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Marketing: How To Overcome KDP Select’s Catch 22 For Free Books & Mailing List Subscriber Magnets

Marketing: How to Overcome KDP Select’s Catch 22 for Free Books & Mailing List Subscriber Magnets

Ian Sutherland Indie Author Fringe

Ian Sutherland, cybercrime writer, shares another clever plot: a workaround of a classic KDP Select dilemma

Want to use a free book to attract mailing list sign-ups but hindered by the KDP Select rule that forbids you offering any of your KDP-listed books free elsewhere?  Cybercrime thriller author and IT expert Ian Sutherland has devised an ingenious solution that's working well for him, and he is generously sharing it here in today's post. It's a longer post than usual on this blog, but it's a complete recipe for emulating his success – so read on!

Conventional wisdom declares that, as an author, you need to offer a new visitor to your website something for free in order to entice them into subscribing to your email list. In marketing terms, this is often called a lead magnet or an ethical bribe. For authors, the usual recommendation is to offer one of your books for free.

But if you’ve only got one book? What then?

Or, what if you have more than one book, but you want benefit from Amazon’s KDP Select, which pays you for Kindle Unlimited page reads as well as sales?

  • A condition of being in KDP Select is exclusivity to Amazon, which means you can’t make your books available anywhere else. This includes giving them away for free on your website.

Or, the more complicated one, and the scenario I faced: you've not submitted a book into KDP Select in order to be able to offer it for free, but you also include it in a boxset that you now want to enrol in KDP Select, knowing that boxsets are easier to advertise to profitably. The problem with this is that if it’s in the boxset that you place into KDP Select, then that individual book must also be enrolled in KDP Select. Which brings you back to square one.

Unless you already have a large catalogue — which I currently don't — or are willing to write another novel or novella just to be your mailing list lead magnet, then it appears you can’t have the best of both worlds – all your book(s) in KDP Select and a lead magnet that helps you grow your email list.

I faced this problem recently, and decided to try something different.

Why Free is So Last Year

I also had another motivation: personally I’ve had enough of free!

With so many authors clubbing together on Instafreebie-powered group giveaways, I believe we’re filling the subscribers to our mailing lists with so many free books that they’re being conditioned  into believing that free is normal. If we all carry on like this, ebook devices all over the world will be so full of free books that their owners will no longer need to buy anything to read again!

I know the logic: a subset of your subscribers will read your free book and then a subset of those will like it and go on to purchase others, especially if writing in a series. So, if we don’t allow a potential reader to read one for free, why on earth will they pay to take a chance on an unknown author in the first place? Well, there is a way to overcome this, which I’ll explain later.

Using Monthly Contests Instead of a Free Book

The answer I came up with for overcoming the KDP Select Catch-22 is to run contests; monthly contests where I give away all three of my books to one lucky entrant in the format of their choice: ebook, paperback or audiobook. (My books are available in all three formats).

But, I can already hear your concern! In the case of ebooks, if I give away ebooks to even one person, surely I’m breaking KDP Select rules?

Well, I don’t actually give them away. I buy them from Amazon and gift them to the winner. Same for paperbacks. In the case of audiobooks, Audible gives me free codes that I can award.

Gifting in any format is a small monthly cost in the scheme of things in order to have an attractive lead magnet.

How The Contest Works

Whenever someone new visits any page on my website, a countdown banner appears at the bottom after a few seconds letting them know that I run a monthly contest to giveaway all three books in the format of their choice. If they click on the banner they are taken to a signup page. (I use Thrive Ultimatum from Thrive Themes to power the countdown banner)

By immediately promoting all three formats in the banner message and signup page, it bestows real value on the prize, as it’s not just another ebook giveaway.

Psychologically, it also increases the perceived quality of your books, whether they enter the contest or not, as you are not giving them away like everyone else.

To enter the contest, they have to sign up with their email address. I also ask for their first name and format preference. Once signed up, they have one entry into that month’s contest, and, more importantly, they are now a subscriber to my mailing list. More on that later, as your email autoresponder sequence is now even more important.

screenshot of banner countdown

Being Viral is the Secret Sauce

After signing up, subscribers are immediately taken to a second page which offers them the opportunity to massively increase their chances of winning in return for spreading the word about the contest on social media or by privately emailing their friends.

Along with presenting them with pre-populated tweets or Facebook posts, they are given a unique link. For every other person who signs up using their unique link, they receive five more entries into the contest.

So, that’s one entry for signing up in the first place and five additional entries for each sign up they attract.

If five others signup using their unique link, that gives them 26 entries into the contest, massively increasing their odds of winning.

