Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
I don’t know how to answer your comment about feeling like a whore. I know that’s not what you’ve written, but it’s what you imply. I don’t know what I can say or do to eradicate those feelings.
–Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James)
Before reading this post, I strongly urge you (if you have not already done so) to read my blog “Hang Up Your Pimp Costumes, Kids: Why Free Book Promos on Amazon Don’t Work Like They Used To (No Matter How You Spin the Numbers)” which explains:
- What an Amazon KDP Select free book promotion is.
- The mathematical concept behind creating “word of mouth.”
- A quick history of Amazon’s KDP Select program.
- How I used a free promo day on Valentine’s Day 2012 to launch two of my books onto the Amazon bestseller lists.
- An explanation of how “conditions on the ground” after the summer of 2012 were much, much different than when the program began in December 2011.
- The kinds of seemingly insurmountable challenges those condition present for self-published authors today.
I will not be reviewing this history in any depth or detail in this blog.
For the Man Who Has Everything
Why does Anastasia Steele—who has given up her maidenhood to Christian Grey and has therefore had exactly one sex partner—keep trying to convince herself as well as her new man that she’s a ‘ho (by the way: that’s a great strategy for projecting self-confidence). Well, it’s because by this point in the novel, our hero and heroine have been intimate just a handful of times and he’s already hit her, whipped her and bought her:
- First edition copies of Thomas Hardy novels, just one of which— Tess of the d’Urbervilles—is worth $14,000
- An Audi to replace her ancient Volkswagen Beetle
- An expensive Mac computer
- A Blackberry
- Designer clothes worth thousands of dol—
Wait a minute! I think I just realized why this novel is so popular. Viva la prostitución!
Anyway, Ana thinks that because a harem of Ana doppelgangers came before her, all of whom had their bottoms slapped by Christian Grey and received identical gifts from him—right down to the make, model and color of the Audi—that Christian is basically treating her like a prostitute. Oh, and she’s also all frowny-faced because she works at a hardware store making minimum wage and can’t afford to buy him anything but food items he can lick off her body.
But, hey! It’s not like Christian Grey isn’t getting his penny’s worth for his, er, pound. I mean, by the end of the book they’ve fornicated on damn near every horizontal and vertical service in his apartment—the bathtub, grand piano, office desk, beds, the wall, the shower, the torture rack in the Red Room of Pain and the kitchen sink. (Kidding about the kitchen sink. Probably. I’d have to double-check.)
My goal here today is two-fold: First, that after reading this blog, you will aspire to try an Amazon book promotion with the goal of making your book feel as cheap and worthless as Anastasia Steele does at the end of Fifty Shades of Grey as the chauffeur drives her, forlorn and weeping after a particularly harsh spanking at the Grey House, back to the apartment she shares with a friend. Second, that after your successful promotion you will feel no qualms whatsoever about slipping into a pimp costume and doing it all again.
Anyone Seen My Pimp Costume?
For those of you who follow my posts on this site regularly, you may be scratching your heads a little bit. After all, in September of 2012 I wrote a blog about Amazon free book promotions (in “Hang Up Your Pimp Costumes, Kids: Why Free Book Promos on Amazon Don’t Like They Used To (No Matter How You Spin the Numbers)”) that in large font black and white letters advised:
Don’t. Do. It.*
*Exceptions include authors introducing a new novel—especially one of a series—or first-time authors with no previously published work.
I ended the blog with this solemn pronouncement:
The Forbes piece cites a source attributing the waning effectiveness of free promotions to the “slumping summer sales,” but this simply sidesteps what I think is the true problem: A glut of low-priced and free novels, and a reading public weary of the constant bombardment of ads and email blasts and Facebook events. I hope I’m wrong, but based on what I’m seeing and hearing (plus a healthy dash of “hunch”), I predict that we will continue to see a downward spiral in the effectiveness of the free promos across the board.
