To Select…or not to Select. That is the question.

PJ Sharon here on this chilly New Year’s Eve Day. Since I’m in the process of re-evaluating my first quarter marketing plan for 2014, I thought I’d share the results of my latest promotion. Most of you are familiar with KDP Select, Amazon’s 90 day exclusivity contract that requires authors to publish only with them for that time period. The perks of putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket are paid borrows by Prime members (average $1.94 per borrow), entry into their new “Count Down Deals” program, and/or the ability to run FREE promotions for five days of the 90 day period. A year ago, all of this was very attractive. Now, not so much.

Most Indie authors agree that running free promotions has been much less effective than it was a year or two ago. Now that the market is flooded with freebies and bargain books, it’s getting harder and harder to sell at any price—even FREE! Sales of my last published novel, WESTERN DESERT, book two in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy, which released last July, reflect the drastic change. I’ll preface these results with the caveat that YA Dystopian is a hard sell across the board lately since that market is pretty much glutted. I also believe that book two in a trilogy is often tougher because folks won’t buy/download book two if they haven’t read book one, and readers don’t want to get hooked into a trilogy with no guaranteed release date of the third book.

Having said all that, I’m trying not to take it personally or be embarrassed about such a poor sales record. The fact is, I don’t think the numbers reflect the quality of the book at all. What reviews I do have, are excellent, and feedback I’ve had from readers has been awesome. So what’s up with the numbers?

Coming June 24th!
Coming June 24th!

I enrolled WESTERN DESERT into the Select program in October, figuring I would promote books one and two through Halloween, running my first two day FREE promo around the time readers might be drawn to Dystopian/Sci-fi-fantasy stories. I was part of a group sale, advertised on the usual 20-30 sites that promote freebies (some charge a nominal fee of $5-15), and did a social media blitz, including some blog appearances. The best I did was had about a thousand free downloads and sold eighty or so copies of WANING MOON, book one in the trilogy.

Now, I realize that those results meant that my book was in the hands of potentially a thousand new readers, and it did wonders for my sales rankings for both books during the sale, but being that WANING MOON was selling for the .99 cent price point, I made about $30. I’ll add that there was no after sale bump in numbers (meaning my sales flat-lined again immediately), and I’d spent my budgeted $100 for advertising the sale, netting me -$70 for my trouble. Consider the amount of time it takes to set up ads on 20-30 sites, schedule blog appearances, participate in social media non-stop for two days, and well…you get the picture.

I waited a couple of months, planned my last three day FREE run for right after Christmas, hoping to catch all those new Kindle owners, and promoted both books like crazy. As in, “Two Books for under a buck!” “Buy WANING MOON for .99 cents and download WESTERN DESERT for FREE!” I joined with Awesome Indies for their Holiday Bonanza e-book sale, promoted on 30 FREE e-book sites (I’m hearing now that it takes 50 sites to make a dent), and I scheduled mega tweets, FB, Goodreads, Google+, Pinterest, and tumblr promos. I spent my $100 budget, and had the support of dozens of other authors who tweeted, posted or otherwise shouted it to the world for me. Here were the results:

Worldwide (including a few downloads in Germany, France, India, Canada, and Australia—a new market for me!), I had a whopping 543 downloads of WESTERN DESERT and 39 new sales of WANING MOON. Oy! Hours of preparation, insane amounts of marketing, and yes, I’m down about $85. I did reach the #1,026 mark on the Amazon rankings in the Free kindle store, #2 in the Sci-fi/fantasy/Genetic engineering category, and #10 in the Dystopian category, but numbers bounced right back to oblivion when the sale ended.

Granted, I was unable to procure ads on the really big sites like Book Bub and a few others which require as many as twenty-five reviews these days to even be featured and are very choosy about what they pick to advertise, but really? For the work involved and the investment of time and money, it feels like I’ve run a marathon and placed next to last. A far cry from last year’s FREE promo for SAVAGE CINDERELLA  when I boasted 40,000 downloads between my two day and then a three day promotion. The best part was the over 800 direct sales in the weeks after my free run. Yikes! What a difference a year and-a-half makes. Even HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES and ON THIN ICE promos last year at this time did much better than my 2013 efforts for my Dystopian reads.

It would be nice to get a few (hopefully good) reviews out of the promotion and getting my name out to new readers is always a good thing, but all in all, the Select program has little left to offer me with this book series. Perhaps when I publish another Contemporary YA romance, or when I have a boxed set of all three books in the trilogy, I’ll give it another go, but for now, KDP Select is a losing proposition for me. Of course, take all this with a grain of salt, because I’ve heard of a few other authors on my loops who are still pulling in good numbers with Select. Go figure!

What do you think? Have you had better results? How did you do it? Am I missing something?

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16 thoughts on “To Select…or not to Select. That is the question.”

