Are You Selective?

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Apologies for the pun-tastic title, but I’ve yet to have my coffee and I wanted a catchy way to broach the subject of KDP’s Select programme and its allure. Is it as tempting as ever, or has the shine worn off?

Back in the July, I took my novels out of Select. I’d had a few good runs with giveaways and made some money off borrows, but Amazon’s changing algorithms appeared to make giveaways less effective. Not only that, I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable relying on  one vendor. WG2E founder DD has written several times about reaching as many readers on as many platforms as possible, and I wanted to give it a try. I uploaded my books to Smashwords, crossed my fingers, and waited.

Fast forward four months later, and what can only be described as dismal sales on all other platforms except Amazon, despite having a novella for free to help readers discover me. Every author — and book! — fares differently, but as time wore on and sales decreased, I simply couldn’t justify my unsuccessful efforts to reach new readers at the expense of what I could be making through royalties on Select.

When I saw that Amazon had sweetened the borrowing pay-out during the holiday season, that made up my mind. I removed my books from the other platforms and re-enrolled them in Select. In one week, I’d already made on borrows what I made in four months on all other platforms combined.  Last month was my best month ever in terms of borrows, and if I hadn’t re-enrolled, I’d have missed out on a substantial chunk of royalties.

I’m not advocating for Select — like DD says, I think it’s smart to cast your net wide and far — and I shudder to think I’m at the mercy of the ‘Zon.  However, from a practical perspective, I just couldn’t sacrifice my profit potential any longer.

Are you enrolled in Select? How do you balance the need to reach readers versus revenue potential?

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  1. My story pretty much mirrors yours, Talli and I’m thinking of returning to the Select fold, too.
    All other sales have been unimpressive.

  2. Lois Lavrisa says:

    Talli- All of my work is only on Amazon…just saying that seems to work for me too:)

  3. Hi Talli,

    Thanks for your perspective on Select vs. ‘broad’ distribution. I’m fairly new at this Epub game. My first book, Finding Round, I did the ‘broad’ thing – sales were very low, but I admit to doing almost zero marketing of any kind. I just pubbed my second book, Treasure Life, and decided to do Select. I have yet to do much marketing but have done a little more than with the first book, and plan to do a great deal more now that the POD vs is ready.

    I have already run into two readers who wanted to buy my second book but can’t because they have Nooks, and can’t download the Kindle version. That was a real bummer. I’m going to be running a free promo on Select in a few days, and I hope that will turn the tide and make it worth losing readers due to the technical aspect of Kindle.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Hi Sheri, it is a real bummer when readers ask for your work on other platforms and it isn’t available. I suppose because I’m in the UK and the other platforms aren’t as prominent, I don’t get asked this very much. When I do, I just let readers know there are lots of Kindle apps for devices they can read on, if they want.

  4. Julie Day says:

    I am like DD and put my ebooks on all platforms. I have found that I am earning and getting more downloads on Smashwords than on the ‘Zon. There is one other thing I like about Smash and that is I can ebook gift on there and not on the ‘Zon, being an international peep. I did think about putting my teen mermaid story just on the ‘Zon last year but decided against it.

  5. Thanks for your candid comments. It’s great to see all sides. I have multi distribution as well but it took a while for my free downloads to catch up on the other platforms with Amazon. Marketing does help and after 6 months I’m seeing lots more downloads via smashwords and other distributors.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Thanks for your input, Alicia! Perhaps I should have waited longer before pulling my books, but I just couldn’t justify missing out on the holiday borrows.

  6. Tamara Ward says:

    My sales on other platforms are sluggish, and the ‘Zon is by far my best platform as far as sales go. Out of all the books I’ve indie published, I’ve not got any books on Select currently, but my publisher put my debut novel on the ‘Zon and ran a recent promo on it. I think that promo has boosted sales on the ‘Zon for my second novel in the series. Select is a double-edged sword, allowing authors lots of sales now, but not gaining readers on other platforms.

    • Talli Roland says:

      You’re so right about Select being a double-edged sword. I think it was Mark Corker who said Amazon is playing indie authors like pawns, and he might be right in that.