As the renewal date for my KDP Select contract neared, I did a lot of hard thinking, and I finally decided to remove my novels from the program, and work with other sites to launch my novels on their platforms. It’s been a calculated risk not without anxiety, especially as I saw my regular sales and overall revenue plummet on Amazon in September. On the other hand, taking risks and moving quickly to shift my business model in response to changing conditions has been par for the course since I got on this crazy ride. Perhaps more significantly, I’m fortunate to have the kind of revenue that allows for a few months of slumping sales in order to experiment.
Listen, for the sake of all the authors out there with books that deserve an audience, I want to be wrong about the efficacy of the book giveaways. Maybe you try it, and maybe you prove me wrong. This would thrill me to no end! But something tells me that my free promo pimp costume is going to be mothballed all the way through this Halloween—and for a long, long time to come.
“Did you do it?” you may be asking. “Did you mothball your pimp costume?”
I did. I withdrew my books from KDP Select at the end of September 2012 and attempted to diversify by uploading the titles to other platforms. In October, I wrote Alice in Wonderland, and that same month I was fortunate (or so I thought) to land a Barnes & Noble Nook First spot for November.
Nook First is an arrangement in which B&N selects just a handful of new titles to showcase on their website. In return for this enormous marketing spotlight, you agree to an exclusivity agreement; that is, you agree to allow only Barnes & Noble and no other platform to sell your new title for one month. The Nook First program has turned many a self-published and traditionally published book into a BN.com bestseller. It was an outcome I expected and few authors would have thought my excessive celebration premature.
Unfortunately for me, I was offered a Nook First slot for the very month that B&N decided to change the program. No exclusivity contract, I was told. In fact, I had B&N’s blessing to sell my book anywhere else on the internet that I wanted . At first I was thrilled—a Nook first spotlight and my book on Amazon? What’s not to love?
Within a few days of the start of the Nook First promotion, alarm bells started ringing at full volume as I realized that the changes they’d made to the program meant that they were featuring more books–a lot more books as it turns out–which explained why they no longer required exclusivity. As a result, not only were sales of Alice in Wonderland on Barnes & Noble essentially in the toilet, there was hardly any difference at all between my sales of Alice on Barnes & Noble in the coveted Nook First spot and the Alice on Amazon. This was especially significant since I had pulled my books out of KDP Select in September and as a result I was in Amazon algorithm purgatory. (For a fuller explanation of how Amazon’s book ranking algorithm works, see my blog series “My Date Using the Almighty Amazon Algorithm” but suffice to say that books enrolled in KDP Select have a, shall we say, “most favored status”).
Even before the Nook First promotion ended in November I knew that I would have been better off signing a contract with Christian Grey than trying to continue with diversification across multiple platforms. I also knew that I would have no choice but to put all my books back into the Amazon KDP Select program and essentially re-launch myself on that site. With a heavy sigh, I dug through my closet for my pimp costume, had it dry cleaned, and slipped it back on in preparation for my first promotion in seven months.
The promo lasted two days beginning December 2, 2012. After Day 1, exactly what I had predicted in the “Hang Up Your Pimp Costume, Kids” blog—namely “we will continue to see a downward spiral in the effectiveness of the free promos across the board”—was exactly what was happening. When I went to bed on Day 1, I knew that it was unlikely that my promotion was going to result in a significant bump in book sales “post-promo,” and would come nowhere near the post-promo bonanza after Valentine’s Day 2012.
In other words, it had been a big waste of time and I’d been right all along…well, at least I was right until right around lunchtime on Monday, December 3, 2012. That was when something incredible happened (which I will tell you about in more detail later) that resulted in The Frog Prince pulling away from the rest of the titles, becoming far and away the biggest success of the three-day giveaway, resulting in 26,764 reader downloads as well as a post-promo boom that lasted over a month. How did the rest of the free titles do? Meh.
