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What are Best Practices for KDP Select?

16 October 2012

A good author friend of Mrs. PG asked her if signing books up for KDP Select was worth it. Mrs. PG asked PG to answer the question.

Of course PG complied but (as usual) didn’t do exactly what Mrs. PG requested.

Instead, he tried to distill what he’s heard (or thinks he’s heard) from a lot of visitors to The Passive Voice about today’s consensus concerning KDP Select with a warning that everything can change, so these aren’t cast in stone.

Here’s what PG thinks most indie authors think:

  1. One of the basic elements in an author’s decision is whether he/she is selling a lot of ebooks outside of Amazon. If you’re selling 40% of your ebooks on Nook, you definitely don’t want to turn those royalties off to sell exclusively on Amazon.
  2. The free pricing promotion used to be the best part of Select because it could goose sales rank and push a book into the top 100 in a genre or higher for much better visibility. Lately, free pricing has lost its luster in spurring “sales” because a lot of authors are doing it. Authors suspect many readers download free books that they never read, so authors don’t get many flow-over sales from free books into paid books. Additionally, some authors and analysts believe Amazon has modified its sales rank algorithm to give less weight to free “sales” than it does to paid sales.
  3. Some people generate quite a few borrows from the Prime Lending program and regard those as the equivalent of sales. This seems to be the biggest draw at the moment, but its success varies a lot from author to author. Borrows do seem to be treated similarly to paid sales for Amazon sales rank purposes.
  4. Nobody seems to be selling much in India, so the higher level of royalties there doesn’t mean much.
  5. Fewer authors are putting all their books into Select. Typically, they’ll list one book to see what happens with borrows during the 90 day period, then take it out of Select to see if there is any increase in sales.

If your results vary or you think PG is full of hooey, please chime in with a comment.

Amazon, Ebooks, PG's Thoughts (such as they are), Pricing, Self-Publishing

45 Comments to “What are Best Practices for KDP Select?”

  1. I do wish that the lending library thing was offered separately from the select program. I would be interested in that but not the select program.

  2. Freebie rankings don’t mean anything once you’re back in the paid store. All those nice numbers disappear when the promo ends. However, every time I do a KDP Select free promo, there’s an uptick in my paid sales afterward. I attribute that to those freebies going into the “customers also bought” listing, which makes a nice showcase.

  3. I’ve not seen much of an advantage to keeping my books in Select. The results of getting your free book out to a bunch of potential readers is outweighed by the fact you are ignoring other sales channels through Nook, iBooks, or other outlets. I’ve decided to remove my books from Select as their commitments expire.

  4. Point 2 squares with my experience. I don’t personally know about any of the others, but see nothing to disagree with.

  5. I do feel a bit like a broken record, but whether or not KDP Select free promotions work for you has a lot to do with whether you are fortunate enough to get your book in the top 100 of a decent size browsing category.

    If your book is in a large category, (like contemporary fiction, or historical fiction) the promotion does at least give your book some temporary visibility and maybe some new reviews, but it seldom leaves your book visible for long in the paid side of the category–so little chance of a sales bump afterward. If browsers don’t see your book they won’t buy it, no matter how good it is, so you are dependent on other ways of getting them to look for your book.

    But, if your book is in a category with 2,500-5,000 books in it, frequent KDP Select promotions can keep your book in the top 100 paid list, and this will translate into sales (and borrows) because the book is visible. (Of course it also has to have good reviews, good cover, etc.).

    I would advise everyone who doesn’t know what the categories of their books are on Amazon to go look, then look at the number of books in that category over all, and think about this factor when deciding whether or not to use KDP Select.

  6. I think Louisa is partly right.

    I got reviews and adds on Goodreads as a result of my freebie promotions on my first book, so KDP wasn’t a total loss. I don’t think the momentum gets faster in the first few months of your first book, so I disagree with some of the big names that ever using Select is a bad idea. I think if you are a new author with no brand and only one book, it can be advantageous. Beyond that, it probably isn’t going to be that helpful. No self-published author is going to get famous instantly off one book, and that’s a reality you just have to accept.

