Yesterday, I discussed the success of the free event I ran for “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” through Amazon.com’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select program. I looked at what I did and what the numbers were. If you missed yesterday’s blog, read it here.
Today, I’ll analyze my strategy to determine what worked, what didn’t, what needs revision, and why I think it’ll work again (and how you can recreate it for your own book). My baseline assumption is this: giving away a lot of free books through KDP Select raised my profile in Amazon’s search engines, so that people looking to buy would be able to find it. Because I was selling barely a whisper before the event and am now averaging 25 books sold and four borrowed a day, I conclude the causal force in that change was the successful free event I ran. That conclusion colors everything I below.
The Right Book
Before I could run a successful free event, I had to have a book enrolled in Select. Of my five titles available for sale, three of them are in Select. So which one did I choose?
The one with the clearest indication of quality. “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” had six positive and no negative reviews when I began. Five of them were four-star, and one was a five-star for a 4.2-star average.
I believe this was a critical piece of my overall success. By offering a book with a 4.2-star average and more than one or two reviews, I sent the message to both the people I was offering it free to and the ones I hoped would buy it later that this was a product they could trust to be worth their time. I made sure they knew this was a good book.
To get the number of downloads I did (4130), I believe you need to make sure you have reviews in place. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, a colleague got 30,000 free downloads for his techno-thriller. He had 15 five-star reviews. I’m convinced that made a difference.
I also chose the book with the best cover. Some of my covers are better than others, but “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” is easily better than any other I have. Because a good cover is critical to sales anyway, it was naturally important to have one for a giveaway. With an excellent cover and a strong review average, I essentially told prospects this was a professionally produced, high-quality book and worth their time.
Laying the Foundation
More than a month ago, I started tinkering with the story’s SEO language. I knew I needed to make it more visible to shoppers. If it was landing more than two pages back on an Amazon search, it just wasn’t going to be found.
I made changes to the title, categories, keywords, and book description to try to make it rise up the charts on Amazon. My methodology for that can be found in an earlier blog post here.
The important part about this aspect of my approach was that I positioned “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” to capitalize on the downloads it got. People found it initially because of the advertising I did (see below), but, as it began to rise up the ranks in the Free Store, its own success started feeding it. The higher I could get it in a category and the higher I could get it overall, the more people would find it in a search, and the more Amazon would push it. To maximize this effect, I made sure I had the story as search-engine optimized as I could get it.
This was the most important part of the plan. Like it or not, if you want people to download your book in game-changing numbers, you’re going to have to pay for it. There are just too many free books (hell, there are too many books, period) for you to get noticed in significant fashion without some help.
Fortunately, aid is available, and it’s not expensive. I only spent $85 paying for guaranteed listings, and I was able to hire seven different websites to get the word out. I verified that each did indeed list me as promised.
The problem is that, since Amazon changed its policy on not paying affiliates for referrals for free book downloads above a certain percentage, there are fewer sites that are listing them. But I don’t seethat that changes anything. Most of the sites already asked you to pay for a guaranteed listing. If you didn’t, they might list you, they might not. I’ve run a number of free events, and Pixel of Ink, for example, has never listed my book, even though I inform them. So I don’t see this as much of a change.
I have no means of tracking results. However, The Kindle Book Review has an inexpensive package where they will tweet your free event several times a day in addition to listing you. And Author Marketing Club did include me in their daily free email every day, despite my not buying a sponsorship.
You have to plan in advance for these. Many require notice. It also took some time. Not only did I have to research which ones had a service I wanted I could pay for, I had to spend the time signing up. That took several hours.
But I firmly believe that this was the key to getting the word out about my book. Prior to this event, I was completely unable to crack the UK market. Because some of the sites I advertised with serve UK readers, I got 1500 downloads in Britain alone, and I am now selling books in the UK at a rate of two to one over the US. Too late, I learned about some UK-specific sites — ebookdealoftheday.co.uk, indie-book-bargains-co.uk, and freebookshub.co.uk. I’ll be using them in the future.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I’ve promoted previous free events via Twitter and Facebook groups of which I’m a member. I also put it in my Facebook status on the day of the event.
But this time I tried something I saw work for a colleague. I created a Facebook event and invited all my friends to it. I gave them sample FB updates and tweets they could cut and paste. Then, on the days of the event, I asked them to not only download the book themselves but to push it on their social media networks.
Several of them did. Of those people, almost every one had at least one friend comment they had downloaded “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” and thanked the person for the recommendation. I’ve no idea, of course, how many more just downloaded it without saying anything.
This really helped push momentum, particularly on Day 1, when things went really well. It also helped a bit when the momentum had stalled on Day 3.
The thing is, as much as this part of the plan was an important piece of the event’s success, it still amounts to calling in a favor. I asked my friends for help. You can only do that so often. As much as I want to, I probably won’t use this tactic for my next free event. I’m saving it for a book launch for later this year.
You can only go to the well so often on this sort of thing before you become a pain in the ass to your friends. Use it for the ones that really matter to you.
I believe what I did gives me a pretty decent blueprint for how to handle future free events. My next one will be for Red Dragon Five, my fantasy-thriller mashup novel that has struggled to gain attention after a promising launch in November.
Before I can do that, though, there are some things I need to do first. RD5 has only two four-star reviews at the moment. I need to get it at least one more and preferably a couple more, so it will have the same potential lift. It also needs to have a new description that will do more to sell it and contains SEO-rich language. It may need to be re-categorized too. There’s a lot of that SEO work I haven’t done for it yet that needs attention before its ready.
As I mentioned above, I won’t do a Facebook event for it, because I don’t want to over-ask my friends for help. I’m launching a book in May I’d much rather have their support for. However, I may modify how I post links on the Facebook groups of which I’m a member. In the past, I’ve just noted that the book is free and offered a link. Next time, I believe I will actually ask for help in getting the word out.
The biggest question is the number of days for the event. For the first time, I ran my free event for three days instead of two. The numbers were disappointing on the third day in comparison to the first two, especially the first. So was it worth it to run for three days, or should I have come off sooner?
I have read that what really matters most is the total number of downloads, not your ranking at the end of the free event. If that’s true, then perhaps it would be better to actually run the event for five days instead of three. I had planned, if the numbers were only rising, to add extra days to this event. Since they kept falling, I elected not to.
But was that wise? I’m really not sure. This matter will require some further thought and research on my part.
Based on my results, I believe that scratching out decent sales at Amazon requires a good cover, a number of good reviews, SEO-rich language in the book description and carefully chosen categories and keywords, and a well advertised free event. Short of getting lucky or having a solid marketing engine, this is the current path for the indie author. It’s hard, it takes some money and a lot of time. But if you work hard and execute it correctly, it will work.
I’ve only done this successfully once, so that may lessen the authority with which I’m making my claims. But I adapted my strategy from other indie authors who have used the free event to change the game for their own sales, and they’ve done even better than I. At least for the moment, I think this is how to kick sales into gear.
Prior to running my free event, I had four sales this month. I had eight the month before that. In the five days since the free event ended, I’ve sold 127 books and had 21 borrowed through Amazon Prime. That certainly doesn’t make me Stephen King. But if all my titles could sell 25 books a day, I’d be well on my way to a sustainable living from self-publishing. A well orchestrated KDP Select free event is what put me on the path.