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Breaking Free Part 2 – One Month Later

by Nick Stephenson in Books and Writing

The results are in! I had a bunch of emails last time I posted on this subject, asking me to update how my adventures outside of KDP Select were going after a month – so, if you haven’t read the previous post, go check that out here. For everyone else, here’s the skinny: From my very first book release in March 2013, there had always been a common trend. Book sales would spike massively around a promotion (usually Bookbub) and then fall right back down again within a few days. Not that I’m complaining, but my eventual goal was to try and keep sales consistently strong, rather than relying on a monthly spike in numbers and then thirty days of diddly-squat. Here’s what a typical month looked like:


Pretty ugly, right? So, I pulled my titles from KDP Select and uploaded them onto other vendors, then set my strongest-rated novel to permafree. I applied for a Bookbub free promotion, which went live on the 27th of June. The results have been better than I could have hoped. Sales have remained consistently higher for over a month, beating out my average daily revenue of $80 by a factor of four. This last month has easily been my strongest to date, and is set to overtake the $7,000 mark by the time July rolls round. And, best of all, sales on non-Amazon retailers make up a significant portion of that figure, and Amazon UK has opened up for the first time. Here’s how the numbers break down:


[click the image above for a larger view] You can easily see the boost in sales on the 27th, coinciding with the permafree title hitting the top 5 in the Kindle store. What’s different this time, is that sales didn’t tank afterwards. In fact, they ‘ve stayed high for the month following, albeit with the usual up-and-down that one would expect in this line of business (the fluctuations are consistent across Amazon US, Amazon UK, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes).

Some specifics: The month peaked on the 15th June with $300 of sales, and the lowest earner was the 3rd of June, with $219. But the average has remained fairly strong at $249 a day for the last 32 days. Obviously a huge improvement over the previous month (as you can see from the graph). These figures are for 7 titles – 4 novels (one of which is permafree), 1 novella, and 2 bundles. The novels are $3.99, the novella $2.99 and the bundles $5.99.

I’ve also been extremely impressed with my first experiences with other retailers. iTunes has been easy to work with (despite it taking nearly a week to get a title approved), Nook was simple and fast (12 hours from submission to publication) and Kobo was a dream. Kobo were also kind enough to feature my permafree book as one of their “first free in series” titles, which gave my numbers there a little push. Kobo is now a nice little side earner – and the efforts these guys go to in order to accommodate indies is commendable – especially given the vacuum that opens up every time I try to email Apple or Barnes and Noble. Well done, Kobo!

So, there you have it. Your mileage will undoubtedly vary, but I’ve had some great success with non-Amazon vendors and using permafree as a way to draw readers in. I’ve also seen a major uptick in newsletter subscribers, going from 1,500 signups to nearly 3,700 signups in less than two months. If you’d like to find out more about my email tactics, I’m putting together a full post on the subject – make sure you sign up at the bottom of this post if you want a notification once the article goes live.

Otherwise, it’s back to the keyboard for me – I’m getting close to finishing the next novel, and I’m already getting the finishing-line jitters…

Have any of you had any experiences outside of KDP Select? Any strategies you’d like to try out, but haven’t had the chance yet? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, and pass your ideas off as my own…

If you want a step-by-step guide to getting started on your email list, go download “Reader Magnets”. This free ebook will show you how to put this process in place and start building your email list – click below to grab your copy:



  1. Carolyn Warren says:

    I love your blog, Nick, and how you’re so generous in sharing your strategies and numbers. I am a traditionally published author but plan to launch my first self-pub. book soon (explaining why I don’t have an experience to share now).

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Thanks Carolyn! It’s great to see authors experimenting with traditional deals as well as self-published efforts. I’d love to know how you get on!

  2. Maia Sepp says:

    Very cool. Congrats on your success with this. And thanks for posting the deets.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Thanks Maia 🙂

  3. Holly Michael says:

    Ok, forgive my newby-ness. But I am launching my first novel soon. How do you get your books into all of these places?

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Hey Holly – you mean Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Nook, etc? If you go to they list out all the major retailers. You can then either go direct to each one and follow their instructions, or use Smashwords to upload just one time, and they’ll distribute for you in exchange for a cut of your royalties. Most people go to Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes direct, as it’s pretty easy. The other smaller ones are a little more tricky.

      1. Holly Michael says:

        Thanks Nick. I’ll make sure I get all of this done. Do you have some kind of marketing book or information all in one spot. Like a checklist? Or know where I can go for one?

