Watching the Numbers

30 September 2012

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I should never read the comments on other people’s writing information blogs. The comments discourage me, generally for one of two reasons. If the blog is about traditional publishing, and the authors are traditionally published only with no desire to change, I get discouraged at the amount of misinformation. If the blog is about indie publishing, I get discouraged because successful indie publishing writers think so short term. Both groups think small.

. . . .


The worldwide marketplace for English language books has changed dramatically in the past three years. Yes, books sold overseas and many companies bought worldwide rights to sell books in the English language. Only one company, to my knowledge, exploited those rights in as many countries as possible, and that was Harlequin. I’ll wager that somewhere in Harlequin’s parent company (Torstar)’s vaults are the statistics I want on worldwide Englishlanguage sales.

On the website, Harlequin tells me that it has published “over 110 titles a month in 31 languages in 111 international markets on six continents” and has sold (as of 2010) 6.05 billion books. Billion. Books.

. . . .

What we do know is pretty simple: more people than ever read books for pleasure. Brick and mortar bookstores have never penetrated all of America. Many, many, many small towns, even in the heyday of the bookstore, did not have a bookstore.

When Amazon came along in the 1990s, it made money selling books to people in rural areas or small towns who did not have access to books on a regular basis. (Many of these communities didn’t even have libraries.) Then, add to that the rise of the ereader, which has brought even more readers into the fold, partly because of convenience (no walking into a bookstore, no waiting for the mails), and the readership/buyership has grown yet again.

I want to plant all of this in your head as writers because we were all trained to think small about our work. Even (especially?) traditional publishers. The problem with book sales has always been getting the books to readers. The old distribution system left out more readers than it found. There were even shooting battles in the streets in the distribution wars of fifty years ago (I’m not kidding) over who controlled what area to distribute magazines and books. (This was when distribution was controlled by the Mob. This kind of publishing history is fun and colorful, and mostly no longer necessary to understand except in a very vague way.)

Am I ever going to get all of the world’s English speakers to read my books? Hell, no. I’m not even going to get a statistically meaningful percentage of them to read my books. But already, my books are being read in countries where they were previously unavailable, not only because of Amazon, but because of Kobo, Apple, and a bunch of other small companies that partner with Smashwords and such places. My biggest problem as a business person right now? Keeping up with all of the developing markets for my fiction. Making sure my work is available in as many places as possible is something I’m continually falling behind on, as more and more and more markets appear.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and, per Dean Wesley Smith, make sure to read the comments to this essay as well.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Non-US, The Business of Writing

72 Comments to “Watching the Numbers”

  1. I love this. I think she is dead on right. We do think way too small! International markets, different platforms, lifetime achievements, multiple works, right on!

    Not only optimistic, but true. Very hopeful, heartening and accurate!

    I also agree with her that we can make our own luck.

    I also think it was cool that Camille was linked! 🙂

  2. I read that post three times.

    I wonder if I can write 1 mil words next year. Hmm.

    • Yes, you can Thomas! It’s all a matter of practice and mindset.

    • Don’t forget that she adds EVERYTHING into that count – blog posts, etc.

      • She makes money on those articles through donations, so why not? I include in my own total yearly word count everything that I intend to sell or receive a payment from. I don’t make money off my blog posts, so I don’t count those words.

        That said, I’m over 560,000 words for the year so far. How is everyone else doing?

        • Honestly, that’s too complicated for me to answer properly.
          Even assuming I didn’t count words put forth during the course of my online jobs. (I get paid for them, but should I only count words written towards site-related things like announcements and rules, or also count the socializing with the users that is part of my job description?)

          Trying to figure out what writing to “count” towards my total is difficult, because a lot was written that isn’t ready for publication and for every 50k I wrote that’s not yet ready for publishing, there’s probably twice that in notes I’ve written about projects I want to work on in the future.

          The first half of the year was, “Wow! I can do this now! It’s worth trying now! I can stop practicing and finally do instead of fretting over whether I am flawless enough to pass through the Gates!” so I kept bouncing from project to project, getting all sorts of ideas and writing them down so I’d have them when it was time to start the next project. It was figuring out which project to work on, whether or not to have multiple pen names and what those pen names would write.

          The second half of the year is me recovering from the exhausted collapse that “popcorn kitten” excitement seems to have produced. I’m still writing, but in fits and bursts. Next year I hope to moderate between the two so I neither burn out nor return to my previous-to-this pace of a few thousand words written a month, if and when it suited me.

          So I can say this for my first year of taking my writing seriously:
          – My output on writing stories for friends has decreased somewhat. (The stories I write are more infrequent and shorter.)
          – My output on writing notes for stories and games I’d like to work on has increased a great deal. (I couldn’t possibly calculate that.)
          – My output on working on saleable fiction has increased probably more than 5x what I would work on during a normal year. (I was considering my writing for friends as the safest way to “practice” and would put in probably 10k – 30k on an “original” project before setting it aside. I’d probably work on 2 – 4 of those sorts of projects in a given year.)
          – I have currently published around 60k so far this year and hope to double it before the year closes.

          It’s not really impressive yet, but compared to last year, I’m a few hundred dollars richer because of my writing, know where I’m going now (more or less – certainly no more “popcorn kitten”ing that I had at the start of the year), and know that it won’t be “years” in the term of “decades” before I’m where I want to be, but “years” in the terms of “less than ten” as long as I keep going. So I’m not just content – I’m happy.

        • I’ve had a terrible year for writing so far. My figure is 331,000 words of fiction for the year. My mother had a stroke the day before Christmas, and that just took a lot of the mental energy I normally use for writing (and still does, to be honest). I also fell ill myself and did no writing from March to the last week in May.

          My plan is to write enough words to get the figure to 500,000 by the end of the year. Then next year, I am really planning to go for it 🙂

          • Ouch, yes that would really cut into the creative mental energy. I’m amazed you were able to get as many words as you did! Don’t feel bad about that at all. I think it’s great.

