Amazon KDP Select for eBook Promotion, Yea or Nay?

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I’ve avoided Amazon’s KDP Select Program since the beginning because it requires exclusivity (you can only sell your books at Amazon as long as you’re enrolled). It came out a year after I started publishing, and I already had readers following my work through Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple, etc, so I wasn’t willing to take my books out of those stores. The program does offer some promotional opportunities, though, and other indie authors often ask me if it’s worth it for those starting out. I cringe a little at the idea of giving any one store exclusivity, but some authors like to try KDP Select for the required ninety days, then move their books out of the program and into other stores once they build up some momentum.

I invited Joe Turkot here to talk about this, because he has the experience with the program that I lack. He’s been using KDP Select to help market his Black Hull books and recently had his best sales month after taking advantage of the free days. But I’ll let him tell you more about it…

Using Amazon KDP Select for Book Promotion

The main reason that all but one of my ebooks are in the KDP select program is the free book promotion tool. Sure, there are two other benefits to going exclusive with Amazon: %70 royalties in Brazil, Japan, and India (not important to me because I sell no books there), and entrance into the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL), which helps authors find readers in the growing number of Amazon Prime members. The KOLL is neat, and the affirmative power of seeing people lend your books to other readers is awesome. I don’t average a lot of lends per month (maybe 10-15), but each time someone borrows one of my books, I actually earn more than if they’d bought it. I charge .99 cents for all but one of my books, which amounts to a whopping .35 cents royalty per sale. Each borrow, on the other hand, racks up about $1.50 in royalties (the exact amount fluctuates depending on Amazon’s current allocation of KOLL funds). It’s pretty nice to see Amazon deposit two checks into your bank account—one for sales, and the other for total borrows.

Black-Hull-COverThe real exciting part of KDP, however, is the free book promotion tool. It can be vitally important to the burgeoning author who has absolutely no quick way to reach a wide audience of readers (I humbly place myself in the burgeoning author category). There is another reason this promotion is great: it is non-restrictive—you’re only stuck in it for 90 days at a time. If you feel you are getting a big enough fan base to spread your wings, or simply want to see the results you’d have going the multiple vender route (B&N, Kobo, and the many other venders where Smashwords distributes your ebook), you can simply remove your book from the Kindle Direct Program.

The free book tool lets you schedule 5 free days for each 90 day block of Amazon exclusivity. You pick the days—they can be back to back, two at once, or one day at a time spaced out over the three months. The bottom line is that the free book tool gets your book into readers’ Kindles, but one sad truth must be stated: the free book tool is not what it once was. It used to be, so the legends of indies before me tell, that a book’s free days transferred into huge sales once the free days expired. This had to do with the Amazon ranking system, where a book’s rise up the free charts translated into a rise on the paid charts afterwards. This so-called KDP “gold rush” is over. To make matters worse, the way Amazon promotes the KDP free days does not amount to many downloads anymore. Depending on the popularity of your genre, you may only see thirty or forty downloads in a free day. In the past month, I tested a free day for various episodes in my Black Hull series. Without additional promotion on my part, the books received about forty downloads. Bummer. But there are still ways to maximize this tool, bringing you new readers, fans, borrows, and hopefully, some good word of mouth.

The first tool that I used to promote my KDP free days was Kindle Nation Daily’s Facebook promotion. This is a good way to get one to two hundred downloads in a low-interest category such as fantasy or science-fiction. As a rule with any giveaway, if you have a polished product, your numbers will be better. Whatever your success with KND sponsorship, your free book promotion tool is no longer free—KND sponsorship, at its cheapest, is about $35.00. Here’s what I stumbled upon to maximize my free days: Author Marketing Club’s Free Kindle Book Submission Tool. The concept is simple: they’ve gathered logo links to all the sites you want to submit your free book to in one place. Here’s what I did for promoting my most recent Black Hull: Episode 1 KDP giveaway days:

I started at the top-left link, Pixel of Ink, and submitted my book. Then, I kept the main window open and methodically went through each link on the Free Kindle Book Submission Tool. Occasionally, the site I submitted to would tempt me to purchase a featured spot for about $10.00 or $15.00. I rationalized that it would be cheaper than using KND, so I bought a couple of the featured spots when they prompted me. Keep in mind, you don’t have to spend anything using this tool if you don’t want to or can’t: each site listed takes your submission for free. But given the small amount of money I paid, relatively equal to what I’d spend on a KND Facebook sponsorship, I received a massive amount of downloads. For the two days I had Black Hull: Episode 1 available free, I garnered over one thousand downloads. For a military sci-fi episodic novel that received forty downloads with Amazon’s promotion alone, there is no comparison: Using the Free Kindle Book Marketing Tool is a must. Black Hull skyrocketed to number one on the Military Sci-fi free book charts, and number two on its other category, High Tech Sci-fi.

