Friday, October 30, 2015

Should I Write More Books? Looking for the Silver Lining in the Kindle Unlimited Cloud

Since its release in August 2015, the new royalty payout system for indie authors who have registered with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has left some authors disgruntled and others perplexed. At the end of this month, indie authors began receiving royalty payments based on the number of pages its readers have read over the course of a month. Among the many pluses that arise from the new system is the ability to gauge how much readers like your books. This can help independent authors devise marketing strategies that make the most use of their efforts.

In an effort to cut down on the book review mill that has been pouring over the Internet, and to reward authors whose titles people actually read, Amazon has stepped up efforts to assure that books published on its platform are more professional and that they consist of good content. One of the most obvious ways that people have come to learn about the professionalism and the quality of content has been the book review; readers who download a title are encouraged to tell others what they think about the titles they read. And, while this has been quite helpful to readers who are looking for specific information, and who enjoy diving into “good reads” in general, it is not a fail-safe system. 

Indie publishers, many of whom are hoping to make a name for themselves, rely heavily on the input of others, most especially readers. Unfortunately, some people, keenly aware of the role reviews play in the making or breaking of a new author, have resulted to less-than-savory tactics to beef up their online presence. This may include anything from review swaps (where authors review one another’s books) to paid reviews (such as those offered by Kirkus and other organizations) and even asking friends, family, and close social ties to chime in.

The new Kindle system tries to offset this somewhat. In addition to making changes to its review policies, the new royalty payout actually rewards indie authors for the specific number of pages its readers read. The system is not set up to account for sales through its regular platform, but for those readers who are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, it creates a tracking system. On the one hand it helps Amazon market similar titles to these individuals; on the other hand it really gives the indie author the opportunity to see how well a specific title is received.

For the authors of nonfiction titles, this can be an added bonus. For example, I have four how-to titles on self-publishing on Kindle right now. Most of them are very short, except for the Author Toolkit, which essentially combines all of the other titles into one comprehensive anthology, with the addition of some tips on marketing, establishing an online presence, and advice on setting yourself up as an expert in your field. When I go to check my KDP account, I can see that people are actually reading those books; I can determine that they are taking the advice I am giving and, perhaps, saving themselves valuable time and money in the process. While I could certainly rely on the reviews people have posted, as I’ve said before, this is not the most reliable determiner of the success of the titles.

What’s more, I can see which of my titles people are actually reading. This helps me immensely when trying to come up with other topics to write about, and it also helps me make the most use of my marketing dollars. If I know, for example, that people are reading the how-tos on book design and not the ones on designing Kindle ebooks, I can try to figure out why that is the case. Perhaps the ebook how-to is not comprehensive enough, or perhaps there are other titles out there that are much better, easier to use, or cheaper. Nonetheless, it means I have much more information about my titles than I had access to just a few months ago.

For example, I received a comment from one of the readers of my basic book design how-to. I can also see, via KDP that the book hasn't been selling well. The reviewer mentioned that the book was not simple enough for someone with no experience with Adobe InDesign. Now I can re-evaluate this title: I can create a new beginner's guide for people with no understanding of how InDesign works, or I can add supplementary information to the existing title—an index, for example.

If you discover that people are not reading your books—i.e., low page number counts per day, low royalty payments through KU—it might mean having to re-examine your publishing strategies. If you have multiple titles on Amazon, find out which ones are doing well. If someone posted a bad review on your Amazon page for title that isn’t selling well, look closely at what the reviewer is saying. Do your homework and find out if there is something you can do to make the title better. If you have rather negative reviews about typos, grammar issues, and formatting on your Amazon page, it might be time to make some readjustments. If you discover that people are not reading many pages of your book, it may be a sign that people are losing interest after the first few pages. Seeking the advice of a book development specialist might also be an avenue you can choose. Explore any and all opportunities to improve your writing, your brand, and your online presence.

With the changes to KU royalty payments and, specifically, the Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) features, authors have more tools available to them than ever before. By taking advantage of the information contained therein, authors can save themselves time, money, and resources and get back to the things they enjoy the most, such as writing.

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