One of the most common questions I see from others trying to become self-published authors is perhaps the most obvious one: where can I self-publish my works? There are a few options for publication and I’ll start with the biggest: KDP through Amazon. I’ll address Barnes & Noble and Smashwords in later posts.
My Amazon author page is here, by the way: http://www.amazon.com/author/aliciastills.
I’m not going to pretend like I’m a huge expert on the matter or anything, but I’m also not going to blow smoke and tell Internet strangers that I make $10,000 a month publishing erotica. Seriously, why do so many people trying to scam others into paying for their publication assistance pick $10,000 a month when they’re making up income? It’s a nice, round number, but also completely fabricated.
But anyway, the point of this post isn’t to try to sell anyone on anything or to toot my own proverbial horn. I think that getting into this can be confusing and I just want to break down my impressions and experiences to help anyone else who’s thinking of giving this a go.
1. Large Network
Amazon has a huge distribution network and they seem to reach the largest audience. For anyone who’s trying to get their book in front of the most people, Amazon provides a pretty good platform for that.
2. Ease of Use
I’ve found that using Amazon’s services to get your e-book (and paperbacks, for that matter) ready for publication has been the most user-friendly. I used Amazon/KDP first, so really, it was a bit of a shock to use a different service after that to see just how far they lagged behind Amazon in terms of ease of use.
3. Highest Number of Sales
Again, it’s been my experience that Amazon has been able to get my books in front of the most people, resulting in higher sales on this platform than I’ve seen on others.
4. Kindle Unlimited Program
Okay, so this one appears on both the pros and cons list and it seems to invoke strong feelings from many self-published authors. I can see the valid benefits and drawbacks to the program, so I think it’s only fair that it appears on both the pros and cons.
For those that don’t know, Kindle Unlimited (“KU”) is an optional program when you self-publish on Amazon’s KDP platform. KU members pay a fixed price for the ability to read as much as they want of any book enrolled in the KU program. In exchange, authors receive royalties based on the total number of unique page reads they receive on the KU program each month. It gets your book in front of more people, it increases your chances of reviews (hopefully positive), and it gets you a share of the money in the KU fund.
Additionally, when you’re enrolled in KU, you have the ability to create “countdown deals,” which is when you temporarily lower the price of your book. It can either remain at one fixed lower rate for the entire length of your promotion, which is up to one week, or it can increase in steps, depending on how you want to structure it. Alternatively, you can also choose to do a free e-book giveaway instead. Your free days do not have to be consecutive. It’s easy to set up and use.
Finally, enrolling a book in KU opens authors up to a 70% royalty rate in five additional countries, rather than the 35% they would get if not enrolled in KU.
5. Fast Publication
Amazon processes submissions pretty quickly and I usually see my books available for purchase in less than a day. They aren’t the fastest, but given their sheer size, it’s a pretty quick turnaround.
1. Your Book Can Get Lost
It’s the other side of the coin to having a large network. Sure, there are a lot of potential customers, but there are also an enormous number of books, increasing the chances that your book gets lost in the shuffle.
2. Royalty Rates Are Confusing and Don’t Make Sense
**Update** This is even a more salient drawback in light of changes implemented by Barnes & Noble on 2/1/2021. B&N now provides a flat royalty rate of 70% for all e-books, which makes Amazon’s even more ridiculous and not as good.
Personally, I think they could easily have provided clearer explanations of their royalty rates. You have to price your book at $2.99 or higher in order to qualify for the 70% royalty rate. However, just because you meet all qualifications to receive the 70% royalty rate, you still might only get 35%. I found out that your royalty rate also depends on what country the buyer is located.
As far as I have been able to tell, this is something that is unique to Amazon, as none of the other publishers I’ve used find it necessary or appropriate to reduce royalty rates based on the buyer’s country. It doesn’t make sense to me why a buyer’s location should impact royalty rates, particularly when this is only applied by Amazon.
They also will take a delivery fee if you are enrolled in the 70% royalty rate.
3. Royalty Rates Are Worse Than Others
At 35%, KDP is the lowest royalty rate I’ve seen for e-books priced under $2.99. Barnes & Noble is 40% (**Update B&N is now 70%) and Smashwords can vary, but would still be at least 49% . The breakdown of that is that Smashwords’ partners take 30%, Smashwords takes 10%. There might be an affiliate fee, which is initially set for authors at 11%, but you can opt to give a higher rate or nothing at all.
And again, even if you are enrolled in the 70% royalty rate program, you still might get bumped down to 35% depending on the country of the buyer. I’ve found that somewhere around 15% of my sales are coming from people in countries with a 35% royalty rate, regardless of my election. Additionally, they also have a slightly higher delivery fee in the 70% election (which is waived for 35%). So, at the end of the day the 70% is cut down by quite a bit, especially depending on where your sales are coming from. Even though Barnes & Noble has its higher rate set at 65%, the royalty rate overall ends being better there. And that was before B&N improved its rates even more.
4. Kindle Unlimited Program
As promised, KU appears on the cons list as well. For all of its benefits, I still don’t have my books enrolled in KU. I did have all except for the last one, Strictly Business: Tormenting Tom, enrolled initially, but declined to renew. You make some additional money, but not much. Borrows from the KU program really drops off, too, so there is limited usefulness.
But what really bothers me about KU is that you are required to give KDP exclusivity rights while a book is enrolled in KU. Not only can you not use other publishers, but you can’t even make more than 10% of your book available on your own site.
More than that, you can’t put your book on sale or do a free giveaway if you are not enrolled in KU. There is no reason, aside from trying to force authors into enrolling in KU, despite Amazon taking a very large portion of the sales proceeds, anyway.
Also, yes, you are open to the 70% royalty rate in five new countries if enrolled in KU, but I don’t think I’ve even sold any copies in any of those countries. Maybe I have with this last round and I’m sure I will evenaturally, but that benefit is pretty limited.
Don’t get me wrong – they have a great platform and what they provide is great. But they definitely leverage their enormity to boost their bottom line at all turns.
The bottom line for me is that Amazon is great for self-publishing. I wish that KU was a better deal for authors and that 70% royalty applied to sales in all countries, but it’s easy to use and has shown the best sales so far. It’s my first stop for publishing and will probably remain so going forward.