Two weeks ago today my second novel, The Family Trap, came back to paid after being on free promotion for the bank holiday weekend. In this post I’ll be running through exactly what happened as a result of the free promotion: downloads, ranking position, the lot. There has been lots of talk lately about Amazon making changes to Free as a marketing tool, and I’ll also look at these changes and what they might mean. So, lets get down to the nitty gritty.

Free Results

On the 3rd to 5th May (Fri, Sat, Sun) The Family Trap was free and had 12,360 downloads, broken down as follows: UK – 5,142; US – 7,122; ROW – 96

For the purposes of this post I’ll be concentrating on the results in the UK Amazon store, so 5,142 is the figure to keep in mind. While The Family Trap did really well in the US for free downloads, the ranking position and follow-on sales weren’t as significant as those in the UK.

5,142 free downloads gained TFT a position in the free charts of #5 overall. It also got to #2 in Romance. This wasn’t a great weekend to choose, as there was a lot of competition! Tons of big name authors were doing promotions, hoping to catch bank holiday weekend readers – compare my results with those of my mum (who did her free promotion the weekend before, with spectacular post-free results): she had fewer downloads in the UK but gained a ranking position of #3 and far more post-free visibility.

Effect on other titles during the free promotion

TFT is a sequel, and one thing I noticed instantly was the effect the free downloads were having on the preceding title, Can’t Live Without. Here are the stats for CLW before, during and after TFT’s promotion:

Can’t Live Without

Rank & sales pre-promo: #5,499 selling an average of 7 copies a day

During the promo period (3 days), CLW sold 170 more copies – almost 150 more than it would have done ordinarily. This was an unexpected bonus, to be honest – naively I hadn’t considered how the TFT promo would affect this title. And the effects continued:

Rank post-promo: 1 week later – #771; 2 weeks later – #3,058

Currently, two weeks after TFT’s free promo ended, CLW is at 3,177 and is back to selling around 8 copies a day. I’ve played around with categories a bit (info for another post), and it is now at #6 in the Kindle category Humour: Parenting and Family Humour.

CLW ranking #6 parenting

Post-promo results

OK, so this is the bit you’re really interested in – how did the free downloads affect ranking and sales figures for The Family Trap. I read a brilliant book by David Gaughran recently called Let’s Get Visible (wish I’d read it before the promotion), where David explains that ranking is affected only by sales. Not by reviews, likes or any other magic buttons – just sales. Interestingly, free downloads don’t count as sales, but borrows do. (Remember this as it will be interesting later when I talk about what I did wrong.) Free downloads do count as sales, however, for the positioning of your book in the Popularity charts. More on this later, but for a proper explanation of how all this works check out David’s book.

Before I talk about the promotion in detail, here are some stats:

Ranking & sales pre-promo: #1,939 overall; #76 in Kindle: Humour, selling an average of 16 copies a day.

TFT reverted to paid on Monday 6th May, with a ranking of around #40,000. This is common – remember that as far as Amazon’s algorithm is concerned this title hadn’t sold any books for 3 days! For the purposes of the Popularity chart – not the same as the Bestseller chart – Amazon does count free downloads, but it takes a few days after a free promotion for the algorithm to catch up. Yes, by Wednesday morning I was depressed and dejected, with TFT languishing further down the charts than it had since its launch in February and selling fewer than 9 a day.

Mid afternoon on Wednesday I clicked refresh on the i-pad and was amazed to see TFT at #850 in the Kindle chart. What had happened? When I clicked on the Kindle Store front page for contemporary romance, there was my lovely cover sitting right up in the top three most popular books. And now people could see the book (visibility, remember), they were downloading it – actually buying copies. Phew!

Day 3 post free - top of contemp romance search

The Family Trap peaked at #191 overall on Kindle on 10th May – 5 days after the free promo ended. At this point it was selling around 100 copies a day. Sales and ranking began to drop off after this, as other books replaced TFT in the popularity chart. It stayed in the bestseller charts for Romance and Contemporary Romance for another week – these are big categories, and even at only #681 overall in the Kindle store, TFT wasn’t high enough to register in the top 100.

