“There are a whole lot of people out there in internet-land trying to help you become a self-publishing genius. The vast majority of them have one thing in common. They are trying to make money out of you.”
But this time I am going to talk about something more complex and certainly more controversial than the ‘for a small fee’ merchants. Instead, I am going to talk about a company that wants to make lots of money out of you, though as a by-product if they are successful you will make money too. The self-publishers biggest champion, Amazon, who I have extolled the importance of before, but they have critics, and they have their dark side. It is important to remember Amazon is not your friend, it’s a business pure and simple, what interests Amazon is making money out of your hard work, and if they can do so at the expense of their competitors all the better in their opinion. So they have been known to try and stack the deck in their favour, which is where the controversy begins.
Kindle Unlimited: Friend or Foe…
Everyone and their pet cat it would seem has an opinion on kindle unlimited, it’s a topic which crops up on social media in writers circles all the time. Some hate it, some plain revile it, but as many claims to use it or even love it. I have no grounds for claiming my opinion is more valid than anyone else, beyond having researched the subject to a greater degree than most. That is if reading Facebook and Goodreads comment threads is anything to go by. That said we all know the scary monsters which sometimes dwell in the bottom half of the internet are not always entirely rational in their opinions. Though you can find out a lot about people opinions by reading them, it’s always helpful to do your own research. With Kindle Unlimited, like everything with Amazon, there are pro’s and con’s, and you’ll have to decide if which for you outweighs which.
When Kindle Unlimited was launched, it was touted as ‘Netflicks for books‘, which is an apt description in some ways. ‘Amazon Prime for books‘ would be a better description, because it has more in common with its corporate sibling (I have subscriptions to both, so I know of what I speak). Netflicks is a simple subscription service, and once you pay the subscription, you have all the content you could desire if it is on Netflicks you have it. Amazon Prime, on the other hand, has lots of content but is also the shop window for Amazons pay to stream service, and it often seems that what you really want to watch you have to pay for. Kindle Unlimited, likewise, has lots of content, but the stuff you most want to read is unlikely to be available on it. That is true at least if you are looking to read a successful mainstream author’s novel. There is no Neil Gaiman on Kindle Unlimited, or Stephen King or James Patterson for that matter. This has been pointed out to me more than once as a reason for a self-published author to stay clear of it. Which always strikes me as a somewhat flawed logic.
Successful Mainstream authors don’t have books on Kindle Unlimited because their publishing houses don’t need to break their writers. They are not looking to build an audience, they already have one. Their novels will appear on supermarket shelves, be reviewed in national newspapers, if you’re a fan, or even if you only have a passing interest, you will know the new Stephen King is coming out months before it does. In short, they are not looking for those elusive fish in readers lake with a rod in hand, they have trawlers ploughing the waves of readers seas and the fish jump into their boats. Which is why they don’t fish in Kindle Unlimited waters, it’s too small a pool…
If it is a pool however it is a pool that is growing into a lake. While figures for how many subscribers it has are harder to find than an Amazon tax return, we know the lake is growing simply because of the portion of the waters which are syphoned off to writers. In 2014 the monthly payout pool stood at under two million dollars ( See, there was a reason for all the water metaphors, if bad jokes offend then for an orderly line at the bottom half of the internet.) By the end of 2016 on average, it was closer to 14 million a month. So for all its detractors, it is an increasingly popular way for readers to get their book fix. The occasional big fish has dipped its toes in the pond in recent times as well and offered books on Kindle Unlimited for short periods. Generally when Amazon makes a deal with a big publishing house for a few stars to headline for them, and Amazon knows if the lake keeps growing the big fish will swim in it more often.
You are not a big fish, any more than I am a big fish. If you were, I am not sure I can see any reason you would be reading this blog post. But it’s a safe bet you want to grow into a bigger fish someday, and to do that as a self-publisher you need readers. Kindle Unlimited is one of the ponds and one which for now at least is one you get to swim in without too many of the big fish crowding you out. It also offers a few perks along the way which can help build an audience. One of which is if you sign your book up to Kindle Unlimited you can also use Amazons Kindle marketing bait, which comes in two shades. The short-term shiny sale price, and the short-term glittering ‘giveaway’. The former may seem depressing, after all, why would you want to drop the price of your novel, you worked so hard to write it, you know is it worth the price you’re asking. The latter… well giving it away is almost soul destroying as an idea.
