To Select or Not to Select?

KDP Select logoBack in the good old days, before Amazon started tweaking their sales algorithms, an indie author would have been crazy not to enroll a book in KDP Select. You could put your book free for a few days, give away thousands of copies, and get a lovely bounce in paid sales when the promotion was over. Some indies made their careers from that bounce.

Of course, even in the heyday of Select, curmudgeons muttered darkly about Amazon being an evil corporation that would turn on indies when we least expected it, and so we shouldn’t be putting all our eggs in one basket, and so on. And some authors had books that sold pretty well at B&N and Kobo (although perhaps not as well as on Amazon). For these folks, Select might have been a temptation, but not enough of one to entice them into publishing with Amazon exclusively.

And then Amazon gradually eliminated the bounce. These days, authors who take advantage of Select can still make a book free for up to five days in a three-month period, but the book’s ranking will be in the cellar when it returns to paid sales.

In place of the bounce, Amazon gave us the Countdown Deal. But I’ve yet to hear of an indie who has found the Countdown to be a roaring success. For one thing, Amazon doesn’t really promote it for you, other than setting aside a separate page that nobody seems to know about. For another, it’s difficult to advertise. The Countdown Deal program has been around for six months now, but the vast majority of promotional sites have yet to offer an ad feature specific to the Countdown. The problem for the promotional sites is timing: their subscribers might turn on them if the price of a featured book has bumped up to the next increment before they have a chance to click through.

The best advice I’ve heard for using the Countdown feature is to skip the countdown part. Just make your book a single price for the duration of your sale. Then you get the advantage of the higher royalty rate for any sales you make, and a promotional site is more likely to pick up your book.

My current strategy (if you can call it that) is to have only certain of my books in Select. For example, I’ve placed the five individual books of my Pipe Woman Chronicles series at both KDP and Smashwords (which of course also makes them available at B&N, Kobo, and all the rest). But the omnibus edition is available only at Amazon, and it’s enrolled in Select. So every ninety days, I can either make it free or knock the price back substantially. I’ll do the same thing with Land, Sea, Sky this fall: publish an Amazon-only omnibus edition, but leave the individual books of the trilogy available everywhere.

But that’s just me. What has been your recent experience with Select? Is it still worth it? And if so, why?

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

51 thoughts on “To Select or Not to Select?”

  1. Great post, Lynne. I’ve been toying with the idea of an omnibus once I finish the 3rd Leine Basso book and putting it on Select. I suppose I could do the same with the Kate Jones series, as well. Thanks for the info.

  2. Lynne, I’m confused. Why would you make an omnibus free? You get little, if any, benefit in the rankings so you won’t get a sales bump there, and it isn’t like the first of a series being free where you’d (hopefully) have those who got the first free continuing on to buy later books in the series.

    I’m also wondering if an omnibus in select isn’t going to get you in trouble with Amazon for not really being exclusive. (It is all available elsewhere.) Possibly it isn’t something they’ll figure out, but with the Might Zon, you never know. 🙂

    1. The omnibus has been up there since November and the Zon hasn’t dinged me yet. Fingers crossed that it continues to be the case. 😉 I did include the first chapter of Crosswind in the back, so hopefully it will bring readers into the second series.

      I’ve yet to make the omnibus free. I did do a countdown deal with it in December, and the results were dismal. I suspect it was because I didn’t advertise it anywhere, because there’s nowhere to advertise a sale with incremental price jumps.

      I’ve been banging out the rest of the “Land, Sea, Sky” trilogy this winter and spring. But I’m going to try a 99-cent “countdown” thing here shortly, and see if I can get any traction that way. Why so cheap? David Gaughran ran a blog post this week about the tactic: The theory is that readers looking for bundles aren’t necessarily the same audience that would buy your individual books, anyway.

  3. Showing my ignorance, but is an omnibus the same as a boxed set?

    I plan to set one up this summer for half of one of my series and had toyed with placing it on Select (for the countdown deal) and not putting it on Kobo, B&N, etc. I just want to be sure I’m not missing anything.

