Book marketing games–Part 1: Caution with Kindle Select

From Rick:

It’s a fair statement that at least thousands of indie/self-published books are released each month, and that number is growing. The biggest challenge the self-published author faces is marketing his book so that it gets noticed among the flood of other books–good and bad–out there. Further, authors aren’t competing only with new indie releases, but also with new and previous releases from both indie and traditional publishers.

My purpose in the next couple of posts is not to tell you how to market (because honestly I’m still working on learning that myself), but to give you a few tips on what you should be very careful of.

Another fair statement is that many (most?) new authors have little clue about marketing techniques, and even fewer clues about which are good and which are bad. Authors need to realize that not every good marketing idea will work or be good for every book. Inexperienced authors tend to latch on to every idea they read about that someone says worked and apply it to their books.

Amazon did indie authors a huge favor when then came out with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). This was a big win for frustrated authors everywhere. Unfortunately, it has also allowed many books to be put up for sale that should not have been–at least not so soon.

New authors starting out often expect miracles to occur. They believe that as soon their wonderful book goes up for sale, readers will jump on it. One of the biggest mistakes–and problems–these authors face is pricing their books correctly. Authors hear that cheap books sell, so they price their books cheaply (often 99 cents).

This ploy worked in the early days (3-4 years ago) before readers learned that not all books were created equal and that cheaply priced books often mean poorly written books. Why is this? Well, authors who don’t know what they’re doing in the first place, have no idea of the value of their books. They’re just happy to sell a few copies at 99 cents.

The problem comes in when sales stop. And this is where these authors latch onto every marketing scheme they hear about. Amazon provides a program called Kindle Select (“Select” for short). In this program, the author agrees to sell the book exclusively in the Kindle store and nowhere else for the 90 days of the program (which is renewable for 90 more days as long as you wish). Select offers two large benefits. One, you have 5 “free” days in which you can give away your book for free. You can schedule these together or singly or however you desire. The idea is that “free” draws buyers, who download and hopefully read, love, and review the book and thus spread the word.

Since people love “free,” the idea is that more people will download free books, which results in a better sales rank and more visibility for the book. After all, the goal is to get your book in front of as many people as possible.

The second benefit of Select is that Amazon automatically makes you book available for borrowing by their Amazon Prime customers, and you get paid per borrow (which could be as much as you’d make from a sale).

Now, here’s where authors can go awry with Select. Let’s face it, few books will become bestsellers, and most books will yield mediocre to dismal sales in the short (or long) term. After their book shows some decent sales, authors will then leave Select and put their books up for sale in other stores (Smashwords, Kobo, Sony, etc.). You have to realize that Amazon still sells the most books on a percentage basis, so sales in other stores may not be as good.

What happens is that a few months down the road, sales slow or stop. Everywhere. The author remembers that his books did well in Select, and he wants to boost his sales again with free days. So, he contacts all the other stores and tells them to remove his book. That done, he goes back into Select. So far, so good.

And most of the time, this works out okay. The book probably still doesn’t sell well, but some sales–the author thinks–are better than none, and this is an easy way to boost sales, he believes.

Then, one day, the author receives an unexpected email from Amazon stating that he has violated the Select terms of service. What? The email goes on to say that his book is being sold elsewhere and is not exclusive to Amazon.

An author I know had this happen. He did everything right, but one of the stores that he told to discontinue his book suddenly began selling it again. And Amazon saw it with it vast network of computers that monitor for things like this. Further, the author is told that they’ve canceled his KDP account for “repeated offenses” (because this isn’t the first time this has happened to him).

Author emails Amazon and explains what happened. He sweats for three days, and finally his account is reactivated–with a stern warning that if it happens again, he’s done for. I should also point out (as this author did, that if someone pirates your ebook (yeah, it happens a lot) and sells in on the Net, this can count against you. Even though it’s not your fault, you are responsible for monitoring such things.

The lesson to be learned is that when you attempt to play marketing games or don’t think ahead, you can get burned. Remember, if your KDP account is canceled, you can lose any royalties earned and unpaid to you so far. Make sure you keep everything under your control so you don’t get some nasty surprises. Playing marketing games can backfire, despite your good intentions.


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