindles devices this week, and the first of the new Kindle Fire HD devices ship as early as next week, with the rest rolling out in October and the end of November. There is no telling at this point how many of these new devises will be bought as upgrades or additions by people who already have Kindles, but if the past two holiday sales patterns are any indication, authors should expect a growing number of new users to start looking for Kindle books over the next few months, culminating in a book buying frenzy in the months after Christmas. At least that is my hope.

In December 2009, my first book, Maids of Misfortune, had just been published, my Kindle sales were miniscule, and unless you typed in “Victorian mystery” as a key word search, you probably wouldn’t have found my book anywhere in the Amazon store. Then, if you found it, the $4.99 price for an unknown book by an unknown author, without any reviews, probably would have discouraged you from buying it. In fact, only 74 people bought a copy of that first book during the 4 months––December thru March of 2010, and I suspect a good number of them were friends and relations.

A year later, in time for the next holiday season, everything was different. The introduction of the Third Generation Kindle in August of 2010 had expanded the number of devices in consumer’s hands and by December of 2010 my book was now priced at $2.99, was #1 in the historical mystery category (so was no longer invisible), and I had eight 4 and 5 star reviews. I sold 7,400 books between Dec 1 and March 31, 2011, and I was able to quit teaching for good and start writing my second book.

Last holiday season was even better. I now had two books out, Maids of Misfortune, and Uneasy Spirits (published in October 2011). I had thirty 4 and 5 star reviews for Maids and already had six 4-5 star reviews for Uneasy Spirits, and both books were on the historical mystery bestseller list (albeit pretty far down because the list had just expanded exponentially). Even more importantly, that fall Amazon had just rolled out a $79 ebook, the Kindle touch, and the Kindle Fire, and there were a whole lot of new Kindle owners looking for books by Christmas. And, as I have written elsewhere, KDP Select and the free promotions I ran at the end of December, February, and March kept both of my books visible in the historical mystery category. The result? I sold 18,970 books between Dec 1 and March 31, 2012.

So, how am I making sure I am ready for the new crop of Kindle owners shopping for books this fall and Christmas season? 

First of all, I made a price change this spring, raising the price of both of my books to $3.99. I did this because there is growing research that there a segment of the buying public out there that believe a 99 cent or $2.99 price point represents a book of lesser quality. And, while I have no desire to gouge my readers, raising my books to $3.99 seemed a way to tap into that segment of the buying public now that I am no longer such an unknown author.

Second, my KDP Select promotions have increased the number of my reviews significantly. I have gotten used to the fact that promotions also seem to attract people who wouldn’t ordinarily read my brand of cozy mystery and therefore can be negative, but I have also been very fortunate that the positive reviews tend to drown them out. Currently Maids of Misfortune has an average of 4.2 stars from 126 reviews and Uneasy Spirits has an average of 4.3 stars for 42 reviews. I know that this makes my books very competitive with the traditionally published books that cluster at the top of the historical mystery category. I still find it remarkable to have my ebooks ranked right along with the books of Anne Perry or Laurie King in my sub-genre.

Third, and probably most importantly, after my brief experiment with other booksellers, I re-enrolled my two books into KDP Select and mounted my most organized promotion yet, bringing both of my books back to full visibility.

My last promotion of Maids of Misfortune was June 23-24, 2012 and the book then went off of KDP Select (which meant no free promotions and no borrows.) That last promotion had been moderately successful, (6900 downloads) pushing Maids’ rank from the 7,000s to the 4,000s and increasing its rank on the historical mystery popularity list from 25 to 9 (although it stayed about the same, mid 20s, on the best seller list before and after the promotion.)

The last promotion of Uneasy Spirits before going off KDP Select was July 2-4, and, as usual, the sequel didn’t do as well as Maids did, despite being free for 3 days rather than 2 (I believe this is primarily because Maids is in 9 categories and subcategories and Uneasy is in only 4––see my posts on categories––which limits its visibility on free days).  Uneasy Spirits had only 1440 downloads, and its rank didn’t improve much, keeping Uneasy Spirits in the 7000s and the 40s in both popular and bestselling lists for historical mysteries. One of the reasons that I decided to try going off of KDP Select was the feeling that I had, at least temporarily, saturated the market for my books among those who routinely browse the free lists.

