Time Traveling Through the Past Decade of Publishing

I promised to have a guest post from a writer who is doing well out of KDP Select, to balance out my post explaining why I wouldn’t be participating, and why I was against the program in general.

This is the first of two guest posts on KDP Select from writers that are participating, and doing very well out of it.

And don’t worry, I’m not slacking off while the guest posters are in the house – I have a new column up at Indie Reader called The Sharks Are Circling.

Here’s Marilyn Peake:

The past ten years have seen such sweeping changes in the publishing industry, specific technologies have gone from cutting-edge to old-fashioned in what seems nearly the blink of an eye. Ten years ago, I self-published a novel (The Fisherman’s Son) and two years later, self-published a second novel (The City of the Golden Sun, the second novel in The Fisherman’s Son Trilogy).

I did this through a large self-publishing house that rose to success using two methods that were revolutionary at the time: print-on-demand (POD) production of paper books and an arrangement with a distribution company devoted to warehouse storage and distribution of books from self- and indie publishers.

Back then, it was important for self- and indie publishers to have a distributor willing to store their paper books, so that online booksellers like Amazon would agree to work with them. The self-publishing company I used also offered eBooks, but that was practically just an added extra, not anything an author felt they needed to have in their publishing package.

Two years after I first self-published, both of my books plus a third book in the trilogy (Return of the Golden Age) were picked up by an indie publishing house that was one of the earliest eBook companies on the Internet. At some point, this indie publisher also began offering paperbacks because so many authors needed them for reviewers and book promotions.

Fast-forward one decade later, and I’m experimenting with Amazon’s KDP Select self-publishing program for the same books plus additional titles. It’s been a fascinating journey, and I can tell you that I’m selling significantly more books than ever before through KDP Select. This blog post is an attempt to walk down memory lane, to share with you what has been possible through self-, indie and eBook publishing over the past decade and to talk about Amazon’s new KDP Select program.

When self-publishing first began using print-on-demand technology, it offered writers a chance to succeed as an author; but there was so much disdain toward self-publishing, so much control over the marketplace by the large traditional publishing houses and the prices of POD books were so exorbitant, the chances of financial success were minimal.

I’ll tell you an interesting story that clearly demonstrates how much times have changed. Way back then, I signed up with a company that produces slide-show ads that run before movies in theaters to have an ad created for my first self-published novel and run before every movie in a local theater for a week. The woman who produced my ad was so excited about my children’s novel, The Fisherman’s Son, that she arranged for me to present it to children at a local YMCA.

Feeling confident, I approached the Borders across the street from the theater to do a book signing during the week the ad would run. They were interested until they found out that the book was self-published; then they refused to host a book signing, as it was against corporate policy to allow this for self-published books. Recently, that Borders store closed and all its furnishings, including bookshelves, were offered for sale. How times have changed.

Despite limitations such as difficulty arranging book signings, I was still able to accomplish a great deal, especially after my books were published by an indie company. A huge array of possibilities had opened up for self- and indie-published authors. I signed up for Radio-TV Interview Report (RTIR) and spoke on radio across the United States and in Canada. Piers Anthony actually read the first novel in my trilogy, sent me a great review quote for it and corresponded with me by email for a while.

I had a two-page interview in TBD, a print fanzine associated with Io, the University of Glasgow Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, and they mailed me a copy all the way from Scotland. (I live in the United States.) Excerpts of my writing were included on CDs produced by a Stargate novelist and handed out at a convention to Stargate actors and fans. I heard from several libraries interested in creating bookshelf displays for my novels, one library interested in promoting my children’s novels as books to read for those who enjoyed the Harry Potter series. I received emails from adults telling me about children writing book reports on my children’s novels.

In 2005, I created a newsletter for which I invited other people to write articles, and eventually had enough authors and people fromHollywoodwrite articles to arrange two book deals in which every person who wrote an article was a co-author. These books included information on how to succeed in the worlds of writing and acting. It was a thrill for me when both these books won awards in competition with some very impressive books. The first newsletter book, in fact, received a Silver Award in the 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards, in the Performing Arts/Drama category that also included a book about the behind-the-scenes world of the Hairspray movie.