  3. Sarah who runs smart bitches trashy books has long advocated keeping track of lifetime sales numbers for a book and denoting it the way records do. You can have a record go gold or platinum a decade after it released…so why not a book? The choice to ignore a book’s sales after the first six weeks barring a best seller breakout is just asinine.

  4. I have a lot of respect for Dean and Kris – both for what they have achieved, and for what I learned from their respective blogs over the last three years. However, I think their views on pricing and Select are a little too rigid.

    I have been following the approach they recommend for well over a year now – uploading to every store possible, being available everywhere. When Select came out in December last year, I didn’t enroll anything. At the time, this *seemed* like the right decision – over 15% of my sales were ex-Amazon and, at the time, growing.

    However, since then, sales plateaued outside Amazon, then almost died completely. Here are my rough totals since I started self-publishing in April 2011:

    Apple, B&N, and Kobo – about 100-150 each.
    Drive Thru Fiction: 3.
    Omnilit: 0.
    Diesel: 0.
    Sony: 1.
    Xinxii: 0.
    Direct sales from my own e-bookstore: 50 (a rough guess). Smashwords: 150.

    In that same time, I’ve sold around 6,000 from Amazon. Since December, Amazon sales have grown dramatically, and non-Amazon sales have become negligible.

    As such, it would be foolish to ignore the Select option, given that is where all my sales are coming from.

    I understand where Kris and Dean are coming from. In an ideal world, I would like to be selling strongly on all platforms. But despite my best efforts, it hasn’t happened.

    There are simple reasons for this: the other bookstores don’t provide indies with the same opportunity for discoverability and visibility. The iBookstore is a joke. B&N’s categories and ranking (and search etc.) are FUBAR. Kobo doesn’t even allow you keywords, and people often can’t find your book when searching for it directly. In all cases, either through massive co-op for large publishers, or sheer incompetence, indies are largely invisible.

    Things may change in the future. Apple might get serious about e-books. B&N might borrow some smarts from Microsoft and fix their store. Kobo might hire people who know what they are doing. But, until then, Amazon is going to remain the store where the average indie sells 95%+ of his or her books.

    Select isn’t permanent, and you don’t have to put all your titles in. I think, especially for authors with many titles, it’s prudent to experiment with the tools Select offers. I’ve enrolled some shorts as a test. That went reasonably well, so I’m throwing a novel in that has only ever sold on Amazon. I’m keeping one other title out – the only one that has ever made money outside Amazon.

    This seems like a smart approach to me. Kris & Dean’s blanket dismissal of Select and those choosing it (as being focused only on the short term etc.) seems quite off.

    (IMO, YMMV…)

    • Yep, every writer AND every book is different. For all my books over the last 4-5 months, Amazon has plateaued and the other venues are slowly climbing. If I were only on Amazon, I would be in trouble.

      It’ll be interesting to see what happens as we move into the holiday season.

    • I want to echo David’s comment. I completely understand Kris and Dean’s points about the importance of authors having long term goals and building a career, but I worry when they imply that choosing KDP Select means you aren’t serious about your career or being short sighted that they are making it harder for writers to see all the options with all the pros and cons of each.

      I also have experimented several times with having my books in all venues, and like David, have had very little success for all the same reasons. On the other hand I have had extraordinary success with KDP Select, which has given me the income to retire completely and write full time (which includes having the time to engage in marketing, and being of service to other writers. ) I also have kept some shorts in these other venues, hoping to see changes, and I will probably keep my next book out of KDP Select at first and give it a shot at the other book stores. But until I see consistent sales elsewhere, or I have enough books in a series to use the strategy of having the first “loss leader” in a series free, I don’t feel I need to apologize for using KDP Select, free promotions, or looking at the numbers to determine when to do the next promotion.

      I would hate for an author to refuse to consider putting their books in KDP Select (because it would mean they were unprofessional) because they might be missing out on getting the income they needed to continue to write the next book. It seems to me telling someone that they should just accept that they might have to struggle along with a day job for years–because that is what they had to do–sounds too much like the traditional author who says that all authors have to go through the query–agent–traditional publishing contract to get their books out to the public–because that is the way they did it.

      Being indie to me, means not having anyone else tell me how to write or get my work to readers, but being willing to learn from everyone.

      M. Louisa Locke

    • Something that came to mind when Select was first announced was that it would be a good place to prelaunch new material. Put a new story/book up to get a few people reading it and giving reviews. Then toward the end of the exclusivity period star doing some light promotion letting people know when the wider release is going to happen.

      I a major point KKR is trying to make is that you may alienate readers if you pull books from other venues to put on Select.


      • I take that point, but, for most authors that’s not what they are facing. They don’t have readers on other retailers because readers can’t find their books!

        • “They don’t have readers on other retailers because readers can’t find their books!”

          A valid point David. The question remains though, If an author is not in the store how can those customers find them.


          • But the customers aren’t looking for them, they are (for all intents and purposes) invisible.

            Essentially the trade off is giving up the small handful of sales that come from stray readers stumbling across your (well-hidden) work outside of Amazon, versus massively increasing discoverability and visibility at the biggest retailer and the only one where most indies make any sales anyway.

      • Again, I have to agree with David.

        When you have very few people buying your books for the Nook, or Kobo, and it is so easy to get a Kindle book with the Kindle Ap on iBooks, this really isn’t much of an issue.

        But it is one of the reasons I will put the 3rd book in my series out to all venues at first, announcing everywhere that it will be there for a limited time, so that people who have started the series can continue on any ereader they are currently using. I do respond to an individual with a Nook or Kobo reader who reads a short and wants to get the full length book with instructions on how to download with a Kindle al, convert through Calibre, and upload to their reader. Not practical if you had thousands of readers in that position, but if I had thousands of readers in that position, I wouldn’t be using KDP Select!

        M. Louisa

    • Actually, turn that around — your Amazon sales are growing without you going exclusive, which means every sale from somewhere else is gravy that you’d be leaving on the table if you go Select.

