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For the past couple of months, I have been working on a new format to offer my readers: an audiobook. What I quickly learned was that I knew nothing about them! As a member of the reading world that still remembers visiting a library for every school book report, I have been reluctant to trade my physical books for digital and audio versions. However, as an author who writes in one of the most heavily saturated genres, romance, it is essential that I reach as many of my readers as possible. As an indie author, I need to do that in the most cost-effective way possible. Considering all this, I knew it was time to do some research. Hopefully, what I found will help you.


Benefits

The first thing to decide is whether the format will be beneficial. You can judge this by your own criteria: profit, exposure, experience, etc. But the main thing to consider is whether your target audience will be looking for your product in this particular market. If they are, then make sure you show up.


Audience


Most of us know that audiobook sales have seen an impressive growth rate over the last several years, something that is forecasted to continue in the years to come. But, do you know if romance readers are interested in audiobooks? To date, the top performing audiobook genre is the Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense, which captures about 37% of the market. Autobiographies and Memoirs frequently top the bestseller lists and non-fiction audiobooks still outperform fiction. When you consider that the majority of listeners are young adults aged 18 and over and affluent professionals under the age of 45, this news doesn’t come as a shock. What might, is the surprising lack of information offered about romance audiobooks and their readers.


What can be found are the top performers within the genre, with many also taking the top spots in other formats. Julia Quinn, Colleen Hoover, Sylvia Day, E.L. James, Nora Roberts, and Nicholas Sparks were all high on the bestseller lists between 2020-2021. If you think the readers of these big names may be interested in your story, and you have done your best to make it comparable in quality, then positioning your book alongside them is a good plan.


Platform


The following is not a comprehensive list but reflects audiobook platforms that came up most in my research.


Audible As in all online book sales, Amazon takes the prize for largest selection under their audio platform, Audible. Although it operates under a subscription plan, it is widely popular due to the over 200,000 titles available, some that are exclusively available through Amazon. Listeners can purchase a less expensive “credit-free” plan but many members opt for the benefits of upgrading to enjoy credits that can be used to get any audiobook for free, regardless of the price. Audible currently allows a free exchange for any audiobook that customers don’t like and has a 30-day free cancellation policy for all new subscribers.


Audiobooks.com Regarding the sheer size of audiobook selection offered, few can compare so closely to Audible. However, with over 200,000 titles in its library, Audiobooks.com can. Their return policy is not, at first look, as appealing as Audibles, however, since there is no guarantee and returns are allowed per company discretion. Heavy users miss out on savings, too, that Audible has built into their Platinum Subscription plan.


Google Audiobooks With no subscription requirements, Google Audiobooks is another popular platform for listeners. Google Play has offered audiobooks for years and has the advantage of being easily played on Google Home speakers, all with voice commands. Although they lack the credit system of Audible or Audiobooks.com, they offer frequent discounts, as well as a select handful of titles for free (freebies have auto-generated narrators.) They also offer a Family Library that lets users share their audiobooks.


Apple Books On the Apple books app, you can access audiobooks from the Bookstore and listen to them on your Mac, MacBook, iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. Audiobooks downloaded from Audible.com can be dragged and dropped into Apple books. There has been talk about trouble listening to audiobooks on Google home speakers from Apple products, but Bluetooth capabilities have allowed a workaround solution. A simple internet search should assist with this.


Librovox Hands down, this is the best platform for anyone on a tight budget. Librovox offers audiobooks that have entered the public domain due to expired copyright protection—entirely for free. Accordingly, many of the titles were written several decades ago, but for lovers of classics, this adds to the appeal.


Kobo As in the eBook markets, Toronto-based Kobo has positioned itself as a rival to Amazon and other top competitors in the audiobook market. It offers a subscription plan, but for up to one-third of Audible’s pricing plans. If you aren’t sure about the value of their subscription service, you can try it out with a 30-day free trial period.


Devices


Smartphones make up the largest preferred way of listening to audiobooks (44%) while tablets, laptops, and personal shopping assistants (smart speakers) make up the rest. Smart speakers are projected to gain in popularity over the next several years. Some of this popularity was triggered by the pandemic, when audiobooks listeners who traditionally used their car’s Bluetooth capabilities to take advantage of work commutes, began working from home.


