One of the draws of being an indie author is the fact that you get to make all the decisions about your book’s content, cover, and everything else you can carry in a five-gallon bucket. At the same time … somebody’s gotta make all those decisions, and that decision-maker is you. And when you consider that every decision you make could have either a positive or a negative effect on your book sales … that’s a big decision.
One of the stickiest decisions currently facing authors is whether or not to enroll your bouncing baby book in KDP Select.
What Is KDP Select?
The “KDP” part is, of course, the Kindle Direct Publishing we’ve all come to know and love. It’s where you can upload your book for free to the single largest bookstore in the world and start earning royalties on your hard-written words.
KDP Select is an opt-in you’ll see all over your dashboard and email communications from KDP.
KDP Select, on the author’s side of the sales counter, pairs with Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime on the buyer’s side. If you’re an Amazon customer, you can enroll in Amazon Prime, which gives you a bunch of perks like free two-day shipping on physical orders. It also lets you borrow an ebook every month for free through the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL). Customers who love to read can also subscribe to Kindle Unlimited (KU), which, for $9.99 a month, lets you borrow up to ten books at a time.
But only certain books are available to borrow via KOLL or KU. You guessed it – the books that authors themselves enroll in KDP Select. (Are the abbreviations getting to you, too, yet?)
In addition to exposing your work to new readers through KOLL and KU, you’ll also get better marketing tools at your disposal. (More on that below.) Authors enrolled in KDP Select usually report better sales.
The trade-off? You can’t have your ebook available on any other platform while it’s enrolled in KDP Select. Not Barnes & Noble. Not Smashwords. Not your website. Nowhere. It has to be available exclusively on Amazon.
So, should you sacrifice sales on the other platforms in order to take full advantage of the Amazon giant?
The Pros of Going Exclusive on KDP Select
So how does Amazon magically boost your book via KDP Select, anyway? While Amazon isn’t advertising this outright, some authors, such as Lindsay Buroker, have studied their dashboards and concluded that a book borrow through KOLL or KU counts towards your sales rank.
Wait. Back up. What’s sales rank?
On your book page, under “Product Details,” it says “Amazon Best Sellers Rank” and lists a number. The smaller that number, the closer you are to being the #1 Amazon Best Seller. (BTW, don’t stay up all night watching your numbers. It’s better to get your sleep and work on your next book.)
In addition to noting your Amazon Best Seller Ranking (which can be depressing), your book stats should also note how you’re doing in the categories you chose during publication. You’ll have a better shot there. The smaller your rank number, the closer you are to being #1 in your category. (And apparently, there are ways to get your book into more than two subcategories, and into smaller, more precise subcategories, via keywords. I’ll write a post when I know more about it.)
Being towards the top of your category is awesome, because buyers frequently browse categories, looking for their next read. And they’ll probably find it in the first page or two. (Books are organized by decreasing popularity.) If your book doesn’t show up until page 10, nobody’s gonna find you.
Which brings us back to book borrows counting as book buys. By and large, you’re going to get more borrows than buys if you’re enrolled in KDP Select. And apparently, those borrows will boost your sales rank, all the same, making you more discoverable to browsers, both paying and non-paying.
Books in KDP Select Get Access to Awesome Marketing Tools
If you simply publish through the plain-vanilla Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), the lowest you can price your book is $0.99. You can’t price it free (for promotional purposes) unless you use the loophole. If you have the book available on other platforms, you can price it free there, then click the button on Amazon telling them, “Hey! There’s a better deal over at your competitor!” Still, I’ve heard horror stories about Amazon refusing to price match free books until months later – or not at all.
So if you’re running a week-long promotion to correspond with your book launch blog tour, don’t count on the book being free on Amazon in time!
By contrast, enrolling in KDP Select gives you access to two valuable marketing tools: Kindle Countdown Deals and Free Book Promotion. With Kindle Countdown Deals, you can temporarily reduce the price of your book. With Free Book Promotion, you can temporarily make your book available for free. This works great with, say, a BookBub ad!
Amazon essentially makes KDP Select the only reliable way to run free or time-sensitive marketing promotions. (Okay, except for manually re-pricing your book for $0.99.) These are powerful tools, and a great way to grow your readership, along with the above-mentioned book borrowing.
The Cons of Going Exclusive on KDP Select
Some authors complain that borrows won’t get you as much money as a real sale. Amazon maintains a mysterious KDP Select Global Fund from which it pays authors for book borrows. You might get, on average, $1.50 per borrowed book. If your regular price is more than that, you’re “losing” money. However, if you have your book up for $0.99, you’re gaining.
And it can depend on how you look at it, too. A dollar fifty is more than no sale at all!
The Dangers of Putting Your Eggs in One Basket
We finally arrive at the biggest reason why some authors mistrust KDP Select. It’s generally considered bad business to place all your expectations on one source of income – particularly when you have no direct control over that source. Amazon could tweak its algorithms and plunge you into oblivion. (Remember the Facebook fiasco, when they started showing your posts to only a sliver of your followers unless you paid?)
As another instance, Joe Turkot talks about the “goldrush days” when a Kindle Countdown Deal would do all the work of promoting, right on Amazon. Now? They changed something, and you have to promote elsewhere (such as BookBub).
You do not control Amazon. Why should Amazon control your business?
How to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too
If you write more for pleasure than for income, then there’s no reason not to use KDP Select. Eat your heart out! But for authors who have an eye on income as well as art, there are ways to take advantage of KDP Select without letting it take advantage of you.
The key is in the fact that KDP Select books are automatically re-enrolled every 90 days. However, you can select an option on your dashboard to opt out of automatic renewal. And Voila! Your book is out of KDP Select and you’re free to publish on other platforms. Two strategies come to mind:
- Strategy 1: If you’re a brand new author with not much of a platform, put your first book or two out on KDP Select. Use it as a tool to grow your following.
- Strategy 2: When you have a new release, put it on KDP Select for the first 90 days (or 180, or 270), then opt out of KDP Select and release it elsewhere.
For my next release, I plan on enrolling it in KDP Select for a time and taking advantage of the marketing tools to build some momentum. After that, I’ll make it available on other platforms to give me some peace of mind about the longevity of my business.
What about you? How do you feel about KDP Select?