      What you really need is to know how many of your sales are from Amazon-India; if you have a substantial number of those, then going Select might be worth it, for the jump from 35% to 70% royalties. If not…

      What does Select get you that you’re not already getting?

      • “your Amazon sales are growing without you going exclusive”

        I was trying to saw that ABeth but my brain to finger tip translator was glitching.


      • I know exactly how many sales I’m getting from India: zilch. That’s not a factor for me. Here’s what is:

        1. The visibility achievable after a good free run. There’s still a bounce, even if it’s less than it was.

        2. Borrows.

        3. Redressing the disparity on the Popularity Lists. Even when my books are top of their sub-category Best Seller Lists, they are pages back on the Popularity Lists. Part of the reason for this is that free downloads are given a weighting of approximately 0.1 on the Popularity Lists. I’m competing against books who have come off free runs of 10k to 20k, meaning I have to sell 1,000 to 2,000 *more* copies than them to appear ahead of them on the Popularity Lists. That’s unlikely to happen, so I get knocked off the first few pages, and my books don’t stick at the top.

        Each of those could be reason enough to enroll in Select – depending on how you sell outside of Amazon, and how likely you are to be picked up by one of the big free sites (like ENT or POI) – something that tends to make or break a free run.


        • That’s true — those could indeed be reasons, and it’s worth thinking about them. But it’s also worth not falling into the fallacy of “Because Amazon is so profitable for me, I should concentrate on it.” Sometimes, one should leave the profitable thing alone, and work on the other bits instead. 🙂

    • Aww, David, please don’t tell me that you, too, have succumbed to the Dark Side. 😉

      Anyway, I’ve also noticed a downturn on other sales platforms over the past few months. Particularly my sales on ARe/OmniLit, which used to be decent, dried up completely, and XinXii and DriveThru were always only sporadic anyway. I have no idea why this is so, but I wonder whether the fact that more and more books are now Amazon exclusive is driving more customers to Amazon. Though in the case of ARe/OmniLit (which does have a good search engine and category specification for its niche), the erotica/PayPal flap of a few months ago hasn’t driven away some of their customers.

      Nonetheless, I still refuse to join Select, because I want to keep my books available as widely as possible, so readers can read them with any e-reader and without having to pay the noxious 2 USD surcharge. Plus, I have zero interest in ever giving my books away for free, so the only potential benefit of Select for me would be the borrows from the lending library. And how many people would borrow a short story or novelette, when they can have a whole novel?

      Besides, XinXii sales have finally started up again and Kobo is finally beginning to come through for me as well.

      • I’m pretty sure that those “seasons” have a lot to do with this. You have more of the traditional shoppers at various other stores and more of the I-buy-all-year-round at Amazon. I learned from when I started out in this business, wait 8 months to see what sales are really doing behind your back before making any meaningful decisions. Smashwords in particular reports on a huge delay.

        • *nod* Smashwords seems to get updates once or twice a month, at most, from some of the places it distributes to. (And others seem to come in quickly. Sometimes. Except when they don’t.) And then one has to wait to get paid from those other places! I swear, if I had a sharp pointy stick…

  5. I think every writer is different and what works for them might not work for another. Of course they both say that. I haven’t started yet so I don’t have any “results” to report but I think I will for now just concentrate on writing and publishing and building that virtual shelf up and when there is a couple of “shelves” worth of books then maybe try one in Select and see what happens. Although by the time I get that far Select will be replaced with something else.

  6. I might be mistaken, but I was SURE that KKR’s objection is to having ALL one’s e-books on Select ALL the time.

    I have to admit that Select was VERY good to me. I went from 1 to 5 sales a month to a 10k e-book giveaway that put “Let’s Do Lunch” at #3 on the Free Romantic Suspense chart this June. (I spent the day with my book catty-corner to Nora Roberts who held #1 on the Paid chart. That was the high-point of my career!)

    However, that’s the only one of my e-books in Select, and it comes out in November. I tried the others, they didn’t get more than a few sales here or there.

    Meanwhile – my sales on other sites have picked up to the point where I got a few bucks from Smashwords.

    I see her point – thinking ‘small’ and ‘short term’ won’t get us where we want to go. Putting ALL our e-books permenantly into the Select basket isn’t a good long-term strategy, nor is the $.99 price point. Writing more e-books IS a good long-term strategy.

    E-books are 20% of the market – so there is plenty of room for growth, plenty of room for paperbacks and a world full of markets.

    • Yeah, I think that people don’t understand she’s not talking about the specifics of what you do, but the motivation for it.

      Also, when she says you can get distracted by something, and you aren’t getting distracted by it, then maybe she’s not talking to you. But other people ARE being seriously distracted.

      But I think the biggest thing that she’s trying to say is that we are prone to see patterns where there isn’t one, and that it takes quite a few cycles to tell the faux results from the real ones.

      Seth Godin had a good post the other day about this: An accurate clock is great. A clock which is fast or slow, but is reliable so you can adjust for it is at least usable. But a clock which is simply wrong is worse than no clock at all.

      If you can’t be sure what the data means, then it isn’t useful.

      Me? I might try Selects one day when I have the right project. The rules of no excerpts on your blog put everything I write completely out of the running. But I might write something specifically FOR Selects. It might be right for things I would write under a pseudonym, for instance.

      • “But I think the biggest thing that she’s trying to say is that we are prone to see patterns where there isn’t one, and that it takes quite a few cycles to tell the faux results from the real ones.”

        I understand that completely!

        Looking at the day-to-day sales makes me crazy. Looking the month-by-month over a year is much better. It’s taken 3 years for me to gather enough data to have a clue. The numbers go steadily up – a little at a time.

        “Also, when she says you can get distracted by something, and you aren’t getting distracted by it, then maybe she’s not talking to you.”

        Another good point. By stepping back to try to get a look at the big picture, we can take advantage of her experience.

        There’s SO much to learn about this business – and it changes SO fast! KKR is learning too. The collective knowledge that we share is pricless!

      • In my experience, trying to change other people’s motivation is an extremely poor investment of time.

        • Same here!

