Wide vs. Exclusive: A Tale of Two Marketing Systems

Lots of people right now are asking themselves whether they should leave Kindle Unlimited.

I’m generally agnostic on it, and I think writers should do what is best for them and their books, but there’s no doubt this is the big question of the moment.

That’s partly down to falling pay rates, Amazon’s inability to deal with scammers and cheaters, or the increasing concern about having all your eggs in one basket when something like this (or this, or this) regularly happens. But I think authors are asking themselves the wrong question.

The real issue, I suggest, should surround how you are going to find readers on these retailers (or on Amazon, if you have decided to swim in the other direction). Because I often see people taking the wrong approach – using the wrong tools for the job.

I gave a talk at NINC earlier this month which was titled Wide or Exclusive? How to Effectively Promote a Series. I had been invited to speak after meeting one of the programming co-chairs at another conference in Austin earlier this year, and we hashed out a few ideas for workshops by email.

If I was a faster writer, I would have given her a more apt title for the talk – A Tale of Two Marketing Systems – because one thing becomes clear as soon as you contrast the authors who have been successful in KU with those who have been successful wide: they are two very different approaches.

Aside from my own efforts, and that of authors I regularly stalk, I was also able to draw on the fascinating experience of managing marketing for another author over the last six months – one with a considerably larger audience and backlist. And he has been killing it in KU, getting a Kindle All Star every month since March.

I have much less direct experience with wide, but lots of my friends have been doing very well on Apple, Kobo, and Nook for some time now, and many authors (including Deanna Chase, Sarah Woodbury, Monique Martin, and Ernie Dempsey) were kind enough to share their numbers and experiences. And, conveniently enough for my purposes, they all told a similar story.

The KU Effect

Back in August, I wrote something called The Visibility Gambit which detailed how KU has changed the Kindle marketplace and what kind of approach is needed there now, so I won’t rehash all that (but do read that post if you missed it). Suffice to say that the Kindle Store now has more churn than before – everything from #100,000 right to the top seems to move around a lot more.

Success in KU – to reach the very top levels – requires aggression, patience, and a willingness to forgo today’s income for tomorrow’s page reads. And it also necessitates a much more complex marketing plan than before. A few years ago, this basic template could take you very far indeed:

Whereas in 2017, some variation of the following (with the accompanying investment) is often required to hit the upper reaches of the charts.

This KU-marketing arms-race has obviously made it much tougher on Amazon for books that are wide – they don’t have borrows to boost their rank, they don’t get reads to help with marketing ROI, and they are getting leaped over and pushed down by thousands of KU-powered salmon every hour.

And it’s not like things are much easier on Apple or Kobo. Bootstrapping yourself to success is harder there than on Amazon, and momentum is tougher to recover when it starts slipping.

Some people are succeeding though – both those who are in KU, and those who are wide, and what I’m seeing is that it’s usually people who are all in with whatever distribution model they have decided upon. And that makes sense. We all know that the more titles you have the easier it is to market and the easier it is for readers to discover you. So the more titles you have on Apple, or the more you have available to borrow in KU, the more likely that mode of distribution is going to work for you.

But, honestly, it won’t work at all without a marketing strategy to reach those readers – whether they are KU subscribers, or owners of that fancy waterproof Kobo reader. How do you reach them?

The Bifurcation of Success

Studying the two kinds of people that are successful wide and successful in KU, it’s clear that the marketing approaches are completely different. And I mean completely different. The guys are killing it wide often aren’t doing as well – in relative terms – on Amazon anymore. Which makes sense when you consider the disadvantage they are at when trying to appeal to a KU subscriber who can essentially get a comparable book for free.

I’ve seen authors post insane numbers for Apple and Nook and Google Play and their Amazon rankings aren’t necessarily in line with that. While their income is stable overall, or even increasing, the Amazon proportion has dropped considerably – in some cases it is now less than 50%. Which is astonishing compared to Amazon’s relative market share.

What’s going on here?

The KU Hare v The Wide Tortoise

Essentially two separate marketing systems are emerging – the big monthly blast approach (as detailed in the slides above) seems to suit the KU Hares much better. Whereas our Wide Tortoises seem to get more joy from a slow and steady, drip approach. They may not have the same eye-catching rankings on Amazon but they have lots of little income streams coming in from retailers and territories all over the world – and they can all add up to a mighty river rivaling the income from some of the top KU superstars.

The reason why the drip approach is better paired with wide and the blast approach works better with KU is down to the structural nature of the stores themselves. While each store has its own quirks, and there are a variety of unique things you can do to boost sales at, say, Kobo or Apple, you can more general divide these stores into Amazon v The Rest.

The Kindle Store is very much algo-driven – a weird form of meritocracy where any book can appear in the most visible spots in the store, given the right circumstances. Whereas at The Rest, these spots are often curated, hand-picked – or human-driven if you prefer. Amazon’s recommendation engine can be coaxed into doing the selling for you, whereas with the competing stores, you are often going to have to find the customers yourself and bring them there.

