Readers of my blog know that I began my experiment with KDP Select in mid-January. The main attraction for me was the ability to put a title free for a day or three, thereby enhancing visibility and presumably giving me a boost on the “most popular” and “also bought” lists following the free day(s).

So how has that worked?

Glad you asked, internal dialogue that always seems to know just what to inquire for maximum effect.

Sales of my books increased by a factor of four in January, from my most popular month ever – December. Given that I have been at this for a whopping nine months, that would kind of make sense. December, everybody on the planet got Kindles for Xmas, and needed content for them. Ergo, more books would sell.


BREAKING NEWS: Fantastic at The Veil War on the writing of The Voynich Cypher.

MORE BREAKING NEWS: Interview, book review of The Delphi Chronicle, Book 1, and a short story. Must read! With author Kathleen Patel.

UPDATE: Monday, 3-12. Interview with Digital Ink Spot on Amazon promos, process & thoughts.

UPDATE: New interview just posted with Eden Baylee. It’s a fun one.


I also released a slew of books in December – Night of the Assassin, King of Swords, and The Delphi Chronicle trilogy. Night and Book 1 of Delphi were and are free, so I increased my available paid titles by two that month, bringing it to a total of seven possible paid titles to buy. I don’t count the first book of Zero Sum, because that was free as well, nor do I count the individual books in the trilogies, as nearly everyone who buys, buys the bundles.

If all things were equal, I would have expected an organic growth of 20-25% from the new titles, which is about what I saw from November to December. All very predictable.

In mid-January, I enrolled my first book in KDP Select, and ran a couple of days free. The Geronimo Breach saw 12K downloads in its two free days, and then sales took off like a rocket for 5 or 6 days, eventually dropping back to a sustainable rate that was above December’s run rate, but nothing like what the post-free week was like. That got me looking at other authors’ experiences, and sure enough, the post-free phenomenon was being discussed, although it was still largely too new to rate.

I then ran a few more titles free, for a day here and there, and lo and behold, saw the same effect. This resulted in a reproducible sales boost, and appeared to have pulled my other titles along with it. I finished January giddy, with four times December’s bucks in my pocket.

February, for the first two weeks, sales were down 30% from January. Other authors indicated that was a well-understood effect of readers digesting all the books they’d downloaded. Made sense, but still not a lot of fun to see. In the final two weeks, I ran Geronimo free for one day, and Zero Sum free for two, and Geronimo saw 10K in one day, and Zero Sum saw about 20K on two days of downloads, hitting number 5 for free downloads. Post free, sales took off like a scared rabbit again, and I finished February at the same sales level as January, which is to say back at four times December sales, but income was up 25%, at five times December’s sales, due to a higher ASP after the artificially low promotional pricing I’d tried on a few titles in Jan. I figured it would be down 20%, so that was a pleasant surprise.

March, Zero Sum has been continuing its run from the free days the end of February, performing well and holding in the 500 paid range now 8 days post promo, which is unexpected but nice. But here’s the amazing part about the KDP promotions: by March 10 I will have sold more or less as many books as I did all of Feb. Obviously, that portends good things. If sales stay on track the rest of the month, I can expect a double to tripling over the course of the March, or roughly eight to twelve times December sales.

That’s an eye-opening number. Extrapolating, if March comes in as it’s shaping up, from that point on with no sales growth at all (even though I’ll be adding a slew of new titles this year), I will sell well over 100K books in 2012. Needless to say, if that happens, I’ll be one of the very very very few indie authors making a significant living from my passion. That’s amazing for two reasons. First, up until Amazon created its revolution in self-publishing, it would have been impossible. Utterly, completely impossible. A pipe dream. Second, it’s astounding because I will be a failure by traditional publishing standards.

Failing has never felt so good.

