How to Get Your Book Downloaded 5,141 Times in Two Days

Posted: January 2, 2012 in Writing
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Has anything shaken up the book industry as much as KDP Select in recent memory?  Low sales in December are being blamed almost entirely on the KDP Select program.  Despite admonitions regarding joining the Select program, I decided to roll the dice and see what good, and bad, would come from the program.  Here are the early results.

BRIEFLY, WHAT IS KDP SELECT?

I don’t want to spend much time on this, because all the information is available on your KDP page.  Basically, the Select program is this: (1) you give up all rights to distribute your EBOOK anywhere but on Amazon (does not apply to paperbacks, doesn’t apply to any ebooks which are not enrolled); (2) consumers with Amazon Prime and a Kindle device can borrow your book for free (has to be a Kindle device, not just a Kindle app); and (3) based upon the number of times your book is borrowed, you get a slice of the monthly pie, which is currently $500,000/month.

TIMING IS *ALMOST* EVERYTHING

Part of the Select program is the ability to choose dates on which you want to promote your book for free.  (As an aside, you can just change your price to $0.00 in KDP.  I believe the only difference is that you won’t know, with exactitude, when the price change will take place).  I chose December 27-28 to have two free days.  Did I base my selection on extensive market research?  Wish I could say yes.  Rather, I picked those days because it seemed logical to me that people would have new reading devices from Christmas, and would want to download new books.  Call it prescience, call it dumb luck, but people downloaded Enemy in Blue like it was a new Grisham book.

Enemy in Blue had around 800 downloads as of 8am MST on the 27th.  Literally, every time I clicked the refresh page on my KDP monthly report, the number seemed to go up by around 100 downloads.  I can tell you it was a feeling like no other, and I envy the big time writers that are used to this type of success on a yearly basis!

I think this issue of timing begs the question of whether now is a good time to run your free days?  If push came to shove, I’d say hold off for a bit until people have had a chance to run through the books they just undoubtedly downloaded.  How long is that?  No idea, but my gut says that people’s readers are loaded with books right now.

IF TIMING ISN’T EVERYTHING, WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

I honestly believe timing was not everything.  If my book had a big goose egg for reviews, I don’t think people would have downloaded it, free or not.  If I hadn’t started #AmazonLikes several months ago, Enemy in Blue wouldn’t be liked and tagged as much as it is.  If I hadn’t done the countless other things (blog tours, interviews, building a Twitter following, etc.) written about here on my blog in other posts, no 5,141 downloads.  Finally, one more thing because this post is just as much about me assuring myself that I had some part in this near-miracle, but if I hadn’t taken optimization classes for every detail of my Amazon page, then “no go,” my friends.

In short, way back when I started writing this blog, I analogized the writing process to building a house.  I started the analogy with a reference to putting in your foundation.  All those efforts listed in the last paragraph?  The foundation.  Without it, simply no way people would have downloaded Enemy in Blue so much.  Remember, even a free book costs time.

RESULTS SINCE THE TWO FREE DAYS

Obviously, a huge question is whether the success in those two free days has spilled over to the following paid days.  Short answer, it has.  Enemy in Blue was ranked #552 in paid books at its peak, which amounted to over 200 books/day.  Sales have slowly decreased each day thereafter, with some of that necessarily flowing from the New Year’s break.  (I don’t think many people wake up on January 1 with whiskey on their breath and say, “Durnit, I wanna read a book!”).

It remains to be seen what impact all the downloads have on Enemy in Blue.  Hopefully, it will result in reviews, and word of mouth.  Seems like a given, with that number of downloads.  Also, I’m currently ranked #31 in Action and Adventure as a result of the whole effort, and peaked at #19.  I believe that a big list such as A&A can drive further sales, as opposed to some of the strange, extremely niche lists that I see next to other books.  I’m keeping track of sales on a daily basis, and will update the blog with that information in the future.

IS IT WORTH IT?

I’m frequently getting asked how Enemy in Blue shot up the charts, and whether Select has been worth it.  Obviously, for me, it was.  However, I would stick to my caution that without the proper elements (good cover, great reviews and not just 5 of them, likes and tags, best product description possible), I don’t think you will see tremendous success with the Select program.  Plus, you will be limited selling on Amazon for 90 days.  My suggestion would be to build that foundation for your book, and once you get there, pick a couple weekdays to offer your book for free.  I have seen my best sales figures on Thursdays/Fridays.

