Profiting Outside Amazon: Guest Post From Sarah Woodbury

The first wave of self-publishers who signed up to KDP Select have either come to the end of their 90-day exclusivity period or that day is fast approaching, and many are wondering whether to re-enroll in the program or to begin uploading to the other retailers.

At the beginning of January, when many writers were wrestling with whether to enroll in the program or not, I featured a number of guest posts from those who had seen success with KDP Select.

A number of commenters suggested I feature someone who hadn’t done well out of the program, but I wasn’t so sure that would make an interesting read.

If you want that kind of information, this thread on Kindle Boards is full of writers who had underwhelming experiences (and there are many more such threads).

Instead, I featured a writer who had decided to stay out of KDP Select and focus her efforts on growing sales elsewhere. When Sarah Woodbury posted here in January – A New Strategy For A New Year – she promised to come back and give us an update on her plan.

If you read that post, you will know that Sarah decided to return to a strategy which had brought her great success in the past – making the first book of a series free, on all retailers, permanently.

For the minority averse to sales talk, you can pop over to my side-project South Americana, where I explain how a tramp became the most famous soldier of fortune of the 20th century (the inspiration for my forthcoming historical novel Bananas For Christmas).

For the rest, here’s Sarah with an update, and plenty of tasty numbers:

* * *

I promised to report back on the results of my strategy of going free with Daughter of Time in all channels, as a way to boost the sale of my books. I chose this avenue rather than going in the opposite direction: putting my books in KDP select.

KDP select has had amazing results for many people and it certainly has its appeal, but I wasn’t ready to give up the other channels. My books had sold well on Barnes and Noble for most of 2011, but sales had declined dramatically in the autumn. I still thought it was worth the attempt to see if I could diversify, rather than contract, as KDP select requires.

Thus, these are my sale numbers, November through February… Daughter of Time went free on December 18th at Apple and Barnes and Noble, and was price matched at Amazon on December 28th.

November (numbers include Daughter of Time, which was 99 cents)

Createspace – 73 books sold ($230)

Apple – 134 books sold ($200 roughly)

B&N – 185 books sold ($300 roughly)

Amazon – 1881 books sold ($3562)

December (numbers include Daughter of Time, which was 99 cents)

Createspace – 125 books sold ($400)

Apple – 246 books sold ($500 roughly)

B&N – 340 books sold ($700 roughly)

Amazon – 2232 books sold ($4260)

January (Does not include numbers for Daughter of Time, except for paperbacks)

Createspace – 114 books sold ($300)

Apple – 627 books sold ($1500 roughly)

B&N – 616 books sold ($1500 roughly)

Amazon – 4132 books sold ($10780)

February (Does not include numbers for Daughter of Time, except for paperbacks)

Createspace – 97 books sold ($280)

Apple – no information yet

B and N – 848 books sold ($1800)

Amazon – 3680 books sold ($9741)

I gave away over 38,000 copies of Daughter of Time in January and February and, thanks to a Pixel of Ink boost at the beginning of March, I’ve already given away as many in March as I did in February.

Subsequently, sales are up in the first week of March compared to the end of February.

Additionally, beginning in December, I paid a professional cover designer (Christine DeMaio-Rice at to revamp all my covers, and I have to believe this has also been of great benefit for my sales.

Thanks for the invite to your blog, David!

* * *

And thank you to Sarah for sharing these fantastic numbers (loving that growth trajectory!). I’m particularly delighted for Sarah’s success, as we are a member of the same Facebook writer’s group, and she is extremely helpful and generous with her time.

You can check out her (numerous) titles on Amazon, Amazon UKSmashwordsBarnes & Noble, and everywhere else too.

Sarah’s website is here, her Twitter is here and her Facebook page is here.

Sarah has worked very hard to expand her readership on Barnes & Noble and Apple, and her strategy was smart too: when your free book is the first in a series, that can be a huge driver of sales.

Speaking to other self-publishers who have had success outside Amazon, it seems to require a lot of patience – much more than is required on Amazon.

I hope Sarah doesn’t mind me editorializing a little, but I believe there are clear reasons why self-publishers struggle to gain traction on retailers like Barnes & Noble. I have a column over at today which argues that the discovery tools and recommendation engine of Barnes & Noble clearly favors books from large publishers, at the expense, of course, of the visibility of self-published work.