Alice in Wonderland: 7,690
Sleeping Beauty: 7,432
Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up: 6,045
The Frog Prince: 26,764
I spent most of the following month pondering numbers and spreadsheet…lots and lots of numbers and spreadsheets. Dollars, cents, units sold, percentages (even a few imaginary numbers). After I was done thinking, I scratched out a formula. To test it I did another book promo on Christmas Day, this time only for Alice in Wonderland. I did another one for three days in February for Sleeping Beauty and Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up. So far my formula held up! But to be double-dog sure, I sent out a list of questions to five self-published author friends who were kind enough to share with me the specifics of their promos—sales, successes, stats, splats and all—specifics that once again seemed to support the same results that I was seeing.
Get your pen and paper out because we’ve arrived at the moment where I share that formula with you, a formula that helped me to figure out the “Pimp Promotional Score” and the number of books you must give away during a book promotion. It also helped me better understand why some promos fail and others succeed. Without further ado, here it is:
Pimp Promotional Score = rdrrrerb (where re=v4+v5/vt)
rd= # readers who download the book for free
rr= % readers who read book immediately
re= % readers who enjoy book
rb= % readers who buzz about book
v4= # 4-star reviews
v5= # 5-star reviews
vt= total number of reviews
The Magic Number
What kind of “Pimp Promotional Score” are you looking for? Anything over 100—and the higher the better. See that variable up there, rd? That stands for “number of readers who download your book for free.” Of course, it’s a variable which means that this number could be anything, and you won’t know until your promo is over. But the fact is that even before you start your giveaway, you don’t want this number to be “anything.” In fact, what it absolutely must be is what I call “the magic number,” and the magic number is this: 20,000.
20,000 is the minimum number of readers who must download your book during your promotion in order to see any post-promotional benefit whatsoever.
Bottom line: if you don’t give away a minimum of 20,000 books during your promotion, then you’re doing the equivalent of letting Christian Grey flog you with a riding crop and then driving yourself home afterwards, crying, in your beat-up Volkswagen Beetle. How did I arrive at this number? Like I said, I did some math…
Formulating a Formula
Let’s pretend that I’ve just finished a promotion for The Frog Prince and that 25,000 readers have downloaded copies (rd). So far, so good? Good. Remember, your promotion will only succeed if readers are buzzing about it when your promo ends and it’s pulled out of the Free Store and dropped back into the Paid Store. The only way that can happen is if someone reads it—and not just a few someones but lots of them! This is important because remember that you’re counting on a “post-promo bounce”—a jump in sales that could last you as long as a month or more –and that, if successful, will most certainly be responsible for the bulk of your income that month.
Here’s the part where I have to make an assumption about the number of readers who will read the book within 0-36 hours of downloading it (rr), a number that isn’t as easy to calculate as the others. As you will soon see, though, it doesn’t really make any difference after you crunch the rest of the numbers and work your way through to the answer. Out of 25,000 readers in our pretend promotion, how many do you think read The Frog Prince right away (rr)—that is, within 0-36 hours? Let’s be generous, shall we, and say 20% (.20) of the 25,000 readers readers who downloaded free copies of The Frog Prince dug right in and read it.
rr =25,000 x 20%
That means that 5,000 readers just couldn’t help themselves and guzzled down Frog like Christian Grey drinking Bollinger out of Ana Steele’s belly-button (I wish I was kidding). Five thousand readers…that’s a lot of people, right?
Not so fast. First of all, not everyone will like your book. How can you figure out the number of readers who will like your book and subtract out those readers who will not? (And it’s critical that you do this for reasons I will explain in a moment.) It’s easy. You can predict the number of readers who will enjoy your novel (re) by looking at your Amazon reviews, then use the formula below to calculate it as a percentage:
re = v4+v5/vt
As of today, Thursday, March 14, 2012, The Frog Prince has 164 total reviews (vt) with an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars. Out of those 164 reviews (vt), 134 of them gave the book a four-star or five-star rating (v4 + v5).
re=v4+v5/vt re = 134/164
re = .82 (or 82%)
Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that in our “pretend promo” 82% (.82) of readers will likely enjoy reading (re) The Frog Prince. Apply that (re) to the 5,000 readers we’re guesstimating read the book within 36 hours of downloading it (rr) and that leaves us with 4,100 readers to spread the good news of this great read.
Hey, that’s fantastic, isn’t it?
