Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Amazon's KDP Select: The Verdict from a Newbie Skeptic

by A.M. Khalifa, thriller writer, Google+

Have you read The Jewish Neighbor?

I've been dragging my feet and avoiding test driving Amazon's optional KDP Select program that gives writers a set of preferential marketing tools in return for a 90-day period exclusivity to the Kindle Store. Even while hearing writers I respect and admire like L.J. Sellers and Jodie Renner singing its praises

I chose to go the indie route to be the master of my writing career. So understandably, the mere mention of someone else exercising exclusivity over my work triggers an allergic reaction. I want my ebooks to be available to readers through all outlets like Kobo, Nook, Sony and Apple, and not just Amazon.

Having said that, I've always been attracted to KDP Select's free book promotion tool. Until quite recently, the high ranking attained on Amazon's bestseller lists during the free promotional period could be converted to paid sales after the promotion ends. But in their excellent resource for indie publishing, Write. Publish. Repeat, Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David Wright explain how in 2013 Amazon shuffled the rules of the free book promotion, which effectively broke this ability to convert high ranking to sales.

Despite that, I finally bit the bullet. I was curious enough to give KDP Select a shot with a recent novella I published, The Jewish Neighbor. I figured the only way to find out how Select really works is to try it. And since this piece had been lingering on my blog collecting digital dust for many months with little feedback, I had nothing to lose.

To cut a long story short, the results were outstanding. The book was downloaded thousands of times across all of Amazon's territories, but no where more than Amazon UK. It's about a Syrian woman who accepts an arranged marriage to an exile in London to escape the horrors of the civil war ravaging her country, only to find herself in an equally grim situation, with the only tenderness coming from the least expected person - her Jewish neighbor. So it made sense there would be keen interest from Britain. But I also broke ground in places like Amazon Germany, Canada, India and France, which was a first for me. 

Things got even more interesting after the free promotion ended. The Jewish Neighbor started climbing up the ranks in Amazon's paid bestseller categories in both the US and the UK. It hit number 500 of all of Amazon UK's paid kindle content, and then lodged itself as the number 1 bestseller in the inspirational romance category for at least a week. And also locked in second slot on Jewish-themed literature for a few days.

All in all, I sold more copies of that piece than my entire one year writing-career, across all of my titles. At one point I was selling thirty copies of The Jewish Neighbor every hour.

But it didn't stop there. This unexpected performance started funneling customers to my other titles. My overall sales spiked, including my flagship content, my debut novel, Terminal Rage. The daily sales average of that quadrupled compared to how it usually performs on any given day, no doubt as a result of the increased exposure.

So what's the verdict, from a new writer and a former skeptic like me? 

KDP Select is an incredibly powerful marketing tool for indie writers. But it's not for everyone and not for all your content. I don't think it makes strategic sense for a first time writer just wetting their feet to put their debut offering on KDP Select, denying themselves the opportunity to explore the overall landscape. The program seems better suited for writers with a larger body of work who can afford to make certain works exclusive to Amazon, without alienating users of other platforms.

In my case, hot on the heels of The Jewish Neighbor's success, I enrolled many of my other similar titles in the program, leaving out for now my full-length novel, Terminal RageI still like the unlimited free promotions you can do on Kobo, as opposed to Select's limitation to a maximum of five days free promotion every 90-day enrollment period. And I have to admit, I have a soft spot for Kobo and the openness of their platform. Unlike my perception of Nook, I don't want to discount them for dead just yet. Being the smallest of the three main players, they also try harder. At the Frankfurt Bookfair last October they were serving free crab cakes, chardonnay and awesome teal-colored tote bags that make me a huge hit with supermarket cashiers in Rome.  

Then again, I may wake up one day and realize that five days of KDP Select every 90 days are far more valuable than 365 on Kobo. I will keep you posted.

The way I see it, Kobo, Nook, Apple, Sony and Smashwords all have their niche segments of the market. But you can't be an indie writer today and fail to notice that Amazon is increasingly where it's at.

Writers, what have your experiences been with KDP Select, and if you've been on the fence like me, have I managed to sway you to at least try it once? And readers, have you discovered literary gems through free downloads?

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A.M. Khalifa's critically acclaimed debut novel, Terminal Rage, was recently described by Publishers Weekly as "dizzying, intricate, and entertaining."  He lives in Rome, Los Angeles, and Sydney, sometimes at the same time.

The ebook version of Terminal Rage is now on sale for $0.99 on Amazon.


