4 Top Tips To Help You Understand KDP Select

By Rachel Thompson | Author Marketing

Dec 06

4 Top Tips To Help You Understand KDP Select 

Are you an author who is trying to decide whether to do KDP Select, or who has done it with unsatisfactory results?

I want to share my experiences with you. Please note this is my opinion only (along with solid research). Feel free to disagree.

First off, I’ve been part of the program since launch last year. You can read a few of the other articles I’ve written about my positive experiences with it. What I want to discuss with you today are some of the specifics people ask me:

  • Should I run more than one book at a time?
  • Why is my ranking so low or non-existent right after my free days end?
  • What is their algorithm?
  • Is it worth it?

I’ll answer what I know, what I’ve gleaned from talking with Amazon directly, my own experiences, and what some other authors who know far more than I have to say.

 

1) SHOULD I RUN MORE THAN ONE BOOK AT A TIME FREE?

Obviously, if you only have one book it’s a no-brainer. However, if you have more than one book, is it a good idea to take them all free at once?

No. Think of your one free book as a kind of tease, to get the customer to walk in the door. Once they’re in, they want to look around, see what else you have to offer. Amazon has told me on three separate occasions that the authors with the best results (meaning the most downloads followed by improved sales and rankings) only offer one free book at a time.

But let’s get down to brass tacks. I just took Mancode: Exposed free for two days, this past Sunday and Monday — mostly because I had a few days left and wanted to use them. While I usually recommend you create a BIG hoopla around your free days, I didn’t do much save a guest post, a Facebook ad, and some social media shout-outs. I had a few thousand downloads, which is low (for me). In the past I’ve had anywhere between 50K to 80K downloads. But what’s more important is what happened to A Walk In The Snark: (which I kept at its normal price of 2.99) it went from around 85K and on two lists (Motherhood and Emotions and Feelings), down to about 60K. (As for Mancode, I’ll review below.)

2) WHY IS MY RANKING SO LOW WHEN I COME OFF FREE?

I’m no math or algorithm expert, but I do know this: when you book first comes off free, you will either completely lose your rank or be ranked WAY higher (high = bad; low = good) than you were before. Don’t freak. This usually only lasts for about 6 to 24 hours, and it’s because Amazon is taking into account your downloads (see below) in order to re-rank you. Again, nobody knows the exact specifics of Amazon secret, mysterious Fort Knox-like algorithms, but people smarter than me have some good guesses.

So Mancode: I took it off free and ended up in the 98K and off all lists. I didn’t panic though, and when I checked tonight, I’m here:

I’ll note here that my normal price for this book is $3.99. As an experiment, I took it down to $2.99 to see if it made any difference in my rankings. The price change has not taken effect yet, so these ranking above are based on the higher price.

3) WHAT IS THEIR ALGORITHM?

Who knows? As I mentioned above, I defer lots of people smarter than myself, though I do love to read prolific author and brilliant book strategist Lindsay Buroker. From an article on how the algorithms work:

the popularity list is the accumulated sales of a book’s last 30 days compared to those in its category–but free books given away only count for roughly 10% of a paid sale, and price is factored in as well, in that the higher your price, the more each sale counts for on the list. Lastly, borrows aren’t counted as sales for purposes of popularity list rank. The formula looks something like this:

(sales + (0.1 x free downloads)) x (unknown sales factor) / last 30 days

A simpler way to think about it is gross revenue earned by your book over the last 30 days (with an additional boost depending on how many copies you’ve also given away). I’m not sure that’s a 100% accurate way to put it, but it fits the data we’ve seen well enough to work as shorthand.

To me, knowing or not knowing the algorithm doesn’t change what I do as an author: advertise, connect with people on social media, guest post, and write more stuff. I don’t know that it’s worth getting caught up in it, for those of you who love spreadsheets and numbers and math — knock yourselves out.

4) IS KDP SELECT WORTH IT?