        1. Nick_Stephenson says:

          I would start by buying a copy of David Gaughran’s “Let’s Get Digital” and “Let’s Get Visible” – they go over all of the basics, and outline the best way to position your titles for exposure. I think you can grab an ebook copy for around $3-$4 each 🙂

          1. Holly Michael says:

            Got them both! Thanks!!! I need some education in this area to prepare for my launch!

          2. Nick_Stephenson says:

            good luck!!!

  4. Every time I read these posts I wonder why you’re not selling this information! It’s always so indepth and obviously takes you some time to create. So when can we expect your new book series on how, when and where to publish our books? lol

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      What most people don’t realise, is that every time you visit this website, I secretly deduct $2 from your paypal account. Mwahahaha!

      I’ve considered a how-to book, but it would need to cover ground not already dealt with in the bazillions of other writing / marketing books. Maybe “How Voodoo Chants can make you a Better Writer”?

  5. RuthHarris says:

    Nick, Thanks for the very interesting post but I don’t understand the dates. June 27, 2014 was yesterday but you show sales for thirty more days (from 27 to 57). Do you mean June 27, 2013 or do you mean May 27? Or something else? I’m confused. Am I missing something or am I mis-reading? Sorry if this is a dumb question.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Hey ruth – it’s just a count of days along the bottom of the graph. 1 = May 1st, then 56 more days. So 32 = 1st June 🙂

  6. Maggie Author says:

    I really appreciate you taking the time to share these results. I like how you resented the sales BEFORE the Bookbub ad to compare the Select sales daily to the distribute widely sales. I’ve always been a proponent of not going exclusive with anybody. It’s great to see the data of another author who has data to support it.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      my pleasure! thanks for taking a look 🙂

  7. Renee Pawlish says:

    Love the post. I’ve found success with the permafree model as well, and I consistently stay in the top 10 in Amazon’s “private investigator” list. I don’t have nearly the sales that you do, but I have seen a consistent spike in sales since the first went permafree.
    One question – is there a secret to getting Kobo to feature your book as a first in a series? Or did they randomly pick your book?

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Thanks Renee! Oddly enough, Kobo got in touch after I wrote the last article about moving away from KDP. If you contact them via email, they might be able to point you in the right direction 🙂

      1. Renee Pawlish says:

        Thanks, I’ll try that.

  8. Ebook Bargains UK says:

    We’re curious as to whether you are seeing much take up internationally, Nick.. You mention Kindle UK, but of course there are myriad retail outlets out there which indies can get into, and of course English-language titles are selling very well globally, even in countries that aren’t English-speaking.

    We just ran two posts on our blog ( showing five of the top 100 on Kindle Brazil are English-language titles and nine of the top 500 on Kindle Germany are English-language titles.

    Globally of course there are tremendous opportunities for indies willing to step outside the Amazon box.

    Amazon has only a dozen global ebook stores, surcharges most of the rest of the world where it does deliver (your $2.99 ebook will cost a buyer in Poland $4.99, but the author will see just 35% of the $2.99, and a free ebook will cost the buyer $2 and the author will see nothing) and blocks downloads completely to a ton of countries (most of Africa, Asia and the Middle east cannot download from Amazon at all).

    Apple by contrast has fifty global ebook store sand pays 70% regardless of where sold or what the list price is. Google Play is soaring ahead with 57 global ebooks store and adding more all the time. Berlin-based ‘Txtr has twenty global stores.

    It’s quite easy for an indie author to be available in upwards of 250 ebook stores globally right now and still be selling with Amazon. And for those wondering, yes you can go free on Apple, Txtr and Google Play.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      I did catch that article via email. I think the issue is what kind of access most indies have to advertise in those territories – sure, there are a few big names in English that are selling ok in foreign language markets, but the real sellers are the indies like Konrath, HM Ward, Theresa Ragan, etc, who have released foreign translations – those titles are performing much better.

      On Amazon, 99% of my sales are in the US or UK. I think I sold about 30 books in Australia also. But foreign language markets are a big fat zero (well, I made 2 euros in Germany this month).

      Apple, Nook, Smashwords (which takes into account a bunch of smaller vendors) and Kobo sales outside of the US and UK are also zero. That makes me loathe to spend much time building up my English language books for these markets. I would (and am) considering translating my work into German, and seeing how it goes – but I’m not expecting much from the titles in their current English-language form.

      It’s worth remembering that places like Google Play, while they have more international stores, make up less than 3% of unit sales. Apple is growing, but it’s still a distant 3rd behind Nook and Kindle. The smart place for me to invest time and energy is in the US and UK. As advertising opportunities open up in other parts of the world, this may change – and I’m looking forward to the day that happens!

