I recently made Ocean of Dust FREE for 5 days on Kindle. Worldwide, anyone could obtain my book for absolutely nothing. Um… aren’t I writing books to make money? Well yes… and no. Why (and how) did I make my book free to so many people?
First the How
Most authors, especially in the Indie scene, are familiar or at least have heard of Amazon’s KDP Select program. It has two components:
- You make your book(s) exclusive to Amazon for 90 days. Your book is entered into their Kindle Owners Lending Library, meaning that subscribers to Amazon Prime (incidentally one of the best time and money savers on the planet!) can borrow your book on the Kindle for free. Amazon actually pays you for these too.
- For 5 days, any time within that 90 days, you can make your Kindle Book free. This is optional but usually the primary reason authors put their books into KDPS, as we will see below.
The caveat to this program is that your book has to be exclusive to Amazon. That means you must withdraw your book from all other distributors, i.e. Kobo, Nook, SmashWords, Apple’s iBooks etc. Authors, consider this carefully. By un-publishing your book from other distributors you are limiting your audience to Kindle users only, and buying in to the idea of a monopoly, albeit a limited 90 day one. After 90 days, you can either extend your time in KDPS or withdraw, and are then free to re-publish your book through other distributors. Caveat: Doing so negates any ranking you might have built with them, and your book starts from scratch again.
So Ocean of Dust remains in KDPS at its usual $2.99 price point until December 18th, and then I will withdraw from KDPS and re-publish across all formats. Ideally I want my book available in all formats. I am a firm believer in healthy competition and a reader’s freedom to choose any ebook device.
Why give my book away?
As a debut author, my experience was typical of 95% of first time Indie publishers. After almost a year, sales on my book were flagging. The reviews on Ocean of Dust remain high (4.7+ out of 5) and I am thrilled to have received very kind words from readers. The largest problem debut authors face is getting known, getting the book in front of more people. Audience is far more important than sales, especially in the early days when an author has to earn the respect and loyalty of readers one by one.
So I needed a big promotion. There are literally thousands of services that can help promote an author and his book, but there is one kind of promotion that beats all: Something for nothing! Who can turn that offer down? OK, so I could have just made my book free on all formats and promoted it thus. That would work great, but KDPS offers something even better: Book charts that are read by millions of people.
Here’s how that works. Make a book free on KDPS and promote it. As people download it, it starts to climb up the charts, maybe from #10,000 in the Fantasy category to #2000. More downloads, higher ranking. Amazon is smart. They put those rankings right on the book page so a reader can view them. Everyone likes to check out a popular book, right? Once the book hits the Top 100 then the lists become more visible, and downloads increase. The Top 10 lists are constantly checked by savvy readers.
Technical details aside, the more people I can get to download the book, the more people hear about me. Simple!
Sort of. Just being in the Top 10 doesn’t mean an automatic download. The book needs to have a compelling title, cover and interesting blurb. Never skimp on those things. Also, we all know that downloading a free book doesn’t mean that it will get read. Some people just like free things, others want to get it before the price goes up. It might languish on their Kindle for weeks, months, even years. If just 10% of all downloads are read, I have just increased my audience considerably. And if it isn’t read… well, they probably wouldn’t have bought it anyway. It’s a win-win.
Before we go into the additional benefits, I’m sure you want to see the numbers, right?
The highest rankings I achieved over the 5 days: (Remember these are Free charts, Paid charts are separate)
- #44 of ALL free books on the Kindle
- #1 in Fantasy – Swords and Sorcery
- #1 in Teen/Young Adult
I’m very happy with that.
I know, we are used to seeing bestsellers in the millions, making these numbers look pitiful, but these are many times my previous sales.
- The Germany and India numbers were a large surprise. The UK I expected. I have since been contacted by over a dozen readers in Germany who have read and enjoyed the book. My first major push into a non-English country.
- I was also surprised just how many people read the book in the first couple of days. That supports my theory that getting the book in front of people does work.
- Within days, my social media numbers increased: Facebook, Twitter, visitors to my site, adds to GoodReads, subscribers to my newsletter. I’m sure these will continue to increase over the coming months as more folk get around to reading the book.
- I have received dozens and dozens of notes from people wanting to know when my next book came out. That to me is the real success: turning casual readers into fans.
- Even if a person did not download my book, they likely saw my name on the Kindle charts. When they see my next book, hopefully that spark of recognition will make them more likely to look further.
- Most importantly, I have already made a bunch of new friends, readers and authors, since my promotion.
More on Promotion
A huge, huge thank you to everyone who helped me promote the giveaway by telling your friends, sharing my posts, tweeting etc. You guys helped big time, and I really do appreciate it!
This last bit is for the benefit of Indie authors. A friend did a similar KDPS experiment a couple of weeks before mine. My numbers were much higher. Not because I had the better book, but because I took a few extra steps than he, and I strongly advise you do similar if considering 5-free days on KDPS:
- Investigate the hordes of web sites that will promote your book, particularly those specializing in Kindle freebies. A google search will show a ton of them. Most are free. I used 12 such services for a total of $20. Choose carefully and be sure to go for the ones that operate email lists. If someone has subscribed to a list, they are obviously hungry for books.
- Approach the bigger names like Bookbub. They operate genre-specific email lists and some of them have a quarter of a million subscribers on them.
- Post to all the social media sites. This should go without saying. If you’ve been reciprocating sharing and tweeting for fellow authors, they are going to be happy to help you spread the word.
- If you are sending emails, e.g. a newsletter, or to friends or family, be careful how you phrase your promotion. “FREE for 5-days only” is likely to hit spam filters, so be creative.
- The one thing I didn’t do, and should have, was a Facebook Ad. For a small cost you can hit a huge number of people.
KDPS is widely debated among authors, some claiming incredible success, others none. I am extremely happy with the publicity I received for $20.
Would I do it again? Not if I am consistently selling across all ebook formats. If I had a well-received book whose sales are flagging, then maybe.
[KDP Select and the graphic above are trademarks and copyright of Amazon.com]