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Why I will never put my work in KU

Kindle Unlimited is a seemingly amazing deal; you pay about $12 a month and you have access to as many books as you can read that are in the program. Kind of like the "Netflix" for books.

In theory it's a great idea. But there are a few reasons why you'll never find my work in there.

1. The payment is not comparable to a royalty.

When your book is in KU, they pay you per page, and the rate changes depending on how many other books are in the program. It usually doesn't fluctuate too much, but the per-page rate is low enough that the rate doesn't match up with the royalty for purchase.

At the time of writing this blog post, the KU page rate is approximately $0.0047 per page. That's right, it's less than a cent a page. Now my book Ashes of Sin and Stardust is 1100 pages. (No that was not a typo). So I can assume I'll make about $5.70 if someone reads all 1100 pages. But they don't; they don't read the front matter or the back matter, so it's more like $5.10. That's not a bad royalty, right?

Except my e-book is $8.99 and I make a $6.13 royalty off it. So I'm losing about a dollar per book.

Now I get that money isn't everything. But I poured my life into this book, and I do all my own advertising, marketing, book covers, newsletter releases... everything. I have to pay for my formatting. I have to pay for my cover images. I have to pay my editor and proofreader. So I want to make the highest royalty I can.

But Lindsay, more people will read your book if you put it in KU, so you'll actually get paid more!

Yeah, hypothetically. But I don't make business decisions on the hypothetical. Plus, many authors say KU will throw new readers at your book for the first month, and then after that, they stop, because they want you to run ads. It's just another way to use you to make more money for them.

2. You are limited to selling your e-book on Amazon exclusively. That's dangerous.

a) If someone pirates your book, or puts it on another ebook retailer (which happens all the time!) Amazon will shut down your account, or ban you. Now this doesn't happen right away, usually they'll take the book down and send you a warning first, but more and more authors are having issues with their books getting pirated and then losing their accounts with no warning.

Unfortunately, once your account gets shut down, you cannot just start another, because it's tied to your tax ID. So if you lose your account, you've lost all your reviews, all your income, and all your readers. That's a huge problem!

b) Many countries don't offer KU, or a book may be in KU in one country but not another. It makes no sense to sell your book to only select, especially because there are so many readers in other countries who would love to read your work!

c) Not everyone wants to support Amazon. In choosing to only sell on one platform, you're choosing not to sell to Apple readers, B&N readers, Kobo readers, Smashwords readers, and more. Apple is my second biggest stream of income. I made over $900 one month from Apple user downloads! Why would I actively choose to not sell my work to an entire group of people who are clearly happy to purchase?

3. KU readers don't buy books.

Now that is a black-and-white, blanket statement, and I avoid making those. But generally speaking, KU readers don't buy books. So even if you're growing a huge audience of people who love your work, you're growing a group of readers who wants to read your work, but actively does not want to buy your work. That breeds entitlement.

I've heard so many authors tell me stories about the absurd behavior of their KU readers; readers warning them not to take their books out of KU, readers losing their mind if they release a book outside of the program, and readers begging them to use the program. One author actually had her reviews tanked when she released a list-aiming book (btw did you know you can only hit USAT and NYT lists from book purchases, not KU reads?), because all her KU readers were furious that book wasn't in the program.

I've had many such comments myself of people telling me "Well I'd love to read it, but it's not in KU." This kind of entitled attitude irritates the hell out of me, and I know many of my author friends feel the same way. You are not entitled to my work. If you want to read my book, you can pay me for it! If you don't want to pay for it, you can borrow it from your library. I will literally send your library a copy for cost of printing and shipping. But you are not entitled to any book for free. Especially when you spend eight bucks on your latte without batting an eye. But God forbid you buy an e-book.

But Lindsay, not all KU readers--

I know. I know! Many do buy books. Good on you guys. I love you guys. Keep it up.

But most don't.

4. People who don't buy your book are less likely to read your book.

When I want to read a book, I buy it. I also find that when I buy a book, I read it. I don't buy e-books that just sit on my phone. If I spend money on a book, I'm more likely to read it.

By that reasoning, people who buy your books are more likely to actually read your books, which hopefully convert them to regular readers or fans, who will then purchase and read your backlist. But readers who "check out" a book on KU because it sounds good, but never get to it because they have sixteen other books checked out, and something else comes up that they want to read more, so they have to pick something to return. At one point, they wanted to read your book, but they changed their mind because they ran out of space. In a way, you've just lost that sale. Yeah, some people record what books they send back and recheck them out and eventually read them... but that's just some.

So what's the takeaway here?

Look, I'm not telling you to take your books out of KU, or to cancel your subscription.

But I would caution each and every writer to think very hard about what kinds of readers they want falling in love with their work. Do you want people who want to read your book for free? Or people who want to buy your entire backlist because they love your work?

And I would caution readers to understand that writers don't owe you anything. They actually don't even owe you more books! But if you want them to keep writing, I suggest you actually purchase their work.

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1 Comment

cecile smits
cecile smits
Apr 02, 2023

Thank the heavens for authors like you!💖

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