From the US, Susan Kaye Quinn, indie author of speculative fiction, shares her experience of “going wide” – i.e. transitioning from selling her self-published ebooks exclusively on Amazon to distributing via the four other major retailers – with impressive results. Although she did much more than go wide – e.g. adding in extra promos and launching a new book in the series – she makes a compelling case for indie authors to consider stepping away from being exclusive to Amazon with all their books. (There are also good reasons to keep some books exclusive while going wide with others – but that's for discussion another day.)
Definition of Going Wide When Self-publishing Ebooks
Amazon's exclusive Kindle Unlimited (KU) program (pink) overlaps with the regular Amazon market (red), but mostly being in KU increases your visibility because all sales/borrows are made on the same retailer's site. The other retailers (Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Play, Kobo) (blue) are collectively about the same size as the KU market. You can have KU or other retailers but not both.
My Experience of Going Wide
I'm reporting back with results from taking my Mindjack series wide again, after a year and a half exclusive in Kindle Unlimited (KU).
I didn't just yank my books from KU and throw them up on the other retailers. I did literally everything you can imagine to make this go well.
- I made contacts at Nook and iBooks to get promo
- I endeavored to really understand the other retailers
- I went permafree with Book 1
- I got a Bookbub for Book 2
- I planned the transition with ads lined up and a whole series of promotions
- PLUS (and this is key) I WROTE ANOTHER BOOK
The original trilogy was nearly five years old. Even with promo, sales had waned, and for the last year YA as a category had gone soft. There just weren't as many eyeballs seeking out YA Dystopian/SF, and my stuff had been around forever.
I had already decided to write another three books in the series – going wide made sense for a number of reasons, not least because the original series was wide for a long time. I had never built much of a fanbase on those other retailers (one reason it was easy to pull into KU).
Before I never got above 15-20% of my income outside Amazon.
So I was pulling out all the stops to see if I could debut strongly again on those other retailers and build a fanbase there. Would it take six months to get traction? I was willing to give it that long, but I had no intention of waiting around for some magic “traction” to get hold.
I was going to MAKE it happen… and if that didn't work, then I would know I just wasn't one of the authors who would get all the cookies.
(The wide retailers are Winner Takes All systems where some authors get all the cookies and most authors get no cookies.)
SPOILER ALERT: It worked. And it only took 2-3 months.
(Would have been shorter, but my books were staggered coming out of KU)
February: Book 1 (Open Minds) out of KU, permafree direct on all 5 retailers (Zon, Nook, iBooks, GP, Kobo)
March: Book 2 + collection of shorts out of KU, released Wide, Bookbub ad on Bk1, promo on iBooks and Nook, lots of other advertising
April: Book 3 out of KU, 2 week pre-order on Book 4, 3 month pre-order on Book 5, promo on iBooks and Nook, lots of other advertising
- Amazon now 42% of income from that series (see chart)
- Overall income from the series is up 700% (due to promo and new releases).
- Income on Amazon is up 300%. (I'm not posting dollar numbers, but we're not talking going from $2 to $6, but from hundreds to thousands)
This is really a reboot of the series, not just transitioning from KU to Wide.
I got new covers, I did a ton of promo, I started a new trilogy… if I'd done all those things while in KU, my total income would be up as well.
The Real Result
The real takeaway here is that if you've got a trilogy to work with, you can absolutely go from zero to substantial moneys on the wide retailers if you: 1 – get
- get promo from iBooks and Nook
- use advertisers who send books to all the retailers, especially Bookbub
In a way, it's like you're a brand-new author (only I wasn't – I had a bunch of reviews from when I was on those retailers before). But you're brand-new to the people reading today, and it's possible (even desirable) to launch those books rapidly and build up steam.
- Nook was a stronger player than I expected. Got lots of cookies there. Nook buyers seem more willing to buy, which I've heard other authors say as well.
- I was surprised Kobo sales weren't zero.
- Wide retailers allow you to put all your books in a series. Because of that, I have much stronger sales of my box set of novellas on the wide retailers than I do on Amazon, because Amazon is a putz and won't let me put those in my series page.
- The categories on Nook are completely hosed.
- Google Play has issues with making it easy to accidentally release your pre-order early.
- iBooks only lets you list in ONE category (YA or SF but not both).
- Kobo's promos are kind of useless and the ranking is meaningless.
- Each of the wide retailers has some horrific flaws that make you wonder how they sell books at all. But they do, to varying degrees. Between them, they're starting to be competitive.
- It's definitely more work to publish on five platforms.
- Book 1 is holding its own in ranking as a permafree rather than perma99cent in KU and is currently in the top 2k free books vs 30-40k paid list in KU. That 2k visibilty, even though it's on the free list, is helping the series stay aloft. That, and I have more books and promo coming.
A Note about Sales vs Borrows
While I was in KU, my income was always 50/50 borrows and sales. Now I'm 40/60 with Amazon sales the 40%. It's more work but I was able to quickly transition, and the series has new life now, mostly due to new books.
Not Forgetting the Bub…
As we've mentioned, Bookbub favors wide books. Transitioning with a Bookbub was a key part of this. But now that I have that momentum, I'm planning on transitioning the rest of my catalogue wide. Nook recently invited me to an exclusive promo based on my prior results… so good results get more good results.
And more cookies.
(Also based on this – as well as Bookbub's insistence in shunning KU sets, my PNR Penname is going to transition one of her series wide.)
For more information on getting promo on iBooks and Nook, join my For Love or Money Facebook group and check out the Greatest Hits posts pinned at the top of the group. My results on Going Wide were originally posted there (see discussion here) – it's a fantastic, interactive group of nearly 3k authors sharing information on writing and publishing. I also have a mailing list for indie authors where I send out inspirational posts, videos, memes, data… pretty much whatever feels relevant that week.
Susan's books Boot Camp and For Love or Money have tons of information to help get your career going.
OVER TO YOU If you'd like to share your experiences of going wide – or of reverting from wide to exclusive – we'd love to hear about it.
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