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We Just Like to See the Number Go Up

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I have a growing frustration with KDP Select. As some who have read my blog regularly can tell. I never expected SLIP DRIVE and HIROKO’S TALE to be super sellers that made me filthy rich. That would be an unrealistic goal for two short stories. But, based on testimonies I have read from others, I was expecting maybe five to ten downloads per week plus some Prime member borrows.

Yeah, hasn’t really happened. And having borrows is a joke.

Now, I’m not here to say I’m mad that I haven’t sold much of anything. That’s just how it is. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know why. So I’ve set out to ask other users of the program their experiences and collect data. From myself, I’ve seen that I can get several hundred downloads over my free promotional days. But that only equates to something like 2.5 purchases later down the road. Not such an amazing return in my opinion.

So I asked others and watched on different blogs. And I’ve discovered something very interesting. Not many people have had borrows or many sales. But man, they love to talk about how many downloads they have. Keeping quiet that these are the free promotional ones.

On one particular blog, ePublishabook.com, they brought up Amazon vs Barnes & Nobles. In the comments people started touting their success with KDP Select. One user chimed in:

I doubt my sales on all the other outlets combined would have equaled the 650 I got from 2 days of Amazon promos. — Eileen Robertson Hammer

I congratulated her and then asked for her to clarify. Did she mean that the 650 were after the promo days? Or during the promo days? I’ve yet to receive a response. I suspect, based on her verbiage, that these downloads were of the free variety. And that being the case, I hate to break it to Eileen, but she didn’t actually see an uptick in sales. She didn’t sell anything. She gave away a lot however. So if you really look at it, her other outlets did in fact sell more. Because they actually sold.

Another user on that blog made a similar claim:

I have recent experience of the free promo on KDP Select. Over a three-day period, I had 1328 downloads. How this will convert eventually into sales is very hard to tell, but at least I’ve increased my readership! — Stuart Haddon 

At least Stuart has the good sense to realize that the free downloads may not lead to sales. And I even congratulated him. Compared to my experience, 1328 is a massive release. But what bugs me is him saying, “…at least I’ve increased my readership!”

I’m just as excited as the next creative person when someone enjoys our work. I truly derive enjoyment from it. But, at the same time, I’m in the business of supporting myself with my art. Just increasing my readership cannot be enough. And it shouldn’t be enough for any of us. We cannot be satisfied with that alone. Perhaps it is because of my Commercial Art background, I believe that being paid for your art is not a bad thing.

Art for art’s sake isn’t enough for me. And it shouldn’t be enough for you.

The Numbers, They Keep Going Up!

What I believe it all comes down to is that we like to see the number go up. Regardless of the reason. And perhaps it is why Amazon doesn’t have two columns in their reports. One for Free Downloads and another for Purchases. It would destroy the illusion. And I’m guilty of falling for this illusion, too. When I first started getting into self-publishing, I got super stoked to see my number of downloads rising. It’s exciting! People are reading (maybe) my work. My name is getting out there!

But that euphoria quickly subsided. I needed to know how to make sales. Not just give away free copies. I can give away free copies on my website.

I have one last part of this experiment. Short stories, so I’ve been seeing and reading, don’t get much attention. It is either books or anthologies. So that’s my next step. I’ll put together an anthology and see how it does. I haven’t given up on self-publishing. But so far, I’m not convinced it is this great revolution everyone is talking about. I think self-publishing is just like the old-guard. Only a small percentage will find success with it. It is just now there is a lot more white noise to sift through. Because everyone is so busy watching their free copies fly out the window and calling it “good.”

We shouldn’t settle for that, right? Write.


I forgot to mention one of the posters that I did run into. The first person I’ve seen that has had success with the program. Her novel NEPHILIM GENESIS of EVIL has been borrowed about 50+ times in January and continues to be borrowed into this month (so she claims). So there it is. One person I can point to that says they’re seeing results.

How do the rest of us find those results?