Those were exhilarating, heady times. Despite the increased number of opportunities for self-published and indie authors, however, actual sales were dismal by today’s standards. Back then, any self-published or indie author who managed to sell 300 copies of their book was considered successful. I did manage to sell that number and even slightly surpass it, but I spent far more money than I made from royalties on book promotion and ordering paperbacks for book promotion and to send to reviewers and book award contests.

Enter Amazon’s brand new KDP Select program at the end of 2011. I was skeptical. I thought, “Oh, here we go again. Another opportunity to self-publish, to sign with another company, to earn next to nothing.”  Only time will tell how most authors will fare with this program, but the initial reports are promising. Established authors like Joe Konrath have already made a jaw-dropping amount of income from this program. Quite a few authors on Kindle Boards are reporting significantly increased sales from the program, especially soon after the special promotion days on which they offered their books for free through KDP Select.

It seemed counterintuitive to me that an author would sell increased numbers of books after offering them for free, until I read that Amazon sold one million Kindles per week during December 2011. That’s a whole lot of Kindles in need of books!  I decided to sign up several of my titles—including my trilogy of children’s novels that had previously been self-published and indie-published, and for which I had arranged to have rights returned to me after sales had declined. During the KDP Select free promotions, thousands of copies of my children’s novels were downloaded. Then, to my utter amazement, I sold hundreds of copies of those books within just a few days following those free promotions.

I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane for one author. I think, fellow writers, we’re standing on the brink of a whole new era in which the sky may be the limit. Time will tell, but the early signs are promising.


Thanks to Marilyn for sharing her fascinating journey. Her website is here, and you can follow her on Twitter here.

On Monday, I’ll have another guest post on the joys of KDP Select, and something else from me in the meantime.

Before I go, I want to give a quick thank you to the team over at Unusual Historicals for featuring me and my new book on Sunday, where I, well, interviewed myself. Thanks guys, and happy writing everyone!

David Gaughran

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

40 Replies to “Time Traveling Through the Past Decade of Publishing”

  1. Congrats Marylin! You’ve had a fascinating decade as an Indie old style and now you’ve done something that a lot of go-go Indie hesitate to do: participate in KDP Select and you’ve been rewarded by growth in sales.
    Like you, I’m hesitant because I don’t quite see why going free helps when compared to the 99 cents book which is practically the same as being free. And I’m glad to hear that after all it does work. But I don’t think it’s having a free title that makes the difference in this case: I believe that it is belonging to something called “Kindle Select” – the word Select is the key. It sounds good, it sounds as if one has gone through a screening process. And it is operated by Amazon, not by the authors themselves as happens when they drop their price to 99 cents for a short period or even allow free downloads for a few days. Not at all the same thing! And I’m convinced that’s why it works and I shall certainly try with my next book!

    1. Claude,

      After running a few free book promotions through KDP Select and reading discussions on the Kindle Boards in which other authors have discussed their experience with this program, I think the primary way in which free promotions lead to increased sales is by increasing the book’s visibility. During free promotions, thousands of copies of a free book are often downloaded. Since Amazon posts lists of best-selling free titles, it’s very possible for a KDP Select book to make it onto the free best-seller lists. Since those lists appear right next to the paid lists, customers get to see the book. If enough customers purchase it after it switches back to being a paid book, Amazon quickly adds it to the lists of books that customers “also bought” for other best-selling titles. If enough customers buy it as an “also bought,” then suddenly your book’s on the best-selling lists for paid books. That’s what happened to me. Also, and I don’t know if this is true or not, but another author mentioned on the Kindle Boards that when enough Amazon Prime customers borrow the book, Amazon’s algorithms work to improve the book’s ranking on best-seller lists, making it even more visible to customers. 🙂

  2. Wonderful story, Marilyn. There were parts I could relate to as I started as a POD writer in 2008. But I was lucky with local bookstores, (as opposed to your Borders experience). Mine actively supported me, giving me space (that coveted central position) and covers facing out on the shelves! Interestingly those same bookshops (neat boutique stores) are still open and one in particular actively talking to me about taking on my new novels (currently in e-book) when they go to POD. The media (radio and print) also actively engaged with me and I’m forever grateful… except that to use the said radio interviews would cost me $400 Australian to buy the rights! Each!

