Well, that was an interesting day at the races.
KDP Select is a lot like one of those extreme amusement-park rides that involve thick, padded harnesses and waivers printed in LARGE RED LETTERS on the entryway sign. It’s extremely disorienting, vaguely nauseating, undeniably thrilling, and you exit the ride conflicted between a strong desire to get back in the line and a strong desire never to go on the thing ever again.
That’s the experience of taking part in one of KDP Select’s free promotion days, which (I can’t believe I’m typing this with a straight face) entitles me to give away my work for free1. Under no other circumstances am I allowed to do so on Amazon, and it comes at the cost of being Kindle-exclusive; so Reswyt is off of the Nook platform for the summer (sorry, Nookies; you can still buy Nekhet – and where have you been for a year?).
I took a lot of Facebook grief for this move, especially from the head of my beta reading group, who read me the riot act about joining the KDP Select clan, but the unfortunate truth is that KDP Select works. I’ve sold thousands of copies of Reswyt, and KDP Select doubled my audience – in one day. Reswyt got to #6 on the Amazon Bestsellers list in Fantasy (albeit by being free, but you can’t buy that kind of visibility). And, before Siobhan disowns me – sorry, your words, not mine – I feel compelled to walk you through the Unfortunate Realities(TM). They begin with one hard dose of truth: the people who downloaded Reswyt for free weren’t prospective buyers. Not at their current level of awareness of the book, or – alternately – not through their fiscal policy on unknown books.
(Disclaimer: a universe exists where Reswyt catches fire through fevered word-of-mouth recommendations, and it breaks out to become a top-10 novel (paid, thank you) without me really lifting a finger or doing much in the way of promotion. In that universe, all the math to follow is rendered irrelevant and void…unfortunately, it’s not the universe I live in, so whereas Alternate Dave-Prime is currently lighting cigars with matches snapped across the head of a midget dressed like one of John F. Sebastian’s organic toys, I’m left to hustle and promote.)
Back to the proceedings.
Reswyt went on sale in September of 2011, at which point I put pretty much every spare minute and truly loose dollar I had behind promoting it, with solid results. The book outsold the self-publishing standard figure (500) and the standard for a successful fiction novel (5,000), and has settled into a nice rhythm of selling more copies every week. Not enough to retire on, but enough to be satisfied with given that I don’t have a publicist, promotion company, or major-publisher pockets to work with. But if you’re in the market for a new fantasy book and haven’t bought a copy in the past seven months, there’s probably one of two reasons for that2.
1. You had no idea the book existed, despite my best efforts to the contrary (I still get a lot of this, even – somewhat disturbingly – from my friends); or
2. You’re a crusty, inveterate cynic who doesn’t pay for first novels, especially given that there are hundreds of free books to audition.
In short, you weren’t going to buy the book anyway – either because the promotional channels I can afford to use don’t reach you, or because you’re well aware of the book but are too cheap to give it a try. Fine. How, then, am I to rectify either one? Option 1 isn’t solvable except by pouring money into promotion, and option 2 isn’t solvable through any means other than handing you the book. Actually, handing you the book solves both options 1 and 2. But, for the moment, let’s ignore the cynics, and listen carefully to my advisors crying out from the gallery for me to keep Reswyt at its current price point. Is it possible to fix the first issue with nothing but military-grade promotion?
Sure it is. And the results are actually worse than giving the damn book away.
Let’s say I want to grow my readership by, say, five thousand people, and I’d like to do that quickly, before the summer reading season is upon us; get a large group to read the first book before the summer, and odds are good I’ll attract a few people who want the next installment to ponder in their Adirondack chairs during the dog days to come. The most proven and tested means I’ve found yet is Facebook cost-per-click advertising, which I used pretty extensively in the first few months Reswyt was out to get things going. (I still do a bit here and there to keep the name in front of people.) It is, by far, the cheapest, most targeted, and most effective ad provider out there, and it produces results. At a cost, that is. Specifically, my cost per click is around $0.30; it’s not cheap to buy clicks for Kindle owners (everyone wants them). My conversion rate, or percentage of clicks that buy the book, has historically settled at around 10%, some months it’s 9%, some months 12%, but it settles to a mean of 10%.
So, to get 5,000 new readers, I’d have to purchase 50,000 clicks at $0.30, for a total outlay of $15,000, payable to the Facebook Corporation today, thanks very much. Then, assuming everything holds true – that I was even able to get 50,000 clicks (no small feat), that my conversion rate didn’t dip, and that my cost per click (CPC) didn’t climb, in approximately 60 days I’d receive a check from Amazon for…$14,000. (Reswyt retails for $3.99, of which my royalty is $2.80, times 5,000 copies = $14,000.) For my trouble, I would have lost $1,000, not to mention having to come up with fifteen large on short notice for my ill-conceived media blitz. And sure, I could raise the price, but that would lower my conversion rate, and round and round the spiral we’d go.
KDP Select, by contrast, nets to a bitter, but practical net of spend-nothing, get-nothing. Yes, it’s a little sickening to watch thousands of people giddily blow through the turnstiles, my book in hand, having paid nothing for it, but again, I have to remind myself that those readers wouldn’t have all shown up in one day without paying out to attract them, and many would never have shown up at all. (In this universe, anyway). And some proportion of them are going to want to know what happens next, and for them, they’ll buy Nekhet at full price and we’ll both be content. In the meantime, I’ve invested nothing in promotion, and received nothing in compensation – but at least I didn’t lose $1,000. And I’ve got the same new 5,000 readers I would have gained in the scenario above. I also manage to solve both the awareness issue and the cynic issue, since Amazon is kind enough to put its shoulder behind promoting my free book – but will not do the same for my costing-proposition book. (Go figure. At some point, Amazon will figure out the authors would pay good CPC rates for within-Amazon promotion, and then my problems will be solved.)
Yes, I’ve heard the counterargument – that those unwilling to buy a first book will be just as unlikely to buy a second. To this I’d respond first that I pity any poor soul so jaded and tightfisted that he or she will condemn themselves to forever reading the free first books in untold numbers of series, never finding out what happens to the characters involved in any of them, just to save a buck. (I’d say there would be a ring of Hell for these people, but sadly, they’re already living that experience.) And I don’t buy that every single reader who downloaded Reswyt for free is of the latter camp; I’ve gotten a big flurry of Facebook messages this morning from people who obviously started the book last night, and they’re overwhelmingly positive – with most of them wondering why they hadn’t heard of the book before3.
Am I going to do it again? KDP grants me five such by-the-decree-of-the-king-let-all-subjects-dine-at-the-royal-table days in every 90-day period I sign up for, so I suppose I’ll wait to see how Nekhet sales do in June before committing. But as a means to get the book into the hands of new readers, it’s tough to argue with.
Is it possible to feel dirty but satisfied? ‘Cause I do.
1 Has Amazon glommed onto the fact that authors have self-esteem issues? They have.
2 Or, I suppose, you just intensely dislike me.
3 That sound you hear is me pounding my forehead on my desk.