Something has to give. I’m just not sure what yet.
I’m in New York City for the next two months, teaching a marketing course at School of Visual Arts. While I’m here, I’m writing the next Shirley Link. The final draft will be done by the end of the day! I’m excited by that in ways I’ve never felt before. This Shirley adventure has been the toughest one to craft yet. By far. Part of it is that I’ve had the idea for the mystery for a long time. That meant wrestling with age-old preconceptions about how the clues would be set up, how the players would respond to them and how they’d be revealed. But once I sat down to write the book, well, none of those ideas lasted a single draft. Still, with the help of my beta readers, I’ve worked through it and I think this may be my new favorite Shirley Link book! Stay tuned for launch dates and peeks at artwork soon ;-)
Then there’s The Camelot Kids: Book Two. I found myself at 40k words before I knew it, so I know the book is primed and ready to emerge. I’ve been getting up at 5:30am every morning to work on it and that’s worked well on a number of fronts. There’s something about writing Fantasy (that’s heavy in magic) at the start of the day when the world is quiet. Magic is more present when our lives are still. But to tap it means pushing aside all concerns. It means assuring The Stress that it can come out in a little bit and do its thing. It means gently nudging strong insecurities back into whatever caves they spring from. While the story is all over the place right now, I’m excited to release the ending to a story that’s been dancing around my head for ten years.
And then there’s Atticus. The book died last night. I mean it was dead. Flatlined. It had frustrated me one too many times. I went to sleep in despair. My good idea had no legs. It had nowhere to go. It gasped for oxygen and I tried to give it some but it wasn’t enough. Then, this morning, its eyes popped open and it breathed in a lungful of air of its own making. So, on its own, it’s showed me a way forward. Now I’m more excited than ever about the story, though I also see that it’s bigger than I initially assumed.
Excited. Terrified. Tired. Pounding on three books will do that to a guy. So wish me luck. I’m headed into the final pass on Shirley Link & The Party Poopers and then I’ll be outlining the next Shirley! Yeah, you know that title I gave this post? The one that advises against writing three books at once? Well, I may be addicted to the feeling so, uh, do as I say, not as I do…
If someone tells you, “I have a bridge to sell ya!”, would you believe them? Of course not!
But what if the mayor of New York City was the one talking? That makes it a tougher question. It’s conceivable that he could sell it to you. He’s the mayor! But wouldn’t he have to massage the bureaucratic engine of the city to make the sale happen? Isn’t he just one powerful person in a city of powerful people?
That’s the conundrum we find ourselves in with Amazon. They actually do have a bridge (to success) to sell us, and they could indeed sell it to us.
But will they do any of the hard work required to make the sale?
Does Amazon KDP work hard enough to justify your exclusivity?
As I mentioned in the last post in this series on KDP, there are over 20 million Amazon Prime members who can check out your book for free. Amazon has a big stake in showing those millions of people all of the amazing benefits they get for their $89 membership fee. One of those benefits is your KDP Select book! But to finish my point about the promotional possibilities, there’s just no way to tell when/where/whether your book will get a spotlight of any kind. Amazon has many ways to highlight books. Recommendations, newsletters, lists, you name it. But Amazon is also a long tail company, meaning they’ll only give real love to the top 20% of products in any category, leaving the 80% who don’t hit their proprietary criteria to fend for themselves.
It’s one thing to say you have the bridge, it’s quite another to say, I’ll walk you through the sale. Just like the mayor of New York doesn’t really know how to make the sale happen, Amazon can’t promise that KDP Select will be a bridge to success. But they want you to think it can.
Remember that scene in Jaws, when the captain gets a peek at the shark for the first time?
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” he says, while watching the death of him swim away.
The way I see the bookselling world is as follows:
“We’re going to need a shorter list…”
If you think about it, we’re all on a bunch of lists.
Our names and our books are in the databases of businesses across the bookselling spectrum, from Amazon to Smashwords to Ingram. If you’re #457,098 on a popularity list, or a best-selling list, or a “best of” list then your visibility is — well, it is what it is.
Now, if your name and/or book is #412 then you’re much more visible! You’re more likely to show up in a newsletter, or to get reviewed, or to show up in a recommendation widget on some site somewhere, somehow.
In the same vein, to survive in the publishing world you need to be on a shorter list. I say do press releases, because it puts you on a shorter list. I say post your book to every site that allows it, because you’ll be on a shorter list. I say share as much free content as you’re comfortable sharing because you’ll be on a shorter list. My point is, if you’re not high on many lists then you need to be on a bunch of short lists.
