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Starting out as an indie author: To KDP Select or to not KDP Select

Starting out as an indie author

Recently, a friend of mine expressed surprise that when you publish through Amazon (KDP or Kindle Direct Publishing), it is also possible to generate income when someone borrows your book. I’ve been aware of this for so long, it never even occurred to me to point it out in this series. The possibility of making money from borrows is just one of the ways Amazon tries to entice authors to make a book exclusive with their platform.

And since they introduced Kindle Unlimited, borrows have gone way up. Maybe too much for comfort, but it’s just something we authors have to take into consideration when deciding where and how to sell (or loan) our books.

Why there is money in borrows

The thing about the borrows is, if you commit a book to KDP Select, they have to give you something more for that than promotional opportunities, since you are theoretically giving up potential income through other sales channels. So every month they announce a big pot of money, which at the end of the month gets divvied up among all the borrows. In December 2014, for example, I was paid $1.43 for every borrow I had. And it ended up being a significant percentage of my income for that month, since I had over 50% more borrows than sales. And while the income per borrow might be less than it would be for a sale at $2.99, it is significantly more than for a book selling below that.

Naturally, it makes no sense to go for the borrows when you are selling books priced at 4.99 hand over fist. A borrow would make you less than half what a sale would at that price. Or if you are selling like gangbusters on Barnes & Noble or Kobo, going exclusive with Amazon makes little sense either. But for someone like me, still struggling to get this indie career thing seriously profitable, a borrow (which the customer doesn’t have to pay for after all) might be the reason a reader takes a chance on a writer (me) she doesn’t know yet.

If you do sign up for KDP Select for a book you publish, it is only for a period of 3 months. You are not signing away your rights to Amazon in perpetuity. Personally, I consider it a very good way to go for a new book, in order to get some eyeballs on it. Because not only might you be able to generate income from borrows, you also have a couple of additional promo opportunities at your fingertips.

Promotional opportunities: Free runs and Countdown Deals

If you’ve enrolled your book in KDP Select, you have two options for promoting your book per enrollment period: Kindle Countdown Deals or Free Book Promotions. You may only choose one promotion per book per 3 months, but you can use them in many different ways.

Free Book Promotions:

Any book enrolled in KDP Select can be offered free for up to five days, consecutive or non-consecutive, during each 90-day enrollment period. That means you can choose one day at a time, or offer your book free for multiple days in a row. You can also stop a free promotion in progress, but it may take several hours for your book to go off free.

So why would anyone want to give their books away for free? We want to make money on this business, right?

As I’ve mentioned before in this series, one of the biggest challenges facing a new indie author is visibility. Done right, a free promotion can help create visibility for a book. But the free run itself needs to be promoted or it will have little effect. I maintain a regularly updated list of places where a free run can be announced here.

Countdown Deals:

In 2013, Amazon introduced “Countdown Deals” to make Select more attractive to writers again. This is how it works:

– Your book can be discounted for up to seven days. The duration of the sale is visible on the book’s page on Amazon, as well as the regular price, so that readers can see that they really are getting a “deal.”

– Your royalty rate remains the same even while the book is on sale. So instead of getting only 35% on a book marked down to 99c, you get 70%. The income is still naturally quite a bit less, but if it results in increased exposure, it might well be worth it.

Amazon has set up a dedicated “Kindle Countdown Deals” page at www.amazon.com/kindlecountdowndeals – but of course there is no guarantee your Countdown Deal will get listed.

In my experience, while you still make money when doing a Countdown Deal, the promotion doesn’t generate as much interest as a free run, and once your promotion is over, the effect vanishes again pretty quickly. I’ve talked more about some of my results here. Of course, if you shell out the big bucks for a Bookbub ad during your sale, your results could be very different. OTOH, given the high cost of a Bookbub ad, it might be more likely to be worth it if your book *isn’t* in Select and is available through multiple channels.


This may sound like I’m a huge proponent of KDP Select. That is not the case. At the moment, 9 of my 22 ebooks are enrolled in the program, mostly short story collections that don’t sell all that well anyway, but that I can use to promote my novellas and novels. The thing is, I take a very pragmatic approach to where and how I sell my books. When sales on B&N, Kobo and other channels dwindle to nothing, then I’m quite willing to pull them there and put them back into KDP Select for a while to see if I can get more traction that way.

But I do think that going exclusive with Amazon can be a very effective tool for a new ebook without reviews that readers might be skeptical of taking a chance on. Free runs can generate reviews as well as visibility. And reviews are not only necessary for readers to have something besides “look inside the book” to decide if they want to spend MONEY on your brilliant work of staggering genius, they are also necessary for promoting your book on other sites. In addition, for readers enrolled in Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime, the possibility of being able to borrow your book for free rather than plopping down 99c for it just might make a couple more readers take a chance on it. Might sound harsh, but it’s true — even 99c is too high a price to pay for some readers if they don’t already know the author. Which is why a 90 day enrollment in KDP Select is worth at least considering if you are just starting out as an indie author.