  7. Patrice says:

    Smashwords has not worked for me, but I am gaining momentum, not much but some, on B&N and Kobo. I loved the early days of the Select program but my last free giveaway didn’t do much, so I think broader is better, although I still make ten times the royalties on Amazon as I do the others.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Patrice, I hear you – the early days of Select were fantastic. I’d love to hear how you gained momentum on B&N and Kobo. My sales actually decreased over time!

  8. Angela Brown says:

    I started out on B&N and Amazon. That was in Oct 2012. By December of 2012, I decided to give KDP Select a try. Since I’ve only been with the program for a short while, I’m not too experieced to speak on a like or dislike either way. I must admit, before just going to the ‘Zon, I’d sold 5 books on B&N and I knew all 5 of the Nook owners personally lol!! So I’ll see how my experience goes when I come out with another tale and try it on both platforms again. Maybe I’ll do better this time around and actually double my sales at B&N.

  9. Alex Lukeman says:

    I’m a big fan of KDP Select. I had books out everywhere, as so many recommend. I got zip in sales. I went to Select and sales took off. I’m staying in the program. B&N will likely cease to exist in a year or so. The other platforms are very limited. Unless you have books that are doing well somewhere, e.g., Kobo or Apple, it is not worth the aggravation and frustration. If you are doing well on those other platforms, good for you and don’t change. Just an opinion…

    • Talli Roland says:

      Alex, I cam’t help but agree with you given my experience. However, reading hear about authors who have had success makes me waver. I just wish I knew what the magic formula was!

  10. Glynis Smy says:

    Ditto, Talli! I have my first novel with Smashwords and Amazon, and the sales from the latter are far greater than Smashwords. In fact I have sold two ebooks via Smashwords since May 2012. I have yet to master the art of getting folk to borrow my second novel, as I opted to stay with Select but am sure it will come with time. I do not mind as I am selling copies of both on the ‘Zon. I am now considering pulling out of Smashwords and just keeping my eggs in one basket. I might even do a little giveaway day, although I am not that keen on that side of things. I will see.

    Good post, and thanks for sharing. Also, thanks to your son for allowing you the time to share with us! :D x

    • Talli Roland says:

      Glynis, I think the key to getting borrows is to gain visibility, and a giveaway should help that. Whenever I did a giveaway, my number of borrows rose, too.

      Keep us posted!

  11. PJ Sharon says:

    I had a similar experience, Talli. Once I came off of select, my sales tanked and have not rebounded. I’ve enrolled two of my books in select and am seeing the sales climb a bit. We’ll see after a free run next week how things shape up.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Interesting that pulling out of Select made your sales fall. I’ve heard similar stories from other authors. Let us know how the free run goes – good luck!

  12. CC MacKenzie says:

    This is really interesting, Talli.

    I’m in the UK and my bank stung me with a £1.25 per book charge for over forty gifted via just before Christmas. I was part of a twelve days of Christmas promotion with thirty three other authors. I’ve never been on Select. I write contemporary romance, which is probably the biggest genre and incredibly difficult to break through.

    Last September I put a perma free full length novel (the first in a series), which was selling well with good reviews on Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes (via ARe since I didn’t have a Mac) and Barnes & Noble (via Smashwords) along with book two of the series.

    After six weeks there was still no sign of the books on iTunes or B&N, so although we sent off reminders I was busy finishing book three of the series and sort of forgot about iTunes & B&N, figuring the books would get there eventually. And I’d taken a financial hit with the perma-free but my attitude is nothing ventured etc.

    To be honest I didn’t have great expectations of the books being picked up by iTunes or the B&N readers because I knew nothing about either company since I was focusing, as well as purchasing all my books, on Amazon.

    I tend not to number watch, I leave that to my H who does my formatting.

    In the middle of November, all of a sudden I was receiving anything up to fifteen msgs per day from readers looking for book three and when I told them it was coming in December, some started to chat and it became clear they’d found me on iTunes.

    So I emailed my H and asked him to check out iTunes.
    He came back with, ‘Yep, they’re up. And you have over 100 five star reviews.’
    Blink. Blink.
    ‘Maybe they linked the books to Goodreads like Kobo,’ I replied.
    ‘Nope,’ he said. ‘Totally different readers, and btw you’re number two in the iTunes stores in the USA, Australia, Canada, UK and Ireland.’