Absolutely. For me, it’s been wonderful in terms of visibility and exposure, as well as sales. I can tell you that on the months where I have a free book, I sell hundreds more after a free promotion. Sure, I get some cranky reviewers who picked up my book free, but so what? My books have been through the ringer before they ever get to market (critique group, betareaders, professional editor, proofreader, formatter, etc.). I know that what I’m putting out there is the best possible work I can produce. If people don’t like it, I cannot help that. I can learn from it, if the criticism is helpful, but if it’s just a rant, well…moving forward.

I had a good ten months or so of data to base my decision to take Snark free. Over 93% of my profit came from Amazon sales. I think when I left Smashwords, I had a negative balance, and had sold maybe five books on B&N. So, duh. Keep in mind also that this is a KINDLE only program, meaning your paperbacks can still be sold everywhere. AND people don’t need a Kindle to read eBooks from Amazon — they have free apps for smartphones, computers, and tablets.

The other critical component of the KDP Select program that often goes unmentioned is that we are paid on borrows (not a component of rankings though), usually more per book than my normal 70% profit on each sale. Sure, I have way more sales than borrows, but so what? To me, it’s worth it. Totally. And finally, for the month of December, Amazon doubled the amount in the pool, so if you haven’t signed up, now would be a good time to go for it!

 

Friday update: Here’s my latest Mancode: Exposed rankings since lowering the price to $2.99:

 

Saturday update: Here’s my even more updated rankings (at $2.99):

 

I’ve love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and criticisms of KDP Select.

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About the Author

Rachel Thompson is the author of newly released Broken Places (one of IndieReader's "Best of 2015" top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival), and the multi award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. Rachel is published by Shadow Teams NYC and represented by Lisa Hagan Books. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post IndieReader.com, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly. Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs,  #BookMarketingChat (co-hosted with Melissa Flickinger) and #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish all live Twitter chats. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

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(79) comments

@woodtop255 December 6, 2012

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Ben Ditty December 6, 2012

Thanks, Rachel! I definitely will rethink Select and Amazon.

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    Rachel Thompson December 6, 2012

    Thanks for reading, Ben. What I like about the program is it’s just a 3-month commitment. don’t like it? leave. And it’s only for digital. You can still have your paperback copies everywhere you want. good luck!

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Britt Michaelian December 6, 2012

I keep reading about the Amazon KDP program… and am gearing up to dive in. After reading about your experience in this post, I have a much greater understanding about how to leverage this program. Thanks! Just out of curiosity, how long are your ebooks, are they all available in paperback and do you use a specific service to format them for Kindle?

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    Rachel Thompson December 6, 2012

    Hi Britt! My two books are both eBook only and are between 140 and 165 pages, at this point they are not available in paperback (though I do have an offer from a publisher to print MANCODE: EXPOSED for a series of humor books they’re doing), and I have used Toni Rakestraw for my formatting and she’s great. My next book comes out in a few weeks and I’m going a different formatting route (perhaps — in discussions with a house) and some cool options are around with regard to formatting now (discussion links, videos, etc) so I’m exploring that.

    Kindle requires a Word doc, so that makes it fairly easy for uploading. In fact, I’m uploading a client’s book tonight! The trick is picking the right categories, keywords and tags. Think SEO!

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@melissagmcphail December 7, 2012

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@thefadderly December 7, 2012

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James W. Lewis December 7, 2012

I’ve pretty much given on KDP Select. I tried it with three different books and had some success, but it tapered off big time. I’m doing something now that’s similar to KDP Select: I make a book free somewhere else, Amazon eventually matches it, and it gets downloaded for free from Amazon–almost as if the book were in KDP Select. I like that option better.

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    Rachel Thompson December 7, 2012

    I’ve seen that happen a few times, James. I’m sorry you haven’t had good luck with the program. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see the top tips article I linked to in here about 12 things you can to insure success. Basically it comes down to spending money to make money, ie ads (Google AdWords, Facebook, Goodreads all work quite well for a short burst of a few days), and doing all the rest I suggest (blogs, guest blogs, blog hops, newsletters! and of course, social media but not being a spamming machine — not that I’m say you do that. I just see so many authors spam other authors and it’s such a waste of time and effort.