I strongly urge you to read that piece, which really underlines what a tremendous achievement it is for any self-publisher like Sarah to make significant sales at Barnes & Noble. Don’t miss the comments. There is one from a Barnes & Noble bookseller which may surprise you.

That IndieReader was also picked up by the Huffington Post earlier, which I hope will get a few more eyeballs on it.

That’s all for today. I’ll be back on Friday with details of the monster sale I’m running for St. Patrick’s Weekend. 30 great books from 26 different authors – from bestsellers to undiscovered gems – all reduced to 99c for this weekend only.

It’s like the Kindle Daily Deal, on steroids!

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

27 Replies to “Profiting Outside Amazon: Guest Post From Sarah Woodbury”

  1. This is a wonderful post–thank you both so much for sharing this information so willingly. I’ve been wondering how Kindle Select has been working for the writers enrolled in the program thus far (of course, wondering if it is something I should do), but as a beginning ebook author I hated to omit any channels that could potentially be good for my work. Lots to consider. Thanks again.

  2. Sarah, a total class act who deserves her success, immensely. She’s just outright helpful & nice.

    Thanks for sharing your numbers, Sarah. Means a lot to me! You’re an inspiration.

    FWIW, I am one of those who just came off Select. Looking forward to seeing how the book does on the other channels, now that it has returned.

    Thanks, Dave & Sarah! Rock on!

  3. It’s nice to know there is potential outside of Amazon. That’s all you tend to hear lately, is how Amazon KDP Select is the solution or the bane of a writer’s existence and will lead to monopolies and blah, blah (not to be rude). The repetition gets old. I’m loving that the upward trend Sara’s seeing also seems to be on Apple, too, and that her paperbacks are selling decently. I mean, normally I don’t see paperback numbers like that, but that could just be me?

    Anyway, great post, and congratulations to Sara for all her hard work. She’s got a new follower out of me, and definitely a potential reader, as I do love her genre. 😀

  4. Great results Sarah!
    This strategy is another cracker – one I’m keen to try, as soon as I have more than one title available :0)
    It actually lends itself quite well to a kind of hybrid tactic that some (like Dave!) could experiment with. Enter one title into Select, going free and reaping the rewards, rising up the charts and garnering reviews and a better position on the rebound. This should lead to crossover sales on the other titles, even though they aren’t enrolled in Select; those titles can still be available on other channels, meaning you need one ‘sacrificial’ book to feed to Amazon, and perhaps another (which is selling at full price on Amazon) to advertise as free on all other sales platforms! So your freebie on B&N et al will drive sales of your other titles, and still produce some profit from its sales on Amazon – and your Select title will drive the sales of all the titles on Amazon, including the one that is free everywhere else!
    Hm. I should patent this :0)

  5. This is wonderful to see! Congrats, Sarah! I might do a little experiment myself after my 90 days with KDP Select are up. Thanks for another great post, David.

  6. Different authors are going to experience vastly different results with KDP Select based on the number of titles they already have available and whether those are in a series or different genres. And whether they’ve had any success at other places.

    I went with Kindle Select and went from obscurity to good solid sales on one of my books, a book that had originally sold okay on B&N but then stopped selling after it was no longer a new release. I didn’t just experience a sales decline with that book. I’d had none at all on B&N for three months. B&N just doesn’t give you good support for some genres.

    And while my adult book sold a few on iBooks, Kobo, and Sony, I couldn’t get any sales in those channels for my YA work.

    So yeah, KDP Select isn’t a miracle worker for all good books, but it is for some. If you go into it looking at it as a short term experiment, then you’ll be fine no matter what. Three months is a small portion of a career.

    1. I haven’t experimented with KDP Select yet – for a number of reasons – although I may do so in the future. I liked your closing line. “Three months is a small portion of a career.” Very true.

      My concern, with existing titles at least, is that momentum is so hard to build on other retailers – they really don’t have the same level playing field as Amazon – that when you finally get things going there, it could be a real setback to pull the books in the hopes of winning the Select lottery.

      As such, if I’m going to try it, then it will probably be with a new release, on release, so I don’t cut any of that momentum off.