    I believe I said, ‘No shit!’

    And that was the start of it. By Christmas the books were in the top 100 free and paid lists in over thirty countries in the iStore. Amazon now price matched book one free on Kindle across all territories. (They’ve recently made in paid again in the UK only. No idea why, and readers are going elsewhere to get it free.)

    H bought me a Mac and we published book three direct to iTunes on the 19th December and I gave iTunes a call to let them know since impatient iTunes readers had downloaded the Kindle app to their device to get book three from Amazon. iTunes prefer to speak to publishers by telephone. It’s a freephone number and I spoke to a lovely guy who recorded our call for their marketing department. The cut off for putting books up for Christmas was the 7th December and since iTunes have a human being reading every book, he couldn’t promise it would go live before they closed for the holidays on the 21st. Book three went live on the evening of the 20th December.

    And on the 31st December my perma-free was number two on the iTunes HOT list for 2013 after Sylvia Day’s new release. Last time I was alerted, yesterday by a fan, book one is still on the HOT list at 48 but it changes all the time.

    Last week we received end of quarter payment info from ARe – remember these are sales for one book – for November and December each month sales were in four figures. My jaw hit the floor, bloody hell.

    So far, across all distributors my free book has been downloaded over 180,000 times and counting, sales of book two and three are in the four figures. Book one has garnered over 1,000 five* reviews across continents and sales of two and three are steady. I’m selling in the double figures on Amazon per day, but my sales on iTunes are three times that. The last week’s been less across all distributors, especially in the UK, but we’re in a recession that’s biting deep and readers are struggling. The exceptions are Australia and Canada and Scandinavia.

    The books went live on Barnes & Noble the week before Christmas and sales are beginning to kick off too with over 45 four/five* reviews on the perma free and they’re a pretty vocal bunch of readers who’ve been screaming for book three. B&N are sloooooow, so I’ve been sending readers to download book three from Smashwords epub to their Nooks.

    So, the moral of the story is to put up THE best full length book you possibly can, free, as bait to catch readers. And fish in every single pond. And for the love of God, speak to your readers and ask them questions and educate them on where they can find you. Mine read on their new nifty iPad mini’s and their iPhone/Android phones. I’d say 80% of my online time is now taken up communicating with readers – that’s the next level of promotion as one Ruth Cardello told me and I’m listening to the girls who’ve done it and that includes DeeDee, Gemma Halliday and Bella Andre.

    Kobo & Smashwords store have not been as big sales wise as iTunes, Amazon & B&N, but I’m selling in the triple figures there every month, which considering I was lucky to get even ten on there, you can see how it all mounts up.

    My attitude to writing is that the reader is God. She’s at the forefront of every single thing I do.

    I like how iTunes and Smashwords do business. They are 100% reader focused and listen carefully to their customers. iTunes run their book business exactly as they run their music business – by customer recommendation. The more five star reviews the books receive the more iTunes promote me. That means iTunes will suggest my books to readers who’ve enjoyed a similar book and those readers are speaking to me direct, which is a real thrill. I’ve done zero promotion for iTunes and B&N. None. Nada. I’ve never done a blog hop. My books have never been sent to professional review sites or bloggers simply because I’m too busy writing and hate being taken away from my wip.

    So back to Select. I’ve been giving this lots and lots of thought. If I was on Select with my first two books, I ‘might’ have made more money but I’m not sure I’d have reached so many readers and reaching readers is my goal. There’s no way I’d pull my books from other distributors or put any of the series on Select because my readers will kill me – I know this because they’ve told me.

    Putting all my eggs in one basket worries me, a lot. It’s bad business practice – I worked in finance dealing with emerging markets country risk, so I sort of know what I’m talking about. However, I am aware that I’m not reaching a huge market of potential readers by staying out of Select and as I said I want to fish in every pond.

    What to do? I’ve a stand alone adventure/romance I could put on Select to see what happens, perhaps that way I could cross fertilize. However, it will seriously piss off readers on iTunes and B&N and I don’t want to do that. Maybe I could start a different series purely for Select?