This is powered by a viral contest app that I subscribe to. In my case, I’m using UpViral, but others available include KingSumoVyper and RaffleCopter.

You can set it up so that just the act of promoting on social media gives you additional entries, regardless of whether they go on to attract sign ups.

However, it’s possible for someone to press a share button and then exit without actually sharing, but the software registers it as a share anyway. This is a limitation for all of the viral contest apps because of how the social media platforms work. So, I’ve gone for actual sign-ups only, to really encourage them to share on social media or private email.

What this means is that many, but certainly not all, of my new subscribers share the contest on social media. Some of their friends or followers, who’ve never discovered me before, click on the link and are taken straight to the contest page. Some will enter, and the process repeats. Hence the viral nature. And, signup or not, I’m driving more traffic to my website and increasing my brand awareness. It also means I can retarget them using Facebook advertising.

screenshot of viral share

Your Email Autoresponder Sequence is Critical

I’ve written a totally new autoresponder sequence for subscribers that join my list via the contest. The reason for this is that they probably don’t know me that well and, without a free book to read, they’re not going to know for sure whether I am their type of author.

My sequence is eight emails long with each going out once a day. The first immediately confirms their entry into the contest. But it also tells them that they’re going to receive seven more emails of the ‘getting to know you' type. In the first email I even give them the option to opt out of receiving them, while retaining their contest entries and staying as a subscriber to my list. This approach essentially gains  permission to send the subsequent emails.

The emails that follow:

  • introduce my main protagonist
  • reveal some insights about me as an author
  • explain my personal preference for audiobooks
  • introduce three famous thriller authors that I aspire to emulate and explain why

In all emails, they are subtly selling my books, without ever once providing a link to buy. They are written conversationally and are designed to encourage the subscriber to engage, ideally by replying to the emails.

Without a free book to offer, I needed to be more creative on how I draw these strangers further into my world.

And it works! I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people have replied to the emails, far more than in any other auto-responder sequence I’ve written. Some people have even replied saying that they are sad they're now over, which is impressive when you consider that these subscribers don’t have a free book of mine to try.

The Results

At the end of the month, the winner is drawn randomly and I issue them their prize.

But, more importantly, I contact all of the other entrants with one more email informing them they’ve not been randomly selected. In it, I provide them with the URLs to the books in the format they chose when they entered the competition (ebook, paperback or audiobook). I remind them that it’s a monthly contest and they’re welcome to enter again, reassuring them that they won’t get the welcome series of emails a second time!

I have this all set up on autopilot. The only manual task I have to perform is send the winner their prize.

The results have been good. If I compare the subscriber rate from before, when I used to offer a free book as the lead magnet, and compare it to the contest, then the signup rate is exactly the same. (I plan to introduce advertising going forward to drive more traffic, but one step at a time). The engagement rate and click throughs are much, much higher though, but I put that down to having crafted a much more engaging and non-salesy autoresponder sequence.

Importantly, the open rate of the final email, letting them know they didn’t win, is averaging 85% and the click through rate from it is 47%, most of which is going to places where they can buy my books.

screenshot of email metrics

You’re Welcome to Try It Out

So, there you have it. I have all my books in KDP Select and I also have a lead magnet that is just as attractive as a free book. And, more importantly, I have much stronger engagement and a sales spike once a month, as it appears that a good proportion of that month’s new subscribers choose to become paid readers without ever having read one of my books previously.

You’re very welcome to see it all in action by visiting my website and entering this month’s contest. You’ll experience the contest, the viral sharing and be able to read all the emails over eight days. And, you never know, you might even win my books as a prize! After all, someone will!

OVER TO YOU If you've come up with any equally genious solutions to the KDP Select dilemma described by Ian, and you'd like to share them with us, we'd love to hear about them!

#Indieauthors - are you struggling to find a subscriber magnet that won't fall foul of KDP Select's restrictions? Try @iansuth's genius solution - here are the instructions: @ianhsuth Click To Tweet

From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive


Author: Ian Sutherland

Ian Sutherland writes crime fiction thrillers but with a particular emphasis on cybercrime. Exploiting his 25-year career in IT, Ian’s novels dramatically caution us all on how dangerous the internet can be for the unwary. Ian has exploited his IT credentials even further to master social media for book marketing. He first shared his techniques in the non-fiction guide "Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors". He then launched Author Platform Sidekick, a subscription service where authors team up within their genre and cross-promote each others books on Twitter, all on autopilot. www.ianhsutherland.com


This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Thanks for sharing Ian. Obviously a well thought out plan! Would you consider also offering a freebie such as a prequel or short story so people do get the chance to sample some of your writing style?

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