If I have 12 paid titles out by the end of 2012, and I’m selling 100K books, I’m only moving 9K books per year, per title, mas o menos. That’s a disaster by traditional published standards. And yet obviously, by living in Mexico self-publishing standards, it’s a home run. The numbers assume that none of my books really hit in any way big. In fact, these numbers might. My new one, launching on March 17, The Voynich Cypher, could blow things wide open. It’s that kind of a book. Mainstream, accessible, my take on a Dan Brown/Raiders of the Lost Ark style adventure/thriller. If it gets traction, it could be a big book. Early readers are enthusiastic, so I’ve got high hopes for it, but even if it sort of of putters along flat, I’m still in the mix to hit my 2012 numbers. Again, this all assumes that none of my books really get discovered, or in any way hit the mainstream.

I attribute my success to date, such as it is, to two things. First, to writing a heartfelt blog about a beloved & perhaps misunderstood public figure and comparing him to my dad, and having it go viral. Okay, maybe not so much that. Seriously, it’s because of being fortunate enough to have delivered a reasonable product to those brave or stupid enough to try my offerings, and building slow recognition organically. And second, it’s because the KDP Select program has created a venue whereby indie authors can displace the big name brand authors, and get a small slice of awareness from an audience they previously would have had no chance of reaching. The first takes 15 hour days, 7 days a week, for 10 months. The second took KDP deciding to offer “free” as a perk for joining the Select program.

I owe Amazon deep and sincere gratitude, and hope they crush the bones of their competitors to jelly and dance in the still-warm blood of their adversaries as they rule the book world. At least, for another year or two, it would be nice. My game plan is to have twenty titles out by the end of 2013, all selling for between $2.99 and $6.99. If Amazon’s KDP program stays in place and their algorithms don’t change, I and a whole group of writers who had no real shot at making a decent living suddenly have become viable. Perhaps Indie will become the new slush pile – but one that pays well. Or perhaps there won’t be any more slush piles, and the phones will go unanswered in NY sometime soon.

On a related topic, my UK sales are now trending at 10% of my US sales, so the UK is having more of an effect than I would have expected. Given that I have done exactly zero marketing beyond twitter and a lackadaisical Facebook presence, that also portends good things. Although I will say that I have been participating in Melissa Foster’s World Literary Cafe, and the visibility from that group’s efforts have likely played a role in my sales. I recommend them highly, for those looking to participate in a good organization.

Loans have also increased, and as of today, for March 8, I have 450 borrows. As I said in a prior blog, on titles at my price point at least some of those are displacing sales at a considerably higher net rate, but the overall positive of being in the KDP program is outweighing that negative. Hard to bitch over the cost of doing business on that one.

That’s where we are as of today. Whether sales continue apace, or dirt dive, is unknowable from this point on, but I’ll keep everyone updated. It’s been a fascinating experiment so far. I’ll post an end of year summary in December, and maybe a mid-year one in July – really, the first full year of being in this game. Beyond that, thank you to my readers, and good luck to all the authors following this blog. It can be done. It’s just not easy. Nothing is.

UPDATE: As of March 10, midnight, I have sold 3015 books this month and had 540 borrows. A little slower than I’d hoped, but the last few days were laggards. Still, difficult to whine too much. I’ll save that for the end of the month when I’ve crashed and burned…




  1. Thu 08th Mar 2012 at 3:14 am

    This is exciting to hear. I’m halfway through Night of the assassin.

    My nephew is getting ready to publish his first book, The Magic Quest. It’s for kids, so I’m anxious to see how it sells.

  2. Napoleon
    Thu 08th Mar 2012 at 6:14 pm

    I’m not an author (unless you count ransom notes) but I found the post to be pretty interesting.

    I never thought that I would buy a book from a former Colchester United player.
    I assume that you are the Russell Blake on Wikipedia?

    Syria is trending right now. “Just like President Assad , Dad saw mass murder as the solution to most of life’s problems.”

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 08th Mar 2012 at 7:02 pm

      Nope. Not he.

