The obligatory “Why I Left KindleUnlimited” Post

A couple of years ago I decided to try writing “for real.” Hunker down, see if I could compellingly craft decent stories. I still have a long way to go in the craft of writing. They say the more you write, the better you get, and I am finding that to be true. This isn’t, though, about writing.

This is about publishing, which is a different animal. It was an animal I thought I was in a great position to tame.

I had already been an entrepreneur, sold a company for six figures. The folks that bought my company also hired me. That employment decision lead me from mid-level manager of a small business to an executive in a publicly traded company overseeing millions of dollars and over a hundred people. I sat in on my fair share of marketing meetings. My job had been to know the internet and commerce. I had some web design chops, some advanced Photoshop knowledge.

I mean, I could do this.

I met Amazon. And like all relationships, it started out good.

I decided to join KindleUnlimited because it seemed like a good deal. Just dealing with one outlet, one channel, one royalty check, one advertising system was arguably the easiest way to jump in. And in the beginning, it was great.

I launched the Magical Midway series on May 15, 2018, and with a few group promotions my page populated with the right authors, the books were slowly gaining traction. As each new book came out every other month, I was floored – my royalties were marching up every month in such a systematic way I could project out a year, two years down the road. It was terrific, and I was giddy. Within a year, I’d be making a real income from writing books!

May, June, July, August, the beginning of September… it was a giddy summer.

Until it wasn’t.

Then mid-September hit. Something… happened. I still don’t know what. Other authors report things got a bit wonky, too. What I spent on advertising wasn’t getting the same response. I released a book, and it seemed to do… nothing. I added 30% to my advertising budget, and my reads on KindleUnlimited started to drop.

October, I doubled my ad spend. Another slide.

November I released another book, and my ad spend was now quadruple what it was in August. In November, with five books out now? I couldn’t get back to where I was with three books out.

Yes, perhaps there was some secret conspiracy somewhere out of my view. Maybe they were all meeting to discuss how horrible my books were. Perhaps they only do it there and not, say, on actual review sites. It could be. All I knew was more books, more ad spend… none of it was making a difference.

The Winter of my Discontent

Now, I had made a few very distinctive decisions that put me in this predicament, though. I can’t blame anyone other than me for that. I decided that I would make this work with ads and ads alone. I didn’t want to social media; I didn’t want to hang out in Facebook groups, I didn’t want to do swaps.

I mean, I was with a succession of companies that made a thriving multimillion dollar business off of PPC ads. Surely I could sell some paranormal books with them. This decision, this one choice, put me in a fabulous position for the next Amazon action to whomp me. I felt like Charlotte after the Witches’ Council has given her a good what for.

Almost overnight, Amazon rolled out changes to Amazon marketing that decimated me in January of 2019. The clicks for the niche of paranormal cozy keywords that I had been using became insane. Bidding $1 a click and asking them to take hundreds a day, I could barely get them to spend $2. My rank, always active at 10K to 20K for book 1, dropped into the 30K range. I realized I would need to completely start over and find an entirely new method to pick keywords, to bid…

…and I realized if I had to start over completely, I may as well go wide. So that’s what I did.

I’m not Bitter. Much.

I will always be grateful to Amazon for my start – last year, I sold thousands of books, and hundreds of thousands of pages that I wrote were read in KindleUnlimited. That’s a fantastic thing, the culmination of a dream that I had since I was a child.

I learned two things last year.

  • I can do this, and it’s no longer a dream.
  • Amazon doesn’t care about anyone’s dreams.

I started in web hosting back in the mid-nineties. At the time, we were an idealistic bunch – this was about freedom of expression! It is leveling the playing field! It is speaking truth to power! Letting the little guy succeed! Innovation! When I left the industry in 2016, that idealism was gone. Nerdy tech geeks had been replaced by guys in suits that wouldn’t know a server command prompt if it jumped up and bit them. It wasn’t about empowering people. It was about bleeding people dry for a profit.

Amazon may have been about letting the little guy succeed once, there may have been an idealism there once – but that ship has sailed. It sits astride the e-commerce world, and if you can’t keep up? Sucks to be you.

I can’t keep up – and frankly, I don’t want to. I was losing too much time away from writing (know why Book 6 isn’t out? Because I’ve been trying to figure out how to get Amazon to take my marketing money), was losing too much head space to spreadsheets instead of magic. It wasn’t fun anymore.

Now, it’s fun again.

I am happy for all the authors that KindleUnlimited worked for. I really am, and I wish them much success.

Just wasn’t for me.

Samson on Hill