Monday, March 4, 2013

Anatomy of an Amazon Bestseller

The received wisdom of self-publishing is to place your book everywhere, and in all formats. I did that (mostly). And it didn’t work. This is why: Writers who finance their own work can’t possibly promote their books everywhere, and in all forms.

Book promotion is time-consuming enough as it is, but promoting a book to brick-and-mortar booksellers, libraries, organizations, and individuals all at the same time is impossible. If we obeyed received wisdom, not only would writers have no time to write, we wouldn’t have time to breathe. That’s why we are drawn to publishing houses, with their lure of marketing departments.

The promotion dilemma is one which I tackled after self-publishing my first Ebook. (It was not in print form, thank God.) Dutifully, I made it available to everyone. After three months of minimal sales, I jumped ship and enrolled in Amazon KDP Select.

For those who are not familiar with Amazon’s KDP Select program, it requires exclusive publication for 90 days (renewable). In short, you have to remove your ebook from all other sites that may be selling it. At first glance this seems to be contradictory. How can you sell more books with fewer suppliers? The answer to that question is exposure.

KDP Select allows authors to give their books away for up to five days in any 90-day period during which the book is enrolled. Giving away products is a proven technique for increasing visibility – and it works like a charm for books.

I enrolled my book in KDP Select in December, and I advertised my free days (the weekend right before Christmas) to organizations, individuals who had written reviews, bloggers, anybody who might be interested. That weekend 1500 people downloaded the book. Although I was quite pleased, I’d hoped for higher numbers. What I didn’t expect was the incredible surge in visitors to my new website. During those two days, two thousand people visited my website. This was a considerable improvement over my previous number of visitors, which was in the category of “less than 10.” The best part was that sales increased. People who missed the book’s free days simply bought it. (I’d priced the book at $2.99)

Determined to do better on my next free days, I advertised more heavily. This time I put the announcement on every Facebook page that might even be remotely connected to my subject. (I also started a Facebook page for my book, something I should have done much earlier.) Facebook chastised me, and then kicked me off for two weeks with dire warnings of permanent banishment, but not before I’d posted the free days on nearly 200 Facebook pages.

This round, there were over 1700 downloads. It was a modest gain. And to my disappointment, fewer people had visited my website. But the number of people visiting the website daily had increased by a factor of ten. And my book’s Facebook page had a reach of 3,000. Once again, there was an uptick in sales.

I only had one free day left, and I was pulling out all the stops to make this a big one. Starting two weeks prior to the event, I notified all the people I’d contacted on previous free days, and, in addition, I posted on every Facebook page that had not reported me as “spam.” (This was easy to do. I simply looked to see which of my previous posts were still there.) And because I now had over thirty 5-star reviews from previous free days, I was eligible to advertise my free days on several Kindle promotion sites. (More on those HERE.)

On my remaining free day, there were 6,292 downloads (which is not bad for an obscure medical reference book). Following the previous trend, there were fewer visitors that day to my website than during other free days, but there was a corresponding increase in daily visitors. Interestingly, my blog readers suddenly jumped to several hundred a day. That month, the book sold more than double the copies of the previous month. It was #1 on the bestseller list for my category, and placed in the top 20 for the next larger category. It was also on the Top 100 list for free books. (Smack between one book displaying a brawny pirate kissing a damsel in distress and another featuring a brawny farmer kissing a damsel in straw.)

What had happened was fame. With nearly 10,000 people who had my book in hand (metaphorically speaking) I was now known in the appropriate circles. I got a job offer to edit a newsletter, and requests to do webinars and give talks. In short, I now had a platform.

While this short trial of KDP Select has been successful, I will probably call it quits after another three-month run and follow received wisdom. There is a time and place for everything. And the time to hit all venues is after your name is already out there.

Here are the KDP Select Rules

Related posts:

Free Publicity for Your KDP Select Free Days

Top 12 Sites for Finding Reviewers

10 places to find reviewers for your self-published book


  1. This is very interesting information to have. I have heard of KDP Select but have not enrolled in the program yet. I will have to look at that as an option for my next book. Thanks for writing this very informative post.

  2. Very useful article. I've been considering Amazon KDP myself. Thanks for sharing the data, it's rather convincing.

  3. Very interesting indeed. "Free" in this context equals investment, which is hard to explain to some number crunchers. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience going through the free day promotions of your kindle books Erica! Pretty informational and at the same time making me really wonder what practical steps do I need to embark in order for a successful free-day KDP select promotion.

    I've only done it once recently for my very first kindle ebook and only got about 343 downloads and no reviews. Currently I do have 4 5-star reviews and those are really painfully begged! But no doubt they did liked my ebook enough to give me 5 star ratings.

    So, Erica, my question is, what are the things one need to do or probably need to prepare beforehand and what you need to do on the day of your book promotions?

  5. Hello Sunil. It is very difficult to launch a KDP Select giveaway "cold." Before you even publish your book, you need to notify everyone under the sun that your book is being released. (I sent a thousand press releases to media, appropriate organizations, bloggers, etc.) You also MUST launch your author's website (Weebly is cheap and easy) and a blog. THEN you can publish your book.

    When your ebook is published (or right before) contact reviewers. Go here for a list of sites:

    You will need to send at least three hundred review requests, as well as doing a Librarything giveaway. (About 10% of reviewers will respond to your request.)

    THEN, once you have gotten at least 20 reviews, you can publicize your KDP Select free days. Go here for a list of where to promote your free days:

    It's a lot of work, but nothing else will do the trick.

    Good luck!

  6. This is really useful to know. Thank you, Erica. I was thinking about publishing everywhere straightaway, but now I'm thinking differently. I'm a completely unknown quantity.


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