  1. Paula, thank you for the head’s up in a rapidly changing publishing market. I am not there yet. By the time I get to shout out about my book, the market will have yet changed drastically again, or should I say will still be changing. No one seems to know the end result of this market. I do wish you the best. And I appreciate you sharing the results of your efforts.

    1. Keeping up with the changes is the challenge, Gail. While you’re waiting for your ship to come in, it’s good to be a student of the market. Glad to see you here, as always!

  2. Very revealing, PJ. Thanks for the very honest analysis. It’s a rare author who will share cold hard numbers. It’s hard to guess where the self-pubbed market is going and how to rise above the crowd, but that’s true in all publishing. Happy New Year!

  3. Thank you, Kristan. I’m always happy to share my experiences–good, bad and otherwise–for the sake of helping other writers negotiate the murky waters of publishing. I would be nowhere without the assistance of others along the way doing the same…including you! Blessings in the New Year, my friend!

  4. it seems utterly random. in the last 2 months, I did the kindle countdown with 4 books–lowering the price to 99 cents–and 2 did well (like 200 extra copies over the 4 days so my version of doing “well” is pretty lowgrade) and 2 did absolutely nothing. it’s difficult figuring out what works and how to build a promo plan when there’s no consistency. grumble, snarl.

  5. When I read about all of your efforts, it seems so overwhelming. I can understand your frustration. Assuming a certain level of quality in craft and storytelling, I can’t see any kind of formula that determines what books take off vs. which linger in relative obscurity. As I’ve noted in our CTRWA loop, I do think readers may be overwhelmed by all the social media promo/blogs/book sites these days. I notice I merely scan many of the emails in my box from Bookbub, Fussy Librarian, Dear Author, Smart Bit@hes, etc., etc. Every once in a while, something will jump out that I want to read, but it is just too much info each day to give every site my full attention. As a writer, that is just depressing to admit, because I’d hope to rely on those very things to help me one day!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and advice. It gives me a lot to think about as I try to map out the future with my own work.

    I hope 2014 brings you increased visibility and success! Happy New Year.

    1. Hi Jamie! Nice of you to stop in. Lest you think the world of publishing is all gloom and doom, let me say that this is just one single promotion and only a small part of the business of writing. I don’t hang my hat on outcomes–negative or positive. If I did, I’d have quit a long time ago, or I would have no hair left, LOL.

      I try my best to remain objective and not take things personally. For as frustrating as it is to spin my wheels on occasion, I am equally encouraged by comments from readers, recognition of my books from reviewers and contest judges, and always relieved to hear from others that I am not alone in my struggle, Perseverance is key and believing in yourself and your work is what will keep you forging on.

      1. PS My daughter loves YA dystopian, so I’m going to encourage her to check out your series. I noticed she just downloaded something new yesterday, but she reads quickly.

  6. Thanks PJ for sharing your numbers and your experience. Yes … I had a similar experience. I came to the conclusion I was doing an awful lot of work and spending a ton of money to build up Amazon’s distribution platform AT MY EXPENSE!!! My latest novella I released onto all platforms. Considering the fact I haven’t spent a penny to advertise it and only spent $20 on stock artwork to GIMP out my own cover, THAT little book has netted me a much more impressive conversion rate than all my work/efforts/money playing in the KDP Select sandbox!

    1. Interesting, Anna. I don’t sell a lot of books at Smashwords or B&N so I figured I had little to lose going with the Select program. I’m happy to put my book back onto multiple platforms if only for the sake of offering Nook and Tablet owners access to all of my books and hopefully helping to keep Amazon from taking over the world!

  7. I truly appreciate you sharing your experience with us, Paula. I become a tad overwhelmed when I think about the marketing aspect of this business, but my eyes are open to the pitfalls and variables outside a writer’s control. Perhaps that’s why I just do my best to focus on writing the best stories I can and learn from more seasoned authors. Wishing you many sales AND profit for all your hard work. Happy 2014! :)

    1. Thanks so much, Jolyse. In the past year I’ve really learned to take it all in stride. I just keep plugging away, trying new things, doing what I can when I can, and hoping for the best…and writing:-)

  8. I agree KDP Select does not have the impact it once had. Personally, I believe wide distribution is the best way to go instead of an exclusive lock via one retailer, such as what Amazon requires for 90 days.

    1. Hi James, thanks for the feedback. From an ethical and moral stand point, I always hated the idea of exclusivity, and I knew that eventually all the freebies and deep discounts would hurt the industry as a whole–and authors in particular, but as a business person, the perks of going exclusively with Amazon were very attractive. It doesn’t help that BN and Smashwords have not been great sources of sales for me from day one. It’s hard to justify staying with a vendor when you sell a book a month there and the Zon has had so much to offer. Now, it doesn’t make sense for me NOT to cast the widest net possible since going exclusively with Amazon has proven less than successful. As such, WESTERN DESERT will join all of my other titles in multiple distribution at the end of the 90 days on January 5th:-)

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