I could go on at length here but I think the point is fairly clear: there are profound differences between Amazon and its competitors, which means that readers discover books on those platforms in different ways, which means you need a different approach to reach them.

A key mistake that people often make when going wide is trying to apply a blast approach, when a drip approach would probably serve them better. But what does that involve?

Drip, Drip, Drip

The blast approach is pretty well covered above and in August’s post on KU, but what are the general markers of these successful wide authors?

When you examine them, they all are doing similar things. They often have slicker websites, whereas some of the KU All Stars don’t even have a website! They have bigger mailing lists. They focus more on micro-targeted campaigns. They have a bigger international presence. They invariably have a permafree book, or a very cheap series intro at least. And sales tend to be steadier for our Wide Tortoises, whereas our KU Hares experience more gut-clenching peaks and troughs.

Let’s break it down.

The reason why they tend to have bigger mailing lists is because they have less tools to play with than KU peeps. They have no Countdown deals – and, crucially, no 70% royalties on those 99c sales – meaning that marketing those discounts is twice as expensive (or they get half the return, if you want to be more accurate). They have no easy way of making things free. They can do it, but they can’t come off free with the same precision as those in Select and won’t get the same post-free bump. Each tool at a wide author’s disposal must work that little bit harder. Meaning their mailing list needs to shift more books.

This explains the slicker websites. Wide authors often have more aggressive mailing list strategies: Facebook leadgen ads, reader magnets, newsletter swaps, competitions, BookFunnel, group promos, InstaFreebie – if there is a semi-viable method of getting names they will be all over it. But most of these things cost money, meaning that these authors need to have slick websites so they don’t lose any people during the sign-up process (or at the very least, an optimized landing page on their site).

Because each subscriber is worth more to a wide author, and because they are invariably spending money to get those names, they need to treat them better too – and wide authors are more likely to get deeper into email marketing best practices: things like optimizing deliverability, automated sequences, and segmentation.

The nub of all this is that you don’t have this giant algo-driven recommendation engine at the other retailers – not on anything like the same scale. You don’t have Popularity Lists where you can aim for to drive borrows – it just doesn’t exist.

So you have to build something else instead.

It’s not just email, talking with retailers and getting on their radar is crucial – and events like NINC and RWA can be great for that. Sweet-talk them, fluff up your peacock feathers, present the books to readers the way they like (e.g. in terms of pricing and covers). And obviously sell as many books as possible without their help to make them wonder what you could do with their help.

BookBub is another huge weapon in the wide author’s arsenal. It’s getting increasingly tricky to get a Featured Deal when you are in KU. Even the very biggest KU authors can struggle with this. When you are wide, the chances of getting accepted are much greater, especially if you pimp the hell out of yourself and your books in that comment box. That’s what it’s there for…

And permafree is huge for wide authors, of course, one of the few proven, always available tools to get sales going when you are wide. There are less freebies wide – less new freebies from good authors at least, so you can really work that angle hard. It’s especially effective when paired with reader magnets to boost your list, and if you don’t want to give away yet another book as that magnet, then start thinking about what kind of exclusive content you could offer: perhaps you have a short story or novella that isn’t selling much on its own, perhaps you have some maps or deleted scenes or alternative endings that your hardcore readers will lap up. You can be quite creative here. And make sure to use those opportunities for visibility at places like Kobo and Apple for those free first-in-a-series books.

Retailer love, an aggressive mailing list building and retention strategy, BookBub features, and permafree. And on top of that you will be using Facebook very differently also.

Facebook ads are a high stakes game when you are in KU. When you are running a monthly blast campaign you might have a 5-day window on your freebie or a 7-day one on your 99c KCD to get your campaign up-and-running, serving properly, delivering clicks cheaply enough, to the right readers, and scaled up to a level which is a difference maker – oh and all that while returning a profit too. Not always easy, that’s for sure.

But when you are wide, you have one crucial advantage: time.

Your book isn’t free for five days, it’s free forever, so you can spend time optimizing the hell out of your ads and finessing your targeting and getting those CPCs down super-cheap. Tracking is often a problem with blast campaigns – you have so much going on that it’s hard to know what’s delivering sales and what isn’t – but with lower level drip campaigns you can often just eyeball your sales graph and see what’s doing the business for you. Switch one ad on and another ad off, and see what that does to your downloads, without fretting that you have wasted one of your five days.

Which is handy because you will be engaging in micro-targeted campaigns now, both on Facebook and on BookBub’s CPM platform. Instead of a big US-only campaign focusing exclusively on Kindle owners, you will be searching out cheaper-to-reach pockets of readers all over the world – like Kobo owners in Canada or iBooks users in Australia. And these guys are less saturated with deals too, meaning you can often flog them full price books! It’s a totally different ball game.

Ask The Right Question

The question people always ask themselves is should I go wide, or be exclusive. There isn’t one answer which works for everyone, and there never has been. You need to experiment and find out what is best for you and your books.

