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To KDP Select or not to KDP Select

In my first novel, The Other Alexander, it took me a short while to build up a head of steam (or so I've been told by several discriminating readers who my wife tells me I cannot remove from our Christmas card mailing list). That may be the case here within this post. If you've no time to waste, to read my evolving views on whether or not to join Amazon's KDP Select program, skip down to the œ.

Amazon.com's KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Select program has been batted back and forth from every independent author and publisher from here to Singapore and back. Is it a sellout or a way for struggling artists to be seen and sold by the Jupiter of our solar system's publishing planets? If you sign one of your books up for KDP Select, you must agree not to publish that ebook with any other company: not Apple, Kobo, Smashwords or the six-year-old kids selling paperbacks with lemonade on the corner.

If you join, your books can be loaned out in the Kindle Lending Library, and each time that happens, you get about two bucks. You can also select five days during each 90-day sign-up with KDP to list your book for free, which will hopefully skyrocket your ratings and subsequently increase your at-money sales. Finally, you will be eligible for 70%, not 35% royalties for books sold in India.

uneasy spirits
Every struggling author already knows all this. I was spurred to write this entry when I read an article in this month's Association of Independent Authors, "7 Things Joining KDP Select Can and Can't Do for You," posted by M. Louisa Locke, a quite successful author of San Francisco historical mysteries. Here's a plug and a link:

Ms. Locke argues that if your book is on one of Amazon's bestseller lists or high up in one of the popular browsing categories, then members of Amazon Prime can borrow your book for free and you can cash in. In 2012, she earned over $8,000 in this way with her two books, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits. Imagine how well she did with regular sales! Congratulations, Ms. Locke! The author also says that offering certain books for free (which Amazon will only let you do if you sign up for KDP Select) has brought her increased revenue through additional visibility.

œ If you are just getting started, as I am, KDP Select is a way of admitting that you need a leg up, and Amazon's program is a generous lift in the right direction. No one, by a factor of about 10, can come close to matching the marketing power of Amazon.com, so while I am building a following, I don't believe I am hurting the self-publishing industry as a whole by cutting my books off from Smashwords (whom I deeply respect) or from any other venue. I don't sell that many books to begin with (between 100 - 200 a month), so giving Amazon the "monopoly" of my books means losing only a couple of sales at most at those other virtual stores.

However, in my opinion, an author that has achieved a certain level of success, and each knows what that must mean monetarily, ought to leave KDP Select. In the long run, books should be available everywhere in every format. If the reader is the true leader of this new revolution in publishing, then she and he ought to be able to find
any book they want wherever they want in any format. If and when my writing feathers become stable enough to fly on my own (they won't, if I keep writing pathetic metaphors like this), I'll tumble from the warm, nurturing nest of Amazon's KDP Select program and find my way back into iPads, Nooks and Sonys. Splat.
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Does This Idea Float?

Let's talk about the insanity (?) of offering books for free. I speak, naturally, from the author's point of view, not the buyer's, or the librarian's. We live in a world where Amazon.com is to books what the blue whale is to saltwater. How big is it, Johnny? Here's what techspot.com says: Amazon's $34 billion
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in revenue is larger than the GDP's of half the countries in the world; Amazon serves more than 137 million customers each week - that's a third more people than voted in the 2010 elections; and Amazon's warehouses total the square footage of 700 Madison Square Gardens.

Recently, Amazon began its KDP Select program (Kindle Direct Publishing), whereby members who pay a fixed fee per year can "borrow" ebooks for free for as long as they like. These people are called Amazon Prime members; does that mean the rest of us are subprime? Amazon throws at least $600,000 into the pot each month and splits it up between the authors who have signed on. Authors are also entitled to list their books for free for 5 days during the 90-day contract. I'll get to the catch in a minute.

Amazon obviously thinks listing books for free is a big deal, otherwise why would they tout it as a benefit to joining KDP Select? Something tells me they have more to gain than the authors who publish on their site. How do I know this? It's easy to get more than somebody who is getting nothing. Unless someone out there can show me something I'm missing, I can only see two valid reasons to (temporarily) list a book for free: 1) to raise your ratings on Amazon so that potential buyers find your book more easily; the effect has a short lifespan, but if it keeps the book 'visible' after the freebie long enough to make some sales at money, so much the better. And 2) if you're about to publish the second novel in a series, making the first book free may generate sales for the latest arrival.

Now about that catch: authors who join KDP Select must not publish their ebooks
anywhere else. As if Amazon wasn't big enough already. By the way, is the company name a reference to size, as in the river, or are they a company of half-naked warrior women? I hazard a guess it's the former, but wish I was wrong. So. Amazon is not content being Amazonian; the publishing pachyderm's pernicious plan is to pulverize any remaining competition under its prodigious paw. (Sorry, I got carried away.)

Which is why I feel guilty, and something of a traitor. I first published
The Bow of Heaven on Smashwords, the upstart house that distributes to all booksellers, as well as selling ebooks from authors the world over, giving our lonely profession an outlet of great artistic freedom. At first, I naturally scorned any attempt by Amazon to squash this helpful little firm who walked me carefully through every step necessary to ensure that my book would upload and be viewed properly on all the world's e-readers.

Six month's later, Amazon - 6,000 downloads, Smashwords - 250, or about 24:1. Need I say more? Apparently. I have this theory that writers are egoists, and though they slave alone in the dark, crave fame and fortune just like any other artist. Well at least I am, do. And I want to reach the largest possible audience. I caved, and decided to try KDP Select, but my altruistic self, that wee, small voice of ethical fair play overwhelmed by capitalistic greed on an almost quotidian basis, is hoping the free price offering, of which I am taking advantage of March 15 and 16, will bomb horrifically. Even if a bunch of penny-minding readers throng to get a book which would have only cost them 299 pennies more to buy at retail (which makes every single one of them my loyal and cheap fan), if the ploy doesn't boost my ranking high enough and for a long enough period of time to generate more real sales, I ask you, what good is it? (Well, that reason number 2 above seems pretty self-explanatory, but aside from that.)

Wish me luck. Or don't. I'm on the fence.
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