Sunday, January 29, 2012

How Amazon's KDP Select Saved My Book

Gather round, my fellow writers.
Click to visit my Amazon page

I have a tale to tell.

As I write this blog post on Sunday, January 29, 2012, The Jackpot is No. 68 on Amazon's Paid Bestseller list.

(UPDATE: The book ultimately reached No. 34 on the list on January 31, 2012, and remained in the Top 100 for a total of nine days. It hung in the Top 1,000 Paid for another week or so after that.)

(UPDATE #2: I ran a second free promo in late February 2012, and although it wasn't as successful as the first, I went back into the Top 1,000).

(UPDATE #3: I was included in Amazon's March 2012 Big Deal promotion, which due to prime placement for the book, got me back into the Top 200 for another 10 days or so. I also went back to No. 2 on the Legal Thriller bestseller list).

Here's a screen cap of the highest ranking for posterity.


On the evening of January 24, my book was dead in the water. And I mean dead, like a mob witness who's been taken care of. After a promising start last summer, sales crashed, completely, totally and spectacularly, despite wonderful reviews (from people who didn't even know me!). From December 1 through January 24, I sold 21 copies on Amazon. One on And that was it. Barely enough to fund a lunch date for me and my wife. The previous couple months hadn't been much better. To be honest, I was trying to forget the book even existed as I worked on my new manuscript, my internal doomsayer wondering how badly I'd effed my career with a self-publishing disaster.

Now, I'd first heard about Amazon's KDP Select Program during the holidays. Here was the deal: In exchange for providing Amazon a 90-day exclusive, authors get their book(s) listed with the Lending Library, which allows Prime members to borrow books electronically. Second, authors would be able to run free promos -- for each 90-day period I enroll in Select, I could make the book available for free for up to five days, divided however I liked. 

At first, I wasn't sure what to think about it, especially given the exclusivity requirement. Part of me was aghast -- how dare they ask me to pull my book from the other retailers! And then something occurred to me. Between October 1 and December 31, I had sold a grand total of .... ONE book on all the non-Amazon platforms -- that one sale on Barnes & Noble. 

Now I had heard anecdotal evidence that running a free promo later translated into real sales. There seemed to be no real explanation for this, other than the fact that a ton of free downloads gave a book good exposure on Amazon. So with nothing left to lose, I decided to give it a shot. 

I pulled the book down from all the other e-retailers (Number of People Who've Since Asked Me Why My Book Isn't Available on the Other Retailers = 0), and in the wee hours of January 25, The Jackpot went free for a two-day run. At that moment, the book had logged nine sales in January. I woke up at 6 a.m. and was surprised to see that the book had already been downloaded nearly 100 times. I knew these were downloads and not sales, but still, it was exciting to see a number other than 1 or 2 under the monthly sales tab on my Amazon report. 

The download rate increased steadily during the course of the morning, and by lunchtime, it was being downloaded more than 1,000 times per hour, occasionally pushing 2,000 per hour. And it was rapidly climbing the Free bestseller list. It got featured on a number of the big Kindle reader blogs that showcase free books each day (this was easily my luckiest break, especially since I didn't know that people often submit their books to these sites in advance of their scheduled free dates). By Wednesday night, the book had hit the top 10, with about 14,000 downloads. Thursday proved to be nearly as successful, with another 11,000 downloads, and the book spent much of the day ranked No. 5. 

As the day wore on, I became increasingly anxious about switching back to Paid status. What would happen? What would 25,000 free downloads mean for real sales? I was nervous.

I woke up early again Friday the 27th and checked to see what was going on. The book was back in Paid status, and it had been borrowed through the Lending Library for the first time. I noted a few sales hit as I got ready for work. This was pretty awesome, as I hadn't been sure what to expect -- remember, I'd only had nine sales in January, and I was set to top that while eating breakfast. Now I had heard that the big sales bump for Free-to-Paid came about three days after it came off of Free status, but I didn't know how accurate that was. Regardless, I didn't want to get my hopes up on the first day.

Then sales started to pick up. It went from 225,000 to 38,000 to 10,000 on the bestseller list in short order. Then it hit 4,573 (the best ranking the book had ever had), and although sales continued to pick up, it only rose a few hundred spots in the afternoon. I pictured the book doing mighty battle with other books in the 1,000 to 5,000 range, and I wondered if this was the Wall. Was this the place where my book would have to make its stand? 

