About Me

Tollesbury, Essex, United Kingdom
I was born in the Summer of 1969 in Dagenham, just on the border of East London. School was largely unproductive but enjoyable, setting me up for something of a wayward but interesting life! On leaving school I had various jobs including putting up stalls at Romford Market, working in a record shop, putting up ceilings, gardening and road sweeping. After resigning from an insurance company to play in a band, I found myself unemployed for two years. Then finally I got back on my feet and I've been a psychiatric nurse since 1997. I wrote A Cleansing of Souls when I was 22 years old and followed it up with Tollesbury Time Forever almost twenty years later. I started writing The Bird That Nobody Sees in September 2011 and it was released in July 2012. In terms of writing, my heroes are Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck. I would also include Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as literary influences. So that's me I guess - scruffy, happy and in love with literary fiction, music and life...

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

KDP Select - To Free or Not To Free?

Now I have two novels published with Amazon and have enrolled both in the KDP Select Programme. By enrolling in the Select Programne you are not permitted to have your books for sale on any other site (Smashwords etc.) For this though you are given two priveleges:

  1. The ability to give away your book for free for five days during the ninety day period of the enrollment.
  2. The inclusion of your work in the Kindle Owners Lending Library accessible by Amazon Prime Members who are entitled to one 'borrow' per month. The author receives payment for the borrow based on certain variables. Depending on the purchase price of the book an author may get substantially more income from a borrowed copy than for a paid copy.
In this post, the issues surrounding giving away your work for free and 'lending' it, will be discussed, both in terms of my own experience and observations I have made on the process in general.

The first novel I put up for free was Tollesbury Time Forever. Sales for the initial two weeks were good (about 5 per day) and they then faltered a little so I jumped straight in with a Free Promo day. Watching the numbers rack up was very addictive. It was almost like playing an online slot machine with fake money though. Throughout the period I thought many times "ah, if they were actual sales, how good would that be?" Once the promotion had ended I saw no direct increase in paid sales but as time went on reviews began to come in and it was clear that the Free Promo day had put the book into the hands of Kindle owners who otherwise would never have heard of it. This led me to discover sites like Goodreads and the UK Kindle User Forum which have been invaluable in terms of support and shared knowledge.

I thus adjudged that first Free Promo day to have been a success. I must say however that subsequent giveaways proved fruitless in terms of stimulating increased sales both for Tollesbury Time Forever and my other novel, A Cleansing of Souls. As such, although I have re-enrolled in the KDP Select Programme I have no intention of using any ither Free Promo days. That situation may change when my third novel is released, but it is something I will consider in depth.

In terms of the Kindle Owner Lending Library, this is currently only accessible on Amazon.com. My novels were borrowed barely at all in January or February but in March my novels were borrowed 40 times. April saw (as well as a decrease in general sales) borrows revert to their January/February trickle.

Now to what I have observed with others who have used the Free Promo days.

There have most definitely examples of authors benefitting hugely from the Free Promo days. The success of these days seems to hinge on a variety of factors:
  • engaging with various sites who publicise free ebooks
  • co-ordinated posts by the author and others on Facebook and Twitter to announce the free promotion
  • whether the days are used individually or consecutively 
The rule of thumb seems to be that if your book makes it into the top 100 Free List you have a good chance of achieving a sharp upturn in sales over subsequent days. Outside of the top 100, your work may not see much of a surge.

So a massive surge in sales following on from giving away thousands of copies - surely that's worth it? Well I'm not so sure. I have observed two factors that in some way make me glad that my Free Promo days did not break into the top 100. The first is that the surge oftentimes does not seem to last for more than a week or two before sales continue at their pre-promotion rate or, perhaps, reduce even from that. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Perhaps. But the second factor is a little more concerning. It seems that getting a book for free does not preclude some readers from leaving damning reviews. Novels that have previously had maybe twenty glowing five star reviews from people who have considered their purchase and downloaded it thinking it is something they will like can come to grief when that same novel is downloaded free on a whim and summarily disregarded with a one or two star review. Harsh but true.

I guess it's weighing up whether a temporary surge in sales is a reasonable price to pay for perhaps one or two permanent bad reviews. It is also worth noting that some Indie Authors (Cheryl Reid for example) have seen huge success without ever giving away their work for free - Rachel Abbott also; although her novel began to receive greatly varying reviews once it reached the top of the charts.

And so finally, on a wider point, is having the facility to give away ebooks for free a good or a bad thing?

Following my initial enthusiasm I am more and more inclined to think that short-term gain is a high price to pay in terms of the long-term future. What seems certain is that the KDP Select Programme with its vast array of free books and borrows is a wonderful thing for readers - it certainly seems true also that they are a major factor in the increasing sales of Kindles. So do free books sell Kindles or are they the key to literary stardom for the author. Being something of a cynic I am of the view that the KDP Select Programme is a wonderful piece of marketing by Amazon. All us Indie Authors with our hopes and dreams are lured into the trap of giving away our work in the hope that we will catch a magic wave and before we know it we are giving up the day job. I have personally come to the view that the Free Promo function could lead to a saturated market where books become entirely devalued and readers will look for price first and quality second, baulking at spending more than a pound or a dollar on an 80,000 word novel. I have even begun to feel some antipathy towards the sites, threads and people that highlight and spread the word about Free Books - but that's just the communist in me railing against the capitaist machine. And anyway, with me, forgiveness always prevails!