The simple truth, unfortunate though it is, is no matter how much you know your book is worth the money you’re asking for it at a normal price those readers your fishing for don’t and getting them to take a chance on your novel is very hard at times. But human nature being what it is, everyone loves a bargain, and they love something for nothing even more. If you have a novel out there for $3.99 and you use the Amazon sale bait to put make it less than half price for a week $0.99 you will sell more books. You will still get your 70% royalty, though 70% of the sale price clearly. But you will sell more books, for two reasons. Firstly Amazon push books that are on sale this way and secondly you will tell people, loudly, visibly and a lot… (well you should do, at any rate, I know a writer who didn’t then complained no one brought his book at the sale price.)
Simple fact, if you advertise on all the mediums, you usually advertise on and say the Kindle edition of your book is on sale for this week and this week only at less than half price you will sell more copies than at any other time after the first month you released it. When I have done it, I have trebled or quadrupled sales in that week compared to the whole of the previous month.
A confession: I have no interest in making money out of writing, I have a full-time job that well paid, and much as I would like to make my living as a full-time writer right now that is not an option unless I start selling in big fish numbers. I do not measure my success as a writer based on money made, I measure it on the number of readers I gather. The number of fish hooked from the lake if you like. That said option 2, the ‘giveaway’ I still find unpalatable because my novels are slivers of my soul, and I strongly believe people only value that which they pay for, at least when we are talking about things like books. However, this personal position is probably foolish, because the only thing people like more than a sale is a free lunch, and if you play it right, put in your work promoting, a giveaway week, where you book is free on Kindle could net you a whole lot of fish. And once you have them hook, you can hopefully get them to bite at the other bait you offer…
In a spirit of general inquiry, I once wrote a short erotic sword and sorcery novella. (It is a whole 50 pages, but short erotica is a popular marketplace, and I was curious if I could find a niche at the time and needed something to write between drafts of Passing Place). As it is very short, it is on Kindle for the absolute minimum price you can set at $0.99. I don’t actively advertise it, nor is it under my real name, it was purely an experiment and a surprisingly successful one considering how little work I have put into trying to sell it.
If you’re really curious you can find it by writing my first and last names backwards, I can only promise you a few people have found it an interesting read. At the time I thought I might write a few more, a short series of short novella’s then collect them in a single edition in paperback. I may still do so at some point as it has netted a fair few fish on its own, with little work from me. Another great human truth, sex sells… and people like Game of Thrones, dragons, swords, political machinations etc, but also because they like reading the bits about incest George R R Martin wrote…
The reason I have told you this is simply to illustrate a point. I have sold a couple of hundred copies at $0.99 without trying to do so in the couple of years it has been out there. My original plan was to try and get as many readers as possible with the first book in a series and then sell lots of Passions of the Dragon Queen vol2 / 3 / 4 etc … So I tried putting on a one-week giveaway via its Kindle Unlimited membership and, again without really advertising at all, it ‘sold’ about three hundred copies in that week. Then it did almost as many the next time I did it when the renewal had gone through ( you can only offer books on sale or give away once every 90 days, as you sign up a book for Kindle Unlimited in 90-day periods. So 200 sales in two years, but around 1200 free giveaway copies have gone out. It would probably be more, but I have never pushed it and often forget to do a giveaway in a 90-day slot…
The point here is if Kram Seyah actually wrote a few sequels, he has a readership who just might buy them because they enjoyed the first, and importantly they are aware he exists (in theory at least) having read the first novella. Side note: to go back to an early post, guess how many reviews Kram Seyah has got for his little book … yep, none what so ever… getting reviews is hard. Though it is entirely possible that people are less inclined to put their name to a review on an erotic novel of this kind.
There is another point old Kram can help illustrate. His ‘novel’ is cheap on Kindle, $0.99 cheap. And the kindle unlimited page count is only 51 pages. The way Kindle Unlimited works as far as authors are concerned is the payout pool is separated into $0.005 a page ( it varies each month, but that is the average last year). So if someone reads Karm’s opus on Kindle Unlimited, it pays me very little. Less than the $0.19 I get for someone buying a copy ( 30% of 60% amazon maths are weird but let’s not go there.) So KU is a bad bargain for Kram. However my first novel ‘Cider Lane’ I have had set at $0.99 on Kindle for the last 6 months. It has been out a long time, and I just want to catch readers by selling cheap, (again a whole different conversation). It is a real novel, however, and a respectable 301 pages. So if someone reads it on Kindle Unlimited, I actually make a dollar more than I would if they bought it on kindle… Passing Place is a grand opus of 500+ pages, and the royalties work out about the same either way at normal price.