      And I have skillfully avoided mass murder as the solution to most of my problems. Although sometimes I understand it…

      • Napoleon  –  Thu 08th Mar 2012 at 8:18 pm

        A shame. I would have liked to have known if there were any similarities between lower league soccer in the 1950’s and Mexican drug wars.
        You must be the furniture design company from South East London?

        I think that the Voynich Cypher is already on Amazon in the UK?

        • Russell Blake  –  Thu 08th Mar 2012 at 9:13 pm

          It is in the UK. But it doesn’t officially launch until the 17. And I swore that my furniture design days are behind me a while ago, and I shan’t go back.

  3. Thu 08th Mar 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Great information. You’ve convinced me to join the KDP program. As the first promotion, would you recommend running 3 days free?

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 08th Mar 2012 at 9:11 pm

      I’d just do two. The third buys you nothing I can think of.

      • Russell Blake  –  Sat 10th Mar 2012 at 1:32 pm

        Since posting this blog I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails from authors asking the same questions. So to simplify my life, here are some answers.

        First, free days are not a substitute for building a platform and an identity. With roughly 24,000 books going free every day, your odds still suck. To counter that, you need to create a presence that is memorable, provides value, and is consistent with who you are. Blogging is one way. Twitter is another. Facebook still another. Joining groups like World Literary Cafe still another. The point is that you’re still a needle in a haystack, so you need some mechanism to stand out. If you put your book up for free, and saw 300 downloads and 5 post-free sales, it’s because either nobody knows of you and your book, or you didn’t promote the free day. You have to do everything possible to do both. More the first than the second, in truth – if you list your book with the myriad sites devoted to free books, that will largely take care of the latter. The first is the problem.

        As an example, when I started doing this last June, I devoted four hours a day to social media – twitter, facebook, blogging, posting to forums. Every day, seven days a week. I also was writing 12 hours a day. If you do that math, that leaves little time for anything but sleeping and eating – both of which I manage pretty well, thank you very much. After six months of this, I started to see traction. That’s after releasing 7 titles. And never missing a day. And blogging regularly. Some would say they can’t manage hours like that. I agree, it’s insane. But it was also my plan for differentiating myself – I would be the hardest working author I’ve ever heard of, and the most prolific. That was one of my differentiators. You will need your own. I don’t know what it will be. If you don’t know, start thinking. Buying some get rich quick book that advises you how to be successful isn’t a substitute for innovation, and at worst will waste your time and money.

        I still devote three hours a day to social media, and write ten hours a day. I now get to take Sundays off. And three weeks in March, although I’m going to cheat and plot out my next one – just a little flow chart is all.

        But the point is that if you calculate the number of hours I’ve devoted to this, it’s over 4000 hours in nine months. That’s two years’ worth of full time job hours crammed into 9 months. Then again, I feel like I am coming from behind, so I need to make up for lost time. But to put it into perspective, any success I’m briefly entertaining is the result of 2 year’s worth of hours working full time at this. That puts the numbers into context, I think. Don’t get me wrong – they are still eye-popping results, for which I’m grateful, but it’s not quite as stellar if you calculate it by the hour. Hopefully that will come, in time. Right now, I probably could have made more money by the hour selling Chicklets on the beach. And had a tan.

        If you’re not willing or able to pull these kinds of hours, it’s not the end of the world, but recognize there are people out there who can and will, and you are in the same pond as they are – assuming equivalent talent and craft. So your differentiator, if it isn’t going to be sheer hard work, better be damned good.

        My point is that free is not a substitute for hard work, a good book, and a good social media presence. It’s another tool. That’s all.

        • Kathy Lynn Hall  –  Sun 11th Mar 2012 at 6:21 pm

          Russell – I have long recognized both your talent and your hard work. You are also one of the smartest marketers out there. You deserve all this and I’m very happy it’s working for you. What I learned here is that I haven’t done enough to build my platform nor have I been prolific enough. Back to the drawing board. Thanks.

