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So, I obviously hadn’t been leveraging the synergies sufficiently when I posted my last KDP update. In the wake of reading a piece about the power of free and how it worked spectacularly well for the author, I thought I’d best give it a try.

Warning: this post is not necessarily all that engaging for most readers. It’s mainly aimed at fellow writers who are trying to decide whether or not to do the KDP Select program and drills down into the fairly dry details of my little experiments.

And, for those of you writers who have read many many of these KDP Select follow up posts, I’d say the three things that make these figures a little different, at least to the other reports that I’ve read on KDP Select results are:

1) I’ve got several books in multiple genres;

2) I’ve tried the promo on different days in different ways, with vastly differing results;

3) the improvement in sales has been palpable and gratifying, but not the kind of mind-blowing figures others seem to have experienced.

I should also mention that I’m not a big promotions person. It pisses me off when I add someone back who has added me on twitter, and they immediately direct message me with a generic message of welcome and an invitation to buy their book (replete with a link, of course). Similarly, the autobot tweets from people repeating slightly differently-worded suggestions that I go check out their books, depending on how frequent, will either ensure that their tweets get ignored or if too frequent, will lead to my unfollowing them because of the nuisance factor. Since that stuff doesn’t work for me and annoys me, I’m not about to do it to other people. Golden rule and all that.

So anyway, most of these free offers have been made without really telling anyone. The two January ones were done without any mention at all. I wanted to see the results of minimal intervention–change one thing (paid to free then back to paid), and see what happens, rather than mixing it up with multiple variables (promo).

In February, of the three giveaways, I scheduled the contemporary romance one, without telling anyone and let Amazon/the market do its thing; I tweeted the historical fantasy 1-day giveaway. Finally, the short story anthology giveaway, I blogged, which in turn promoted it on FB and Twitter as part of the auto-publish settings. As you’ll see below, my best results in downloads/sales were for the contemporary romance, which I didn’t promote at all. This was likely a function of genre rather than personal effort.

This is also useful to me because while I love socializing on twitter and FB, I hate promoting on either. I want to chat and make friends, not sell! I’d also rather be writing in my spare time, rater than marketing, for the most part. So, I wanted to see what actually yielded results for me, and what were just extras. Minimal effort, maximum results, and all that.

An Inventory of Genres

I have three contemporary romances under a different name. I’ll call those CR 1, CR 2, and CR 3. I also have a 3 in 1 bundle which basically offers all three of them for the price of two.

I have two regencies, under Kathryn Anthony: The Clarendon Rose (TCR) & An Immodest Proposal (AIP).

I have one Historical Fantasy, Konstantin’s Gifts (KG), and–as of February–two speculative fiction short story anthologies: Persephone’s Library and other Short Stories (PL) and Of Myth & Memory (OMM–yes, this acronym makes me grin).

KDP Select Enrolment

Primarily as a result of indolence, I decided not to bother putting the three contemporary romances on Smashwords. So they were already exclusive to Amazon. I enrolled these into KDP Select a while back but didn’t do much about it beyond that.

My sales figures, meanwhile, were dismal. Here’s the baseline: from selling 100 or so books in August, the figures dropped… and dropped… and dropped. In December, I sold ten books–and I don’t mean per title. Ten books total, across the four contemporary editions, the two regencies and  PL, the one short story anthology (which has sold a total of 5 copies, since its release in early October).

Then I read the article I mentioned above and got intrigued. I was poised to release KG on Amazon, and knew I wouldn’t have time for a while to put the final touches on it that I wanted to do for Smashwords and print, so  thought, what have I got to lose? I enrolled that for a single term, and started scheduling free giveaways–for CR1 and for KG.

The Power of Free

CR1 had sold about 11 copies between August and mid-January. I scheduled a 2 day free promo. While it was free, there was something like 2K downloads in the US and 400 or so in the UK (2K in two days approximately translates to the top 200 in the overall free kindle store and the top 30 or so in the Contemporary Romance free kindle store–again, fyi. When stuff is free, I don’t know that it’s an accomplishment of any kind per se, to be high in the listings, but it does provide some useful data on relative download rates, like where contemporary romance rates are situated, in the context of the wider range of downloads).

In the wake of the free promo, it started selling better. Not in the thousands, but steadily and noticeably. As in, after an average of 2 copies a month for the preceding five months, it sold 36 copies in the second half of January, after it became paid once again. The sales of my other CR titles also started selling a lot better.

KG was released in January. I scheduled the two-day free promo about a week after the release, so I could establish a baseline. Unfortunately, I haven’t broken out my tracking figures into weekly or daily sales (I may do this at some point–but until mid-January, it would have been depressingly filled with zeroes) and my memory is fuzzy on where the spikes occurred in sales, and by how much. But, it was also noticeable–a few sales before the free.

