The one email we get most, other than asking if Yesterday’s Gone will ever return, is this one:
WHY ISN’T “X” BOOK IN “X” STORE?
Sometimes, in the same email, we’re asked:
Don’t you love ALL of your readers on ALL the platforms?
Yes, yes we do.
But, as the old saying goes, “love (alone) doesn’t pay the bills.”
Or at least, I think it’s a saying. If not, it should be.
None the less, it’s a tough email to get.
We HATE disappointing readers.
Sometimes we’ll even get accused of “selling out,” and people imagine us on yachts counting all our millions because we did some exclusivity deal!
The reality is completely different.
The truth is WE HATE excluding any reader from reading our books (read on to find why we’re really NOT, though).
But being a small publisher, means we have to wear many hats, and one of them, which I’m wildly allergic to, is the Business Hat.
It means doing things not just because we want to, but because they make financial sense to the solvency of the company.
We are writers. Selling books IS our business. If we can’t sell books, we don’t have a business.
It’s pretty simple, really.
Whenever we are about to write a book we have to consider things such as:
- Is there an audience for this book?
- Does OUR audience WANT this book? (In other words, did they support a similar book we put out? Did they leave reviews for it?)
- Which stores will this book sell best at?
- Which stores might it do poorly?
- Where did similar books of ours do well?
- Where will we recoup our investment of time and money spent on making this book? (Books take months to write and cost a lot to develop. If a book doesn’t do well, WE lose not just money invested but months we could’ve spent writing something which might sell better.)
That last one is the maybe the most important from a business perspective.
As any indie writer or small publisher will tell you, selling books isn’t as easy as JUST PUTTING YOUR BOOKS OUT THERE.
THAT GHOST OF SHOELESS JOE THAT SAID “IF YOU BUILD IT HE WILL COME” WASN’T TALKING ABOUT BOOKS AND READERS!
I don’t know if YOU noticed, but there’s a LOT of writers out there building “it” in hopes that many will come.
We’re not just competing with other indies, who have stepped up their games big time. But we’re also competing with major publishers who have waaaaaaaay more money than we do to promote their books.
And we need every advantage we can get.
Which sometimes means putting books exclusively in one store or another for limited periods.
Exclusivity deals aren’t a NEW thing.
YOUR FAVORITE TV SHOW ISN’T ON EVERY NETWORK, IS IT?
It’s not about choosing readers at one store over another.
Like I said, we love ALL of our readers.
You have made my childhood dream of becoming a writer true!
But we’ve also lost a lot of money by being stupid when it comes to merchandising and making deals.
You see, the game has changed when it comes to selling books online.
Booksellers are far more likely to help you sell your books when you give them something in return. Whether it be an exclusive version of a book or selling it at their store before others.
In Amazon’s case, they want 90-day exclusivity deals, which they pitch to indie authors as signing up for KDP Select. They want you to put your book in their store and their store alone for 90 days. And you can also renew your 90-day exclusivity to get more promotional benefits.
In return for being exclusive with Amazon, you are given three incredibly powerful tools:
- You can make your book free for up to five days
- You can have “Countdown Deals” which are featured prominently in their store
- You can have your book borrowed (for free by Kindle Unlimited readers)
Now all of that above might not seem like too big of a deal on the face of it, until you see just how much KDP Select affects an author’s ability to sell books on Amazon.
You see, those three reasons above are only PART OF THE EQUATION.
THE OTHER FACTOR IS THE “ALSO BOUGHTS.”
“Also boughts” are those books you see appearing on any book’s sales page.
Like this one below on the page for Available Darkness: Book One (now on sale, shameless plug!)
As a writer you want to have your book appear in the “also boughts” on as many books’ pages as you can — especially bestselling books.
Notice anything about the photo below?
This is a screenshot of the Number One book in Amazon now, The Butterfly Garden, which is part of the “Kindle First Pick” program, which means it’s already pretty much guaranteed to sell very well for the month.
Now if you look at the “also boughts” below The Butterfly Garden’s cover, you’ll notice that they all have something in common.
They’re all (but one) the Number One book in their category!
Meaning that if you are checking out The Butterfly Garden, you might see another book that catches your eye below.
THIS IS THE POWER OF “ALSO BOUGHTS!”
And your book is a lot more likely to be included in the also boughts of bestselling books if it is doing well in a bestseller’s category.
Which means you almost NEED the promotional tools mentioned above to even compete on Amazon these days.
If you’re not part of the KDP Select program, you can be pretty much invisible to buyers.
We’re talking about the difference between selling a dozen books a month to selling several thousand.
KDP Select CAN make that big of a difference!
Meaning that “going wide” (selling your books in several book stores) can mean you have to sacrifice sales on the number one bookstore in America — Amazon.
