KDP Select Free Promo: The Secret to Hitting the Top 100

kdp selectI just re-enrolled Something in the Cellar for another three-month period of Amazon’s KDP Select programme.

For those of you who don’t know, KDP Select is Amazon’s exclusivity deal for authors. Basically, you pledge not to sell your digital book outside of Amazon for 90 days, and they allow you to promote your book for free for five of those days.

I’ve run a few free promos since launching my two short stories Something in the Cellar and Silhouette, to varying levels of success. I’ve experimented with different marketing techniques and different ways of spreading the word, but it seems I’ve finally found the one that works for me.

Note: I have written a follow-up to this post for writers considering KDP Select going into 2013. Consider it a belated part two – click here to read. I’ll remind you again after this post.

How I Hit the Bestseller Lists

kdp select horror number 1At the end of October, I ran a Halloween giveaway for Something in the Cellar. I had two free days remaining, so I figured I’d get them used before my KDP Select exclusivity period expired. I was contemplating uploading to Smashwords at this point as as successful as the free promos were, they didn’t really boost sales afterwards significantly.

Over this two day period, I gave away over 3,500 copies of Something in the Cellar, hit the top spot in both the Horror and Short Stories charts, and peaked at #75 in the overall Free Charts. If I’d been able to run the promo for another day, I’m confident I would’ve broken into the Top 10 with the momentum the book was being downloaded at.

Interestingly, I ran another low key promo alongside this one. I gave away copies of Silhouette, but only managed to obtain around 200 downloads. Sure — that’s 200 more readers, but not enough downloads to acquire a new awareness of my book.

What did I do differently?

promoted the sh*t out of Something in the Cellar.

Ask all successful KDP Select users how they consistently run successful free promos and they’ll tell you the same thing, over and over: you need to make as many big sites as aware of your free promo as possible.

I’m not talking about tweeting a few free promo sites on the day, or posting on the walls of four or five Facebook groups. I tried that, and it failed.

I’m talking about the hundreds of book promotion sites out there. In fact, the ‘secret’ in the title is something of a trick because there’s nothing secret about these places whatsoever.

I accidentally stumbled upon a free site when they listed my book without me notifying them. I noticed a spike in downloads of, let’s say, 10 per second, and this coincided with a listing over at ereadernewstodayImagine if I were to list my book with, say, ten sites with similar reputation… I thought.

Now, I’ve seen the rewards, and they’ve convinced me that KDP Select is the future, for the time being.

A word on KDP Select doubters: Not to patronise, but I have a feeling that the bulk of people who feel bitter about KDP Select are people who either 1.) don’t want to risk losing minimal sales over on Smashwords by going exclusive or 2.) have had a free promo go unsuccessfully.

My advice? Give it a shot, seriously. Like, a real shot. I love Smashwords and I really hope the other sites up their game when it comes to exposure as Amazon and KDP Select is miles ahead of the rest (see, I told you I still love them to bits in spite of recent hiccups).

To make things easier, here’s a five-step guide to ensuring the best Free promo possible. It’s the guide I follow, step-by-step, and it works for me. It will most probably work for you, but don’t burn my house down if it doesn’t or anything crazy like that.

1.) Inform the free book listing sites a month in advance

I’ve spoken a lot about free book listing sites in this post. Basically, if you let them know you are going to be running a free promo in advance, they’ll list your book for you. The ‘big three’ that you need to contact are Pixel of Ink, EReaderNewsToday and Digital Book Today. Be sure to read their rules in advance.

There are loads more free sites out there though. For this, I’d highly recommend signing up over at Author Marketing Club — when you do, they have a page with all the links to the major sites’ submission pages. Submit to as many as possible.

If you’d rather just have a list of sites to check out, skip to the bottom of this post from The Writing Bomb.

2.) Is your cover good enough?

People do judge a book by its cover, and always will do, even in the digital age.

Take a look at your cover. Is it really good enough? Could you see it on the shelves of a store?

If so, then all is well. You’re almost ready to go.

If not, then you should check out 99Designs. I’ve had a few debates/heated altercations with writers and designers who are dead against 99Designs as it takes the rights away from the designer, but hear me out. 99Designs enables you to pitch a cover idea to a crowd of people, and they go away and create them for you.

Personally, this is one of my favourite stages of the entire process. Seeing the hundreds of designs fly in was a lot of fun. I was delighted with the finished What We Saw cover, and will work together with my designer, Lloyd, again in future projects.

So, consider giving 99Designs a shot. It’s a great chance for new designers to get noticed, and established designers to have a bit of fun and make some cash on the side.

3.) Check your book files, and check them again

This stage is probably the most important of all.

You don’t want to give away thousands of books and find out you’ve made a major formatting error, right?

Download your book a few days before the promo starts and check everything is up to scratch. Then, download it again and check again. I’d even recommend having someone else download it and check it for you too.