The problem is that most people don’t experiment properly. Maybe they take a drip approach when in KU, or aren’t aggressive enough with pricing and marketing. Perhaps they take a blast approach when wide, but are getting steamrollered by Countdown deals earning twice the royalties. Or worst of all, they enter KU, or roll the books out wide thinking their work will magically get discovered.

That never happens.

Whatever you decide to do with your books, try and execute some plan to find readers on that platform. And if you are considering going wide with books that have been in KU, it’s time to change your focus from big monthly campaigns to regular drip campaigns. It’s time to get more aggressive about getting people on to your list (and keeping them). It’s time to switch from short-term PPC campaigns focused on the US market, to ongoing lower-budget campaigns focusing on other retailers and territories.

And it’s time to start thinking about how you can woo those retailers.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

80 Replies to “Wide vs. Exclusive: A Tale of Two Marketing Systems”

  1. I’m doing an odd thing. I have a science fiction series that debuts with a “cross genre” novel that mixes elements from a dozen genres. It masquerades as a political thriller since Amazon doesn’t have a category for books like mine.

    The series will go through a genre shift until the series and book genres are both science fiction by the 3rd book of the series.

    My current categories are :
    political fiction ~50% KU
    political thriller ~66% KU

    It would seem I should have stayed Amazon exclusive. However, I’ve already gone wide. The uniqueness of the book leads me to think it’ll be a slow burn. A drip, drip, drip approach will probably fit that better.

    The audiobook is where most of my sales are coming from and that’s already wide. I may make the first book perma-free eventually and use the ebook as a loss leader for the series and the audiobook.

    The book in question:

    For book 3 (probable release 2022):
    science fiction first contact ~ 91% KU

    Sounds like I’ll have to go exclusive by book 3. The only variable I can see is if the Kobo Walmart partnership grabs market share over the next 2 years.

  2. The most comprehensive guide I found on going wide is this site. It’s what brought me to this article: https://blog.reedsy.com/ebook-distribution/

    After reading this blog post and all the comments, I’ve decided to go wide. The final reasons that made me decide:
    1. Better chance to get access to BookBub ads.
    2. While my ebook/paperback (as soon hardcover) are self-published, my audiobook is traditionally published and is already wide. It makes sense to have the other formats in those places too.
    3. I’m an unlucky person. If something can go wrong, not only will it go wrong, but it’ll happen to me. I actively plan around such contingencies where possible.
    4. Amazon seems so saturated. I wish I’d self-published years ago when it was more novel to do so. I won’t have to compete on the other people with the books in KU.

    1. I think your reasons are sound enough. One thing I’d suggest in addition to your existing thought process is to look at your genre. If it is one on Amazon where the Top 100 is absolutely dominated by Kindle Unlimited books, then that might be a point in favor of considering going exclusive. And vice versa. I wouldn’t make it the sole factor in a decision, but I would suggest making it a strong factor.

      Also, don’t worry so much about saturation. That has been a worry since I started in 2011 and we seem to navigate it every day just fine. Discovery is a challenge when you are starting out as a self-publisher whether there are 1000 books in the marketplace or 10m. And you can leapfrog most of the competition with a few basic steps, quite frankly.

  3. I just found this post (slow to the party, I know!) and found it spot on. When I first started writing, I was in KU because it seemed like everyone was in KU. I joined the writing world JUST as KU 2.0 was being rolled out, so everything was also in total turmoil.

    It didn’t take me super long to figure out that KU isn’t for me. I don’t like huge swings in my income. I don’t like spending shit tons on ads. I like the slow and steady of wide – it just fits me better. Not to mention that I personally like the Kobo storefront the best and so that’s where I buy all of my books. I am not attached at the hip to Amazon like many people are. *shrug*

    Anyway, although I’m not as successful as the talented JA Huss (but c’mon, few of us are!) I am the main breadwinner for my family, and I only write. I have no other source of income. I’m about to have my third BookBub on the 19th of this month; I’ve hit the USA Today list once; and my husband and I travel the country full time in an RV at age 37, because we can. 🙂

    It is a long haul to go wide, but I think it’s important to look at your own personality and what works best for you. Being dependent on one storefront and the whims of Jeff Bezos gives me the heebie jeebies. So you really do have to decide based on your own personality, and I appreciate you making that clear in your article.

    PS I use BookTrakr so I can accurately track all of my sales from all storefronts, and so I just checked percentages on there – 57% of my income comes from Amazon; 43% comes from everywhere else. A goal for 2019 would be to make that a 50/50 split for me, NOT by making less on Amazon but by increasing sales on other storefronts. We’ll see if I make it!

  4. the thing I’ve never understood was how authors find the right targets to find their reader base… it seems impossible if facebook doesn’t allow targeting of smaller authors or facebook pages that don’t make the cut

  5. Hi David – Ricardo at Reedsy linked part of his newsletter discussion today to “A Tale of Two Marketing Systems” and it was a pleasure (and very useful) to read – including all the insightful comments from your readers. Thank-you, and yes, I’ll be going wide. (I’m just starting, so “wide” is pretty narrow!)