          • Russell Blake  –  Sun 11th Mar 2012 at 6:33 pm

            I think we’re all learning, fumbling through this adventure, the blind leading the blind. I think building the platform is critical, and while being prolific is nice, quality will out in the end. I think two books a year could yield similar results, but slower. Having said that, the effort to create a brand is identical. Readers like to buy safe brands. That’s why they’ll pay $14 for a marginal effort from a recognized name as opposed to trying something that has been reviewed as brilliant by an indie. Part of our job is to get them familiar enough with our brand to where they are willing to give it a try. That’s a tough leap to make, and I’d say I’m just at the beginning of this journey, not even out of the first inning yet.

            Thanks for the kind words on my work. You’ve been one of my strongest supporters. I hope your latest venture is doing well, and recommend you keep writing, every day. What else can you do?

  4. Sat 10th Mar 2012 at 12:11 pm

    This is fabulous! You’re playing the market and the system and doing it VERY WELL. I’m copying this blog and will chart my marketing of my e-books sales the same way and with the same logic. Thank you so much!

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 10th Mar 2012 at 12:33 pm

      As with all things, mileage may vary.

  5. Sun 11th Mar 2012 at 8:29 am

    Excellent advice and observations. The universe rewards passion and hard work. Enjoy your Sundays off in sunny Mexico.

  6. andy holloman
    Wed 14th Mar 2012 at 12:15 pm

    way cool amigo, wonderful to see and know someone that is turning the work into cash…. and always grateful fo the info share, write on bro!

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 14th Mar 2012 at 12:40 pm

      I figure that the more folks that see that it’s possible, the more encouraging it is that they can do it too. Having said that, we both know nothing is ever easy. I think the best thing you can do is write more books. I am finishing up my sequel to King of Swords, and am going to take a few weeks off, then get into plotting for my next one. Goal is to have 4 books written by June. I’ll make it, I think. It’s like fishing. More lines in the water, more chance of getting a strike.

  7. Wed 14th Mar 2012 at 12:46 pm

    fascinating post, I saw this from a tweet, btw. So you are staying strictly with Amazon for your books, not going into other venues at all?

  8. Thu 15th Mar 2012 at 1:23 am

    Oh, I so want to get more books out there! It just takes time, and I don’t want to be one of those authors that just throws out books just to have books out there – I want to be known for quality. Yet, I want a piece of this juicy pie! Knowing my luck, by the time I get some books out on sale the fad will be over and writers will be earning dirt again. Plus I am terrible at numbers and planning so I doubt I’m going to be able to plan my promotions and that like you have. Ah well, first thing is first, finish more books! Thanks for your information, entertaining, it is.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 15th Mar 2012 at 1:34 am

      I think you have to write at the pace you write. No point in generating dross. It won’t help you to have substandard pap under your name. Having said that, I think I’ve been helped by being prolific as well as having nothing to do with my time but write. Still, the free thing is merely a ticket into the race, nothing more. You still need a winning horse(s).

      • Matthew Rowe  –  Fri 16th Mar 2012 at 2:47 am

        You are very lucky to have all the time to write! If this revolution had happened 5 years ago when I was unemployed and writing a lot I might be in the same place as you, but now I have to work a full time job and struggle to squeeze writing into my day… stupid world. I’m always ahead of my time!

        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 16th Mar 2012 at 3:14 am

          Perhaps. But if it had happened five years ago, I too would have been writing full time, just to see. So in the end, it’s angels on the head of a pin. There is only what is, and what will be, not what could have been. That, and I think one really good book trumps five average ones. So quantity isn’t necessarily key.

  9. Thu 15th Mar 2012 at 8:14 pm

    I am so excited to follow this path myself. I’m amazed at how many of my new favorite authors are from my Indie list, and buying and sharing their books feels like being ahead of the curve and imparting knowledge to others. this has been incrfedibly informative, I’ll pass it on!

  10. Mon 02nd Apr 2012 at 4:43 pm

    You are a inspiration Russell, thanks for twitter following me and the great shares on your KDP experience…I hope to one day get there :0) 9months and counting…a great experience!


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