So let’s say the unsayable here: The enticing promise of KDP Select is that Amazon will help your books get visible within their ecosystem. Anyone who says that Amazon doesn’t promise this is splitting hairs. Of course they don’t promise exposure. In the same way that Amazon splashes their $11 million+ Global Fund figure on KDP’s homepage in hopes of triggering your “lottery brain”, they want to plant the seed of hope that they’ll do some heavy lifting for you once you sign up — in the dark, behind the scenes, via newsletters or recommendations or pixie dust they will work their magic for you.
Guess what. They won’t strain anything.
Here’s what they will do to get your book seen:
1) They’ll allow 20 million+ Prime members to borrow your book (this is often worth as much or more cash than an actual sale)
2) They’ll give you five promotional days to give away your book for free. If done right (i.e. if you do a lot of work and spend money advertising) then you have a VERY good chance of showing up on Amazon’s semi-visible Top Free Books list. This is a tab that sits behind the best seller list on the genre pages. It’s getting harder to find as time goes on.
3) They’ll let you put your book on sale for a fixed amount of time using Countdown Deals. It’s a new feature, but there are some stories of success beginning to circulate. Amazon is big on good ol’ high-pressure sales tactics (see above for “I have a bridge to sell ya” and “Buy a raffle ticket and win big money!”) It looks like the tried-and-true method of limited-time sales also performs well.
Yes, sign up for KDP Select right away. Before it’s too late.
Here’s the thing that took me 2 years of playing the KDP Select game to learn. When Amazon takes a risk with you, you tend to come out on top. But like any business, when the risk stops paying off they’ll pull back in an instant. What that means for us is that Amazon likes releasing new services and features that are high-risk and beneficial to authors.
And then they’ll neuter it. Overnight.
KDP! What a huge shot in the dark it was for Amazon to open their market to small and self-publishers. Those who signed up early with quality work are the stars of our time. KDP best sellers and big movers got exposure, sitting right next to their big label counterparts, stealing eyes and hearts. While KDP authors are still given equal weight on the best seller lists, they’re relegated to a sorta-visible tab on genre pages. Yes, it qualifies as one of those “shorter lists”, but it’s more like a shorter, hidden list. The indisputable fact is that Amazon has pulled back their efforts to make KDP books visible on their site.
Need another example of Amazon taking risks and sharing the rewards, until they get tired of the risk?
The free promo days. Those free days were a huge risk that Amazon took with thousands of authors, and thousands of authors shared the rewards. But once Amazon grew the hell out of their library and snagged exclusivity on boat loads of books they dialed back their support of the promotional days. They did this by penalizing web sites who promoted the free books to readers. There are a lot of reasons why they did this, some of them ultimately good for our industry. But I’m not making a value judgment here. I’m just stating the fact that when Amazon tries something new (and we go along for the ride) then we tend to come out smelling rosey.
And that’s why I’m willing to say that, as of now, it’s worth signing up for KDP Select.
The Countdown Deals product is new. Amazon is taking a risk in launching it. With KDP they gave us a new market, with free promo days they gave us an effective way to be seen, and with Countdown Deals they’re giving us a dynamic way to sell.
From the Amazon description of Countdown Deals:
1) They’re time-based: Not only does this give you more control to decide how long the book is discounted, but the time remaining for the promotion is visible to customers to increase excitement for the price discount.
2) Customers see the regular price: It’s easy for customers to see the great deal they’re getting, as the regular price is included on the book’s detail page, right beside the promotional price.
3) Royalty rate is retained at lower prices: You will earn royalties based on your regular royalty rate and the promotional price. As a result, if you are using the 70% royalty option, you’ll earn 70% even if the price is below $2.99.
4) There’s a dedicated website: Customers can easily browse active; Kindle Countdown Deals at www.amazon.com/kindlecountdowndeals, providing yet another way for books to be discovered.
5) You can monitor performance in real-time: A new KDP report displays sales and royalties at each price discount side-by-side with pre-promotion performance, so it’s easy to compare.
Pay attention to #4. A dedicated Amazon site is a tremendous asset for authors. It means that the same avid readers that made free promos such a huge hit now have a place to browse great deals.
In the final analysis, the biggest benefit of joining KDP Select is the experience itself. You learn a lot. You experience how Amazon thinks. You sense its reach like never before. You spot opportunities in small corners of their world. For instance, by signing up for KDP Select I learned a whole bunch about how to leverage free promotional days to help sales. I use that knowledge with my non-KDP Select books, as well.
So give KDP Select a try with one of your books. If you don’t like it, opt out so you don’t auto-renew after 90 days.
What do you think? Do you think Countdown Deals are a seismic shift in the Amazon bookselling ecosystem? Or is it a bust-in-the-making for authors? Let us know in the comments!
In my next post, I’m going to break down, step-by-step, how I set up my free promotional days. This routine consistently gets me to the top 5 in both Young Teen Mysteries and Women Sleuths genres on Amazon.
by Ben Zackheim