So if you are selling your novel cheap in order to attract people who might take a chance on it. Then having it on Kindle Unlimited makes sense. You get the sales tools, and you actually could earn more per reader on KU…
Kindle Unlimited also has every Amazon Prime member (if they own a Kindle), as they can all access one book a month free from Kindle Unlimited. (The slightly unscrupulous among you may want to think about that… and I will tell you why. A friend of mine bought a copy of Passing Place direct from me as he wanted a signed copy, but because he had Amazon Prime, he could read it on his Kindle and showed as a verified purchase with his review. I also technically got paid twice for the book. The verified review was what I was actually after however, it is entirely genuine as a review but rather than risk it being rejected due to him not having bought his paperback copy on Amazon he reviewed the Kindle version…)
Now, the downside.
Amazon, as I may have mentioned, is a business, and they use Kindle Unlimited to try and control their access to the market. If you sign up a book for 90-days, part of the agreement is you can ONLY sell your novel on Kindle. That’s no Smashwords, no Barnes and Noble (Kobo), no ibook sales, no other marketplace at all… Ain’t that a kicker…
Well maybe, maybe not. Kindle, as I have said before, is the biggest market for self-publishing. And Kindle Unlimited is growing as a platform. All the same, you have to weigh that against having to withdraw from other platforms. You can however just sign up for 90 days then drop out of it again. So you can use the benefits for short periods if you want. Though unlisting books from other retailers is a pain.
There is also the controversy’s, and there is a lot of them. Mainly because Amazon, much in the way it tries to clean up reviews has sought to clean up Kindle Unlimited, and tried to do so in the wrong way half the time. I could fill a lot of posts talking about them, but it comes down to this, the ‘for a small fee’ brigade infest Kindle Unlimited in much the say way as they do other aspects of self-publishing. It is a system that is built for exploitation, and Amazon keeps trying to stamp on the exploits.
To give an example or two, as authors get paid by pages read, Some ‘writers’ fluff there books out with lots of blank pages at the end, as readers will flash through them to find what’s behind them. There are ‘books’ out there with 60 pages of story and another 200 pages of excerpts from other books, which may be a marketing tool for their other work but also twists the system. There are also the straight out cons, because Amazon’s algorithms find the page count by the point a reader gets to, so unscrupulous people put hyperlinks at the front of mostly blank pamphlets that go to the last page.. instant 200 pages read… or 300 or whatever they want. Amazon tried to stop that by setting up a system that banned books that had hyperlinks to the back, which screwed over genuine writers who just happen to have an index there… Then Amazon tried to combat that flaw by making page counts work by time, so you could not flip to the end of a book and rack up a page count, but the system was flaky as hell and screwed up page counts for a couple of months before it was withdrawn.
The main reason for wanting high page counts is not even for the $0.005 a page but the Amazon rewards for best sellers on Kindle Unlimited which pay out large bonuses if you are a top seller there as an inducement. Get in the top sales on Kindle Unlimited, and you can net thousands, sadly criminal gangs realised this and rigged the system with the kinds of methods above and Even Amazon admit, quietly, that the fraudsters have got most of the prizes in the last year or so.
In my opinion, Amazon is trying their best to sort out all the issues with the system of rewards for writers. They just keep breaking it in new ways as the cheats are faster on their feet and find new exploits. A lot of writers are put off by this, understandably.
You have to decide for yourself. Hopefully, this blog has helped you get a grasp on it a little at least, but I would advise reading more on the subject on the Amazon forums. My view is that Kindle Unlimited is here to stay and its another way to find readers, readers actively looking for books. The pro’s for me outweigh the cons, though Kram Seyah likes it more than I do, but he fishes in different ponds…
And as always, Kindle Unlimited is not a shortcut, it still requires engagement with your readers if you want to be a success, something Kram may do if he ever writes a few sequels to his novella….
Adios for now
Self-publishing: A guidebook for the tourist, will be back with another informative and occasionally rant post in the near future, feel free to follow the blog so you don’t miss a post
The previous posts for those who missed it can be found here.
- Self-Publishing: A Guidebook for the Tourist#1
- Self-publishing: A Guidebook for the Tourist#2: Reviews
- Self-publishing: A Guidebook for the Tourist#4: Covers: a judgement call…
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