So why did I put a bunch of short stories into Kindle Unlimited?
Kindle Unlimited (KU), if you haven’t heard of it, is basically Amazon’s version of Netflix for ebooks. Basically, you pay $9.99 a month in the US and £7.99 in the UK, and you can read all the ebooks you want from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited catalog. For readers, especially the sort of power readers who can get through multiple books a day, this is a pretty good deal.
For writers, this can be a variable deal. Basically, once 10% of a borrowed book has been read, the writer receives a payment. The payment comes out of a fund of money Amazon sets aside each month for KU, which is then divided by the number of borrows total across Amazon for the month. The fund for October 2014 is $3 million, so the payment per borrow will be $3 million divided by the total number of borrows. So far, this has been about $1 to $2 per borrow.
There’s a catch, though – to be in KU, a book has to be in Amazon’s Kindle Select program, which confers a number of benefits (you can set a book to free for 5 days every 90 days), but a book can only be on Amazon – no Barnes & Noble, no Kobo, no iBookstore, no Google Play, no Scribd, nothing. It has to be only in Amazon.
This wasn’t something I was willing to do. On any given month, about 75% to 80% of my sales are on Amazon, which means to do KU, I would have had to walk away from about 25% of my monthly book sales. I wasn’t willing to do that with my novels or technical books.
My short stories, though…
I write short stories mostly as a bonus. I give them away for free with my new-release newsletter via Smashwords coupon, and after that I put them for sale on the various platforms. They don’t really do much then. A few copies a month, but little more than that. Most of those copies are on Amazon.
So I did some math, and in September, of all the short stories for THE GHOSTS, GHOST EXILE, DEMONSOULED, and FROSTBORN, I sold 155 copies (not counting GHOST RELICS, which was too new), and of those 155, only 34 of them were on non-Amazon platforms. Why not experiment with those in KU? That’s one of the advantages of self-publishing – you can try something and base further decisions on actual data from the results, not upon whatever a particular publisher happens to feel like doing that day.
I decided to put the short stories into KU as a promotional tool. The enrollment term for Kindle Select is three months, and I figure it I can get more than 34 borrows a month by the end of December, the experiment will have been a success, especially since the borrow would (currently) earn more money than the $0.35 or $0.70 I would get per story. Additionally, I can use the free days to give away stories when I send out newsletters. When I sent out the newsletter for FROSTBORN: THE DARK WARDEN on October 5th, I also set THE SOULBLADE’S TALE to free. THE SOULBLADE’S TALE got downloaded a bunch of times and was briefly in the top 20 free SF/F short stories on Amazon. Since THE SOULBLADE’S TALE also had a link to FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT, which had a mini-boom in sales from that – as of this writing it’s at #14 for Arthurian Fantasy in Amazon US, #2 for Arthurian Fantasy in the UK and #8 for Historical Fantasy on Amazon AU.
So even if KU is a bust, the ability to give away an older short story as a free bonus with my new-release newsletter is obviously valuable.
Writers do have to self-promote, and I think my old short stories will help me do that. Since I know many writers are unsure about Kindle Unlimited, I will post my results here.