Friday, April 20, 2012


Hello My Friend and Welcome. 

As you can see, the Blog Chain’s topic word this month is JOY and, as usual, I’ll view it through the lens of the writing life. I’ll do this by sharing the results of my recent eBook promotion via Amazon’s KDP Select Free Days. Please understand, this is not an attempt on my part to brag. Many have done better. Rather, by sharing facts and figures, I hope to offer other writers details and insights that may benefit their marketing efforts.   

But first, let’s talk about joy. Our world tends to use joy and pleasure as synonymous terms. This is a mistake. Pleasure is a fleeting, and often superficial, emotion. We can derive pleasure from a Big Mac and fries, but never joy. Joy resides deep in our soul and comes from a sense of inner peace, satisfaction and contentment. And so, I look back on this campaign with joy rather than pleasure, and the reason for this has very little to do with the results we achieved.  

Technology, especially in the computer age, is like everything else, both good and bad. We all know about the bad stuff — Spam, Hackers, Porn, Predators, etc. We don’t often think about the good it brings. This digital world of ours connects us in unimaginable ways. Notice in the previous paragraph I said the results we achieved. This was never a solitary effort. Had it been, it would have surely failed. Friends, good friends, whom I have never met and will probably never meet face-to-face helped immeasurably by taking time to share my Face Book posts and spread the word via blogs, tweets, etc.  

I can’t begin to tell you how gratifying this is. The Desiderata says, “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” So long as people continue to reach out to each other in support and friendship, that will remain true. I haven’t sent individual Thank You’s because I know how easy it would be to overlook someone, and I wouldn’t want to do that. I thank you all right now. Believe me, I am extremely grateful to each and every person who assisted me in this effort.  

First, let’s lay some groundwork. In a nutshell, KDP Select moves an eBook into a special category making it available for borrowing by Amazon Select members. The Amazon Select program offers free shipping for an annual membership fee. As an added bonus, members can borrow stipulated Kindle books from a Digital Lending Library at no cost. In order to enroll a book in KDP Select, the author/publisher has to give Amazon exclusive digital distribution rights for a series of self-renewing 90-day periods. Thus Amazon is able to make membership in their Select program more attractive. 

In order to create a catalog of borrowable books, Amazon agreed to pay a fee each time an eBook is borrowed. It’s volume driven and has ranged from a low of $1.60 to a high of $2.18 last month. They further sweetened the pot by giving each book up to five free promotional days within each 90-day period. The belief was, and results verify, that giving away free books generates word of mouth and stimulates sales and borrows. 

At first I shied away from the program, viewing it as a thinly disguised attempt by Amazon to reassert its monopoly on eBooks. Their first attempt was the Kindle, which worked well until companies such as Sony, Apple, B&N and others began marketing their own reading devices. I held back because I didn’t want to forego the sales I derived from those other platforms. What changed my mind was an in-depth analysis of my sales reports. I write in three genres, Contemporary Fiction, Christian Fiction and Christian Nonfiction.  For reasons I don’t claim to understand, my Christian books sell equally well across all platforms. However, the Contemporary Fiction has not. Amazon Kindle far and away represented my best market for PROMISES and LOST. Armed with this nugget of insight, I agreed to move them both into the KDP Select category. After all, I had little to lose.  

Once I decided to have a Free Day Promotion, the first thing I did was re-edit PROMISES. It’d been on the market going on three years and I wanted to tighten and tone the content a bit. Next, we re-formatted both digital manuscripts (PROMISES & LOST). If the books were moving into the Select category where they’d be heavily promoted, I wanted to provide a maximum reading experience. This meant they had to be as error-free as possible. Since Claudia Monet, the MC in PROMISES, appears in ten chapters of LOST, we inserted a book promo and sample chapter of the other book in both of them. My hope was that we’d not only stimulate interest in PROMISES, but encourage the reader to buy LOST…and vice-versa. 

The I began to research how others utilized their Free Days. The first thing I found out was that a successful promotion yielded what marketers call a tail. In other words, the buzz generated by putting all these free copies into circulation creates ongoing word of mouth that (hopefully) translates into solid sales. One thing to keep in mind when planning your promotion is that the numbers others have posted may be skewed due to timing. An enormous number of people received a Kindle for Christmas. Along with them Amazon offered a 30-day free trial in Amazon Select. So, if you happened to be lucky enough to schedule your free days in the early part of the year, you no doubt got a boost in borrowing from the trial members and additional downloads from people wanting to test drive their new Kindle. 

As the time for your free days rolls around, you want to try to gin up as much publicity as possible. I’ve already mentioned the person-to-person contacts of Face Book, Twitter, Linked-In, etc. There are also websites specifically dedicated to free Kindle Books. I’ve included a link list at the end of the post.

