I started out with a small press, the lovely Candlemark & Gleam. When I had a publisher, they decided where and how my books were sold: on their website and via most of the major book retailers. Not my problem.
I self-published Nightlights, and as C&G did with Matchbox Girls, I published it everywhere. Even now it’s available in places none of my other books are, like Wattpad.
On my own, I published everything everywhere, except Carousel Chain, which is a little short story thing I threw on KDP Select for a while. Nothing really happened with it, even when I made it free, so I sniffed a little, unenrolled it and moved on.
I believe in my books being widely available. It’s almost a moral issue. So I ignored KDP Select for a long, long time, through all the various changes. I didn’t even bother reading about it. I could see how it helped some but even when I went completely indie and started republishing the Senyaza books on my own, I stayed in wide release.
I have data on how my books sell. I know how they sold in wide release with quirky covers and limited marketing. I know how they sell in wide release with genre-appropriate covers and as much marketing as I could manage within the price limitations I was subject to.
And one day I said, “It’s only a three month term. Let’s see how well they sell if I take advantage of KDP.” It was easy to say, because I’d sold zero books outside of Amazon in the previous three months.
So. The Senyaza books are enrolled in KDP Select, which means the ebook versions are only available on Amazon. It also means they’re included in the Kindle Unlimited subscription, which is the Amazon library service. And what that means is that I get approximately half a penny for every page read by a KU borrower.
(This will have ramifications on the launch of Divinity Circuit in November. Stay tuned if you’re an epub reader. You’ll be presented with options–although the easiest and best one is to support my Patreon.)
Anyhow. It’s been educational, because now I have data on what happens when a book is part of KDP Select and borrowable… and what happens when a book is part of KDP Select and pushed through an advertising campaign. And hey, I can show you a chart. Would you like to see?
I shared an earlier version of this graph months ago, without really going into details. That’s because it was a lot less interesting then. It’s my Author Rank in Amazon, which is related to Sales Rank of an author’s entire catalog somehow. Spikes are sales, usually. Library borrows adjust Sales Rank just like actual sales.
The red arrow highlights where I took over actively marketing the Senyaza series. Sales, paid advertisements, general paying attention. That stuff clearly makes a difference! I went from around $5 a month to $40 a month (but still around a net $5 a month after advertising expenses).
The blue arrow is when I joined KDP. I futzed around with some marketing efforts but while they were more productive than anything I’d seen before, I didn’t have much of a sense of what I was doing. Still, I started getting borrows and that half-penny a page added up to around $50 more.
Then I ran a promotion that worked better than the previous ones. That’s the green arrow. It’s a promotion that wouldn’t be possible without the tools provided by Amazon Select. It hit milestones. I continued to sell books–even more books! and my pages-read skyrocketed. And I’m suddenly contemplating actually earning something I’d call an income from my books (albeit a tiny one). I’ve been working toward that dream so long that it’s almost uncomfortable to contemplate.
So yeah. I read things sometimes from various traditionally published pros, and from indies who would “never give [their] work away,” and they talk about how bad KDP Select is. Conceptually, theoretically, philosophically… maybe so. But I know for a fact that refusing KDP Select on philosophical grounds does nothing for my dreams. I can write good books but I simply don’t have what it takes–personal popularity, a great hook, a platform, marketing savvy, whatever–to get hundreds or thousands of people to pick those books up. Not without Amazon’s help.
I’m hoping I can build a real fanbase while things are the way they are at Amazon. I don’t have any faith that I’ve found a forever home. But I’m willing to take advantage of opportunities while they’re around.
A side note: I think it’s funny how so many people come into publishing and assume they started at the bottom. I’ve read people worrying about their Author Rank (that chart above) dropping below 1000– and assuming everybody else shares the same worry about the same level. I laughed.
I think that happens with both indies who started out somewhat successful, and with traditionally published authors. My definition of ‘somewhat successful’ is a lot lower than somebody who started out making the equivalent of a few hundred bucks a month. Oh yes. On the other hand, I’ve learned a ton, maybe including some stuff those who start out luckier never do?
Another sidenote: I’ve recently encountered the idea among some indies that books can be ‘dead’. Dead beyond resuscitation, even. I’ve read suggestions that badly performing books can only be saved by taking them down, changing their titles and covers to ditch previous record links, and republishing. I laughed again. I might not be laughing in a few months when I do some more experiments, but right now all I can think is, “I’m glad nobody ever told me that my books were dead.”