Here’s a sentence that probably doesn’t make sense if you aren’t self-publishing things right now: I’m not sure if I should stay exclusive to Amazon or not.
That seems like a pretty silly statement, because sure, Amazon’s Kindle accounts for most of the ebook sales, but why limit my books to just that one distributor when there is also Apple and Nook and Kobo and so on? There doesn’t appear to be a solid reason to deliberately limit my exposure in that way.
Perhaps. But it turns out Amazon can be kind of a bitch about this.
There’s this thing called the Kindle Select program. If your book is in Kindle Select it becomes eligible for the Kindle Unlimited (KU) program (take notes! This is going to get complicated!), which is their monthly subscription service. You are also not eligible for the Kindle Lending Library (KOLL), which is… a library thing, I think. If you aren’t in Select, your book is not eligible and you don’t get any of the benefits from KU/KOLL.
What are the benefits of KU/KOLL?
- People borrow your book
That’s it, that’s the benefit.
Hang on, there’s more
Okay, sorry, it’s more complicated than that. Every borrow means money for the author. How much is variable from month-to-month and dependent upon Amazon’s mood ring interface, the lunar cycle, and a dart board in Jeff Bezos‘s office, but it’s been between $1.30 and $2.10 per borrow.
This is a low number if your book is being sold for $4,99 and up, and it’s super-fantastic if your book is being sold for $0.99.
For my Immortal Chronicles, it’s just about perfect because I sell those at $2.99 apiece. I get more per book for each sale than I do for each borrow, but not a lot more.
If one can argue that three people might borrow a book that, if unavailable to borrow, only two would buy, I’m coming out ahead. Those additional borrows also help with the Amazon sales rank, because they count the same as a sale to Amazon’s algorithms, and borrows bump a rank immediately. (Sales don’t count until the money is collected.)
It’s a good deal for me, in other words. The problem is, one of the requirements of being in Select is that I’m only in Select. The books can’t be on sale anywhere else.
Here’s my dilemma. As a hybrid author, I have four novels that are indie published– Immortal, Hellenic Immortal, Immortal at the Edge of the World, and Fixer. All of them were distributed wide and in print, and all of them sold well, although Amazon Kindle is still by far the biggest contributor to my royalty checks.
Last year I started self-publishing The Immortal Chronicles while waiting for book three of the above Immortal trilogy (Fixer is a standalone book that has its own sequel pending) to come out. This was a way to draw attention to the novels and to create new interest in the main character, and it worked extremely well.
Soon, the Chronicles began to take on a life of their own, and I started to feel bad for the readers I felt I was leaving behind. Some of the trilogy’s fans bought books in print, and others bought the novels on their Nooks or through Apple. I was telling new stories for Adam the immortal and ignoring people who wanted those stories.
I decided the best way to take care of this was to publish an anthology that covered the first three Chronicle books, something I could put out in print with a respectable number of pages, and something I could keep out of Select and release through other platforms.
Ah, but I couldn’t do that last thing, because the content of the anthology included stories that were in Kindle Select. They had to come out of Select first.
Now the dilemma
As of this afternoon, the first three books in The Immortal Trilogy– Immortal At Sea, Hard-Boiled Immortal and Immortal and the Madman– are all available on other platforms. This means I’m free to release the anthology– First Folio– the same way. (It’s already in print.)
But now I’m dubious. See, here’s the problem. The first two books have been out of Select and available on other platforms for about a month– Madman just went live today– and in that time the numbers for all my books on the Kindle have dropped.
Book four of the Chronicles– Yuletide Immortal– came out in December and all four sold very well, but in December all of them were also in Select. Since these are standalone novellas, they don’t need to be read in order, but it looks like when a “book four” came out it boosted interest in books 1-3, and it only helped that all four could be borrowed.
Will that happen again when Regency Immortal comes out next month? It will be released in Select, and coming out right when Yuletide comes off Select. (It’s a 90 day commitment, unless it’s renewed.) Can a “book five” sell well–and borrow well–under these circumstances? I honestly don’t know.
The other channels
What I do know is that right now the other distribution channels aren’t picking up the slack, by which I mean the sales I’m getting from them aren’t offsetting what I think I’m probably losing in borrows from Kindle Unlimited. Worse, it’s possible the entire Amazon promotional machine may be tied to Unlimited.
Right now my marketing plan is: release new books in Select but only for the first 90 days, which is when the most borrows occur, then go wide after that 90 day period is up. I plan to stick with this approach to see if I can get some traction from Nook and Apple and Kobo, but if they can’t figure out how to connect the readers of my novels–and I know they’re out there–with the novellas, I might end up pulling the books and returning to Select.
I don’t want to do that. What I want is for everyone who would like to buy one of my books to have that opportunity, via whatever channel is available. (Actually, what I really want is for Amazon to take away the exclusivity part of Select. That would solve all of this.) I might not be able to afford to do that, though.
If you’re a fan, and you don’t have a Kindle, I’m thinking of you. If, in six months or a year, I end up abandoning you for the exclusive waters of Kindle Select, please don’t take it personally.
It’s not you, it’s me.
*Note: I appreciate the irony of all the Amazon links above. Here is the link to all my books at Barnes and Noble. I have yet to find an easy web-based interface with Apple.
UPDATE: a reader who knows how to do things I don’t was able to hook me up with a link to my Apple books page. Here it is!