The other day, Inside the Outside author Martin Lastrapes asked me about Kindle Select (or Kindle Direct Publishing Select, or KDP Select, depending on the day and who’s typing, it seems). I’m now several weeks committed to being a Kindle-exclusive author, and I thought I’d share some of my experiences.
My first experience with Kindle Select (which is the nomenclature I’m going with) came when I enrolled “Jamais Plus: Explorations of the Curious Case of the Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”. “Jamais Plus” began its life as two separate stories, “Addicted to Praise” and “Raven Noir,” from my collection, Entrekin. “Raven Noir” was the first story I wrote at USC and the first I ever brought to a writing workshop. My classmates enjoyed it, but one in particular mentioned I could go darker (and joked I should smoke some opium for research. At least, I’m pretty sure he was joking), while my teacher, the fabulous Rachel Resnick, commented that I was very controlled and cerebral as a writer and this seemed an opportunity to explore a darker and looser tone.
The result was “Addicted to Praise.”
When I noticed I could use html to make any particular line in a Kindle book connect to another position in the text, it gave me several ideas, all of which centered around the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels I’d loved as a child. It seemed like a natural fit for the experiment, and so I revised “Addicted to Praise” to include interactivity and the ability to make decisions at certain points in the plot, and then adapted it so that a reader could choose to either participate in the story “Addicted to Praise” had become or read it with Dickens and Dupin as “Raven Noir.” I liked the title “Jamais Plus,” French for “Nevermore,” or close to. It seemed to fit, and I quite like both the resulting work and its experiment. I feel it’s successful.
I coded it for Kindle, in Notepad++, adding in the requisite html.
I considered adapting it for Nook, but I’ve never felt as comfortable with ePub as I do with PRCs and MOBIs (the files that Kindle uses). So I decided, to begin with, it was going to stick to Amazon. I published it on the most recent anniversary of Poe’s death.
When Amazon opened the Kindle Select program to independent authors, it seemed like a natural fit, as I never intended to adapt it for Nook anyway. So I enrolled it.
This gave me the ability to use the free promotion. Something I hadn’t been able to do previously but wanted to.
And so I did. I think immediately after I enrolled the book, sometime in November.
Hundreds of people downloaded the story during those couple of days. What’s more, it included links to my other books.
It seemed pretty great to me.
Now, I never sold many copies of anything on Nook or through Barnes & Noble. This is why my decision to hitch my books exclusively to Amazon and Kindle was so easy for me. Plus, I love my Kindle. I loved my Kindle Keyboard and now I love my new Kindle with Special Offers (though I wish it had more memory). Rachel was right when she mentioned what a control freak I can be as a writer. I was talking to my editrix the other day about comma usage (what? What do you talk to your editor about?), and I noted I think part of the reason I sometimes overuse commas (some would argue I do, anyway) is because it’s an attempt to very deliberately control pacing.
It’s the same with Kindle. I do everything in my power to control a reading experience because telling a story isn’t just about writing it. There’s a reason my books are exclusive to Kindle; I think it offers an experience of novels and text superior to that offered by Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, or Sony.
So, now all my books are, digitally at least, Kindle exclusive. And will remain so, for the foreseeable future. I know, I know, “But what if I don’t have a Kindle?” Well, do you have a tablet, or smartphone? A PC, or Mac? If you’re online, you can read my books. Kindle is not just a device; it’s an app available for pretty much every device out there.
What this also means is that if you have Amazon Prime, you can “borrow” my books free.
This is an interesting wrinkle here in this story. See, Amazon dedicates a set amount of money (right now it’s $700,000. It was $500,00. It fluctuates a bit) for its Amazon Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and so, when readers “borrow” one of my books, it’s not like giving it away. I get a little portion of that money.
The interesting thing: apparently, the size of the portion one receives is unrelated to the price of the book borrowed. At least, so far as I can see. I have several short stories and an essay available for sale for 99 cents, and for which I receive 35 cents or so of every sale (as opposed to the $1.70 I would receive from a $2.99 sale, or the $3.50 I receive from a $4.99 sale). But whether someone “borrows” a 99-cent short story or a $4.99 novel (or even, I would assume, novels costing $7.99 or, egregiously, $9.99 or $12.99 or higher yet), the royalty is (or was, anyway) $1.70.
That’s stunning to me.
Of course, that number will fluctuate, but it’s a strong argument for several things, one of which is strategic, deliberate, and aggressive pricing. I favor the under $5 price for novels. I think higher than than that is a carry over from corporations attempting to convince readers they are “traditional,” and so are their prices. I remember how disappointed I was when the price of mass market paperbacks (the small ones, like in drugstores) went up from $6.99 to $7.99. I could buy three books for $25 at the former (with tax), but at the latter, only two and then some snacks.
It’s also a pretty good argument for Amazon exclusivity, unless, of course, you’re against it for some sort of moral reason, in which case nothing will convince you otherwise. I know, I know: Amazon is a huge corporation, and ZOMG monopoly!1! but what do you think Barnes & Noble is? What do you think the big corporate publishers are? Whose books do you think independent bookstores sell? Some from small presses, most assuredly, but the majority of their stock probably comes from giant conglomerated corporations, because the majority of books do, too.
Everyone says publishing is a business. They’re half right: one can build a business model around publishing (which means getting information out there, and can be monetized or not. Every time you tweet, you’re publishing. Every time you update Facebook, you’re publishing. Every time etc.). As such, I think it requires making business decisions, and I think we’re at a juncture where we can’t simply base decision on what people have done before to varying degrees of success. We need more information to know what works and what doesn’t, and I don’t think we should eschew something that works just because we want to cling to other methods that used to, when the means of distribution were very different.