I signed both books back up to KDP Select August 12, 2012. At that point, both books had slipped in terms of sales to their lowest point this year, and I immediately organized a promotion for both of them for August 20-22, hoping to have sufficient success to drive them back up the rankings and increase visibility, which would increase sales. (Maids was free 8/20-21; Uneasy was free 8/21-22)

This promotion did exactly what I wanted. My ranking in categories improved dramatically, which resulted in a distinct sales bump for both books, and in the two weeks after the promotion people have borrowed my novels 365 times.

Before Promotion After Promotion During Promotion
Maids of Misfortune
Over all Rank Paid List 14, 418 1,645
Historical-mystery bestseller rank 91 10
Historical-mystery popularity rank 127 5
Total sales in one week* 40 311
Average sales per day* 5.7 44.4
Total downloads 21,767
Peak rank in Free List #7
Uneasy Spirits Before Promotion After Promotion During Promotion
Over all Rank Paid List 23,352 5553
Historical-mystery bestseller rank not on it 28
Historical-mystery popularity rank 127 11
Total sales in week 43 145
Average sales a day 6.1 20.7
Total Downloads 11, 572
Peak Rank in Free List 23

What I did to promote my free books––see a more extended post on Free Promotional Tips:

First, I thought carefully about how to schedule the promotion. I had noticed that the list of free books seemed longer on weekends (when I usually schedule mine), so I decided that I would try Monday through Wednesday this time. The fact that is was still officially summer, when some people are on vacation and not locked into the reading on a weekend routine, seemed to make this a safe bet. The success of this promotion suggests that being during the week didn’t hurt.

I also decided to stagger the promotions, putting Maids free on Monday and Tuesday, then Uneasy  on Tuesday and Wednesday. My experience is that when Maids goes free, Uneasy’s sales jump a little, so by starting it a day later, this would give Uneasy a little bump to help it in the after promotion averaging in terms of ranking (in fact I sold 50 copies of Uneasy that first day). But I also have found that Uneasy does better in free downloads if it is paired for at least one day with Maids. Remember, the greater number of categories Maids shows up in compared to Uneasy is always going to give it a better shot at getting enough downloads to reach the top 100 of the Free list (the holy grail if you want to do well with a promotion.)  From my experience, if Uneasy is free on its own, it is less likely to reach that top 100, but if I pair it with Maids, Maids drags it up (people figure if both are free, and they are in a series, why not get both at the same time.) This gives it a better shot at succeeding on the second day when it is up on the free list by itself. This strategy worked, with both books hitting the top 100 by the end of the first day they were promoted. 

Second, at least a week before the promotion (which I had already scheduled on KDP Select–this is important) I went on to the growing number of websites that advertise ebooks and scheduled a number of free and inexpensive promotions. I have tried a variety of these sites in the past year, and this time I concentrated on not just promoting the books when they were free, but also doing more general marketing that would continue in the week after the free promotion to help boost sales. For example, I notified Pixel of Ink, The Frugal Reader, Kindle Nation Dailyand Ereader News Today of the free promotions, but I scheduled general promotions with Digital Book Today and Kindle Nation Daily for the week after the promotions were over.

I also used my own website to market the free promotions. Ahead of time I put up on my website that the books would be free and made sure that this information was also at the end of two blog posts I did (one two days before the promotions, the second on the first day of the promotion). I also made sure that these two posts appealed to my two different audiences. The first post, Update on Kobo’s Writing Life, appealed to the people who are interested in my self-publishing journey, the second, Victorian San Francisco in 1880: Social Structure and Character Development, appealed to the fans of my book. I have no way of determining what effect these posts had in getting people to look for my books, except the anecdotal evidence that people did mention that week in comments and emails that they had read my posts and gone looking for the books for free.

