Going Wide vs. KDP Select: My Experience

Going Wide vs. KDP Select: My Experience

Going Wide

The publishing industry today has far more options for authors than were available even a few years ago. When choosing how to get your self-published book to market, there are a few questions that regularly pop up on blogs and forums (KBoards) alike. Chief among them: should I be going wide or exclusive through Amazon with KDP Select? Ugh…

Consensus eludes most forums. However, there are two main camps or points of view which persist. There are authors out there who refuse to go exclusive for any extended period of time, such as J.F. Penn at The Creative Penn. She is a huge proponent of ‘going wide’ and has dedicated a large chunk of her blog and web presence to teaching authors how to do it and how to do it well.


As a person with a business background who understands channels, widely distributing your works makes inherent sense to me. However, that tricky Amazon has created some powerful incentives to remain exclusive to the Kindle platform.

KDP Select

When you publish on the Kindle Direct Publishing website, you have the option to be exclusive with Amazon for a period of 90 days. After which, you’re automatically re-enrolled in KDP select unless you check the box and opt-out. Why do this?

KDP Select allows you access to the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Lending Library. This means you get paid for how many pages are read from a central fund at Amazon, the amount per page varying from month to month (typically between $.0048 and $.0051 per page read).

I know a ton of authors who make more than 50% of their overall writing income from this program. I myself saw my income rise by more than 58% year over year (from 2015 to 2016), much of it due to KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Page) reads. In addition to getting page reads, I saw absolute sales numbers increase year over year. This could be due to a number of factors. Kindle Unlimited ‘sales’ contribute to sales ranking, which puts my books up higher in the various categories it’s listed under. This helps.

Although there are benefits to KDP Select, going exclusive has limitations and risks associated with it. For instance, what happens if Amazon miscounts your page reads (as has been reported on the KBoards)? What happens if Amazon reduces the fund amount, thus reducing the amount you make per page read? Also, on more than one occasion, Kindle’s page count for my books has readjusted. This makes sales tracking difficult and changes my pay structure per book read.

What do I do?!?

There’s no perfect answer in this scenario, and likely many ways to rise to the top. However, after about seven years of doing this and coming up in the age of the Kindle, here’s my advice:

If you’re a new author, I suggest going exclusive with KDP Select until you have either several books under your belt or a complete (or near-complete) series of books. Once you have a number of books published, it is easier to make good use of your marketing dollars and one sale can often become many (when customers binge your series). This is where you want to be.

What if I Already Have a Series?

The Azure Key going wideIf you’re already an established author with a series in tow, I would consider going wide. However, dip your toe in first. What I did was make the first book in my series permafree by uploading it to Smashwords and getting Amazon to price match. I am currently in the process of going wide, but I anticipate it will take me a year or two to get there.

The goal with a permafree book is to get it into as many hands as possible. Your first-in-series is a call to action. A reader has no barrier to reading your book except for their time. If you don’t waste their time, you may be rewarded with reviews or with subsequent sales of later books in your series. The longer your series, the more impactful this can be.

It took a while for Amazon to price match Smashwords and the Barnes & Noble Nook edition, but once it did I got more than 500 downloads in a matter of days. Better, they keep coming.

Going Wide vs. KDP Select

The decision to go wide or join KDP select is a highly personal one. If you don’t go through KDP Select in the beginning, I found it hard to gain a following at first. As my career progresses, however, it’s becoming a lot easier to gain a following on other platforms. Still, sales are slower for my non-exclusive books than with my exclusive ones. In a year or two I’ll update this blog to let you know how this experiment goes!

If you have any questions as to how any of this works, feel free to leave a comment below!

2 thoughts on “Going Wide vs. KDP Select: My Experience

  1. Hi Trevor,
    Good article. Quick question with respect to this last part: “If you don’t go through KDP Select in the beginning, I found it hard to gain a following at first.”

    Does that apply more to priced books than permafree? A permafree debut novel going wide would seem to have a greater reach (and thus be stronger for mailing list purposes) than keeping it on KDP Select, right?

    Thanks!

  2. Hi Vicente,

    In order to make your book permanently free on Kindle, you need to go wide. Amazon must price match another website, otherwise your book will never actually be ‘permafree.’ If your goal is to use a permafree novel for mailing list purposes, going wide is really the only option. If it’s your debut novel, I would suggest starting in KDP Select because then you’ll make a bit of money, utilize the quarterly freebie options, and benefit from the better placements and search rankings. Once you have at least one other novel, going wide and using the permafree option can be a great way to get new readers and draw people in to your other novel. If you don’t have anything else to sell, you’ll just be giving away books with no option for the reader to pay you, even if they wanted to (barring paypal donations on a website or something). A permafree debut novel may have a greater reach, but you’re wasting that marketing pull because you have nothing else to sell. That is, unless exposure is the only thing you’re after, in which case the money aspect is irrelevant. Hope this helps!

    Trevor

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