Earlier this week, I had a near confrontation with another author (and it was totally my fault, I own up to that 100%, this fellow author is a great person) about Amazon’s subscription program, Kindle Unlimited, or KU. Yes, this is what authors talk about and get all worked up about behind the scenes. The reason it was a near confrontation was because this fellow author made a statement to the effect of “I just don’t understand what the benefit of KU to authors is. I don’t get it, so I won’t be part of it.” And why did that make me see red? Other than the fact that I was sleep-deprived and PMSy?
Because I am really tired of one set of authors raging and frothing and gnashing their teeth while they scream at other authors to stop enrolling their books in KU because it’s ruining publishing for everyone.
Because I’m tired of other authors who are in a much more solid position with their careers telling me how I should be running my career.
Because removing the books that I have in the KU program (and it’s not all of them by any stretch) would constitute me taking a 60% pay cut and not being able to support myself with my writing.
It’s really easy to point fingers at someone else and tell them they should take a 60% pay cut when you’re making 6-7 figures a year. It’s far too easy to feel justified about personal career choices that work well for you at the point you are in with your career without stopping to consider that not everyone’s career is in the same place.
So here’s my take on KU as an author. 90% of my income comes from two series, Montana Romance and Hot on the Trail. Both are historical westerns. Montana Romance is much, much steamier, and the books are longer. (Yes, I have a few other books/series that sell well, but these are my series that pay the rent…literally). Montana Romance is in wide distribution (Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, etc.) and does very well out there. Hot on the Trail is currently exclusive to Amazon, i.e. part of KU. It does very, very well in KU (meaning I get a lot of page reads/borrows every month).
Now, the decision to pull Hot on the Trail from wide distribution to put it into KU was made very thoughtfully. I looked at a lot of sales figures and data over time. I compared. I kept spreadsheets. What all those numbers told me was that Hot on the Trail was not making even close to the kind of money at iBooks and B&N that Montana Romance was making. In spite of intense promotion (including BookBub) directed at those other sites. After nine plus months of being in wide distribution, it was like I couldn’t even give those books away. I agonized over the decision. I crunched numbers, worried, drank a lot of coffee, and fretted. Then I decided to put the books in KU for 90 days to see what happened.
What happened is that my income on those books shot up over 300% in borrows alone. What happened is that I started making more money in KU borrows from Hot on the Trail than I was making in straight sales from all of the rest of my books combined. What happened is that I was able to pay off some lingering debt, put money in my savings account, and breathe easy for the first time since becoming a full-time author.
The folks who like to go around pressuring authors to pull their books from KU and go wide because “it’s a better business decision” and because “Amazon could pull the rug out from under authors at any time and only pay them a fraction of a fraction for exclusive books” are, without realizing it, trying to take that cherished feeling of security away. They’re denigrating the months of research and the agonizing that went into making the decision in the first place.
Dude, this is my career, not yours. You don’t understand my numbers, so stop trying to pressure me and every other author like me to do what you think is best based on how your books sell when my career is an entirely different story with different rules and different moving parts. I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot so that your career can prosper.
Here’s the thing. Enrollment in KU/exclusivity with Amazon is not a permanent thing. Enrollment periods last for 90 days. You can put books in KU and you can take them out. Nothing is permanent. A lot of doom and gloom predictions are out there about all the ways Amazon plans to cheat indie authors and pull the rug out from under them. It’s like Code Red level panic.
But that hasn’t happened yet.
I’m not saying it won’t happen, but right now, today, in this 90 day enrollment period, this month, this week, things are okay. KU is working for me. It’s paying the rent and getting my books in the hands of more readers than they would be in otherwise. I know this because I did the math, remember? I tracked sales on other outlets, and even a first grader can tell you that the numbers I have now in KU are bigger than the numbers I had in wide distribution earlier.
Right now, things work.
They might not work next year, next 90 day period, next month. Yep. I fully accept and recognize that. But my participation in KU is not permanent. I continue to do the math, I continue to track sales, I continue to market strategically. I am in the now of publishing. I’ll worry about the tomorrow of publishing when it gets here.
It’s basic zen philosophy, really. Live in the moment. Yesterday is gone, you can’t change it. Tomorrow hasn’t gotten here yet, you can’t control it. The very best thing an indie author like me can do is pay attention, keep track of numbers, watch trends, and be prepared to change things when things need changing.
But they don’t for me. Not yet. Right now, what I’m doing works for me. For me. I’m not implying it works for anyone else. I won’t try to direct your career and you shouldn’t try to direct mine. For me right now, where my career is, where my personal life is, where my books are, KU works for the books I’ve enrolled in it.
Tomorrow, everything may change and all the apocalyptic predictions may come true.
I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, because the bridge I’m on now is nice and sturdy, whether you like it or not.