    As far as existing countdown deals, I’ve had one book enrolled for almost six months but will take it off after this run. It is book two in one of my series, and sales had flattened.

    The first three months, late Nov – late Feb, worked out very well. I had a lot of sales, enough to make more money than if I’d left it on standard sales. I did one three-day deal in US and UK.

    I also received a good chunk of money from the Lending program pool. This was much more money than I’ve ever made on Kobo and B&N, so from that standpoint, it was well worth it. However, regular sales slowed considerably after the countdown.

    I decided to leave it on another three months – Feb – early May – and just came off a seven-day countdown. The book did well, but not nearly as good as the first time. Also, lending has slowed markedly, so I may or may not get enough from that pool to offset the book not being on Kobo and B&N.

    I’m not sure if I’ll enroll another single book, but do like the (omnibus??) boxed set approach – at the 70% royalty level.

  4. I am using the countdown for one of my books and then placing another on sale at 99 cents for the same time period. I want to see what happens.

  5. I’ve seen diminishing returns on Select except for the first freebie I do for a new release. Although I like that Countdown trick. I’ll have to try it next time. Thanks, Lynne!

  6. Nice article Lynne, thank you. I’m doing everything I can to complete two books (separate series for each) and getting them out in box sets. I have several friends who are rocking with box sets right now and I want some of it for myself.
    Countdowns are the only promotions that are currently working for me but you’re right, incremental drops don’t seem to be effective. I run 2.5 days (has to be exact) at 99 cents in conjunction with a paid ad (for one day). It always reaps rewards. Countdown on it’s own does not work for me, I totally need to supplement it with the paid ad and it’s tricky knowing which site is currently hot.
    K, I better get back to writing. Need those box sets. Good luck with your omnibus!

  7. Great article, Lynne! I think few questions are as divisive as whether or not to enroll in Select or not. Some writers are just rankled at the idea of giving exclusivity. Then, there’s me. I’ve had all my stuff in Select from the beginning. In the glory days, as you said, it was a no brainer.

    I’ve had good luck with Countdown deals recently. Here is how I do it: as you mentioned, I set the same .99 price throughout the Countdown. Before I set the Countdown promo, I set up my advertising schedule. I start with scheduling (if possible) Bookbub first, then ENT, Booksends, Kindle Books and Tips, Fussy Librarian, etc. Once I’ve got the ad run scheduled THEN I schedule the Countdown promo. ‘Zon hasn’t been great at changing the price early in the day, so I schedule the first promo to hit on the second day of the Countdown.

    That’s been successful for me so far. In March, I used that technique to sell several thousand copies at .99 and 70% commission. I figure that with luck, I can do that twice per year per title.

    I also think that free runs are still enormously valuable, just not like they used to be. If I can do a major free run and give away 30,000+ copies, it is going to build a funnel into my FB page, blog, Mailing List, etc. I try to do both kinds of promos so that I am A) Making money and B) Continuing to build my platform.

    1. Shawn! How do you set the Kindle Countdown deal for 99 cents for the entire promo? Az says the promo can run for seven days. So that is fabulous to have seven days at 70%. Darn clever!
      Jackie Weger

      1. I believe the default is for whatever you select, Jackie. To increase the pricing in increments, you have to add tiers in. If you don’t add the pricing tiers, it just stays at the one price you select for the entire length of the promo. I’ve done it a couple of times now and always set it for 99 cents for the entire run.

        1. Yes, that’s exactly what I do: I choose to only have one pricing tier (.99) and leave it that way for the entire seven day run. Then I cram all the advertising I’m going to do for the quarter on that book into those seven days.