During the promotion I took advantage of the over twenty facebook pages that cater to people who read ebooks, particularly those with Kindles. On the day of the promotion, or the night before for the UK sites, I put a brief notice on the walls of all of these facebook pages of the book, where and when it was free, its genres, and a link to the Amazon.com page.

I also tweeted about the promotion, and asked that fellow members of the Historical Fiction eBooks group I belong to tweet as well, since my books are historical fiction and would likely be of interest to their followers.

What I think these promotional efforts did was to get enough people at the beginning of the promotion to download the books so the books rose up high enough on all the separate free lists to become visible, which in turn resulted in enough downloads to push the books to the top 100 free books. In short they primed the pump. The promotions I did afterward may have helped the books make the transition from free to paid, which hopefully helped sustain the sales. I plan on doing more marketing between free promotions this time, to see what effect this might have on keeping the books visible. For example the World Literary Cafe has helped me expand my twitter followers and makes it easy to do mass tweets.

Summary:

I achieved my goal to make the books more visible on Amazon browsing categories, which in turn has increased sales. 

I am selling over seven times the number of Maids of Misfortune a day than I was selling before t he promotion, and nearly 3 weeks after the promotion Maids is now firmly in the top 15 bestsellers on the historical mystery bestseller list, but it can also be found on the historical fiction and historical romance and the U.S. history bestseller lists. Uneasy Spirits, which is only showing up on the historical mystery bestseller list, is therefore not selling as much and it as already bouncing around the 30s and 40s in ranking on that list. Even so, it is selling over three times the number of books a day as it was before the promotion. Both books have also added to their reviews, which will also continue to make the books more competitive.

However, for both books, my primary goal in the next months will remain the same, making sure that both books are visible in the Amazon kindle bookstore. Because that visibility is the best way I can ensure that when the hundreds of thousands of people (dare we hope millions) receive their new Kindles in the mail or under the Christmas tree and see my books up there at the top of bestseller lists (with reasonable prices, pretty covers, snappy descriptions, and solid reviews) that they will click buy!

What are you doing to get ready for the holiday sales period?

14 thoughts on “Report on my latest KDP Select Free Promotion: Getting into that Holiday Spirit

  1. So glad your promotion went well, and thanks for compiling this! It’s a great resource for indie authors.

    Next time you have a promo, we’d love it if you added us to your list of free ebook sites to notify. Here’s a link to our author page (the submission form is under Freebooksy Feature – we do both paid and free): http://www.freebooksy.com/for-the-authors/

    You can also email me directly at taylor(at)freebooksy.com with questions. That goes for all authors. We’d love to help you boost downloads and sales.

  2. Add my thanks for a thoughtful, thorough post. Great information. I’ve been trying to decide if I should take advantage of free days. I also found the idea of pricing at $3.99 interesting. Best wishes for continued success.

  3. Useful, meticulous report, and for that I am grateful. I took particular notice that it seemed to you there considerably more ebooks offered free on weekends. I have a mix of freebie days. On Aug. 17, I started my first KDP Select go-round, with the freebie dates starting Oct. 7, a Saturday, followed by a Wed./Thurs. (Oct 24-25), and ending on Sat. the 27th. I fully plan to renew KDP Select to take advantage of the holiday season. Will let you know if there is more traffic on weekdays versus weekends. My novel: High Stakes Fantasy–An Alternate Reality Sports Thriller.
    Thanks again!

  4. Pingback: wprdr: Report on my latest KDP Select Free Promotion: Getting into that Holiday Spirit | Wordpreneur

  5. Thanks for a clear, concise review of EXACTLY how the KDP promotions boosted your sales…a great help for a ‘newbie’ publishing through KDP!

  6. Thanks for the comprehensive update. Useful info. Was particularly intrigued by the Bowker research, indicating that readers question the quality of an e-book if priced at $2.99. Think I’ll raise my e-book price a buck. Thanks again!

  7. Pingback: Uploading to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, part 2

  8. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #24 — The Book Designer

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