To KDP Select or not to KDP Select? That is still, even right here in 2014, one of the biggest publishing questions new writers have when launching their books. Is three months of exclusivity in exchange for a few free days and countdown promotions worth it? Or should I distribute to the other stores and try my luck, sacrificing visibility — the buzzword of the moment — in the process?
In 2012 and 2013, I was clear on my stance on KDP Select. I believed it to be a great tool for beginner writers and established writers alike. I enrolled everything in KDP Select right up until The Disappearing, which was around my sixth published work, I believe. Through KDP Select, I not only got reviews, but I topped the Amazon charts when I linked up a BookBub promotion, subsequently resulting in my first thousand dollar month of earnings. For me, at that point in time, KDP Select seemed like a no-brainer.
However, I was wrong. All wrong.
Now I’ve no regrets about my time in KDP Select. I was a beginner writer, after all, and one thing beginner writers want more than anything is short-term success. KDP Select gave me that. It gave me a temporary boost up the Amazon charts. It gave me the ego-stroke of seeing my book being downloaded en masse for free by tens of thousands of people. It saw me make good money whenever I ran a free promo together with a BookBub ad.
If I were to go back in time, the one thing I would tell my beginner writer self is to think long term. Because sure, my standalone debut novel was getting a load of downloads, and sure, all the promotion seemed to be paying off. But the problem came when I stopped promoting — when I didn’t have the cash for a Bookbub ad, or got rejected by another ad site — and the book sank into the 100,000-300,000 rankings. I was screwed, I thought. Self-publishing wasn’t worth it. There was no “get rich quick” tactic.
And then it clicked. No, there wasn’t a “get rich quick” tactic. There was no self-publishing lottery ticket. What there was, however, was the opportunity to produce quality new fiction, to put it for sale everywhere, and to keep focusing on the next book rather than looking back at that one standalone novel.
Quick fast-forward to February 2014. In total, I have twenty-one titles for sale. Now bear in mind one of those is a six-part serial book, which is also available as a complete book and as two separate parts. So that accounts for nine of the twenty-one. And another book I have out is a trilogy boxset. Oh, and my three short stories count here too. All of my books are for sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.
Even better, all of them are selling at Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.
I’m not talking millions. I don’t make very much at iBooks, and make practically nothing at Kobo. But that “not very much” and “practically nothing” do add up when they all go into the pot at the end of the month. Do they add up to as much as I’d be making if I’d just run a massive KDP Select BookBub supported free run? Not quite. Not yet, anyway.
But they add up. Slowly, but surely.
The problem with newer writers — and I include myself in this during 2012 and the first half of 2013 — is that they are looking for the quick route to riches. Problem is, it isn’t so easy anymore. Let’s take KDP Select for example. The effectiveness of the free run has diminished. Unless you can give away over ten-thousand books, you won’t make any real traction. And no, please don’t tell me that those “five extra sales” as a result of your KDP Select free run (where you gave away a hundred copies) was really worth sacrificing enrolment at all the other possible eBook stores for.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Amazon. They are my favourite company, and I have them to thank for 75% of my earnings, and the fantastic, groundbreaking platform they provide. And I still believe that KDP Select could come in use for those who, say, get loads of borrows. And credit to them for launching the Kindle Countdown Deals and offering the 70% on 99c. That could come in handy for some.
Just not me, not at this moment in time.
And in truth, I’m not sure if I was a newer writer if I’d go all in exclusive with KDP Select anymore. Sure, I might make some quick money, but it would only be short-term. It wouldn’t do me any favours in the long run. It wouldn’t see me gaining traction at Barnes & Noble. Or Kobo. Or iBooks. Or Google Play.
You Don’t Know How Well You’re Going To Sell Until You Try.
Ah, Google Play. I really want to talk about that right now actually, because it’s a perfect example of “you don’t know how much success you’re going to have until you try.”
Up until January, I wasn’t in Google Play. I’d heard a few iffy comments on their pricing/discounting policy, and as far as I was aware, it was a small market that just wasn’t worth being in.
That all said, I came across a great Kboards post about how to get books on Google Play and how to price them to account for Google’s discount policy. I won’t go into it here — it’s a great read, and well worth your time if you’re thinking of entering the channel, which you should.
Anyway, I enrolled at Google Play. What the hell, I thought. Might as well give it a shot.
A month later, and Google Play is my second biggest income stream.
By quite a way.
It’s not quite at Amazon levels yet. But it’s way higher than my Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Kobo levels.
All that, and I wasn’t even going to bother enrolling in Google Play.