    100% exclusivity bothers me for two reasons; 1 – If a brand spanking new author is tempted into Select it traps them for 90days and from what I’ve seen their ranks crash when they leave and they’ve no broad spectrum reader awareness of their brand. They get upset, panic and dive back into Select. 2 – What if the goal posts change in Select?

    Let’s be honest the ‘Zon’s reputation for a lack of ‘fairness’ in their business dealings is well documented. They’re in it to make money, honey. And that makes them somewhat predictable. I’m hearing very good things from their Montlake romance authors but that’s a completely different deal from Select.

    Perhaps we CAN have it all by being everywhere AND having a couple of books in Select too?

    I don’t know. I’m undecided.

    • This is what I’m doing, Christine. I have one book in Select out of 18 and it’s done great. I was going to put a second one in in January, but an ad I bought helped up that book’s sales on all platforms, so there’s no sense in me pulling it now. That increased visibility, as well as a couple of perma-free books have made the difference in me not going exclusive to Amazon with all my books.

      As Talli said, what’s right for each book and each author will be different.

    • Talli Roland says:


      How fantastic – it’s so nice to hear of a success story, and thank you so much for taking the time to write a wonderfully comprehensive reply and for sharing how you did it. DD, I think, has used the same strategy of putting a full-length novel for free. Perhaps I should have done that instead of a novella… If I try again, I’ll certainly look at that strategy.

      Putting my eggs in one basket worries me, too. I don’t like the thought of being so dependent on just one vendor. But how much should I let that deter me from making more from Kindle Select? It’s never a black and white decision, is it?

      As soon as I think I’ve made up my mind for good, I hear a success story like yours and I start to waver.

      • CC MacKenzie says:

        The key is to be everywhere and that includes Select. We’re in charge of our own destiny (sounds like a rock song). There isn’t a right way or a wrong way, there’s the way that works for each of us.

        Great post, Talli, and congratulations on the baby!

      • Diana Layne says:

        Talli, I was out of town yesterday but yes, I did the same thing you did for the same reasons and I’m having the same results. I’m going to stick with Select for a while. I’m not a fast writer, well, I am but my writing time is limited as I homeschool and I have a dyslexic child which makes it more labor-intensive, but as soon as I get this series finished, then I’ll follow Christine’s method-IF, the Zon still lets you price match to zero. In the meantime I’m keeping my two books in Select and I’m happy with my decision.

  13. I wonder if Amazon changes it’s algorhythms if you pull out of Select. I did as D.D. suggested and pulled half my books out and uploaded them to SW and Pubit. Seems like immediately, Amazon took down five of my 5 star reviews from the same man. I felt punished! My sales dropped on the Zon, but I’ve had a few on B & N. I’m still undecided but will keep adding books on other platforms to see what happens.

    Thanks for posting – being a new mom is exhausting!

    • Talli Roland says:

      Hi Nancy! Yes, I’m currently in a state of perma-exhaustion… :)

      I’ve read places on Kindleboards that Select books fare better due to algorithms, but there’s so much speculation it’s really hard to tell what’s true!

  14. Yep, I’m right along with you.

  15. Liz Matis says:

    Hi Tali: My sales at the other venues has been enough to pay for all my writer expenses including conferences, cover art, formatting, proofreading, and advertising and I’m able to bank all of Amazons sales. So it is well worth it for me be on all platforms.
    That said I recently put Love By Design in KDP select since sales are low on that title. Borrows and sales have not bumped but my free days are coming up next week so fingers crossed.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Hi Liz! I’m envious of your sales on other platforms – sounds like you’ve made the right decision. My sales on other platforms might have bought me a Big Mac. :)

  16. I just unpublished my latest uploaded book from Amazon (although in keeping with their messing me up, it still shows as for sale). For some reason they chose to remove the first six to seven words from the opening sentence of each paragraph, making for an unreadable eBook. (They also conveniently would not allow me to use the Preview function, leaving me with no choice but to upload and check it *after* the fact, an ass-backward process.) This has never happened to me with any of the other 8 titles I’ve uploaded. Thank God I have an eStore to sell directly to my readers…who knows how long it will take them to straighten this out?

