my amazon kdp select free experience, or, how i gave away 8500 books

When I decided to do a freebie giveaway for Toby Streams the Universe, I was only vaguely aware of the whole phenomena of it. I mean, I knew some indie authors who had gone through it, with both terrific and pitiful results, and I figured, heck, let’s experiment. So I put Toby up for free for two days and sat back to watch…only to start scrambling when it started taking off, and suddenly I was all, wait, hold up, how does this thing work again? Only afterwards did I start researching (my timing is always impeccable), but in my data-hunter mode I collected a bunch of tid-bits and that, plus my own experience, is what we have here, basically, the post I would have liked to have read before I took a running leap off the deep end. I’m always doing things ass-backwards.

Okay, well, first, there is the “To KDP or not?” question, of course, and this is discussed at length elsewhere so I won’t do much with it here. Basically, you’ve got 1) the advantage of optional free days vs. the price-matching wait-and-see game to get free, 2) the exclusivity problem, and 3) the how-much-do-I-get-paid-really question surrounding borrows. But here’s something I hadn’t considered…if you do join KDP select and pull your stuff from other vendors (as I did for Toby) you lose not only the income from those vendors (obviously) but also your rankings. For me a non-issue as my stuff pretty much has only sold on amazon, but an interesting point for some. I hadn’t thought of the loss of rankings issue for folks who may have clawed out a toe-hold in other markets.

Anyway, second, there is the question of why would you want to give away a ton of your stuff? This is a philosophical question for some, a moral question for others, haha. “I worked for a year to write this thing and you think I should just give it away?” On the other hand, Neil Gaiman is famous for asking audiences to think of some of their most favorite books and to recall how they first came to them—many will remember that they got those books for free, from libraries, from a friend, etc. They may also recall how they went on to purchase everything they could find by that author. Many feel, when you aren’t selling widgets that actually have to be produced, stored, and shipped, giving some of your stuff away can be an amazing marketing tool. It certainly has been for me, so far.

In addition, in the amazon world, the more downloads your book gets, the more all that activity sends your book up the charts which massively increases the book’s visibility to possible readers—not just as a free books, but also for cold hard cash later. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Moving on. Say you’ve done the deed, you and amazon are going steady, and now you’re going to give away your book. How to prepare?

First you get the word out to the freebie sites and blogs. Mentions on some of these sites can garner 1000s of additional downloads. You want to let them know early, so they have time to incorporate your book into their posts. But, understand that these sites are getting super popular and not all books going free get listed anymore. As far as I can tell, it’s a bit of a lottery, plus who knows who, plus, possibly, who has the prettiest cover. Anyway, here is a list of sites that you want to consider contacting:

Pixel of Ink
Ereader News Today
Kindle on the Cheap
Books on the Knob
Indie Book List
Free Kindle Books and Tips
Authors on the Cheap Facebook Page
eReader IQ
eReader Freebies
Kindle Daily Nation

At some of these sites, you’ll find forms to fill out about your book, while others you need to contact the site owner. A few have automated systems. I’m going to try to get these linked up, but forgive me if I haven’t done the links by the time you see this post.

Of course you’re going to blog about your upcoming freebie on your own site, plus talk it up on your facebook or twitter or whatever the heck else you do social media-wise. Asking for retweets and reblogs from your friends on the day of the promotion can also help. In addition, you can tweet using these hashtags: #FreeKindleBook #freebook #free, and you can send a tweet to @kindlenews. If you want to go even further, you can create a graphic to post to your blog and also pin to Pinterest. Basically go crazy. (But don’t be obnoxious!) In my opinion, try to have less emphasis on “Download my book!” and a little more on why someone might want to download it, “Free book on crazy psychics in love!”

Finally, in preparation, if you can, try to arrange with any book bloggers you might be in contact with to post reviews either 1) during the freebie to give an extra push, OR, 2) right after, to try to give your post-freebie sales bounce a push. In other words, time your promotions around the freebie pulse as best you can.

Wait, huh? There is a post-freebie sales bounce?

