KDP Select and Dragons

I’ve enrolled several of my paranormal romance series into KDP Select this week, which means you can read them free in Kindle Unlimited.

The Dragonfire series of paranormal romances by Deborah Cooke in print editions

First up, The Dragonfire Novels. This series is complete and features dragon shifter heroes on a quest to save the earth from evil Slayers – but destined love keeps complicating their mission.

Start the series with Kiss of Fire.

Visit the Dragonfire Novels series page at Amazon.com

The Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal and science fiction romances by Deborah Cooke enrolled in Kindle Unlimited

The Dragons of Incendium series featured dragon shifter princesses from space and the men bold enough to love them.

Here’s a link to Wyvern’s Mate at Amazon.com.

And here’s a link to the series page at Amazon.com.

Rebel, #3 of the Prometheus Project of urban fantasy romances by Deborah CookeI’ve also enrolled the Prometheus Project urban fantasy romance series, although there’s a bit of an issue with Fallen that Amazon is straightening out.

My Claire Delacroix time travel romances are currently enrolled in KDP Select.

You can read Coven of Mercy and An Elegy for Melusine free in KU right now.

And finally, my Secret Heart Ink series is also enrolled in KDP Select, although it’s just a teensy tiny heart tattoo that might have magical powers in that contemporary romance series.

Happy reading!

FALLEN and KDP Select

Fallen, an urban fantasy romance by Claire DelacroixAs most of you know, I recently republished FALLEN, the first book in my urban fantasy romance trilogy, The Prometheus Project. I decided to enroll the book in Amazon’s KDP Select promotion.This program requires that the book in question be available exclusively at Amazon for 90 days. It also allows the author/publisher to make the book free for five days – you can schedule those days in advance, and this is the only way for author/publishers to ensure that a book is free on Amazon. (Amazon may choose to match a free price offered at another portal, but that is at their discretion and timing.)

I chose KDP Select for FALLEN because the Prometheus Project is different from most of my Claire Delacroix titles. It’s an urban fantasy and romantic suspense series set in a dystopian future world – as opposed to a medieval romance. Last year, I had a similar situation with the Coxwell Series. These contemporary romances are different from the bulk of my Deborah Cooke titles, which are all Dragonfire (paranormal romance and paranormal YA). Last summer, I put Double Trouble in KDP Select, then made it free when all four books were available. That kickstarted sales for the entire series at Amazon. Of course, the drawback is that this program only works at Amazon. After Double Trouble came out of KDP Select, I published it at other portals and made it free there. Amazon did match the free price for a while, and overall the strategy worked very well in establishing sales for the series.

My plan was to use the same strategy again, esp given the similarities in the two situations.

One difference this year is that author/publishers now have the ability to create pre-orders. A pre-order means that the book is displayed to customers on the portal in question, but that it is not actually available to be purchased and downloaded. The customer orders the book, and the sale is fulfilled on the on-sale date. On that date, the customer’s credit card is charged and the book is delivered. The idea with pre-orders (which are standard practice for big publishers) is that sales can accumulate over a longer period of time and all be counted on the same day. Ideally, this creates a spike in sales on that on-sale date, and drives the book onto bestseller lists. At least, it’s easier than trying to get every potential customer to remember to buy the book on the same date. Of course, not every title is driven on to the bestseller lists with this strategy, but it’s still a handy tool.

I decided to use the pre-order option for FALLEN. My thinking was that I could upload the book while all the metadata was fresh in my mind, pre-set everything, and let computers do what they do best. The book might gather some advance sales. It might not. The point was that I wouldn’t be scurrying around in January, trying to remember the keywords and locate the copy for this title. The book would complete its term in KDP Select on January 12. The pre-orders were set to be fulfilled on January 15. I loaded it all up and moved on to the edits for Guardian.

Last week, I received a message from Amazon that I was in violation of the terms and conditions for KDP Select. We went ’round and ’round, but the upshot of it is that they interpret “not for sale at any other portal” to mean “not distributed to any other portal.” Pre-orders, in their view, are a violation of the terms of agreement. I argued my side, but it was clear that my perspective would not prevail. As a result, FALLEN is no longer in the KDP Select program.

And the upshot of that is that FALLEN will be available at other portals tomorrow, November 1, instead of on January 15. If you pre-ordered a copy elsewhere, your order will be fulfilled tomorrow.

The End of Free?

