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Going From KU to Wide in 2019—One Indie’s First Two Months

Previously, I wrote a post about why I decided to pull my books from KindleUnlimited so I could go wide. I’m in a genre author’s group on Facebook and some folks have been interested in the experience, but it’s kind of hard to get across everything in a Facebook post so I thought I’d pull one together here.

Some facts as we move into this:

  • They pulled my books (5) from KU at my request on January 26, 2018.
  • From May 15 to January 26 (Book 1 release to pull), 66.76% of my royalty income came from KU page reads, 30.94% from ebook sales, and 2.28% from paperbacks.
  • I only did AMS and FB and BB ads. I barely had a newsletter and did almost no swaps or other advertising.
  • For this comparison, when I talk about dollar amounts, let’s say I made $100 in December royalties. (I didn’t, but for comparative purposes, let’s say I did.) December 2018 is the last full month I was in KU and advertising so it’s the “full” number I’ll use.

A big, huge, honking caveat

I am not blaming Amazon for my lack of HUGE success on their platform. The books may not appeal widely – it’s occurred to me I did a circus book that has no animals in it (they’re all were-animals there by choice), but that it’s anti-animal abuse is not clear. Animals in circuses are controversial and that could affect it. I went lighter on the mystery than I should have even though I read a few successful authors that were light on mystery. And the first book was my first cozy mystery and the first anything anyone does is usually not the greatest thing since sliced bread.

There are a host of reasons it may have sold okay but not great, and rather than jack with the series I’ll just be addressing any weaknesses I perceive in the next series.

December 2018: $100

So, based on what I outlined above, let’s say in December I made $66.76 on KU page reads, $30.94 from straight sales and $2.28 from paperback sales. To get that “$100”, I paid advertising costs of $163 in December. 91.7% of that cost went to Amazon AMS Ads. This was a great deal for Amazon. Not so much for me.


I had months of good profitability, but I was handing it all back.

January 2018: $89.05 (-10.9%)

About mid-month, I stopped advertising completely. There was a common refrain in a lot of groups I was in that if you waited until after the holidays, things would get better. I saw them improve slightly, but not enough to give me any hope of regaining profitability, and then there was a massive rollout of new changes and options on Amazon Marketing Services that showed I would need to re-learn the whole damn thing.

And I was like “Nuh uh”.

My feeling was that with the amount I was pumping into Amazon, if I lost tons of my income I would still be more profitable because of lower ad spend. I decided to put that theory to the test.

February 2018: $47.60 (-52.4%)

February was the most painful month I’ve had in self-publishing, and a lot of it was of my fault.

The last week in January, I raced to get my books wide – Amazon had asked me when I wanted my books pulled from KU, and I had responded January 31st. I figured that would give me time to alert my readers to grab any books they wanted to read before they were out. After I sent a letter to my mailing list, Amazon wrote back to let me know they had pulled all the books already.

Early.

Because of course they did.

Lesson #1: Do not announce something just because Amazon says they will do it. You may look like an idiot.

I raced to make plans to allow folks to get the books and uploaded all the books to Draft2Digital. I had used them before, and was familiar with them – and to my delight, books sold right away. Then I heard a podcast about PublishDrive and their $100/m keep all your royalties plan and I pulled all the books from Draft2Digital and slammed them onto PublishDrive. Because, you know, monies.

That was a screwup.

Lesson #2: Test drive a company before you decide to go with them, you moron.

I don’t want to get into a PublishDrive bashing thing here, but my experience with them was not positive, and the delays were far more than I could deal with (and I say this being super used to Amazon delays, which are legendary). After two weeks, I yanked my books back to Draft2Digital (I’ll pay for good service, thanks), which… caused delays… and problems…

Lesson #3: Your own ISBN? That’s stuff can be important, especially if you’re a Libra that can’t make up your damn mind about which channel to use.

The same book with the same title and different ISBN caused a massive amount of confusion at Kobo, delays at Draft2Digital on some channels, Bookbub listed the books twice… and then when I bought my own ISBN’s it caused even more delays as I fixed everything. I cannot recommend highly enough buying your own ISBN’s to start if you’re going wide. Everything got fixed, but it took days, and sometimes, weeks.

By the beginning of March, after a month of hell, things resettled again.

March 2019: $36 (-64%)

In the group I’m in someone mentioned that in leaving KU they could lose 70% of their income. It’s been an oft-bandied number, and one I kind of rolled my eyes at.

The first week of February, I was still rolling my eyes at it since my initial launch had showed Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Overdrive all had daily sales when I first uploaded. It’s still possible that had I not epically screwed up moving wide I could have done better than this. But I am projected to be down 64% from my last full month in KU at the end of this month.

Which, I will admit, is a bummer. However, I am feeling a lot more positive about things.

The graph on the left may be down 64%, but the graph on the right is down 79.75%, and that’s a huge deal because that number was much bigger.

From a monetary perspective, sales don’t matter.

Profitability does. And so yay.

But.

Going from a rank of 12,000 to 80,000 and below (way below) hurts.

Update:

As of April 1, 2019, things look quite a bit better than projected. The last week of March things really started to push forward again, and there was a good recovery the last week of the month. I never did, by month, hit that 70% royalty loss even though at the beginning of March it certainly looked like I might. So, I need to change March to:

March 2019: $48.26 (-52%)

Are you sorry you did it? Should I do it?

I am not sorry I did it, though I realize this year will be a slog.

Even with the dramatic downswing in royalties, even though less people are reading my books, I’d do it again. I am making less royalties but I am more profitable—and my advertising is doing other things besides just selling books, and I have more options open to me. The Facebook ad has gained newsletter subscribers – in December, I had 281 subscribers. Right now, I have 1,147.

I don’t constantly look at my ranks—in fact, I don’t look at ranks at all. They just don’t mean anything to me anymore because I’m not dependent on them. Since I’m not dependent on them, I don’t panic and throw a bucket of money at Amazon hoping they’ll like me every time there’s a dip.

Am I encouraging you to go wide? Not even remotely.

When I was trying to decide whether to stay or go with KU, I didn’t see any real breakdowns of what could happen. I saw a lot of general philosophies, general experiences, but I tend to be a data girl. I want to see numbers and possibilities before I leap. This is my experience based on:

  • decisions I made
  • books I wrote
  • the genre I am in

My decisions may have been crap, my books may be terrible, and the genre I am in may need to be in KU to make money (or my genre and yours selling wide or in KU may vastly differ). There’s no way to compare my situation directly to yours, not really. This is just my experience, and I’m sharing it just because I couldn’t find many breakdowns like this before I made the leap.

It’s not an easy decision, and if it’s one you’re trying to make, I wish you luck whichever way you choose.

Samson on Hill