    Looking at your tags and categories is critical. I took a quick look at one of your books and you might want to reconsider your categories (mystery/thriller/suspense and parenting and family? Your cover looks like romance, interracial romance, etc.) In KDP go to Bookshelf and when you see categories, click. remove the ones you have and replace w/ FICTION >> AFRICAN AMERICAN >> URBAN LIFE (or ROMANCE). This is much more focused than the overall Romance category. Hope that makes sense.

    Anyway, best of luck and again, that’s one way to go about it!

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I’ve used KDP Select both before April 2012 and after Amazon changed the rules.
My conclusions are:
1. If you have a single book – don’t bother. Put it on Smashwords also while you write your second book.
2. If you have a series or at least 2 other books then yes – join Select. Make your first book in the series free after you have added links to the other books in the series at the end. Watch sales of the rest of the series carefully for a knock on effect and if sales start falling then promote it again. You’ll need to withdraw it from sale at Smashwords for three months though.
3. Once Select loses effect then use James’ method. Withdraw it from Select and make it free at Smashwords then expect Amazon.com to pricematch it eventually. Amazon.co.uk will take rather longer.
4. It’s worthwhile adding new books you write to Select to benefit from borrowing and library use but don’t make them free.

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Angie Vinez (@angievinez) December 10, 2012

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Sandy Appleyard December 10, 2012

Excellent, excellent post! Very useful information, especially for someone who knows little or nothing about this program. I’ve just posted my first romance Blessed and Betrayed on Kindle, but it states that you can’t place it on Kindle Select if you have it digitally on any other platform. Blessed and Betrayed is also available on Smashwords, so I guess that means I can’t place it on Kindle Select?

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    Rachel Thompson December 10, 2012

    You CAN, IF you remove it from Smashwords. You’re paperback copies can be available anyway or everywhere. This is a digital only program. AND it’s only for a 3-month commitment. So you have to weigh all the options. 🙂

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      Sandy Appleyard December 11, 2012

      Excellent Rachel! The one thing I do like about Smashwords is that I can offer coupons to potential readers/reviewers, so I can offer my books for free or at a considerable discount. Does Kindle offer the same type of promotional tools?

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@SandyAppleyard December 10, 2012

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@nblackburn01 December 10, 2012

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Dana Griffin December 10, 2012

I too am a KDP Select member, but my book, The Cover-Up is new. I’ve wondered if keeping it KDP Select only, or try some of the other outlets. This article helped with that decision. Thank you.

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    Rachel Thompson December 10, 2012

    You’re quite welcome! I work with a lot of authors (as clients for my business BadRedheadMedia) and I do feel the program is quite helpful with visibility and exposure. Good luck!

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LJBooker December 20, 2012

No one seems to be mentioning the fact that the bestselling books that are in Amazon’s select program are not exclusive, like, for example, the Harry Potter books. Those are for sale at Barnes and Nobles Nook store. It seems that there are two sets of rules. Only the indie authors have to give up their rights to sell elsewhere. This way Amazon gets to brag ‘exclusive’ books, while undercutting the other stores with free popular books. And those free bestsellers are getting all the funds in the pot. This whole promotion is about putting everyone else out of business. Has no one else noticed this?

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    Rachel Thompson December 21, 2012

    It’s definitely a program geared toward indie authors. No question. But, I will disagree that the program is strictly limited to well-known books. There are plenty of KDP Select authors who are famous, who have many books out on other platforms and a few in KDP Select, etc. It’s only a 90-day commitment, so you can always dump it if it doesn’t work for you.

    For me, it’s been nothing short of amazing. But that’s my experience only. Others hate it and move on. It’s simply another option for and and all authors.

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[…] 4 Top Tips To Help You Understand KDP Select […]

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[…] The other critical component of the KDP Select program that often goes unmentioned is that we are paid onborrows (not a component of rankings though), usually more per book than my normal 70% profit on each sale. Sure, I have way more sales than borrows, but so what? To me, it’s worth it. Totally. And finally, for the month of December, Amazon doubled the amount in the pool, so if you haven’t signed up, now would be a good time to go for it! – Rachel Thompson @RachelintheOC, 4 Top Tips To Help You Understand KDP Select […]

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