Monday, 28 October 2013

Book Promotion - Kindle vs. Smashwords

Between October 18th - 21st I took part in Creepy Freebies, offering Passing Time: Nine Short Tales of the Strange and Macabre for free via Smashwords. I'd previously offered my dark fiction collection for free when it was part of Kindle Select. I had totally different experiences with both promotions, and I'd like to share them with you.

Kindle Select

If your eBook is Kindle Select, you can only distribute it via Amazon Kindle, but you can offer it free for up to five days in every 90. While this means only readers with a Kindle or Kindle App can download your book, it does offer some huge advantages - an enormous audience and multiple Kindle promotion websites (They usually have some minimum rules, such as five 5-star ratings, and some will charge a small fee).

I offered my book for free for five days during May of this year. Beforehand, I submitted my book details to multiple promotion sites. During the promotion I used my blog, Facebook, and Twitter to get the news out there. I also ran a couple of paid Facebook adverts*.

Over 800+ people downloaded my book.

The immediate result was sales did pick up for a couple of weeks after because my book moved up the Amazon sales rankings. I gained a few more reviews. But in the long-term it hasn't done much to boost my sales.

I believe Kindle Select is best used when you have more than one book published or have just released another - hopefully people will like your free book enough to buy more. However, because of the 90-day rule, you can't offer a book free for longer than five days. If you decide to write a series of books, and want to offer the first one free on a permanent basis, then don't tie yourself down to Kindle Select. Offer it for free on sites such as Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and then get people to tell Amazon your book is free elsewhere. Amazon should then allow you to give it away.

*I'm not sure if the Facebook adverts were worth even the small fee. On the one hand downloads halved after they ended on day three. On the other, all the sites I submitted my book to ran my details over the first three days. Which was responsible for the greater downloads?


Due to technical difficulties Amazon seemed uninterested in solving, I had to re-publish both my eBooks in September. As I was not at all happy with Amazon, I decided to remove both books from Select and distribute them to all the major sellers via Smashwords.

When Milo James Fowler approached me about taking part in his Creepy Freebies, I decided to use Smashwords to offer my book for free. There are two easy methods - generate a coupon code for people to use or reduce the price to zero. I opted for the coupon code.

For this promotion I used my website, one promoted Facebook post, and twitter. My book was also promoted via Milo's site and other writers generously tweeting.

The end result was 13 people downloaded my book.

Yes. That's right. Just 13. To say I was disappointed, would be an understatement. However, it gave me an insight into what works and what doesn't. I can only conclude that if you want to offer your book for free to generate publicity and gain readers, Kindle is the better option. There are numerous promotional sites that are solely for Kindle and they do work. There are sites out there that feature all the major distributors, but they're harder to find and fewer in number.

So, what is the answer? I know writers who have tried both options - some have found their non-Amazon sales are so inconsequential they're not worth bothering with. Others have found they do steady sales all round.

What do you think? Have you had experiences with both Kindle and Smashword promotions? How successful were they? What would you do differently second time around?

I will be back on Wednesday, when M Pax will be this week's Speculative Fiction Writer and I'll be dropping into Spacedock 19. Finally, I will be revealing some exciting news. Stay tuned.


  1. I guess there are just more people with a Kindle or the app. Online, it's the first place people think of. I've not tried Smashwords, because of some complicated name issues, so Kindle/Amazon was my only option.

  2. It probably also has to do with Amazon's reach - more people saw your book free there.
    I heard someone else say the Facebook ad wasn't worth it.

  3. I haven't tried a free promotion on Smashwords, so I can't offer my own experience there, but I have done the Kindle one. Back in the day when I had my first book on KDP Select, I got a few thousand downloads when I had freebie days. That was great, but I still decided after 3 months that restricting myself to Amazon readers wasn't the best way to go!

  4. Hi Ellie,

    I've literally just finished my first ever free promo via Amazon KDP select. Did the full five days, but didn't pay for any promo. I used the usual social network sites, plus two 'freebie' sites. It's a short story collection, so I wasn't expecting too much, as it seems to work best with novels as long as you have another one out, that is linked within the free one.

    Anyway, I had 950 downloads and will monitor what happens next. It's too early to say whether it's been a success, but my other collection has sold a few, plus there's already a new 5-star review up AND people downloaded my eBook in India, Canada, Germany, France and Japan, which is great as I'd never touched those countries before. Plus, several readers have been in touch to say how much they enjoyed the stories. So it was worth doing based on that alone.

    Tenacity is key.


  5. My experiences chime pretty well with yours. I use Amazon and Smashwords, but most sales come from Amazon and I'm not really convinced Smashwords discounts achieve much. It's just a shame you can't have a book in KDP Select if it's available elsewhere. I can see why Amazon have gone for that, but it doesn't seem particularly fair or reasonable. I think we should be able to set a price of free as and when we want.

