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Publetariat Dispatch: My Brief Experiment Going Off KDP Select: At Least I Got This Nifty Blog Piece Out Of It!

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, indie author M. Louisa Locke shares her experiences during a hiatus from Amazon’s KDP Select program.


I lasted only a month off of KDP Select.  It was an eye-opening experience. I knew that I would lose sales on  Amazon without the borrows and KDP free days to keep my books visible on  the historical mystery bestseller lists, but my hope was that I would  be building enough sales on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and the Smashwords  affiliates, to make up for these lost sales. I even told myself I was  willing to accept lower overall sales for 2-3 months in order to test  the idea that having my book on multiple sites (even if the sales on  those sites were lower, on average, than on Kindle) was a workable  alternative to exclusivity on Amazon, which is what KDP Select requires.

But this was predicated on being able to figure out how to get my books, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits, discovered on these other sites, because my experience is that if readers find my books, they will buy them.

But I was not able to figure out  how to do this for Barnes and Noble or Kobo and I didn’t see any  evidence that this was something I would be able to solve in a short  period of time.

As I have written about before, there are  primarily two ways a person ends up buying a book (from a brick and  mortar store or estore).

They either:

1) come to the store looking for that book (or books by a certain author) or

2) find the books in the store while browsing.

For authors who are independently published and who sell most of their books in on-line stores, social media  (blogs, twitter, facebook, pinterest, etc) can play an important role  in getting people to go looking for their books. When a potential reader  discovers the title of a book through reading a review or an interview  with an author on a blog, or reading a tweet or a facebook post from a  friend, they may decide to go looking for this book. The more frequently  they run across that author’s name or the title of the book, the more  likely they are to do so. In addition, social media usually provides  direct links to the product pages of estores so that the impulse to look  for the book can lead immediately to the decision to buy the book,  which increases the effectiveness of this form of marketing.

Social media also has the benefit of  costing less money and requiring less clout than the methods  traditionally used by authors to market (reviews in print media, book  signings, talks at conventions, interviews on radio or tv, mass  mailings, etc).

While I don’t believe that the majority  of sales I have made have come through my social media activities, I did  understand that I might have to work harder to drive people to look for  my books in the Barnes and Noble and Kobo stores because they initially  wouldn’t have much visibility in these stores. What I didn’t expect was  to have difficulty finding places on the internet that specifically  targeted Nook or Kobo owners. If an author wants to connect with Kindle  owners there are the Kindle Boards, literally dozens of Kindle oriented  facebook pages, book blogs and websites that target Kindle owners,  providing free and paid methods of promoting your book. I couldn’t find  any similar sites that focused on Kobo beyond their official  facebook/websites, and the small number of sites that focused on Nook  ebooks generally didn’t have many followers. So beyond tweeting using  the #kobo or #nook hashtags, I discovered few ways of reaching out and  alerting these specific readers that my books were available on their  devices.

Which brings me to the other way people find books–browsing.  Whether it was in the libraries of my youth, the bookstores of my  middle years, or Amazon in my senior years, I discover new authors  primarily by looking on the “shelves,” being intrigued by the cover  picture and the title, looking at the short description of the book and  blurbs, maybe scanning the first pages, and then deciding to take a  chance. This is what I want to have happen with my books, and while  Amazon’s browsing experience isn’t perfect, for my books, it turns out  Amazon is much better than the other two major ebook stores at helping  potential customers find my books on their shelves.

I had some hopes for Barnes and Noble  because my books had been in this store before and had done moderately  well. While I had been disappointed in the total number of my Nook  sales, I thought that if I could figure out how to get my books visible in the right browsing categories  I could increase these sales. I was particularly encouraged by the fact  that Barnes and Noble gives you 5 categories to put your books in  (Amazon now only gives you 2), and that they had some smaller  sub-categories that Amazon didn’t have where I knew my historical  mysteries would shine (like historical romances in the Victorian/Gilded  Age, or American Cozy mysteries.) I also know a number of people who  sell well on the Nook, although most of them have at least 5 books for  sale, usually in a series, and they have been able to take advantage of  either the NookFirst program or have used the first book in their series  as their loss leader by making the book 99 cents or free (through price  matching.) But they also seemed to have their books in the right  categories.