          1. Thank you both! I will figure it out for the next KCD. As always! I learn from masterful IU gurus.

  8. After reading this, I guess I’m doing everything wrong. I had no idea one could set a 99 cent price for an entire countdown. Tell me how! I do know an author cannot leave it up to AZ to get the word out. And the Countdown page is clotted with indie books that have not been vetted, have construction and formatting issues. My titles don’t have the traction that many of you who are more established indie authors. I have less than a year, so I’m still in the learning stages and trying to get my titles visible. I write romance and boy! To buy a Bookbub on a priced romance book is astronomical. I can afford the FREE promo. Finding Home just came off of a FREE promo at midnight last night with 97,278 downloads. If those numbers put it on AZ popularity list, perhaps there will be some sales. I did note crossover sales on a title I priced at 99 cents. I stay with Amazon Select and plan to until I learn how our industry works. I don’t have a readership on other venues.
    Jackie Weger

  9. Wow, Jackie, that’s breathtaking! I think that can only help.

    I may have modest expectations, but I’ve found the two Countdown Deals worth doing — I didn’t do BookBub because I am saving that ammunition for later, but I had 500+ and 300+ unit sales vs. one or two a day without them. (Note that I only have one novel out.) The first one worked better because Amazon treated my new cover as a new release and made it a “hot new release” for pretty much the life of the deal. Both of mine had increments, which I didn’t have any trouble with until this last run, when one of the sites said they wouldn’t take on an ad in that case.

    BookBub is the biggest driver IMO — I would build any discount or free dates around theirs, if you can afford to use them. Just realize that’s only available for a given title every six months and plan accordingly.

    I think the Countdown Deals are going to experience diminishing returns over time, and I do plan to leave Select with the first book soon (after almost a year in it). But for a brand new author, I still think Kindle Select FREE and KCD supported by strong advertising is your best bet to get better known and build reviews.

    1. BookBub is indeed the gold standard, Sandra — if you can get them to take you. I’ve been rejected by them a couple of times now. 🙁 Good luck!

      1. Bookbub is another argument for Countdown. It’s really expensive, so do you really want to spend a couple of hundred bucks to give a book away for free? I don’t. So doing a 99 cent number, but retaining full 70% royalty is the hot ticket.
        Two trends I’ve noticed lately in Bookbub are a little disturbing. Their titles are getting really mediocrre. And they are being filled more an more with books from big publishers.

        1. Their continued effectiveness is still unchallenged, though, at least as far as I am concerned. My last go-round with them, they helped me move 2200 copies in five days. I’ve never found anything else that can do that.

          1. Sales? Because if you’re talking about free downloads, it’s pretty easy to top that without spending money.
            If you do ROI analysis, it’s not always the best bet. First time I did ENT (with a book at full price) we sold 600 in a day for a cost of like $50. So that would stack up pretty well against selling 2400 with a $3000 expense on Book Bub.

          2. I’m not sure where your $3,000 expense on Bookbub came from. My Bookbub ad was $440. It generated 2400 sales at .99. Because it was also on a countdown deal, I kept 70% of that. That was $1680. It also helped me move an additional 200 units of my other titles over what I normally sell, and those were at full price, an approximate net of an additional $400. That’s a pretty good ROI to me.

            Of course, that’s not even taking into account the ancillary benefits of more FB Likes, more blog traffic, more reviews, more New Release Newsletter signups, and whatever visibility gain comes along with making the Top Amazon Top 100 and staying there for a few days.

            I am also a fan of ENT – you can’t lose with their set up, and I’ve also had very good luck with them these past few years, although their effectiveness has waned for me in the last six months.

  10. Interesting article, Lynne. The comments were also useful. Thinking of trying Select for a short story collection, just to see how it works.

  11. Great post, Lynne. I’ve done zero promotional stuff for months so I haven’t tried the Countdown feature…and now I probably won’t bother. lol Good luck with the Omnibus.

    1. I think the Countdown has promise, Meeks, if for no other reason than you can cut the price of your book below $2.99 and still get the 70% royalty. But I will definitely advertise the deal next time, instead of relying on the Zon to pull in customers for me.

