Self-publishing is about as democratic as anything else, in the sense that 1) anyone is free to try it and 2) it takes money to make money.
I have one self-published friend who recently admitted to spending over $15,000 to market her Indie novel. She’s doing well and has more than tripled her investment. In addition, she has built a platform of readers who are now eagerly awaiting her next novel.
That story has a happy ending. But what if you don’t have $15,000, or even $5,000, to spend on publicity? What if just getting your book published wipes out your savings, because you already had to cough up a few thousand for the cover, the design, the ISBN number and an editor, too? What do you do then?
That’s the situation I was in when I published my novel Sleeping Tigers.
Fortunately, there is advice aplenty for authors on how to advertise cheaply. Check out web sites for Novel Publicity, Ereader News Today,World Literary Cafe, Digital Book World, TeleRead, and The Book Designer for useful tips. These all offer great advice on book marketing—and, yes, it’s all free! Indie authors J.A. Konrath and John Locke also have helpful blogs.
Now, after three months of testing out book marketing strategies, I can honestly say that probably nothing can help you market your book more effectively than the KDP Select Program.
What is the KDP Select Program?
Read the fine print on the Kindle Direct Publishing web site, but here are the bare bones: if you agree to participate in the KDP Select Program, you sign up for a three-month exclusivity term. This means that you agree to sell your ebook only in the Kindle format, but you can continue selling your paperbacks however you wish.
In exchange for this exclusivity agreement, you are granted five free promotional days during your three-month term. Your book is also included in the lending library for Amazon Prime members; this means that people with Amazon credit cards can borrow your book for free—and Amazon will pay you a royalty for each borrow.
Many authors object to the KDP Select program. Indie authors are a crowd of wild Mustangs and we hate being reined in—that’s why many of us self-publish. We object to some of Amazon’s monopolistic business practices. Plus, why would anyone want to give a book away for free?
I was one of those resisters. On the other hand, despite my steady blogging and my shiny new Twitter account, I was selling very few books. The first month after publication, Sleeping Tigers sold just enough books for me to take my husband to a movie or dinner, but not both. My novel was a cross between literary fiction, chick lit, and romance—no zombies, vampires, serial killers, cowboy lovers, or psychic detectives. In other words, there wasn’t the usual genre crowd to rely on for sales.
I wasn’t trying to get rich on this novel—in fact, I didn’t even imagine making back what I spent on publishing it. But I am a writer who longs to reach out to readers. I had tried everything but the KDP Select Program to market my novel, so I signed up for the three-month term and chose my first two promotional days. Then I sat back and waited.
Don’t Make the Same Mistake I Did
That was my mistake: I sat back and did nothing.
While I did have more downloads during the first two days my book was free—the book ultimately reached a rank of #18 in Kindle’s contemporary fiction and a rank of 185 in the free Kindle store—after the promotion I was still selling only one or two books per day.
“What did I do wrong?” I asked a friend who also happens to be my guru in the Indie publishing world.
“Did you advertise the fact that your book was free?” she asked.
By the next month, my book was back down in the ranks, sliding as low as 70,000 or so. I was getting desperate; I had always sold my book at $2.99, but many Indie authors who make it into the Amazon stratosphere sell their ebooks for $.99. My next experiment was to try this strategy. I decided to lower the price to $.99 to see what would happen. (This is called a “price pulse” and you can find lots of authors discussing this strategy online.) I even did a mild book pimping run on Twitter and Facebook to see if I could garner interest in a week-long $.99 promotion.
The result? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. In fact, my book rank plummeted, languishing around 134,000 or so.
“You have to do another free promotion,” my friend urged. “But advertise it this time.”
Do This Instead
For my second KDP Select Promotion, I waited until I had that magical tenth positive review on Amazon, courtesy of a generous book blogger in England. Then I set my promotion for three days, choosing the end of tax season, April 15 to 17, as my dates, figuring people would finally be finished with nasty paperwork and be ready for a fun read.
A week ahead of time, I emailed some of the big e-reader sites that my book would be free on those days, like Pixel of Ink and Ereader News Today. Then, to take the “layered marketing approach,” as the saying goes, I bought a (very cheap) ad on Digital Books Today to run right after the promotion.
As I waited for April 15, I began second-guessing all of my efforts. Was I making a mistake? April 15 wasn’t just tax day, it was Patriot’s Day, and the day of the Boston Marathon! Who the heck would want to download books if there was a holiday to enjoy? Why didn’t I wait?
