Note: The world of ebook sales has changed some since the events described in this post, below. Most notably, Amazon no longer calculates paid rankings with as much favor to free downloads, so the post free promo-sales bump is less dramatic. However, free promos are still great for generating reviews and readership. For the latest on improving your book’s ranking, read How to Sell a Ton of Books With BookBub: A Tale of Two Authors.

In October of 2012, I released my debut novel Saving Grace via a free Kindle promo on Amazon using KDP Select (for more info on KDP Select and my decision to try it, read To KDP Select or Not to KDP Select). It was the first time I’d used KDP Select, and of course that means I’d never done a free promo before, either. I was not just like a virgin; I was pure as the driven snow.

Five days later, I’d had a 24-hour run as the #1 free download on Amazon with over 33,000 downloads. It went fairly well, to say the least. It exceeded my goals by about 23,000 downloads, in fact, and I shed tears when I broke the top 100. The rest was just the best gravy ever.

I’d like to teach you how to do it, too.

It didn’t stop there, though. In the two weeks after the free promo, Saving Grace moved to #10 in women sleuths and #30 in women’s fiction, peaking at #390 overall, in paid downloads. There were 1,000 downloads in the first week alone. I was featured as “top rated” on the women sleuths page. It’s holding in the top 40 in both categories after three weeks. I was so pleased with the royalties during this period that I’ve invested the money in a publicist and a blog tour. My review count went from 19 to 52 and the rating held up. The more books I gave away, the more money I made, the more visibility my name and my book gained, and the more reviews people left on Amazon for my book. It was all kinds of awesome.

“Hot damn,” you’re thinking. I came to the right blog. She’s going to give me an easy, free formula to guarantee success.

Sorry, friends. Ain’t gonna happen. I’m going to give you a formula all right, but here’s the truth: you probably already know 90% of what you need to know to position your book for a great KDP Select run. I’ll share another 7%, and 3% is up to fate, IMHO.

First though, what is a great run? It depends on your book. If it doesn’t have the potential for widespread appeal, then keep your goals modest. Last week, my dynamite little relationship book, How to Screw Up Your Marriage: Do-Over Tips for First-Time Failures, did less than 400 downloads in its three free promo days, but it went to #1 in Divorce and #1 in Marriage, and I was delighted. The audience is much, much smaller. But 75% of all books (in any format) are purchased by women over 40, or so I was told at a Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive Conference, so if your book appeals at all to that demographic, then you should set your download goals higher.

OK, now let’s talk tips.

1. If your book isn’t professionally edited, your success has a ceiling. You didn’t want to hear that, did you? But it’s true. However, I love the books edited by your critique group. They make my editor look really good.

Editing is worth the investment. Can’t afford it? Sell your car. Try crowdfunding. Barter services. Otherwise, wait or go the traditional route. Topnotch editing is not optional for a successful book. Amazon allows previews, so people can open your book before they download it. Bad editing doesn’t make the cut, even when it’s free, for a lot of people.

2. You must have a grab-ya cover. Again, spend the money on a professional cover artist/designer. See my suggestions in #1 for ways to raise money. My Saving Grace cover, designed by Heidi Dorey (who I plan to keep so busy she doesn’t have time for anyone else), drove downloads. Weak covers don’t. And they must convey their power in 100×150 pixels, so plan for the thumbnail version.

[Yeah, I know you already knew this, but it’s too important to skip this part.]

3. Start months ahead and plan for promotion for your free run, for a minimum of three consecutive days (I did five, and I am glad I did). This means you work in advance on that dirty word, PLATFORM, so you have an audience to ask to drink your Koolaid to get your initial download bump.

Your planned promotion should be comprehensive. Consult Kindle Book Review’s Author Resources page for options on free and low-to-medium cost online promotion. Bookmark the page. Send Jeff Bennington a thank you note (mine will be this blog: hi Jeff, and thank you tons for sharing your wisdom!). Set a budget. Schedule your dates two months in advance. Spend the money you budgeted. I spent $150.  I made $1000 in Kindle royalties the next week. You decide if it was worth it.

4. Be sure your author and book pages on Amazon are sparkly and tight. The value of your book must be clear; your author creds must be solid and interesting. And don’t forget: emotion begets action. Create a book page that plays on emotion.

5. Raise your price right before you start your free promo. The difference between “free” and the stated price has a psychological impact that drives downloads.

