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
You’ve pretty well got me sold :) I’ve had my novel out in serial format since 6Jan, with the final episode released today. We (the publisher and I) went with all e-retailers, but we’ve talked about KDP Select for the omnibus release. I think I’m going to push for it. Sales so far show mostly Kindle users have bought the book. Thanks for the run-down here!
Thanks very much for reading! I envy anyone who can do serials. Maybe the muse will slap me upside the head one day.
I believe in the general rule that wider availability is better for everyone, BUT I think it’s important for authors to dabble in KDP Select (especially during those brief moments in time when Amazon is doing something new and risky that we can piggyback onto). As long as you go in with a strong marketing plan to leverage the benefits of KDP Select I think you’ll find more things to like about it than not. My general rules are:
1) Make sure you have chosen good genre categories on Amazon. Preferably some with mainstream appeal, but not too competitive. For instance, I found after some trial and error, that Kids ebooks/Mystery is a good balance for Shirley Link.
2) Make sure you’ve used your important keywords in your book description and tags.
3) Identify at least ten sites to promote your free days. I’d advise spending dough on some, but have found ~$100 across the high traffic sites is plenty
4) Have a plan to get blogs to cover your Countdown Deals. I’m still looking into which blogs will allow me to advertise my Countdown. Since they only last several hours (for max impact) it’s crucial that word get out during the sale. I may leverage some of those services that tweet and post intensely for a few hours to increase noise.
Good luck! Please share which series you’re working on with us.
Hey Ben, many thanks again for sharing these recommendations. Your analysis of KDPS was so thorough, this is like icing on a second slice of cake :)
My serial is called Gods of Chicago, a noir urban fantasy set in an alternate history Chicago, 1929. The serial process isn’t much different than writing a standard novel really. At least that’s my feeling after this, my first ever, experience with it. I wrote the book over the past two years and with my publisher’s encouragement and help, settled on the serial release as a way of attracting early readers.
It ends up being a bit more work, but it also lets people buy in on the cheap and not feel cheated if they don’t like the first episode. There’s no obligation to buy more. Or, if they do like it, they can keep on with the series and end up getting the full novel for less than the omnibus will be sold for.
A couple things we learned this go round
1) Have the full novel ready to go and release all episodes simultaneously. This cuts down on the effort of formatting, etc, because you’re doing it all in one go. Also, people can just scoop up the full book if they like the first piece, rather than waiting for the weekly releases. For my current book, we put Episodes 1 & 2 out first, then released a new one each Monday, based on what other successful serials have done. Now we’re seeing those writers go with the “full season” release, which indicates to me that they’re getting the same kind of comments I received from happy readers (Do I HAVE to wait?)
2) The second lesson is that Kindle is really the prime mover for ebooks, which we kind of already knew, but even my meager sales tell me that the other retailers aren’t where people go for books.
I did my first post in a blog tour yesterday, in advance of the omnibus launch on Valentine’s Day. If anyone’s interested in a dark urban fantasy, I talk about the decision to go serial over at Zoë Markham’s blog: http://bit.ly/GoCTour1
WOW! That is one hell of a treasure trove of information! If you’d like to do a guest blog post here I’d love it.
Have you seen/heard the Self-Publishing Podcast? I watched one recently where an author goes over the box set options, which may be useful info for you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHN-dxMqOFo
I’d love to do a post here! Thanks for offering the space :D Do you have a date in mind? My tour is just getting started, so any day (but the 24th) works for me.
I am familiar with the SPP but haven’t spent near enough time digging into the archives. Thanks for the link.
Thank you! Fabulous article, and very helpful for a first time author :)
Thanks to you, too! I’m delighted that you found it useful.
Thank you – great article!
A lot to think about, I’m at that point of decision whether or not to go select.
Would you still recommend it, 9 months after your initial article?
I would, but not for any specific KDP feature. I advise all authors to try out one book on KDP Select. The 90 day exclusive period is a reasonable cost for the “lottery ticket” that Amazon provides. If the 90 days don’t work out then it’s easy to opt out. This advice has two caveats:
1) Go in prepared. Do everything you can to do well in the first month after launch. If you do well in that time period, Amazon will like you and promote you. This means choosing categories wisely, promoting early, getting pre-sales, targeted advertising, beta readers, early reviews and solid, consistent metadata in book description & author bio.
2) Go in with a reasoned perspective on “launching.” If you don’t like your 90 day test, then launch the book all over again on other services. And remember that your book’s shelf life is endless. That helps put the 90 day test into perspective.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Callie!
Thank you Ben! I appreciate your attention :)
I’m doing a lot, including request reviews, sexy blog, GR, etc. Still need to do that meta – thing.. bit of a technophobe…
Your answer got me thinking, though. One month? That’s what I get from Amazon to do well?
As it happens, my book tour is scheduled for a month and a half after the upload. So should I wait for a couple of weeks before I sign up with kdp select?
My pleasure, Callie! We’re all in this together, paving the way for authors for years to come. I love sharing what I’ve learned. And every single day is a lesson…
Re: the “one month” comment… not exactly. If you can get momentum going in pre-sales and then deliver a month’s worth of steady or growing sales then Amazon will definitely treat your book well. BUT if that momentum comes a year after the book releases then they WILL adjust and throw their weight behind it. Remember that Amazon only cares about sales. If they see sales then they’ll support the thing that’s selling. My intent in mentioning the one month window is to stress how important it is to head into the launch with a solid plan for sustained sales. I’d go ahead with the book tour as planned.
Thank you Ben !
You’ve helped me reach a decision. It’s great to have someone with lots of experience giving it to others so generously.
I will sign up with kdp select and trust in the gods of Amazon to push my book in front of many eyes :)
And hopefully many many people would go read an erotic mystery :)
My pleasure, Callie!
I think there are a few people out there who like erotic mysteries ;-) What’s the title of your book?
The title of my new erotic, romantic mystery novel, set in Tel Aviv, Israel, is Ash’s Fire.
It is available on Amazon.
Thank you :)
Nice to read you for the first time. I am a soon to be first time author, so I’m starting my research now. You have given me a lot of needed information, thank you for your time in sharing.
Hi Arthur! I’m delighted that you’ve found the site helpful. It’s a bit of a maze out there right now, but worth it. So worth it. Good luck!
Thank you for all the great information. I am going to be a first time publisher of a very niche book. A how-to for glass artists wanting to go from a hobby to making money. I am very excited about publishing this book and am probably going to go with KDP Select initially and see where it goes from there.
My pleasure, Frank! Good luck on your new adventure in publishing.