The Author’s Guide on Amazon KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited

The Author’s Guide on Amazon KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited

If you’re an author and you’re familiar at all with Amazon’s publishing services, you’ve surely encountered KDP Select at some point. Whether you’re seriously considering it, or you saw the button option when you were setting up your book and you wondered what the heck it’s supposed to be, chances are you at least know the name.

KDP Select, while it might look innocuous from inside your author dashboard, is actually one of the most powerful options available to authors. It allows you to join a subscription-based service that delivers your book to readers for free (or at least it feels like it), resulting in more money for you and a higher ranking in the Amazon bookstore.

If you’re considering KDP Select, or you’re completely lost and don’t know what it even is, you’re in the right place. Today, we’ll be going over a comprehensive overview of what KDP Select actually is, the benefits and drawbacks of participating in the program, and whether or not you need to enroll your book today.

What Is KDP Select?

Actually, hold up a second. The entire rest of the article won’t make sense if you don’t know what Kindle Unlimited is. If you do, feel free to skip ahead. But if not…

What Is Kindle Unlimited?

That’s better.

In the author community, the term KDP Select has become synonymous with Kindle Unlimited (also colloquially known as KU). In reality, they’re not the same thing, though they are related. However, even the biggest names in self-publishing, when they talk about the KDP Select program, they simply ask “are you in KU?”

If you’re new to self-publishing, or if you don’t deal with Amazon directly, you may not know what this means. So let’s clear it up before we move on.

If you purchase books from the tech giant, you know that Amazon hosts millions of books on its platform that can be instantly downloaded to a Kindle or your phone. And like every other business that has embraced the digital transformation, Amazon has embraced a subscription service that allows users to access an “unlimited” library of ebooks every month for a relatively low cost (in reality, you can only borrow 10 books at a time).

If you’re signed up for the program, it’s easy enough to tell. Every other book product page you come across while browsing will have a big, yellow button screaming “READ FOR FREE!”

Therein lies the power of Kindle Unlimited, and we’ll get to that shortly.

If you’re not signed up, what you’ll see instead is a box telling you that this book is “available with a Kindle Unlimited membership.” You’ll also notice that another not-so-subtle advertisement hovers directly beneath the purchasing options (one of which is a very attractive $0.00 price), letting you know that you can enjoy access to over 1 million more titles.

If you enjoy reading and don’t mind ebooks, I personally recommend signing up for the service. You’ll never run out of reading material, and there’s a lot of high-profile books available from the service, including Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and plenty more. Assuming you read regularly, it can be well worth the money.

But even if you don’t like ebooks, or you don’t want to support Bezos’s megalomania by giving him money every month, you should know that there is no shortage of readers that do pay for the subscription service. And that means that if your book is available in the Kindle Unlimited program, they can read your book at no extra cost to them . . . yet you still get paid.

More on that later.

Okay, So Really, What’s KDP Select?

Aaand we’re back!

Now that you know what Kindle Unlimited is, I can simply say that KDP Select is the program through which you make your book available on Kindle Unlimited. Note that this is not for your entire catalog, but on a book-by-book basis.

Of course, nothing’s as simple as it seems, and there are plenty of caveats, restrictions, and nuances to the program, but stick with me throughout this article, and you’ll be fine.

What it all boils down to is that your book will be available to KU subscribers (including that tempting “Read for Free” button on your book’s page) for 90 days. After that, you’re free to remove your book from the program and put it wherever you want, or you can choose to leave your book enrolled in the program for however long you wish.

You also get access to a few unique marketing tools that Amazon offers as long as your book is enrolled, namely that you get five days every quarter that you can make your book completely free or discounted to anyone outside the KU program, further enticing new readers to give your book a chance.

What’s the Catch?

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, depending on who you ask, it is. Some will say they would never enroll in the program. On the other hand, some say every new book they release goes straight to KDP Select. Some say it’s their biggest regret. Others say it’s the best thing to happen to their publishing career.

