Thursday, March 8, 2012

A KDP Select Success Story

Tomorrow will mark three months since I pushed the Confirm button at Kindle Direct Publishing and let A Gift of Ghosts go live at Amazon.

Today I hit Confirm at Smashwords and at CreateSpace. Within the week a print edition ought to be available at Amazon, linked to the ebook. It's already available at the CreateSpace store, supposedly, although I tried to link it and the link doesn't work, and I can't figure out how to find products at CreateSpace. (That strikes me as quite inefficient for a shopping experience.) Within a couple of weeks, assuming it passes the review process at Smashwords, Ghosts should become available at B&, Apple, Kodo, and assorted other places that Smashwords distributes to.

Yep, Ghosts is finishing its time in KDP Select. KDP Select, if you aren't familiar with it, is a program of Amazon's in which an author makes their ebook exclusive to Amazon in exchange for five free days in which to promote the book, plus the opportunity to be included in the Kindle Lending Library and get paid when people borrow the book. I never intended to keep Ghosts in the program past the first 90 days. Personally, I don't have issues with the exclusivity: if Michael Graves can sell his household goods only at Target without being demonized for not letting them be in Walmart, I think I can sell exclusively at Amazon. But five free days always felt like a good number. I don't really thinking giving books away indefinitely is a marketing strategy with long-term potential.

That said, I did want to sum up the experience.

My self-publishing plans were to post my book, have a fun week while all my friends bought it, and then forget about it while I moved on to writing A Gift of Thought. That was a really sensible position, with plenty of reason behind it. Both my reading on self-publishing and my own ten years in book publishing had taught me a few things:
  • First books by unknown authors don't sell well
  • Books with very limited distribution don't sell well
  • Almost all book marketing and promotion is meaningless and doesn't help a book sell
  • E-books are still only a fraction of the market
I thought I'd maybe sell 100 copies in the first year if I was lucky. I'm not sure what I hoped for from reviews, if, in fact, I hoped for anything. I assumed some people would like it and some people would hate it, because that's sort of the nature of people having individual taste.

When I made decisions about Ghosts, they were made with those facts and ideas in mind. I didn't pay for a professional to design a cover, because it didn't make economic sense. (I thought maybe for my third book, sometime late in 2012, I'd think about a professional cover.) I probably shouldn't admit this, but I didn't hire an editor or a proofreader for almost the same reason.* And I did next to nothing for marketing or promotion. I sent the book to two people who review books on their blogs, but neither one of them have reviewed it.

When Amazon announced the KDP Select program in December, however, I thought, hmm...and signed up for it almost immediately. So, yeah, that brings us to the title of this post...

I used my first free day after I'd gotten my first dozen reviews or so. (A couple of those reviews were friends & family, but the majority were from people who knew me only through my writing and had found the book via CritiqueCircle or Fictionpress.) To let people know about that first free day, I mentioned it in an author note on a Eureka fanfic, and told my mom's group, WOW guild, and Facebook friends. The day went well. (Understatement.) Over 2000 copies were downloaded and at the end of December -- three weeks after posting Ghosts for sale -- I'd sold just under 200 copies. In my very first month of self-publishing, I earned almost $500. Not bad for a hobby!

In January, I used three free days, giving away another 2300 copies or so, and sold 125 copies. My only real marketing moment came at the end of January, timed with that third free day. Laurie, from the Stellar Four blog, made Ghosts her weekend read. Reviews were up to 30 on Amazon, I think, with another 10 or so on GoodReads, mostly five stars, some fours, and a couple of threes on GoodReads. I think perhaps some of the sites that list free books mentioned it, too, because sales definitely picked up. I started tracking them and on the first three days of February, sales averaged over 20 a day. Whee! Total February sales: 258.

On March 2nd, I used my fifth and final free day. I mentioned it here and on Facebook but I'm not someone with thousands of followers in either place. Apparently, though, one of the freebie sites did mention it. It was downloaded over 12,000 times. I didn't take a screenshot or remember to write the number down, but I know it climbed into the top 20 on the Top 100 Best Giveaway List.

And then people started buying it. A week into March, over 500 copies had been sold, bringing my total copies sold since release to over 1000. I made it to number 8 on the Books > Romance > Fantasy & Futuristic list before dropping back down. Not even a Kindle list -- a best-selling book list for a book that didn't even have a dead tree version!

I don't know a solid dollar amount because of the variables (changes in pricing and royalty rates), but I think it's safe to say that I've earned over $3000 dollars in my first three months of self-publishing. And yeah, that's not what I expected.

I don't know that I would have changed anything if I could have seen the future. Eh, maybe I would have done a more traditional dedication--if I'd expected a potential 18,000 readers, I might have gone the mother-father-kid route, instead of dedicating it to some strangers from a television show. But maybe not, too.

Meanwhile, though, I'm really happy with how KDP Select turned out for me. The free days gave Ghosts exposure, which in turn got reviews and links on Amazon, which in turn got more exposure. I don't know what will happen from here on out. Maybe sales will slow and then stall entirely or maybe word-of-mouth will keep it moving. Maybe I'll pay for a Kirkus review with some of the proceeds and see if that wider exposure keeps it going. Maybe I'll finally get back to writing Thought and forget all about Ghosts. Who knows?

But I am quite sure that KDP Select was a good way to start my self-publishing career and I wanted to say so for any other self-published authors out there who might be wavering!

* And also because I'm a damn good editor myself, plus had lots of early readers and critiquers helping me catch errors. Many thanks to all of them!


  1. Hi I loved your post. I'm starting a blog to get better sales and also help indie authors, and I mentioned this post in my blog. I hope that I okay. Here is the name of the blog if you want to check it out

  2. Sure, that's fine. But you should realize that this was a post from March 2012, and indie publishing has changed a lot, even in that short a time. Very soon after I wrote this post, Amazon changed the way they do best-seller lists, making it enormously more difficult for authors to use free days to widen their exposure via Amazon lists. Free days can still be useful if your free book gets mentioned by some of the bigger e-reader sites, such as Pixel of Ink or eReaderIQ, but its unlikely that anyone using KDP Select today will have as much success as authors did a year ago.