However, my plan to make my books be more  visible through better category placement in the Nook store failed  completely when I couldn’t even figure out where my books were showing  up after I uploaded them through ePubit, much less how to get them into  the right categories.

Side note: all the Kindle/Nook/Kobo  self-publishing systems have the same problem in that the categories you  get to choose from when uploading your book aren’t identical to the  categories that show up when browsing. See my discussion of this in my  post on Categories.

Both the Amazon and Kobo product pages  lists a book’s browsing categories, not so Barnes and Noble. When I went  to the categories and subcategories I thought my books might be in and  scrolled through, looking for my books, either my book would be missing  or the pages would freeze before I got through the hundreds of pages, so  I could never determine if they were there. Arggh. (And of course this  means a potential customer wasn’t going to find them either.)

So, I did what I had done to get my books  properly in the right categories on Amazon when I was first figuring  out how browsing worked in that store, I wrote the Barnes and Noble/Nook  support staff, first asking what 5 categories my books were in and next  asking how I could get them into the 5 categories I wanted.

And got no reply. Not even an automated, “we have received your email and we are working on an answer.” Nothing. So I resent my request a week later (mentioning that this was the second request and that I would appreciate some response.) Nothing.  So then I wrote the Director of Digital Content, asking if she could  direct me to where I could find out the answers to my questions and  asking if she could give me advice on how to better market my books for  the Nook. No reply.

Bangs head.

I do believe that if I got my books into  the right categories that I would begin to have decent sales on the  Nook. I am assuming the books I did sell were primarily to those people  who went into the bookstore looking for them (based on my tweets and  facebook postings), but I don’t think it makes sense to go another month  or two hoping I will finally get an answer, and that my books will  finally start showing up where I want them to be. I am leaving my short  stories up in this store, and maybe I will eventually get these stories  into the right categories and begin to get more sales. If this happens  and my sales of these stories increase enough on the Nook, I may try  again with the full-length novels.

I also had high hopes for Kobo, after reading about their new self-publishing initiative, WritingLife.  What was particularly attractive was that they are letting indies price  their books at free, without an exclusivity requirement or time limit.  But, despite the promise that they had been consulting with indie  authors in beta testing, Kobo’s WritingLife is not yet ready for prime time when it comes to browsing categories or free promotions.

I was pleased with the ability to  designate three categories on Kobo and my books actually showed up in  the categories I put them in. The problem was that these categories are  currently very limited. Most distressing from my perspective, there is  no historical mystery category (which is the subgenre that is most  aligned with my books). Also, if you put “historical mystery” in as a  keyword search there were 51,000 books (many which didn’t appear to be  historical mysteries), which says to me the search function isn’t very  useful as an alternative way for readers to find this kind of book.

The categories my books do show up in the  Kobo store (mystery-women sleuths, historical fiction and historical  romance) contain a lot of books, with none of the sub-categories that  the Nook has, which also makes it difficult for a book by a relative  unknown such as myself to become visible in them. I was facing the old  chicken and the egg problem (how do you get a book up high enough in a  category for people to find it without sales, but how do you get sales  if no one ever sees your book?) This is where I hoped Kobo’s free option  would help––as it has helped so many authors who have used the KDP  Select free promotion option.

However, when I put my short story, Dandy Detects,up  as free on Kobo, I found that Kobo has a very ineffective method of  making free books visible. While I don’t know how the Kobo ereader  itself works, if you are using the Kobo ap there is no way to find free  books because there is no way of finding out what books within a  category or subcategory are free. This is true for the on-line Kobo  bookstore as well.

