Saturday, 1 March 2014

Promoting Kindle books with Amazon KDP Select free days

As a new author I found it quite daunting when first venturing into the realm of selling Kindle books. How would I get noticed? How would I get reviews? And many other questions. Coming in as a complete novice with my first book almost a year ago I certainly made a few mistakes.

But I've learnt a lot since then, both from experience and reading as much as I could from other writers in the form of blogs, message boards, and simply by talking to them.

Quite early on, I realised there were two hurdles to overcome. It was hard to make sales without any reviews. And it's hard to get reviews if no-one has bought your book. It is all very well putting a book on to Amazon and hoping people will buy it, but this is not the equivalent of having it on display in the front window of Waterstones. In fact you have about as much chance of it being spotted as you'd have in Waterstones if they agreed to stock it, took one copy and then hid it behind the cistern in the staff toilets.

When you go on to Amazon and look at any product you'll see lots of things on the page such as "People who bought this also bought..." or "What do other customers buy after viewing this item". Well with no sales your book will not appear in any of them. So what can you do? You've written an amazing book, put it on Amazon and other than a few close friends and family made no sales. What's the solution?

Give it away.

Now I know that may sound crazy for some. Why on earth would you want to give away something you have spend hundreds of hours creating and put your heart and soul into? Well - the answer for some is merely the pleasure of knowing that someone else is reading your book. But it does have long term benefits too. You will shift some copies which might lead to reviews, and will certainly lead to it appear on the "people who bought this also bought" lists. In short, you'll be increasing your book's visibility.

I've been experimenting a fair bit with these free promotions. If you aren't familiar with how they work, Amazon will let you give away any Kindle book free for up to 5 days in any 90 day period, as long as you are signed up to KDP select (which gives them exclusive sale right to the Kindle edition).

I've experimented with doing all five days in one go, or one or two days at a time. Every time I've got a steady trickle of sales, but not exactly an avalanche. It all depends on how much time and money you are willing to invest in the promotion.

I've done some promotions where I've done absolutely nothing to promote and still shifted a few dozen copies. There are always people sifting around for free Kindle books, searching categories and ordering by price to get all the free ones at the top. Other times I've tweeted and facebooked the hell out of it, though I can't say it's had a hugely noticeable effect. I am well aware that if you constantly bombard people with "Buy my book" all over facebook you are likely to achieve little more than to piss them off. So I try and keep this to a minimum.

Then there are sites out there that you can get to promote your book for you by various means. Some are free, some not. Most of these are based in the USA but they will accept UK authors submissions. You'll just have to be aware that if your book is of limited interest to the market outside the UK (for whatever reason) these may not be the best places to go.

The other problem is getting them to even accept you. It is generally accepted that being featured by one of the big US sites such as Digital Book Today or Pixel of Ink can get you a huge boost in sales leading to thousands of free downloads. But getting into them is really difficult. They have very tight selection criteria - for example Digital Book Today won't accept any book unless it has a minimum of 20 reviews with an average of 4* plus. I can't imagine that many new authors can be anywhere near that. The vast majority of books on Kindle have got nowhere near 20 reviews so as a budding new writer you've got little chance of being accepted by them. There are many other free sites out there which don't have such strict criteria but they get many more applications than many of them can feature, and I haven't had that much success getting featured by any of them.

Your other option is to pay to have your book promoted by sites, bloggers, tweeters with thousands of followers, you name it. The most well known one is BookBub which many swear by. They claim that they will get you substantial downloads (for example the average in my category is 11,000). This will certainly get you noticed. On the downside it is expensive ($210 for my category) and they also receive way more submissions than they can handle. But if it is as good as they say it is, and gets you launched as an author, then it's probably $210 well spent.

There are many smaller operators out there offering promotional deals so I decided to dip my toe in the water with some of them. I signed up with Author Alliance and Melanie Rockett on Twitter who for just a few $ each promoted my book for me via tweets and on their websites. I can recommend both of them. While I may not have seen astronomical free downloads of the kind of levels promised from Bookbub, it definitely had a beneficial effect as the promotion (now on its third day out of five) has done much better than any of the promotions I did before. You can analyse all your sales by country, so to take the USA for example, I have had  around 140 free downloads so far - that's about 5x as many as when I put Austerity Dad on without promotion earlier in the year.

Most importantly of all - one of those 140 reviewers has been kind enough to leave me a fantastic review already. It was not 5*, it was 4*, but the point is, it was a really good review. The reviewer clearly got my humour which shone through in her review - to quote one line:

"I question his claim to be allergic to chlorophyll, but he does make artery-clogging processed meats very entertaining".

Rather than cut and paste the whole review into this blog, it's probably easiest if I just give you the link to the book so you can see for yourself. (US Store Link) (UK Store Link)

It was definitely worth the money I spent on the promotion for this one review alone. The good thing about reviews on the US site is that they also appear on the UK site, so I am not unduly worried about the majority of promotional options being US based.

I will definitely be using these two services again.

As a final word before I go, far be it from me to bring up a stereotypical old politically incorrect joke about Germans and Sausages, but I was amused to see that I've had quite a lot of free downloads in Germany - more than all the other countries (excluding US and UK) put together. It seems that it is true, the Germans do love their sausages, perhaps I can get my book into the local Waterstones branch in Berlin - hopefully not behind the cistern!


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