  1. As always, you've written a thought-provoking article, my friend. It's interesting to hear your perspective on KDP Select, as I have heard varying ones from other indies like us on the topic. Like you, I have always been intrigued by the prospect of KDP Select, but I do like the ability to offer my work on various platforms. That being said, I keep revisiting the notion of trying it. It's so funny to me that offering titles for free boosts sales...I guess it's karma at work. (And you know how much I love Karma...) ;) Because I trust your opinion, and because the numbers speak for themselves, I will probably place The Fume of Sighs on there for the ninety day trial period, at least. Obviously, we are all individuals, as are our works, and our sales/successes will differ, accordingly. Still, let's give it a go! Wheee! :)

  2. Aymen -

    Congratulations on the tremendous reception by readers and your burgeoning success! You must be thrilled so many individuals all over the world have read/discovered your work. I'm excited, happy and a touch envious (yeah, I'm petty) about your results.

    As a "pre-newbie" I much appreciate you sharing your experience. Jennifer mentioned karma - you are and have been helping others in the field! It's great to see nice folks do well!

    I think that you and Jodie deserve special treatment (special promotions or cash is always good) for the tremendous marketing you've provided KDP Select!

    Lastly - chardonnay and crab cakes in Frankfurt for the man living in Rome, Sydney and LA!! I've kidded you on this before - the Dos Equis commercials have it wrong...YOU are the most interesting man in the world!
    Thank you my friend!

    1. Yes, Tom, get that fabulous medical thriller of yours out there for the world to enjoy! :-)

  3. Congratulations on your success, Aymen! I'm absolutely thrilled for you! I loved working with you on Terminal Rage, and can't wait for our next collaboration! (I've been incommunicado for a week as I accidentally took my old laptop, which barely works, to San Diego to the SDSU conference, and it was so frustrating trying to get on line - and no free Wi-Fi in the rooms, on top of that!)

  4. Congratulations! I'm glad to hear the select program is working for you. As much as I would love for all e-readers to have access to my books, the financial rewards of Amazon exclusivity are what allow me to write full time and keep the books coming. My allegiance is to the readers I have.

  5. I've been with KDP Select since day one. With the availability of the Kindle app to be on just about any device (other than Nook) I don't think I've lost too many readers. And using their marketing clout, each of my books have become profitable in just a few months—if not weeks—from their release.

  6. Just tossing in something from the other side:
    About 60% of my income is from Amazon. Just not ready to shift to exclusivity yet. As LJ, said, it's important to have one's allegiance with the readers they have, and I have a lot of non-Kindle ones. If all the reports were as positive as yours, it might be tempting to try a shorter, original work in Select, but I've heard from a lot of people who saw zilch for their efforts--enough to keep me satisfied with the 'cast a wide net' approach. However, I also agree with Peg, that now that the Kindle app doesn't tie one to a computer or phone, it might be worth revisiting. However, meanwhile, I have and love my Nook and haven't read any Kindle exclusives. Yes, I might have missed some good books, but it's not like there aren't plenty of others out there for me to choose from.

    Terry's Place

    1. Thanks -- and glad you liked my website. About 2 years ago, B&N had an aggressive indie author promotion called "Nook First" that required a 30 day exclusive, which I found much more palatable than the 90 lockup. I got into that program, gained considerable traction, and have used their 'watered down' version with subsequent books with enough success to keep publishing there. Their new version doesn't require exclusivity at all. (And Nook Press has a WONDERFUL editor --as does Kobo, but not quite as user-friendly) so that if I discover I've made a mistake, like forgetting to name my editor in the acknowledgments, or if I want to tweak a paragraph, or even add a chapter of bonus content, I can do it right from the editor and don't have to republish the whole book the way I do at Amazon.)

      I remain a 'cast a wide net' marketer, but I agree we all do what works for us.



  7. Congrats on your success with KDP Select. I, however, have decided to abandon it for wide distribution (I used KDP Select a couple of years ago). I believe having my book on many channels is best. I ran a BookBub ad last year and sold over 800 books in one day - all because I had the book available by multiple retailers.

    1. They definitely deliver. I've had two books in the program and ended up with great sales (over 600 for both in one day). Also, I've found having multiple short stories and novellas on as many sites as possible improve sales of my other novels.

  8. Congrats on your success with KDP! And "The Jewish Neighbor" was a great story!

    As for me, I've stuck with having the books available on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords (with distribution to some of their channels - including iTunes) and All Romance eBooks. I'm just bothered in general by only posting my books in one place.

    I do make some sales with B&N - this month may be the first time I exceed my 11 sales in August! Barely any with Kobo, a few with Smashwords, but that's okay. I like having options to give.

    I think if I ever have a lot of stories available, I will give it a try though.

  9. Hi Aymen,

    Thank you for a fabulous post and congrats on all the great things happening in your writing life!

    I had mixed results with KDP Select last year, but will likely try it again this year, with three novels under my belt. I'm aiming for mid-end of summer, after the third book's release.

    Will DM you on Twitter when the second edition of book one is out! Terminal Rage is next on my to read list on the Kindle! I can't wait to get to it :D

  10. Congrats on your success with KDP Select. I tried it and had some success, but ultimately decided wide distribution is best for me.


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