I’ve created three graphs of my results. One details the cumulative total of eBooks downloaded over the two-day period by hour, which was 21,200. The second graph shows the approximate distribution of downloads hour-by-hour. (I had to do some averaging and smoothing because I wasn’t up all night to check and left home and the computer for several periods during the day.) The thing I immediately noticed is the gradual buildup of momentum. We have two outliers around the middle of the second day which I can’t explain. It may have something to do with the timing of tweets, Face Book posts and so on. Or, since these promotions are worldwide and noon on the West Coast corresponds to evening in Europe, it could be due to time differences. Whatever the reason, I’m glad to have them.

Rather than simply throwing numbers at you, let’s try to bring them into focus by comparing them to what other books were doing during the same period. This comparison is what convinced me that the promotion was indeed successful. On the second day, PROMISES reached its high, ranking 6th in the top 100 free books on Kindle. It held that position all day and well into evening. It also ranked 2nd in the Romantic Suspense category and 3rd in Contemporary Fiction.  

I should also mention that when uploading the edited/re-formatted files, we adjusted the genre categories slightly. I strongly suggest you consider fine-tuning your choices in this department. It’s important to choose categories which accurately reflect the content of your book. This is, after all, the search criteria most people will use to find you. Clearly, you can’t help yourself by lying. Tagging a cozy mystery as a crime thriller or a sweet romance as erotica may generate additional uploads, but it won’t satisfy readers. 

Okay, so you’ve worked hard, done everything right, and promoted like crazy. This is the point at which you rest on your laurels and bask in the glow of your accomplishments. People all over the world now know your book exists. A heady thought that one. My third graph reveals the after effects of the promotion, the resulting sales.  

My campaign ended 4/12/12 and this post goes up on 4/20/12, meaning I only have seven data points to graph. It does, however, give some hint of the payback from Kindle Free Days. I believe it also illustrates the benefit of cross-pollination. I tracked the number of books sold and those borrowed for both books. Basec on someone else's stats, they had follow-up sales of 2.37% of the freebies and borrows of 0.46%. Even thought she put out nearly 40% more books than I did, I adopted those percentages my goal. In the last seven days PROMISES had sales of 483 units , or 96% of the goal. 120 copies of PROMISES were borrowed or 123% of the goal. In addition, we sold 72 copies of LOST and 2 copies were borrowed. Combining the two books, we exceeded both of our goals. At its peak, PROMISES ranked #19 in Romantic Suspense.

I also wondered if this campaign would boost sales of my Seeds of Christianity Series. I believe I'm seeing an indication of this. So far, combined April sales for the Seeds Series are over twice the first quarter's average monthly sales. This may be because we include a link list in each eBook to all my other eBooks. If you haven’t done this, you definitely should.

If you enroll one or more of your books in KDP Select, the first thing you’ll have to do is un-publish them everywhere else. This is a good time to make a critical examination of your cover art. Maybe you can’t tell a book by its cover, but a good cover sells books. Don’t make a change if there is a companion print edition; the covers should match. You may also want to revisit your pricing. The eBook market follows the high volume-low margin model.  

Now it’s time to lock in some days. The first piece of advice I got was promote early in the week because Friday and the Weekend are prime selling days. I did a two-day promo on Wednesday and Thursday. Had I gone three days, I would’ve added Tuesday not Friday. Another suggestion I found was to book your days individually rather than as a block. That way, if the promo opens on a Tuesday and belly flops, you can easily cancel the other days. The other advantage to this strategy is, you can instantly extend it another day if things are going good.  

Booking individual days is a good idea, but a study of my graphs shows PROMISES started slow and gradually built momentum. Why? Did a competing book hold it back at first? Does it take time for readers to become aware of your title? Was it influenced by the timing of tweets and posts? There’s no way to know. Interestingly, I sent my son an email on Tuesday afternoon saying I expected to move about 5,000 copies. When I checked the following morning, we had over 11,000 downloads. The moral here is, don’t be too quick to pull the plug. The graphs seem to say that once you earn a high ranking, the momentum is somewhat self-sustaining. You’re king of the hill and it’s up to someone else to knock you off, or wait until your campaign ends. 

There are a couple of points I’d like to elaborate on. Being human, we have a tendency to wonder How long can this last? What happens when everybody’s bought one of my books? Don’t worry about it. Last Christmas Amazon was selling Kindles at the rate of over 1,000,000 a week. For the time being they’re adding potential customers faster than most of us can sell books. Will there be a time when the market reaches saturation? Of course, but no time soon.  

Much has been written about digital books leveling the playing field between indie authors, small publishers, and The Big Seven. And, to some extent, it has proven out. However, coming from a Corporate Planning/Financial Analytic background, I’ve had a niggling fear that some number-cruncher at Amazon will someday say, “My research shows that unless a Kindle book sells X copies, we’re better off without it. Too many of these self-published books just languish in the catalog, clogging our server capacity.” Ouch! Good-bye indie authors and small publishers. Here come the heavy hitters. The way to avoid this happening to you is to make sure you’re on the up side of the sales curve. Financial considerations aside, you can’t sell out of an empty wagon. First and foremost, as an author you must do everything possible to insure that your books are readily available.  A couple of successful Kindle promotions provides some insurance.  