Sadly, no, and here’s where the jaw-dropping is going to start happening and you’re going to wonder how in the hell any book promo—no matter how high the number of download—yields positive results. That’s because of pesky little rb.
Our final variable is rb, the number of readers who “buzz” about your book—whether they tell a friend or two, post it on Facebook, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, pin your book to their Pinterest board—anything that spreads the word. And, of course, just like that penny a day doubled every day for a month in “Hang Up Your Pimp Costumes, Kids: Why Free Book Promos on Amazon Don’t Work Like They Used To (No Matter How You Spin the Numbers),” you’re hoping that each person they buzz to buzzes to someone else (or many someone elses).
The problem is that rb is a pretty well-known number among people in sales and marketing: only 10-13% of people who use a product (any product) and like it will bother to tell anyone else about it. When you take the 5,000 readers who are left who downloaded the book (rd), read the book within 0-36 hours (rr), and liked the book (rl), and you multiply it by the number of people who are likely to buzz about the book (rd), you’re left with anywhere from 500 to 650 people. It looks like this:
Promotional Pimp Score=rdrrrerb (where re=v4+v5/vt)
=500 people buzzing about your book
That’s right: your book’s success or failure is in the hands of 500 people.
And remember that we were being generous when we estimated the number of readers who would read the book within 0-36 hours of downloading it, putting (rr) at 20% (.20).
Let’s be extremely conservative now and put rr at 5% (.05). When you do that and “plug and chug” the rest of the numbers into the formula you get this:
Promotional Pimp Score=rdrrrerb (where re=v4+v5/vt)
=103 people buzzing about your book
Obviously, you can move the variables around in the formula to calculate different “unknowns.” But for those of you who aren’t math-inclined, here’s your take-away message:
- Your book promotion must result in at least 20,000 downloads and a “Pimp Score” of over 100 or you’ve accomplished nothing.
- If you announce a two-day promo and you still don’t have 20,000 downloads after two days, EXTEND YOUR FREE PROMO UNTIL YOU DO.
Sneaky Little Son of a Bub
Remember way back at the beginning of the blog when I told you that I put all my titles in KDP Select at the beginning of December and did a free 2-day promo for all of them, but that on the second day around lunchtime The Frog Prince pulled away from the pack and had up to four times as many downloads as any other novel?
As a reminder, here were the final totals for each book at midnight on December 4, 2012:
Alice in Wonderland: 7,690
Sleeping Beauty: 7,432
Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up: 6,045
The Frog Prince: 26,764
By the time the promo was over, I was combing the internet trying to track down who was responsible for the surge in Frog Prince downloads. Did a prominent blogger write about it or review it? I spent hours searching and finally gave up. The next day, I received an email through the contact form on my website from www.BookBub.com. It read:
I’m with a daily deals website called BookBub. Every day, authors, publishers, and book retailers pay us to promote their discounted eBooks to our 350,000+ email subscribers.
Occasionally, when we have extra space in our daily email, we give away a free promotion to an author or publisher in the hope that they have a good experience and may want to advertise with us in the future.
On Monday we selected you for a free advertisement, so THE FROG PRINCE was featured in our daily deals email and sent to the 140,000 people who opted in for our “Romance” category. We hope that you found this free advertising helpful, and that you’d consider purchasing a listing in the future. You can learn more here: http://www.bookbub.com/advertise. Good luck with your book promotion and please let me know if you have any questions!
Ah-ha! So that’s what happened, that’s why The Frog Prince surged Monday at lunchtime and didn’t let up until hitting nearly 27,000 downloads by Tuesday at midnight.
So that I can illustrate my point about the post-promo bounce, I want to share with you my sales numbers for each book for the days preceding and following the promotion, cutting the spreadsheet column short when the sales returned to what I considered “normal and average.” (Click on images to enlarge.)