        • Actually I disagree, though it’s partly because I’m using “motivation” in a more generalized way that maybe clouds the issue.

          Here’s the issue, imho:

          The people touting all these get-rich-quick schemes (including Prime) are manipulating the heck out of people. They are hitting people right in the motivation.

          Not everybody who is excited about Prime is in this group. Many are perfectly rational. Kris is responding to the irrational stuff by giving a bigger picture — but she’s aiming at the same spot as the evangelists are. She’s being an anti-evangelist.

          That means the message bounces off some people — which is okay because those are not the people she is talking to. She’s not talking to the evangelists, she’s talking to the people who listen to evangelism.

          Most of the rest of us don’t have a dog in that fight… and guess what? We’re the group that (oddly) benefits the most. Because Kris is actually doing more than the evangelists: she’d giving the big picture. Those who don’t actually care one way or the other can see past the silliness to the actual real truth in the post.

          The problem here is that the Selects folks are debating a whole different point than Kris is making. She’s pointing out that Selects is a tiny part of a big universe. It is, in essence, a niche. It’s a potentially lucrative niche… but it’s still a niche and not the end-all be-all of the universe.

          Niche marketing can be a great business model… but it has some very specific problems and solutions and approaches. And if you can’t see that is what you are dealing with, then you are crippling your business.

    • That’s what I understood her to be saying as well, J.A. As a matter of fact, she states in the comments that she has and will use select as a *business tool* for select titles that make sense but not as the place where she keeps her work on a continuing basis. So I think people are reading her wrong who think she and Dean are completely against using Select.

      Rather, her main point seems to be, focus on writing the next book rather than spending your time tweaking and messing with your current books all the time. Putting a book in Select for one 90 day period, and then moving back to other markets, means you have to track it and do the back work to make those moves in and out. You don’t want to be doing that all the time or that’s all you’ll be spending your time on. And just putting them into select permanently means leaving money on the table with other venues. You’ll never know what sales you are missing out on.

      Like Kris, I’ve had my stuff on Smashwords channels. One short story sold very well on Apple but rarely sold on Kindle. Meanwhile on Kindle, a different story sold well. And on B&N, a different story sold well. Point being, you never know where a story will sell well, and one that barely makes anything on Kindle, the author will never know if it wouldn’t take off or not on B&N or Apple or Kobo if they are exclusively using Select.

      I’ve used Select now on two of my books, but only for the 90 day period, and mainly to be a promotional on the first book of a series. On one series, it seems to have helped.

      And I don’t think she is telling anyone what to do, but giving advice from her experience, which should be taken seriously. But everyone is free to do what they want with their business. That’s how advice works. You listen to it thoughtfully, then apply as you see fit for your own situation. If you do something different than she suggested, I seriously doubt you’ll be getting a phone call or knock at your front door from her demanding to know why you didn’t follow her advice.

  7. I think Select is GREAT for loss leaders which will lead readers to your other books. Works as a long and short term strategy.
    As a non US author whose target customers are all over the planet, not just in Amazon’s most favoured nations, I have no intention of selling all my books only with a retailer who refuses to sell to half of the readers on the planet (less than half)
    Not only that but I make far less money from my sales (35%)if my friends in NZ buy my books from Amazon – whereas if they buy them from Smashwords I triple my income.
    And for those who consider themselves a best-seller when giving away a book, I’m sorry – I want to be a paid best-seller. Free doesn’t pay my bills or give me recompense for my creativity.

    • “Free doesn’t pay my bills or give me recompense for my creativity.”

      Very true!

      (It’s still a heck of a lot of fun to hit the top ranks, even if only for a day.)

  8. It appears to me that the objections that Kris and Dean have to Kindle Select is based, in part, on a logical fallacy. Please read that sentence again. I said that it appears to me. That means I am not sure if this is true, but I think it is important to discuss. If I was sure about this, I would say so. As I did when I told Mike Shatzkin (in a comment on his blog) that he was operating from this same fallacy.

    This fallacy is very common. It involves assuming that the ideal characteristics of an individual will mimic the characteristics of the group it belongs to. In this case, that means assuming that the way to sell the most books is to be available in the most markets. It is a very common sense notion, but it is wrong. Understanding why this is wrong is a little complicated.

    For the purposes of this discussion, I am only going to talk about why it is wrong for book sales. The general proof is just too complicated. One thing that I hope everyone can agree on is that book sales show evidence of a bandwagon effect or virtuous cycle. As Shatzkin says, sales beget sales. This is easy to see in blockbusters (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Grey), but it is true for even smaller successes.

    What this really represents for books is a form of the network effect. It is why word of mouth has historically been the way books were sold. But, for ebooks, the world is a different place. Each of the major retailers create links between their customers, that is they are a form of network. Sites like Goodreads do something similar. To make the most of a network effect, you have to reach a critical mass.

    Why does this matter? Because it is likely (not certain, but likely) that it is better to attempt to reach a critical mass on a single platform before branching out to other platforms. Because links between readers are stronger for readers using the same platform, your book is likely to get better “word of mouth” between users on the same platform. In short, 100 sales in a month on the Kindle (or 100 sales on the Nook) are worth more in future potential sales than 50 sales on the Kindle, 25 sales on the Nook, and 25 sales spread out on 5 other platforms.

    Do you have to give up sales on these other platforms? No, but you might be delaying them. My point in all this is that you can’t assume that because X% of ebooks are sold on a platform, your are giving up sales by skipping that platform for some period of time. Your book isn’t going to have complete penetration of any one market. There is some overlap between markets. No single book reflects the overall market.

    When someone says that you are giving up sales by being in Kindle Select simply because your book isn’t in other markets, they are wrong. You may be giving up sales, but that isn’t the reason.

    • Thank-you for putting so clearly and succinctly something I’d been thinking about for a while, without being able to express it so precisely.(The benefits of training in logic, I assume!)Kris’s posts are tremendously helpful but Kindle Select is always a bone of contention on all kinds of blogs and forums, and it’s good to see somebody standing back and analysing it in other terms.