Cost


The biggest deterrent in using the audiobook format for most self-published authors is cost. The average cost of recording and editing an audiobook is currently $3,000-$4,000. Prices go up depending on what narrator(s) you hire and how much editing your audio files need. Costs go down if you decide to buy home equipment and use your own voice to narrate it. I’ve heard some authors have had success with Mac’s GarageBand for these recordings. However, equipment costs, opportunity costs, and the difficulties for some in finding a space quiet enough for quality recording, should all be carefully weighted.


Profitability


It is possible to have an audiobook recorded with very little up-front costs. Some narrators work off a contract that guarantees them a percentage of revenue, allowing some breathing room for the author that needs the product’s sales before they can afford the costs. Others allow you to pay all costs up front, including the performance and sound recording rights. However, finding quality narrators willing to work within this model is difficult. When you consider that selling through platforms like Audible will cut further into your pockets by taking 60% of each sale, you begin to see why the average audiobook price is between $20-$30.


Conclusions


While the increasing popularity of audiobooks, the platforms they are offered on, as well as the devices used to listen to them are all excellent reasons to consider offering your books in this format, they may not be the best route for an indie author to take. Careful consideration of what your customers are asking for, what your goals are for your author brand, and whether the high costs involved in having an audiobook recorded and edited, should first be made.


As I am currently going through the process of having my novel, The Raven’s Call, made into an audiobook, I will use next month’s blogpost to dive deeper into what to expect during the recording and editing steps.




As I mentioned in my April newsletter, I discovered that my novel, The Raven’s Call, was miscategorized as erotica by a quality review team of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. After the error was resolved, my book was under review again because of “distracting metadata issues.” The distraction? I had two spaces more between two paragraphs than I had between others. A search on KDP’s metadata guidelines didn’t clear up why that was an issue, nor did I receive clarification from the review team themselves.


After searching outside of Amazon for answers, what I quickly saw was that there were many others who had gone through similar circumstances. So, the answer begs...why do we all put up with the ever-changing, inconsistently applied rules and guidelines that plagues Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform?


The most direct answer? Because Amazon is widely known to control at least 50 percent of all book distribution. In eBooks, the numbers are even higher, with sales at an estimated 70 to 80 percent.


So, why the popularity?


As most of us have seen through disappearing brick-and-mortar stores and an increasing array of online shopping options, the retail landscape has changed. Amazon’s prime shipping, affordable pricing, and behemoth range of products are the main driver for these changes. Book sales and book publishing have not been exceptions. In fact, in 2020, this shifting of power in the publishing industry led three of the leading American publishing industry organizations—Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the American Booksellers Association—to write a letter to the House of Representatives’ Antitrust Subcommittee citing the need for a more level playing field within the marketplace (Anderson, 2020). You can read more about this here.


Publishing

Amazon’s publishing arm, Kindle Direct Publishing, has allowed an explosion of writers to bypass the often long, arduous task of getting signed by an agent or a traditional publishing agency. No long hours of researching agents in your genre that are currently accepting new manuscripts. No spending hours perfecting a query letter that if done poorly, can kill your chances of the work you spent months or years on from even making it to the editor’s desk of a publishing company. With a little research into KDP’s submission guidelines and perhaps a cover designer and book formatter’s assistance, you can have your book published on Amazon within 24 hours of hitting “Publish Now.”


Of course, there is more to making your self-published book a success, as well as ensuring you are paid the most royalties for each sale. Metadata/keyword optimization, advertising, and determining the best distribution plan are all important considerations.


Metadata/keyword optimization

What is metadata? Simply put, data that explains other data. If your novel is the data, then its book blurb/description would be one piece of metadata. When it was published, who the author is, etc., are other examples. As I found, Amazon has guidelines on the metadata that is used when submitting your book on KDP. Some of the guidelines are stated and some of them will be brought to your attention only when your book is placed under review. Yes, this is the “confusing” part. My advice is to carefully review the stated guidelines and make sure that you aren’t violating any them. Do not lull yourself into thinking that “because everyone else in your genre is doing it” that you can slide, too. You will need to contact Amazon for things like switching the categories your book is listed under and this will leave you vulnerable to being reviewed. If in violation, your book can be restricted, and in some cases, banned from publishing through KDP... permanently.


Advertising


With millions of titles available on Amazon, it can seem daunting to think that your book will receive any attention. To give authors a fighting chance, Amazon offers advertising. You can set everything from keywords, cost per clicks, to exactly where your ads show up to Amazon and Kindle users. Research Amazon advertising strategies first and then utilize the ads. This can help get your book in front of your target audience. Oh, and advertising is separated by marketplace, so make sure you set up your campaigns for each individual marketplace/country you are targeting.