Before you get bored, time for some more figures:

Post-promo sales: 776!

This includes 700 from the UK and 76 from the US. TFT has now reverted to its pre-promo sales level of 16 per day, so I think it’s safe to say the uplift has finished. If I take away from this total the amount of sales I would have achieved anyway, including the sales I’d have had during the free promotion itself, the total of extra sales is 500. It’s not as many as I had for my first free promotion with Can’t Live Without, but it is similar to the second CLW promo. And if I factor in extra sales for CLW, the total additional sales for this promotion are 650. Not bad. Another unexpected result was seeing The Family Trap in the Movers & Shakers chart at #34 🙂

Movers & Shakers 10 May

Thoughts on Free Promotions

Of course, there’s more to doing a promotion than sales figures alone! I reached over 12,000 new readers, and even if only a quarter of these actually get around to reading TFT, that’s still a worthwhile exercise. I learnt a lot about free promotions, helped by having another one – my mum’s – to compare it to. Her free promo had a far bigger impact than mine on sales and ranking, so let’s look at what was different:

  • Timing: The bank holiday weekend was not a good time to do the promotion – there was too much competition for the top spot in free, and too many great books coming off free in the charts to allow TFT longer term, or more ‘sticky’, visibility. The weekend before was also a better time because my mum’s book (A Grave Inheritance) went back to paid just before the end of the month. This gave her title visibility in the Prime members’ borrow chart just at the point where they had their new borrow for that month coming up.
  • Borrows: Stupidly, I allowed The Family Trap to fall out of KDP Select just at the point the promotion ended. I could kick myself for this – I missed out on crucial borrows while the title was high in the charts. Remember, Amazon count borrows as sales in terms of ranking. If I had achieved borrows, TFT would no doubt have gone higher in the rankings than #191, and may have stayed up there longer.
  • Genre and Categories: My mum’s book is in two hugely popular and very ‘hot’ categories – Crime, Thrillers & Mystery/Historical, and Family Sagas. While Romance and Contemporary Romance are also popular, they are massive categories and it’s harder to hold on to a bestseller position within them. This is just too bad – there’s nothing you can do about the genre of your book, and if it’s not as ‘right now’ as other titles, you just have to suck it up 🙂 I’m playing around with categories for both my titles at the moment, and will report on this in a later post.
  • Cover: A Grave Inheritance has a stunning cover, right for the genre, fitting in perfectly but also standing out. While I love the cover for The Family Trap too, I think the ‘legs’ on Can’t Live Without made it more attractive to the eye and to chance purchasers, which is perhaps why my other title does better at Free. TFT’s cover may be a bit too specific. This is something I can learn from.

I’m proud of both of these free promotions (I organised and ran my mum’s promotion as well, and I chose the categories and keywords to help with sales). I feel that together they provide a really interesting picture of where Amazon is at with free in the UK at the moment. One thing that is different to the US is the way Amazon’s algorithm counts free downloads – in the US 10 downloads equals 1 sale, while in the UK they are still counted (for Popularity charts) as full sales. (Source: Let’s Get Visible, David Gaughran.) What’s also interesting is that Amazon have now ‘hidden’ the free charts in a tab behind the bestseller paid charts; prior to this they appeared side by side. It remains to be seen how much longer Free as a promotional tool works well for authors, and how many readers are still interested in Free, but I’m more than happy with my results.

Here are my 7 top tips for running a free promotion:

  1. Make sure you are in the right categories for your title
  2. Brush up on Keyword knowledge so your book is easily found by the right readers
  3. Plan your promo ahead of time so you can get on the lists of the big free promoters, like Pixel of Ink etc.
  4. Downloads do matter, so push your book like crazy while it’s free
  5. Don’t panic if you don’t see an uplift straight away
  6. If possible, be in KDP Select to capitalise on borrows after the promotion ends
  7. Remember the promotion will have an effect on other titles too, so give these a polish with Keywords and Categories

I hope you’ve found lots of interest here! Comments and questions very welcome 🙂