    • You are wrong, they are losing sales by restricting themselves to only one platform. The individual platforms rating systems are one place to hear about books but they aren’t the only ones. Goodreads, book review blogs, friends, there are other ways to hear about a new author. And when you go to hunt them down on your preferred platform to check them out, and they aren’t there, you quickly forget about them and go on to other authors you can find. I’ve done this several times lately, and I can’t even tell you the names of the authors I wanted and couldn’t get on my preferred system. Yeah, I could have bought them off Amazon and tried to convert, but you know what, if I don’t already know and like them, that’s too much work, since it almost inevitably scrambles the formatting somewhere. I’m paying for something I then have to work to unscramble to read? Forget it. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way.

      • Your anecdotes do not prove me wrong. There is no doubt that stories like yours happen all the time. There is a difference between losing a sale and losing sales. Try this thought experiment. Instead of thinking about platforms, think about languages. Is every writer losing sales if they haven’t had translated their work translated into Latvian? Would you go around recommending that every writer translate their work into Latvian?

        I think more writers should consider translations, but I do not recommend they start with Latvian. Why? It’s obvious. It is a pretty small market, Latvian translators are hard to find, and many Latvians can read another language. You might start with Spanish or Chinese, but almost no one tries to get translations into many languages at once. Translations are difficult and expensive. There is an opportunity cost to getting a good translation and it makes sense to focus a language which has the best chance to pay off. The right choice will vary from title to title.

        Every decision you make has an opportunity cost. Going with Kindle Select is no different. Every writer will have to decide for themselves, in the face of great uncertainty, what is the right decision for their career. I am not arguing that writers should put all their titles in Kindle Select. I would like to see writers make decisions based on facts and logic.

        For books, the value of a sale isn’t just in the money from that sale. If you want to build word of mouth, you want your sales to cluster. Clustering can be stronger within a platform, just as it can be within a single language. I did not say “will be” or “must be”, I said “can be”. Your mileage may vary.

        There is no way to say broadly that being on more platforms leads to more sales or that being on a single platform leads to more sales. This decision needs to be made by the writer based on their particular circumstance. There is something else that is important to remember. Making decisions has a higher mental cost than people realize. Develop a strategy, stick with it, and schedule a specific time to reconsider. Kris is absolutely right about that aspect of her advice. Work for the long term.

        • Good points, William. I would only note that getting a title into another language is much harder and costly than getting a title into other bookstores. By submitting to Smashwords, I get into several of the higher profile retailers with not much cost other than time to format according to SW guidelines. And once you have that down, that doesn’t take much time. So what you are saying actually suggest since the cost is so low, that for most people it will be a worthwhile benefits to cost deal, unlike maybe getting your work translated into the language of Swaziland.

          I think also the decision on what direction to go with that will depend on how many titles you have and have to put up. Obviously if you have a lot of titles out or to put up, you want to get those put up in many places as possible so you don’t have to worry about monitoring them all excessively, and let them work for the long tail approach. You’d rather be working on getting the rest of your backlist up than moving titles in and out of Select (which is a process to get them out of other markets first). Someone starting out, with only a handful of titles, is probably going to think in terms of messing with their titles to tweak sales by trying different things. But an author like Kris has too much on her plate to do that, not only in writing new work, but in getting her old titles up. If you’re going to put the work up for the long haul and not mess with it, making sure it is in as many markets and retail outlets as possible makes perfect sense.

        • Yes, alone I am just one data point. But on the new post today, someone else commented basically restating what i said. And further down the thread, there is a reader from Malaysia who also can’t get/ wants a different format from Amazon.
          Just one of us alone isn’t much, but we are just the three commenting here. Most readers don’t comment on blogs for authors. How many of those no-commenters do the three of us represent? How many potential sales are you losing by going Select exclusively?
          I can’t make business decisions for authors, no. They have to do what is best for their sales. But I am a reader who reads a lot, and pays for most of my books. (Excluding library books and the occasional free pomotion). I also am willing to hunt down and buy more books if I like the first one I read and they are reasonably priced. I even keep a list of authors I like and check every six months or so to see if any of them have new books out. (Goodreads makes it easier by automatically nitifying me everytime an author I review releases a book). I’m the kind of PAYING reader authors lose by using Select past the original 90 days.

    • I think there is a difference between long term thinking and short term thinking. In the short term using kindle select could make a big difference for a particular author. (It didn’t make much difference for me when I tried it, but still).

      But as a long term thing, too much reliance on Amazon is like too much reliance on a single publisher. If Amazon goes belly up, then you suddenly lose all your income.

      I think that is what Kris and Deans main objection to relying too heavily on Amazon is based on.

    • I don’t think that’s the problem at all. I don’t see it. I think Kris (and Dean) are looking at a bigger picture (see my post above about niche markets).

      People who look at the small picture are invested in it, and passionate about it, and yes indeed, they can survive and thrive just fine in it. And many are not suited to step out into the wider world. (For instance, Dean can flog the idea of being a “real” publisher and marketing your paper books to indie bookstores all they want, but that just isn’t a possibility for me. To insist that I do that is as silly as someone insisting that I sign up for Selects.)

      But that isn’t to say that those who look at the larger picture and say the smaller niches are just not important are wrong. It’s just that, if you want to live inside a niche because it works really well for you, so there is no reason for you to care.

      But, imho, for those who aren’t set in how they do things, they really need to hear about the big picture.

  9. With all this talk about international sales, it is disheartening that no one seems to notice that Amazon, B&N, and nearly all the online vendors out there do not sell to most countries in the world. I can buy paperbacks but not the digital versions.

    Currently, the only sources of digital titles for me, a Malaysian, are Smashwords and the digital publishers such as Ellora’s Cave, Samhain, and the rest. Amazon? B&N? The Apple store? No chance. Amazon goes as far as to disable the purchase button on the Kindle book pages after detecting that I’m from Malaysia.