    I think Select works great in some genres, especially those that are weak on Smashwords and other venues. I think if you’re going romance or nonfiction, skip KDP entirely. If you’re in most genre fiction, KDP might be good for a first book, but not as word-of-mouth builds.

    However, I think that those who do the best on Select have a lot of reviews already and can get on the big blogs, like Pixel of Ink. I had the score, but they still didn’t pick me up (since everyone seems to review me on Goodreads instead of Amazon). I got picked up by some of the less popular ones, but they didn’t drive the huge numbers that I’ve heard come with PoI. Now, the problem comes in on how to get those reviews when you have a brand new book. Still grappling with that one….

    • “Now, the problem comes in on how to get those reviews when you have a brand new book. Still grappling with that one….”
      How do the Big Publishers do it? Yes, independent reviewers are privy to early copies and they do the reviews for free. Those people know each other, have lunch together, go to conventions together, and have their own clique. In other words they scratch each other’s backs.
      Now God forbid if authors would join together and do the same kind of reviews for each other. Big pubs can do that but Indie Writers must be above such shenanigans and no reviews or sales for us either.
      I am an honest person, and I wouldn’t review a book for money, nor would I provide a false review. And I would also give the author the benefit of refusing my review, in case it is too gloriously good.
      So, fellow Indie Writers shall we start our own “PG Writer Review Club?”
      My e-mail is dumitru@sandru.com and I’m signing in. We can set this up on Yahoo groups. Anyone interested?

      • Sounds like a great idea, DG Sandru, though I’m not sure how it would work: Amazon would soon notice that writers “exchange” reviews… Some sites do it, like Readers Favorite but I have a feeling that the success is limited, in thesense that not many people join in to rub each other’s back. Because you see, that’s the trouble with that approach…

        Anyone has a better idea? I’d love to hear it! Because getting reviews is the most difficult part of marketing…And KDP Select has proved to be no help in this respect, at least for me.

        • You’re right Claude. One of the bylaws I thought the club should have is a no “quid pro quo” reviews. That would eliminate the suspicion that two authors are reviewing each other’s books. Amazon can easily identify such reviews. The problem with having a quid pro quo is that the club needs to be very large, and that at least some writers will participate in reviewing the others’ books. Maybe the best way is to ask “Would you like to review my book, colleague author?”
          It’s a catch 22, no good reviews, no sales, no sales no reviews. So, ask for reviews and you shall receive.

  7. On other issue with the free promo is that trolls are apparently getting into the mix. These are people who download your book for free, and then post a bad review, regardless of how well the book is written and edited, just for the fun of it.

  8. PG

    Some writer friends of mine are doing great with Select/Amazon – but their writing ‘model’ is different. They write serials with 6 books in each serial….and have now done 5 serials I think. And the first book in each serial is permanently free (I think they put it free on Smashwords and got price matched on Amazon). Then they use their Select promotions for different editions of the serials.


    • Interesting strategy, J.J.

    • About serials: Anybody have suggestions on the best place to find out more about serials (as in the basics like word count per serial)?And how do sequels and serials differ?

      • Elle

        The best source is from the Horse’s Mouth so to speak. The authors I’m talking about are Sean Platt and David Wright.

        They run a weekly podcast with a guy called Johnie Truant – the self publishing podcast. It’s a bit ‘blokey,’ often goes off topic and contains lots of swearing. BUT – it’s full of interesting nuggets of information. Sean and Dave publish around 15,000 to 20,000 words of fiction in their serial model most weeks.

        So well worth checking out.

  9. My concern troll post:

    I’ve heard about some authors, particularly romance authors, getting really nasty reviews when their book was free. I guess the people who buy their books are more likely to think about their purchase than just downloading something which they probably wouldn’t like in the first place.

  10. Amazon has recently changed the visibility of its free list of books in most of the categories. In the category rankings free would show side by side by paid. Now they don’t.

    A few months ago I did a free select promotion and got over 1,500 downloads for one of my books when things were side by side. Then the other week I did one and got about 140.

    140 downloads isn’t enough to make it worth it to me so I’m going to try leaving select and going to smashwords.

