Tuesday, February 28, 2012

To Select - Second Free Run Results

A few weeks ago, I decided that, given the success of my first free run with Amazon's Select program, I'd give it another shot. Being a bit of a pessimist, I was more than a little apprehensive about doing it again. I'd had pretty good success on my first run, but would lightning strike twice for the same book? I learned a lot from my own experience and those of my fellow authors who keep a running thread of stats over on the Kindleboards. There's enough statistics on going free over there to drive you up a wall and back down. My first run had been a single day and was on a Saturday. This meant that the magical 2-3 day post-free sales bump occurred between Monday and Tuesday. My theory was that a free run that occurred on a mid-week day would then land the bump on the weekend, closer to the time when I figured more people would be buying.

I scheduled my second free day on February 22nd. I notified a slew of websites over a week in advance. There are really only two that matter; pixelofink.com (POI) and ereadernewstoday.com (ENT). POI and ENT are bastions of freebie-loving readers. Each site has 200,000+ loyal followers on Facebook and their legend among indie authors grows. They post free books throughout the day on their blogs and Facebook. To be included in these posts can mean the difference between giving away 1,000 and 10,000 copies. And, that can mean the difference between selling 2 dozen copies post-free and selling 200. In my first run, which was only a day, I only managed to have one site mention me, but it was still all I needed for a great 1-day total. I thought, this time, I'm much more prepared. But, there was still the unknown element of going free with the same book for a second time. I'd not heard any results and had no evidence that it would be as successful as the first time.

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, I was a bit dismayed. At 7 AM I had apparently only given away 5 copies. It was more of a slow start than I'd expected. Of course, being home sick from work that day (really!) was of no help...as I was able to watch the numbers on an almost constant basis. By 3 PM, the numbers were respectable and actually better than my first run at the same time: 1181 "freeloads" in the US. My UK and DE numbers were much weaker this go round. I have no explanation for that, except that maybe the Brits and Germans keep their book buying for the weekends. I got picked up by ENT that evening, but by 8:30 PM, I knew my day was not going to be as successful as my first run: 2722. At that point, I had yet to break into the Top 100 Free books on Amazon, something I had determined to be an important milestone. I made an executive decision that night. I was going to add another day and remain free through Thursday. By Friday morning at 3 AM ET, when the switch back to paid should have occurred, I'd given away 6970 copies and stood at #90 in the Top 100 Free. I'd actually been as high as #57 earlier in the day, but the onslaught of new freebies had pushed me down. I was satisfied, but not really thrilled that it had essentially taken two days to do what one had done last time. The best moment had been the realization that someone in France decided to download my book for free; a first for me to have anything from that store.

Now, the last time I'd gone back to paid status, the sales came in fairly quickly. There was no lag. I didn't see a flood of sales, but it had moved along nicely that first day (a Sunday) before really picking up between Monday and Tuesday that week. I made it as high as #742 on the Top Paid list at one point and finished consecutive days in the 800s. Well, I watched my sales number throughout the day and got scared. It barely moved. One sale...maybe two. I thought, the magic is gone. I had been a one and done. The Amazon algorithms had changed and I'd just given away 7000 books for nothing. Then, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that patience was a virtue when it came to this game. Saturday came and all was right with the world. By 7 PM Saturday evening, I'd sold 60 copies and had 5 borrows. On Sunday, I climbed to my highest rank of #1,831 overall paid. Not as high as last time, but not too shabby. It stinks being in a category like Suspense. Lots of competition...lots of good competition (on any given day, the worst book in the Top 100 in Suspense is #1400 overall in the entire store; other categories, some of the more obscure ones mind you, can have folks who are ranked as high as #20,000).

Not sure if this is legible as is, but it's supposed to show my last month of sales activity. Click to enlarge.

It's now Tuesday night and I've been back to paid for 5 days. I've sold a total of 169 copies and had 13 borrows in the US. I've had no paid sales in the UK this time round and saw very little action at all in the German store. Nowhere near as successful as my first attempt, but I still consider it a success. Still sold more books in five days than all of last year, so there must be something to this. I've now sold 377 copies of my book in the month of February and have 73 borrows. That follows up 201 and 12, respectively, in January. 578 and 85...not too shabby. Sure, I had to give away 14,000 copies, but c'mon!

Things I've learned:

1. A POI or ENT mention is critical to success. It's as simple as that. Yes, you might reach a few thousand "freeloads" without them, but to really get the big push, you need their quick access to heavy firepower. Hundreds of thousands of readers all itching to pick up free books...even if they never intend to read them. I think POI needs upwards of 3 weeks' advance notice now...and even that may not guarantee you a spot. I've given them 4 weeks for my next free day.

2. Reaching the Top 100 Free is a necessity. If you're close and you were only going free for a day, book a second day so you get there. If you're already there on your first day, keep going! The higher you climb free, the more you'll get into the Amazon algorithms and, subsequently, the more you'll be seen afterward.

3. There is little you can do to control what happens on your free day. Just roll with it. What happens happens. It's not a personal affront to you or your book...really. Deep breaths. Remember, you have 5 free days and after 90 days, you can get out of Select if you're really not that happy with it.

4. There is nothing more addicting than having the ability to see your sales updated in real time. It's an awful, wonderful, horribly fascinating and terrifying thing, but you already knew that.

5. Everyone has a different experience. Some folks have gone free and struggled to give away 500 books one time, then turned around and gave away 5000 their next. It's a process. Give it a chance. Be patient with it if you can. It can and has worked for many.

So far, I'm happy with the Select system. It's worked for me. I think it's the ideal mechanism for promoting a first-in-series book. But, at the same time, I don't think I'll be enrolling books 2 and 3 in the trilogy. We'll see though. Now that I have two runs under my belt, I'm trying to apply everything I know for the last free run of my first Select 90 days. I'll keep you posted. ;)