  6. Excellent article. It seems to be a mixed bag out there and authors have to try one and work the system. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

  7. Great post! It’s got me thinking, especially because I think I need to decide by tomorrow 🙂

    I wonder if there are unstated assumptions in many of the statements made in the post. For example, are you assuming that we’re talking about authors with only ebooks, and no print books? How much changes if we bring print books into the equation? Or if we’re talking about literary fiction and non-fiction, including memoir, rather than genre writings?

  8. I publish foreign-language phrasebooks and dictionaries and I’d like to get more of them into LIBRARIES around the world. I’ve gone with this KDP exclusivity bit on some of my titles for what I think is too long. My understanding, perhaps flawed, is that libraries don’t buy Kindles, they buy EPUBs. So, am I correct in assuming that I would be best off going “wide” and focus on Overdrive, Ingram and B&T in order to infiltrate the libraries? Or is KOLL somehow associated with libraries?

    1. If you are aiming for the library market, you are certainly better being wide. Draft2Digital distributes to Overdrive. Smashwords also distributes to Overdrive, as well as B&T and a couple of smaller library distributors. You can set a separate price for libraries via Draft2Digital, and I think you can do the same with Smashwords but it’s a while since I’ve used that platform.

  9. Thanks for sharing this information, it was very insightful. I have a few books on KU but have just gone wide with two books using Pronoun and Draft2Digital so I’m waiting to see how it goes or which strategy might be best for me going forward.

  10. Reblogged this on dan-harris.net and commented:
    Great stuff from David, as always. Personally, I’ll be putting my upcoming book up across all platforms, and leaving the others in the series there too, at least for some time. I might experiment with Kindle Unlimited while I’m busy writing book four!

  11. While I know that everyone’s approach to marketing books is different, you forgot the crucial thing in any entertainment market. FANS. I’m wide, have almost always been wide, have no perma-free, only put a book on sale after it’s a year old, only box up a series after it’s two years old and I’ve been on the USA Today bestseller list 18 times in the past three years. HOW? It’s simple. FANS. Getting fans isn’t simple. Keeping fans isn’t simple either. But once you have them, you have power that people who rely on “trends” will never understand. I’ve done all those things listed. Plenty of times. And that’s how I know, on this side of a NYT Bestseller, 18 times on the USA, several million dollars in income, and fifty books later… that fans are the secret to long-term author success and stability.

    1. No doubt. But how do you get them? How can you (general you!) improve the journey your target audience takes from seeing your cover to becoming a superfan who shares all your launches and sales on social media? Are there any chokepoints there you can optimize? Are all your fans KU subscribers or iBooks customers? There are many paths to the top of the mountain, for sure, but some will be optimal for different authors IMO. E.g. if you write Military SF, it’s tough to make a case to go wide – the charts are completely dominated by KU books. In that case at least, your fans are KU subscribers – or enough of them are to have market impact.

  12. Interesting post, Dave, thank you. My own experience has not been as you describe, however. I’m wide and have always been wide since starting early 2011. My income across all platforms grows each year to the point that this year should fall just shy of 7 figures, but contrary to your research, my Amazon proportion has grown. In 2014, my Amazon proportion was at its lowest of 45% and has been steadily increasing to almost 60% in 2016 and 2017. I would have expected it to go down as I made more inroads on the other platforms, but Amazon actually has picked up proportionally more than the other retailers although they have all also increased.

    I think you’re spot on about wide authors relying on their mailing lists and using it as a long term strategy, but although I’ve tried many of the methods you mentioned, anything except organic growth has been a bust. FB ads didn’t work for me, and newsletter swaps and giveaways give luke warm subscribers at best. The only thing I’ve found that works is to have permafrees on iBooks (which means they’re also free on Amazon thanks to price matching), release a book every 3 months, and get bookbubs in between if I can. I definitely echo what you say about giving subscribers exclusive content as encouragement to sign up – I give them exclusive access to short story tie-ins on a password protected page on my website.

    Regarding attending conferences to meet reps, my experience doesn’t mesh with yours. The last conference I attended was 2 or 3 years ago, and that was only an Aussie one where the reps don’t bother to go. I’ve never met a rep but I have iBooks folk contact me and feature my books on the AU and UK store which has given amazing results. I want other authors to take heart at this – you DO NOT need to attend conferences to get featured at iBooks. Someone will contact you if you sell well there already. To sell well there, get Bookbubs on your first in series – if you get strong sell through to the rest of the series, you’ll get noticed. Concentrate on that and the personal contact will follow. It is really tough though – they only care about my most popular series, not the others.

    Thanks again for the interesting article, Dave. I love reading how successful authors get to where they are, finding the similarities in their methods and also the differences.

    1. Thanks for that CJ – you are doing wonderfully well not to have any dent put in your Amazon action by the KU-powered horde.

