Kindle Unlimited – Starks or Lannisters?

I don’t really blog about the business of writing since I’m far from being an expert on the ins and outs (though I am learning as much as I can as quickly as I can), but for those interested, here are my thoughts on the recent criticism of Kindle Unlimited. Some have made the argument between those for and against the program seem like choosing between the Starks or the Lannisters, but I believe it all depends on your goals as a writer and business person.

For those out of the know, Kindle Unlimited has only been around for a few months, and it’s essentially Amazon’s answer to a Netflix for books. I did blog when it was announced that I was against the subscription model from a reader’s perspective simply because there is never any way for me to keep up with it. With schedules being the way they are, I can barely make it through a library book before the due date is upon me. So, if there is a book that I desperately want to read, I generally buy it at the store, or digitally if the price is right, so that it doesn’t walk away on me when the kitchen timer dings.

As a writer, I stumbled into Kindle Unlimited, deciding to try it out. At the time, my only big titles were two game books, and the second one was proving a much tougher sell than Zombie Apocalypse. However, I was on vacation, and brought along my notebook to jot down ideas. It was then that I decided that I had always wanted to try writing a serial – a good, horror serial that I couldn’t seem to find anywhere online or elsewhere. It had been so long since Stephen King tried his hand at the serial, and I remember reading those tiny paperback installments with glee each time they came out. Perhaps I could make one of my own.

So, I set about doing it.

It took a while, but I managed to finish all six installments of The Entity in roughly six months. It wasn’t easy, but it was a heck of a lot of fun. I feel like I’m at home in the horror genre, since I watch and read a lot of it myself. So, the ideas flowed, and thankfully they all came together after typing up the messy scrawls in not one, but two notebooks. One of those was a Five-Star three-subject notebook! (I dragged it everywhere.)

So, there’s the writing part of that project. But, what about the KU part?

Well, I think it’s a no-brainer for authors with shorter, cheaper works to enroll in KU. Let’s do the math. If you are charging $0.99 for a novella, and you normally get $0.35 per purchase, it’s crazy to balk at getting $1.39 (roughly) per borrow on the same title in KU. I was shocked, to be honest. I view KU as the answer to perma-free, another heavily debated topic when it comes to Amazon. I don’t have a perma-free title in any of my series, so if someone wants to check out the first episode of The Entity without paying to own it forever, they can certainly try it out in KU risk-free. There’s only to gain for the reader since they don’t have to keep the title forever, and the same goes for me as the writer as I’m compensated for my work.

However, this is certainly not the case for every title that I have for sale. If a book is more than $2.99, (or even if it is $2.99) you might want to forego KU and just have it up for normal purchasing since your royalty per purchase is greater. I ended up listing my two game books in the Can You Survive series in KU simply because the sales lagged enormously since the boom in April, so I decided that a borrow was better than nothing. It’s personal preference.

My argument for new writers who are lamenting how hard it is to get your work out there, just listen to what Joe Konrath has been saying for ages. Nobody owes it to you to read your work. It isn’t easy to be a writer either way, KU or no. Authors are still fighting against reading tastes, genres, and other factors to get eyes on their work. I’m reminded of all those creative writing classes that I took in college where I’d read a handful of stories each week by classmates. Some were just plain unreadable because they were general fiction (or lit fiction, which is not my taste) with the characters just sitting in a room or experiencing a Gatsby-esque party with nothing else going on, and other stories I couldn’t get enough of because the genre and characters clicked with my tastes. I think focusing on genre and having a tight plot are the best bets when working on a new project. Once you’ve planned everything out and you’re deciding on whether to enroll in KU or not, look at the length of the work and the price you want to set on it. If you plan on going higher than $2.99 in the next three months, then I’d hold off enrolling simply because the royalties are higher for the purchase. For someone like HM Ward, I’d say it’s a no brainer to keep your books as just individual purchases. She has the readership to allow for that, and good for her!

If you don’t want to be Amazon exclusive, then that makes the decision for you right away. I’ve had zero luck with Kobo (I sold one title in a year where I sold many more on Amazon through the same efforts) and couldn’t even get Smashwords to work, no matter how many times I exported the ePub from Scrivener and ran through Calibre. So, for me, Amazon is my choice for now. That could change. If you’ve seen the amount of times I’ve changed up my bookshelves, you’d know that I am not afraid of change!

If you are a writer, focus on writing good books that are marketable with good covers, great blurbs, and solid editing. Those are the only things we are in control of as far as our craft goes. Anything besides that is marketing and luck, both things that are joker cards. What a reader will pick up on their eDevice is dependent on their tastes, the cover of your book, and the blurb, all things that you can control. If they’re looking for a romance, then put out the best romance book you can make. The same goes for any other genre.

Just remember, writing is not easy, but it’s never in vain in this digital age. As Sappho said, “Although only breath, words which I command are immortal.” There is no time limit on someone discovering your work.

With all that said, if you have a KU membership, check out The Entity series here! I’m being pestered by family and friends to write some other ghost stories that I collected over the years, mostly from my childhood in Shapleigh, so it looks like there will be a few more scares for me in the near future. I don’t mind, but I’ll be writing with all the lights on, heh heh.

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