Yes. Honestly, I was so clueless, I didn’t really know about this. But it’s true, the higher up the charts you get as a freebie, the bigger your sales bounce afterwards will probably be, reaching almost as high in the rankings as your freebie numbers. No kidding! Part of this is a mystery. Part is because the Popularity lists on amazon (the ones on the left side of the amazon home page) take into account your freebie numbers—unlike the Bestseller lists and rankings (the #s that show up on your book’s page), so browsers will still be finding your book prominently placed on amazon, even after your freebie promotion is over. It takes about two or three days for this effect to occur. Weird, huh? But I heard this from may writers, and indeed that’s how it played out for Toby. Two or three days later the sales peak.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Okay, the day comes. Your book is free. If you’re lucky, you wake up to find that a bunch of books have already been downloaded and you think, who are these people? Why are they downloading my book?

I think the cover has a huge importance here. Scroll down those lists and it is that square-inch of monitor space—your cover—that catches the eye. Or doesn’t. If you don’t have name recognition, and only a very few indie’s do, then the cover, and way secondly, the title, is all you have to work with, in a sea of other covers and titles, to encourage someone to click for more information.
Lesson: Don’t scrimp on your cover!

Okay. As the book starts getting some downloads, it starts to go up in the rankings and it also starts cultivating a list of also-boughts, you know those “customers who bought this also bought these other books” titles on your book’s page. Also known as a book’s “alsobots,” haha, I love how terminology rushes in to fill any gap. But pause here for a moment to ponder this: prior to your freeibe, if your book is already selling well and has some excellent alsobots—that is, connections to high-selling, high-quality books that really match what your book is about—you might NOT want to do a freebie. The reason is that once you’re on the free list you’re going to get all kinds of weird alsobots on your list (plus some good ones!). This can be good if you don’t have many—alsobots are a primary way browsers find your book. For example, Toby went from one page of alsobots to TWENTY pages of alsobots—that’s a lot of connections! But some of those are pretty much useless and are connected only because they happened to be free at the same time as Toby, titles such as Tax Law 2012, haha—these titles are not, probably, going to help prospective readers find or understand my book. So, if your alsobots are already great, think hard about whether you want to mess them up. But, if you have few alsobots, get ready, you’re about to get a ton of them.

Moving on. At some point, if you’re lucky, your book goes up the rankings far enough to start hitting some of the Top 100 lists for your book’s genre. Some of these genre’s are super specific, and this can be good because it’s easier to get on those lists, and being on a list makes it a lot easier for someone interested in that sort of book to find yours. As Toby went up and down (and they do pulse up and down as they head, generally, up), I noticed that when it crossed #3500 in the Free Kindle store it hit the Fantasy>Contemporary lists and a bit higher up and it hit the Fantasy (General) list. I’ve noticed that the rankings are about #6000 in order to hit Thrillers>Legal, and I bet there is a magic number for all the lists. But whatever your book’s genre, you’ll see the point at which it hits your book’s list(s) and when it does, celebrate. More lists mean more visibility. If you can get into the top five or so of any given list, that is, on the top screen of that list, this is a huge boost to your promotion.

By mid-morning your book will have hit the freebie blogs if it’s going to. Some of the big ones post several times a day so you have a few chances to get a push from them. If your luck is holding your signal will get boosted a few times and you’ll start getting repetitive use injury from hitting the refresh button as your rankings start shrinking and your downloads start pouring out like a fire hose. When Toby was really going that first night, I noticed I it had been downloaded over 500 times while I was in the bath. What a rush! If your book gets this kind of action this is when the grandiose fantasies start coming on and you—I mean me—start thinking you’re going to be the next Konrath, or at least be able to fix up the car, maybe, oh and buy a shiny new macbook, yeah, that’s the ticket. Maybe get the kid’s teeth fixed…. Good times, good times!

Good, but short lived. Because then it starts slowing down, and although there are a few more pulses up, you realize the thing has peaked. Everyone who is looking for free books in this 24-48 hour period who might be interested in your book has already downloaded it, I guess?

Apparently, super success comes from hitting the top 10 free, where your book cover shows up on the home page of the kindle store. Getting this kind of visibility will add real staying power to your post-freebie sales bump. From what I can tell from reading other author’s blogs, a month later you’ll still be seeing the effect of your giveaway—that is, increased sales—if you get up that high. You might even be able to break out of the gravity well and go up even higher.

