Another look at KDP free days, The Queen of England: Coronation version.

So, at this point, I think I’m onto a winning combination.  While I might *never* get into Bookbub (thanks for nothing), I do seem to be able to consistently break into the Top 100 free books when I discount a novel.

Let’s back up a bit.

It’s been a hot second since I’ve had a book out for free.  Back when I was friends with Amazon, it’s something I tried on a fairly regular basis.  Then this happened, and really, reader, I never recovered.

So, when I finally published the third book of my YA steampunk trilogy, I thought it was well past time to get in gear with some marketing.  And what better place to start than my birthday?  The fact that a global pandemic has people inside and (potentially) reading more is a bit of a bonus.

So, I went to my trusty platforms and signed up for my free day.  I walked the same steps I’ve walked before, with a few added bonuses.  I was able to tap into a few select Facebook groups, and, because of a platform I’ve been paying for (Voracious Readers), I finally have been getting my newsletter in gear.  Sure, it’s only 500 people, but that’s a start.  So, I sent out my usual reminders and hoped for the best.

When I woke up the day of the big push (March 17th), the book was up at #101. Now, I didn’t have anything else scheduled, and I knew that at #101, I wasn’t on one of the main pages of Amazon (where most of the traffic is).  So, I dug a little deeper, and posted on a few additional places.  Boom!  #97!!  I finally topped the algorithm at #89 which to me is very respectable, considering most of the books in the top list are all romantic in nature, written by more established authors, or aren’t so specifically genre’d (for lack of a better word) like the Queen.

How do the numbers officially break down?

Downloads:

March 16th – 38 (literally NOTHING posted, except on this blog)

March 17th – 2,131 (where I spent all my time, money, and energy)

March 18th – 438 (momentum from the 17th, plus a few extra groups, free)

March 19th – 95 (no posts)

Overall, I’m happy with these numbers, and the investment I made for marketing.

My hope (of course) is that people will buy the other books in the series, and gulp (!) leave a review.  What is the effect for the rest of the month and going forward?  I can only guess, but I am optimistic.

How do you find out about free books?

My Mistake and Amazon: A KDP Lesson for Everyone.

TL;DR I violated the terms communicated to me and Amazon made all my books ineligible from the KDP Select Program for an entire year.

I’ve been sitting on this for a month and still haven’t reconciled exactly what’s happened.  I’m equal parts embarrassed, frustrated, angry and devastated.  I’m hopeful that this post might help or protect someone else from what happened to me or start to provide some closure I know I am still seeking.

In December, I enrolled Life After Joe into the KDP Select Program.  The terms of this program are such that the book must exclusively be available on Amazon.  Yup, all good.  I’ve done this before and understood the deal.  What I forgot is that I had Life After Joe available on Google Play (total sales? 0).  After I was informed of this, I immediately took the book down.

Fast forward to February.  I was having a wonderful run where people were consistently reading pages of Life After Joe via Kindle Unlimited.  As part of my marketing plan, I decided to enroll the rest of my books.  I took them offline (everywhere I could remember they were) and waited to see what would happen next.  Would more people discover my books?  Would I see a big uptick in pages read?

Spoiler alert, it was none of the above.

Through my own fault, I had overlooked two places were two of my books were still listed.  I have 8 books in total which have been released since 2007 and — excuse alert — it’s difficult to keep up precisely with where everything is located.  Amazon contacted to let me know this was the case.  As with the previous infraction, I removed the books (immediately) from where they were listed.

And that’s when I was informed that as my second ‘strike’ my entire catalogue would not be eligible for KDP Select for an entire year.  This fact had been communicated to me in December; I had overlooked it.

I was then and still am, in a bit of shock.

For a completely unintentional oversight on my part, I am not eligible for many of the benefits enrollment into the program allows an author.  While I know there is a lot of controversy these days about KENP pages, for where I am in my career, Kindle Unlimited is still one of the best ways people can find out about my work.

The thing in all of this is that I’m not selling a lot of books.  I am not a major bestseller.  For the three days where there was an overlap, Amazon did not miss out on some large amount of money.  Additionally, what hurts the most is that there is absolutely zero human component in the process (something they have no been excelling at recently).  Even after I spoke with someone on the Author team (who was very much in my favor, who understood that I had been a human person and made an unintentional mistake), even after I sent a highly impassioned e-mail to the KDP Select Team (no, they don’t have a phone line to speak with someone), even after all of this, the rule to boot all of my books off stood firm.