      And, yes, retailers will absolutely proactively reach out if you are selling enough. A personal contact might hasten the process a little, but, really, if you aren’t selling above a certain level – or heading that way fast – then no amount of contacts will matter.

  13. A very interesting article, but I have a question. What if you write fast but still want to go wide and use the drip method? Wouldn’t having more books out there just increase the effectiveness of everything you do or are you just leaving too much money on the table? Maybe going Kindle Select for a few months before moving a series wide would make sense… It’s still confusing, I’m afraid. I can see the advantages of both.

    1. Writing fast (assuming quality is unaffected) is always going to improve your chances of success whatever path you choose. Maybe being wide is a touch more forgiving for a slow writer. Maybe. Not even sure I can state that with confidence though.

      There are advantages to both, which is why it is confusing. If one path was clearly superior then it would be easy to point people that way. You have to weigh it up and decide. If you really are stuck and can’t make a decision, I will say that it’s easier (in practical terms) to go from Select to wide then the other direction.

  14. Thank you for a thoughtful and informative post, David. It came at the perfect time; I’m in KDP Select but lately page reads and sales have been dropping and I’ve decided to try going wide. I can always go back to exclusive if it doesn’t work out, after all. Your reasoned approach is just what I needed to validate my decision!

  15. Sometimes, I don’t think I have what it takes to market my books anymore. A lot has changed in the 4 1/2 years since I self-published. I don’t want to give up, but I can hardly keep up. Kudos to everyone who races full-steam ahead. Hope success follows you!

    Thanks for another empowering article, David. Appreciate your experiences “from the trenches.”

    1. I go through phases like this too, maybe everyone does. You can get burnt out on this stuff. I guess the thing to do when that strikes is just to focus on the basics: new books, organically building your list, doing a promo now and then to keep things in front of readers. Then when your appetite for this stuff returns you can prioritize and choose what to tackle: I’m going to refresh those covers, or, I’m going to start a small onboarding sequence for my new sign-ups. Bit by bit, you can build it. (This is also a pep talk to myself as I’m trying to catch up on lots of stuff!)

  16. Very helpful, David. I liked going wide at launch and keeping wide for the first year. Now I have one of my books on KU (not a series) and it initially did pretty well then dropped off. I do like Smashwords for my other two books and get monthly sales there. Honestly, this all seems like a crap shoot most of the time!

  17. Sharp article about these marketing strategies and in timing. I will said that going wide in the beginning allow for narrowing the focus to target to a consumers / customers segments eventually. It’ll take experimentation in the process anyhow. Thanks good sharing!

  18. Great post, as always, and timely because I’ve just started thinking about finally going wide. I’ve been a tortoise in every other aspect of my life, it makes sense that my marketing [or lack thereof] should work better as a tortoise as well. 😀

  19. David,
    thank you so much! I’ve gone wide recently (my numbers are extremely low, so it doesn’t really matter), but the marketing strategies you describe make me glad I chose that way. I’m much more a drip, drip kind of person than a churn and scream one.
    Which means I now know where to focus and how to move on. And that feels awesome.

  20. I do read all your posts, David, even if I don’t always comment.
    In regard to this, I’m kind of torn. I’ve already indicated (in the previous post related to this) that I prefer print over electronic, but I should add that I’m not exclusively dead set on print books. My reason for print has to do with book signings, which people do still want. I have a friend who writes light romances and goes wherever to do book signings. My area is sci-fi/fantasy, so my primary area would be sci-fi/fantasy cons and/or Renfaires, where print does sell.
    Obviously, you can’t autograph a screen unless you’re paying the furnace man for inspecting your furnace before winter sets in, and he’s just sending the electronic bill to a file for a print copy to mail to you. The digital screen for a book isn’t going to accept an electronic signature because that file is cast in stone. I’m not averse to digital copies, just aware of their limitations.
    I’m inclined to stick with print first, and include Kindle but not KU, go to freebie websites that let you share portions of books as a preview with potential readers, and put out a lot of word of mouth through a network of friends. And also, leave a few copies here and there, e.g., I live near a military base so leaving a free copy or two with active duty people and asking them to spread the word costs me nothing but the few dollars Amazon charges me for author copies. There are also subject-appropriate blog sites that offer advertising at a modest cost. I think it’s important to know your target audience, too. Not everyone is going to like what I do and I know it.
    Thanks for posting these articles. They are informative and help the rest of use make better decisions.

    1. There are lots of reasons we focus on digital. I do paperbacks of all my books, and I let them tick away in the background without doing much to actively promote them. I tried that, but it’s a poor use of my time.

      It’s much easier and cheaper to reach people who read e-books, so that’s where we focus our marketing efforts. Getting visible to readers of print requires traditional media attention and a publicist and that’s very expensive. Getting a return out of it requires nationwide print distribution, and that’s very expensive and hard to achieve even if you have money to burn.

      Getting visible to hundreds of thousands of Kindle owners costs me a few hundred dollars and a couple of clicks.

