Kindle Direct Publishing: The Good, the Bad, and the Confusing
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.