Pages

“Going Wide” to Distribute Your Self-published Books on Multiple Platforms – A Case Study by Susan Kaye Quinn

headshot of Susan Kaye Quinn

US indie author Susan Kaye Quinn shares her experience of going wide with her ebooks

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).

Caveats

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)

Timeline

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

Result

  • 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

  1. get promo from iBooks and Nook
  2. 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.

Interesting Notes

  • 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.

Click To Tweet

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.

USEFUL POSTS ABOUT DISTRIBUTION TACTICS FROM OUR ARCHIVE

Should Authors Move From Createspace to KDP Paperbacks? A First Look

Distribution: Getting Global Reach for your Self-published Books

, , , , , , , ,

11 Responses to “Going Wide” to Distribute Your Self-published Books on Multiple Platforms – A Case Study by Susan Kaye Quinn

  1. Julie Cordiner June 5, 2017 at 6:48 pm #

    What does ‘completely hosed’ mean please? Haven’t heard that particular piece of jargon before.

  2. Thanks, Susan. Great results!

    For those who didn’t first get into Google Play a year or several ago there’s sadly no self-pub portal available for latecomers, but the aggregators StreetLib and PublishDrive both get our books into Google Play.

    StreetLib and PublishDrive both have a great list of international retailers that are not on offer from Draft2Digital.

    For those going direct with Kobo through Kobo Writing Life Kobo now have a fantastic range of promotions (better than any other retailer) and can bring impressive results. (NB The Promotions button is not available to everyone – you’ll need to ask and acceptance will be based on track record.)

  3. Scott Medbury May 29, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

    Could i ask what “ibooks promo” is?

  4. Scott Medbury May 29, 2017 at 12:13 pm #

    Great article, one question though, how does one organise an Ibooks or Nook promo ?

  5. Drac Von Stoller May 26, 2017 at 11:04 pm #

    I’ve been going wide from day one but the only retailer that wins hands down at least for me is Google. I have had 180 of my short stories in 32 categories that lasted for a solid two years in the Top Selling with up to and over 2,000 visits per day and up 2,000 downloads in one day just from them alone. I’ve now ventured into bringing 9 of my short stories to film that are on Amazon Video and also signed a worldwide distribution deal as well. I also suggest books alone isn’t enough so if any authors can do film and audio books that will help your sales even better.

    Drac Von Stoller
    31 Horrifying Tales From The Dead Series

  6. Grace Wynter May 26, 2017 at 5:39 pm #

    Thanks, Susan. Very helpful.

  7. ChemistKen May 26, 2017 at 5:13 pm #

    Thanks, Susan. Since I’m still working on my first book, I’m pretty sure I’ll be starting out in KU at the beginning. It’s good to know the facts.

  8. Shawn L May 26, 2017 at 6:38 am #

    I’m surprised you didn’t expect success on Kobo. Joanna Penn really seems to do well there, especially with box sets. May I ask why you dislike Kobo?

    • Susan Kaye Quinn May 26, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

      Most authors (including myself, historically – I used to be wide prior to 2015), have low sales on Kobo. It’s usually last among the retailers. People who do well there are often Canadian-based authors, or have some other stroke of luck that seems to garner them sales. It doesn’t deliver consistently for most authors. However, things are constantly changing, so I’m willing to consider that Kobo’s changed some of their internal and external book operations to help authors sell more. I’m seeing that in this first flush of data for myself (although I still consistently hear that people don’t sell on Kobo).

  9. Grace May 25, 2017 at 6:41 pm #

    Thanks for the helpful insights. I’m launching soon, and although almost everyone suggests that if you’re launching with just one book, you should consider KU, I’m inclined not to for several reasons. I realize that it will result in a slower climb but I understand enough about indie publishing to know that careers aren’t built on one book.

    A couple of questions – I didn’t catch whether you use an aggregator like D2D or PublishDrive to distribute widely. Also, you said that each of the wide retailers has horrific flaws, would you provide a little more detail on that? Do you think going through an aggregator would help authors avoid some of those flaws? Finally, you said “The categories on Nook are completely hosed,” and I’m not quite sure what that means.

    Thanks!

    • Susan Kaye Quinn May 26, 2017 at 2:40 pm #

      I still heavily recommend that new authors launching their first series start in KU – why handicap yourself right at the beginning when it counts? Plus going wide when a trilogy or series is already complete also gives you advantages on the other retailers. So I would carefully consider why you want to go wide from the jump and whether it’s worth the disadvantages.

      I publish direct everywhere, and that’s what I recommend. If you *cannot* publish direct (for example, international authors cannot publish direct to Nook) then I recommend D2D as a distributor. Direct on Nook, in particular, is the only way to get promo there. But direct has other advantages – you understand the retailer better if you interface directly, and having direct control means things like product and price updates happen faster. You don’t avoid the flaws by going through a distributor – if anything, that just makes it worse, because you have less control and less information. The flaws are inherent to the platforms. Nook’s categories reset every time you re-upload a manuscript – couple that with not being able to actually get in the categories you want without emailing Nook support, and you’ve got a “completely hosed” system. Google Play’s interface for book uploading is very non-intuitive – you can and should search for guides on how to use that interface before you attempt it. iBooks has improved their interface recently but they have problems like Nook with categories that make it problematic.

      The most important takeaway here should be that each retailer is very unique. Going wide substantially multiplies the work of publishing because you have to learn how 5 retailers work, not just 1. And I don’t mean just “how to upload” but how the reader interface works, how promotions work, what ads work there, what the reader on that platform are like, etc.

Leave a Reply