    2. Actually your comment on signing ebooks tripped an idea in my mind. With bookfunnel, that’s exactly what you could do. You could create a signed ebook version exclusively for conventions. Or even a specific version for each con. Granted, you can’t make it to a specific person, but since some authors presign their books anyway, that’s not make or break. However, you couldn’t do this for KU because of the exclusivity issue.

    1. I probably should write one at some point, I’ve been having some success with them. But if anyone has a post they can point me to in the meantime, please suggest one.

      The short version is it’s all about CTR. A great CTR will make those clicks go from expensive to cheap. And getting a good CTR is down to:

      1. Targeting – choose a tight bunch of comp authors and also refine by genre. Get the arrow on the dial pointing up the middle.
      2. Images – these need to be very strong indeed. Pro work is best.
      3. Testing – drop $10 or $20 at time and have it serve fast during this period. Test different authors, different images, until you get a sense for what works. Then you can ramp it up to whatever you like. Keep an eye on it though, there’s a hard limit to most effective audiences.

      1. I just spent 3 hours curating a list then accidentally hit the “x” button and all of them are gone. *insert all the swears*
        Good tips. I’ll try again when I don’t feel like punching puppies.

      2. You might only need 4 or 5 (well, more to test and to find your best possible 4 or 5). It doesn’t take many to fill that audience and then the margin for error is quite tight so you will need to go with your most comparable authors only. Unless you are super lucky and have a giant authors as a solid comp…

    2. As for strategy, dumping money in big chunks over a few days works best for KU, especially on a series entry point. You need to give BB readers a deal – 99c or free works best obviously. I can spend $300 well, then the next $100-$200 gets dicey, then the wheels usually come off.

      For wide, smaller campaigns, tiny budgets, targeting each retailer and territory individually. Lower CPM bids will work with this approach versus the KU approach where you need to serve in a tight window.

  21. Hey David, thought I might chime in a few things as a wide author 🙂

    Another benefit of being wide is that you are 100% in control of your content. I can give as MUCH of a free sample as I want on anything I want, whenever I want. I am not held back from Amazon’s “exclusivity” rules or 10% sample for KU Books. The book that is my fastest earner, The Whisky Wedding, has hit $20,000 in earnings in 10 months, cost me a total of $3,000 to produce including the .99 Bookbub it had in August 2017, and it is STILL 100% free to readers on a fanfiction site. Without KU restrictions, I’ve created a “here, read this everyone,” and those who love it and want to own it, I have a premium price point on it as more or less a service charge for them to be able to take the book with them wherever vs. reading it tethered online.

    There has been a change for those of us who are wide as far as 70% on a .99 deal. With Pronoun distribution, we get 70% on all prices below $2.99 and 65% on all prices above $9.99 in the US and Canada. Other countries are between 53%-65% depending. I am one of those authors where my Amazon UK sales made up about 10% of my monthly Amazon earnings, but the higher US and Canada percentages worked out enough in my favor that I make more money on higher priced books through Pronoun and when I run a sale.

    Being wide you can also utilize the preorder better. Vendors other than Amazon count preorders for sales ranking both when the book is bought as a preorder and when it finally come alive. A drip, drip style marketing campaign can allow an author to build enough of a following on other vendors to LAUNCH on their internal bestseller lists as well. Most hold back an Amazon preorder and instead offer either a text notification or email to those who prefer Amazon.

    Being wide also means you can try new things as they come, new platforms, new methods of distribution. If Walmart announces an ebook distribution tomorrow, I can put my books in. I won’t have to wait up to 90 days to think about it.

    Finally, there is another benefit to being wide IF you are able to make inroads on the other vendors and that is cashflow. Google pays middle of the month. Kobo pays out around the 20th. Nook can sometimes pay around the middle of the month or around the Amazon payments. We’ve all had that month or two where the Amazon payments were a day late hitting our account or some international holiday or change in payment system put a kink. Being wide means that as a business woman, I have income continually flowing into my business account. It will be 3 years in February since I left KU 1.0 with my Jane Austen Fan Fiction books, and it took me about 6 months to get the “wide” monies to 100% cover my operating costs should something delay or happen to my Amazon account. This is important to me because to quote Jeff Bezos himself, “What will my customers need in 5 years?” And the answer to that is not any one vendor, but just my stories. So I wanted to position myself in a way that I could make SURE in 5 years I can still deliver my stories. 🙂

    1. The freedom point is a good one. My gf does tours of Dublin and I had thought about giving people a free novel of mine that’s set there – not necessarily because it might do anything for me, but because it would be a fun thing to do. But, technically at least, that would be a breach of Select’s dumb exclusivity rules so I didn’t do it. A small thing, for sure, but there are countless examples where people tried to do something creative and hit that exclusivity wall.

      Pre-orders are a big one too, thanks for mentioning that. Totally different (and much better!) thing wide. So much so that I see a lot of wide authors doing what you mention: having the pre-order everywhere but Amazon (a sign to Amazon, one would hope, that they aren’t working for us as well as they could).