We’ve talked about authors making books free in past posts here on Wild West Thursday, and about the way that free can give visibility to an author. (Here’s one of my earliest posts about free, and some reflections on implications, then a more recent one about free’s effectiveness.) The benefit of free is particularly seen in linked titles — for example, when Double Trouble was free, sales of One More Time, All or Nothing and Third Time Lucky increased dramatically. In a nutshell, making Double Trouble free gave the Coxwell series the visibility it needed to populate the algorithm at the various online portals and to find readership.

Free, however, doesn’t directly make money for the online bookseller. It creates expense but not revenue. It requires capacity in the network and storage space on the servers. There are many authors who don’t use free strategically to drive sales of other titles. Before Christmas, the rumor was that there were over 2 million titles that were free on Amazon, and that 3000 – 4000 titles went free every single day on that site through KDP Select. With that kind of volume of titles available free, it’s fair to say that a culture is being established that ALL books should be free—or at least that an ever-growing number of readers are coming to believe that they need never again pay for a book.

It stands to reason that online booksellers would want free to go away. The question is how will they do it — and the problem is that it works so very well to promote linked titles. (I talked about this a bit in January.)

Amazon is one portal on which authors can’t set a free price. Every book must have a minimum price of 99 cents. (B&N is another portal that doesn’t allow authors to make a book free.) Amazon chooses to match a free price elsewhere, or not, at their own discretion. What authors often do is make a title free at Apple, KOBO, and/or Smashwords (which feeds content to both of those portals as well as B&N and others.) Amazon then may choose to match the price. The other option is to register a title in KDP Select, which allows the author to pre-select 5 free days in a 90 day period, but also requires exclusivity of that title for those 90 days.

In my experience, going free everywhere has been much more effective. It has helped to build my sales on every portal by populating their respective algorithms, which diversifies my income source. It also doesn’t require exclusivity, which is something resented by readers who shop at portals other than Amazon. You can probably guess that having done this has weakened my own relationship with Amazon: in December 2012, probably 95% of my online indie sales were made at Amazon. In December 2013, that would have been closer to 60%. My sales at KOBO and Apple exploded in the last half of 2012, and B&N grew significantly, as well. That’s a big change and if my experience is mirrored across the entire publishing platform, that’s an issue from Amazon. (Last week, I saw an industry report that Amazon’s market share had dropped from 90% to 60%, which indicates that my results are typical.)

In December, I had several books free on all portals, which were driving sales of linked titles very nicely. I was all ready for the Christmas gifts of e-readers and finding new audience with those free titles. To my surprise, Amazon unmatched free on my books just before Christmas, returning them to their regular prices. My marketing plan, at least on that portal, was completely trashed. I think they must have had some pushback from customers, though, because they were matching free again before New Year’s. The momentum had been lost for my titles, though, so I returned them to regular prices elsewhere, too, and changed strategies.

By mid-January, though, free was back in place at Amazon, much as it had been a month before. It appears that the first attempt to get rid of free – by teaching new Kindle users that content must be bought – was unsuccessful.

Tomorrow, the next stage in the plan goes into effect: Amazon has changed the rules for Amazon Associates accounts. These are sites that drive traffic to Amazon with buy links and receive a percentage of all purchases made by those customers who follow their link. Although the amount of money per unit sale is small, sites that drive high volumes of traffic—like many of the services that advertise free books to readers—do well enough to pay their expenses. As of March 1, however, Amazon has changed the terms of payment. If most of the downloads/sales driven by an associate’s links are for free books or if downloads of free books exceed a specified number of units, that associate will forfeit payment from Amazon for that month.

This is an interesting strategy and it remains to be seen whether it changes the game or not. Either way, get ready for more discounted books and fewer free ones. Will Amazon continue to encourage authors to sign up for KDP Select? I suspect they will, and as getting rid of the free price-match may be a means to compel authors to use KDP Select to get books free on Amazon. We’ll see.

But the funny thing is I had booked a sale for March well in advance of this announcement. I feel psychic!

Jewels of Kinfailie Boxed Set by Claire Delacroix

March 4 – 31, the Jewels of Kinfairlie Boxed Set will be discounted from $9.99 to $2.99. That’s three  full length medieval romances and a linked short story for less than $3. It’ll be on sale at Amazon, KOBO, B&N and Apple.

Check back on Monday for one-click buy links.

Portals and Publishing Plans

It’s a new year and a whole new challenge in the Wild West of indie-publishing. Algorithms are on the move and have been changing over the past month in particular, which means that we indie-authors need to try some new marketing strategies.

