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Why Bailing From KDP Select Right Now Is An Awesome Idea

When Amazon unveiled its Kindle Unlimited subscription service earlier this summer, a lot of folks expressed some worry about whether the service would affect author earnings.

As a refresher to those who aren't familiar with how KDP Select works, it's a service offered to authors who publish on the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. In exchange for giving Amazon exclusive rights to sell your work in 90 day chunks, they give you the following:

1. 5 free promotional days OR 1 Countdown Promotion (where you have timed discount tiers over the course of several days starting at $.99 and gradually increasing to the full price again by the end of the promotion).

2. Enrollment in the Amazon Prime Lending Library, where readers can borrow up to one book per month as part of their Prime subscription.

3. Enrollment in Kindle Unlimited, the "all-you-can-eat" service that people can join for $9.99 a month.

All downloads that authors incur as a result of items 2 and 3 are paid for through a designated Global Fund, which is anywhere from 2 to upwards of 7 or 8 million bucks Amazon sets aside every month. Depending on the total number of downloads all enrolled authors incur (Amazon doesn't share that info with us), your earnings can fluctuate anywhere from over two bucks a download, and as we're seeing now, all the way down to $1.30 range. Really, that Global Fund number is meaningless without any additional information. It's just used to put stars into our eyes. But I digress.

Ever since the unveiling of Kindle Unlimited, downloads have increased dramatically for many authors while the earnings per download have fallen. October's $1.33 was the lowest number yet, and it was also the month that Amazon put about two million fewer dollars into the Global Fund. It was also the month Amazon had a less than stellar quarterly earnings report. But again, I digress.

As you can imagine, this creates a lot of instability for author earnings. We have no idea what we're going to be making on borrowed or Kindle Unlimited downloads from month to month, and with said downloads slowly starting to match and outpace actual sales, that means very volatile monthly earnings for authors in general. Amazon doesn't release earnings figures until the 15th of the following month, either, so the reason you're hearing murmurings about October's disappointment is because we just learned about it ourselves.

To give you a taste of how Kindle Unlimited is affecting author earnings, here is a list of the previous earnings Amazon was paying out up to and then after the unveiling of the program:

12/11: $1.70
01/12: $1.60
02/12: $2.01
03/12: $2.18
04/12: $2.48
05/12: $2.26
06/12: $2.08
07/12: $2.04
08/12: $2.12
09/12: $2.29
10/12: $2.36
11/12: $1.90
12/12: $1.88
01/13: $2.23
02/13: $2.31
03/13: $1.94
04/13: $2.27
05/13: $2.24
06/13: $2.24
07/13: $2.04
08/13: $2.26
09/13: $2.42
10/13: $2.51
11/13: $2.46
12/13: $1.86
01/14: $1.93
02/14: $2.24
03/14: $2.10
04/14: $2.24
05/14: $2.17
06/14: $2.24
******************INTRODUCTION OF KINDLE UNLIMITED**********************
07/01/14: $1.81
08/01/14: $1.54
09/01/14: $1.52
10/01/14: $1.33

At this point, unless Amazon starts dumping in millions more dollars to shore up the Global Fund to compensate for the increased downloads through Kindle Unlimited, there is no reason to believe the figures will rise above the $1.33 low water mark. In fact, they will probably dump even lower than this as the holiday season commences. $1.33 is a fine return on a $.99 download, but if you're getting that on a $2.99 and up title, that's far below what you get when you sell it outright.

And lest you think that increased downloads will help you make up any loss in per-download revenue, there are several authors already seeing losses in the thousands of dollars. This program is hurting more than it is helping.

And lest you think KU customers aren't cannibalizing your sales, that the people downloading on that program are different from the people who buy books outright, don't expect that to hold for long. As the program attracts more big name authors and publishers, more and more people will sign up for the program, and they will stop paying money for individual books. It will become the norm, in fact, just as services like Netflix and Spotify have become the norm. In fact, the chief worry was that Kindle Unlimited would cannibalize Amazon's existing sales base, and actually hurt Amazon in the long run and not just authors.

It's too early in the game to say whether or not that will happen, and Amazon is nothing if not nimble and forever changing, but the current trend just doesn't look good for anyone involved.

Of course, none of this would be nearly as big a thorn in authors' sides if Amazon weren't demanding exclusivity. At the very least, we could accept lower revenue streams if we knew we could try to recoup those losses through other vendors.

But Amazon doesn't want that. Amazon wants to kill its competition and it wants to employ its legions of devoted KDP authors in that fight by making it so the work of millions of authors is available at only one store: Amazon. Once enough of the midlist and indie segment is enveloped under that umbrella, people will just naturally buy the bestsellers there too. We're already seeing that happen.

But this competition-killing mentality is killing our bottom lines, and Kindle Unlimited is, essentially, a slow rot.

Will the authors do the right thing and revolt until Amazon comes back to the table with fairer terms? When Amazon decides to nix their unfair exclusivity clause? It's hard to say. Some authors are so beholden to Amazon for "giving them a career," that it likely won't happen until earnings fall below a buck. And even then, who knows. Writers are notoriously bad at math, and they'll cling to their vastly shrinking islands with the notion that there is nothing out there but endless, empty ocean.

Then again, taking your work out of KDP Select does come with a caveat. As most authors will tell you, enrolling in the program has a way of improving your standings in Amazon's almighty algorithm. Once we take our work out of the program, many of us seen our sales fall dramatically down to a trickle of what they once were. It's hard to say how long it can take for them to bounce back. I'm coming off the worst summer I've had since I entered this business in 2010, which also happens to be the summer I attempted to redistribute my work via Draft2Digital and Payhip. After three months, my complete lack of sales drove me to re-enroll certain titles, and I've since seen my sales (and borrows) return.