6. Get reviews in place on Amazon for your book before your promo. This is so dang hard, and Amazon is making it harder all the time, pulling down every review they can get their hands on. For my rant on this topic, read Amazon is a big review gobbling meanie (my post) and also, for NEW (worse) factoids, read Amazon Overboard: Further Thoughts (or one of a million others). In my opinion, you need 15 reviews of a 4-star rating or higher on Amazon to get significant traction. Good luck. Start early. Follow Amazon’s rules to the letter, and expect they’ll still arbitrarily pull your reviews. OK, I have to stop talking about this now, b/c my face is getting purple. Save my blood pressure: Sign this petition to Amazon.

Why plan ahead, and why wait for reviews to be in place? I started my paid promo with Digital Book Today, which in retrospect was a fantastic call. I had it in place for day two, after I’d exhausted all the free downloads I could get from my Platform folks on day one, who I communicated with to the point of spamming them via Twitter and Facebook. But I was only able to make the most of DGT b/c I had 19 reviews, 18 of which were 5-star. This resulted in me waking up on day two to see Saving Grace #1 on The Best Free Kindle Books – *Updated Daily* Most Books Are Available Only for 24 – 48 hours. The list that Amazon does not give to the Book Lover. Thank you, Anthony Wessel. He’s also getting a copy of this post. Thank you, kind people with discerning literary taste who reviewed my book. Saving Grace took off like a rocket as soon as the Squidoo post went up.

*Reviews are everything*

*Reviews are everything*

*Reviews are everything*

7. Make your promotion multi-pronged, or “layered,” by utilizing multiple sites. On day three, my one-day promo with World Literary Cafe took Saving Grace into overdrive. The one-two punch of Digital Book Today’s Squidoo list with the Tweeting frenzy of the World Literary Cafe Tweet teams was staggering. And here’s where I thank Melissa Foster. Thanks, Melissa! I used Kindle Book Review on the 4th day, and it kept the buzz alive. Note: I also posted Saving Grace’s free days on every free site I could find, using Jeff Bennington’s Author Resources on Kindle Book Review.

Don’t forget Amazon’s international markets, when you’re building your layers. I tweeted links for the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Japan on a daily basis, scheduled ahead of time through Tweetdeck.  It did pretty darn good in the UK, too.

8. Engage people with your excitement during your promo. If you achieve milestones, thank your supporters and share the news. I found that my supporters really wanted to share in the success that they rightly felt they contributed to. I did a lot of Screen Shot posts to Twitter and FB as I moved up in the rankings. This keeps your best supporters buzzing like crazy.

Then, when it’s done, let it be done. Don’t wear out your welcome. Resume (see #10) promoting other people instead.

9. Post Promo:

a. Drop your price! For better or worse, I chose to price Saving Grace at $4.99, down from the $7.99 which I had listed it for before the promo. Yes, that’s high for an indie book. But I believe that quality indie books should hold their heads up and announce it by their price. Anyway, $4.99 worked well for me. And when sales started to slow down a bit, I dropped the price to $3.99 and they sped back up. Others will tell you to price your book at 99 cents during this period, and they may be right. You’ll have to decide what is right for you, and I felt 99 cents sent the wrong message for Saving Grace, even if it cost me sales.

The best thing about the post free promo days was Kindle Prime, and the hordes of people that downloaded Saving Grace for a free Kindle read via their Prime membership. I have yet to see what I will be paid for these (it comes from a designated monthly pool of money, and it’s a trust issue for all of us KDP Select authors with Amazon), but they counted toward my paid downloads/sales and helped me stay high in the rankings.

b. Keep the buzz alive. I promoted on a banner on World Literary Cafe in my first week post-promo. It was cheap. It helped. I tried The Women’s Nest the next week, and they tweeted for me and kept my buzz alive, but without the World Literary Cafe Tweet teams to keep the message moving, this paid promo did not have nearly as large an impact as WLC (The Women’s Nest was founded by WLC founder Melissa Foster, too). I didn’t plan far enough in advance to schedule promo with some sites I really wanted to, like Kindle Nation Daily, but I still seemed to do pretty well. 🙂

10. Every chance you get, say thank you, again and again and again and again, in part because it’s the nice thing to do, and also because it inspires others to help you. Every time I thanked someone via FB or Twitter for pushing my promo or leaving a review, someone else offered to help. Can you say SNOWBALL?