First off, FREE is working less well at all portals. This makes a lot of sense. Free books take server space and display space on the site, without generating any revenue for the author or the portal. This is fine in the short term and it’s particularly good if it leads readers to try a new author or a new series of books – which they then purchase. But what happened in 2012 is that many readers – particularly on Amazon – became accustomed to reading only free books. Free began to work less well in the fall, even on Amazon, and the Amazon algorithm has been steadily changing over the past few months to give free books less visibility and less power to lift an author’s sales. An author cannot make a book free directly on Amazon without using the KDP Select exclusive content plan – Amazon must choose to match a free price posted elsewhere – and I believe that they will cease to do that very soon. I think that KDP Select will be the only way to make books free on Amazon very shortly.

Secondly, the battle for digital customers outside the US is on. The primary players appear to be Apple, Amazon and KOBO. Each company is vying for market share, particularly in the UK, Australia/New Zealand, Canada, and the English book market in Germany. These international markets – and others – are the ones that will see the most aggressive price matching and promotion in 2013. Remember that Amazon encouraged free reads in the US in order to drive sales of Kindle. Now that the US market is considered to be reaching maturity, all players will be less aggressive with marketing efforts in the US and turn their attention to new horizons. This also feeds the impulse to focus on paid content. I am noticing that Amazon is price-matching free on my digital books in the UK and not the US, for example. This is probably happening because I have good sales on Apple and KOBO in the UK.

What does all of this mean for you?

• First off, DOUBLE TROUBLE and THE BEAUTY BRIDE will not be remaining free reads. They’ve both had a good run of it and lots of you have tried them out. They are already not free (or not consistently free) on Amazon.com for US customers. Because they are still driving some sales for me at Apple, KOBO and B&N, I will leave them free at those portals until the end of the month. Amazon’s Terms of Service require that the price set on their portal be equal or lower to all others, so it is possible that they will take exception to this strategy of mine – particularly if they stop matching the free price in any territory. If that occurs before the end of the month, I will unpublish those titles at Amazon until the end of January.

In February, I will have no free titles, so grab your copies now.

I’m still thinking about KDP Select and the ramifications of the 90 days of exclusivity required by that program. My experience with KDP is that it’s very hard to fulfill the exclusivity requirement once a book has been published and distributed. It’s hard to call it back from some of the portals serviced by Smashwords, and Amazon does police the exclusivity. (Rightly so. It’s the terms of the deal.) So, it’s easier to put a brand new title in KDP Select. The issue is that I don’t have any more backlist titles to publish. Now that I have quite good sales at B&N and KOBO and Apple, I’m not fussed about holding back new content from those of you who shop at those portals. OTOH, it’s entirely possible that Amazon will sweeten the KDP Select terms to entice more authors to sign up.

January tends to bring changes in the new Wild West, so I’ll just wait and see what opportunities arise.

• In terms of those non-US markets becoming the new focus of 2013, I’ve updated the links on my sites to include links to some of the other Amazon portals, as well as other portals overall. There are nine Amazon portals now – US, UK, DE (Germany). FR (France), IT (Italy), ES (Spain), JP (Japan), BR (Brazil), and CA (Canada) – but I’ve provided links to the ones where I sell best. That’s US, UK, DE and CA. Similarly, Apple now has 80 portals. I’ve only provided the link to their US site. The list of buy links is getting long (and unwieldy) so I’ll have to think twice about adding anymore.

• I am still trying to update my content on B&N, as their server has been uncooperative for the past month. I need to get those new covers and new editions up there, and am hoping that once everyone gets back from the holidays, that things will get sorted out there.

• I did upload a batch of new content to Overdrive’s Content Reserve in December, which is being processed, checked and made available by them now. Overdrive is a portal that services libraries, but also feeds digital content to consumer portals like Waterstones in the UK and Books-A-Million in the US. The new covers and new editions (with more links) should appear shortly on those portals, as well as new titles. The Coxwell Series, THE RENEGADE’S HEART and THE COUNTESS were my six new titles sent to Overdrive.

• My big task for January – other than writing! – is to publish my titles directly to the Apple iTunes store. Currently, they are distributed to Apple from Smashwords and that can be a long transition. In order to have more control over the titles and maybe more promotional opportunities, I’ll publish directly. My sales at KOBO have increased dramatically since I began to publish directly through their portal, so I’m hoping the same magic works at Apple. The transition should be invisible to those of you who shop at that portal, but we’ll see. Whether you buy the edition distributed through Smashwords or the one I publish directly, I’ll still get paid. 🙂

So, that’s my plan for this month! Back to writing now!