    But it’s your KDP Select story that interests me the most. Having been told time and again by the big commentators that there is only a limited pool of funds to go round and that hundreds and hundreds of indie authors had jumped on the bandwagon, I, who had originally signed for KDP Select, was convinced to back away. I am watching yours and other experiences with interest to see if I should go with my own instincts in future and not those of others.

    1. Prue,

      How awesome that bookstores supported your books that way! That’s wonderful! 🙂

      I’m guessing different authors will have different experiences with KDP Select, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this all works out as more and more books are added. The pool of money that’s shared is only for the number of times the books are borrowed. I don’t really concentrate on that, since the amount per author is unknown for borrows until each month ends, and I’ve only had a few borrows. All purchased books still receive their normal royalty payment (except when they’re free), so that part doesn’t change after a book’s signed up with KDP Select.

  3. Congratulations on your success, Marilyn! There’s some wishy-washy language in the KDP agreement that put my antenna up initially, but it’s working so well and for so many people that I have to admit to some piqued curiosity.

    1. Mari,

      I know what you mean about the wishy-washy language. I think it’s important for writers who sign up with KDP Select to keep checking their Agreement because Amazon states in the Agreement that the Terms of the Agreement can change at any time. That made me feel uncomfortable, but my increase in book sales over anything I’ve ever experienced before has led me to think this is my best chance of getting my books out in front of customers, and Amazon seems more interested in making this happen than undermining authors in any way. Time will tell, I guess.

  4. Sorry for missing the discussion, I’ve been beta reading a novel for a friend.

    I’m still on the fence about KDP. In that article I wrote against it, my issues were less with the program itself and more about the precedent it sets in terms of author compensation under subscription models. Why is this a big deal? Well, do you really think the Lending Library will stick to one rental a month for Prime Members? I doubt it, as it’s not very enticing for heavy readers.

    Presumably, the program will expand, with more books being lent. Writers might think that’s fine if the pot expands similarly, but I think, for all sorts of reasons, it’s important to set a minimum level of compensation per rental – especially if the rentals begin to cannibalize sales – which they probably will do if readers can rent more books than at present.

    All that aside, I’m interested in the program, and what it will evolve into. The exclusivity requirement makes it a no-go for my existing titles, at least for now anyway, but if the success stories keep coming, I would consider writing at least something as an Amazon exclusive, then releasing it everwhere else.

    It’s still very early days for the program. It’s great to see writers like Marilyn making a success of it (and plenty more writers too). I think the program will change with time. Some of those changes might be good (more promotional tools aside from setting books free) and some might be bad. And we’ll also see what Amazon are paying per borrow soon enough.

    1. David,

      Your concerns are very valid. The fact that Amazon can change its Terms of Agreement at any time is cause enough for concern; plus the future of royalty payments, as you bring up here, are extreme cause for concern. On the other hand, I think Amazon’s current KDP Select program offers a window of opportunity for some authors to make enough sales to propel them into a successful writing career in the future world of publishing, whatever form that will take…similar to the way in which traditional publishing served as a springboard for mega success in the brand new world of digital self-publishing for authors like Bob Mayer and Joe Konrath. The publishing world is changing so rapidly right now, it’s hard to know when a window of time will offer real chance of success and when it will be nothing more than a passing phase. For me, KDP Select is still an experiment, and I’m crossing my fingers it works. 🙂

  5. I’m thrilled your free days worked so well! I love your books! I have no idea what to think of KDP Select yet. It’ll be interesting when the numbers are finally released. Four more days to go!