Don’t stop with thank you. Pay it forward. Help “them,” all of them, no matter how long it takes. And please note that the amount of effort you’ve expended promoting others prior to your free download will be directly related to the numbers that line up to help you during it. Invest in your network early and often, or they won’t invest in you. This is how you move mountains in platform building (see #3).

Well, I just looked at my word count and realized I need to back away from the keyboard. Sorry for going on and on. I hope this helped some of you. But let me be totally honest here: If I helped you at all, I hope you will remember my name and check out one of my books, Saving Grace for instance. Just sayin’. If there’s any other questions I can answer for you, make me part of your indie author network, and ask away.

Good luck, all’a y’all,

Pamela

***

Pamela Fagan Hutchins writes bestselling, award winning mysterious women’s fiction and relationship humor. If you’re at all inclined to be swept away to the islands to fall in love with a rainforest jumbie house and a Texas attorney who is as much a danger to herself as the island bad guys, then check out Saving Grace.

***

p.s. A word about giving away downloads to my “friends and family”/platform folks, the only people that would have paid for my book, had I not done the free promo:

1) They cared enough to leave reviews, most people don’t.

2) Giving the book away free gave them a reason to create buzz with their friends and family. Buzz is good.

3) The time-constrained nature of the free download created an urgency that got them to read the book sooner rather than later. This sped up the buzz, and concentrated it.

4) It is my sincere belief that these are the folks that will buy the paperback version anyway and give it as a gift.

I worried about this before my promo, but I never will again.

p.p.s. I relied on a few online resources to guide my free promo strategy. The best of them, IMHO: Maximize Your KDP Select Days. Google. You’ll find a ton more.

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13 Responses to 10 Tips to Take Your Book To #1 in a Free KDP Select Promo & Beyond

  1. Eric says:

    This really is such a good post. I hope that ultimately it gets the circulation it deserves because I think it is really so helpful, cuts through all the million possibilities and gives concrete recommendations.
    Is what Pamela is recommending the only choices out there? NO! I am sure there are plenty of other great ones we do not know about. This is not a condemnation of those alternatives, it is simply a “We did this, and it worked really well”, and we are sharing it with you. That is it.
    And THANK YOU
    To anyone who was part of the team that drove Saving Grace to #1 and gave it permanent credibility.

  2. Pamela says:

    Thanks. It’s still stunning to me that it happened. It really went so spectacularly well. For all the things that make me crazy about Amazon, this is one feature that works to the benefit of indies.

  3. Pamela,
    Congrats and thanks for a great summary of your efforts. It shows that when an Indie author publishes a book they get a new job title: VP of Marketing and Sales.

  4. Vidya Sury says:

    This is an ebook waiting to happen, just like the how to promo indie authors, Pam.

    Superb post.

    Hugs! Vidya

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks, Vidya. Definitely. My ebook on this subject is scheduled to be released about a year from now. I am flirting with the idea of some 99 cent Kindle singles before then, but only after I finish *()&!#$#@ Leaving Annalise 🙂

      LOL, I wish I had a clone!

  5. Pamela, I’m so excited for you and your success! Thank you for the sweet shout out for the efforts of the World Literary Cafe and the Women’s Nest. Wishing many sales! xox

    • Eric says:

      Thanks Melissa. You’ve created such a wonderful network and army. Congratulations to you on your own tremendous success. I can’t thank you enough for your vision and how it is impacting others.

  6. Alexandra says:

    Congratulations, Pam, you’re a smart woman, and all this success couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.

    Very exciting news! You’re so generous to share. You had it planned out like a good game of checkers.

    xo

    • Pamela says:

      Thanks, Alexandra! I’m really excited to see what is achievable. It’s a brave new world out there!

  7. Terri Sonoda says:

    All the articles you and Eric present on this blog are informative, interesting, and useful. I drink in the info, often bookmarking the pages for future reference and re-reads. I’ve recommended this blog to other writers as well. I believe in you and am a fan of your writing. Most of all, I respect you for “giving back”, in that you provide valuable insights to this most confusing business. Thanks my friend!
    Terri

    • Eric says:

      Wow, thanks, Terri! Thanks a bazillion times over. I hope some of our lessons help. We are learning as we go, constantly wishing for a do-over!

  8. David says:

    Thank you so much for this useful info.

    You should try also this one to promote ebooks for free:

    http://www.ebookstage.com/welcome/MTEwMA==/

    Great choise to promote ebooks!

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