  11. The big blogs (Kindle Nation Daily, E-reader News Today, Pixels of Ink) are critical for a successful promotion. Reaching the top of a category is only valuable if it is an important category. There are some categories that elicit so little interest that even being at the top hardly makes a difference in sales. The borrows are important royalty-wise for books priced below the KDP Select pay level for a borrow. For books priced at 99 cents this is huge (and yes, people do borrow these books).

  12. India has a healthy publishing industry which includes many Indian authors. Anyone picturing a billion readers starving for Western ebooks is fantasizing.
    Amazon’s 70% in India for Select only is a bid to acquire exclusive Indian content.

  13. Free books are falling flat. I rotate my books so that I have one free every month in KDP Select. Up until October I was seeing a bump in sales after the free promo at least on my series. In October the few extra books sold didn’t warrant staying in KDP Select. I’m trying it again next month but the results will dictate whether I distribute to all other venues instead. If Amazon gurus are smart, and I think they are, they will offer another incentive to keep authors enrolled.

  14. KDP Select may not be right for everyone, but it’s sure as heck right for me. My books were dead and buried on non-Amazon outlets. My sales via Nook, through Smashwords and every other outlet were so pathetic it made no sense whatsoever to continue listing outside of Amazon.
    When I use my free days the sales of all my books increase – always. It never fails. I have no issue with the lending. It’s a perk for Amazon Select members.
    Look, I’m not selling hundreds of thousands of books but I am selling hundreds of books and I’m beginning to see that golden ‘word of mouth thing’ happening. During a single free period one of my books was downloaded 65,000 times. If only 10% of those people read the book I’m satisfied.

  15. I largely agree with the conclusions in your post, PG.

    My case:

    Just one book published so far (#2 is a WIP), so there are no statistical complications that come from having multiple titles.

    I tried selling HUNTER through all the retail outlets at first, but only got significant sales traction on Amazon.

    I joined Select with that single book, and it has since been “borrowed” thousands of times — far more than the combined sales totals I was generating previously from all non-Amazon sites. Leaving Select would take a big chunk out of my earnings, so I’m staying put with HUNTER. I haven’t decided whether or not to enroll the sequels in Select, yet.

    I never bothered using Select to run “free” promotions — only for gaining access to Amazon Prime members using the Kindle Owners Lending Library to borrow books.

    HUNTER has never gotten any attention from Kindle Nation Daily, E-reader News Today, or Pixels of Ink, but became a Kindle bestseller largely through Amazon promotions. It has had some attention on Goodreads, though I can’t tell how much that has resulted in sales. It also has received some attention from smaller blogs and review sites.

    The problem with all marketing generalizations that people are drawing from these thousands of indie experiments is that in each one, there are a multitude of variables. So, it’s virtually impossible to attribute the success or failure of any one book, or author, to any one promotional, timing, qualitative, or quantitative factor.

    It might be more useful to try to divine what most highly successful books and/or authors share in common, in order to isolate the most decisive factor(s). I suspect that in most cases, superior storytelling is at least 90% responsible; how they gain “discoverability” varies wildly. And any tactic or gimmick to generate discoverability is bound to have only a limited shelf-life. To me, the best way to become “discoverable” is to do something that stands out as unique. But as soon as everyone jumps on that particular tactical bandwagon, it will lose its potency, because any given title employing it will no longer stand out from the crowd.

  16. I had a fairly good run in the historical romance genre in May with KDP. I have two books in a series, which I think helped me, rather than a standalone work. I put the first book up free, had over 28,000 downloads, and it has pushed sales to the second book consistently since then. I hit #1 spot in freebies for three days, and it just fed itself like a monster. It pushed the second book into top paid historical romance best sellers at the #8 spot, placed me into Movers & Shakers list, and gave me a huge monetary return.

    However, I have since watched those sales steadily decline since then. My second book in the series is still my best selling book above my three other novels. I attribute that to the 28,000 finally picking through, reading the first, and then opting to buy the second. My sales elsewhere were minimal on B&N, etc., so no love lost there.