Then, the free: it did about half as well as CR1 for free downloads, but I attribute this to genre. Bear in mind that I only got to about the top 30 in free downloads on the contemporary romance listings. With half as many downloads, I got into the top 10 for free downloads in the Historical Fantasy lists (a little depressing, considering how much more work I put into KG, but whatevs)–and meanwhile, I was in the high 100s to low 1000s for the overall listings. The point here being that GENRE IS KEY to some of these figures that people are citing. Timing is also important, as demonstrated by my next experiment.

I next scheduled a single day free promo for KG on a Saturday in February. Slow, slow, slow. It still got into the top ten, which tells me that *all* historical fantasy downloads were slow on that Saturday in February. I’m not sure if it’s that Saturdays are generally slow–but they may be.

See, at the same time, I also set CR2 for a free, 3-day giveaway. Here, I was curious to see whether the free offer, sustained over several days, would yield higher average, per-day download figures or not (i.e. if momentum would build). In the first two days (weekdays), the downloads were strong, and I got into the 120s in the overall free Kindle lists, and the top 20 for contemporary romance—again, this speaks to the density of downloads in these areas, not to the inherent accomplishment of lots of people downloading my no cost–and therefore low-risk–book.

In this case, my total, three day downloads were about 3,500. BUT 2,500+ of that was on the weekdays, and the downloads dropped noticeably on the Saturday.

So: weekdays may be better for free books (I had assumed Saturday would be better, as people are on the weekend and looking for stuff to read, but I now infer that maybe on weekdays, people are trolling for free books as an escape from the work week, while Saturdays are filled with errands, social engagements and so on).

My final experiment is with OMM. As I mentioned, PL, my post-apocalyptic ss anthology, has hardly sold at all. I had braced myself for low sales, having read, from multiple sources, that ss’s, even by the big names, don’t sell as well as do novels. Fine. But wow–5 copies in 2.5 months… So, given my results with the CRs and KG, and the free thing, I decided to see how a similar model would work with the SS form. PL is still on Smashwords, BUT I’ve enrolled OMM in KDP Select, and did a 2-day free offer the day after release, on the assumption that like PL, it probably wouldn’t sell much on its own. The results?  A goodly number of downloads over the two day period (around 340 or so in North America, which was sufficiently high to get it into the top 20 free for short stories). However, bearing out my experience with short stories not selling, it would seem that, unlike with the novels, which continued to sell after they reverted to being paid downloads, there have been no actual sales of the anthology now that it’s back to paid. This is, however, anomalous and so I can only assume that either 1) February is a really slow time for book sales or 2) short stories don’t sell. Or, of course, some combination of the two factors.

Conclusions

For whatever reason, it seems to be true: free offers somehow cause some kind of shift in the algorithms or something, and that book becomes more findable on Amazon (or more visible, perhaps). For me, this has led, not only to increased sales for the one book, but for increased sales across all the same-genre books, in the case of the CRs. Unfortunately, I only have one Fantasy novel at this point, so I wasn’t able to test whether this cross-sales benefit would manifest across the genres, but my understanding is that it would (this is analogous, I think, to the idea of the backlist, which has served publishers in such good stead, for so long).

I would also tentatively conclude that this benefit lasts about 2 weeks. In both cases, sales slowed down about two weeks after the free offers (the first time, this coincided with the new month, so I thought it might be that something shifts in the sorting of titles algorithm at the changeover of the months. To test that, I scheduled these free giveaways earlier in the month), subsiding to a trickle that is slightly higher than the pre-free levels, but much lower than the levels right after the free offer.

My final takeaway is that alas, KDP Select does benefit indies, with some mysterious consequences that combine increased visibility with increased sales. I am going to experiment a little with my regency TCR, which isn’t doing much of anything, anywhere. I’ve taken it off Smashwords, and am waiting for it to get unlisted from the channels. After that, I’ll enrol it and report any interesting results. All my other books that are already on Smashwords will stay there, for the forseeable future.

Given the results, my plan going forward is to enroll new books into a single, exclusive 3-month term with KDP Select when I release them, during which I’ll try to leverage and optimize exposure using the free promos etc. Then, I’ll opt out and put them on Smashwords, which will, in turn, add them to all the other distribution channels. We’ll see how all that works… As usual, if there are any interesting results, I’ll report back here. So, stay tuned!

*My brother, upon hearing the main title of my latest anthology Of Myth & Memory, said, “It sounds like a Joseph Campbell book”, to which I replied, “Yes, indeed it does.” So, the title of this post is a somewhat whimsical hat tip to that *other* JC, the wonderful comparative mythologist. (Aside: When I told my bro that the sub-title was “Fictions and Labyrinths” he chuckled. Then, we both said, simultaneously, “Borgesian.” Yes, he and I have just a few common cultural and literary paradigms, and the subtitle is definitely an homage to Jorge Luis Borges and his two game-changing short story anthologies, “Ficciones” and “Labyrinths”, for all that I make no claim to his mastery of story-ness and of concept, nor to his amazing ability to create stories that are puzzles and thought experiments all rolled into one. But the other reason I chose that sub-title is because I liked the way that Myth/Fiction and Memory/Labyrinth resonate with each other…)

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