I tried to bargain.  I asked if only those books which had been in violation could be banned from the program.  I asked if the terms (1 year) could be reduced in any way.  I asked if every book but my most recent one could be banished.  I was met time and time again with a quotation of the rules.

We’ll be upholding our previous decision regarding the eligibility of your book(s) for KDP Select. I'm sorry, but we can't offer any additional insight or action on this matter. However, please notice that all your titles remain available in the Kindle Store."

A selection of gifs to describe my reaction/interpretation:

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The worst part?  I had planned on releasing two or potentially three books this year.  Guess what?  None of them will be eligible for the program until my year of banishment is over.

Lesson learned?  Read the fine print.  Understand exactly what you are enrolling in.  Understand what the consequences are if you violate those terms.  Have a back up plan.  Have a good support system in place.

Sure, my books are available on other platforms.  And yes, my books are still available on Amazon.  And of course Amazon is allowed to follow the rules they set out.  I just wish I didn’t feel so depressed about the situation.  I know it shouldn’t, but the banishment is having an impact on my writing (and self).  There is the constant voice in the back of my head that says, ‘Why bother? You’re going to fuck something up again.  Why put effort into this book?  No one’s going to find it.’  I can’t get this voice to shut up.  I can’t replace the voice of ‘why did you totally fuck yourself over when you had a great thing going’ with ‘Amazon is not the only retailer — now get off your ass and show them what you’re made of!’  I really hate that voice.

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So, if you know of any other way around the system or contact details of someone who might listen to my case, I would love to know.

If you have a similar story and feel like sharing, I would love to hear it.  Big hugs to you.

The countdown to February 17, 2017 is on and it’s going to be a very long wait until then.

 

Another successful KDP free book run.

In 2014, when I first approached the Room 702 free KDP run, I had no concept of what numbers I would accomplish.  I think in the back of my mind, my hope was to make it up to the Top 100 on Amazon.  When I peaked at #22 for all Amazon free books, it was a great feeling.  At that time, other than paying for some of the promotional websites to help market my book on my behalf, I did not: have access to BookBub (but damn if I’m not going to keep trying) or officially advertise on Twitter or Facebook (I did do posts, but did not pay for anything specific).

When I set out recently with Life After Joe, I knew I would be up against a challenge.  Although my thought process went something like this: “There will be a ton of people online for Cyber Monday, so why not offer them something for free?  Who doesn’t like free stuff?” I had two relatively large details to overcome:

  • Timing.  Because I had guests in town and was committed to being away from my computer, I had to really force myself to set everything up in advance.  If I had unlimited time, there are numerous other websites, groups and forums I would’ve posted about my free book.  Instead, I had to accept the results with the amount of effort I put in.  Additionally, given I was promoting a book during one of (if not the busiest) online traffic periods in the year, I was afraid (and had to accept) that my novel might get lost in the noise.
  • Lack of reviews.  Room 702 went further (I believe) because at the time of the free release, it had over 10 positive reviews.  In comparison, Life After Joe only had three reviews at the time of the promotion.  As an avid reader, I tend to only look at books with higher review counts and feel my book might have been overlooked with its limited reviews.

However, even with the above, I peaked at #44 and remained in the Top 100 for at least 72 hours.  I was in the Top 1 (or 3) in categories that really mattered to me (Women’s Fiction and Contemporary Fiction).  In this, I feel there is some element of understanding how the system works and proud of my little self published attempts.

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On the way up to #44.

So, here is my (unsolicited) advice for the ‘process’ (if you can call it that).  Hitting the Top 50 both times is not something everyone can claim, so hopefully some of this information will be helpful to you.

  1. A distinct cover. (Yes, this goes without saying for a number of reasons, but it needs to be said).  In all that is going on with available free books, yours has to stand out.
  2. Some money to invest in marketing.  You don’t need to break the bank, but you also can’t be everywhere at once.  Do some research in advance of who can help get your name out the most (and no, I was not accepted to BookBub with either novel).
  3. Realistic expectations.  Don’t set yourself up for failure.  Don’t beat yourself up if the numbers aren’t perfect.  Know yourself, your book and your genre.  Did I want to crack the Top 10 with Life After Joe?  Of course!  Was that realistic?  Nope!
  4. Timing is everything.  I think it’s smart to start with a 3 day window (including at least one weekend day) and hold reserve days if your book starts performing.  In both of my cases, I added on extra days to maintain the high number and get my book to as many interested readers as possible.
  5. Tell a story.  In both of the free releases, I ‘sold’ the event to my friends and family (and strangers).  With 702 it was an ‘un-birthday present’ on my birthday.  With Joe, it was a ‘treat yo self’ in the time when potential readers were shopping and spending money on others (Cyber Monday).
  6. Some of your marketing won’t even make a dent.  Accept that.  While some of my Facebook ads do quite well, in this event, I received limited follow through (which leads me to believe I did things wrong and have more research to do here).

