Kindle Direct Publishing has a few new options for publishers. The jury is still out on them, particularly Kindle Unlimited, as we don’t know what authors will end up getting paid, but I’ve got the quick and dirty here on both.
Don’t do it. That’s my expert advice. Here’s the scoop: unless you are close to reaching New York Times or USA Today’s Best Seller lists, it will only hurt you. Why? Because if you’re like me, you rely largely on the Amazon algorithm to sell your books for you. That means, Amazon’s recommendations that come in the form of “Customers who bought this book also bought… <your book>”. No one but the programmers at Amazon know exactly what data goes into Amazon’s algorithm, but most of us agree it has to do with the number of sales you hit initially on your own. It’s generally accepted that the first 72 hours your book hits Amazon are crucial for getting the Amazon wheel turning in your favor.
So what happens when you put your book on pre-order? I had understood that the orders made in advance of the release date would count toward my opening day “ranking” on Amazon. Not True. I repeat: Not True. What it does count toward is books sold if you’re trying to hit the New York Times or USA Today list. While I wish I was in that camp, unfortunately, I am not.
So what happened when I set my latest book to pre-order? Amazon rank started immediately. So in the ten days before my book released I had some trickle sales (I think around 25 total) which gave me a lousy ranking, but I wasn’t worried, because I thought they would count on my opening day. Nope. On my opening day I had the worst ranking of my entire career. Talk about supreme disappointment. I had split my usual opening sales in half with the pre-order thing, and Amazon’s algorithm made a decision on my book based on that ranking. It seemed like my “also bought” recommendations took a long time to come in and sucked. So far the mistake seems to be unrecoverable, not that I’m giving up on my book baby.
The only benefit, I found, was having my links ahead of time for promotional purposes, but considering all the promo I did didn’t help my book, I don’t think that little bonus is worth it. Also, if your book happened to be tagged “adult” (since we are all sex writers here) you would know it ahead of time. But again, the clock has already begun ticking, so knowing it in the pre-order stage is hardly a boon unless, of course, you pull the book entirely and resubmit with a new title.
My wonderful colleague Celeste Jones also placed a book on pre-order about the same time I did. Her book, however, took off. Guess why? First off, she had more opening day sales than I did, but even more crucial to her success, she enrolled her book in the Kindle Unlimited program. For every one sale she made, she had two more Kindle Unlimited borrows. And here’s the key: Kindle Unlimited borrows count toward your ranking. Which, if you’re following me, means your book gets shown and recommended by Amazon more often, which equates to more sales.
I have one very small experience with Kindle Unlimited. My book Yes, Doctor uploaded to Amazon with an update. Even though my publisher did not check it into KU, Amazon accidentally put the book into the program. In the twenty-four hours before Amazon realized their mistake, 100 people borrowed the book and my ranking shot from the 8000 range to 1500, putting it in the BDSM top 10. And this was a book that had already been out for over six weeks! I do need to mention, though, that during the time my ranking shot to top 10, my actual sales didn’t increase, although I think there has been a residual effect from the bump, probably from the recommendations.
Now before you run out and enlist every book you’ve ever written in Kindle Unlimited, let me just say this: We still don’t know how much publishers will receive for each borrow. Borrows don’t show up until someone reads at least 10% of the book, so if people never open the book, you won’t get paid. We also don’t know what this program will do to regular sales of books. Will they decrease when everyone can check books out of the “library”? Presumably Amazon wants to make money just like we do, so we can hope they fully analyzed the market before starting this program, but it does make me nervous.
Casey McKay, an author and owner of Baronet Press, a small publisher of erotic romance, thinks Kindle Unlimited might be better used as a marketing tool. For example, adding an older book to the KU program could help the author gain recognition and give a book no longer shown a fresh bump in the Amazon referrals. In fact, Celeste Jones tried just that and found KU breathed new life into a book that came out in March. Sales picked up some and she expects she’ll have 250 borrows by the end of the month, which is a bonus, in addition to reaching new readers.
I’d love to hear if your results are different from mine, or if you have other ideas or experience with either program. Thanks for stopping by!