For independent authors, writing a good book isn’t enough. Nor is writing a series of great books. The key to success is exposure, and there’s a great number of tools available to get that publicity the indie writer so desperately needs. One of the easiest programs to sign up for is Amazon’s KDP Select. It is also, by far, the most controversial, and seems to elicit either hatred or adoration from authors.
For those new to this writing thing, Amazon KDP Select is a program authors can sign up for when using Kindle Direct Publishing. In exchange for giving Amazon exclusivity to your ebook for 90 days, you may give away your content for free for five days. The ebook will also become available through Amazon’s lending library, and authors are paid for any books lent through the library.
Long story short, if you enroll in this program, the ebook can’t be sold anywhere else. Nor can you give it away for free, even on your own website. However, the author is compensated by the exposure of the five free days. Promoted correctly, those free days could lead to thousands of downloads, greatly increasing exposure.
Back in the early days of KDP Select, an author would have to be insane not to sign up for at least one 90 day session. Those free downloads could rocket an ebook to the top of Amazon’s search list. Once at the top of the list, visibility keeps the downloads coming, even after the free days were over. Some writers made their careers through that bounce, going from part-time freelancers to full-time indie author overnight.
Then Amazon began to tweak their search algorithms. Today, an author who uses their free days can watch their book go to the top ten in the free category, only to find it back in the basement once the freebies are over.
So why use the free days if the bounce no longer helps sales? Exposure, exposure, exposure! What better self promotion than handing out free copies of your book? If your work is well received and you have a series, this may lead to more sales. (By the way, be sure to include links to all of your titles in your ebook. Each time you produce a new ebook, go back to your previous titles and update the ebook to include those links. There is no better time to get a new sale than when a reader has finished your book.)
There is also exposure when readers borrow from the lending library. I’ve also found that lending library payments can equal or exceed ebook royalties, which is not a bad thing. Ah, but we get back to that whole “Amazon exclusive” thing again.
I understand Amazon’s desire for exclusive rights to the book. However, demanding that an author not sell his own book on his own website rubs a lot of people the wrong way, myself included. And I can’t even give away free copies on my website? Give me a break. Many writers give away copies of their first novel in exchange for a newsletter sign-up; KDP Select makes this marketing tactic impossible.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE US
Amazon is by far the largest ebook retailer in the United States and Great Britain. However, Kobo claims 20% of the global market and 46% of the Canadian market. In Germany, iBooks and Tolino account for 60% of sale. China’s growing middle class already uses more smartphones and tablets than the US, and as we know, most devices can handle multiple formats. If your genre has international appeal, why wouldn’t you want a piece of that action?
There is also the benefit of growing an international audience on multiple platforms. We’ve all heard the expression “don’t put your eggs in one basket,” and that saying applies here as well. By having fans on with several retailers instead of relying on just one, the indie author can insulate himself from the demise of a single business. As the same time, international appeal helps cushion against regional recessions.
With such a large marketshare, many may question the possibility of her demise. I’m sure the same was said of Enron, Blockbuster, and Kodak. Enough said.
WHERE I STAND
The greatest thing about being an indie author is that I’m in total control. But with that freedom comes the responsibility for everything. I don’t want to tell you what to do with your books, but let me tell you a bit about my experiences, as well as where I’m heading in the future.
In December 2012, I released my first novel, Escape to Freedom, a political dystopian thriller (click here to see it on Amazon). I signed up for KDP Select, and used my five free days the week between Christmas and New Years, using new kindle sales to help boost my downloads. I peaked at number 4 on Amazon’s free download list, and hit number 22 in the political fiction genre. Sales gradually decreased, but the occasional free day helped keep sales brisk for about a year.
A year later, I ventured into scifi authorship with Chronicles of Aria Prime, Episode One (click here to see it on Amazon). It was now December 2013, and I tried the same formula as I used with Escape to Freedom. Although there were quite a few downloads, the free days didn’t have quite the same level of success. And after the freebies ended, sales dropped off fast.
There were certainly several factors that influenced the difference in downloads. While Escape to Freedom mainly appealed to an American audience, the Chronicles series has a more international audience. Much to my chagrin, I found a large portion of that International audience used an ereader other than a kindle. Unfortunately, I was stuck with Amazon exclusivity for at least 90 days. Lesson learned, and not to be repeated.
While Escape to Freedom remains on KDP Select, I have pulled Chronicles of Aria Prime from the Select program. I now use Chronicles Episode One as a thank-you gift to those who sign up for my newsletter (hint, hint). In addition, the book will soon debut on Kobo, Google Books, and possible a few other services.
As I write this post, Chronicles of Aria Prime, Episode Two is in the final stages of editing, and will soon be released. My intention is to forgo KDP Select. Instead, I’ll post this work with several services (in addition to Amazon) in a continuing effort to cultivate a wide fan base. Growing that base is a process that could take years, but as they say, good things come to those who wait.
It’s important to remember that there is no one right way to market your book; there are many paths that may ultimately lead to success. Sometimes we stumble and fall along the way, but part of being an author-entrepreneur (authorpreneur?) is learning from our mistakes. I hope my experiences have given you some ideas on your own market strategy. Good Luck!