Plus, even by April 14, I still couldn’t bring myself to blog, tweet or Facebook about the promotion. Authors who spend their time sending out book pimping messages make my teeth hurt. Yes, everything these days is “soft” marketing, but I prefer content with my advertising. I didn’t want to inflict sales spam on people I’d come to know through social media channels.
I nearly pulled out of the second free promotion for another reason as well: I was having a crisis in confidence as a writer. How many readers are left in the world? In my most pessimistic moments, I imagine everyone sitting around in sports bars or lying on the couch watching American Idol or YouTube videos. Maybe everyone who would be interested in reading my book had already downloaded it.
On April 15, I could barely bring myself to check the downloads, but bam! There they were, and they were coming fast! In the very first day of the second promotion, I had as many downloads as the first two days combined! By the last day of the promotion, my book had hit #1 in contemporary fiction and #3 among all free Kindle downloads—with twenty times as many downloads as during my first promotion.
What’s more, sales have declined but have remained steady. Thanks to the KDP Select Program, I may actually make a small profit from Sleeping Tigers. More importantly, I am creating an audience of readers and book bloggers who I hope will be interested in the next novel I publish.
What the heck happened to make this possible?
The answer is easy: I took full advantage of KDP Select Program’s free promotional days. You can do it, too. Here’s how:
- Before joining the KDP Select Program, check your book sales. Are you selling more on Smashwords or Kindle? If the answer is Kindle, then you have nothing to lose by going with the KDP Select Program—you can opt out again after three months.
- There are two schools of thought when it comes to deciding when to go with KDP Select: one is that you should wait until you have at least ten positive Amazon reviews (4 or 5 stars). The other is to do it right away, when you launch your book. That will give your book a higher ranking from the start. However, sites like Pixel of Ink are less likely to pick up books without customer reviews, because so many authors contact them, and of course it’s in their interest to publicize the best free books possible. I’d advise contacting reviewers early, before your book is out, and waiting until you have the reviews posted on Amazon before advertising your free promotion.
- Remove your book from Smashwords and other sites at least two weeks in advance. I ran into a slight snafu, because I thought that removing the book from Smashwords meant I’d successfully made my book exclusive to Kindle; however, Smashwords distributes to a number of other sites, like Barnes & Noble, and it can take 2-3 weeks for them to remove the book.
- Once you sign up for KDP Select, make use of all five free promotional days, but don’t do them one at a time—spread them out between a two-day and a three-day promotion. That gives readers time to see your book and download it.
- Follow up your free promotion with some modest paid advertising.
And that, my friends, is it. Simple as can be. Will I sign up again for KDP Select? I already have. I’ll let you know how the next round goes. I’d love to hear your experiences, too. What has worked for you?
Toby Neal says
I love being your mysterious friend, or one of them. Well said as always! You could make a minibook too! hee hee
Rachel Rueben says
Thanks for the good advice, I haven't been having too much success with KDP but that's because I haven't been visible. I do have a blogtour coming up and I plan on offering my book for free then, but I didn't consider advertising! I'm definitely gonna give it a try:-)
Holly Robinson says
Oh, yes, definitely try letting those sites know–most are free, best of all. And then check out the cheap ad spots in places like World Literary Cafe and Digital News. You should also buy Toby's great booklet on marketing your book–really terrific advice in there!
Sound advice, Holly. Even if it all sounds terrifying to someone who hasn't self-published! Glad to know you've made KDP work for you, despite the bumpy road.
Chrissy Anderson says
I’m ready to pull the trigger on KDP. Just wtg. for my ebooks to be pulled from other sites. Can you share exactly what it is you emailed to pixel of ink and ereader news today to get them to mention your promo? also, how many days ahead of the promo did you email them? the timing of all of this is whacky to me:) thanks gal!
Holly Robinson says
Sure, Chrissy. Basically, I just went to each of the web sites for Pixel of Ink, EReader News, etc. about ten days before the free promo days. (Most sites say do it at least a week in advance, and you should definitely have at least 10 great customer reviews for them to advertise your book.) Each of those sites has a place where you can upload the link to your book, the number of days it’s free, and a synopsis, too. You can also look at the Author Marketing web site–they have a way for you to hit up all of the ereader sites and let them know (I haven’t tried this yet, but I might if I do this again.) Good luck. Let me know how you get on!
