Cracking the Code: How I (Finally) Ran a Successful KDP Select Free Event

I think I’ve actually done it. At least once, anyway.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been trying to crack the code on making KDP Select work for me in the same way other authors have reported for themselves. Select, if you’re not familiar with it, is the Amazon program that allows you to participate in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (wherein readers can borrow your eBook instead of buying it) and offer it for free for up to five days in exchange for granting Amazon the exclusive right to sell the electronic version of the book for 90 days.

I’ve experimented with KDP Select free days, SEO-rich language, and advertising (both free and paid) to raise my sales on Amazon. Until last week, my results were not significant. But last week I ran the most successful free event I’ve ever held, and it translated into record sales (for me, anyway).

Below, I’ll discuss my methodology for setting up the event and the resulting numbers. Tomorrow, I’ll write about why I think it was successful and how to recreate it.

The Product

Sleeping Beauty Mark IIFor reasons I’ll cover tomorrow, I don’t think just any book can have a gangbusters free event. Not all books are created equal, and some genres/categories just have more potential readers.

I ran my event for “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” — my re-imagining of the classic story. This book has been my go-to guinea pig in working with Select. It was the first piece I enrolled in the program, and I’ve done most of my experimentation with it.

It also had five four-star reviews and one five-star review for an average of 4.2 stars when I began the event, thereby telling potential readers it was worth their time, and it has been my bestselling book since I published it last summer, indicating it was the most marketable piece I had.

Finally, ABC’s Once Upon A Time remains popular, and that’s inspired a wave of modern retellings of classic fairy tales. I figured that would give me a marketing angle my other books wouldn’t at this particular moment in time.


I really had no idea what a reasonable goal was, so I picked a number based on others’ results. A colleague had achieved 24,000 downloads for his free event for his memoir regarding his love affair with his wife. A second colleague had 30,000 downloads for his techno-thriller about cyber-terrorism. Both of those works were full-length books as opposed to the 8000-word short story I was offering, so I figured they were going to do better than I could. (Short stories just aren’t as popular as full-length novels.) I also thought that true-love memoirs and techno-thrillers sounded like more popular categories than re-imagined fairy tales.

I therefore set 10,000 downloads as my goal. I had no idea if it was realistic, but it was 40% of one result and 30% of another that I considered phenomenal. So if I could get numbers like that I had to be doing really well.


One of the things I’ve discovered is that to get the kinds of numbers that make a difference, you have to advertise. I’d done some experimenting with this for previous free events, and where I advertised and how much made a difference to my numbers. I also had read from several other authors that their ad efforts helped them get significant returns.

I set an advertising budget of $100. Many of the advertising services for free books are pretty cheap, running between $15 and $25. I also knew that many of the sites that have mailing lists about free books offer guaranteed listing options. You have to pay for these, but the site promises you will get listed if you do.

Using Author Marketing Club’s list of free sites as my guide, I went site by site looking for guaranteed listing options. When I found one, I signed up for it. I chose the following sites:

With the exception of Author Marketing Club, I paid for listings with each site. Every other free-book site I could find through AMC I signed up to be listed with, but I didn’t put much hope in them, since I was not paying for attention.

Social Media

In the past, I’ve tweeted my free event to the moon, listed it on Facebook groups of which I’m a member, and created a Goodreads event. I repeated these steps this time, but I added something else. I created a Facebook event for the giveaway and invited practically my entire friends network to it.

Through the event, I asked people to help. I created some sample tweets and Facebook updates they could cut and paste. Then, when the event went live, I posted in the event asking people not only to download the book but to push it on their friends through their own social media networks. I sent updates to the event periodically, telling people how it was going and thanking them for their efforts.

Results: Downloads

I ran my free event Monday through Wednesday of last week. I’d read three days was a better number than the two I’d run in the past, and my research indicated the early part of the week is more effective.

Monday started with a bang. My best free event ever had been 650 downloads. I exceeded that number in the first 12 hours. Because I’d rearranged my categories and used SEO-rich language several weeks ago to reposition the story, I started charting in the Top 100 of categories almost immediately.

Better, for the first time I did something I’d been trying to do almost since I began publishing in 2011: I gained traction in the UK. Brits buy more books per capita than any other nation in the world. I’d been trying to figure out to penetrate that market for over a year. In only 12 hours, I landed at #5,201 overall in the UK Kindle Free Store and was charting in the Top 100 in two categories. In late afternoon, the UK numbers exploded. I rocketed up to #1 in three categories and broke into the Top 100 overall, peaking at #24.

Over on the US side, I made it to #110 overall on the first day and was in the Top 50 of two different categories. Between the US and UK I had over 1500 downloads on the first day alone.

The momentum started to slide on Tuesday. I didn’t get as many on Day 2 and even fewer on Day 3. I had anticipated this possibility before the event, and I’d staggered some of my paid listings to have me featured on the latter days. It didn’t seem to help, though. Despite pleas for help to my Facebook event and staggered advertising, I couldn’t sustain the momentum I built on the first day.