And what do you have to add?  Any other techniques, platforms, or tricks to try?  I’ll have another book out next year and would love to improve upon my numbers again.

Positive reviews (KDP follow up).

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Definitely time for a happy dance!

So, it’s been about two weeks since my great KDP experiment.

I had a few concerns going in – and the biggest was, ‘Will people like my book?  Will they get it?’

And now I have my answer – yes!

While it’s not for everyone (yes, there are a lot of characters – I get it), many readers are responding positively to my book.  I’m up to 22 reviews (with 12 of them being 5*).  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the feedback has kept a smile on my face.

I also wondered, ‘will this lead to additional sales?’

And the answer is also – yes!

While I’m not selling buckets of books, things have been steady.  I’m also receiving continual adds on GoodReads, which I take as a great sign (not sure why Room 702 gets a lot less love on Shelfari, but that’s true with my YA books as well).  Not sure what comes next – but thus far I’m optimistic with where things are headed.

KDP Select, by the numbers for Room 702.

15,439 – number of downloaded books in a 5 day time (significant numbers started in the 3rd – 5th days)

13 – current book sales (post free listing)

2 – additional reviews (one positive, one who really didn’t get the book)

0 – new follows on Twitter

3 – pins showed up on Pinterest

1 – new follow for the facebook page

a lot – number of adds on Goodreads

1 – request for Authograph

10 – number of adds on Shelfari

Given this is the first weekend that people might be actually taking the time to read the book, I’m optimistic for the week ahead.  Overall, I feel proud.  While the number seems a little surreal and I wish it were actual book sales and not just free downloads, I have to take a step back and think of what I accomplished.  My book didn’t have anyone else supporting it but me.  My book wasn’t traditionally published.  This was my first title as Ann Benjamin.  Would I do the same thing again with additional novels?  Hell yes and much earlier in the process.  Room 702 was always meant to be something I learned on, and for its success, I am very grateful.

Now, I’m ready to get back into working on my manuscript which I completely abandoned while all this was going on.

KDP – No Rhyme or Reason.

So, when we last left our hero, she was riding high on a perfect KDP Select free day.  My title (published under my YA name, Courtney Brandt), had nearly 5,000 free downloads and the sales wave carried over to my other titles – in other words, a home run.  So, with my second free day yesterday, I followed all the same marketing avenues (aka the free kind on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, and included a few extra notices on some popular Facebook groups related to my book).  I went to bed last night highly optimistic.  Waking up, my hopes were completely dashed.  A Fine Line had only 60 (!!!!!!!!!!!) downloads.  Compared to this time last free day, I was working my way towards 4800+ and nearing the top 60 spot on Kindle sales.

As of now, I’m at 84 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) downloads and occupying the #1926 spot.

What.  The.  Hell?

There have been rumors that Amazon had recently tweaked its algorithms, but I cannot understand why the drop off would be so significant.

I guess, if I really look at my end goal for listing a book for free, the one off crazy successful day may be better overall.  If I review my first book (which, over the total of its 5 free days on Amazon, reached a grand total of around 2250 downloads) and compare the two, the bump in sales from my second book’s first free day was much more significant.  In fact, the initial bump of the second book was greater than the entire free run of the first book combined.  However, in reflecting on the much more ‘steady’ free days of the first book, I honestly cannot understand what would cause my numbers to drop so dramatically.

Had I saturated the market with my initial push?  Should I have triggered a second free day following the success of my first one instead of spreading the dates out?  Will my numbers be able to improve when I list the book again for free later this month?  What other avenues should I try to promote the book?

Sigh.

As this process of giving away books is to best determine the perfect formula for launching a new book, the inconsistencies I’ve experienced to date are not helping.  I’ve kept the controls the same, so how do I know what’s impacting the reach of the book?

In the end, this is what all of my ‘research’ will look like.

Suggestions welcome.

What was different? KDP Select (Second book, 1st free day).

So, I’ve posted previously about my trials with KDP Select.  Based on my expectations, I think I was off to a good start.  With The Line and its various dates February – April, I saw a nice bump in the initial free offering (and was pleased how that bump carried over to the other books in the series).  After the KDP Select service finished on The Line, I opted the next book in the series, A Fine Line, into the program.  As I had a guest post yesterday on a YA blog, I decided to bring the two together.  Guest post + free book (however, the free book was NOT mentioned in the post).  I didn’t do much more advertising than previously – i.e., letting people know via various channels (facebook – only the fan page and not my much larger friend network, Twitter, and Tumblr).  In fact, for a sleepy Wednesday in May, I didn’t have a lot of expectations.