    Thus, the irony here is that in the “real world”, the legacy publishers are the ones reaching out to the rest of the world with the traditional model. Hence, there’s this bizarre situation where I can buy Avon Impulse titles in paperback form from Book Depository, but the digital versions of these books are barred from me. Still, I can get nearly every title from the US and the UK in the bookstores here, and we’re a third world country.

    It’s the so-called progressive indie movement that is the biggest culprit at the moment when it comes to locking people like me out from buying their works by going exclusively to Amazon instead of through Smashwords.

    • While I sympathize with your position, I think saying “It’s the so-called progressive indie moment that is the biggest culprit…” is quite a stretch. The biggest culprit? Really? Not the retailers who refuse to sell to you/don’t bother to roll out to your country? Or the governments that create unnecessary impediments to retailers expanding into their country? How much power do you think indies have? We have to try and scratch out a living while the tech giants engage in their global turf war. I wish we had the power to influence policies such as these, but, quite frankly, that’s never going to happen.

      • Isn’t that the same reasons given by some authors who stood up for legacy publishers? That they have no power to change anything?

        My point is that, authors choose to sell their works on online retailers that do not cater to people in many countries. Blaming the retailers is like blaming the tools for a person’s handiwork. They could have opted for Smashwords, for example, but no.

        Hey, more power to you and other indie authors if Amazon Select lets you make a living. It’s just that, when it comes to reaching a global market, it’s not happening with Amazon, B&N and others of their kind. I’ve spoken to many authors who actually believe that this is the case, but it’s not.

        And some of them get so defensive when I try to point out that the indie movement is nowhere as progressive as they like to imagine. By making their works exclusive to the Kindle platform, they maintain the status quo when it comes to geographical restriction as much as the legacy publishers. But at least the legacy publishers allow people like me to purchase the paperback versions of their works. Indie authors on Kindle only don’t.

        • Jenny,

          All of my books have been available on all retailers for the last eighteen months. They have also been available in paperback (and, at various points, to read for free on Wattpad). I’ve also made my self-publishing guide free on my blog for anyone to download – and it has been there since release day. In short, it’s pretty difficult to make the argument that I have prevented *anyone* from reading my books.


  10. These don’t have to be theoretical questions. KKR and DWS have a lot of opinions about how self-publishers should publish, and the goal of any publishing endeavor is to sell books. I’d be curious to see their sales numbers for their self-published books. That would be the ultimate indicator of the efficacy of the strategies that they recommend. It’s hard to grant them any credibility in today’s self-publishing arena when they haven’t done that, and when all publicly available evidence indicates that their self-published works sell quite poorly, especially for writers with such extensive backlists.

    To the charge that a writer’s time would be better spent writing? I don’t know any writers who can write 12 hours a day. I do know many who invest less time marketing than it probably took KKR to write that blog post, and see incredible dividends as a result.

    My own opinion of that thread was that they were completely unwilling to hear anything that contradicted or veered from their own preconceived notions. They actually reminded me a lot of how some traditionally published writers responded to self-publishers. It’s hard not to feel they are doing a disservice to many self-publishers who are just starting out.

    • Whoops, I should have added “to my knowledge, they haven’t shared self-published sales numbers.” I really could be wrong, and if so, I’ll eat David Gaughran’s hat before running over to check to see if I’m correct about their self-published sales. I think I probably am.

      • From looking at several of Kris’ books’ Amazon sales ranks, and comparing in my head what those sales ranks indicated for sales of my books… The “write the next book” advice is absolutely spot on for them. She doesn’t seem to have any single “breakout” book (many of those numbers look like a sale every 2-4 days), but I’m betting she’s selling a tidy number of total books per day. (Including some Star Trek, Star Wars, and other movie tie-in books, for which I hope she’s getting royalties.) So I suspect that this tactic, of having many books in as many different places as possible, really is maximizing revenue for her. I’ll bet she’s pulling down $2,000-$4,000 per month from Amazon alone, minimum…

        While, over on B&N… The sales ranks are harder for me to interpret, but it looks to me like her Kristine Grayson stuff is doing pretty well (maybe equal to her Amazon sales), while her SF&F doesn’t seem to be moving as much.

        So I think part of her experience is that one can’t predict where one’s various series will sell — and further, one can’t predict which threads will lead to someone going, “I like this pen name, so I’ll seek out her other pen names as well.” And, still further, when something might catch on in a given pool; the long tail means it’s never too late for someone to read a book and tell all their friends.

        So from what I can tell, she casts her net wide, and has way too much else on her plate — writing, formatting for paperback release, etc. — to bother with Free Days anyway, or keep track of when 3 months is up.

        Someone who’s lucky and gets a break-away hit on Amazon to start with… might indeed not find other venues to be terribly appealing. On the other hand, that makes one double-dependent, both on Amazon and on one’s own break-away hit. If that hit turns out to be a flash in the pan and not an evergreen… Well, one could spend a lot of time trying to goose the numbers back, and still fail.

        I got lucky — my duology is doing very nicely at Amazon, while some of my others… not so much. On the other hand, I don’t want to be dependent on Amazon (especially if it decides to make all 70% royalties dependent on exclusivity, and not just India’s), and I don’t want to be dependent on Amazon’s search algorithms du jour to keep that single story in “self-advertising” mode on the Also Boughts. I need more; both more books, and more venues. As I said above, the B&N sales look like my early Amazon sales right now… It’s worth waiting to see if they start looking like my Amazon sales in a few months.

        And I should be writing right now. Fiction is hard when one is low on sleep and coming down with Sick. 🙁

        • I imagine this is a dead thread, but $2000-$4000 / month with that backlist is abject failure. Sorry. You could probably do that with 2 or 3 of her titles if you managed them properly. Many, many people, without her backlist or platform, do just that.

          Think of it this way: how many books would you need to have in order to make a living that way? That’s absurd.

          She’s advocating the equivalent of just throwing seeds into the wind and then coming back later to see if anything has grown, and then dismissing all the other writers who see a point to actually farming. It’s honestly starting to sound like she’s just putting down something she doesn’t understand.

