This is a guest post from Tristan King, an entrepreneur and writer who recently published his first book on learning langauges on the Amazon Kindle store. Tristan loves learning and teaching foreign languages, and travelling anywhere he can use them. You can read more at http://www.languagemusings.com.
Note from Sean: While I haven’t personally jumped into the world of self-publishing, a lot of people have lately. Some have seen success, and others not so much. For that reason I was really excited to hear about Tristan’s experiences and the strategies he’s used to grow the business and exposure for his new book. If you’re looking for a creative take on learning languages, I can’t recommend Tristan’s book and blog highly enough.
Recently, I experimented with Amazon’s KDP Select Program, a new system on the Kindle Store which increased my book’s sales over 600% within one week. First I’ll tell you the story, then I’ll share how you can do it too.
Hitting the Button: The Scary Part
“What have I done? What if no one likes my book?” I thought, finger poised on the yellow ‘Publish’ button. After 9 months of writing, the moment had finally arrived to send my book out to the world. Remembering the encouragement of several ‘real’ authors much braver than I am, I hit the button.
Soon after, an email arrived saying that I was now live on the Kindle Store. No going back now!
Over the next few days, sales trickled in slowly, and I even had one positive review. This was extremely exciting. I wondered what the next step was: How can I get the book into more peoples’ hands?
Iíd read about a program called KDP select, Amazon’s lending program, at which they’re throwing lots of money and promotion:
- Paying members can ‘borrow’ books as part of their membership;
- Everyday Amazon users can buy the book as normal; and
- Authors can give their book away for free, as a promotion, for 5 days during a 90-day period. (The rest of the time, it remains paid for people who aren’t part of the lending club.)
The catch: it must be exclusively sold on Amazon. No Apple, no B&N, no PDF website sales. Exclusivity? Sounds like a tough decision, right? It wasnít for me.
Up until that point, through the Apple iBooks store, Barnes & Noble, and Sony’s Nook eBook store, I had sold a grand total ofÖ zero copies. Every single sale I’d made was on Amazon.
Given I wasn’t making any sales on the other platforms anyway, why not try it? I unsubscribed my book from Smashwords faster than you could say “why haven’t I sold any copies through you?“, and enrolled in KDP Select, making my book free for a 24-hour period.
Then, things got interesting.
The KDP Select Experiment: Results
After the first hour of “free” promotion, I checked how many copies had been downloaded. 50 copies in an hour. I almost fell off my chair. Yes, they were free downloads (i.e. I didn’t make any money off them), but I was ecstatic because it meant a) my book now had the chance of helping 50 new people learn a foreign language (this is the whole point!), and b) at least a few people were interested in what I had to say.
2 hours down, 80 downloads. While I slept at night, it was downloaded around 200 times.
At the end of the 24 hour period, my book had been downloaded 400+ times – a lot more than I’d sold during six weeks of being in the Kindle store.
After the freebie period was over, people continued downloading the book. Not at the same rate of 20-50 sales per hour, but in the following week I had a 600% increase in sales.
To be clear, weíre not talking Stieg Larsson numbers here, but for me as a first time author and newbie to Amazon, this was a breakthrough, and made me grin like a little kid.
Here’s what my sales figures have looked like:
- Sales December 28th – Feb 15th: 25 (six weeks)
- Sales Feb 15th – Feb 28th, straight after KDP Select promotion day: 30 (one week). Sales have continued to trickle in since then at a much faster pace than before.
- Total downloads in the month of Feb: 513 (some free, some paid)
Why Sales Increased By 600%
In my experience, four things contributed to the increase in sales:
1. People like freebies, and they like “expensive” freebies.
If you won a car in a competition and had two choices – a $20,000 car for free, or a $2,000 car for free, which would you pick?
Prior to this promotional period, my book was $7.99. When it went “free” on the Kindle store, it said
$7.99 FREE. This meant an $8 ‘discount’ during the free period, as opposed to books which were normally 99c, and are then free during promotion (99c discount).
This, of course, doesn’t mean my book is better than anyone else’s which is lower priced: but it gives the impression of a larger discount. I suspect this increased the number of downloads.
2. Getting in the top twenty lists, and staying there after the promotional period
When someone downloads your book (for free or paid), it moves up the charts. My book was #1 in the “Bilingual” section for a while, even though most people downloaded it for free. This meant a lot more people saw it, compared to when it was down in the dungeons of Amazon’s search listings. Amazon does not kick you off the charts after your free promotion ends.