But that’s for the rockstars. Toby got up to #32 in the Free Store, which exploded my expectations, but that was not enough to push into the upper echelons. At #32, I had nowhere near the sales pulse I hear reported from people who get into the top 10, or even the top 20. Which is not to say that I’m complaining!

Back to the freebie. Now that the peak has passed, you’ve got to decide whether to keep your book free for as long as you planned, or pull the plug early. I’ve heard that you want to come off free while you’re still high enough in the top 100 lists that you’re still on the Bestsellers lists when you go to paid. (People get a roll-over on the “buy” button that says, “why is this book not free?”) Still being high when you go to paid is a way to wring every last bit of visibility out of your freebie that you can. So, some would say that if your book has peaked and is falling, you might want to end your promotion early if it means you’re still on the lists when you make the switch. Leave them wanting more and all that.

As I’ve said, Toby garnered nearly 8500 downloads, a respectable number and I was totally happy—though not the crazy numbers that some folks get, 25,000 downloads in two days, holy cow. That’s a lot of books!

But one way or another, your promotion is ends, and at midnight (or whenever you decide to pull the plug) your book hits the paid lists at the ranking it was at when you went free. Which for Toby was in freaking outer space somewhere around demoted Pluto, not even a planet, not even a tiny asteroid. But wait, watch, because, despite my panic, Toby started to climb again, and fast, only this time it was actual sales. For, like, actual money!

An interesting phenomena: a few sales at this point seem to count for 1000s in the rankings. Rumor has it that this is because sales ranking is part sales, part borrows, and part page views—which your book has just had a ton of, making a few sales now count for more in the rankings during this post-freebie window than at any other time. Again, I can’t confirm this, but it makes sense. Ten sales would give Toby a jump of 10,000s in the rankings, and in two or three days Toby was back on the Top 100 lists. WOW.

But, however, that rankings algorithm really works (I’ve also heard it depends on what socks you’re wearing and what your middle initial is), the higher your freebie rankings finally peaked at, the higher you’ll get now on the paid rankings. It almost seems like, reading other writer’s accounts, that there might be a formula, number of free downloads corresponding to a number of days you get a pulse. I had nearly 9000 downloads, the peak of the sales was three days after, and the long tale is still playing out nine days later. Maybe another week? I’ll keep y’all posted. Writers who report, say, 16,000 downloads are still feeling the lift a month later. 25,000 and they’re still in the top #1000 three weeks later. I don’t know, I’m probably making this up, but reading accounts, there IS a correlation, whether it is random or predictable, we may never know. Doesn’t someone want to crunch some numbers and find out?

Another plus at this time: if you have other books listed, and your books are good, look for a sales bump on your other titles. Especially if you write a series, setting the first book free (assuming you’ve got a good book there) and you should get some nice lift in the sales of your other books. I’ve heard of this happening repeatedly, and it happened to Conjuring Raine. Which makes me terribly happy because it means there are some folk who liked Toby so well, they went looking for more, and I’ve gotten some lovely letters from people who did just that. I promise, I’m writing more novels for y’all! Thanks for writing me!

Finally, look for reviews to come in, both good and bad. Toby gathered eight (so far), and Raine one. I’ve heard some writers saying reviews after a freebie are a mixed bag, that folks looking for free books might be more likely to register 1 or 2 star reviews. I can’t say if this is true, but I heard it repeated enough that I’m including it here as something to watch for.

Toby is 10 days post-free and still has a substantial lift in sales, although only 20% what it was a week ago, so the drop-off is steep. Is giving away 8500 books to sell a few hundred an odd business model? Maybe, and it certainly would be foolish if it were actual things I was giving away. Selling e-novels is cool in that I can sell or give away as many books as I like and I’ll never run out. But here’s a thinker: would I have sold those couple hundred books without the giveaway? Probably not, certainly not in that time frame. And would I have sold those 8400 if I hadn’t given them away, that is, were those lost sales? Definitely not. It is not like I gave those books away instead of sold them, because those people would never have found Toby otherwise and so never could have bought it. As they say, invisibility is the problem of the Indie writer, not piracy.

Will I do it again? Most definitely.

I hope this post helps some folks out! If it does, or if you have tidbits to add or contradict, drop me a comment and let me know.

And good luck! Because there seems to be as much luck as anything in this endeavor, that’s for darn sure.