Why is Google Play working for me? A combination of reasons. Firstly, I have Dead Days Episode One perma-free over there. A lot of people go on to read the full $5.99 season once they’ve finished — a lot more than any other distributor, actually — so that’s a tactic that definitely works there.
And it makes sense. In fact, this is the main theme of my post, actually. Use free where it makes sense to use free.
I’m not against free. Far from it. Like I said, Dead Days Episode One is perma-free everywhere, and the season boxset makes a lot of sales as a result. And that’s just it, right there. Use free when it leads in to something. Never use free just for the sake of using free, or you’ll do nothing but create a few short term pounds & very little else.
So the moral of the story is, you don’t know how you’re going to do until you try. Google Play is a very exciting market. It’s new, there’s a demand for free there, so if you have a few product funnels (free leading to paid products), you’ll have a lot of success there. It reminds me of Amazon in 2010.
Which is a very, very exciting thought.
My Advice for New Writers in 2014
I don’t class myself a new writer anymore even though I’ve only been at this for two years or so. I don’t class myself as a long-term pro, either. I’d say I’m somewhere after the “new writer” stage. The second stage, if you will. A stage where I’ve got a few products out and I’m thinking long-term. I don’t know everything, and I don’t pretend to. But I know a lot more than I did yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that.
Anyway, I know there’s a load of new writers who read this blog looking for help and advice. So here’s my advice to you, right here in 2014.
1.) Work on building a quality backlist of fiction
This is rule number one, two, and three, really. Simply put, forget the idea that publishing is a get-rich-quick activity AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. It is not. And if you believe it is, or start feeling sorry for yourself that your first novel you endlessly promote isn’t selling more than ten copies a month, then you will never succeed as a writer. Sorry, but it’s true.
What you need to do, instead, is work on the next book. Work on the next book and make it so much better than the last. Whether it’s a sequel or a brand new book, or a new genre entirely — it doesn’t really matter at this stage. Just have fun writing, then spend some time battling through those pesky, difficult rewrites, then get a professional editor involved and make your work as good as it can possibly be, then publish.
Then do it again.
Only when you have a few books out should you consider promotion.
Sorry. You won’t be able to quit your day job straight away.
But eventually, if you continue to create quality books, you will.
2.) Make your books available for sale everywhere
I know, this one will be a really, really tricky one to fight past. I know because I was there not so long back.
You need to ask yourself what you want from your writing career. Do you want to earn money and have fun writing long term? Or are you more interested in short term victories? If the latter, are you really, or are you just really desperate for success that you want it right now?
No problem with the latter. But I’d suggest you reframe your goals if you want to be in the business for the long term. And the long term means distributing everywhere. Fuck — we’re so lucky. We actually have the power to put out books in every major ebook retailer, as well as some of the biggest print retailers too. Why not distribute everywhere? It might only seem like you’re making pennies. But add those pennies up over the year — over five years or ten years instead of once a week or once a month — and you’ll see the picture differently.
3.) Keep learning, or you lose.
This is perhaps the most important of all, and yet I just bet it’s the one you’ll skip if you’re reading this.
All writers must continue to learn. What is learning? Well, partly, it’s reading fiction, absorbing techniques into our subconscious. Or absorbing story, rather — TV shows, films, they all count here.
Most of all, it’s putting these techniques into practice.
“But I’ve written a novel, Ryan!” I can hear you saying. “What else do I need to learn?”
Well, if you aren’t careful, your career will come to a halt very soon.
We are writers. Like every creative endeavour, there is always more to learn. Stephen King is still learning. Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath are still learning. The moment we stop learning is the moment our fiction goes stale and the moment our career dies.
We must keep learning. We must keep practicing. If we can do that, thinking long term — ALWAYS thinking long term — we can succeed.
KDP Select is a great short term tool. I still believe it to this day. However, I’m doubtful of its long term impacts. I think it goes hand in hand with the kind of “get-rich-quick” mentality that sees so many writers struggle in the long run.
Furthermore, the other channels are growing. Google Play is a new market with a real demand for quality ebooks. There’s a magnificent opportunity there right now, while it is still in the process of establishing, to make a name for yourself.
As for B&N, Apple, Kobo — no matter what you read about them, people sell books there. Some people sell more at one than the other. That’s something you’ll have to find out for yourself.
Work on building that backlist. Have fun with your writing. Get your books out everywhere. Get them out in paperback. And keep on learning.
Most importantly of all, remember why you’re here.
You’re here to make a career as a long term writer.
Stop treating your books like lottery tickets and more like products that will continue to sell, continue to grow, over time.
And enjoy yourself.