Monday, January 18, 2016

Marketing a Debut Novel, Part 2: Into the Jungle

Part 1 is here

Which Jungle?
One of the biggest decisions a debut author will make is which digital platforms to publish on. It seems simple—ALL THE CHANNELS—but there are some wrinkles to iron out. With myriad options, it’s easy to get lost. Most of us know we'll want to publish with Amazon (KDP), but what about the other outlets like Barnes & Noble or Kobo?

Rather than publishing individually on the smaller single-site publishers like Nook or Apple, it’s much easier to use an aggregator like Smashwords, Lulu, or IngramSpark that distributes to most of those. However, easy is relative, and none are user-friendly, in my opinion, so order a case of wine before you even turn on the computer.

Genre is a big consideration, because some do better with some outlets like Kobo or Apple—depends on your audience and where they shop. But for most authors, more than 90% of sales will come from Amazon. Conventional wisdom says the best strategy is to publish to KDP for Amazon, then if you want to add other sites, use one of the aggregators to distribute everywhere else. But hold on. You have a decision to make first and may not need the other platforms right away, at least for ebook.

KDP Select
The decision is about KDP’s optional program, KDP Select. It allows readers to loan books within the program for free through the Kindle Lending Library (KOLL), or download through Kindle Unlimited (KU) for a low monthly subscription, but you still get paid—with a catch. You must subscribe for 90 days (opt in at any time and no limits on how often,) and the ebook must be exclusive to KDP during that time. It cannot be available at any other retailer (just the ebook, not print.) So you have to put all your eggs in one basket. But you're saved from dealing with the other platforms, and that's a relief, trust me.

Author payment for KDP Select has been controversial (and there are some very harebrained conspiracy theories about it … something about aliens and anal probes.) They recently changed the pay schedule; it used to be a flat fee per download, now it is based on a per-page-read schedule (number of pages is standardized to account for different font size, etc,) and the money comes from a monthly fund from which all authors draw. So far, it’s worked out to an average of around $ .005-6 per page. This was implemented to combat a sneaky trend of authors flooding Select with 20 page books and getting the same payout as a 400 page book. This means shorter works like short stories or novellas won’t earn as much as a novel—which is perfectly reasonable, in my opinion—and likely won’t benefit from the program as much. It also means a book people don’t read all the way through will suffer. My answer to the critics: Write longer, better books.

However, like many, I was quite skeptical of Select. My book debuted just after the payment overhaul, with the rumblings of mutiny at a fever pitch. After I investigated the critics’ claims and found them exaggerated or blatantly untrue, I took the leap.

Here’s why:
There are over 2.5 million books published every year now, around 500k of them in the U.S. Readers have a lot of choices, but limited money. When we look at reader habits, we have to recognize various levels of budget and willingness to try new authors--and recognize that those two things are directly related. We also need to get paid. Select is a way to straddle that divide. We still get paid and may gain a fan for future works, while the reader can take a chance at a lower cost, without feeling burned if they don’t like the book.

The next issue to consider is payout. As I said, shorter works suffer a bit in Select. The longer a book is (to a point,) the more reasonable the payout. Mine is 87k words. At the average payout over the last few months—$ .005—I earn around $2.60 if they read the whole thing. With my book priced at $2.99, that’s a higher royalty than if they bought it. Until and unless the payout rate changes a lot, I’m way ahead there. I’ll likely bump my price up in the next few months. Even if I price at $4.99 (the highest I’d go even once the second book is out,) I’m still losing less than a dollar on the sale…or not losing anything.

There are a lot of KOLL/KU readers, and they’re often the ones most likely to give an unknown a chance because their budget within Select is unlimited—so they’re less likely to buy at retail. They probably won’t stumble on my book and buy it for $2.99 when there are tens of thousands of books they can choose from in Select. So I’m gaining readers and royalties I wouldn’t otherwise have.

Finally, the biggest concern a lot of folks—and I—had about Select is the exclusivity. We’re aghast at the idea of cutting off other channels and “losing so many sales.” As I pointed out earlier, genre and audience are a big factor here, but the majority of debut authors won’t have a lot of sales on the other channels. A generous estimate is around 90 to 10 in favor of Amazon vs all other sites combined.

In a little less than 90 days in KU, I had over 45,000 pages read, equating to about 87 books. That’s 1/5th of the sales I had in that period. If we compare numbers, I might have lost around 35 sales from other channels (but that’s likely a huge overestimation,) while gaining 87—at a higher royalty rate than any platform—from Select. Select had probably triple the sales I might have had on other outlets. I’ll take those numbers any day.

Obviously, your mileage may vary. But Select has been great for me, and I believe it’s worth a try for most. If it doesn't work, you can quit in 90 days and put the book on the other platforms and see how it plays out, after getting a boost from Select.

In my next post, I’ll cover the Kindle Countdown Deal and the promotion sites I used during the sale. While the Countdown Deal is only available for those enrolled in Select, promo sites can be valuable for any sale, so there’ll be something for everyone. Rest up and stock up on liquor. The swamp gets worse from here.

Part 3: Kindle Countdown Deals & Promo Sites

Image courtesy of mapichai at

No comments:

Post a Comment