Me and KDP: in bed with the big boys
If you’ve been doing anything other than living under a rock for the past month, it’s entirely possible you’ve noticed we’ve had some books come out. You know? The inaugural four crime novels of our brand new Moth Publishing imprint, winners of the Northern Crime Competition and generally excellent chunks of debut fiction? Oh, those books. You should have said.
You may also have noticed that we have at various points been offering them free for Amazon Kindle. This – and I’m letting you in on Illuminati-level publishing secrets, here, so keep it under your ceremonial pointy hat – has been possible due to our participation in a scheme called KDP Select. Well, the astonishingly helpful and patient Diana at ebookpartnership.com, who has been responsible for unleashing these formidable tracts upon the eWorld™, has asked if I might like to document my experience with KDP. Why did I choose it? How did I create my marketing plan? And most importantly, was it worth it?
Well, I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly what I was doing. Though we’ve got a long and respectable publishing history, Moth was a very new kind of venture for us and was freckled with all sorts of question marks. One of these – and for me, as Junior Foreman in charge of eEverything, perhaps the most intimidating – lay over the whole field of digital publishing and marketing. Self-publishing and indie publishing is more possible than ever before, thanks to the rise of the ebook; but in a world where everyone and their mum can be a self-published author and the marketplace is swamped with monographs on the tensile properties of the elastic band, how are you supposed to get your ebook noticed?
I had no idea.
My forays into the blogs and discussion threads of the publishing world led me to Amazon’s KDP Select scheme. For those who don’t know, KDP Select is a free opt-in program that offers two main benefits: enrolment of your book in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, in which every borrow of your book gets you a percentage of a monthly cache, and five promo days when your book can be made available for free. There’s no fee to enter the scheme; Amazon demands in return only a single red rose, plucked by—no no, I’m kidding. They require ninety days of digital exclusivity. You can’t offer your ebook for sale through any other retailers or distributors or through your own website. Even libraries that might want to stock a digital copy of your book have to buy it through Amazon. Though a drawback, we reasoned that initially at least this shouldn’t be too much of a problem; everyone and his dog has a Kindle these days, and those free promo days were a powerful lure. So we went for it.
I drew up a schedule for the promo days, based on a combination of intense Googling and what I fondly imagine to be common sense. Since success on Amazon is based largely on number of reviews, I wanted to get a good few in place before the official launches so the books were already looking attractive when the launch PR kicked in. Day One for each book was scheduled almost immediately after they went live, a week or so before the launch events, with the authors under strict instruction to extort everyone they’ve ever known into downloading it and leaving reviews. I hooked up a caffeine IV and glued myself to social media for a forty-eight hour period, with the happy if unplanned result that Alfie Crow’s RANT became a sponsored story on Facebook and I developed a 140-character verbal tic.
Days Two and Three were scheduled for the launch days: the first for each author’s individual launch event, and the second for all four books together on Moth’s official launch date. Everyone who bought a paperback at the events – i.e. the vast majority of the audience – was encouraged to also download the Kindle version since it was free that day anyway, and to leave reviews if they liked it.
One of the individual launches took place the day before the Moth event, meaning that that author ended up getting two free days in a row. The effect of this prolonged exposure – and of course the fact that her book is EXCELLENT and you should all buy it – was that she shot to the top of the bestselling list for crime and even made it onto the Top 100 Free Bestsellers across the genres. Once I’d stopped running around the room with my shirt over my head I sat down and promptly rearranged everyone’s last two promo days so that each author would have two in a row, which I distributed evenly across the dates of the Harrogate Crime Festival in July. I’m anticipating astronomical success.
So am I going to continue with it? Well, actually, I’m not. Not at the moment, at least. The free days are fantastic for getting your name out there, garnering a larger audience for your book and picking up readers who otherwise probably wouldn’t have found it, but at the end of the day it’s not making you any money. Now that we’ve had this initial run, I want to cancel our enrolment and widen the net to Apple, Waterstones, Kobo and the like, as well as opening our options for digital distribution to libraries. You can go back to KDP Select any time you like, as long as you revert to Amazon exclusivity, so at some point in the future we’ll probably give it another go – either with these four books or the next lot we bring out. For the short term, though, and particularly as a tool for spreading awareness of new titles, I have to say I think it’s worked brilliantly.
As I’m sure you’ve gathered by this point, my seat-of-the-pants approach to marketing hardly justifies my giving tips, but for what it’s worth here are some of the basic things I’ve picked up so far.
- Offering a book for free is all very well, but there are so many of them every day that it’s liable to be swamped if you can’t get it into the Top 100 Free Bestsellers lists. You can’t just put your book up for free then sit back and watch the downloads roll in, or at least not if it’s a new or relatively unknown book; you’ve got to really turn the promotion up to eleven. Once it’s in the bestselling lists it’ll be more visible to the general public and more likely to attract clicks.
- Most Kindle books are sold on Fridays and Saturdays, so it’s a good idea to schedule your promo days for then – particularly if you’re going to have two free days in a row. If you’re promoting lots of books at the same time, split them across different days so you’re not diluting your promotion efforts by trying to tweet about six different free books at once. What I have done, for the July dates, is overlap the promotions so every day there are two different books on offer. The downloads will support each other, and help to connect the books via Amazon so that they come up under the ‘Customers who bought this book also viewed…’ section.
- REVIEWS. Reviews, reviews, reviews. Once all of your friends have downloaded your book, get them to review it. If anyone has a paperback copy, get them to download the Kindle copy on the free day anyway so that their review will come up as an Amazon Verified Purchase and make it that much more credible to viewers.
- This isn’t so much a tip as a caveat, but I feel I should point it out for anyone like me who is incapable of reading the fine print. KDP Select, even if you’ve gone through the .co.uk site, runs on Pacific Standard Time rather than GMT. This means that for UK-based authors and publishers, your first free promo day begins not at midnight but at around nine in the morning, or sometimes even later. The first scheduled Moth day didn’t kick off until around half ten, by which time I was under the impression something had gone wrong and was halfway to nervous collapse.
RANT, by Alfie Crow. A hilarious and farcical crime caper involving an out-of-work actor, several geriatric secret agents, an accidental bank robbery and lots and lots of very big guns.