Yes, that’s right. It’s time for another exciting episode of . . . it depends.

You see, what I didn’t mention is that you get all these benefits in exchange for the digital exclusivity to the Amazon platform. That means that as long as your book is available through Kindle Unlimited, you cannot offer your ebook anywhere else, for a price or for free.

For 90 days, you are bound by the restriction that the only place readers can get your book is through Amazon. Note, however, that this only applies to the digital version. If you have a paperback, hardcover, or audiobook available, you can offer it for sale or give it away anywhere, anytime.

You are additionally allowed to host up to 10% of your book on your website or other platform for use as an email list incentive, sneak preview, or other form of marketing. You are kindof-sortof-maybe also allowed to distribute your book to private parties for the purpose of reviews, but this area is a little fuzzy when it comes to the terms of service, and so I won’t officially recommend that you do this.

Finally, just because someone grabs your book on Kindle Unlimited doesn’t mean you’ll get paid. When your book is obtained via KU, you are only paid if it is actually read. And even then, you are only paid for the pages the user has actually flipped through.

If that doesn’t sound confusing enough, we will take a short commercial break to discuss how royalties work when enrolled in KDP Select.

How Royalties Work in KDP Select

Here we go . . . I apologize in advance.

For everyone who buys your book normally, you are paid on the traditional 30%/70% royalty rate. That much is unchanged. They could buy your book and never touch it again, but you’d still get paid.

However, when the license for your book is distributed via Kindle Unlimited, everything changes. As discussed, you’re only paid if the reader actually reads your book. That alone is a huge red flag for some authors, but the writing community has come to accept this as a fact of life, encouraging us to only make our covers and blurbs stronger so that a reader is all the more compelled to actually read our books.

But as far as the payout structure is concerned, you are essentially paid on a page-by-page basis. And before you ask, swiping the bar on the bottom of the book to skip to the end isn’t enough. The reader must actually swipe through your book.

To make matters even more convoluted, it isn’t even based on any page count you may be familiar with. Amazon has its own specific standards that determine what constitutes a page (resulting in the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count, aka KENPC), and it can’t be changed by you no matter how much white space you add or how big you make the font. The only thing you can do is to simply add more words. You’re also only paid for the first time a user reads a page, so even if your most diehard fan reads your book once a week, you’ll only get paid for the first readthrough.

As a side note, if you’re curious to know what the KENPC is for a particular book under your name, you can click on the “Promote and Advertise” button on your KDP Bookshelf, and it’ll take you to a page that hides this number toward the bottom.

Then, Amazon takes this KENPC and multiplies it by a magic number that changes each month and determines how much an author is paid for each individual page. This magic number is derived from the KDP Select Global Fund, another magic number that changes each month and determines how much money Amazon has devoted to paying its KDP Select members each month.

In an effort to make this less convoluted, let’s take a look at the example Amazon provides:

Basically, the more page reads you get, the more money you earn. This means that if your ebook is priced on the lower side yet is an average to long length, you could end up making more money through KDP Select simply because of the number of page reads.

Of course, this is also conversely true. If you price your ebook on the higher side, you may lose out on potential profits, especially if your book isn’t that long.

However, it isn’t this simple, as we’ll find out later.

What Does that Mean for You?

For some authors, the above restrictions and the pay-by-page-count model are too much to ask. For others, it’s irrelevant. For still others, it’s well worth it.

But so far, we’ve just objectively gone over what the program entails. Now that you know the basics, let’s go into a little more details on the pros and cons. By the end of this article, you should have a better idea on whether it’s the right move for you.

The Pros of KDP Select

Even the harshest critics of Amazon (and KDP Select in particular) cannot deny that there are clear benefits to enrolling your book in the program.

No matter your opinion on the service, it’s hard to ignore the following:

  • Kindle Unlimited
  • Kindle Free Promotions
  • Kindle Countdown Deals

Kindle Unlimited

For one, it’s hard to ignore Kindle Unlimited and harder still to argue with the notion of “free.” Everyone loves free stuff, and readers are not excluded. If they’re remotely interested in your book, and they still have room in their temporary KU library, there’s a good chance they’ll see the “Read for Free” button and just impulse-click it.