KDP Select Promo for DOUBLE TROUBLE

Today, my contemporary romance and romantic comedy, DOUBLE TROUBLE, is free at Amazon. It will be free for Kindle through Saturday, using up all five days possible in the KDP Select promo in one go. DOUBLE TROUBLE is book #2 in my Coxwells series – I chose it for the promotion because it has better reviews thatn THIRD TIME LUCKY and some of the sites that announce these promos base their decisions to list or not list upon the review rankings. Here’s a link to info about the Coxwell series on my site.

And here’s the Amazon link.

These four books, btw, are all also available in new trade paperback editions, and those trade paperback editions are for sale on Amazon. I’ve not had any luck in getting Amazon to link the new print editions to the product pages for the books, though. To find them, you’ll need to search by title or go to my Deborah Cooke Amazon author page. It will look as if there are two listings for the books, but one is the Kindle edition (linked to the previous print editions) and one is the new print edition. The new print edition has the new cover. With any luck, that will be sorted out soon.

Lots of readers don’t like authors putting books in the KDP Select promotion, as it means that the book must be listed exclusively for sale at Amazon for 90 days and that it’s only free for Kindle when it goes free for five days during that period. On the other hand, going free everywhere is getting tougher to orchestrate with every passing week – because Amazon doesn’t always match a free price posted elsewhere. One upside to KDP Select is that the book goes free at all Amazon portals, so those of you shopping through Amazon UK or one of the other European portals can also pick a up a free copy. In contrast, price matching of a free price tends to be restricted by territory. If Amazon matches a free price listing on B&N, for example, they will usually only match it for US consumers as B&N only markets to US consumers.

So, here we go. Make sure you get your copy!

The New Plan

If you haven’t already grabbed your free copy of DOUBLE TROUBLE, you may have noticed that it has disappeared this morning from portals other than Amazon Kindle. This morning, I enrolled it in KDP Select and it will be free on Amazon next week, July 24 to July 28.

Why did I do this? Well, there was a moment of opportunity to try a different marketing tactic. I’ve had some luck with KDP Select in the past, but better luck with going free everywhere as a promotional technique. The issue here is that I use Smashwords to distribute to Apple and B&N, and the Coxwell books are stalled in the book approval process there. It could easily be another week before they are approved for premium distribution, then another 3 – 4 weeks before they would be available at Apple and B&N. It doesn’t appear that Amazon will match the free price at KOBO alone, so my choices here are waiting a month (at least) to promote this series or going to KDP Select now.

I think the Coxwells are good summer reads, and that tipped the balance. Summer will be over if I wait for Smashwords.

Why did I use DOUBLE TROUBLE as the promotional title instead of the first book in the series, THIRD TIME LUCKY? Well, the books all stand alone and you don’t have to read them in order. Plus, DT has better reviews overall. I thought it would make a good ambassador for the Coxwell clan.

btw, I dropped the price on the books to $4.99 each everywhere.

We’ll see how it all shakes out. The interesting thing about these particular times in publishing is that you never really know. Experimentation is the key!

My Experience with KDP Select

This week, we’ve been talking about the strategy of taking a book free to increase its visibility and subsequently its sales. Today, I’m going to talk about the Amazon program KDP Select which is how I took my book, THE COUNTESS, free.

First a little background. Twelve to eighteen months ago, a number of authors discovered the mechanism we talked about on Monday, of how making a book free could increase their digital sales by improving visibility for a specific book.

How did an author make a book free?

Amazon’s publishing platform for authors is called KDP, but Amazon does not allow a book to be listed for free through that program. They will, however, price-match the lowest online price from a major retailer. So, these authors would make their book free at Smashwords or Barnes & Noble, then Amazon’s internet spiders would notice this and automatically make the book free on Amazon under their price-matching policy. This worked pretty well for a while. Authors could also make a book un-free pretty quickly – they’d change the price at the other seller and Amazon’s spiders would find that, automatically restoring the book’s previous price. Authors had a reasonable amount of control over the price and the timing of the change.

With the explosion of new content uploaded in 2011 and the recognition of the success of this marketing strategy, servers were apparently overwhelmed. The spiders didn’t always notice changes in a timely fashion, and even reporting the discrepancy might not be effective in making the book free. Getting the book un-free has become more and more of a challenge, particularly in terms of managing the timing. It now is common for a book in transition to have different prices at different outlets, sometimes for several weeks, which does not make readers (or authors) happy.

I suspect this is why Amazon came up with the KDP Select program in December 2011. It adds that control – and it gives their spiders a break. There are several elements to the program (and you really should read all the terms and conditions to understand it fully if you intend to register a title in it) but for me, these are the main bits:

1/ the enrolled work must be a digital exclusive with Amazon for 90 days. It can be available for sale in a print edition elsewhere, but not a digital one. It can’t be included in a digital anthology elsewhere either.