When thanking everyone who helped, I failed to mention Amazon. It’s easy to grow cynical and say, “What did they do? They’re already the elephant in the living room. I mean, it doesn’t cost anything to give away a digital book, does it?” Well, actually, it does. Bytes cost money. I don’t claim to know how much, but you can’t send them flying across the world for free. Those familiar with Kindle publishing know that Amazon, like any merchant, takes a margin on each sale. (They, of course, forego this on the free copies.) They also charge a download fee based on the file size of the book. The digital download fee isn’t much, but it is there. They charge a six cent fee on every copy of PROMISES. If my math is correct, that means those 21,200 free copies they downloaded represented $1271.40. So they put something in the pot too. Thank you, 

Careful study of the accumulative sales graph shows that, while I met my sales goals, the number of sales per day dropped on Monday, day 4, and declined each day thereafter. Was this because there’s less activity during the week? Will sales rebound this coming weekend? Or is this the end of the tail (tale)? Will there be any long-term affects on sales? Tantalizing as they may be to speculate, it’s too soon to answer any of these questions. However, I will be monitoring sales of LOST for the next few weeks. As people complete PROMISES, they'll be exposed to the promo for LOST. Seeing a secondary upward trend in sales would be interesting. 
Regardless, most companies advertise their products continuously. PROMISES has three additional free days in the current 90-day period. LOST has five. And I intend to use ‘em.

One last point—checking your Kindle sales data more often won’t make the numbers go up any faster. 

If you’re contemplating an Amazon free promotion, or have other related marketing issues you’d like to address, you can include it in a comment. I’d also be happy to continue this conversation on a one-to-one basis if you prefer. My email address is in my profile.

Sites Advertising Free Kindle Promotions (No Particular Order)

All Things Kindle (FaceBook)
Pixel of Ink
Kindle Boards (under Book Bazaar)
Digital Book Today
World Literary Café
Free Ebook Deal (FaceBook)
Free Kindle Books & Tips (FaceBook)

Christian Specific Sites:
Inspired Reads
Family Fiction
Christian Books by Indie Authors (FaceBook)
Christian Fiction Gathering (FaceBook)

A detailed search will surely turn up additional sites willing to plug your promotion. Also be sure to create an event on GoodReads, do FaceBook posts, and mention it on your Blog.

Next Tuesday we’ll take a look at the legacy of Boadicea’s Revolt on Britannia. Specifically we examine its effect on the Roman capitol of Camulodunum, present day Colchester.

Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings


Michael Johnson said...

Wow this is amazing. Thank you for so clearly recounting your experiences. I also did the free giveaway days but did not approach it with anywhere near the planning that you had.

Proverbs 12:24 "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor."

E. G. Lewis said...

Thanks for kudos, Mike. One of the reasons that I decided to "bare all" was that I knew it would benefit other authors. Those whom I call the "Heavy Hitters" survive nicely with an army of assistants and their publisher's Marketing Dept. I feel those of us in the lower eschelons of the publishing world need to help each other whenever we can.

by Pegg Thomas said...

See that spike at hour 37? That's when I tweeted. No, really! ;)

E. G. Lewis said...

Ah Ha! The guilty culprit has come forward and confessed. Thanks for your assistance on our behalf, Pegg. It was certainly appreciated.

Bill Jones said...

thanks for the great details and comments - I'm not there yet but will definitely bookmark this one.

Tracy Krauss said...

This was so fascinating and very informative. I do not have the rights to any of my books at this time or I would consider doing this. I am very interested in learning how the process works, though, for future books and you laid everything out so well. thanks. (And congratulations, too. Both of these books are wonderful and you deserve all the success you can get.)

Terrie said...

Thank you so much for this detailed post. I have been back in forth about the KDP program - but I have to get my marketing "ducks in a row" so to speak. It is quite an undertaking that few realize - so congrats with your success!
I have begun slow, but have several plans lined up - just have to connect the dots, with FB, Goodreads, Twitter and the like. You just might get an email one day soon. Peace and Blessings!

Deborah K. Anderson said...

Wow, E.G. I had no idea so much went into this. You deserve a medal, brother. Seriously.

Thanks for sharing this with us. And congrats on your book. You're a great writer.

From Carols Quill said...

VERY, VERY interesting! I really enjoyed seeing behind the ebook phenomenon and understanding the stats. Very joy-filled!

chris said...

Thank you for sharing this E.G., very thorough and helpful !!

Adam Collings said...

I'm glad it went well for you. May you continue to see the benefits of this exercise over time.

TraciB said...

Congratulations on the successful promotion; you make a strong case for going Select. I may consider it at the end of the month if I don't see sales pick up on Smashwords and B&N, the other two digital outlets for Chantal's Call.

I appreciate all your hard work in putting this post together. It's great to learn the industry from those who have walked the path ahead of me. :)