Of course, no one will seriously make the argument that it is truly free. Amazon just likes to make you forget that you’re paying every month for this service.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the barrier of entry is almost non-existent for a KU reader. As long as your book cover and description hits the right nerve in your reader, there’s no reason for a pause of hesitation when considering whether or not to add it to their library. Unless, of course, if their 10-book allowance is already full, in which case your book has to survive the mental gauntlet of your reader deciding which book to kick out of their reading list.

And, lest you forget, even if you make it into the reader’s library, they still actually have to read your book. But you’ve already solved the major problem of selling your book (at least half of the problem), and that’s more than some people ever get.

Finally, you mustn’t forget that there are some readers who only read what they can get through Kindle Unlimited. Yes, they’re out there. Whether they have a very specific budget set for books, they like the structure of only having 10 books to choose from at a time in their borrowed library, or whatever other reason, if you don’t offer your book through Kindle Unlimited, there’s a subset of your potential audience that you’ll never reach.

Kindle Free Promotions

One of Amazon’s best benefits to authors participating in KDP Select, Kindle Free Promotions allow you to change the price of your book to free for five days every quarter, meaning that everyone (not just those in Kindle Unlimited) can read your book without paying a dime.

Of course, this also means that you don’t get paid either.

Well, then, why would you say that’s a benefit?!

The true power in these promotions comes into play when you’re a) fishing for reviews, or b) building an audience.

Fishing for Reviews

If you need more social proof to sell your book, or if you need a certain number of reviews for some marketing tactic, one of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to give your book away for free. After all, the more people read your book, the more reviews you inevitably get.

True, the percentage of people who leave a review are minuscule as it is, and those who get it for free are less likely to leave reviews in general (and if they do, there’s no telling what they’ll write) But if 100 people pick up your book for free, chances are at least one of them will leave a review.

If you combine this with listing your book on promotion sites, the benefit is exponentially more powerful, and you can expect that you’ll be able to add a few more reviews each time you offer your book for free.

Building an Audience

By far the more profitable reason for listing your book for a free promotion, building an audience is tremendously important when it comes to your long-term success as an author.

Yes, for every 1,000 people who pick your book up for free during a promotion, maybe half will actually read it. 10% of them may actually really like it and will buy the next book in the series. And some of them may love it enough that they’ll read whatever you publish.

And it’s those last two sets of people that will make you money for the rest of your life.

If you just have one book, and you give it away for free, you won’t accomplish much. Maybe you’ve published a book to build your business, and you don’t care much about royalties. That’s fine, and free promotions can be a great tactic.

But if you’re writing a series, or if you know that you want writing to be your career, finding more readers via free promotions can slowly build up an audience that will gladly purchase subsequent books because they become invested in either the first book or you as an author.

Kindle Countdown Deals

Similar to Free Promotions, you get five days every quarter that you can list your book in what is called a Kindle Countdown Deal.

Note that you cannot choose both a Free Promotion and a Kindle Countdown Deal in any given quarter. You must pick between the two.

A Kindle Countdown Deal is essentially a timed promotion in which your book starts at a low price (say $0.99), and then increases in price after set intervals until it is full price once again.

This combines the power of free promotions with the added benefit that you actually get paid when someone grabs your book.

Of course, you won’t get nearly the amount of downloads as if you were offering your book for free, but a discounted promotion is still quite powerful.

Rather than the oh-so-tempting $0.00 price mark that would show if it were a free promotion, what you’ll see instead is a live timer that is ticking down until your book increases in price.

For those who have studied marketing to any extent, you’ll know that this is a powerful motivator to purchase your book, even if the reader wasn’t seriously considering buying it to begin with. That additional element of a time-sensitive deal sparks something in our brains that makes the potential of purchasing a particular item all the more exciting. It also adds pressure, subtly nudging the buyer by saying “if you don’t act now, you’ll miss out.”