One more tip from my time spent analyzing all this–having multiple books is another catalyst to success in using free days.  Point in case?  J.A. Konrath.  The guy is a beast of an author.  He has nearly written more damn books than I have on my bookshelves!  A couple of his books were free at the same time as Enemy in Blue.  I watched all of his books, free and paid, rise to the tops of their various bestselling lists.  And, they’ve stayed there.  So, if you can use the free days to help promote multiple books in a series, for example, then Select absolutely seems worth it.

LINGERING QUESTIONS

I would be remiss if I sat here, writing this post, and failed to disclose that I’m hesitant to even publish it.  I mean, I’ve just experienced success, but who’s to say that wasn’t a flash in the pan?  Some cosmic alignment.  I’m certainly not sitting here with any notion that “I’ve made it.”  In fact, if anything, I’ve got more of a knot in my stomach now, as I watch my ranking oscillate.

That disclosure aside, here are some of my unanswered questions:

(1)  How do you get the initial “burst” of downloads when your book goes free?  This is the burst that puts you on a bestseller’s list, and being on those lists undoubtedly builds your momentum.

(2)  How often should the free “tool” be used?  As a part of the Select program, you can schedule five (5) free days in a 90-day period.  Should that be your limit of free days in a quarter?  At what point is more not better?  I’ll be testing this in the next few months to further hone the results.

(3)  The critical question–what is my royalty going to be calculated at for the borrowed books?  If I’m making 40%, instead of 70%, is it worth it?  Will it just result in a way for Amazon to pay lower royalty rates, while at the same time locking up its monopoly?  Call me neurotic, but businesses exist to maximize their own profits.

WRAPPIN’ IT UP

If you came here looking for an easy answer and now hate me, don’t forget your New Year’s resolution was to go easy on other people, k?  Bottom line though, and we always know it, is that hard work underlies nearly all success.  Take some time to read the other blog posts on here, put some sweat and blood into your foundation, and then give Select a shot.  If you have any questions/additions/comments, please add them to this blog post, and I’ll try to respond as quickly as possible!

Here’s to our mutual success in 2012!

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Comments
  1. andyholloman says:

    fantastic stuff derek, gonna give my book a couple of free days this week, thx for sharing all the numbers, big help, will share mine w/ u when i give it a roll…mucho merci

  2. Derek Blass says:

    No worries! Hope Shades of Gray kicks butt, Andy!

  3. Derek, I just enrolled in the Select program too and have two questions: The free books do not apply to people who just have the Kindle app for their phone or Apple products, etc.? How do I sign up for my book’s two free days? I couldn’t find that on the KDP page. Thanks, Scott

    • Derek Blass says:

      Hey Scott–No, you have to have a Kindle itself, not the app. I couldn’t borrow any books because I have a Toshiba Thrive tablet with the Amazon app. On your KDP bookshelf page, click the box next to your book, enroll it in KDP Select if you haven’t already, and then click on “Actions.” Last item in the list is “manage promotions.” Click on that and you go to a screen where you can select your free days.

  4. I hate you! ; ) j/k! Love the post, lots of things to ponder for sure. The exclusivity thing is my biggest hurdle. I use Smashwords a lot and have good results with it — selling on B&N, Apple, and Kobo — so I just can’t bring myself to pull my book from there for 90 days.

    Keep us up to date on your further adventures with it though Derek!

    • Derek Blass says:

      Ouch!! 😉 I understand re: the exclusivity. I wasn’t doing a ton on SW, mainly because I didn’t have time to figure out that uber-strict formatting requirement. Have never looked at doing Apple, maybe I’m dumb for that!

  5. I’m glad you’re seeing success, Derek. I couldn’t go along with the KDP program because the exclusivity doesn’t make sense. I don’t see a reader saying “oh, book x is on Amazon for 90 days exclusively, I need to go buy a Kindle.” If the goal of KDP Select is to have as many books available as possible for Kindle owners to borrow, why limit authors to being exclusively with Amazon? I would have signed up in a heart beat without the exclusivity clause. Therefore, I lean more towards your last point, that with the program’s success, Amazon will widen the gap of the number of ebooks it has for readers, over other companies. And that’s not something I want to support.

    And with the mass exodus of indie authors to Kindle, there is amazing opportunity to reach more Nook users. In good conscience, I can’t tell 22% of my readers that I don’t care about them, please switch to Kindle. Shoot, I don’t even own a Kindle, I own a Nook. 🙂

    I know many authors are finding that the KDP select program works for them. And I’m happy they are finding a great niche to promote their books. I’m just going to look for a different niche. 🙂

    • Derek Blass says:

      Elizabeth, totally understand, and don’t disagree. If you’ve already established yourself on the Nook, then you can’t forego that market. Also, like I posted, if “free” days are the main benefit, I think we can accomplish that by simply changing our price in KDP. What I really want to see is what kind of return I get from my borrowed books. That will likely determine whether I renew at the end of this first term.