Better to be on the safe side, right? A bad review based on formatting could damage your free promo, so be warned.

4.) Make sure you have a few positive reviews

Reviews are a big part of book sales and can really boost a KDP Select free promo. Fortunately, it’s easier to get them than you may think.

Consider running a giveaway for your book and asking the winners if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review. If your writing is up to scratch and everything else is fine, you’ll pick up a few positive reviews.

And, if your free promo goes well, you’ll gather more. I went from four reviews of Something in the Cellar to ten after my recent promo, so this can only boost future promos.

5.) Inform your readers

Of course, you need to let your loyal followers know about this KDP Select free promo too. I’d advise letting people know a few days in advance that you’re going to be going free via your blog. Surprise is good, but I’ve not seen it translate into a successful free promo with KDP Select just yet.

On the days of the free promo, tweet about it a few times and let people know how you’re getting on. Don’t be spammy, but share your excitement as you reach new milestones. Reached the Top 1000? Let people know! Share pictures, whatever. Have fun with it.

Which leads to…silhouette

Seamless self-promo alert: Silhouette will be free from Wednesday 21st November to Friday 23rd November (that’s next week for those reading live).

I’ll remind you again on the day if you’re an email subscriber (if you subscribe, you get the opening chapters of What We Saw for free) or if you follow me on Twitter/Facebook. I’ve got high hopes for this promo, so any word-spreading would be fantastic.

I’ll have more next week on the launch details of What We Saw. It’s getting very close to launch, folks…

Have a great weekend,


Do you have an KDP Select tips to share? Where do you stand on Amazon exclusivity? A blessing or a curse for authors?

Note: I have written a follow-up to this post for writers considering KDP  going into 2013. Consider it a belated part two – click here to read.


  1. Some great advice–I’m bookmarking this to come back to later. I’d considered running a promo for this week to celebrate it’s one month since release, but I think I’ll hold off on that and plan a bit more–don’t want to waste those days and get no response!

    • I’d say that’s a wise idea, James! I’ve run a few promos in the past and it definitely helps to have a bit of exposure. Like you say, you don’t want to waste those days!

      It is interesting though. Something in the Cellar always gathers loads more downloads than Silhouette, even with the same amount of promotion. Not sure why — cover? Title? Or is it simply a better book? Or perhaps a more attractive offer of multiple short stories? Very interesting indeed.

      • No one seems to be mentioning the fact that the bestselling books that are in Amazon’s select program are not exclusive, like, for example, the Harry Potter books. Those are for sale at Barnes and Nobles Nook store. It seems that there are two sets of rules. Only the indie authors have to give up their rights to sell elsewhere. This way Amazon gets to brag ‘exclusive’ books, while undercutting the other stores with free popular books. And those free bestsellers are getting all the funds in the pot. This whole promotion is about putting everyone else out of business. Has no one else noticed this?

      • Thanks for the comment. Interesting to hear another argument. I’d argue that all established authors should stay out of KDP Select, however obtaining visibility on B&N/Kobo is pretty tough to do. Until then, KDP Select is the best temporary measure to gain visibility and build a fanbase.

        As for Harry Potter, the reason that is on sale elsewhere is because J.K. Rowling has her visibility. Therefore there would be no real need for her to promote her books for free when they practically sell themselves wherever they are on sale.

  2. Hi Ryan, and congratulations on your successful promotions. I agree planning is the key, submitting your book details and links to as many free book sites as possible in advance. As you reported, downloads gain momentum as your title nears the front page of the river’s ‘free download chart’, from my own experience, four consecutive free days hits the sweet spot, the fifth day normally sees your book heading out of the chart, and ideally you want to come off ‘free’ in the top 100. I’d also advise joining tweet teams (find them at World Literary Cafe or Goodreads), and posting on facebook pages too.

    Regarding your titles, “Silhouette” is or was (uncertain if they’re still around) also the name for an off branch of a publishing house specialising in romances, while “Something in the Cellar” sounds creepy!


  3. Thanks for the great post. I am gearing up to publish my psychological thriller, FRY, at the beginning of march and I’m planning to go free a few days later to get a bit of interest right off the bat. Controversial decision, I know as I’ll struggle to get some reviews in time. But the way I see it, if I don’t do this, my book will just be sitting there unread.

    • Lorna – I commend your decision to make it free right from the off. Even if you don’t promote it, it’s a good way to get some early ‘also-bots’ your way.

      Then, you can build towards your second promo, which I like to refer to as ‘the biggie’.

      Good luck with the launch! Let me know how it goes.


  4. You forgot he most important element; namely, reviews. If you do not have at least 22 4 or 5 star reviews, the better promos sites refuse to list your book…

    • Hi there, thanks for the comment. You are right to say reviews can be helpful, however they aren’t completely necessary. To take an example of my own, What We Saw only had 5 reviews or so when it was mentioned by a couple of big free sites. In the second big promo, BookBub aside, no major free promo sites featured it, therefore it really is hit and miss.