    1. Thank you so much! You just made my entire day. What an awesome surprise to check into David’s blog and find your comment that you love my books. Those are the best words an author can ever hear. 🙂

      It will definitely be exciting when Amazon releases the numbers for KDP Select borrows. I haven’t had very many borrows, but I know a lot of authors with high borrow numbers who are waiting on the edge of their seats to find out their payments. (I noticed that a thread devoted to anticipation of this opened up on Kindle Boards.) I’m looking forward to hearing how those authors do. It would be awesome to see authors I know getting paid well through that part of the KDP Select program. I know your books are popular. I’m looking forward to reading them. They sound awesome! I hope you do well with borrows. Good luck with all of KDP Select! 🙂

  6. Marilyn:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! I’m very interested in hearing that you got a good result out of using the KDP Select program — I did, as well, and I think you’ll be seeing my guest post here next week on how it worked for me.

    As your story illustrates, the business of writing has been evolving and will continue to evolve. This holiday season created a bonanza for a lot of indie writers… but is that a short-term phenomenon? Exciting and a bit unsettling, the future is going to unfold in ways that we can’t predict.

    I love your covers. I’m going to go find your books right now!

    1. Patrice,

      I’m happy to hear that you’ll be writing a post about KDP Select for David’s blog. I follow you on Twitter, and have been delighted to hear about the success of your novel, RUNNING. Hope you have even greater success in 2012!

      I feel the same as you that everything in publishing is a bit unsettling right now. For the first time ever, I find myself not exactly sure what my long-term goals are. The ultimate goal for my writing used to be to have my books in bookstores. Now my future goals are hazy. Basically, I hope to sell many books on whatever digital reading devices emerge in the future, and even to have free downloads of my books read and discussed by readers. Those are very different goals than I had even just a few years ago.

      Thanks so much for looking into my books! I really appreciate that! 🙂

  7. Thanks Marilyn for showing how much the industry has/ is changing, almost on a monthly basis now.
    I enrolled in the KDP’s Select with one book and experienced great results. However, I think quite a few indie authors will be pulling out after their ninety days are up. Especially those with so-so results.
    Also, very few of the traditional publishers are participating and some with only one or two novels.
    Amazon is still paying full royalty rates on those books. I’m not sure Amazon will expand to more than two or three books a month and I think at that rate they will encourage just the top fifty bestsellers to enroll and then rely heavily on the less expensive indie books to round out the service.

    1. Lisa,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I’ve noticed your book, ANGEL IN THE SHADOWS, on Amazon’s best-seller lists. Congratulations on how well your books are doing! 🙂

  8. It is gratifying to hear of your success, Marilyn, long may it continue.

    KDP Select looks like a good idea for established authors, but I wonder how the lesser-known will fare? Building a fan base seems to be the way to go for Amazonians, but my current fan base is just seven kind individuals, so I fear that any book using KDPS would be swallowed up in the plethora of titles by the better-known. I should add that I began publishing in December 2011, so it’s early days…

    I’m publishing my debut novel in February. It will be my first story that actually has a price on it (notwithstanding Amazon’s insistence that my free short stories should be priced, when they are free on Smashwords). What do I do? Smashwords has been a good experience for me – despite the Meatgrinder – and I am unsure about the value of KDP Select.

    Any advice or exeriences welcome, particularly, but not exclusively, from the lesser-known.

    1. JD,

      I personally feel that KDP Select is one of the best programs around for new authors. I’m continuously hearing announcements by brand new authors on the Kindle Boards that they landed on Amazon’s best-seller lists during and/or after their free book promotion days. Much of this seems to be based on genre. KDP Select titles in popular genres seem to stick on the best-seller lists for paid books much more often than other books. A spot on the best-seller lists, even for free books, is the best visibility and promotion a book can get. Then, in addition to that, Amazon sold four million Kindles in December, so there are a lot of Kindle owners searching for books to download. 🙂

  9. I’m sure this is of huge interest to Patrice and Marilyn and everyone else participating in KDP Select.

    It’s $1.70 a borrow for December (295,000 borrows total).