Don’t you just looove consumerism?

The Cons of KDP Select

In case I made KDP Select sound too enticing, let me bring you back down to Earth by saying that there are some very real disadvantages to offering your book in KDP Select. Before you make a final decision, I encourage you to weigh the above pros and the below cons very carefully, so don’t close this article and rush to your KDP settings to enroll all your books just yet.

Authors across the globe typically have strong opinions one way or the other when it comes to KDP Select, but the *potential* cons of the program typically boil down to the following:

  • Exclusivity requirements
  • Loss of profit
  • Ineffective promotions

Exclusivity Requirements

By far, the most notable and one of the more frustrating aspects of KDP Select is that the digital distribution of your book must remain exclusive to Amazon for 90 days. Again, you can do whatever you want with the print and audio copies, but Amazon has to be the only place where people can buy your ebook.

Note that Amazon does not temporarily hold the right to your intellectual property during this time. You retain full rights to your work; you merely have an agreement with them that the ebook is exclusive to Amazon.

To some authors, this glaring caveat is a non-issue. After all, it can be a hassle to deal with multiple distributors anyway, and a lot of people choose to remain exclusive to Amazon simply because it removes complications from their work.

To some authors, Amazon represents a mere fraction of their income, and removing their work from multiple other sources means missing out on significant revenue.

A lot of this has to do with global recognition. After all, Amazon is the undisputed king of booksellers in America and the United Kingdom, but other platforms, such as Kobo and Apple Books, put up quite the fight in countries like Canada and Australia.

Remember how I said you’ll miss out on a market if you don’t put your book in Kindle Unlimited? Well, you’ll miss out on plenty, perhaps more, if you do. Note that if you remain exclusive to Amazon, you’ll still have plenty of chances to hit the global market. Just not as much as if you went “wide,” as we in the indie community call it.

The deciding factor here comes down to how much you’re willing to manage. Is the global market worth the additional effort? Perhaps. Some authors swear by it. Personally, though a large chunk of my readership is from Australia, the vast majority is America-based. And though I’ll likely branch out and go wide soon, I’ve done quite well remaining exclusive to Amazon.

Loss of Profit

Did you notice how I put asterisks next to “potential” cons when I introduced them?

This is because your success with KDP Select largely depends on how you take advantage of its benefits. If you just put your book on the platform and leave it alone, you might as well put it on Apple Books and Kobo. After all, it’s not like Amazon takes its KU books and gives them all the marketing love, magically showering anyone who checks the KDP Select button with money.

However, even if you do take advantage of Select’s marketing programs, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll do well for yourself. Some genres naturally have a higher readership in KU. Some demographics minimize their subscription services. I don’t pretend to be an expert in these areas, so I suggest researching your specific genre when it comes to whether Amazon exclusivity seems to help/hurt.

Above all else, just remember that it takes time to build an audience and find out what works best, and the overwhelming majority of authors lose money when first starting. It’s those who stick with it and make the right, data-driven decisions for their business that find ultimate success and make money in the long haul.

Ineffective Promotions

I’ll touch on this point very briefly because it goes hand in hand with the perceived loss of profits I mentioned above.

However, many authors complain that they see no long-term benefit from free/discounted promotions, the reviews they get are poor, or they’re simply not worth the money.

First, let me stress that there are way too many factors to make such a broad claim as “Amazon promotions don’t work.” I cannot emphasize this enough. From conception to execution to follow-up, there are dozens of factors, including but not limited to:

  • The time of the promotion (vis-à-vis the month)

    • Some months are more effective when it comes to book sales in general
  • The time of the promotion (vis-à-vis the days)

    • Readers are more likely to shop for books on different days. My genre likes Thursdays and Sundays, for example.
  • The genre itself

  • The sites and newsletters used to promote

  • The price point of the original book and the discounted-to price

  • The social media techniques used to alert readers to the promotion

  • The call-to-action at the end of your discounted/free book

There’s so much that goes into running a successful promotion, and it’s hard to get a good idea whether or not KDP Select promotions are right for your book without a few attempts. Of course, they’re not for everyone, and mileage will vary, but it’s difficult to know if they’re right for you after just one attempt.