Still, when the free event was over, I’d given away 4310 copies of “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” — short of my goal but still a staggering number in comparison to my previous best. I spent the first two days firmly entrenched at the top of the British charts and making a very respectable showing in the US. It was clearly a successful event.

Results: Sales

The goal, though, was to increase my sales. The benefit of a free event, if it is successful, is not so much to attract readers but to raise the book’s profile in Amazon’s search engine. Because Amazon prioritizes books on how well they sell, having a successful free event raises the visibility of a book, making it easier for potential buyers to find. Then, if you’ve done your marketing well, you can start making some conversions to sales.

So would 4130 downloads be enough to get me in front of readers who would actually spend money on my book?

Yes. After laboring for awhile in the 300,000 range, “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” starting climbing the ladder over the weekend. This morning, it ranked #16,042 in the Kindle Paid Store and is #51 in Children’s eBooks>Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths. It’s doing even better in the UK, where it is #2166 overall, #3 in two categories, and #6 in another.

Over a four-period, I saw 30 sales in the US and 66 in the UK. The US numbers surpass my best month to date in both number of copies of “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” sold and total books moved. The UK numbers blow all previous months out of the water in either market.

I also garnered 11 borrows in the US and 5 in the UK through Select’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. And I sold a copy of “Passion Play”, another short story for which there is a prominent ad in the back of “Sleeping Beauty.”

By the time the weekend was over, I’d sold 99 books and gotten 16 borrows. Thus, I used my free event to change my sales numbers from one sale every three to four days, to 25 sales and four borrows a day. It’s too early to know for sure, but I am hoping charting in the Top 100 will create more sales, thereby establishing a sustainable level of momentum.

I consider this to have been an extremely successful event. Not only did my downloads well exceed any previous numbers I’d established, I cracked into the UK market and generated sales at a previously unseen rate.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at why I think my strategy worked, so that I (and you) can recreate it.


9 thoughts on “Cracking the Code: How I (Finally) Ran a Successful KDP Select Free Event

  1. Thanks for sharing the numbers John. Do you know if the number of reviews for your work increased as a result of the free day promo?


    Vikram Narayan

    • Hi, Vikram! I received two new reviews on as a result of the free event. Surprisingly, I still haven’t gotten any on Amazon UK, but I am selling much better (two to one at the moment) in that market than in the US. Go figure!

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I’m guessing that you’ll get even more reviews as some of the readers who’ve downloaded the story finish reading it and leave a review. It’s good to see that you’re paying a lot of attention to the numbers rather than ‘gut feel’.

  3. Your info regarding the UK market is very helpful and something I’d overlooked. I have a free event coming up in June–timed to help promote the release of another book in July–and have already contacted a number of the advertising outlets you mentioned. Your article has given me even more ideas for the KDP giveaway, along with a realistic idea of what I can expect from it. Thanks for the sharing and laying out your steps and outcome so clearly.

    • Very glad the article helped! Hopefully, it’ll increase your downloads and your subsequent number of sales!

      I’ll be blogging later this week on what the numbers have been like in the 10 days or so since the event. Hopefully, there’ll be some useful perspective there too.

      Thanks for the comment, Carmen!

  4. John, it might be helpful to give us a bottom line here. How much did you actually spend to list your freebie on the sites you mentioned? How much did you actually “earn” in new sales as a result? Given that the freebie helps raise the profile resulting in more sales over a period of time, you could count your sales over the following couple of weeks. I’d be very curious to know if you earned back what you spent or how close you came.

    The way I figure it, 99 books at 99 cents and 35% yields under $35 for you. If sales are already dropping, which they seem to be, what did you actually get?

    I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but there’s nothing here that convinces me that “free” is the way to go to sell your book. While you might garner some more reviews, this may or may not be a good thing. These will be reviews from people who might not be the target audience for your work and may have downloaded it only because it was “free.” They are not apt to review it more kindly because they didn’t pay for it.

    • Hi, Marion. Total expenditure on advertising was $95. In 10 days’ time, I sold 154 copies of “Sleeping Beauty” at a 35-cent royalty, one copy of “Passion Play” at a 35-cent royalty, and one copy of RED DRAGON FIVE at a $2.79 royalty for a grand total of $57.04. That’s a net loss in sales. However, I also received 24 borrows through Amazon Prime. The average payout on those has been about $2.00 a borrow, so, assuming that’s constant, that’s another $48.00 for a total earnings of $105.04. So, to that point, it’s been “profitable.”

      As you note, momentum has stagnated, and I’ll be very interested to see what my average daily sales are going forward. I also think there’s a lesson here in price-point. A 99-cent book has to sell a LOT of copies for it to be a really profitable product. I’m going to run another event in April for RED DRAGON FIVE. It has a higher price-point and royalty. It’ll be interesting to see how that impacts the total return. If I sell the same number of copies or more, that’s much better. But if I sell fewer and the total windfall is the same, well, then either I’m doing something wrong or this is a broken model.

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. Pingback: People Like Free | John R. Phythyon, Jr., Author

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