The question then becomes this — will the sales I make at all the other stores match up to the potential sales LOST at Amazon by being relatively invisible?
That depends on the book.
Some books will do very well at the other stores.
Others, not so much.
Which brings us to the next part of this post.
GOING WIDE VERSUS GOING EXCLUSIVE
Here’s the choice many writers have to make:
A) Go wide and be everywhere, but relatively invisible on Amazon?
B) Or go exclusive with Amazon and maybe have a break out hit?
What if you choose A and your book is ALSO invisible on the other retailers?
Then you’ve sacrificed your potential sales on Amazon for nothing! Nobody is buying your book anywhere!
This is something we’ve had happen more times than we care to admit. More times than is smart for a businessperson.
And we usually did it because we wanted to be nice guys.
We wanted to put our book everywhere on the same day. Readers will love it, and they’ll support our books in the other stores so the hit we take on Amazon won’t hurt so much.
Except that’s not how it always happens.
Sometimes readers DON’T buy on the other stores for whatever reason. Maybe your book isn’t as visible. Maybe it’s in a slightly different genre than the book they did buy from you was in. Or maybe they’re in the mood for something else.
Whatever the reason, it’s a huge gamble for authors, and it sucks when you go wide and the support isn’t there.
Especially when you see another author with similar books (or even, gasp, worse books!) KILLING IT on KDP Select!
Fortunately, there’s also a third option:
C.) Go exclusive with Amazon for a while, make a big name for your book or series, and THEN go wide.
This is what we did for Yesterday’s Gone.
We were able to leverage Amazon’s promotional tools (which were a bit different back in 2011-2012 when we did this) and made the series so popular that readers at other stores asked us to go wide!
And we did.
And the readers at other stores supported our series.
We were also able to leverage that to get some merchandising support from other stores!
It’s the difference between night and day when you have support at a store versus when you don’t.
And, in turn:
We sold more books.
The stores got a nice commission for our books.
And new readers got to discover us.
It’s a win-win-win!
But, what happens when we release something that doesn’t do as well?
Like our short stories.
Or our standalone books.
Or even a series like Available Darkness?
For some reason these books haven’t done well at the other stores.
It’s a lose-lose-lose.
I won’t name any names, but one store has sold less copies of Available Darkness in a year than we’d sell in a week when it came out on Amazon!
So, what do you do in a situation like this, where neither the store nor the readership is supporting our book?
There are some things you can do to compete without going exclusive (like buying advertisements to drive traffic to your book when it’s on sale.) But these are hit and miss in effectiveness, and subject to the rules of various advertisers who can only feature the same author so many times in a given time period.
Sometimes you have to make a hard business decision.
Listen, I know it sucks not to be able to read a book on your particular device of choice ALL the time.
But if you are a fan of our work and want to see us continue being able to write for a living, I hope you’ll understand the business side of things and why sometimes we have to make deals (whether they be with Amazon or another retailer).
We have to do the thing that allows us the greatest chance to sell books.
Sometimes you have to go exclusive, have to go where the support is.
And you hope your readers will understand.
WHY “EXCLUSIVE” ISN’T REALLY EXCLUDING ANYONE
One of the push-backs I see from people opposed to Amazon exclusivity is that they can’t read the book since it’s not in their favorite store or on their favorite device.
But that’s not true.
Nearly anyone can read a Kindle e-book.
You don’t need to read on a Kindle.
There’s even a “READ ON ANY DEVICE” button right below every Kindle book in the store!
If you have a phone or Android or Apple tablet, you can download a Kindle app on your device (on most devices!).
You can also read Kindle books on a computer.
We’re not preventing anyone from reading our books.
Hell, we don’t even put Digital Rights Management on our books, so you can even use a program like Calibre to change our Kindle book to an epub you can read on pretty much anything you want!
I’m sure youtube or Google has instructional videos if you need help with that.
I don’t see how we can get more reader-friendly than that.
“Well, you could just put your books in every store, Dave. THAT would be more reader-friendly.”
But would it, really?
I would argue that if you like our work, you want to see us sell as many books as possible so we may write even MORE of the books you like.
You’ll see that restricting ourselves, tying our hands behind our backs when it comes to competing with other books on Amazon, might be nice for the convenience of a dozen or so readers on other platforms who would REALLY feel put out by this. But at the same time, should we say no to potentially THOUSANDS of sales to please a dozen or so people who hate the idea of exclusivity?
I hope the answer is a bit more obvious now.
I know some people think that writers take these exclusivity deals because they’re greedy “sell-outs” and just want ALL THE MONEYS!
But it’s not even close to the truth. Writers take these deals just so we can compete, so we can continue doing what we love — writing stories for you.
Thank you for reading.
Thank you for supporting our work.
— David Wright