  17. I did fairly well with KDP on my one book, and after the freebie ended my book Arboregal was number 1 for two days. It did not last, but I consider it a success. I kept my book in KDP for nine months and I found out that after Christmas and spring (May, June) are the best seasons. KDP has run its course for this book. Next book it’s being hatched.

  18. Seems to me one of the chief reason to join KDP is the free promotion.

    But can’t you do the same by making your book free on Smashwords, and then let Amazon price match? This way, you can make your book free as many times, and as long as you want.

    So why don’t people do this? Am I missing something?

    • Price matching works if you want to use a book as a semi-permanent loss leader– but not for short, targeted promotions.

      When you make a book free on Smashwords it doesn’t automatically become free on Amazon. I made my short story free on Smashwords in June, it took 4 months to become free on Amazon, and it still isn’t free on Barnes and Noble, despite the fact I alerted Amazon to the existence of a free book, and others pointing it out. For some this has happened more quickly but you can’t control the timing.

      Then if I decide to take it off free, it might take weeks for Amazon to respond. If you are willing to forgo months of sales of that book (as many are) then this can work in terms of getting people to try your book and hopefully buy others in your series, but not if you want a short promotion–coordinated with getting your book on the various promotion sites.

      If I get to 5 -6 books in my series, I will most certainly try the approach of making the first free for long stretches. And then of course I would not go with KDP Select, but try to sell in the other stores (where I have had very little success in previous tries.)

    • Most people don’t want to be free indefinitely, and once you go free, it’s really hard to go back or risk having readers get mad.

      Amazon is also really trying to avoid the free price matching now. I’ve been trying to price match a short story for over a month, and no dice. They won’t do it.

      I might consider trying to price match the first novel after I have several out, but momentum might pick up anyway by then. It already has.

    • I have a book for $0.99 on SmashWords but with an Amazon price of $2.99.
      I was trying to get the “$2.99” crossed out in red and a “You save $2.00” in the book’s sales page in order to boost sales. It took amazon about three months to match the $0.99 price despite it being $0.99 on B&N, iBooks etc for all that time.
      Amazon priced matched for about five months, but just recently they put it back up to full price despite it still being $0.99 on SmashWords, Nook, iBooks, etc.
      So this process can be very hit and miss.
      Also, while this hasn’t happened to me, I’ve heard of other writers getting emails from Amazon pointing out that setting a lower price on another outlet is against their Terms and Conditions and telling them to stop or risk having their books removed.

      PS there was a bump in sales once amazon dropped the price to $0.99 and a corresponding drop once the price returned to $2.99. But whether this was caused by the strike out and the “You save $2.00” text or simply the price being $0.99 I can’t tell.

      • That stinks about the email. I think I’d just pull it from Amazon completely if they sent me that and make it available everywhere else. It’s a short story, not a novel, and it’s not selling at all on Amazon, so I dunno what difference it would make.

        I’d make a Createspace paperback version and do the crossed out version set at $.99. Then you can set that original price even higher.

  19. “What are Best Practices for KDP Select?”
    I have a blog on Goodreads (feeds to Amazon) and wonder what PG’s policy might be on using the above informative piece on my blog, of course with top billing in the headline and first graf for The Passive Voice blog and PG. It’s true I don’t have a large following yet, but I’d love to use it and think at least some GR readers who might not already read your blog could discover you that way.

  20. Great minds and all that — I just did a blog post on this.

    I’ve been seriously indie-pubbing stuff for a year now. I put my fourth novel (“Clockwork Kingdom”) into the Select program at the start of the year, just to see what would happen.

    My conclusion, for myself and my publishing company, is that Select didn’t help that much. Did it goose sales of the one novel? Yes. Did I see much of a halo effect afterward? Not really.

    About the same time I put the one novel into the Select program, I published a collection of short stories (“Baker’s Dozen.”) The collection has sold almost the same number of copies as the novel.

    In addition, since I’ve been going at this for a year now, I have some numbers. While 65% of my sales are from Amazon, the rest — aren’t. Going into the Select program would mean losing 45% of my sales. YMMV — these are just my numbers. But now that I have them, I can make better business decisions.

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