by Christina Lay
A few authors have asked me lately about my experiences with Kindle Direct Publishing’s Select option, so I thought I’d condense my notes and present them here. While the topic might be rather dry, it also might be of interest to those searching for new revenue streams for their published or about to be published works. For those who don’t know, Select is a program offered by KDP, Amazon’s ebook publishing service. By enrolling your ebook, you agree to offer it for sale exclusively on Amazon. In return, you get the option to list your book for free, for up to five days of each three-month enrollment period. This can be a big boon to someone who is using the freebie option as a marketing strategy. The second benefit of Select is that your book is available for “check-out” by anyone paying for a Kindle Unlimited subscription. Amazon pays the author for this by a royalty system that I’m sure keeps many up late into the night. It’s calculated by pages read—and each book gets a share of a monthly pot based on its percent of the total. If you feel like giving yourself a headache, you can read details here.
I should pause a moment to point out that many seasoned, best-selling authors will warn you quite passionately against putting all of your book eggs in Amazon’s basket. I understand and I see the point very clearly. However, there are instances where having your book in Amazon’s free library might be a viable part of your overall strategy. And, when you sign up, the term is for three months. It is not as if you are selling your literary soul to the behemoth that is Amazon. Just remember to unclick the auto-renew option, so you can escape at will.
I discovered the benefits of KDP Select by accident. I published a very short story a couple years ago, with the intent of offering it for free to generate interest in my novels. The easiest way to do it seemed to be to sign the book up for KDP Select, so that I could have the option of offering it for free on Amazon with no hassle. I did that, generated about 700 downloads, and I felt fairly satisfied with the whole experiment. There was a bump in novel sales, not big, but enough it seemed to have had a bit of an impact. Also, there were now 700 people in the world who at least were vaguely aware of my existence. Maybe someday they will actually read the story and become a fan, write a review, buy another book. That’s the dream.
Nowadays there are more free giveaway platforms like InstaFreebie and so on, to help with the Free Book gambit, but there are other reasons one might choose KDP Select.
I left my book in Amazon’s clutches without much thought of doing anything else with it. The short story continued to sit up there, neglected by me, and slowly, I noticed a few pennies dribbling into my checking account from Amazon. And yes, I do mean a few pennies. KU’s author reward system is based on pages read, and my very short story generated very few royalties. I considered it amusing, and somewhat interesting.
Flash forward a few years, and I found myself with the rights to a backlist of novels after my publisher closed its doors. I repackaged them and when ready to re-release, decided to opt for KDP Select on the first book in a series, again mainly to generate interest in the rest. This time the book was downloaded about 300 times. Not bad but not great either. But then something else started to happen. Instead of a few dozen pages being logged in my KENP report (what Amazon calls pages read), there were thousands. I became more interested in Amazon’s byzantine reward system. At the end of the month my pages read for that book resulted in a royalty payment that was about equal to the royalties from books sold, thereby doubling my income. Now, these were not quit-the-day-job-and-move-to-the-south-of-France numbers, but it did spark my interest, shall we say. I signed up the second book in the series, and experienced the same results. One might ask whether this diminishes actual sales, but there is no way to tell and by my calculations, the royalty result is nearly the same for a full-length book priced to sell (2.99-4.99). My guess is that readers who are paying for the KU option are probably reluctant to pay for a book, especially when they don’t know the author.
KDP Select is obviously not a good choice for everyone, or even most. Obviously, if you have a solid fan base, your sales are going well and you feel satisfied with the progress of your publishing career, than signing over your fate to Amazon probably isn’t worth the sacrifice. It is clearly in your benefit to have your ebooks available through every possible retailer. And there are other ways to offer books for free.
However, if your sales are lagging, if you have books that have been around the block and are gathering dust on the virtual shelves, or if you have a series that could use a boost, this might be a golden opportunity to reach new readers. And, if like me, you are an unknown minnow in a vast sea of unknown fish, having your book free on Amazon can give you a marketing lift like no other (assuming you don’t have a huge publicity budget, that is). Over the span of my publishing experience, I must admit that sales via Amazon equal about ninety percent of my total, so being exclusive is not much of a sacrifice for me, especially not in the short term. Remember this is for ebooks only, not print. So is it worth sacrificing a handful of sales to B&N and Apple readers? Only you can decide that.