On a positive personal note, Tollesbury Time Forever currently has more 5 star reviews (51) than any other Literary Fiction eBook. So how do I get more sales? Put it up for free for a couple of days? Reduce the price? Increase the price? Change the cover? Change the description? Aaaaaghhhhh!!!!

I think I'll just have some wine...


My Gypsy Soul said...

Stu, thanks so much for posting this insightful article. I have books published and for sale on Smashwords/Amazon/iBooks/Nook and am aware of the KDP select program. However, because I wasn't sure of my feelings on the matter, I have never taken the steps to remove titles from one distributor in order to opt them into the KDP Select program. Your comments and insight are very helpful.

Although I'll never say never, I'm not inclined at present to enter KDP Select because I would rather have readers who know of me and like my work seek me out and purchase as opposed to downloading something for free which sits on their Kindle indefinitely and is never utilized or enjoyed. I'm with you on your belief that KDP Select is a great marketing gimmick to sell Kindles--not necessarily to help authors.

Again, thanks for the great article. Ana

Jeremy Bouchard said...

I've noticed similar results. When I first began putting up stories, if sales were slow or non-existent, I would rush to do the free promo, which led to absolutely nothing other than hundreds of free downloads.

I recently put my novella Rabid up for free for 5 days a few weeks ago after it had been out for two months, mainly as a promo for a new book I was releasing that same week. I had more free downloads than usual, and after it ended, I actually saw results afterwards. Brought in dozens of actual sales.

But also out of that I received a scathing 1-star review. So it's tough to say it's worth it. This time, I'd lean toward the success side. I have learned to be more patient and have a different view on making books for free now.

I've also pulled back on doing too much self-promotion. I see it so overdone, so frequently, that I've pulled back just because my own reaction to seeing other authors overdo it has been negative. Nothing pisses me off more than someone following me on Twitter, and as soon as I follow them back, I get a direct message with a link to their latest book. Sorry, but following me doesn't automatically mean we have that kind of relationship.

Have you had any luck getting books listed on the popular book sites when you're doing free promos? I submit, but they seem to get overlooked.

Steve Porter said...

Thanks for what seems a frank assessment, Stuart. I haven't used KDP Select, one reason being I have work available at other outlets. But in principle, I tend to agree with a lot of the stuff you say towards the end of your article.

Stu Ayris said...

Ana - always glad to be of help! We're all in this together at the end of the day so if I can help anyone else then that's great!

Jeremy - I know exactly what you mean about the self-promotion! With the Free Promo thing I think it encourages a short term view from the author which can inevitably lead to disappoint. Which of us ever wrote a novel to get rich? Yet now we get tempted into a programme that in some way entices us. It's a little like X-Factor and all that stuff I think - a short cut for the short term success or long term ignominy.

I did have Tollesbury Time Forever listed on UK Daily Cheap Reads - I can't say it helped too much.

Thank you so much for your comments both of you - very good of you!

Stu Ayris said...

My pleasure Steve. Cheers for reading it. I am tempted, if borrows continue to be low, to try Smashwords etc - if only to deprive myself of setting my books adrift on the Free Boat in a moment of drunken melancholy!

Col Bury said...

Hi Stu,

Truly excellent post this, feller. I echo it in its entirety (quite literally around the net). Recently on Facebook and Twitter, I've had an almost sickly feeling on seeing all the promos going on. You beat me too my own blog post on the subject, but I doubt I could have hit the nail as precisely as you have here.

Like Jeremy, I've pulled the reins on self promo quite a bit, but still promote other writers, as always. Being in the select program me-self, I've been watching all this 'free lark' with interest. Personally, I believe the market's too saturated for it to work as well as it has for the early birds. Most Kindles are already topped up with free stuff never to be read!
And, I'm not sure it works at all with short story collections.

The whole thing has taken up way too much of my precious writing time. Conclusion: Writers WRITE!


Stu Ayris said...

Thanks Col!

I absolutely agree! The best thing we can do is just carry on writing and publishing. Write as best as we can and publish as honestly as we can whilst picking each other off the floor along the way. After that, what happens, happens!

Gavin Bell said...

I did a few free days on my books early in the year without much impact, but I got a pretty decent sales bump when I used a couple of promotion days for Halfway to Hell (my novel) two weeks ago.

For some reason there were way more downloads than before, and I eventually got as high as number 6 in the top 100 free books. That managed to translate to a few hundred paid sales, and I lingered around the top 50 thrillers for about a week.

If I could guarantee that kind of success every time, I'd make the book free every month - unfortunately I think a lot of it is catching the right 'wave'.

Stu Ayris said...

Nice one Gavin! Yes, I guess because this model is so new there is just no telling what the magic formula may be. Sometimes I think the thrill of the chase can at times be detrimental in the long run, but who knows??