    I have never used Select and don’t intend to. Amazon has more than proven to me (they also changed my publish date from the one I selected), that, at least as it relates to me, they cannot handle exclusivity.

  17. Joe Bruno says:

    To me it’s a no-brainer. I took all my books (nine in all) off Smashwords and now am on KDP select exclusively.There is no comparison of the sales between Amazon and Smashwords. 95% come from Amazon. Maybe more.

    Maybe it’s the genre you write. I write true crime, organized crime etc… Would this work as well for Romanace novels?

    Don’t know, but I think it would.

  18. Stacy Green says:

    I don’t know what to do regarding Select. I’ve considered putting my short story in it for exposure, but right now I’m getting downloads on Smashwords, and I also use it as a gift for readers. I’ve heard from my publisher – and others – that Amazon promotes Select books more and their algos are fixed to show this. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but my first indie book comes out in March, and I’ve got some big decisions ahead of me. I really want the exposure, and making some money would be great. However … what about the few readers who want it via B&N? I have some of those, too. But I guess you have to stop and look at the bigger picture.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Stacy, your thoughts mirror mine exactly! I want to reach as many readers as possible, so that should mean making my work available on all platforms. However, when I tried that, I only reached a paltry handful! Who knows, maybe it’ll work better for you… others here have had plenty of success.

  19. Lynn says:

    I’ve been in Select for a while and was making a nice steady side income with the two books I have published. But sales started dropping precipitously around the holidays and now are pretty dismal, so I’ve decided to take both books out of Select and publish them to other outlets. I suspect at this point, these two books have “saturated the market” as much as they’re going to at Amazon. I was going to go through Smashwords, but as I already own a Mac, I might take CC’s advice and just send my books to iTunes directly. I also like her suggestion that authors put a couple of books – but not ALL of their books – in the Amazon Select program and then publish others elsewhere. Of course, I only have two books right now, so I’ll need to get cracking on that third book ASAP!

    • Talli Roland says:

      Lynn, that sounds like a very good plan. I like CC’s advice to put some books – but not all – in Select, too. I might give that a try.

      Keep us posted!

  20. Laina Turner says:

    I have played around with the different scenarios over the last 2 years and ultimately found I liked having my books available on all platforms for all readers. Now Amazon has always been the big gun by far but for whatever reason after the holidays B&N has skyrocketed and I have already surpassed Dec. sales for this month. Same with iTunes and Amazon has held steady. No idea why….

  21. Talli Roland says:

    Wow, Laina, that’s fantastic! I wonder what caused B&N to skyrocket? Interesting!

  22. Claire Matthews says:

    I’ve also stuck with KDP Select. My sales have gone down significantly since I first pubbed, but I’m averaging about 600 sales a month, plus borrows, which keeps me afloat. When I compare this with my one traditionally-published title, I still come out slightly ahead.

    The freebies just don’t work for me anymore. I listed “Lucy Wagner” free back in Feb, 2012, and had 30k downloads–in recent months, I’ve been lucky to get 5% of that number off a free weekend promotion.

  23. D.J.Kirkby says:

    Both of my contemporary fiction are on iTunes and SW but those sales are much lower than those from ‘Zon. I need to look into B&N. I haven’t found Select to be of any discernible benefit though I know others have.

  24. Victoria Howard says:

    My three books are with Select. They went live at the end of September. All three did very well in October, earning far more in royalties than I ever received from my previous publisher. However, since then sales have slowly decreased. I’m now wondering whether I should withdraw them from Select when the 90 day period expires and publish them on Smashwords and ARe.

  25. I think millage varies. I definitely think we’d be losing out if we only went with Amazon, but Becca and my book is NF, not fiction. We have not tried select, and I can’t see us trying it, because I don’t know how it would help us sell more than we do without it when looking at all platforms. It would be interesting to try it at some point down the road as a test.

    I’m not saying we don’t sell mostly through Amazon, because we do. But I guess right now I don’t see how our numbers could improve by only using them as our ebook source. I think we sell enough through other ebook retailers to justify keeping things open.