      1. So if I was to make a preorder wide, and advertised that on my site, I would have a button readers could click that was labeled Amazon and say “So sorry, the book isn’t up for preorder yet on Amazon, but the moment is up, I can contact you if you sign up below” and then just make that a splinter list in your mailing list, and on my big project in 2018, I also am thinking about testing out SMS texts.

      2. Haha you could be totally dastardly and make that button link to your mailing list sign-up. Or maybe a private landing page that gives them the option of an SMS notification or an email – with a little note explaining why you don’t do pre-orders on Amazon, if needed.

    1. This is the bog-standard WP set-up so that’s not currently an option – not with this theme at least. I’m revamping everything soon and I’ll see if that’s an option going forward. There is a comments RSS feed though if that works for you.

      1. Several of the blogs I follow have a “no-need-to-comment-to-follow” function. Probably theme-dependent. And no; I don’t do RSS. Thanks for reply!

  22. Thanks for writing this, David. As always, you’ve done a good summary. I’ve got a few additional thoughts to share, if you don’t mind?

    First off, I’m coming at this as an all-KU author. I used to be an all-wide author. In fact, in 2012 and 2013, I was an outlier because I made more than half of my sales from venues other than Amazon. It was really cool. I liked this. But fast forward to 2016 and that had dropped to about 5%. I went all-in at KU and immediately turned things around. Despite that, I am always keeping an eye on the wide retailers and the overall market, because – well, we’ve all seen how volatile Amazon can be!

    The primary loss to a writer going wide is KU. Right now, the global English language ebook market is roughly 70% Kindle, 15% KU, 10% Apple, 5% every other retailer combined (of which Kobo, B&N, and Play are the biggest markets, in that order). When you go into KU, you lose the roughly 15% of the market which is wide. When you go wide, you lose the roughly 15% of the market that is KU. (KU readers still occasionally buy “hot” books and books by favorite authors, but they don’t in general discover new authors except via KU borrows. This is one reason why a mixed approach of KU first, then pop wide after three months, can sometimes work.)

    Losing KU is worse than it sounds. Despite KU borrows representing only about 17.6% of Kindle reads, it’s half of my income. That’s not an unusual number for a KU-embedded writer to report. It’s pretty typical for a KU writer to see 30-60% of their income from pages read, even with the reductions in payment per page. Worse yet, those KU borrows count toward rank – which means every borrow makes your book more visible, which inspires still more borrows and purchases.

    To make up the lost 50% of income by gaining access to the wide market, you need to break out pretty significantly at one or more of the smaller retailers. Unfortunately, what usually happens is an author making say $1000 a month on Amazon goes wide, immediately sees their Amazon income drop to $400 a month (due to lost KU and reduced visibility), sees their ad ROI drop, and then sees $100-150 a month roll in from the other retailers. It’s a significant hit, in most cases.

    However, wide has some other advantages. You listed a few – getting in touch with the curators who can then help your book rise; increased chances of getting a Bookbub (not true for novella or short novel writers, but true for longer novels). You missed one KEY ingredient, though, and that is that wide writers can get 70% on 99c ebooks on Amazon. Via Pronoun, any wide writer can get 70 cents on the dollar (well, 66 cents after PayPal fees) on that key venue. This is a HUGE boon to writers. You lose access to AMS ads (unless you jump through some hoops to get your own AMS account), but you’re basically doubling the income per sale at this key price tag.

    Time is also a benefit of wide, but I quibble a little about the nature of how. For example, it’s just as easy to get a book permafree on Amazon for a KU writer as it is anyone else. I’ve had a “free first in series” permafree book on Amazon with the rest of the series in KU more than once. I don’t do that anymore because 99c is almost as easy to move on Amazon than free, these days, and the read-through rate is about a hundred times better. Amazon has taken a lot of steps to reduce the visibility of permafree books, making the tool much less effective than it once was. That said, permafree remains much more effective on wide retailers, which have not shut down its visibility like Amazon has.

    Likewise, Facebook ads are usually ongoing. You might pour a little more into the ad you’ve been running for the last month during a Countdown deal, but the smart move is to run LOTS of ads even when there is no Countdown.

    However – time is an edge wide because churn is slower. With Amazon, you can break the top 500 in the store, and be at rank 50k in two months. Pretty common result, barring a big ad spend to retain that rank. But breaking the top ranks in your genre on Apple tends to linger more time. A Bookbub is therefore not just easier to get for wide authors, but has a more lasting impact. The same lack of churn which makes it harder to *reach* the top ranks on Apple and others also makes your rank last *longer* if you do reach the top. This results in greater and more lasting stability in earnings – the “smoother curve” we tend to see for writers whose incomes are heavily derived from places other than Amazon.