Good luck with Halfway to Hell and thanks for reading and commenting on the post!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Our Authors Electric group did a joint free promo in honour of World Book Night recently, with mixed results - but for most of us, it was definitely worthwhile. One of our members - Jan Needle - is now sitting at #1 in various paid rankings, and has been for a while, making himself some real money in the process. One thing the promo did was introduce his books to a US market, and for him that trend continues. I found much the same, albeit not in such volumes - and have had good sales of other books on the strength of it. I think the key to using the free days is to have a number of books out there - not just a couple. That way, if even a small percentage of people who download the freebies read them and like them, they will look for more of the same. It also helps if there is already a 'buzz' about a book. I did a promo of The Curiosity Cabinet to coincide with a number of reviews and blog posts, and have earned quite a lot in the subsequent month. In truth, we're all on a steep learning curve here. (And Authors Electric member Cally Phillips has done some excellent statistical analysis of our results, so that we can see exactly what happened, rather than speculating about it all!) Of course KDP is a good thing for Amazon - it gives them digital exclusivity. But used in the right way I think it can also promote sales. I don't buy this 'devaluing the book' stuff. There are millions of apps, games, blogs out there, but we still manage to find the ones that interest us. We have to get used to abundance rather than scarcity - as Kristine Kathryn Rusch terms it in her excellent and informative publishing blog.

90 Days Novel said...

An old marketing adage is don't give away the product you are trying to sell.

Kindle definitely doesn't hold up to that - free can be great exposure, particularly if you've got more than one book.

It still needs as much promo as a paid ebook though. You need serious download numbers to get chart rankings in light of the current saturation and algorithm changes made a few months back.

Definitely an area where the sales tail post freebie is getting shorter by the month - but if you've got the marketing muscle behind it, it can still be hugely lucrative if you don't mind risking the 'Downloaded it because it was free even though I hate the genre' one star reviews.

flick said...

Stuart am i too late to respond to this? I've just had a fantastic KDP Select promo which has resulted in exposure for my previously invisible book The Aunt Sally Team, plus the post promo sales of so far over 1300 books and some new 5 star reviews. I wrote about it in my blog, the link for which I'm supplying so you can see exactly what happened, if you want (and not to give myself free exposure): http://flickm.wordpress.com
. But i also did one on my novel written under an alternative name and that did very little.

I'm now contemplating whether another promo to use up the remaining 2 days would be a good or bad thing. I'm shaking in my shoes at the spectre of bad reviews, though it hasn't happened this time so far. Plus I pulled The aunt Sally Tem from Lulu and smashwords only to come across a couple of google searches that led to info that it had been doing well in the humour charts in australia. I'm stuck with Select till September now.

Also did zilch on US Amazon.

Soooo I'm till not sure. I think it can give your book visibility and it was lovely seeing it # 3 in the humour paid top 100 just above Terry Pratchett's Snuff.but the heady heights haven't lasted.


Stu Ayris said...

Congratulations Flick! Well done!! It certainly is intoxicating seeing the book rise up the charts (or so I imagine!) Keep doing what you feel as right and may you have every success!


flick said...

Thank you Stuart - but alas it is now plunging down the ranks again! My feelings over these last two weeks have been what i imagine is felt by lottery users just before the numbers are read out and they dream the dream. I dreamed the dream but the rise wasn't sustained. I'm still selling over 30 books a day, which is more than The Aunt Sally Team was selling in a month before the promo, but two days ago it was 50, a day and before that 80, before that 100 and previously several hundred a day, so it's tailing off. I wish i could figure some way to market it that would make it stick.

Also i may have hit it lucky with the free promo and started it when other books weren't doing as well. There are so many variables. I just wonder how long Amazon will offer the program anyway, now that the market is saturated with free and low price books. i jiust picked up a Peter James book for 20p. For a book from a best selling, traditionally published author whose hard backs retail at around £20...

Stu Ayris said...

It's a strange old thing the Free Promo. I decided a while ago to not take the plunge again. I've seen quite a few people get quite demoralised by the slump following influx of sales to the point where they seem to lack enjoyment in the whole experience. 30 a day is fantastic. I'm selling between 3 and 5 a day at the moment have a big old grin and a dance at every single sale - I don't ever want to lose that wonderful feeling!

I agree, I don't think the free promo thing is sustainable for too much longer. Just to write a novel is a wonderful achievement - for people to then buy it is something incredible. So don't get down, just get writing and keep smiling and all will be well in your world!!

flick said...

No, i'm fine, writing the sequel to Aunt Sally as we speak :) You're doing way better than i was before the promo. That's a good steady number and I'd be thrilled if my book sustained that amount of sales.

This is a great log btw.

Stu Ayris said...

Considering I thought I'd only ever sell a hundred altogether, I'm delighted!!! On July 15th I will be doing a blog post summarising the first six months of Tollesbury Time Forever, including all the sales figures ect. Should be fun!

It's the US sales that have suprised me - of the 3-5 a day 1-2 are in the US!