2/ the work will be available for loan to Amazon Prime members, and the author will be compensated for these borrows on a model which is a whole lot like the Public Lending Right commission here in Canada. (Essentially, there is an allocated pool of money to the lending library. At the end of the month, the number of loans are tallied up. The pool is divided by the total number of loans to give a payment per loan. That number is multiplied for each author by that author’s number of loans and the money paid to the author. So, an example would be that the pool at Amazon works out to $2 a loan for the month in question. The author has had 200 loans during the month, so he/she will get $400 of the allocated pool of revenue.)

3/ the work can be given away for free for five days in total over the 90 day enrollment period.

I had tried some sales events through Smashwords last year, and some discounting of my titles on Amazon, without seeing any real results. I was skeptical about the power of going free, and reluctant to give away my work in case it wasn’t an effective strategy.

I enrolled THE COUNTESS in the KDP Select program because I wanted to control the free mechanism if I was going to try it at all. (When I enrolled, I still wasn’t sure I would try it.) With KDP Select, you actually book the dates ahead of time, and their server makes the book free at roughly midnight Seattle time, then takes it off free at the end of the specified date at roughly midnight Seattle time. It’s easy, easy. You just sit back and watch. (And yes, it is addictive to monitor the book’s progress!)

One big downside of KDP Select is that readers can get pretty agitated about books not being available on their e-reader of choice, and I did hear from a number who were unhappy with my decision. On the other hand, this book is backlist and had been unavailable digitally for a number of years. It seemed that another delay couldn’t be that big of a deal. Also, with my sales volumes at other outlets the way they were, it didn’t seem as if there was much to lose.

What happened?

THE COUNTESS was in the program for about a month before my first free dates. There were almost no borrows and virtually no sales. I thought the program was a total wash for me at that point, then another author raved about her success with going free. So, I tried it. The book went free, an astonishing number of copies were downloaded, and the book rose to #1 on the free historical romance novel list. I was pretty surprised.

All the same, I wasn’t sure what to expect afterward, still being skeptical of the whole free mechanism. Well, the book stayed on the PAID bestseller list for a few weeks. It sold very well, with sales gradually slowing over 60 days or so from that initial peak. Wow.

In addition to this, my Amazon UK numbers increased for all titles. I also had my first downloads and sales in Amazon’s other territories. Plus the book was borrowed a number of times, particularly in the first 30 days after it was free, which netted me a nice payment from the Prime lending program.

Even before the free days were over, I noticed a bump in sales for my other titles, not just the linked books (THE BEAUTY and THE TEMPTRESS) which I’d anticipated, but all across my list. I saw increased sales for the linked books at other outlets immediately, as well. This tells me that people with other e-readers do take advantage of the free books on Amazon, but then buy any additional titles in their format of choice from their retailer of choice. Interesting, isn’t it?

KDP Select gave my sales a huge spike on Amazon, which then settled to a new high which is roughly five times what my Amazon sales were before I offered THE COUNTESS for free. That’s a huge change and makes my enrollment of THE COUNTESS in the program well worth it. One of my other titles – THE LAST HIGHLANDER – has since risen in sales to be on the Top 100 Time Travels list of bestsellers, and is staying put, selling steadily there. This is all good.

I had hoped that a high tide would float all boats and that my increased sales on Amazon would increase my sales at all outlets, but that hasn’t really been the case. Before KDP Select, my Amazon sales were roughly half of my monthly sales on my self-pubbed backlist. The rest came through the Smashwords portal (Apple, Sony, B&N and KOBO) and through All Romance eBooks. After KDP Select, my sales at other outlets remain fairly consistent with my 2011 numbers – they might be up 10 or 20%. Given that I have more titles available, that’s not really an increase.

What does it mean for the future? I did renew THE COUNTESS for a second term at KDP Select and that book will come out of the program in June. At that point, it will be published everywhere else. Subsequent days “free” have been less dramatic than the first time, but still are building my sales. I will publish THE RENEGADE’S HEART at all outlets as simultaneously as possible, because it’s a new title and that’s been my plan all along. But I will be listening to any promotional programs offered by Amazon, and I will be watching the sales of the new book to see how it performs throughout the market.

These really are the “interesting times” of the ancient curse, but in a way, it’s exciting, too. There are so many opportunities for authors and so many things changing moment by moment. I’m enjoying the challenge of it all.

So, tell me – if you’re a reader, do you watch for free digital books? Do you buy digital books too? If you’re an author, have you had luck with going free? Has KDP Select worked as well for you?