    Anyway, terrific article. There are, as always, pros and cons to both methods. I think it is good business sense for authors to remain educated about both methods, regardless which they use. I might be in KU right now – but Amazon could decide they hate me and cancel my KU account tomorrow. I’d have my books all back up on Amazon via Pronoun within 72 hours, and I’d put them on every other retailer too – but unless I understand how to market well to those other platforms, I’m going to have a long, slow learning curve ahead of me. Right now the KU market is growing, and Apple is shrinking. But Amazon could cancel KU, deciding it is a failed experiment or too much trouble. Apple could start giving away a free ebook to every iOS user on the planet each month (doing that would hardly even dent their corporate profit margins) in order to bring more users into their walled garden. Lots can change. It’s up to us to stay up to date on everything in the business, and articles like this one can only help. 🙂

    1. I’m absolutely not recommending wide over KU. I don’t think anyone can make blanket recommendations – I just want authors to start thinking about how they are going to reach readers if they decide themselves to go wide, particularly as a similar approach to KU might not serve them well.

      I have no doubt that KU is the right choice for many authors. The author I’ve been working with for the last 6 months is great example. He does exceedingly well from KU – millions and millions of page reads every month. There is simply no way that Apple and Nook and Kobo and Google will replace that lost income. It’s just not possible.

      So each author has to figure it out for themselves. In some cases like Space Opera it’s pretty obvious that you need to be in KU – it’s a game of Spot The Wide Book in the Top 100. In other genres like Romance you’re going to have a tough decision. Lots of KU books dominating, but lots of hungry romance readers at places like Apple. And then for things like How Tos and Reference books, the decision to stay wide is pretty compelling as readers prefer to own those books rather than borrow them.

      A lot of people will just have to figure it out, and possibly experiment with both approaches. But if they don’t give it a real shot (whether that’s wide of KU) than the experiment is kind of pointless.

      I covered the KU side of the story in this post: https://davidgaughran.com/2017/08/28/the-visibility-gambit/

    2. I know 70% is a sweet ticket but I personally wouldn’t use Pronoun. I don’t think it’s a good long-term play, at least. You don’t want to use any distributor to reach Amazon for a million reasons, and Pronoun in particular has a worrying lack of any idea how to monetize, which doesn’t give me long-term hopes for it.

      1. Oh, I didn’t mean to imply you were favoring one over the other. Like I said in the last paragraph, I think it’s a smart move to be educated on both models, no matter which one you are currently using.

        As for Pronoun…? Having spoken with the folks there for a bit, I can say that the monetization issue is the LEAST of my worries about them. A lot of people think they are losing money paying that extra % – but they’re not, they’re just passing along the standard Macmillan percentage. I can’t give a lot of detail, unfortunately, but my best understanding is they’re not losing money. They’ve hired more staff this year, in fact.

        But Macmillan could easily decide tomorrow they’re done with Pronoun, just like Amazon could drop KU and B&N could end the Nook platform (which it seems to be slowly heading toward). If KU closes tomorrow, I go wide with every book that same day. If I was all-in at Pronoun and it closed tomorrow, I would move my books back into KDP, or use another distributor to Amazon instead (a little bird told me yesterday that there may be another nice option coming soon for that).

        But for a wide author with a lot of 99c ebooks, every day that Pronoun remains open is another 31c per copy sold in net profit. That’s not bad. ?

      2. A way to mitigate it when you are wide is only use Pronoun for the books you plan to discount etc. or price higher than $9.99. There is no “All-star” bonus on Pronoun. 🙂 You can publish items of your catalog in ways that make the most sense for that book.

        My standalones will go though Pronoun. I haven’t decided yet about series because the way I like to do my permafree now is with sampler books, which means the sampler can be through Pronoun and the original title still through KDP.

    3. What if you don’t have curators and do everything yourself? Plus KU doesn’t guarantee that people would like the book especially if it’s SOME FRESH BREATHING or NON CLICHE. I didn’t join Amazon KU because of my fears that it can be bad. Plus I have a big novel except other writers who write short novels. That’s why I don’t want to reduce my price, because of my own principles. If any platform can be more competitive with Amazon, I would love to join, but sadly, only fans bought my book and no one more.
      What to do? I don’t know. But to pay again to promotions on Amazon, Facebook or another not promising sites, I don’t want and can due to my budget. So what to do?

      1. Generally speaking (barring some crazy luck, really) selling books in decent number is usually going to involve either ads, publishing velocity, or some combination of both. I know one writer who does nearly zero advertising but makes seven figures a year. That person is also releasing over two dozen new novels a year.

        Velocity is a force multiplier. Ads are too. If you can’t afford ads, then working to boost productivity is your next best bet. Write 2k words a day and you have a 60k novel a month. Do that for a few months and even without ads, if your cover and writing are good you’ll make sales. Great! Now channel that back into ads on the first book in your series. 😉

  23. Very helpful, well thought out post as always. Thanks, Dave. I’m experimenting with Brian Meeks’s approach to AMS at the moment. His method is to increase the selling prices and go gung-ho in KU with everything, backed up with carefully crafted book descriptions and lots and lots of AMS ads.

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