Being in the charts when it reverted back to a paid download meant more people saw it, and resulted in more sales.
[Please note: Since this original post was written, Amazon has changed their ranking system. Your book will no longer stay in the normal 'best sellers' based on free sales. Only paid sales now count towards permanent rankings. Also, sometimes the price no longer displayed next to the word "Free" for some books. Whilst much of this article is still relevant, we'd also suggest consulting some more recent reviews of the KDP program to make sure you have a balanced view.]
3. Increased cross-promotion
When people download your book, it starts appearing in the “People who bought this book also boughtÖ..” and “Recommended for you” sections, further increasing visibility. This is similar to eBay’s “We recommend..” or Youtube’s “Recommended videos” cross-promotion: addictive, aren’t they?
4. Reviews bring more authenticity to your book
More downloads = more people reading = more reviews. I still don’t have a ton of them, but a few stars next to your book makes a difference for fence-sitters.
How you can increase your sales 600%
Below are some basic guidelines on how to get a book into the Kindle Store, as well as how to approach the KDP Select program to boost your sales.
1. Write your book (report, exposË, whatever) in Microsoft Word, or any other word processor.
2. Format it using Amazon’s quite strict but very logical Formatting Guide.
I’d suggest reading this guide first in order to set up your MS Word file for minimum re-work. After my book was finished, it took me around 6 hours to format it to their guidelines. This can easily be outsourced for under $100 on eLance, too. Minimalist formatting is necessary because users can increase or decrease the text size on their Kindle / iPad, so font size, page numbers and coloured headings become irrelevant.
You can find all of Amazon’s formatting guidelines here.
3. Create a cover, or get one designed.
eLance or 99 Designs are good for this, or you can do it yourself if youíre game. I purchased a photo from iStockPhoto.com for $80, which gives me license for up to 499,999 book sales.
Details of Amazon’s Image Guidelines are here.
4. Convert your MS Word Document to Amazon’s format.
First, “Save as” Filtered HTML, and then into Amazon’s format (PRC) using Mobi Pocket Creator. This sounds complicated, but takes less than 5 minutes.
The Guide to Conversion and Formats is here.
5. Create an Amazon KDP account, upload your book and set the price.
Your book will be available on Amazon in the US, UK, Spain, France, Italy and Germany. You can opt out of some if you want.
For prices $2.99 – $9.99, Amazon gives you 70% and takes 30%. For anything outside of that, Amazon takes 65%, and you get 35%.
6. Create an author page on Amazon Author Central
Write a bio and add a photo – you are now an author!
Amazon’s Author Central page can be viewed here.
7. Enroll in the KDP select program, making sure your book is available exclusively to Amazon (or they won’t pay your royalties!). Enrolment is by clicking one button. Make sure to set a promotion day to see the effect of free downloads on your paid sales.
If your book is borrowed by KDP members, you’ll also receive a share of the borrowed royalty pie. (For me, this is so minute as to not be relevant – yet.)
For all the info on the KDP Select Program check this out.
8. Experiment with different promotions.
I tried my first free promotional period on a weekday. The second time, I tried it on a weekend, where I figured more people would be lazing about on the couch browsing the Kindle Store. The second time around, free downloads were lower overall, but I did see another big increase in downloads after the promotional period ended. Iím still experimenting with this.
A fantastic, easy-to-read post from Notes In Spanish about how Ben Curtis published his book (this is what got me started):
The Wrap Up
Will this work for everyone? Iím not sure yet. Your mileage may vary, and everyoneís book will be different. I do believe that KDP Select is, if nothing else, a fantastic way to experiment with price points, get your book out into the world, and have some fun. Hopefully, your message will get into more peopleís hands than it would have otherwise: thatís the whole point, right?
That’s all, folks! It’s not difficult to publish an information product onto the Kindle Store. Authors and information agents – go make it happen!
Questions, or any other resources I should add to this post? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Tristan’s book, Conquering Foreign Languages, is a practical guide explaining how he learned Spanish, Japanese, German and French, and how anyone can skyrocket their language skills by making the language part of their everyday lifestyle. He blogs about his passion for foreign languages at languagemusings.com.