I have no problem with authors deciding not to put (or keep) their books in KDP Select because there are a number of good reasons not to sell an ebook exclusively through Amazon. What does bother me is when people put a book into KDP Select with unrealistic expectations, or don’t do their homework about how KDP Select works, or blame Amazon when their books don’t sell, and then announce that KDP Select is not a good strategy to follow for independent authors.
It is my hope that this post will help educate authors about what KDP Select can and can’t do, thereby creating more realistic expectations and better decisions about whether or not KDP Select is right for their books.
However, before reading the rest of this post, I do recommend that every author read the KDP SELECT FAQ page first so that they have a basic understanding of how the program works.
Four Things KDP Select CAN NOT DO for you:
1. If there is some reason why people are not buying your book when they run across it (too few reviews, negative reviews, badly designed cover, ineffective product description, badly written or formatted free excerpt, wrong price–too low or too high), then simply being in KDP Select will not change this, and people will not start to buy or borrow your book just because it has the Amazon Prime designation.
2. If people can’t find your book when browsing in the Amazon Kindle Store because the book isn’t in the right categories, or doesn’t have the right key words or tags associated with it, simply being in KDP Select will not make it easier for people to find the book, and they will not start to buy or borrow this book. (There is no special promotion by Amazon of all KDP Select books).
3. If your book has demonstrated its salability, is in the right categories, has the right keywords and tags, but the book has not sold enough in the last 30 days to put it in the top 100 of the popularity lists for its categories (or in the last 24 hours to put it in the bestseller list of those categories), then simply being in KDP Select won’t change its discoverability, and people will be unlikely to find the book, and they will not start to buy or borrow this book.
4. If you do a free promotion of your book using the KDP Select free days, this will not automatically ensure that it gets a lot of downloads, and, even if it gets a lot of downloads, this will not always result in an increase in sales or borrows of the book.
For example, if your book fits in category one above (there are problems with the book itself in terms of why people don’t buy it), doing a free promotion won’t necessarily cause a lot of people to download it. I routinely look at the free lists of the categories I am interested in, and I routinely take a pass on free books that don’t appeal to me for a variety of reasons. In this case a book that already has problems probably won’t get enough downloads to cause a rise in visibility afterwards. And, even if a number of people decide to take a chance on a book, just because it is free, when the book goes off free it will face the same problems it had in selling that it had before the promotion.
Or, if the book is only listed in one category, and that is one of the larger categories (say it is only listed in contemporary fiction-where there are 109,000 books and where not every free book makes it to the top 100 free books in that category), then the free promotion may not gain enough attention for the book to make it visible after the promotion is over. Again, this means the promotion will not result in increased sales or downloads.
Or, if you do nothing to publicize your book’s free promotion, even if it is in the right categories and has demonstrated its ability to sell well when people find it, there is no assurance that enough people will download it (under the new algorithms) to result in increased visibility when the sales are over. This again means the promotion will not result more sales and borrows.
In fact, a failed promotion (one that generates few downloads) may hurt your book’s sales since the book will not be selling at all for the days of the promotion, lowering your average sales for those days. In this case your book will be worse off in visibility than before the promotion.
Three Things KDP Select CAN DO for you:
1. If your book is already selling well enough so that it is visible on one of the browsing category popularity lists or bestseller lists, then people who are looking for books to borrow through Amazon Prime can now borrow it. Since borrows translate as sales, KDP Select can help you maintain your visibility and add to your earnings for the book. A number of authors have mentioned that they can’t imagine that readers would bother borrowing a book unless it was a highly priced book, but this does not seem to be the case.
At $3.99, my two historical mysteries, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits, have been borrowed 4108 times through Amazon Prime in the last year and made me $8,161 (just short of $2 per book). These borrows have also helped keep my books visible between promotions.
2. If you do a promotion where you get enough downloads to put you on the top 100 of a popularity category list, being in KDP Select will result in at least some increase in sales and borrows after the promotion.
However, to ensure you get enough downloads, you need to make sure your book is ready (cover, description, categories, etc) and that you have done adequate marketing of the promotion. (see my Simple Steps to a Successful KDP Select Free Promotion.)
This has become particularly important because of the increase in the number of free books that are available in any given day, and the change in the algorithm for translating downloads to sales that has limited the impact of all promotions. Presently, if you don’t break through into the top 100 Kindle free book list with your free promotion, your promotion will be unlikely to bump your book up high enough afterwards to effect subsequent sales (unless your book was already doing well, and the promotion is designed to maintain that visibility.) Using sites like the Author Marketing Club, having your book picked up by a site like Pixel of Ink, or doing a paid promotion, for example through BookBub, is increasingly necessary to achieve that level of success. Here is a recent post at BookBuzzr on 7 Resources to Help with KDP Free Days Promotions.
If your promotion is successful (you break into the 100 Free Kindle books list), and the book is saleable, and you have your book in categories where you have a fighting chance of being visible after the promotion is over, KDP Select will increase your sales and borrows.
For example, the two weeks before my recent December 28-30 KDP Select promotion, Maids of Misfortune sold an average of 25 books a day, and Uneasy Spirits sold an average of 9.8 books a day. The first 10 days of January, after the promotion, Maids of Misfortune sold an average of 43 books a day, and Uneasy Spirits sold an average of 40 books a day. In addition, in those first 10 days of January 907 people borrowed one of these books.
3. If your book has already had positive reviews and you have a successful KDP Select promotion, you will increase your total number of reviews, which will improve the chances that people will buy the book when they see it.
Although you may garner a number of negative reviews (people who wouldn’t normally buy your type of book may give it a try if free, find it is not to their taste, and a number of them seem to enjoy telling everyone why they didn’t like it.), the increased number of positive reviews ultimately improves the overall credibility of the book.
For example, before doing my first KDP Select promotion last December, when the book had been selling for 2 years, I had 38 reviews for Maids of Misfortune, with an average 4.3 stars. A year later, after numerous free promotions, I have 191 reviews with an average of 4.2 stars. The slight slippage in stars is more than out-weighed by the positive impression of having those many positive reviews gives of the book. Probably even more importantly, Uneasy Spirits, my sequel, which had only been out 3 months before the first promotion (and only had about 8 reviews), now has 88 reviews with an average of 4.3 stars. I would never have gotten this number of reviews in just over a year without the KDP Select promotions I have done.
In summary, if your book is not selling well on Amazon (it is not at least visible on one of the one browsing categories) don’t sign that book up for KDP Select if you are not planning on putting in the work to do a successful free promotion. You will be disappointed, and you will be going exclusive to Amazon in exchange for no discernible benefits.
On the other hand, if your book has the potential to sell, it is in marketable categories, and you work hard on putting together an effective promotion, KDP Select can earn you more money in sales and borrows after the promotion, maintain a level of discoverability that will permit your book to continue to make money, and help your book accumulate a healthy number of reviews. How many sales and borrows you make a month (in comparison to what your sales are out side of Amazon), and how willing you are to continue to do promotions when those sales begin to dwindle (as they will almost inevitably), will then determine whether or not you want to keep your book in Amazon’s KDP Select.
I hope this helped clarify a little what to expect from KDP Select and what not to expect so that any decision you make as an indie author will improve the likelihood that readers will find and buy your books.
M. Louisa Locke, January 14, 2013