Other Downsides

The above are only the more common downsides to enrolling your book in KDP Select.

Other complaints include the quality of reviews you get after a promotion. It’s a common woe of authors that after running a free/discounted promotion, while they might get plenty of new reviews, said reviews are a sort of a hodgepodge, both in quality and sometimes quantity. We authors have accepted this fact, however, and we’ve come to shrug it off. After all, what can you expect when someone gets your book for free?

When your book is exclusive to Amazon, you also become ineligible for benefits like many bestseller lists, certain marketing tactics, and the ability to sell your books on your own platform and receive 100% of the profits. The first and the last issues are irrelevant to the majority of authors, but there is one glaring issue that stands out when it comes to marketing.

No BookBub

One of the most popular–and most profitable–sites to market your book is BookBub. For the uninitiated, BookBub is a platform that boasts millions of email subscribers, to whom they send out regular deal notifications.

To the indie author, securing a position on BookBub’s newsletter is like Christmas. This is because BookBub has quite the reputation in the writing community for launching careers, expanding readership dramatically, and being quite profitable overall.

However, BookBub, while they don’t necessarily discriminate against authors exclusive to Amazon, do prefer that the authors they feature are available on as many platforms as possible. After all, their subscribers may not use Amazon.

Therefore, if you want the best chance at securing a BookBub deal, it may be best to make your book widely available across multiple distribution platforms. But it’s not unheard of for an Amazon-exclusive book to be featured by BookBub, and it’s not as rare as some people make it sound. So if you’re in KU and you want a BookBub, don’t give up hope yet!

So Is KDP Select Right for You?

Some authors swear by it, some swear they’ll never do it.

And for some people, there really is no choice. For example, maybe they already have an established audience and they don’t need the benefits that KDP Select offers.

But chances are, if you’re reading this article, then you are not at a point yet where the choice is practically already made for you. You can go either way. And in all reality, the results of your choice do not have to be as polarizing as I’ve made it sound or as some authors claim that it really is. I know plenty of authors who are quite successful remaining exclusive to Amazon, and it’s largely because they take advantage of the benefits listed earlier.

I do believe that you can be successful with either path, but in all likelihood, one path will suit you better than the other.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Do you want a simpler approach to publishing?
  • Do you want a potential kickstart to your career by using Amazon’s promotions?
  • Are your readers primarily US- or UK-based?
  • Is Kindle Unlimited a prevalent and successful tactic in your genre?

If the answers to the above are yes, I suggest giving KDP Select a try. After all, you are not tied down to this platform after 90 days if you decide it’s not the right move for your career. However, if you do decide to try one method out before the other, I suggest starting with KDP Select. It’s easier to start exclusive to Amazon and then go wide than it is the other way around.

However . . .

  • Do you already have an established audience and a mailing list?

  • Do you have an existing series with a first book that you can make permanently free?

    • This is a common tactic that’s proved to be a good alternative to Amazon’s free promotions.
  • Are you a hybrid publisher, with some books independently published and some traditionally published?

If so, going wide may be the right choice for you.

Again, I do suggest at least trying KDP Select at some point. It may not be the best thing for your career, but remember the magic words I brought up at the beginning of this article?

It depends.

You can do all the research in the world, but the best way to know for sure is to try it for yourself. And since you’re not bound by any contract to stay exclusive to Amazon after 90 days, why not give it an honest shot? The worst that could happen is it doesn’t work for you, and you decide to go wide.

At the end of the day, I hope that this article has answered your burning questions regarding KDP Select, and I wish you the best of luck in finding the right path for you and your career.

The Author’s Guide on Amazon KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited
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