Given that Black Hull is my first attempt at publishing a serial novel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The free promotion worked much as I’d hoped though, for once readers read Episode 1, some of them went on to purchase the rest in the series right away. The free promotion pushed me to my first month with over 300 sales.

The idea of publishing your novel serially isn’t new, but the idea that you can promote a single episode on this scale, leading to readers purchasing each successive episode, is very similar to the concept of keeping the first book in a series free. The only difference is the pricing really—you can charge $2.99 or up in most cases for a full-length sequel in a series, whereas the serial novel, in my opinion, should be 0.99 cents per episode to be competitive.

The most annoying thing about the KDP free book promotion is that, ironically, you actually have to do the promoting yourself. Gone are the days where the system was good enough to do wonders on its own. If you couple the Author Marketing Tool with sites like Konrath’s recommended and your social media presence, you can probably achieve results far better than mine.

I’m a learner in the indie publishing scene—I’ve been absorbing from those who have been doing this before me (a la Lindsay Buroker) for about six months now—but I have learned that Amazon’s KDP, and specifically free book promotions, is a wonderful place to start your indie writing career. Beyond the number one spot on the free chart, I went from one review on Black Hull: Episode 1 to seven. Before you run your free book promotion, be sure you have a nice afterward that politely asks readers who enjoyed your book to review it. Now, I wish I had learned sooner about wasting those precious five days—never give the book away for five days in a row. I learned that law of conversion too late from the blogs of more experienced authors. Schedule one or two days in a row, and give yourself ample time to promote the heck out of those days. And yes, you can promote without spending any money, and keep that KDP free book promotion free. Start with the Author Marketing Club’s Free Kindle Book Submission Tool, and then go promote somewhere else if you’re willing to put in extra effort. The process can seem very repetitive and time consuming, but it works. The more time you put in, the better your results will be.

If you want to hear more from Joe, or you’re interested in his books, check him out at his blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

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Comments (27)

Such a shame the “Black Hull” book is exclusive to Kindle. While Military Scifi is totally what I like, and the price and cover are right too, I won’t buy it because of that.

Thanks for going DRM free though.

Hey SFReader,

Now that I am getting some momentum, I am seriously considering the change to mass distribution via Smashwords. The one thing that slows me down is laziness (all the conversions I fear I’ll have to do), and the long wait times for something like Black Hull: Episode to become permafree. In reality, it probably only takes a month or two, and the conversions wouldn’t be that bad. In the end though, Black Hull: Episode 1 should be free, like the first book in my fantasy series is. This is one of the best pieces of advice I got from this blog–make the first in a series free.

Great post. I’ve had past success using the free days with Amazon myself. In January I managed to give away 20,000 copies of my novel JIMMY during a three day promo, which then resulted in making it to the top of the popularity lists and then several top 100 lists. Sadly, promos I did in the months that followed with my other titles didn’t have anywhere near the same results, and with those later ones I actually used several of the free book promo sites to help spread the word. Not sure why, but maybe it was just bad timing.

Hey William,

I dream of the day I see 20,000 copies of a book of mine move in 3 days. I can’t help but keep writing in marginal genres, but it is truly amazing that some people see that kind of success with a free promo. My best-selling book is a horror/suspense short story, and I think it may simply be the genre that makes more copies move on that one. Timing could mean a lot too–sometimes you can’t beat a little luck.

Joe, thanks for the info and personal experience. It’s always really helpful when someone is willing to provide concrete data to illustrate how helpful or unhelpful a particular marketing strategy is.

How many of these free e-book sites only take books that are having free days in KDP Select vs. books that are permafree?