  6. eden baylee says:

    Good post, Derek, and appreciate your sharing. I’m considering this for my next book and reading of your experience was helpful.
    eden

  7. Good post, Derek! I also used the Kindle Select free promotion for December 30th. My logic was similar to yours. I didn’t get the same number of downloads, however (168).

    That’s impressive that you’ve taken classes to optimize your Amazon page. I’ll have to head over to Amazon and check that out.

  8. Thanks for sharing Derek, I often wonder if ppl who download a lot of free or even 99c books actually read them? For me, I’d like people to read my book – not just have downloaded it and to do that they will actually have to value the book. Books for cheap don’t get read – example I have hundreds of free downloads and I haven’t even chosen one to read on my Kobo so far.
    I have not chosen Kselect for any of my books or my author’s books yet, maybe I will if they want me to but I’m with Katherine above when she says she doesn’t want to buy into Amazon’s blatant attempt to capture all indie authors in their net.
    At the end of the day more authors in Kselect means less of the kitty to be divided up amongst them. What is 500,000 when there are a million indie authors to divide it between and Joe Konrath is getting the lion’s share? [Although I believe he probably hasn’t joined the KSelect scheme] You have better chances at a casino in my opinion. I will be interested to see what, if anything you get paid and thank you for sharing your experience with us. Are you informed as to the number of books which are ‘borrowed’ under this system?
    For those of us choosing to continue selling our books at other sales outlets it means more potential customers for us as not every human being on the planet shops with Amazon, strangely enough.
    Thankyou again for your information and best of luck with your sales.

    • Derek Blass says:

      Hi, Christine. I think most people that download the books for free largely don’t read them. They get a big “stack” of books and that’s that. I am getting reports through KDP as to how many books are being borrowed. I am very interested to see how the first payment works out. That will largely determine if I renew.

      I will say, a lot of people have had good success from the free days.

      Finally, I don’t think Amazon is trying to capture the indies. I think Amazon is trying to capture ALL books. And, this is a step in that direction. It is going to stink for brick and mortar, and pretty much any other entity that sells books. However, I’m not going to be able to stop the tidal wave.

  9. I did the same thing with free eBooks on the same two days and got about half of the downloads you did, but I write Zombie books, so I like to think it’s more of a niche reader… the real test, like you say, is to see how this translates ove the coming weeks, months and year for sales…

    Armand Rosamilia

  10. Tim Vicary says:

    Hi Derek,

    I’ve just discovered your blog and and am really impressed with the sensible and useful advice, delivered in such a cheerful no-nonsense way too. Really helpful – just what you’d hope for from a good lawyer! It brings together a lot of the things I’ve been struggling to do for myself – I’ve got 6 kindle books online, (three about a British barrister, as it happens) but as you say, that was the easy part; establishing a good platform is turning out to be much harder. And the skills and know-how involved in marketing are very different from those you need to write the books.

    Anyway I have two very simple questions which I’m afraid will illustrate how technologically challenged I am. Firstly, you mention #AmazonLikes – what is this, exactly, and how does it work? And secondly, you say you took ‘optimization classes’ for your Amazon page – does this mean you asked your computer literate friends, or are there actual classes that you can join somehow?

    Best wishes

    Tim Vicary

    • Derek Blass says:

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for the kind words! With #AmazonLikes, you simply Tweet your book’s title, Amazon link, and the hashtag #AmazonLikes. Then, people that participate will go through the list and like your books, and hopefully vote on your tags as well. I’m not sure if you have your book in the US or UK, but just be aware that if you have a US account, you can’t like/tag someone’s book in the UK market. So, if you are UK and use #AmazonLikes, your return may not be as high, because most of the users are in the US. There are, however, several UK authors that have posted on there before.

      As to optimization classes, I took them through the Indie Book Collective. You can search for their blog online, and then find when they are offering classes. They usually offer them every other week, if not more frequently. For $10-$15, they are a great deal.

      Best of luck with your writing, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue!

  11. Tim Vicary says:

    Thanks Derek,

    That’s very helpful. I’ll look up the Indie Book collective and let you know how it goes. I’m applyig to join the Independent Author Network today as well. I’ve downloaded Enemy in Blue, too. It looks just my sort of thing!

    Best wishes

    Tim

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