          • I said 2-4K minimum. I am not going to bother to go through every single one of her books and figure out how much it’s bringing to the table. Where do you get that 2-4K a month is “abject failure,” anyway?

            Further, where do you get that she’s not marketing them? She’s just not marketing them on Amazon; the marketing efforts I see are things like re-vamping covers to be more attractive, giving teasers on her blog, and probably stuff behind the scenes that isn’t currently relevant to my interests and thus got forgotten.

            • I’m assuming she follows her own advice with respect to marketing. “Not relevant to writers.”

              I don’t know how many of her titles have reverted, but assuming 30 full length works? Yeah, 2-4k / month for 30 novels from an established writer with a fan base, a following, and a platform is really bad. Even if they’re all priced at 2.99 (much lower than they advocate), that’s 2000 sales / month over 30 books — an average of just over 2 sales / book / day.

              While still putting out new work? A writer with that history?

              Yeah, that’s not good.

        • “especially if it decides to make all 70% royalties dependent on exclusivity, and not just India’s”

          Not gonna happen. Not unless every other competing ebook seller shuts down or lowers royalties similarly.

      • “to my knowledge, they haven’t shared self-published sales numbers.”

        Why should they? That’s their (private) business, not ours.

        • Because they’re very loudly telling other people how to manage their self-publishing careers, while also selling workshops about how to be a successful self-publisher, that’s why.

          • No, they put on workshops about how to become a more successful WRITER. Not just about indie publishing. I think their combined 60+ years of success in the writing and publishing field and multiple awards speak volumes about their qualification to do that. They certainly don’t need to jump through hoops or reveal personal information that they don’t want to in order to prove themselves to anyone. Methinks you’re being a bit myopic here.

  11. I was supposed to give the LARGER number of readers I got from being exclusive with Amazon for the tiny number I could get from Kobo, et al.–because this is supposedly long term thinking.

    Well, as far as I am concerned long term thinking involves getting more readers via any retailer and if Amazon is the best Retailer to do that — so far it by and away has been — then so be it. For me it involves getting sales so I can continue writing to sell those books in the long term. It means paying my bills now so I can write later.

    No argument about other retailers changes the fact that when I went exclusive with Amazon my sales skyrocketed. But according to Kris because those sales came through Amazon they’re not good enough.

    Kris Rusch continues to pretty much willy-nilly attack anyone who has the nerve to ignore her advice and at the same time refuse to yell if we point out in her comments that there are other ways of looking at it.

    I’m done with her blog, to be frank. I very much respect her as an author and editor but I put my novels in Select when it best suits me whether anyone else likes it or not.

  12. If Select works for you and you’re not worried about all your eggs in one basket, that’s awesome. I’m not even saying you SHOULD be worried about it, but I am, and here’s why.

    My experience with Amazon has led me to a “no Select ever” policy. Amazon has always made up about 75% of my sales; 15% are direct, the remaining 10% being everywhere else. I’ve tried a couple of books in Select to little effect. The main book I tried has too much adult content to be featured on Pixel of Ink, etc, and not enough to get featured on an erotica freebie site; without a big mention like that it’s unlikely these days you’ll get thousands of downloads. I did about 2500 over two free periods (a 2 day and a 3 day). Borrows, which many cite as the reason they stay in, were negligible; sales on other channels far outstripped them.

    Adding to my Select ban: Earlier this year I had a dust-up with Amazon, or rather, they had one with me. Under my birth name I had a couple of cookbooks that had some PLR content and some original content mixed together. The PLR content had been completely revamped, indexed and so on, and was not in its original state–I’d added value. As far as I knew, they were within TOS. They’d been up for years; if memory serves, they’d been up longer than my fiction. Amazon took exception to the cookbooks and demanded their removal. I disagreed but instantly complied anyway.

    MONTHS later they blocked my account without notice and threatened me with removal, even though I’d done everything they’d asked and hadn’t uploaded anything even remotely similar since (nor will I ever–lesson learned). They unblocked me after I returned a copy-and-paste statement that I’d never ever ever ever do it again; they’ve told me that every time I upload a new book from now on they’ll be scrutinizing it extra-hard.

    There was nothing personal about this, and I don’t take it personally, but it certainly gave me pause. KB has reports from other writers with no history at all of Amazon troubles like mine finding their accounts, books or both blocked for days, or even weeks, while Amazon decides if they’re bad guys; Amazon refuses to make their reasons clear while a book or author is being vetted.

    If that happens to you, and you’re only at Amazon, what then? If the chances don’t bother you, that’s okay; your book sales are totally your business, do what works for you. They do bother me, and so, no Select.

  13. Speaking of logical fallacies, you’re all debating my blog, but you are debating something I never said in my blog and have never said.

    Select is a business tool. Used correctly, it will help you get more sales. I choose not to use it personally, because I prefer to build my sales differently.

    Correctly is this: pick a book or a story and put it in Select after you’ve finished the book/story. Before you upload it anywhere else. Make sure you have other books and stories in your inventory so that readers who finish and like your story can find the others–which are not in Select–and then buy those.

    If you remove your books from other venues to use Select, if you fail to put your books up in other venues after you’ve had a period of exclusivity, then you’re using Select badly and hurting sales.

    Remember that you’re in an international business, and as is said up-thread, many potential readers in other countries can’t read something you put in Select. Nor can non-Kindle owners (or people who won’t download the app) in the US. Limiting your readership is a bad thing, given the long term.

    Select is a tool and used as a tool on a few books/stories might be a good publishing strategy. You need to analyze if it’s good for you. But it should never be the only tool. That will hurt your business in the long term.

    Contrary to what some people are saying here, I let conflicting opinions on my blog all the time. When commenters get rude, I let them comment once. If the rudeness continues, they are not welcome to comment on that blog post. But they can comment the next week if they calm down.

    It seems to me that people get angry with me because they seem to want me to validate their way of doing things. Frankly, I’m sharing my experience and my opinions and they do change over time. You can look at old blogs and see that. Some of those changes come from the discussions in the comments.