    And the pot for Jan is up to $700k.

    The borrow amount is certainly more than I expected.

    I’m sure there will be lots of joy expressed at that figure. Without wanting to be a party pooper 295,000 borrows doesn’t sound like a huge amount. Maybe the program hasn’t been a smash with readers (perhaps because of only one borrow). Then again, it’s very early days. The program should get more popular with readers. I would imagine the pots will increase as it does. It will be interesting to watch it develop.

    It hasn’t convinced me to participate, but if the success stories keep proliferating, the borrows stay this lucrative, and Amazon keep adding to the promo tools (and don’t close the loophole where you can catapult back into a good position on the paid listings), then I would certainly consider writing an Amazon exclusive (for 90 days at least).

  10. Glad your doing well, Marilyn. I’ll officially jumping into the KDP select waters after I come back from Vacation, which will be the week of the 23rd.Then I’ll have to wait a few days before B&N unpublishes my book before making the switch. 🙂

  11. Congrats, Marilyn. Thanks for sharing your story. I can definitely relate with putting out POD paperbacks and the general market resistance to them…I tried it eleven years ago and sold more by hand than any other method.

    Around the same time, I remember reading about e-reading devices, but for whatever reason, the general public did not seem all that interested in them. I kept waiting for the day when somebody would “get it right” in terms of the technology, and it looks like that day has finally arrived.

    1. MGalloway,

      I feel the same as you. I definitely feel that today’s technology has finally ushered in an awesome time for indie authors. Best of luck to you in this new publishing era! 🙂

  12. Interesting food for thought, thank you for posting Marilyn! While I’m glad to hear that your juvenile books did well, I’m dismayed by my own pitiful numbers, LOL. Once again, it’s important to remember that yours was not an overnight success and had a foundation of years of work and sweat behind it. 🙂 I wish you continued success in the years to come!

  13. motherearthseries,

    I think reviews definitely help to sell books. Even if books haven’t been published for a long time, reviews help. There are so many books available for free and at inexpensive prices right now, readers look for reviews. Best of luck with your publishing ventures! 🙂

    1. motherearthseries (Alan),

      I checked out your website. I purchased your novel, A MEASURE OF DISORDER, immediately, based on the review for that novel plus other great reviews for your books that are posted on the Amazon web page for another one of your novels, A CURE FOR CHAOS. I know exactly what you’re going through with your books. Novels not under the KDP Select program have great difficulty gaining visibility on Amazon. You might want to post your professional reviews for A MEASURE OF DISORDER in the Product Description section on Amazon for that novel because that would also help with sales. As soon as I saw the reviews for A MEASURE OF DISORDER under your other book, I purchased A MEASURE OF DISORDER, but I don’t think most customers do that much research into a book before deciding whether or not to purchase it. 🙂

      1. Thanks so much for taking the time to have a look, that means a great deal to me. And I will definitely take your advice and make an adjustment to the book description section. Thanks again and best of luck to you!

  14. I have enrolled in KDP and I am happy with the results. I haven’t tried the other promotions but I will in the near future. I thought the royalty for Dec was great. Let’s hope it continues.
    Thanks, Cara B

  15. Nice Marilyn! Ryan from the Bransford’s Forums here. Great stuff. Got the last laugh on Borders didn’t ya? 🙂 I think I might give KDP Select a go but the exclusivity thing sort of irks me. Anyways…congrats again. Your self publishing story and your devotion is very inspirational.

  16. RAJU &

    Thanks so much for your kind words. I’ve noticed your book, ANGEL IN THE SHADOWS, on Amazon’s best-seller lists. Congratulations on how well your books are doing!

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