If an ebook soft-launches in the Amazon forest, does it make a sound?

My YA novel Silent Symmetry is ready to go out into the world. It will soon become one of a million virtual maple seeds spinning to the forest floor. Will it take root? Will it grow? My research has shown that the ways of ebook marketing are a mystery to writers everywhere. No one knows what works. No one has the magic formula or the secret recipe. Okay, I’m out of metaphors. Oh wait, here’s another one: it’s a crap shoot. For every poorly written 50 Shades that hits the big time, there are probably thousands of great books that never quite take root. Ah, the forest metaphor returns…

A future book.

A future book.

All this woodland imagery is no accident. Whether you think of it as the world’s biggest jungle or river, Amazon is also the world’s biggest ebook store. Although its competitors (particularly Apple and Barnes & Noble) have made advances in the last couple of years, something like 75% of all ebook sales are through Amazon. There is a positive and a negative aspect to this situation. The plus is that if an author gets any kind of visibility on Amazon, they have a good chance of selling their book. But the problem is that Amazon has also found ways of controlling the market. One way is the company’s KDP Select program.

In a nutshell, Amazon has set up a fund for KDP Select titles so that an author receives a royalty when their book is borrowed from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. In exchange, the author has to grant Amazon a 90-day distribution exclusivity period. Not all ebook authors are happy about this, and with good reason. Any author with a book that’s selling well in the Apple iBookstore would be crazy to withdraw it for three months on the off-chance that it will be borrowed a few times. But for a new work, there’s very little downside and one huge upside to enrolling in KDP Select: five days of free giveaways, scheduled whenever the author desires.

Amazon doesn’t normally allow authors to price books at $0.00. However you might be thinking, why would an author give away all that hard work for free? The answer is promotion. Many websites and blogs feature free ebooks. The key to visibility in the dense Amazonian jungle is twofold: positive reviews and sales ranking. So telling review sites that your ebook will be free for two days next week means that there’s a chance they will feature and review it. Regular readers also trawl Amazon for free Kindle books, so they may also download the freebie. Although this might seem like a lost sale, it isn’t really. I think it’s similar to the radio/record store model of content distribution. It’s like you’re broadcasting your book in the same way that a radio station plays songs. For an unknown artist, this visibility (Really? visibility on the radio? Bah, I can’t come up with a better word!) is priceless and should translate into in-store sales. And it’s the same for an ebook.

eBooks ain't noise pollution.

eBooks ain’t noise pollution.

So the idea is that you build an audience through the judicious use of these five $0.00 KDP Select days in combination with reviews and being featured on free eBook sites. Then when the freebie period is over, some people who are prepared to pay for your book will actually see it on Amazon and be able to read reviews. If the book is any good, this should start building a market for it. And once the KDP-exclusive 90 days are over, ship it out to Apple and the rest and hope that your book’s new-found readership spills over by word-of-mouth (or word-of-web) to create sales through those lesser, yet still significant, distribution channels.

I finished the final coding of Silent Symmetry today. The formatting is good, the Table of Contents works and the copyright page is written. I’m going to soft launch it on KDP Select this week with a placeholder cover. The real cover should be ready in a week or two and uploading it will just take a few minutes, but it’s worth me rushing the book onto Amazon because I want to the KDP 90 days to start right away. The sooner they start, the sooner they end.

It’s quiet in the forest. So quiet you can hear a young leaf unfurl. Shhh…

Photo credit (tree): arielmatzuk / Foter / CC BY-ND
Photo credit (radio): bricolage.108 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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