Go Wide Or Leverage Amazon’s Select Program?

One of the biggest challenges most self-publishers face is deciding where to distribute their books (and what to price them at).  Do you go wide, put the book everywhere, and see how it does?  Or focus on the big gorilla and go exclusive with Amazon?

There are arguments for and against both choices.  And the fact of the matter is it really, really depends on the book.

I finished the rewrite of the novel yesterday, so I’ve been playing around with a few numbers today rather than start something new.

And this is what I’ve found for what I write:

Note: It doesn’t necessarily apply to anyone else and I’m pretty sure others have had exact opposite results.  It’s also influenced by whether I ran a Countdown promo with advertising or not (since that tends to bump up sales significantly as opposed to borrows).

First, for my short speculative fiction, being exclusive to Amazon did nothing.  I had my shorts, and the collection, in KU for three months and I only had one borrow on the short story collection.  And I did promo the collection while it was in there.

Now, keep in mind that my M.H. Lee stuff is my least successful, so there’s that.  But outside of Amazon I do see occasional sales on those titles on Google and Scribd, so going wide in this case was worth it.  (About a third of my revenues for those titles are non-Amazon.)

Second, for non-fiction, being exclusive to Amazon was not worth it.  I did/do get borrows on the non-fiction titles I have in Select.  But they pay $1.25 or so and when I sell the same book on other channels I get $3 a sale, including on Scribd which is a subscription service.  Also, the borrow to sales ratio I see is about 1 borrow for every 5 sales.  (Keep in mind, paid promos skew this number some, but it’s still noticeable that I get more sales than borrows on my non-fiction.)

Last month about a fourth of my revenues were from non-Amazon sales (either Createspace or through D2D) and almost all of that was non-fiction titles.  Non-fiction titles that really didn’t sell that well on Amazon at all.  (Although the paperbacks are now chugging along okay, interestingly.)

Now, the third part is where things get interesting.  I have some short erotic/erotic romance/romance stories out there.  Those benefit tremendously from Select.  With those I get about three borrows for every sale. (Titles are generally priced at $2.99 with a sale price of 99 cents.)  For titles I haven’t promoted that ratio is closer to 8 to 1.

I also had a contemporary romance novel I published.  That one is about 1.5 borrows to each sale with almost all of the sales coming when I ran a Countdown promo and put the book up for 99 cents for a week.  I’ve now gone wide with that novel and, even though the number of sales is lower on the other channels, sales through Apple, Scribd, and Kobo are already about 10% of the revenue I’ve made on the book.

(And I suspect going wide led to two additional Amazon sales at the end of last month when someone bought it elsewhere and reviewed or mentioned it somewhere and two people then picked it up on Amazon.)

So, what do I conclude from all of this for my own works?

1. For non-fiction titles, from here on out I’m going to go wide from day 1.  There just isn’t enough revenue from borrows to justify trying to pick up borrows through Select.

2. For my speculative fiction short stories, same.  Go wide from the start.

3. For my romance-y stuff.  I don’t know. I suspect I’ll run them through at least three months of Select to see what borrows I can get and then go wide once a series or collection is done.  (I tend to trail off if I’m not putting out new stuff under that name/series/collection, but each new release or promo tends to lead to follow-through borrows of other titles under that name that are in Select. So if I go Select I’m pretty much in until I call it quits on that set of stories.)

Now, the fun part of this is that none of the above is really any help at all with the speculative fiction novel I just finished.  If I self-pub it, that’s a completely new category and no way to be sure how it’ll do in Select versus not.

Also depends on what name I put it out under.  If I use M.H. Lee then it may make sense to go wide because I’ve had a few stories up for free everywhere for a few months now and I may get an advertising bump or readers from that.

If I do it under yet another pen name, well, then…IDK.  Some say putting a book in Select as an unknown author will lead to readers giving you a try because it’s “free.”  Could be true…

Also depends on my pricing strategy.  One of the things I like to do in Select is run a 99 cent Countdown deal after the thirty-day mark.  I can get paid 70% on all the sales and it sometimes revives a title in the second month.

But I think with the new novel I may do a 99 cent launch and then raise the price after one or two weeks and back that up with some advertisements and see what I can make happen.  If so, then the Countdown option has no value to me.

And, yes, I could run a free promo.  I’ve done some of those and seen borrows on the titles as well as downloads.  But without another title for readers to buy?  Eh.  Seems like leaving money on the table.

It’s a crap shoot, it really is.  (Although, in self-publishing as with craps, there are certain strategies that tend to be fairly effective over time.  Not a guaranteed win, but playing the odds as much as possible you can slowly, but surely make some money.  I am at least paying for my Coca-Cola habit and pup’s Frosty Paws each month…)

Anyway.  Thought I’d share in case it could help someone else.  But again, YMMV.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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