  6. For what it's worth - I hear more of all things kindle/amazon and all things tied to amazon rather than smashwords - not that it says much just that I guess go for the more known brand maybe? Take care

  7. This was really illuminating. I tried to post my book on Smashwords but the tax stuff for non-Americans was so complicated I just said screw it. Obviously I'm not missing too much! Thanks for the post, Ellie. It's always great to see what works and what doesn't!

  8. This was awesome! Great post. I learned a few things I didn't know. Hmmm...I hear what you're saying about all the positives with Kindle Select, but, at first, it kind of sounded like a monopoly to me. I really don't like 'others' (meaning corporate) trying to control me.

  9. Free book giveaways work best when there are multiple books. The free one spurs sales of the ones that aren't free.

    Elizabeth S. Craig set hers up free through Smashwords and then Amazon price matched, rather than use KDP Select. She said she offered her best one for free and it's really boosted sales of the others.

  10. Excellent observational analysis here, Elie! I'd say my experiences (I've done everything you've listed here) were identical.

    Type of material seems to be huge. Meaning, I've noticed that novels seem to do best with KDPS free promotions. I write shorter stories, and what I've come to realize is that the short story (anthologies collecting them, too) are there own niche or genre.

    I'm proud of my work and think it offers many (if not most) of the same reading fulfillment of longer stories. But I still encounter people who say "I won't read a short story, because I don't feel satisfied with the experience". So for me, it just is what it is, and I need to market and set my goals for that group.

    The other things that I've noted seem to impact the number of downloads, etc. people are getting is the actual genre of your work--particularly from independent authors.

    Romance readers don't seem to care as much if the book is published independently, etc. so long as the reviews and recommendations are good. I've also seen something similar for horror fans. However, if you're writing in the YA category, it's still difficult to reach those younger readers as an indie (getting easier all the time btw). Thriller and mystery readers still tend to stick to what's known.

    Again, those are just my observations… The big thing, in my opinion, is to keep writing and keep trying new things with your marketing. Keep your main focus on building your fan base organically by being present on social media and being accessible/real. (Something I think you're doing a fab job of!)

    I truly believe readers will find us if we keep putting ourselves out there and writing good stories. :)

  11. Interesting blog, thanks for sharing your experiences. Being from Canada, I hadn't even heard of Smashwords before so maybe Kindle opens you up to a bigger market.

  12. I had a wonderful experience with KDP Select, but it was a timing thing. I held a 5-day free promotion (20,500+ downloads) with my first book during my second book's release week. Also, I told 40 freebie sites and hoped at least a few of them would come through. (I couldn't afford to pay for any guaranteed spots.)

    Sales picked up a bit afterward, but I'm seeing a higher number of read-and-returns. I guess some people want free books all the time... :/

    Thanks for sharing your experience! :)

  13. I make very little money from my books on Smashwords. I'm going to try some free book stuff very shortly so it was interesting to read about your experiences. Thanks for sharing.

  14. I use Smashwords to give discounts to my mailing list and it took two years to start getting steadier pay from it. Any new site takes time to start making money. Steady sales for me on B&N is pretty recent, too.

  15. I've only used Amazon. So I'm no help.

  16. Ellie, I posted my free promotion experience on my blog at
    I did a promotion on Smashwords for four weeks by offering a coupon at $0.99. I Facebooked it, Tweeted it, and blogged it and in the end I sold one copy to a guy that works four doors down from me. I netted $0.56 on the sale.
    It's all about the eyeballs, and Amazon's got 'em.
    By the way, I don't know who the other twelve are but I know who got one of your Smashwords freebies.

    Best of luck,

  17. Thanks for all the great info. I'm stunned that Carrie got 20,000+ free downloads. I love Charles's comment "It's all about the eyeballs, and Amazon's got 'em." FYI, I've heard from many sources that paid adverts on FB and GR generated no sales. Best to channel your money elsewhere. Great post! :-)

  18. Hi Ellie .. interesting take on your experiences .. backed up by everyone else - but Diane's comment re Elizabeth S-R perhaps gave another option ..slightly different ..

    Good luck and obviously keep on writing ... cheers Hilary

  19. I personally think the indie author is kinda trapped and sometimes shudder when I think of all the people working their butts off only to see Amazon reap collective profits from sales that dribble in. The solution to jumping into Amazon's gig lies in indie authors coming together with a mission statement that unites goals common to publisher and author. But I don't see that happening just yet . . . but the day is coming . . . just as movie stars, Hollywood writers, professional athletes and so on got smart, so will indie authors. Anyway, great post, Ellie. Thanks for sharing some important info!

  20. Useful info, I notice no one mentioned Barnes and Nobel's Nook publisher, but I expect the tax issue becomes more complex if you are not a US citizen.


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