For Writers: KDP Select and Other Unsolicited Thoughts
Updated: Jul 23, 2019
It's not often these days when I write a post geared toward authors. This one happens to be addressed to self-published authors in respects to KDP, and especially new authors trying to figure out how it all works. Much of this post was a response to a simple question I received. As is my habit, I went off on a bit of a tangent.
If you're a reader, feel free to skip this post . . . unless the subject interests you.
As always, everyone is entitled to their thoughts and opinions. These are some of mine.
The first question asked was: What is the difference between KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited, and how do you get into Kindle Unlimited without going into KDP Select?
Keep in mind that this information is available from the KDP website, so I will keep this part brief. The way I explain it is this: KDP is the publishing platform for Amazon. KDP Select is a program within that platform, and Kindle Unlimited is a subscription for readers, made up of books enrolled in KDP Select. They work hand-in-hand. You can publish through KDP without enrolling in KDP Select, but you need to be in KDP Select to have your books in KU.
The second question asked was: Is KDP Select and subsequently, Kindle Unlimited, worth doing?
That depends. All I can share is my situation, but every author is different.
I have books in Kindle Unlimited because it works for me, right now. The KU reads help to offset what I might make from other retailers. I do like to run occasional promotions only available through KDP Select, especially when a new book comes out. I will say that if I didn't have my paperbacks wide-release, then I would not be in Kindle Select. Because I have paperbacks wide, I still get exposure across all platforms thanks to Ingram.
For those who think print books are dying, think again. They are once again on the rise (thank goodness).
I will likely keep my western romances in Select because they seem to do better there (and they sell well in paperbacks), and continue to experiment with my contemporary books. When I write my dual timeline books (ha, spoiler alert), those will go wide release right out the gate (cliché intended), but eventually end up in Select. A lot of authors find that some genres do better wide release than others, but experiences vary. Authors with Amazon Publishing imprints have their e-books in Select, which also means in KU, and many of them have stellar sales numbers. Ultimately, marketing and trial-and-error are necessary to see where a book or series work best—in or out of KU.
In my opinion, for KDP Select/KU to bring in "the big bucks," authors either have to churn out a ton of content every year (Which is part of the problem with the industry, with too many authors going for quantity over quality.**), or have a fantastic marketing plan in place to target the right audiences.
**This is not across the self-publishing board. Some prolific writers manage to put out good books that their readers really enjoy, so please do not assume that I am lumping ALL authors into this category who publish many books per year. It's just a general opinion. Some of those authors are writing rock stars.
And because I had a similar conversation with another author recently, I'm going to add this:
There is a ton of competition everywhere in publishing, so if an author is setting out in this industry for the primary purpose of getting rich, they should get out before they start.
This is a business, and good business is a marathon, not a sprint.
Here's a great bit of knowledge from Stephen King.
Whether an author is in KDP Select or wide-release, the shortcuts are just that—short. They aren't long-term plans for success, so it doesn't matter if a book is in KU or not, or for how long. Authors sell well in Select and wide.
There is no "one size fits all books" plan, regardless of what anyone says. There are formulas to follow, rules to follow and break, and there are too many tips and tricks to name.
Too many of us have advice to offer, but what works for one author is not a guarantee to work for another, so a lot of it phooey. Some authors will say all of what I'm saying now is phooey because it's not what they want to hear. That's okay, too. There is some truly fantastic advice out there, but how do you sift through and find what works for you?
Try lots of what other people say, OR find what works for you and forget the rest . . . with one caveat. Every person who says that a professional editor (yes, a certified professional with a degree and everything) is necessary, is correct. That's one bit of advice every self-published author should heed. Next would be a good cover designer.
Why is there not one plan that works for every author? Because authors are different. Our books are different. Two authors may write books of similar quality in the same genre, both with attractive covers, but Author A may find more success than Author B. One author may have more drive than the other, or a better marketing plan. They may have found their own version of a magic bullet to the top. They may have been in the right place at the right time to be noticed by enough of the right people.
Too many variables for one plan to work for every author. Each author needs to find what works for them. Ask a lot of questions, read a ton of books, and write, write, write.
You will find successful authors on both sides (KU or wide-release/traditional or self-published), and each will have found their success in different ways. The reality is that self-published authors are likely to make most of their money from Amazon, at least for now. There are, of course, exceptions. See, no one plan for all!
The nice thing about having some exposure across multiple platforms is that we never know what the industry is going to do next, and as they say, "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket."
Again, this is a business, and needs to be treated like one. Our creative minds often fight that part, but if an author isn't willing or able to put as much hard work into the business as they are into their writing, then self-publishing is not the right path. Many authors have opted for self-publishing because they wanted more control over their books. Some chose it because they didn't want to bother with submitting to agents and publishers. Some choose hybrid publishing (traditional + self-publishing) because they want the best of both worlds. And many authors choose traditional publishing only.
Whichever path you choose, writing is a business. It's fun, too. Oh, my goodness is it fun, but it's also hard work. Nothing in life worth having comes free or easy, and a writing career is no different.
And some of the best writing advice I have ever read comes from Michael Connelly. What a smart guy.
There you have it. Write the story, because without the story, none of the rest matters.