How, then, is it possible, that I would have 4x as many books downloaded?

Literally, The Line “sold” around 1100 for its first free day.

A Fine Line is currently at 4356 for its first free day and there’s still time left.

In fact, A Fine Line is currently at #66 #63 in all Amazon sales (and still climbing?).  The bump from the free version of A Fine Line has sent all of my books much higher than they’ve ever placed in the past three months.

I’m not complaining, I’m just trying to figure out EXACTLY what I did differently so that I can recapture magic with additional books.

Furthermore, as much as I love A Fine Line – I know it’s not my best work.  I guess I’m excited that one of my new more contemporary books would hopefully have the ability to reach similar numbers!

 

KDP – Experiment #3 (and other thoughts on March).

Let’s say the average of my former two free dates via KDP Select was around 1,000 units.  For yesterday’s unannounced and completely non-publicized day, a grand total of 76 units were downloaded.  I guess this is unequivocal and irrefutable proof that publicity DOES pay off and in a big way.  The unfortunate side to this is that publicity comes very easy to the YA books.  I have over 2700 followers on a marching dedicated Tumblr, as well as 230 on my facebook account and it’s what people ‘know’ me as.  Building a platform for my upcoming works is going to be a much more difficult path.  When you have a book that is designed to appeal to everyone, how do you build a group around it?  where does the interest specifically come from?  Yes, I’m working on the obvious, Twitter, and this blog, and while the Tumblr account does give me hope (nearly 2600 people in a year, all interested in the subject I wrote about), it still seems like an uphill battle at the moment.

Checking those pessimistic thoughts…

Other lessons – it appears as though the combined free books + price drop of the entire series has gone a long way towards increasing sales.  Compared from last year, I’ve seen a rather significant jump in books sold for the month.  However…given the price point was lower across the board, I’m not sure how this change will affect actual money earned.  While I’m not particularly interested in generating revenue from the series, I do have to feel a bit sad for the quartet.  Since the beginning, my series has been a bit of a trial and error project in pricing, formatting and general know how about digital publishing.  I’m hopeful that all the lessons I’ve learned from the past five years will eventually end in my ultimate goal of selling 10,000 copies of my upcoming novel.

Going forward, I’m going to wait until the KDP Select period ends on my first book until I opt the 2nd book in the series to the program (start of May).  Basically, given 5 books x 3 months periods of Amazon only sales adds up to a nice cycle of always having a book in the program and a variety of free projects for download.  As much as I would like to experiment by listing a title for 5 days for free consecutively, I’m not sure how I feel about ‘giving away’ all my free days at once.  I guess another option would be to keep the first book in the series in the program and give it a go all at once, but I think the market is currently over saturated with The Line and don’t believe it would be a good test case.

Decisions, decisions.

Getting there…

Book Review: The Voynich Cipher by Russell Blake

So, this book was a (surprise!) free download on Kindle.  I’m really glad it was.  Given that the author writes commercial fiction (thriller) genre as one I’d like to one day be a success in, I very much enjoyed the ride.  Mr. Blake does a lot of things right, and while reading, I realized I still have a ways to go if I am going to reach his levels of success.  He, like a Dan Brown or James Patterson, have absolutely nailed pacing – I wanted to know what happened next, and was compelled to move through the chapters.  While the opening was a bit cliched and the love story a bit forced, the story kept moving and the integration of history was enough to keep me interested.

I was thinking more about this book and why the pacing worked last night and it occurred to me – pressure and tension.  The characters are against two competing sources, while at the same time being hunted themselves (this plot technique also works very well in The Da Vinci Code).  Extrapolating to my own book, there are two (and a half) factions looking for historical pieces, but there is not the ‘life and death’ motivation that pushes Blake and Brown’s characters forward.  As I get ready to approach the final draft, I’m considering upping the body count a bit.  I think more fictional sacrifices might be necessary to convey that the action is serious business.

Finally, Mr, Blake was smart and included additional portions of other books from his library.  While I was not tempted, per se, to read or buy any of them, I did think it was a great marketing move (and realize I need to do this with my existing library).

What a masculine font.

Interested in the author, I clicked over to his web page, which I found entertaining and full of great information.  He’s very open about his own adventures in KDP (here and here) – which I found very interesting, and even learned a thing or two.