Another advertising strategy available to authors is within the Kindle Select Program, detailed below. It allows you to place your enrolled eBook in either a Countdown Deal where the book is gradually reduced in price in up to five price increments for up to seven days or the Free Book Promotion that lets you offer your eBook for free to everyone, not just Kindle Unlimited members, for up to five days. These five days can be scheduled together or separated during your enrollment. There are certain restrictions, so make sure you research the guidelines here.


Distribution Channels



As mentioned above, Kindle Direct Publishing offers a program called Kindle Select. It is a 90-day commitment to make your eBook exclusive to Amazon. You retain all of your normal rights, except for those that allow you to offer your eBook on any other platform while enrolled in Select. And I mean ANYWHERE else. If you are using an aggregator or going directly through another platform such as Barnes and Noble or Apple iBooks, make sure your book is completely delisted before enrolling with Select. If not, you will be kicked out of Select.


Special note: My novel was enrolled with Draft2Digital before I decided to try Kindle Select and it took six weeks to delist it from all other platforms. If you attempt this during a busy holiday season, expect to wait longer.


Book Sales


eBooks


The Kindle Select program that authors use is known as the Kindle Unlimited plan to subscribers. Kindle Unlimited is a monthly subscription service where users that pay a monthly fee (currently $9.99/month) can download as many eBooks enrolled* in the Kindle Select program as they would like.


Although offering these discounted prices to customers understandably brings more readers to Amazon, and potentially, to your product, it also creates a conundrum.


Quantity or Quality?


Through Amazon, the heaviest volume of customers your book will be exposed to will be searching for a deal. Unless what you sell stands out from the other product offerings or you have built a solid following already, it will get passed by for a better deal. It may not seem like $4.99 is a lot to ask for, but if a reader can get 10 other similar eBooks newly enrolled in KDP Select for “free” instead, then which do you think they will choose? This is especially true for highly competitive genres such as fiction romance. This is what drives many authors to enrolling their books into the Select program. But is this a sustainable sales model?


If you are a new author and you have plans to write many more books in your genre, then offering your first and even second novels for a heavily discounted price will put it out in front of more readers. This will help build up your readership but what you must ask yourself is whether these readers will likely be turned into repeat customers—true fans—who would follow you to other platforms because they just like your writing that darn much. If not, is there another way to reach those customers? One that doesn’t include offering your month’s and sometimes, year’s, worth of work for pennies?


This decision will be dependent on many things, such as the genre you write in, the quality of writing and amount of expertise that your readers expect within the genre, and what your personal goals as a writer are.


* Authors should note that readers have become savvy to the limited nature of these promos, so many will “hoard” eBooks, downloading way more than they can read in a year. If you are desperately waiting for reviews, this may be frustrating. Be prepared.


Paperback/Hardcover


Although eBooks are popular, print books in the U.S. still outsell them. Many theories exist as to why, with one notable one pointing out our nation’s high population of print book’s largest demographic: older Americans. Among younger, more digitally inclined consumers, the preferred choice of reading is currently eBooks, although audiobooks are expected to outsell them within the next few years. With a 50 percent cut of the print book market, Amazon has positioned itself as a dominant force in book sales. And out of paperback and hardcover print options, hardcovers are still the preferred format.


One important thing about Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is that they do not currently offer hardcover printing. In traditional publishing companies, many novels are released with a hardcover for months, sometimes over a year, before the paperback version is. The measurement for this is driven by sales, with a paperback release resulting after hardcover sales have finally slumped. For newer indie writers, it is often too expensive to do the same since the print costs are higher at a time when no one knows who they are. It would be much harder to recoup those costs until the author becomes better established. The exception to this would be if the genre dictates hardcover formats.


Amazon offers expanded distribution for paperbacks. Expanded distribution means your book will be available to purchase by large distributors within the United States and the United Kingdom, who can then turn around and sell them to various booksellers and libraries around the world. It’s free but there are certain wide-ranging requirements and a difference in royalty percentage, so take a close look before choosing this option.


Royalties

Now that we’ve established that the customer volume is a big enticement for authors to use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, what about the money?


Publishing your eBook with KDP will earn you either a 35% or 70% royalty (based on your list price/choice), unless your book is enrolled in the Select Program or is offered in a Free Book Promotion. As of today, the royalty amount is expanded under the Countdown Deal (offered in the Select Program) by allowing a 70% royalty option even if the price drops below the $2.99 (the lowest price you can normally set for the 70% royalty option.) Otherwise, you will earn either the 35% or 70% royalty rate you’ve chosen of the promotional price at the time of the sale. Confused? I’ve compiled a quick reference list of Amazon/KDP’s royalty information pulled from KDP’s Help Topics.