I’m only just finishing up my first novel, so I’m certainly not at the point where I have a series to advertise yet, but my thinking has always been to go the route that Lindsay has gone with having a permafree first book in the series (that is therefore available at all the various ebook stores). Two of the tradeoffs that I can immediately think of are that 1) you have to wait for Amazon to price-match, and 2) you don’t actually get any income from the book, but if the goal of the first book is to be a loss-leader and get readers hooked into your series, it seems to me that permafree does provide the advantage of always being available for new readers to find while at the same time allowing you to be present in all of the ebook stores. I’m curious for your thoughts about these two different strategies.

Thanks, and good luck with the books!

I read the same strategy from Lindsay here. And I use it, just with my other series called Darkin. I use that marketing site for my permafree book just the same as any other book, you just have to check to see if they have a repeat post limit, such as no repeats in a 90 day period or something. The permafree status alone doesn’t affect anything.

I suggest that you definitely go free with your first in the series.

Up until recently, my first ebook, LILY’S REDEMPTION, had sold much better on B&N than Amazon, which seems to be a rarity. Then Sony inexplicably lowered the price to free and Amazon price-matched it. The result was over 20K downloads over a month’s time and going from five to thirty-nine reviews. I decided to not make my newest novel, INVASION OF THE NINJA, an exclusive because I know of many of my readers who have Nooks. However, with the switch from PubIt to Nook Press, my sales suddenly dropped. I’m at a complete loss but I can literally trace the drop to the day that I switched. The sales on Amazon . . . for both books . . . are steady.

I am going to look into PubIt and Nook Press, neither of which I knew about. I originally went with Lulu to distribute my first book, and now I regret it and wish I would have went with Smashwords, which I thought distributed to all the retailers for you. Do you use a combination of the various publishing services instead of using Smashwords or Lulu?

I go direct with Nook, originally through PubIt, and now Nook Press.

To Jeffrey Allan Davis,

Apparently, switching to NookPress from PubIt causes you to lose all of your reviews (and start from scratch with regards to “also-boughts”).

You can read a little more about it from David Gaughran:

To Joe:

Thanks for the great advice. I want to echo your sentiment about never using all five of your KDP Select days consecutively. For me, 90% of my downloads occurred on day one.

If your free days are being promoted through another website, Bookbub or whatever, that of course changes things. From Ryan Casey’s comment (below), it seems five days can work! But without outside promotion, in my experience, it’s not a good strategy.

My reviews are still there, although this could be because the paperback is available there and they could be read on its page, too.

I just ran a free promo through ebookbooster. For $40, they’ll do most of the site submission work for you.

It comes with a caveat though – my most recent free promo ran last week, and they only submitted my book two days before, when most sites ask for at least a week lead time. This was with 3 weeks advance notice to the service.

I saw 1200 downloads on day one, though that trailed off considerably by day 3 (of a 3 day promo).

I wrote a bit about my experience on my blog, but you’ll have to track it down through my name because I don’t want to spam.

The bottom line for me with regard to KDP select is:
1. I get what I think is a pretty decent number of lends to sales (about 8-10%) – enough that I don’t think I can match it in sales on other e-readers without similar tools to what Amazon provides for gaining visibility

2. My first KDP Free Promo is what jumpstarted my financial success (at least what success is to me) as a writer to begin with. I sold 3 books a day before the promo, to a high of 50+ after. It’s leveled off since then, but it’s still good enough to pay a couple of bills every month. Not bad for something I do for fun in my spare time 🙂

Sounds about right to me. It’s all about finding a way to maximize readership, and the money will follow if you keep on writing. If you stop at one book, then I think your whole book marketing setup runs differently. I took a shot with the serialization of Black Hull, which is my third book, and so far I can’t be sure how I feel. Sales have been up and down. For whatever reason, I didn’t have much success with ebookbooster–I may have moved several hundred free copies.

Thanks Lindsay, for continuing to explore the realms of self-publishing. And thank you Joe Turkot for sharing yet more ways to promote.

I’m looking forward to the KDP, and then branching out into the competition when the time expires. The way I see it, a first time self-published author with zero readership really doesn’t have anything to lose by going with KDP.

Jeanne –

There is no other way to really get your book instantly on the devices of a lot of people. When my first book Darkin went free because Amazon price-matched it, I can’t explain the joy it brought me to see 400 people with copies of my book. Did any of them read it? I don’t know, but before that, I was handing friends and family print copies and never hearing anything again from most.

