How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Kindle Unlimited (For Writers)

Hello, everybody. I know I don't usually make posts about writing here, or I should say, I don't typically post stuff that's really only of interest to other writers, and not to my readers. However, there's been a lot of confusion and speculation on all my usual online writers' hangouts about Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited service. I have books to write, and I can't spend any more time helping to keep my fellow authors from panicking -- so I decided to write out all my thoughts on how to utilize KU effectively. I'm posting this ginormous dissertation here so I've got a link to point people to when they freak out.

If you're not a writer, this will probably bore you, so I direct you instead to this incredible video of Stains the Dog, staring in consternation at a plate of cupcakes. (I can't get enough of this video, and I guarantee you, it's way more interesting than what I'm about to say below, if you're not a writer.) (Plus, Joel McHale is really cute.)

If you're a writer concerned about how the heck you can turn KU into an effective selling tool, rather than allowing it to suck all your profits away, read on:

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Okay. This is how you make this work for positive discoverability, even on other platforms. This will take a little bit of setup to explain properly, so bear with me.

Let’s say your current list looks like this:

Stand-Alone Titles*:
Book A
Book B
Book C

Series:
Vol1
Vol2
Vol3

You could utilize KU in three different ways:

1) You could put all your titles into it. I wouldn’t recommend that, because even though you’ll still get regular (non-KU) sales, it’s likely that most of your income from KU titles will come from the KU pot, just as the KOLL currently generates income from the monthly pot. The pot will probably be pretty lucrative at first, but as more authors join the payments will decrease, due to distribution among a larger number of titles/authors.

So instead of looking at it as an all-or-nothing participation, look at it as a discoverability tool to funnel NEW readers toward your other, full-price titles. This is exactly the way people are currently using Permafree. That strategy leaves you with the other two options for utilizing KU.

2) Put the first in a series in, and treat it like you’d treat a Permafree title. This means you don’t expect that title to earn you any significant money by itself — its purpose is to act as a loss-leader and to direct new, exploring readers toward your full-priced items.

This seems like a great idea on the surface, and it’s not a terrible strategy, but there’s a way to make this strategy work smarter and more effectively to increase your brand awareness — even on other platforms.

And that way is to utilize KU in the following way:

Option 3) Rotate your stock in and out of KU on a regular schedule.

So going back to that hypothetical list of titles I mentioned at the head of this post, maybe that means your rotation schedule looks like this:

Jan – March: Book A
April – June: Book B
July – Sept: Book C
Oct – Dec: Book A

OR, if your series doesn’t happen to sell gangbusters on other platforms and you’d rather increase the series’ visibility on Amazon, it might look like this (see my double-asterisk note below for more info on how to make this work):

Jan – March: Vol1**
April – June: Book A
July – Sept: Book B
Oct – Dec: Vol1

Meanwhile, on all the non-Amazon sites, you are likewise rotating your stock off and back on the sites. This means you probably won’t retain reviews on those sites for whichever books you’ve chosen to be your loss leaders, but I’m not convinced that reviews are such a strong driver of sales on those sites, and in any case, the “newness” of your rotation books might actually be an advantage there. Bear with me; I’ll explain further.

In ALL your books (not just the Loss Leader titles), stick in some brief, clear front matter that says something like “More books by Libbie Hawker are coming for your Kobo reader (or Apple, Nook, etc.) all the time! To find out when new books will be available on your favorite ebook seller, join Libbie’s mailing list (link) or visit LibbieHawker.com (link). Reader satisfaction is very important to me… if you have any questions about my books, please contact me directly at (email).” Obviously, you also want the mailing list call to action at the end of the book, too. But the invitation to contact you directly to ask you any question is important at the FRONT of the book — something the reader will see in a sample, before they buy.

Then on your site, when a reader clicks on the title of any book, you have this quickie note at the top of the page — something they see before they see any other information about the title:

“Dear Reader, I occasionally rotate my books in and out of exclusivity on Amazon. That means sometimes this title is available on other sites, and sometimes it’s not. Right now, this title is available here: (link to all places it’s available, whether on Amazon or elsewhere.) This title will be returning to (all other sites where it’s currently NOT) on this date: (Date it comes off the Amazon rotation, according to your schedule.) If you’d like to be notified when this book returns to your favorite ebook retailer, please join my mailing list! (link.) If you have any questions about this book or any others, please contact me directly at (email.)