      Thanks for the comment – again, you’re right to say that reviews are helpful, but a solid 5 or 6 should be enough to get you started. :)

      • Hey thanks for answering so quickly. My experience is that my thriller in three promos maxed out at 2800 free and was announced on 15 sites including the major ones except digital book today (the king, which requires 20 4 or 5 star reviews to list). In thrillers to move into top one hundred about 5000 to 6000 is required.

  5. Great ideas Ryan. I would especially highlight the part about checking and double checking book files.

    I published my book Post Pattern on Feb.7 and had proofed it a number of times. Yet a few friends who initially purchased the book kindly pointed out some typos and errors that had sneaked through. I was indeed very embarrassed!

    But by only letting my friends and family know about the book at first, I was able to make the corrections before it became widely available to the general public.

    Post Pattern will be part of Kindle’s free promotion on April 24 and April 25, 2013, and I am so glad I waited and took the time to get the book in great shape. I’ve followed your guidelines (promoting the sh*t out of it) and am hoping for good results!

    Thanks again!

    • Thanks for the comment and apologies for the delayed reply. You’re right – although we strive to make our manuscripts as clean as possible, it’s common for the occasional error to slip through (even in trad published books).

      Best of luck with your promo – please be in touch with the results!

      • I’m in the second day of my free promotion for my ebook Sportsman’s Bet and I did pretty much everything you mentioned, plus I contacted several author friends of mine to ask for their help in promoting it. Thankfully, they were all happy to do it. That’s the reason for networking and going to writers’ conferences. A tweet or a facebook post from an established author with a large large following can really give your book a boost.

      • Ryan,

        My freebie promotion was successful, although hard to assess. The 1st day I had 900 downloads, the 2nd day it spiked to 7,000 downloads. I promoted it on various sites, 8-10 chose to run it. I also used Twitter and that helped. By the end of Day 2, Post Pattern was ranked # 21 of all free downloads which was astonishing.

        Following the promotion I actually started to get real sales, nothing crazy but about 30 a day through the rest of the month. Then once May began, sales fell off badly all of a sudden. Have to wonder if end of the month was an issue, but don’t know why. I did notice a spike recently in the number of “borrows” by Amazon Prime members, and that’s a good thing as we get a (small) piece of that pie.

        So all in all it was a very good promotion. I thought of adding a 3rd free day at the end to keep momentum going but realized I had not set up any promotions — and many sites require advance notice. I plan to run another freebie in a few months, although I realize there will be diminishing returns at some point. Still, it has been a very exciting week. Thank you for your suggestions!

        — David Chill

      • Judy – Glad to hear the promo is going well for you. A mention by a top author or freebie site can be very effective, so thanks for adding that tip!

        David – Delighted to hear you saw positive results. I’ve also noticed a decline in sales going into May, but that’s probably because of the decreased exposure in the popularity lists. A way around this could be to run a discount later in the month/another free promo.

  6. Hello Ryan, Great tip about checking the format before promoting the book on Free Sites. I almost skipped that step and when I downloaded a sample from Amazon, I found a mess! Despite having the printed version come out fine on Create Space, and re-formatting the Kindle version a few times (Kindle gave warning not to use pdf, which I used for the printed version, but instead use Word), the Kindle version’s table of contents was all messed up, and pages with footnotes were distorted! Any tips on how to square this away without going nuts! Thank you John R.

    • Hi John,

      eBook formatting is tough, right? I’d actually go against Amazon’s ‘use Word’ advice and, if you’re up for a challenge, learn how to format an eBook using HTML. HTML basically solves all the problems a Word doc creates, so it’s my preferred method. I have to concede, it took me a solid day or two to learn how to do things this way (and I’m a fast learner), so it is a little long-winded. If you fancy giving it a shot and learning a new skill to boot, here’s a great and comprehensive nine-part guide: http://guidohenkel.com/2010/12/take-pride-in-your-ebook-formatting/

      Let me know how it goes, and give me a shout if you need any pointers.


  7. Ryan,

    Looking at the categories of book-listing sites you mention it appears that only fictions work well with KDP promos when listed in those sites. I wish I’m wrong because my present books and would-be books are all non-fictions.

    Please throw some light.


    • Hi Maha,
      Thanks for the comment. A lot has changed since I wrote this post last year. You can find a more recent summary of my KDP Select thoughts here: http://ryancaseybooks.com/kdp-select-free-part-4/

      As for non-fiction, my main focus would be similar to fiction: make sure you build an mailing list and run the occasional 99c discount from time to time. But mostly, just focus on writing quality new words and putting material out there. I wish I could give you a better answer but I have not released any non-fiction so I am not 100% certain.

      Cheers, and good luck.



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