And then it broke through. It hit No. 549 by late afternoon, and No. 151 by dinnertime. It settled at No. 76 by the end of the night, but the sales kept rolling in, even late on a Friday night. It's currently ranked No. 1 among all Kindle legal thrillers, No. 2 among ALL legal thrillers, and even No. 44 in Fiction and Literature, which I really like because it sounds very official. 


This is my guess as to how a book that couldn't muster a sale a day became an Amazon bestseller, virtually overnight.

Early Friday morning, the book continued to appear on the Free bestseller list, even though it switched back to Paid. There was a little bubble above the price marked "Why is This Not Free?", and if you scrolled over it, you got Amazon's explanation about it (although I can't quite remember what the explanation is) -- regardless, the now-$2.99 book was getting bestseller exposure even though it wasn't really a Paid bestseller. This only lasted for a couple of hours, but I think it helped get the ball rolling.

Also, I had so many free downloads, the book began to appear in other books' "Customer Also Bought" pages. Amazon doesn't seem to care if these books mix together on the Also-Bought lists, so many more people were seeing the book once it switched back to Paid status, even though all its prior traffic was due to free downloads.

Other factors that might have kept things snowballing: I write in a pretty popular genre (suspense/thrillers), and I've got a pretty cool cover.

It should be noted that several other books (from different genres) that made it to the top 10 Free List on the days I was there seem to have experienced similar success when switching to the Paid list. One book, Fresh Powder, has made it all the way to No. 26.

Click to visit my Amazon page
So. I'm not sure what any of this means. I learned that the Internet is a very, very noisy place, and that just about everyone is selling something. I learned that people aren't sitting around thinking about your book as much as you think and hope they are. I learned that all this time we worry about social media is probably best spent worrying about something else -- like writing books.

Much like I will never quite understand why my So You Want to Go to Law School video went viral the way it did 16 months ago, I don't know exactly why my book finally took off the way it did. No idea how long ride this will last, but obviously, I am very thrilled and will enjoy it as long as I can.

So, if you've been thinking about trying KDP Select, I hope this gave you some additional insight into the program.

Good luck! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Jackpot -- Currently Free on Kindle

A quick post - My novel, The Jackpot, is currently FREE at Amazon.

Click here to go to my Amazon page.

This promotion will last until sometime Thursday, so make sure to scoot on over there to download the book for free before then.

Also, of course, please share this post.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pink Power

My daughter is loud. She loves to read and play outside and eat French fries and help me cook dinner. She adores her mommy and her big brother and her friends. She's as happy playing Power Rangers or light sabers as she is playing with her toy kitchen and bringing me pretend coffee or a warm slice of make-believe pie.

Oh, and she fucking LOVES pink. And she loves purple. And she loves her baby dolls and she loves princesses.

And she can KICK YOUR ASS.

So for all the anti-pink stormtroopers out there who have gotten it in their progressive little heads that doing and loving stereotypically girly things and being a smart and kind and all-around-awesome little girl are somehow mutually exclusive, here's fifty Internet bucks to go buy a clue. I didn't tell her to love pink dresses. I didn't reward her with cheese each time she picked up the pink crayon in her chubby little fingers or zap her with little electric shocks every time she plucked the blue one out of the box. It's who she is.

Every day, I see some new article or blog post from some pseudo-intellectual about how This Pink Thing or That Doll Thing is ruining girls and their self-image and teaching them that they are secondary life forms and putting them on an express train to Stripperville. The same people who cheer boys who love pink and purple to show how open-minded they are also robotically condemn parents who supply their girls with a pink doll, as though I've given my daughter a pixie stick of crystal meth. And I think about my brilliant, beautiful little girl, and it makes me angry.

Angry that somehow, people have yet again forgotten that it doesn't matter what any kid (boy OR girl) wears or what toys they play with or what color they love. All that matters is what my wife and I teach my daughter about life and working hard and believing in herself. Same goes for my son. I mean, it's not that hard, really. I'm not splitting the atom with this. She likes pink because SHE LIKES PINK.

If my son liked pink and playing dress-up, the "all that matters" thing would be exactly the same.