  1. I think if you narrow your focus and just try to get what pages you can control on Amazon as sharp and appealing as possible, the sales will follow.

  2. yoga-adan says:

    it seems that the borrows are more effective, from what i can tell, if one has free-featured a larger priced item than one that’s 99¢ to begin with

    most of mine have been the latter, with hardly a couple of borrows, and i can’t blame the reader, why use up one’s once a month borrow for a 99¢er

    i’m not in a position to put one of my larger collections in the select program right now, but when i can, i “think” it’ll do better

    glad i found your site via reddit, notice you have reddit authors on your sidebar too, nice 😉

    • it seems that the borrows are more effective, from what i can tell, if one has free-featured a larger priced item than one that’s 99¢ to begin with

      I can believe it. My next step is to offer something a bit more significant in volume and price. I’m definitely still in the learning stages of this entire process. Which means keeping my skepticism high 🙂

  3. RJ says:

    Just came over from Reddit. I’m also trying out self publishing on Amazon KDP-thingumy. So far the results have been much better than on Smashwords (although that’s mainly because I couldn’t be arsed with Smashwords which continued to reject my books for formatting or because I wanted to link to other books not published by Smashwords).

    I did a few free days for the two books I put on Kindle. One of them, Clockworld, is a weird sell because it’s a very weird book, so I’m never surprised when that doesn’t sell (although it should, because it’s actually fabulous!!!). However it’s had some relatively consistent sales since I made it free a week ago – possibly 5-10 – and had one borrow the last time I checked.

    Before I made it free it was selling 1-5 a week, although it’s only been up since mid-January 2012 so I guess that’s not a great measure of its possibilities.

    The other book, Street of Two Doors, is an erotic romance and has a sweet cover, thanks to the fact I have a cousin who’s a model. I was aware that erotic romance is an easy sell, but Street of Two Doors is a pretty awful book (I wrote it in two weeks) so I wasn’t expecting magic. Anyway, Street of Two Doors sold NO copies in the week before I made it free for two days, but has since been selling 1-5 a *day*.

    I think this is relatively good for a first attempt at Kindle – it’s pretty much what I expected, if not slightly better than I expected. It’s not a “success story” but not a horror story either… it seems more in like with the self publishing stories you’d heard about initially.

    However, both these books are in niche markets – Clockworld is filed under “gay” and “science fiction” while Street of Two Doors is under “erotic” and “mystery”. They’re also priced low at .99.

    Not sure if this helps you with getting more information on how other people are finding the system!

    • RJ,

      This is great information. Thank you. 1 to 5 copies a *day* a pretty solid number if you ask me. Yeah, you’re not able to quit a day job, but it is a start. And I think that you’ve made a good observation. Having a niche market will help you find the audience. As well, I’m seeing that people are having more success with novels/anthologies than stand alone short stories.

      I’ve actually joked with my wife that I should fart out an erotic novel and see how it goes. Even Warlizard said he made way more headway with a 10k one of those than his real book. /shrug

      • RJ says:

        Have a go at the erotic thing! I wrote my first (traditionally published) erotic novella because someone bet me I couldn’t get an erotic novel published on account of me being such a frigid little fuddy duddy. Hah! I sure showed them… and screw my artistic integrity!

        Of course I despise writing the sex because it’s so dull and you have to find nine different ways to say THRUST but the bits around the sex can actually be pretty fun.

        I’m finding the Amazon numbers very interesting when I compare them to the two novels I’m currently selling through traditional publishers – albeit small presses. One has been consistently selling several hundred each month, from which I’ve been getting nice royalty checks. (Interestingly, although the book is available in bookshops, most of the sales come from ebooks.)

        The other book sold about 100 in a *year*, despite getting great reviews and a lot of press. Although I’m told this second year is looking better for book 2 after some giveaways, I’m still thinking that I could probably outsell it on Amazon.

      • RJ says:

        Or even cheques. Oyyy, my spelling.

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