  26. Thanks for this, Talli. Very interesting to read, as are all the comments. We’ve been thinking about KPD Select for ages now and I think we may take the plunge …
    Oh, yes, not sure if someone has already said this but my friends tell me you can get a free app for your iphone/ipad, which will allow you to download Kindle books onto it, which is cheaper than buying the ebook from the apple store. I suppose what I’m saying is, even if we do just limit ebook sales to Amazon you can still reach the ipad/iphone etc market. Thanks again :)

  27. Candy Little says:

    Like you, I pulled my book from Select in July. My sales have steadily decreased. I only sold 32 books on all other site and that is with 3 books. It just isn’t profitable to continue so I am waiting for my novels to come down on the other sites and will be enrolling all 3 in Select. Thanks for showing me I’m not alone!!

  28. D.D. Scott says:

    Bravo, Talli! You’re experimenting and finding out what works for you and for your books! And that’s the secret to the superfab success you’re having! U Go, Girl!

    I’m still staying out of Select though, because, for me, Smashwords is making me over $10,000 per year now! And Barnes and Noble Pubit triple that!!! Kobo and iTunes are very very good to me too!!! Yayyyy!!!

    That said, it took me over one year to build to that level, and on some platforms, like Kobo, almost two years, using Smashwords to distribute to places like Sony and iTunes and libraries (a market I’ve just broken into and am very excited about) that I couldn’t get to directly on my own. ***Note: If I can go direct, like now on Kobo and for months now on Pubit, I do. But if I can’t, I still use Smashwords very successfully.

    What will be interesting is that Smashwords plans to become more reader-friendly, and that could be a huge development! :-) It’s tough to find books on Smashwords, unless you go there looking for a particular title. They get a handle on that, and look out!!!

  29. I made a decision to follow D.D.’s advice and go with a broad distribution model for my debut novel, Dangerous Ally. It was released on 1/3 on Amazon, and via Smashwords to B&N, Itunes, and Kobo.
    I do like knowing that no reader has to be frustrated that the book isn’t available on their platform. On the downside, I dislike the sales reporting via Smash as opposed to the almost real-time reporting on Amazon and Createspace.
    This is all a learning process and it sounds like what works for one person may or may not work for someone else. Thanks very much for sharing your experiences. I really appreciate this site and all the contributors!

  30. I’m late to the party (as usual). I’m signed up to Select and it works for me. It probably works best for UK authors whose sales are mostly in the UK as Amazon has the largest share of the ebook market here. Reading through the other comments I’ll just add:

    Very few big name authors’ books are available to borrow here at the moment so it’s a good opportunity for indies get their books noticed (and receive royalties – you don’t have to make your book ‘free’. It’ll be ‘free’ to the buyer but you will still receive royalties). Anyone who got a Kindle Fire for Christmas also got a month’s free membership to Amazon Prime so borrows will have gone up in December & January.

    Offering your book as ‘free’ (to buy, not borrow) won’t work any more unless you have other books to promote because your rank will go right back to what it was before the book was made free. Indies now have more competition with traditional publishers who are more ebook savvy and are using price as a promotional tool (the 20p and 99p ebook ‘exclusives’)

    As far as Amazon’s rankings/algorithms are concerned, a borrow is the same as a sale.

  31. Gina Rossi says:

    I sell zip on Smashwords and truck along very nicely on Amazon. Have tried and failed to inject more promotion energy into Smashwords but it never picks up. Baffled.

  32. JamieSalisbury (@JamieRSalisbury) says:

    We’re all at the mercy of the ‘Zon I’m afraid. I have no books in Select for the exact reasons you list. What I did which has helped tremendously was to make a boxed set of five of my titles and offer it for $2.99.It was the best move I’ve made to increase sales to date! I’m not selling thousands or even hundreds, but it is consistent daily sales.
    As for Select, right now I’m going to sit it out – watch and see.
    Nook and Smashwords are huge disappointments.

  33. Pat Gragg says:

    I started with one book on Smashwords and put it up on Amazon soon after. I didn’t sell much on Smashwords and its affiliates but my book, The Rose Killer, became an Amazon best seller. I was so surprised I couldn’t talk about it without laughing. When KDP Select came along, I decided to give it a try. I may not understand or like all of Amazon’s policies but it has been good to me. I’ve made money and, best of all, I’ve realized a life long ambition.