      1. You may well be right, Lynne – for those who have an established body of work, and a solid online presence. Once I have a few more books out there I’ll definitely give it a try. 🙂

  12. The advantage of Countdown is being able to mark a book down without losing half the royalties. That’s it. But that is an advantage, and it’s worth doing. For some books. I’ve had success with it, and I know people who have. Setting it for 99 cents all the way through is pretty important.
    Not relying on Amazon to promote it is always important and realistic.
    Select is probably best thought of as a stage in a book’s development. Being able to use free days is extremely useful early on. I recommend doing a freebie promo immediately upon publication, and to pitch it to your fans, friends and family. Build reviews.
    Some books can also benefit from Countdown promos in the second 3 month enrollment. Some books might work out to keep doing that every 3 months.
    The thing is… you saturate the market. There are diminishing returns to promo sites and you are unlikely to have thousands more email addresses that haven’t already got your book. If you have a source of new mailing addresses, go for it.
    Most books will, at some point, have done what they can with Select and might profit from wider sales platforms. Keep in mind that it’s unusual for those added venues to add much in the way of sales. I would say few writers get to the point where having it on a bunch of etailers will add as many sales in 3 months as another Countdown tour. But some do.
    As I mention in my manual on moving from MS to market, the decision to go on Select has a large ethical element. Amazon is both an amazing enable tool and an evil monopoly. The big thing is not as much whether you decide to go exclusive with Select or not, but doing it immediately if you do it, and not having to run around trying to unpublish elsewhere.
    Anybody who wants to see my manual on steps to take to publish your MS, contact me at my website

    1. All very good points, Lin, particularly about market saturation. I suspect it’s a good idea to think about another advertising venue when results begin to level off; after all, not every reader subscribes to every bookselling email.

      And, too, if you keep writing, you’ve always got another product to sell. 🙂

  13. At least this FINALLY means there is some use to the Countdown feature. I understand what they’re trying to do with it, but in order to build up momentum with that sort of reverse-auction-style promotion, you’ve got to be either extremely popular or have a commodity that’s in very short supply. Alas, most of us don’t fit into either category.

    I’ll be damned if I’ll ever give away another free book (unless I get as wealthy and best-selling as Lynne 😉 ), but I will be trying that 99-cent countdown trick with my new book. Thanks for the ideas, Lynne!

  14. I have to say that IF you get initial traction with a Kindle Countdown Deal with some paid promotions, my experience is that Amazon WILL jump in and promote your deal. Otherwise, I have no explanation for the sales being as high as they were for me (compared to my usual sales) well into it. I particularly noticed this in the UK deal (which I didn’t realize I had to set up separately the first time). My book was actually featured on the home page for literature and fiction as a literary fiction deal for a day or two. That was a wonderful boost, if sadly temporary. The first time, I also noticed better sales and better income when the increment jumped to $1.99, even though I hadn’t set any promotions for that (I didn’t think the promoters would appreciate advertising a higher price than their competitors). Part of this was from being labeled a “hot new release” but that was, in essence, Amazon jumping in and making it more visible. That countdown clock helps close sales, too, undoubtedly. I’m honestly quite nervous about leaving Kindle Select, given that I can pretty much count on some sales each quarter if I stick with it. I”m only doing it because I think that if I’m going to invest in BookBub again (no small investment), I want to hit the rest of the audience rather than going back to the same people who saw my book offered there free back in October. (Do any of you have experience with BookBub sales that suggest they DO get results from the other retailers? Because if they don’t, I’d probably change my mind.)
    BTW yes, I have noticed that BookBub seems to have more titles lately, though I can’t say I’ve noticed a huge drop in quality. I do think that as everyone’s Kindles get full, all of these services may become less effective for us. I know I don’t even try to keep up with all of them anymore.
    Anyway, to end on a practical note: I would recommend that if you’re mulling a new cover at all, try to time it to fall less than 30 days before a Kindle Countdown Deal. That “hot new release” designation is very sweet.

    1. So you’re suggesting to make one book free and another one a Countdown at the same time? Interesting strategy. I’d like to hear more about how that works, Deb. 🙂

  15. I am bookmarking this post to read slowly and consider whether these strategies might help my marketing plan. I have hesitated to take my books down from SW. I like the idea of an omnibus collection, and that would require the third murder mystery. Another incentive to get cracking!
    Lynne, thanks for the info and excellent comments.

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