  9. Karl Jones says:

    While I don’t have your level of success Nick, I too have seen the benefits of leaving KDP select. I did so middle of last year and while Apple, Kobo and most other places haven’t resulted in much, B&N Nook sales have made it very much worthwhile.
    Back in February I hit #29 in the Nook charts with one of my titles, selling over 400 books in a single day; admittedly I didn’t get much money for it because it’s a 99c novel that I use to get people interested in my writing.

    I wonder if you think making it free instead of 99c would provide a boost for my other books? I’ve recently started a new series, cosy mystery rather than thriller and I wonder whether there is much crossover between readerships.
    At present the 99c book is my biggest seller, with an average of about 500 sales worldwide per month, but it doesn’t always make as much money as a couple of my others because of the price point.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Hey Karl – nice work on hitting the top 30! That’s awesome. I can only tell you my own experience with 99c. I tried it a couple of times, and found I’d sell between 2 and 3 times as many copies compared to $3.99. Obviously, that’s not enough to make up for the lost profits, and the sell-through to my other books also wasn’t high enough to justify the lower price.

      Free, on the other hand, tends to perform at 1500 – 2000 downloads per day, So, while it doesn’t earn my any money on that titles, an 8% to 10% sell-through to my paid titles more than makes up for this.

      I’d say, if you’re not happy with the way 99c is going, try upping the price to $2.99 or $3.99 and then give permafree a go if that doesn’t work for you. I wouldn’t expect a huge crossover between genres, but I’ve not tried it myself so can’t know for sure – the only way to find out is to give it a go!

      1. Karl Jones says:

        Thanks for the tips. Hitting the top 30 was a total shock, I’ve no idea how I managed it, wish I did. It had a very nice follow on and has only now slipped back to previous levels.
        I’ll give $2.99 a go and see if that works. I know how much I was earning at 99c so if I can improve on that it will be worth it.

        1. Nick_Stephenson says:

          Good luck! I do know that (on Amazon) the higher price gives you a favourable score when it comes to the popularity charts (not the bestseller charts), so that makes up for the drop in volume for some people. Good luck with it!

          1. Karl Jones says:

            Thanks; I figure I only need to sell about 100 books a month to make the same money off $2.99 as I did off 99c, I should be able to manage that, fingers crossed.

  10. AD Starrling says:

    Thank you for sharing your data Nick. It sure makes for great insight into not putting all the eggs in one basket. I’m currently distributing to non-Amazon retailers via Smashwords but am considering uploading directly to some of these retailers now that they’ve made things a bit easier for UK authors this year. I do wonder whether uploading directly makes you more “visible” somehow, as in the retailer may decide to help you by featuring your title more prominently, like Kobo did with your permafree 🙂

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      My pleasure! I don’t think going direct will make you more visible – Kobo got in touch after reading the last article I wrote on this subject, but you can still contact them yourself (I hadn’t realized this). The main benefits of going direct are higher royalties and more control, but it’s certainly a more longwinded process, especially at Apple. I’m in the UK too, and I can now access Nook, Kobo, and Apple direct. So I figured, why not!

      1. AD Starrling says:

        I keep forgetting that about you 🙂 And David Gaughran. Yes, will definitely give it a go trying them direct.

  11. Jennifer says:

    How does one set a book to permafree, exactly? Sounds like a really good plan!

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Hi Jennifer – you upload your book to Smashwords, set the price to free, then when it shows up on Nook and iTunes, ask Amazon to price match it.

      1. agclaymore says:

        Nick, did you simply email them and ask for the price-match? I have a title going free (only free on iTunes so far as I’m pushing the price change through Smashwords) and I’m looking for the best way to approach Amazon. It seems like a simple, straightforward approach would work best.

  12. Randy says:

    When a book is permafree, do you get royalties when it is downloaded from the various platforms or is it essentially just giving it away for promotion?

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      No, you don’t get any money for it. But I like to think of it as permanently free advertising for the other books 🙂

  13. proboscis says:

    I never managed to sell anything outside Amazon so I basically gave up and just put my two books on KDP Select where I do sell. Still have difficulty understanding why other people seem to sell on iTunes, B&N and Kobo while I never sold anything in those platforms. It’s also a bit unnerving that I can’t access B&N and iTunes directly (I’m in Portugal) and have to use Smashwords which means that any changes I do (price, blurb, etc) take some time to filter to the other platforms (especially B&N) in fact making it difficult to create promotions.
    Also has anyone ever managed to sell anything on Google Play?

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