  • Royalties are paid approx. 60 days after the end of the month the sale was reported in. This timetable moves up a month for expanded distribution, with payment released 90 days after the end of the month the sale was reported in. This depends on how you receive your payments, however...


  • Payments are offered through direct deposit, wire transfers, and check. In some cases, you must meet a minimum threshold to get paid. KDP encourages direct deposit since it (usually) means a faster payment without the minimum threshold to worry about. This, of course, depends on your bank. Many banks have wire transfer and check fees/payment thresholds, so check with them first. (You are getting paid from each Amazon marketplace, so ask about international fees/tax withholdings, and documentation requirements.)


  • Paperback royalties are 60% for books sold on KDP paperback distribution supported Amazon marketplaces (only) and is based on list price. Printing costs are then subtracted and are dependent on page count, ink type, and which marketplace it was sold from. With Expanded Distribution, the royalty rate is 40% of the list price from the distribution channel when the book was purchased, minus the printing costs and applicable taxes/withholdings.


  • If you enroll your eBook in Kindle Unlimited, you will be eligible for a payout from the KDP Select Global Fund (reviewed monthly and announced in the community forum) based upon a calculation that includes the total number of page reads (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages or “KENP”), which are capped at 3,000 pages per customer, per title, and only apply to the first time the customer reads the pages. Of note, your eBook’s Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) is determined by KDP: see how here. There are opportunities for bonuses based off your KENP’s every month, as well.

With so many advantages to using Kindle Direct Publishing, it’s no wonder that self-publishing with KDP has become such a major player in the publishing world. For readers, the endless supply of affordable books allows even the most voracious of them to remain well-stocked with choices.


Although this month’s post has been geared mainly toward self-published authors, it is worth the time for all authors to take a hard look at industry standards for traditional publishing vs. self-publishing and narrow down whether Amazon should be part of your overall publishing/marketing strategy. Hopefully, the information shared here will help guide you.



Updated: Mar 21

This month, in honor of spring, I’m steering my blog toward the floral persuasion. As someone who spent many hours in the garden and who then learned from horticulturists at several plant nurseries, only to later spend years behind floral counters in creative bliss, I’ve got a lot of stories to tell and experiences to offer.



My two earliest memories of puttering around in the garden were from ages 5-7. The first involves my grandmother, who used to have me collect strawberries from her patch in the front yard. She showed me how to pick the ripest berries while leaving the rest for the next harvest.


It was with great pride that I tripped down the steps the first day on my own to collect the bright red berries, just as my grandmother had taught me. I remember carefully stepping over the small, wiry fencing that separated her garden from the sidewalk. The sun was bright above my head and the earth warm beneath my hands as I crouched low to begin my search. It was a treasure hunt; I was a fearless explorer, sifting through a half-dozen insects that had decided to make my grandmother’s patch their favorite hangout. I did not fear them; I understood them, for it was mine, too.


No arguing adults, confusing changes, or boogeymen were allowed in our little world. Only the heady feeling of freedom from confining walls, the aromatic symphony of disturbed soil and crushed leaves and berries, and the zipping sounds of bees and dragonflies were our companions. I felt as if I had found my apotropaic spot in the world.


My second memory was of a kind woman that was our neighbor for a time. She often spoke to me while I was outside playing and she was tending to her sidewalk garden. We lived in thin-walled townhomes, each with a large dining room window, so there were very few secrets between our houses. When my neighbor brought out a flat of bright yellow and burnt orange marigolds, I hurried outside to stare at them in awe. Seeing my excitement, she asked me if I’d like to help her plant them, cementing my hero worship. Later, she would thank me for my help with a beautiful M.I. Hummel figurine.


Neither she nor my grandmother is among the living today but I am very happy to say that the gifts—both tangible and not—are still with me.


I feel that my role, now, is to pass the torch to the younger generations. My son has been the recipient of this mode of thinking since he was old enough to walk. He has assisted me with everything from plant shopping and watering to identifying plants by genus and species. I can’t wait to share this with my daughter, as well. With so many of us spending time at home in recent months, I believe we will see a great resurgence in gardening activities and shared experiences. I can vouch for the staying power that these early lessons can have on young minds.