But it seems like we've become so obsessed with finding some quickie band-aid fix for the problems that kids face growing up that we've lost sight of the fact that there really isn't a set of grayscale, hemp-wrapped hoops that a little girl must jump through as a prerequisite to becoming an independent, strong and self-assured woman. Rest assured, you pop-psychology-reading, truffle-eating critics, I'll be teaching her the same things I teach my son, I'll be expecting the same things I expect from my son, and I'll be pushing her to follow her dreams the way I'll push my son -- who, by the way, is equally smart and kind and funny and would, if he could, round up every pink item in our house and shoot them all into outer space.

So please, the next time you see a little girl who looks like she's vomited pink and you wonder how will she ever make it in this world, remember -- that's probably my kid, and she'll probably be operating on your decrepit, judgmental ass in 25 years.

With a pink Disney princess scalpel.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

10 Fake Things to Know About Twitter

Over the past year or so, Twitter has become an invaluable tool for mocking the Kardashians and overthrowing brutal dictatorships while ushering in fledgling democracies (sometimes all in a single Tweet). But it's not necessarily the most intuitive platform to work with, and it's loaded with traps for the unwary (a delightful phrase that lawyers like to use about arcane rules of procedure).

Now, if you've learned all there is to know about @ replies and RT's and the like, then you're ready for Twitter 201, which will study the site's most archaic rituals and customs, the ones that you must know if you wish to succeed on Twitter. Because much to Facebook's disappointment, it looks like Twitter is here to stay.

Without further ado, here are the 10 things you need to know to succeed on Twitter.

1. You need to profess your love of thick-cut bacon or gourmet coffee early on, or you will be viewed with suspicion. Loving bacon-wrapped-bacon that you've deep-fried in coffee makes you seem more "human" and less "botty" *actual word I just made up* because everyone knows that bots can't eat bacon. Stupid bots!  Just make sure -- and this is really important -- that it's an obscure bacon mined from the fat of an invisible talking pig or coffee picked from Martian beanfields. Otherwise, it's the Twitter equivalent of yet another Saturday night watching Mr. Belvedere reruns with Mom and Dad for you.

2. Ever wonder why bots and spammers are "cleverly" disguised as good-looking women? Because men are stupid. Yeah, guys, @SinKatie2533xzz really IS a 22-year-old Midwestern college girl interested in your Tweets about The Wire and pizza.

3. Follow indiscriminately, because despite the fact that you can't keep up with your parents, your older sister, and the three first cousins you actually like, you will be able to be good friends with 2,136 people who don't have time to read your Tweets either.

4. In your bio, it's very important to note one of the following: (1) you are a "Free Thinker" or a "Motivator," (2) you love puppy farts, or (3) you wish you lived inside the warm and cozy uterus of the sun. Also, announcing that you don't auto-follow will make your new followers think of Boggs from The Shawshank Redemption, when he says, "hard to get ... I like that..." after Andy ignores him in the shower.

5. Being extremely aggressive with your tweets shows how on top of things you are. It also helps to use multiple exclamation points* and ALL CAPS. It's like saying, "I got this Life thing DOWN!!!" *No more than three exclamation points. Four, and you just look fucking ridiculous.

6. When you get a new follower who has fewer followers than you, it's generally considered impolite to publicly tweet your disappointment in them. It's best to put on the Ellen Griswold face from Christmas Vacation when Cousin Eddie and his crew show up and she says, "We have plenty of room!"

7. Hashtags, Part I: It's a scientific fact that everything is funnier when preceded by the pound sign. #notjustforcustomerserviceanymore. See how I did that?

8. Hashtags, Part II: The number of hashtags you use is inversely proportional to your level of self-esteem, so be judicious with them lest you come across like the "chubby-15-year-old-boy-who-once-spent-three-hours dialing-the-first-six-digits-of-a-girl's-number" I once was. Un-hashtagged Tweets are sexy. It's the Internet equivalent of dropping your mike on the stage and walking away. THWOOMP! Retweet THAT, bitches!

9. Hey, Tough Guy With 8 Followers: Nothing says "sincere" like the auto-reply direct message to someone who just started following you.

10. Make sure to show your silly side by always using the phrase nom nom nom when discussing what you just ate, what you're currently eating, or what you are about to eat, because hundreds of people who wouldn't blink an eye if you were smooshed by a decrepit Russian satellite falling back to Earth are extremely interested in what you're shoveling into your piehole.

So there you go. You nail these ten things, and before you know it, you will have many followers who can't remember why they are following you in the first place!

Retweet THAT, bitches! (Please? Pretty please?)