Doing it Wrong: Lessons Learned from a KDP Select Free Event

That loud thud you heard last week was the sound of my free event for Red Dragon Five falling flat on its face.

RD5 Hi-res coverAs you may recall, I offered RD5 free for three days (Monday, April 22 through Wednesday, April 24) through Amazon.com’s KDP Select program. The idea is to raise the book’s profile while it’s free, so that, when it goes back into the paid store, it sells better.

Back in March, I did the same thing with “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale”, and the results were quite good. I sold 150 books in 10 days and carried some of that momentum into April. It was by far my best month for sales since first publishing in 2011.

Red Dragon Five did not fare as well. After generating a respectable 1071 free downloads in the U.S. on the first day, the numbers fell off sharply the next two. When the event ended, I had 1531 total downloads in the U.S., far fewer than the 2500+ “Sleeping Beauty” got. Worse, SB got 1500+ downloads in the U.K., where RD5 got 41. So I was expecting sales to be softer following the event than SB’s.

What I got was a lot worse. In the seven days since Red Dragon Five went back into the paid store, I’ve sold three copies. Yes, three — two in the U.S., one in the U.K.

Obviously, I’m doing something wrong.

Like all artists, my ego can be fragile, and so my first thought at this disaster ran to, “The book sucks. Of course no one bought it. You wrote something no one wants to read.”

Fortunately, there is evidence to the contrary. Going into the free event, Red Dragon Five had two reviews, both of them four stars. It has since garnered two more — a three-star review and a five-star. In the former, the reviewer took issue with my blending Norse elves with Middle Eastern religion. He’d have preferred I use Middle Eastern elves. However, he liked the story and the world very well. Despite it being only three stars, he liked the book. You can read his review here. The five-star review said something I hear universally when I get feedback on this novel: once he started reading, he absolutely could not put it down.

So the problem doesn’t seem to be the content, which, as an artist, is a relief. I don’t want to write sucky books no one wants to read.

But that means the problem is the packaging. In a way, that’s good, because it’s easier to fix than overhauling a bad novel. However, first I have to discover what the barrier to entry is.

I would like to believe it is not the cover. The book is called Red Dragon Five. It’s got a big, red dragon on it. It has the dynamic color of red in the foreground against black. It’s striking. At least for the moment, I’ll operate on the premise that the flaw is somewhere else.

That leaves three obvious possibilities. It’s either not finding its market, the marketing blurb doesn’t entice potential buyers to make the purchase, or the price point is prohibitive. At $3.99, I doubt it’s the latter.

But which of the other two is it?

That’s the problem. Somehow, potential buyers are not finding their way to Red Dragon Five and deciding four bucks is worth it.

SoG Lo-res cover 2There is a minor bright spot in this gloom. RD5 may have only sold two copies in the U.S., but State of Grace, the first Wolf Dasher novel, has sold 11 and been borrowed once through Amazon Prime. Sales of SoG had been every bit as moribund as RD5. They took off (as much as 11 sales can be considered taking off) during the free event. Likewise, I sold two copies of the introductory short story in the series, “The Darkline Protocol.”

That tells me pretty clearly that series books sell each other. RD5 raised the profile of State of Grace and sold a few copies of it. So the free event wasn’t a complete disaster. If nothing else, it taught me that little nugget. (More properly it confirmed it, since I had suspected it was true.)

And, looking at the glass as half-full for a minute, the free event was extremely valuable to me in another way. It demonstrated quite clearly I’m doing something wrong. Reviewers like the book. So if I can’t sell it, I’m obviously not marketing it correctly. Knowing that is a good, good thing. It means I can try to correct it.

So I’m back to the drawing board on the marketing of Red Dragon Five. As frustrating and disheartening as last week’s free event turned out to be, the nice thing about being an independent author is you can adapt to data from the market pretty quickly. I’ll be making some adjustments in the very near future. Stay tuned.

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6 thoughts on “Doing it Wrong: Lessons Learned from a KDP Select Free Event

    • Amen to that, Suz!

      I think my first event was successful because I got it front of the people who would enjoy the book. The second event, not so much. I am convinced there is an audience for fantasy-thriller mash-ups. I just need to figure out what the right marketing vehicle to reach them is. 🙂

      Good luck to you too, and thanks for the comment!

  1. You may want to try a KDP Select promotion with BookBub. We did just that for our book One Blood yesterday and there were over 10,000 downloads. Check out BookBub. Expensive, but worth it.

    • Hi, James! I am familiar with BookBub, but they do require a certain number of reviews. At the time I submitted RED DRAGON FIVE, it had only two, and that wasn’t good enough for them.

      One of the reasons BookBub is so good, I think, is because they are selective. When I have a few more reviews on board I will try them again. For the results they produce, I think their rates are entirely reasonable.

      Thanks for the comment and congrats on your recent success!

  2. BTW, J.R.R. Tolkein is said to have taken issue with C.S. Lewis blending so many mythologies for the Chronicles of Narnia, so I suppose both you and the reviewer are in good company.

    Yes, I’m mentioning you in light of Tolkein and Lewis. You might prefer others, but they’re a couple of my favorites, so take it as a compliment.

    Paul

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