Having been so incredibly impressed with what BookBub was able to accomplish, I decided to do an Alice in Wonderland free promo on Christmas Day. Let’s compare that two day promo to the three-day promo earlier in the month:
Do you see how giving away 20,000 copies didn’t seem to yield a significantly longer post-promo bounce? That’s when I learned a very important lesson: never, Never, NEVER do a promo on or around a holiday; the competition is simply too fierce. On the other hand, consider that I had raised the price after Christmas to $4.99 and you can see that I made significantly more money after the Christmas promo than I did after the one at the beginning of December.
One more example, a final thought, a few more parting tips, two invitations, and then I promise I’ll be done. I did a three-day promo for Sleeping Beauty and Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up on February 20-22. Although it didn’t last as long, this was the promotion that generated the largest and most dramatic post-promo bounce:
There you have it. If you’ve been wondering how to do a successful Amazon promotion, this is my formula for it. Keep in mind that what worked on Valentine’s Day of 2012—a giveaway I did only Facebook promotion for—didn’t work in May of 2012. When I discovered BookBub in December of 2012 it definitely worked–and has continued to work through February and will work again no doubt this month as well. But that’s not to say that it will work in April. Simply put: it’s getting harder and harder to give away enough books to make the effort worth it.
In the end, I still believe that the only way to truly make enough revenue that you can live off of is to put out as many titles as you can as quickly as you can and diversify onto multiple platforms. I have long suspected that the KDP Select program would undergo some major changes in 2013 and I still believe that because this constant glut of free promos is going to eventually drag down Amazon’s sales overall (if it hasn’t already), which is why I think they recently put restrictions on “giveaway websites” that track and list every free promo mentioned on the internet.
(It’s worth pointing out here that Bookbub does NOT do this; the number of books listed for each genre in the daily emails are very limited, they restrict the type of book/author they will accept, authors must pay for the placement, and BookBub won’t list the same author twice in 30 days nor will they list the same title within a 90-day period. Therefore, I’ve seen no evidence that they have been affected by Amazon’s restrictions.)
Some Parting Tips
- DO give away 20,000 copies of your title.
- DO try to get your book in the Top 20 of the Kindle Free Store. If you give away 20,000 copies, you should be able to accomplish this (unless it’s around a holiday).
- DON’T do your promo on or around a holiday.
- DON’T do your promo at the beginning of the month.
- DO place your ad on a Wednesday and do a three-day promo—Wednesday-Thurday-Friday so you can capture the weekend sales.
- DO extend your promo if you haven’t reached 20,000.
- DO create an ad campaign for FB, etc. with a fun slogan and graphics that people will remember.
- DO submit your promo to Pixel of Ink and E-Reader News Today and if they have room they will advertise your promo.
- DON’T announce your promo ahead of time or no one will buy your books at all, ever!
The Second: I will be reporting numbers and rankings and commenting on the other various aspects of the promotion as it is ongoing. Finally, I will provide a post-promo analysis on Saturday, Sunday and Monday to let you know how things look once the book gets moved back into the Kindle Paid Store. Join “Readin’ o’ the Green: the Anatomy of a Free Book Promotion” here and feel free to comment or ask questions as we go!
Earnin’ o’ the Green
If your book feels cheap and used after a promo and comes complaining to you like Ana does to Christian Grey, please don’t tell your book, “I don’t know how to answer your comment about feeling like a whore. I don’t know what I can say or do to eradicate those feelings.”
No, you say to it, “The more worthless you feel, Little Book, the more worth you’ll have.” Here’s hoping that when this promo is over, The Frog Prince feels as worthless as any book (or amphibian monarch) can feel, and that it is silently mouthing the word ” ‘ho” to itself.
As always, thank you for reading.
- Readin’ o’ the Green: the Anatomy of a Free Book Promotion
- Strip the Market Bare and Whip It: Ten Things Authors Must Do To Survive 2013
- THING 1. Balls, Cookies and Getting Lucky: Ask the Right Questions About Self-Publication
- THING 2. Successful Seduction and the Naked Truth: Rethink Cover Design for a Small, Small World
- Hang Up Your Pimp Costume, Kids: Why Free Book Promos on Amazon Don’t Work Like They Used To (No Matter How You Spin the Numbers)