    My job in the blog is not to validate you or even to change your mind, but to put my opinions out there. You can agree or disagree, change your mind or not, change my mind or not, but you cannot hijack my blog (which so many Select people try to do every time I mention the service). I stop answering arguments that get circular or I decline to post the fifth or tenth comment from the same person on the same topic saying the same thing in the same way. That week. You want to say the same thing on that topic the following week, feel free, so long as you’re not rude about it.

    Frankly, the Select discussion on my blog is a big heated distraction. The interesting discussion comes from readers of my blog who do not live in the U.S. They’re talking about the changes in their countries regarding e-books and e-reading. Now, I find that fascinating, and I’m learning something from all of them.

    • You’re more tolerant of rude commenters than I am, Kris.

      • Kristine Kathryn Rusch

        A lot of rude commenters say something in the heat of the moment, and then regret it and apologize. This week’s didn’t, but so many end up becoming regular readers of the blog, folks who maybe didn’t realize how rude they were being. So I give them one chance.

        • So, I don’t have a stance on the Select thing, since I’m not published yet, and don’t really understand the details.

          I will say, I was very torn when I saw two people I really respect, and think are often quite brilliant, Kris and David, disagreeing.

          I resolved that cognitive dissonance by deciding they were both right.

          But aside from that, I really hope that the spirit of what Kris was saying doesn’t get lost. Because this is a very important article that she wrote, imho.

          DON’T THINK SMALL. Think lifetime, think international market, think BIG. That’s really important.

          It’s important to get away from the narrow mindset imposed by what used to be the reality of limited bookstores. The e-book market has potential never seen before. And that potential will continue to expand. That’s the spirit of what Kris is trying to say, I think, and it’s an extremely insightful and important point.

          Think of the mountains, not just the hills. Don’t think that today will define the future, when the future is expanding. Think BIG.

          • Mira,

            I think it’s important to make the right decision *for you*. If I had 200+ titles like Kris, the logistics alone would make it very tempting to upload everywhere once and move on.

            I only have a small number titles out, so I can micromanage a little more. I’m not urging people to enroll in Select, I’m merely presenting the reasoning for those who have do so. Indeed, when Select was announced, enough of my sales were outside Amazon to make not enrolling an easy decision.

            Since then, I’ve continually re-examined that decision in light of the successes (and failures) of writers who went either way. Here’s what I’ve gleaned:

            Outside of the genres of romance and erotica, the only indies who seem to posting big numbers from retailers outside of Amazon tend to (a) write in a series and (b) make the first perma-free (or very cheap). For those not writing in romance or erotica, and not writing in a series, it’s pretty tough to get traction on other retailers. If you want a good example of (non-romance) authors pursuing this strategy to great effect, check out Sarah Woodbury, Lindsay Buroker, and David Dalglish.

            The reasons for the above are manifold, but generally boils down to deficiencies in the search/categories/rankings/bestseller lists of the non-Amazon retailers. Some small improvements are being made, but they are way behind and will likely be so for some time. All that makes gaining traction really, really hard.

            Whether you should enroll something in Select or not really depends on how many titles you have out, what genres they are in, and what results you are seeing on Amazon and elsewhere already.

            I’m only dipping my toe in the Select pool right now, but the results are promising enough to test a full-length title. The novel I’m enrolling has never sold outside of Amazon (in the 10 months since release), so it seems like a good choice. If it was a romance novel (or my only book, or it was doing well on, say, Apple), I probably wouldn’t consider Select.

            I’m not pro- or anti-Select. There are aspects of the program I’m not fond of (exclusivity is just one of them), but I’ve also seen plenty of writers do extremely well out of it. I’ve attempted the “be everywhere” strategy for enough time to evaluate it. I’ll still keep some stuff up on other retailers, but the books that aren’t performing outside of Amazon will likely get a 90-day term in Select.


            • My biggest seller, consistent sales, outstripping Amazon sales of the same title, but even there, it’s my biggest title, is a Christmas collection under another pen name. It has no related fiction, though I have other fiction. It is not in a series. It is strictly Christian family sentimental stuff, absolutely no romance.

              To each book its own.

            • David, thank you. Appreciate the information!

        • Kris, you were the one who told me you would not allow discussion of Select on your blog all the while allowing people to make numerous critical comments and making some very negative and arbitrary comments (imo) about Select and people who use it. But if someone tries to respond to those comments, they’re “hijacking your blog”. And somehow you are astonished when you raise the topic of Select and make all these arbitrary claims that people who actually have EXPERIENCE with Select might feel your comments warrant a response.

          Well, it’s your blog. You have the right to have a one-sided discussion if that’s what you want.

          As much as I respect you as an editor, you don’t necessarily know what is good for every author on earth. You state there is one one way and one way only that an author should use Select and anyone who doesn’t take that advice is “using Select badly” although you have no clue what their sales are or what their experience is and have no experience, as you admit, with using Select yourself.

          That’s your opinion and if that’s what you want to think–that anyone who doesn’t do it your way is too stupid to know how to run their own business–I don’t see any reason to bother arguing.

          • Kris is entitled to set the rules for discussion on her own blog just as you and I are on our blogs, J.R.

            I’ve never seen Kris claim to know what is good for every author on earth.

    • I can’t speak for anyone else but I am discussing what you said on your blog and what you repeated here:

      If you remove your books from other venues to use Select, if you fail to put your books up in other venues after you’ve had a period of exclusivity, then you’re using Select badly and hurting sales.

      I believe that for some writers, at certain points in their career, this might be a good use of Select. I don’t mind disagreeing. I do try not to be disagreeable.

      We should all remember that this whole ebook thing is really new and nobody has all the answers.

      • Once a book already has traction at another retailer, pulling it and losing reviews and visibility for 90 days hurts sales. She’s right. Use Kindle Select, then expand. And the only way to know whether your book has traction already is if it’s been up for 8 months to a year. It takes a long time for the reports to get their initial updates and start rolling in. I was shocked by how much traction my first poorly done books gained in their first six months, and how I only found out 6-8 months after publishing them.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.