I probably could have called this post KU vs. wide distribution, but it’s more than that. Because at the core of any discussion about distribution is the concept of entry points. Entry points are how you bring in readers to your work. You want as many entry points to your work as possible. Distribution is one part of discoverability. The more places your books appears, the more eyes you get on them. The more ways you offer your product, the more types of readers you can hook.
So, let’s start with KU vs. wide distribution for ebooks. There are lots of people who have done very well with KU, and there are systems to succeed with it. If you want to give that a shot, find those people, study them, do what they teach, and you might become a KU superstar too. But be aware that success at KU is dependent on a lot of things, including genre, and also, KU changes all the time, and KU today isn’t what KU was a year ago. Amazon’s goal is always first and foremost to grow Amazon. They aren’t there to make you money. If they manage that as a byproduct, fine, but if your earnings interfere with their growth, you know what’s getting the ax.
Now, what about wide distribution? Well, it offers those additional entry points, but I won’t lie, it can take a really long time to earn any money at some retailers, and you might very well end up never earning more than a few hundred dollars a month on all of them combined. But here’s what wide distribution does provide–insurance. Because Amazon…well, go back to the previous paragraph and reread that. One important note here: both Draft2Digital and Pronoun are now distributing to Overdrive which is the ebook supplier for libraries. There’s no telling whether this will take off or if it will net you much money, but if you can get ebook copies into libraries, it’s exposure. It costs you very little to use D2D and Pronoun for this. You don’t have to use them to list anywhere else. I recommend getting onto Overdrive through them, then creating a marketing plan specifically to alert libraries of your availability on Overdrive.
None of that provides you with much of an answer, right? So, here’s my personal view of KU–it’s a tool, not an either/or. Put some targeted books in KU, be smart about which you choose, possibly write some specifically for that market. But don’t go all in because you limit your entry points and you can’t rely on Amazon. The fact is KU can be effective, so in this difficult market you can’t ignore it, but use it, don’t sell out to it.
Beyond KU and ebooks, there are other distribution options–paperbacks, translations, audiobooks. Each one provides additional entry points to your work, but it’s unlikely any of them will provide the kind of return ebooks do. Ebooks are still the gold standard in Indie publishing for most people.
Paperbacks: I’ve always gone ahead and done paperbacks for my books but accepted that they were primarily for giveaways and signings. The cost to do them is minimal, and now that Vellum has paperback formatting you can even format the interiors simply and effectively. There is a question about which process to use for publishing them. My advice is go with one that’s free. It’s one thing to have your paperbacks available to bookstores and libraries, a whole other issue to get them actually purchased by libraries and bookstores. Unless you have a specific marketing plan for those outlets, you’re probably wasting money paying for the additional distribution networks. At some point you may have the option to sign a paperback only publishing arrangement. If so, then paperbacks become a more significant opportunity for you, but it’s still doubtful you’ll earn a great deal from them. Not everything has to be about money, just keep in mind what you’re hoping to achieve with any decisions you make.
Translations: Translations are expensive, and most foreign markets don’t operate like the US and UK markets do. I’ve used a service called Babelcube and had some success with it, but it requires very careful vetting of the translators and translations. Babelcube works on a royalty share basis, with no upfront expenses on your part. However, as with most royalty share options, the quality of the services you get can be questionable. You can bring your own translators to Babelcube which I’ve done, and that can enable you to feel more confident about the quality. With any translation, make sure to get someone who reads the language fluently to review the translation before you approve it. My experience has been the German market is operating similarly to the US. Others are much more difficult to crack, and differences in genre can make or break you in a particular foreign market.
Audiobooks: Here is the hardest choice of all, because unlike paperbacks which generally earn almost nothing, and translations which might be a few hundred a month if things are going well, audiobooks can earn real money. However, they’re also very expensive to make and seem to have a short tail when it comes to earnings. The options for how to get audiobooks are numerous, so I’m going to save that for its own post, but my advice is if you can find a way to do audiobooks without bankrupting your business, it’s worth the investment. Look around, talk to others, see what you can manage. Then be prepared for the time consuming work of marketing your book in a whole new format, because that’s what it takes to succeed with audiobooks and make them pay off, and it can seem like second (third, fifth, whatever) job if you’re not careful.
I’m five days from finishing book eight for 2017, y’all. Have to run.
***The winner of last week’s giveaway of a writing journal is Jackie Wang! If you want to find out more about Jackie visit her website here (and trust me, you guys want to visit just for the header at the top of the site 😉 https://authorjackiewang.com/
Thanks to everyone who sent in lists of awesome resources for Indie authors. I’ll put them all together in a separate post soon!