For example, in Barnes and Noble’s Nook  ebook store, if you click on the mystery-women sleuth category, you find  2338 books, and you can order these books by price, with the free books  showing up first (15 of them). By the way, my short story Dandy Detect, which should be in this category as a 99 cent book, isn’t there (sigh).

For Kindle, if you look on the device at  the best seller list under the “mysteries-women sleuths” you can look at  the free list separately for this subcategory, and in the online store  you can see the paid list to the left and the free list to the right in  this category. Today the free list for this category is 53 books––so it  is easy to have your book visible if it is in the midst of a free  promotion. Visible not just to people who are looking for free books,  but visible to people who are looking at books that are for sale––maybe  the newest Anne Perry––and just glance over to the right and notice a  free book that looks intriguing.

In the Kobo store, the mystery-women  sleuth category (3303 books) can be sorted by price, but the lowest  price is 99 cents, so no free books are visible. Instead, you have to  click on the free books link on the home page of the estore, a  link that is not available on the ap (I don’t know if it is on the Nook  itself). Then there are two options. The most straightforward––on the  surface––is a link to one of 6 categories, one that is called “Free  Mysteries.” But when you click this link only 20 books show up, most of  them public domain, and none of them Dandy Detects. Dead end, and frankly if I was a consumer I would try this category once, and never again.

The second option Kobo gives you is to follow these 3 Step instructions

Step 1: Perform a search using any keyword

Step 2: Filter your results by “Free Only” from the pull-down menu

Step 3: Select your download from the search results

This does work, and Dandy Detects  did show up under key words like mystery, historical mystery, fiction  historical, but the separation from paid books and the browsing  categories means that this method isn’t going to produce the traffic  that it would get in either the Kindle or Nook stores where there is a  connection between the paid and the free listings. In addition, the Kobo  method depends on the consumer to come up with the right key words.

I suspect that these problems (no way to  find free books through the Nook ap, limited free books under the Free  Mystery link, and the lack of connection between paid and free books)  have meant that Kobo readers aren’t accustomed to looking for free  promotions the way Kindle readers have become since the introduction of  KDP Select.  Even more frustrating, when I downloaded a free copy of Dandy to my Nook ap I discovered that the dashboard for WritingLife doesn’t report free book downloads so I had no way of knowing if anyone is finding it.

The only evidence I have that a few  people eventually found the story (probably because I have been tweeting  about Dandy being free) is after a few days a small number of other  books started to show up in the “You Might Like” listing on Dandy’s  product page. But I don’t know how many copies have been downloaded, I  don’t know when they were downloaded (so I can’t connect up with my  marketing), and, so far, putting Dandy up for free hasn’t  translated into anyone buying either of my full-length novels or even  the other short story. I also haven’t seen any movement in the total  ranking of Dandy in the categories––so I don’t know if I put it  back to paid if it would show up any higher in these categories. In  short, at this point the Kobo option of putting a book up for free  doesn’t seem to help sell books.

While I imagine that the Kobo techs, who  have responded to my questions (unlike Barnes and Noble), will try to  solve some of these problems, until they do and Kobo readers get used to  looking for free books, I don’t anticipate free promotions being as  successful as they are currently on Kindle.

Again, as with the Nook, I will keep my short stories in the Kobo store, keep Dandy  free, and see if over the next few months some of these problems are  resolved. But I don’t want to continue to let my sales on Kindle  stagnate on the promise that the conditions for selling in either the  Barnes and Noble or the Kobo stores will improve dramatically in the  short term.

So…Back I will go to KDP Select next  week, when my books have been successfully unpublished in the other  stores, and then I can get back to writing and doing an occasional KDP  promotion.

Obviously, I would love to hear if any of  you have tips on how to get books in the right categories for the Nook,  or have had better success with selling on Kobo. But meanwhile, if any  of you are Nook or Kobo owners, my novels will be available for these  devices until Sunday, August 12, and my short stories will continue to  be there indefinitely.


This is a reprint from M. Louisa Locke‘s blog.


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