(Just for fun, here are two of my favorite screenshots ever, favorite because these are PAID slots, the sales bounce I’ve been blathering on about, it’s real…)

(not quite the peak, but pretty close)

…again, not the peak, but pretty damn good, if you ask me. 🙂

13 thoughts on “my amazon kdp select free experience, or, how i gave away 8500 books

  1. Kevin Anthony

    I also want to try KDP, but my book ranks 4th in Urban Fantasy on Smashwords…I’m scared to lose that rank

    1. maya Post author

      Hi Keven, thanks for your comments! Oh yeah, I wouldn’t give that ranking up. Sounds like its time to write another book! 🙂

  2. Pingback: The Definitive Guide to KDP Select Free Giveaways «

  3. Mark Deans

    Thanks Maya, very helpful. I am layed up for a few days with a back injury so will take your cue and some proper homework before before I go free.

  4. Lisa Riebe

    I’m doing it today, tomorrow, and Sunday. Now, I’m wondering should I have done three days…I’ll let you know when it’s over. Thanks for all the info. I’m tweeting this page.

  5. Lisa Riebe

    Okay, I went and checked the numbers and I’m extremely excited and could use some guidance here. Before the free day the eBook Pond Punkies Book 1 The Arrival was at 555,935 rankings. Now it’s at #3123 in the kindle free store and #30 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children’s eBooks > Action & Adventure. Is this what you were talking about moving up in the rankings? My book is scheduled to be free the next two days. Do I keep it or pull it?

  6. Lisa Riebe

    New stats:
    Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,681 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
    #16 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children’s eBooks > Action & Adventure
    Now your book was in the top paid. So is mine not doing that good if it’s only going up in the free store?

  7. maya Post author

    Hi Lisa, Isn’t it exciting? You get hand cramps for hitting refresh on your amazon page, haha. You might want to read this post
    for some ideas. You might want to scroll down to the conclusions rather than slog through all her data, but basically, she suggests looking at the number of downloads and says if your first day isn’t getting 1800 downloads, cancel. I don’t know about that. Certainly since the algorithms changed last March, you get much less of a paid sale bounce post-freebie than before (like mamybe 1/10th the sales) so if post-freebie sales are your goal, going big is the only way. But even if you give away a few thousand books, that’s a lot of exposure and might get you some reviews, and a fan or two, even if your sales bump is more of a little ripple than a hill.

    As for what you’re saying about free/paid rankings, when your book comes off of free, it will be back at #555,000 in rankings. Don’t fret. After a couple of days it will have gone up quite a bit. That’s the bounce. It doesn’t last but it is one of the reasons people do free. Enjoy the ride!

    1. maya Post author

      You see the download number on your bookshelf “reports” in KDP. It shows sales, borrows, and also free downloads. Good luck!

  8. Nikki

    OMG Maya!Thank you so very much for your detailed and informative post. I am newly published, my first ebook, and I literally was experiencing everything you spoke of as I entered into the last moments of my 1 day Freebie. I kept checking my ranking position wondering if I should pull the plug or extend, as I googled for insight and came across this post. It saved me and i did not extend my free day.

    Its sort of weird because you gave away 8500 books and got up to #32, and I on the other hand got up in ranking in 3 different genre, Human Sexuality #3, Love & Romance #15, and Relationships #16 with only a total giveaway of 110 ebooks in 24 hour period. I had been going up and down and landed at #500,000 ranking prior to trying a free giveaway. I think you are on point that something has changed mysteriously in how amazon rates things. Being that I just came off the freebie an hour ago at #3 Best Seller in SEX books…with these stats, I am really overly curious about my possible destiny of sitting beside Oprah on her couch!??

    1. maya Post author

      Hi Nikki, congratulations on your publication! The thing to look at is how many titles are in the category of the list you’re looking at. If there are 800, it’s going to be a lot easier to place higher, and there will be less churn, than if there are 10,000. It can really help a title to be in a category that doesn’t have many other titles. Good luck!

  9. Lisa

    HI Nikki, I just pressed the KDP Select button (biting my nails). Just wondering now what???? How far out should I plan my free days for maximum impact? I know I have to contact a whole bunch of sites to have them announce my free ebook. How much time do you suggest after signing up with KDP Select. Lisa Mitchell Author of A Brilliant Ride


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