The two clear invitations to email you directly are crucial. Once in a while you’ll get emails (maybe angry emails!) asking why this book isn’t available on Kobo or wherever, when all the rest of your books are. Find out which book they’re after, then send them a free copy of it. Don’t balk at this. If it’s not available on Kobo that quarter, it’s because it’s in rotation on Amazon, and you’ve already designated it as your Loss Leader for the quarter anyway, so you should have no problem handing that title out without any expectation of profiting from it directly. It’s a gesture of goodwill toward a customer, and giving miffed or confused readers free books is a great way to ensure their future loyalty to you.

The net effect of this type of front matter will be to generate more mailing list sign-ups. And I love this rotation thing, because it gives even the authors like me, who don’t send out a mailing list alert unless they have meaningful news to share with their audience, a reason to shoot out a newsletter. Now I’ll have a newsletter going out not only every time I have a new release, but also every time I change the Amazon rotation. It creates a natural and welcome relevant opportunity to keep your brand in front of your readers.

And it helps you subtly “push” titles some of your established readers may be ignoring. If they keep seeing the title “Book A” in your newsletters (i.e. “Just a heads up, gang! Book A is now available once more on Kobo, etc.!” and then a few months later, “Now is your last chance for a few months to get Book A on Kobo! It’s going back to Amazon exclusively for a short time.”) they are likely to finally try that book of yours they’ve never read, Book A.

This actually can increase sales from your non-Amazon readers. The suggestion in all your front matter that new stuff is always coming, plus the repeated contact about the rotation schedule, can remind your non-Amazon readers that you’re out there, and stimulate them to buy more of your titles. Sure, at the moment they can’t have access to whatever your Loss Leader title is, but in the meantime you’ve got all these other titles available, right?

* Asterisk The First: Clearly working with a series can pose more of a problem when you take KU and a rotation schedule into consideration. If KU turns out to be a bigger game-changer than I think it will be (I’m anticipating a moderate game-change, but I don’t think the sky is falling), then the current strategy of writing in series might be less of an advantage than it used to be.

You might be wise to take your Loss Leader titles from your pool of stand-alone titles. If you don’t have any stand-alones at present, take heart: it only takes one to kick off the stand-alone-as-loss-leader. And you only need four of them to keep a fresh rotation going in and out of KU all year long. So get writing, son.

**For series, yeah, it’s a sticky wicket, but it’s not the end of the world, either. You can do a few different things:

Series Thing A) If you have more than one series, dedicate one to Amazon. But only put the first volume into KU as your Loss Leader. Keep the rest at full price/paid-only access on Amazon only, since the first in the series is in Select.

Series Thing B) Write an small exclusive piece that leads into your series (such as a novella prequel, or a companion novella… which is what I’m planning to do with my Egyptian series.) Enroll the exclusive piece in Select as your permanent Loss Leader to funnel Amazon users into your series. The whole series will still be available elsewhere, but KU users get a little juicy bonus material. Do not put this Loss Leader into rotation; it remains in Select permanently, for as long as KU remains profitable to you.

Series Thing C) Put Volume 1 into Select, leave the rest out, and keep all the rest available on other ebook sites. When angry customers contact you to ask where Book 1 is, send them a free copy and explain why you’re doing what you’re doing.

I don’t like Option C all that well, but if you only have one series and no other potential Loss Leaders, *and* you really want to try KU out NOW instead of waiting for a few months (and writing a stand-alone in the meantime), it probably won’t sink your business to do it this way. It’s just not as elegant as Option A or Option B.

So there it is: my dissertation on how to make this work for you.

I’ve noted that the people who have the bleakest outlook on this are assuming they’ll have to enroll ALL their books in Select in order for it to be effective, but I actually think that’s the least effective thing you could possibly do. By maintaining a rotation, you keep content fresh for the more established KU users, and you keep ALL your titles popping up periodically on non-Amazon sites, to continue to net readers there.

AND, by seeing “new” books pop up from you on Kobo, etc., those readers perceive it as new content. Remember, the pool of readers is always growing and changing and fluctuating. You might put Book A into rotation on Amazon for three months, and when it goes back to Kobo, Reader Bob, who’s just joined Kobo and has never heard of you before, finds it and thinks it’s a great deal. By the time Book A rotates again nine months later, it’s had a lot of time to find you some new readers on all the non-Amazon sites, and they’ve now moved on to your other books which do NOT rotate. Book A comes back around again after three months on Amazon, and Reader Amy, who is new to Kobo, finds it and discovers all your other titles. And so it goes.

Also remember, any book you designate as a Loss Leader will have the primary purpose of netting NEW readers. That’s its job. You have to think of this as a continual chumming of the waters with an ever-rotating selection of delicious fish heads and guts. You’re not trying to make all your money off of KU; you’re trying to use KU to funnel readers toward the place where you make all your money: full-price, paid books.

Peace out.