Chrissy Anderson says
Hi Holly, Thanks for the reply. So…it looks like ereadernewstoday.com has temporarily removed the page to submit info. about free promo’s boo!
do you have a web address for the Author Marketing web site you referred to? did a search, but a million pop up.
thanks for the hand holding!
Holly Robinson says
Hi Chrissy–sorry, I missed this comment earlier! Here’s the web site for the Author Marketing Club that I mentioned: http://authormarketingclub.com/
They have a lot of valuable info. Good luck!
Chrissy Anderson says
one more question- can you share who you published your print books thru? thinking about making a switch, but it’s scary!
Holly Robinson says
I used Createspace for my first novel, which was a very easy, affordable way to do publishing-on-demand. They’ll handle everything and anything, and the help line puts you in touch with people right away when you have questions. The down side is that NO bookstores will handle books published through Createspace, but most of my sales have been ebooks anyway–like, by 100 to 1!
Allen Shadow says
Thank you so much, Holly. You really did your homework, offering useful advice here. I know, as I’ve tracked some of the same sources in my extensive research, including Konrath and support of the 99-cent price-point. That said, I just launched my debut novel, the literary thriller “Hell City,” via KDP. As a lit writer, I relate totally to your feelings as described here (what a complex lot, us lit types; almost as much as our picaresque characters). While supporting many of the things in my marketing plan, your thorough article added a few more tricks, like bunching “free” days together (never even occurred to me, duh!). I was just about to register my first “free” day, when I came upon your post. Here’s what scares me: while, I’ve gotten a few book bloggers to review my novel, nothing yet has been posted, and my Amazon book-page has no reviews, period (BTW, do have a great review from Kirkus, but that’s only going to help with banner-ads). Been thinking of encourage a few friends who read it and loved it to post reviews, although most, sadly, are not all that computer- or review-savvy. I’m still in the process of contacting top Amazon reviewers who like similar authors. It’s a tricky biz, since many don’t want to be bothered and either don’t have emails or have outdated ones. I’ve followed this latter strategy, because I found research that shows that Amazon reviews outweigh blogger reviews by about two times when it comes to sales and “authority.” (BTW, open.salon was closed to new registrants, which is why I’m commenting here.) Also, gotta now check out “Sleeping Tigers.”
Thank you for the thoughtful comments here, Allen. You’ve got a great review from Kirkus, so that’s a start, but yes, I would really encourage you to get other writers and book bloggers to read and review your book. The more reviews you can get on Amazon, the more likely it will be picked up not only by customers, but by other book bloggers and by those web sites that advertise thrillers. Have you gone specifically to bloggers that review thrillers like yours? There are many who specialize in that sort of book, and they’ll probably get to it faster than anyone. But be patient–the reviews WILL come in, and once you get some, they start coming in faster as you do promotions, and you’ll be all set. The important thing to remember in self-publishing is that a book launch isn’t just a one-time deal. It’s a multi-layered marketing process that gradually snowballs. There’s lots of good advice out there–have you checked out the web site Novel Publicity? They have a great book marketing blog. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!
Allen Shadow says
Thanks, Holly, for more great advice. Yes, patience. I should know better as a seasoned professional writer (former reporter-turned PR man). I’ve marshaled more than a few successful campaigns in my career. Anyway, yes, patience, hard work and the snowball effect. And I’m at it, with three more acceptances from reviewers (two top ones on Amazon). Going to also check out your recs for targeting thriller bloggers as well as Novel Publicity. BTW, wanted to mention to folks author David Kazzie’s blog (google it). He documents his successes with KDP free days. That said, I feel your article is more up-to-date, since most of his experience predates yours a bit, and the field is changing so fast. For example, some of the sites he used to post KDP free days are now closed to requests (they’re so swamped). Also, doing some ads, Goodreads now, and some you mentioned according to your recipe. Will let you know how it goes.
Oh yes, I know David’s blog–he’s a wonderful writer, and I used his advice as well. Best of luck. I’m about to do another KDP promotion and Goodreads ad…I’m going to stick with this formula for a while longer before resuming Smashwords & Nook promotions. As you point out, things are always changing–which makes it more exciting for us, especially since so many indie authors are willing to give a helping hand. I’m glad you’re making headway with reviewers. It’s great that you have a PR background–that will really come in handy now!
Allen Shadow says
Good luck with your latest KDP/GR promos; love the formula, which I’ll be following as soon as I select my first free KDP day. I’m sure we’ll all be waiting to hear how you do.