[…] Amazon KDP Select for eBook Promotion, Yea or Nay? | Lindsay Buroker […]

As you say, a lot of the value of giveaway promotions got diluted when they go so popular with authors that a free books wasn’t at all unusual, but they do still help a brand new author over the hurdle of “no one will buy the book until there are reviews” and “no one will write a review unless they’re bought and read the book.” I don’t leave mine in Kindle Select beyond 90 days, though. I certainly get most of my sales from Amazon but most is not all, and iBooks and B&N do offer alternatives. The best promotion I have had is from Amazon price matching my first book when I made it free on all the other platforms (including B&N). It has been free for several months and this has really helped sales of the sequel.

Good advice, however I’d disagree with the ‘never run a 5-day promo’ sentiment.

With my last free promo, I gave away 44,000 books over a five day period. I had a BookBub ad on the third day, so that was enough to give me a boost over the weekend.

Still enjoying the sales boost a month on!

So, yes. I think Select is a great tool IF coupled with a good promotional method. And BookBub is a good promotional method, probably the best.


Hi Lindsay and Joe
Thanks for this post! It’s super helpful and comes at the best possible moment for me. Joe, I went ahead and downloaded the first book of your series. I’m still debating whether or not to serialize my novel, but in the meantime I’m going ahead with my grand experiment of self publishing with the release of my first short story. The info here gives me great ideas on trying a few things.
Thanks again!

That’s great Elisabeth. From my experience so far, if you can, make your episodes longer than I did. I think that’s part of the reason people pass on downloading my story. I made each episode 30-40 pages. This helped me get out each episode faster, but also, I think makes people hesitant to spend a buck. Some people are going to call it a scam. I don’t see it that way, given that I earn so little on each sale, but I would have made each episode about 80 pages in hindsight.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Joseph.

I think there’s a lot of hindsight when it comes to self-publishing. You often have to go through several trial-and-error phases before you can find what works right for you.

It could be anything from writing a short volume to longer ones, or cutting the size of your monsters down a bit when you write the sequels. Using the KDP freebie promotion option is another thing that everyone needs to try, and who’s to say what works for one book won’t work for another? Authors with multiple titles out there might want to try multiple days during different times of the week over a period of a year or longer. That would be quite the commitment to the program, though.

I certainly like the idea of a bookbub ad following your promo, especially if it works which it sounds like yours did.

I really love everything about Smashwords, but if this Amazon program would be helpful and beneficial to you as an author, I could hardly begrudge you for signing on.

Thanks for this great blog, and the very helpful author advice! I’m a new indie author. I just published my first memoir, Corpses Rarely Wander: How I Became a Loveless, Trailer Park Nomad, about four days ago. I have an MFA in writing but absolutely NO business background. I may try the KDP. I suppose I don’t have too much to lose at this point! Thanks so much to both of you!

Interesting to read–good post! KDP Select has worked really well for me. I’ve given away about 210,000 copies of my books doing 3 of the 5-day giveaway periods for one book, and 2 periods for another book (I have 5 books in all), over about 9 months. Some of the giveaways did work better than others, even for the same book, so some of it’s just timing or luck.

I write Romance, and I do think that and Mystery/Thriller are probably your best bets for KDP Select. Genre fiction, definitely. And I was NOT any kind of “known” author–I mention because I often hear people say that it only works if you have a “name.” First time I did it, I’d been published 1 week, and it still worked–so it can. I wrote a blog post about what I did & why I think it might have worked at if anyone wants to read it.

There are several reasons doing the free giveaway is a yes for me. First, every book that is given away links my book to every other book title that person has downloaded or purchased in the past, meaning more chances for my book title to come up under the “Also purchased” suggestive selling tool. Second, if you do really well in the free promo days you have a chance that Amazon will promote your book during a normal sales time. This happened with one of my own books recently. Third, It gives you an excuse to do a press release on your book. Do one for the town you live in and the town you grew up in.

[…] of my first indie author inspirations let me do a blog post on her website I almost peed my pants. Lindsay Buroker let me do a guest post (at my own request—she was by no means seeking me out). And what did I […]

[…] share of my sales coming out of Amazon for Kindle, I won’t enter the KDP Select program. A lot of people have written about this better than me, but I’d like to add a unique […]

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