So right now, the prevailing wisdom seems to be to give up KDP Select for good. Quit the sauce entirely. Or at the very least, remove all titles that are over $2.99 and leave in a few cheapie short stories or loss leaders. All new work gets automatically distributed wide to all markets. As for the stuff that was enrolled in Select and boasts the taint of bad Amazon Algorithm Voodoo, the only answer for that I guess is to be patient. To hope that the sales of the newer, shinier titles will help pull the other ones out of the gutter. Gaining a presence in other markets takes a lot of time and patience. I squandered what I had built on Barnes & Noble and Apple two years ago, and getting that back won't be easy, but it will be worth it. Amazon will only continue these abusive policies as long as it has authors willing to line up and hand them their work without question, to take smaller and smaller cuts of the pie because they believe Jeff Bezos is a benevolent god.

I've unchecked all my renew boxes and this time they will stay unchecked this time. I'm battening down my hatches and preparing for a long and very dark winter. Let's just hope spring comes early.


What Sort of Woman Writes These Things?

Quote courtesy of my dear friend Kirstin,
who is in the dedication of STRINGS for a reason
It's a refrain I've heard often about female authors. Particularly female authors of dark or gritty fiction.

What sort of woman writes these things?

As if women can't write about the brutality people inflict upon other people, male or female. As if brutality itself has a gender and its gender is exclusively male.

Do people really believe women are incapable of being cruel and visceral and dark? Maybe we just never met the same women, but I can spout off at least a dozen without taking a breath, and if you can't, you're either lying or not paying much attention. Despite well-known examples of female serial killers, female despots, and female psychopaths all throughout human history, women have long been steeped in a flowery brew of virtue, frailty, and elegance as a counter to the stereotypical male's chauvinistic brutishness. It's a stereotype we often don't acknowledge until a woman is found to be in violation of it.

What sort of woman writes these things?

Must we really be so scandalized in 2014 about what women are capable of? I've never worn a corset in my life, but I can sometimes feel the invisible squeeze of one, especially when someone pairs gender with genre. But we're not only scandalized. We are also very confused.

Take Gillian Flynn. When the movie GONE GIRL was released, it ignited a discussion among feminists and traditionalists alike about whether or not the story was progressive, simply because the story revolves around the actions of a psychopath with a vagina, as if such a combination of traits doesn't exist in nature, or if it does, well we certainly don't want to write about it, because that only makes women look bad! Contributing to the head-scratchery was this notion that, as a woman writing about such a character, Flynn was perpetuating negative female stereotypes. Double bad! The overall tone was she should have "known better."

As if "woman" is a country to which we owe our most jingoistic of platitudes, and Flynn is a traitor of the highest order for misrepresenting us somehow.

But wait . . . isn't it more sexist to portray women exclusively as victims? Even if we see more violence against women, and that certainly is no laughing matter, how exactly is it wrong to show the reverse?

What sort of woman writes these things?

Because certainly women can do no wrong. And they certainly cannot write "these things." Leave such horrific matters to the men, the fighters of our wars, the executors of our patriarchy, the bearers of the keys to our womanly shackles. Leave them to their brutal ways while the woman lingers in the shadows, looking and smelling nice, longing for victimhood, never to express her own darkness, her own aggression, the stuff that makes her every bit as much an animal as her male counterpart.

Swallow it down ladies. Don't express it. You're mothers. Delicate flowers. Nurturers. Bearers of life. Behave accordingly.

Of course, we women are unique creatures with our own drives, our own uniquely female pathologies. That leaves opportunity for expression, not ignorance.

What sort of woman writes these things?

The sort of woman who has had it up to the top of the Hoover Dam with being told how to dress, how to speak, how to believe, how to act.  The sort of woman who doesn't let her gender get in the way of telling stories about real human beings in horrific situations, many of whom ultimately PREVAIL (but we'll forget about that part for now, because we must only focus on the fact that she wrote about "these horrible things").

The sort of woman who wants to live by example for all the OTHER people out there, male or female, who have stories and characters inside them that may go against the current of common thought, who sees that current and its brackish undertow and has decided to chart a different course.

The sort of woman with an imagination that goes down some very dark rabbit holes, who can envision with very feminine empathy how a woman could be violated in a most horrific way, and then show you how she gets through it. The sort of woman who is driven to document these things, because maybe if you glimpse that horrid thing and live that painful moment with that thankfully fictional woman, you might think, hey, my life isn't so bad. The sort of woman who needs to remind HERSELF of that from time to time.

I visit the dank cellar of my mind and I take stock of the people inhabiting it, and I say to myself that if she can get out of this, maybe I can get out of my own pain. Or if she doesn't make it out, that doesn't mean I can't. That is and has always been the function of horror for me.

But never is it intended to be an endorsement of violence, and if you're reading it as a symptom of something abnormal about me, you may be reading out of your level.

What sort of woman writes these things?

The kind you walk by on the street every day without a second thought. The kind who hands you your change and tells you to have a nice day. The kind who teaches your kids, nurses your wounds, cooks your food, mops up after you. In other words, all sorts of women. Womanly women, (whatever that means), normal women (ditto). A human woman who may be different from you, but is no less valid or deserving of common decency and respect.

But take heart. Your mawkish and cowardly views only empower me and women like me to venture deeper into those forbidden corners of our minds, no matter how much it ails you. To be "the sort of woman who writes these things" isn't only a calling. It's an honor.