An experiment in progress
by Amanda S. Green
Last month Naked Reader Press made the decision to take one of its titles into the new KDP Select Program. For those who don’t know what the Select Program is, it is basically a gamble. It allows small publishers and self-published authors to take their titles for free for a period of up to five days every three months. It also allows the titles enrolled in the program to become part of the Prime lending library. Prime members can borrow one book a month for no fee and there is no due date. The gamble is that to be part of the program, you can’t sell the title through any other outlet, including your own website, and you don’t know what your cut of the monies put into the lending program will be until after the fact.
There’s another gamble with the program as well — will the readers be able to even find your title when you take it free? This was a real concern for us because the number of free books offered each day have gone from single digits to low/mid double digits to hundreds each day. For example, there are approximately 350 new free titles today. So, instead of jumping right into the program when it was announced, those of us at NRP watched and waited and looked for trends.
What we saw confirmed, in a very unscientific way, my suspicions. Those books that seemed to move up in the free book rankings were those with titles that looked like book titles and not descriptions (see my comments on titles here). Books that had good reviews moved up the charts. Books with catchy descriptions moved up the charts. In other words, books (and short stories) where the small press or self-published author took the time to make the listings look professional did the best.
So, the bosses and I sat down and talked. The benefits of taking a title into the program were clear — exposure for the book as well as for any other titles by that author. The drawbacks — the book would only be available on Amazon for at least 90 days. More than that, there was no guarantee the novel taken into the program would sell. Since we are here to make money for our authors, we still hesitated.
Then I got a call from one of our authors who’d read about the program and wanted to know if we were going to try it. I’ll be honest. Ellie’s call surprised me. Not because she wanted to know if we were considering the program but because she wanted to know if we’d consider putting her novel, Wedding Bell Blues, in it. Instead of answering — because, frankly, I wasn’t sure what the answer would be — I asked her why she wanted to put WBB into the program. After all, WBB was selling well in most of our outlets. Her answer surprised me because it showed she’d given the idea a lot of thought before calling. She wanted to use the program to help promote her next book which will be coming out in February.
This is where I have to admit it’s a book I hadn’t heard about before. Why? Because she pitched the book right there on the phone. We already had several books from her under contract. But, as writers everywhere know, sometimes plots grab you and won’t let go. That’s what happened with Ellie. So she’d been spending every free moment writing this book and hoping we’d want it. If not, she was going to put it out herself. Needless to say, we wanted it.
Anyway, back to the conversation. Her proposal was that we take WBB into the program and see how it worked. If it didn’t work, no harm and no foul since it was her idea. If it did, well, that would be good for all and it would, hopefully, help build interest in the new book.
So, we took Wedding Bell Blues into the program. And held our collective breath, especially when we started seeing other bloggers talking about how the program was a no-win proposition for writers and publishers. Now, after two weeks in the program — and after five days of the title being free — I can report that it has been anything but a no-win situation for us. While it hurts the capitalist in me (shh– I said the dreaded C word) to give away anything for free, I know that is also the best form of promotion. And it seems to have worked. I’m not going to get into exact numbers, but I can tell you that WBB not only hit the Top 100 free e-books on Amazon, it made it to 119 on the paid chart (it may have gone higher and I missed it). It has consistently been in the Top 10 Police Procedurals and Romantic Suspense. It has pushed the sales of Ellie’s two short stories, Free Surprise in Every Box and Predator or Prey. The increased sales of WBB have more than made up for any sales we’ve lost by taking the title off-sale in other outlets.
Based on this, we’re going to be taking two more titles into the program over the next few days. Both are the first books in different series. The first will by my own Nocturnal Origins. Origins has a wonderful new cover — thanks, Sarah! — and will include new material. It will be promoting Nocturnal Serenade that will be coming out later this month. A short story in the same universe, Nocturnal Haunts, will be coming out next month.
The next book going into the program will be C. S. Laurel’s B. Quick. As with Origins, it will have some new material included. The sequel, Quicksand, will also be out later this month. Quick Change Artist, a novella, will also be coming out in the next few weeks.
As you can see, none of these titles are new. Why? First, we want everyone to have a chance to grab our titles in their preferred formats, without having to go through converting them. For another, well, we’re figuring most readers are like us. When hit with hundreds of new titles to choose from each day, their eye automatically goes to those titles with favorable reviews. Let’s face it, new titles don’t have reviews.
There will be other titles going into the program over the next several months, assuming the trend we’ve seen with Wedding Bell Blues continues. As I said, we’re here to make money for our authors, not take it out of their pockets. If the increased sales trend doesn’t continue, we won’t continue with the program. However, like Amazon or not, they are the elephant in the e-book world and most of our sales do come from there. So, if we can increase sales there, we owe it to our authors to try.
As with just about everything in publishing these days, nothing is set in stone. I’ll report back on how the experiment goes. However, for now, I really, really like what I’m seeing and Ellie is ecstatic with the increased sales she’s seeing. But only time will tell. . . .