      Having said all of that, after several months of steady growth on other channels, sales collapsed in February. And I mean completely collapsed (while Amazon continued to grow0. I’m hoping it’s a blip, but if that continues, I’ll have no momentum to protect anyway, and trying Select with one existing title anyway will become a lot more attractive a proposition.

  7. Hi Sarah – How many of your other titles is Daughter of Time “carrying” by being free? From your January post, it looks like five or six…is this right?

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Daughter of Time is a prequel to a series with two books and a novella, and a third book coming out soon. I have 5 other books in different series, and it’s hard to say how much they benefit, if at all, by having Daughter of Time free. Maybe I wouldn’t sell any 🙂

      1. Thanks, Sarah. I guess if your numbers for your series titles have benefited the most, then that’s the answer. But, if your success (which is pretty mind-blowing, btw) is steady across the board, then it’s head-scratching time, unless we can boil it down to name recognition: “I got Daughter of Time when it was free and loved it, and look! There’re more books by Sarah Woodbury!”

  8. My experience has been mixed. I am currently experimenting with KDP Select and I’ve noticed a big boost in sales for all my books. I decided to go this route after struggling to sell a mere 14 copies over a six month period of time on B&N, and exactly 1 copy on Smashwords, although on Smashwords readers were very happy to download the books for free. Neither sales on B&N nor free downloads on Smashwords translated to sales anywhere else.
    Your numbers are excellent. Congratulations.

  9. I can see this post is filled with great information, so I’m bookmarking it for later. Thanks to both of you. And I echo James above: more of this, please.

  10. Sarah, I’m incredibly happy for you. I held out a little on the KDP Select thing, but ultimately joined the dark side. Results were less than stellar, even though I’m getting a lot of good responses from the people on Twitter, who picked up The Congregation for free and read it. Also picked up a few 4- and 5-star reviews, and no negatives thus far. But paid sales? Not enough to shake a stick at. My book was horror top 20 in the free section, but when it went off free, it was promptly chucked to the back of the line, so I really didn’t see the financial benefit of it. The contract will expire in mid-April, around the time my new horror novel The Vacant is released, and I’ll be taking the path you have chosen, offering The Congregation free and leaving the new book as paid. Very encouraging, and God bless your courage for bucking the system.

  11. Great article, Sarah & David. I myself chose not to go the Select route (Bad Business 101 is putting ALL eggs in one basket, in my opinion). While my BN sales are still a small percentage of overall (Amazon still king), the raw sales volume numbers for BN have been growing steadily since November. My December sales were 40% higher than November, January was 50% higher than December, and February set an all-time record for BN sales by exceeding January’s total number by the 17th of the month. I gave that info and my thoughts why that might be here:

    My thought is that with the rapid pulling of titles from BN, et al, as authors jumped to Select, there was less competition for my titles and my sales numbers have grown.

    And just today, March’s BN sales exceeded February’s record numbers for me, while my Amazon numbers (as I’m hearing a lot now) have dipped in March. Still just a percentage, but now it’s starting to become pretty decent money!

    -Steve Umstead

    1. Hi Steve. That’s my general outlook also. My sales on other channels were following a similar trajectory – doubling each month since August, although starting from a very, very small base.

      In January though, growth was relatively flat, and then sales collapsed altogether in Feb – despite having two shorts free to help give things a little boost.

      I don’t know if it’s a blip or an ongoing concern. I can’t go direct with B&N or Apple, so I only have the delayed Smashwords numbers. Thankfully, Amazon sales have increased enough to cover the shortfall, but if this is not a blip and sales don’t recover elsewhere, I may experiment with one title in Select.

      In short, when non-Amazon sales were 15% of the total, and growing fast, staying out of Select was clearly the right thing to do. Last month, they were around 3%. With those numbers, it’s harder to make that case. I haven’t changed my mind yet, but I’m watching closely.

  12. Interesting numbers, Sarah. With select becoming saturated by new titles, the results seem to be diminishing. Many authors report fewer downloads from free promotion days as the months go by.
    Perhaps this is the time for smart writers to ensure that they are listed with Smashwords where the pickings are getting a little thin for new releases.

    The select program may well turn out to have a limited shelf life – much like new releases on a a bookstore shelf.

    I will plan to put my next title up on all channels.

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