Saturday, August 15, 2015

Let's Talk Numbers: It's official! If you write novels, the new KU is AWESOME!

Apparently it's number numbers niz-umbers week here at Pretentious Title!! Yesterday we took a look at the top of the world by going over NY bestseller John Scalzi's numbers, and today (thanks to the Amazon announcement) we're back with a report on my own numbers for Amazon's "Netflix for books" reading service, Kindle Unlimited!

As you might remember, two months ago Amazon announced that, to try and stop the rampant abuse going on in the KU system, it was changing the way it paid authors whose books were borrowed as part of the Kindle Unlimited program. I actually did an entire post on the changes, Amazon's reasoning, and what it could all mean for us authors back when it was first announced in June.

But while it was clear Amazon would now be paying per page read instead of a flat rate per borrow for KU titles, due to Kindle Unlimited's "you don't know what you're getting paid until we pay you" system, no one actually knew what the payment per page would be until Amazon announced it on August 15, which is today!!

So how's the money in the new KU?

Pretty damn good.

The KU payment for July has been announced at $0.0058 per page. Now, this sounds small until you realize that Amazon doesn't count print pages, but Kindle pages, which are much smaller. My first novel in the program, Nice Dragons Finish Last, has a print page count of 287 pages, but a Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) of 703, which is almost a 2.5x difference. This means, according to the official payment for July, that for every KU reader who reads NDFL start to finish, I earn 703 x $0.0058, or $4.07.

That's a LOT of money per read, especially when you consider that I only earn $3.42 off a sale of the same book. So under the new KU, subscribers who read my book for free actually earn me more than readers who buy the book outright. That's kinda crazy, but it's also amazing. Especially in large volume, as we see below.

Here's my total KU page count for Nice Dragons Finish Last for July.

Click to enlarge

Not too shabby! As you can see, I was averaging about 15-20k pages read per day for a monthly total of 604,268 pages read in July. Multiply that by the official $0.0058 per page payment, and you get $3504.75 for the month.

Thirty five hundred bucks!!! That's almost twice what I earned from sales in the same time period!! And keep in mind that OGDDA didn't come out until August 1, so these are earnings from only one title in one month.

To say this is a game changer would be an irresponsible understatement. Under the old KU payment structure, I was only earning $1.33 every time someone borrowed my book and read past the 10% mark. NDFL has always been popular in KU, so it wasn't unusual for me to make $100-200 bucks a month off borrows. That's not too shabby, but it wasn't great either, and certainly not worth the exclusivity Amazon demands if you're going to be part of KU. We were actually about to pull out and go wide with the Heartstriker series when this payment change was announced. Now? If these payments keep up, we ain't ever leaving!

But wait, it gets even better!!

So Travis and I were so excited with the initial KU page numbers, we decided to take a risk and put our new release, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, into KU as soon as it came out on August 1. Keep in mind: this was back in July. We did not know yet how much Amazon was going to be paying per page, but we were gambling that it would be at least half a cent per page, and since OGDDA was both a hotly anticipated sequel to a book that had already done well in KU and almost 30% longer than NDFL at 953 KENPC.

With all these numbers in our favor, we decided to take a gamble and go all in with KU. That was two weeks ago.

So how did the chips fall?

Click to enlarge
This is our August KU graph for both Heartstrikers books--NDFL, which has been out for a year, and OGDDA, which came out straight into KU on August 1st after 2 months on pre-order.

Since it's only the 15th, the graph only shows two weeks worth of reads, but already we've racked up 1,875,253 pages read across both books. Yes, that is 1.8 million, in two weeks. Now, of course, we d won't know what the August KU payment will be until September 15, but since these KU changes are all on the author side rather than the reader's (and given that KU payments historically don't tend to shift by more than 5% in either direction from month to month) I don't think it's too far a stretch to say August's payment will be very close to July's. So if we assume that and multiply our 1,875,253 pages read so far in August by July's $0.0058 payout, we made $10,876.46 in the last two weeks.

Again, this is not including sales. That nearly $11k bucks is coming from KU reads ALONE, which is actually about 3k more than we've earned in sales this month so far. And considering that being in KU costs us nothing except agreeing to Amazon exclusivity (which would be a lot to ask if the other ebook retailers weren't so abysmally terrible at actually selling my books), it's pretty much money for free.

Also, in addition to all this mad money, KU borrows are counted into sales rank. Since Amazon is so secretive about how their sales rank is calculated, it's impossible to say if the rank is being increased by pages read, or if Amazon is still counting a borrow as a sale like it did under the old system. Either way, the impact is still definitely there.

Thanks to their KU performance, both NDFL and OGDDA have been consistently sitting at sales rank numbers much higher than their actual per day sales would suggest. Since Amazon's algos promote books based on sales rank, that's a ton of extra visibility and potential reader eyeballs I'm basically getting for free simply by participating in the KU program.

KU: the gift that keeps on giving!!

Wow, Rachel. KU fangirl much?

Hell yes. Did you read what I wrote above? If you write novel length works people read all the way to the end (and if people aren't reading to the end of your book, you've got bigger problems) then KU is pretty much a licence to print money.

Is being in KU cannibalizing my sales? Probably, but I don't care! A $0.0058 a page, I make more off a borrow than I do on a sale.

Are KU's exclusivity demands giving reducing diversity in the marketplace? Yes, and I do think that's bad, but I also don't think it's Amazon's fault. Amazon isn't getting all these exclusive titles because they're engaging in something unsavory like a rights grab. They're getting exclusive access to titles because they're paying authors a shit ton of money.

Authors have been critically underpaid for their work pretty much since "author" became a job. Now, a company is going out of its way to pay us for our content, and as someone who's a fan of getting paid for her work, I have zero problem with that company becoming the dominant market force.

Will everyone earn this kind of money off KU? No. I'm a reasonably popular midlist author who writes very long books, which means this new KU system was pretty much tailor made for me. BUT, I am also not the biggest fish in the KU pond by a long shot. Just as there are lots of authors making pennies off KU, I've seen established indie authors with multiple titles in the program reporting earnings of over $100,000 in July for KU alone. Again, this is money authors are earning on top of existing sales. Many of us are doubling (or more than doubling) our monthly income just by being in KU.

Now you're just bragging.

I am not! I never post numbers to brag. There's no point. However impressive these numbers might look to you, I guarantee there's someone else reading this blog who's pitying me for my low sales. That's the eternal truth of publishing: there's always someone selling better (or worse) than you are.

So why did I post these numbers? Well, firstly just because I was excited about them!! Mostly, though, I wanted to present solid, numerical proof that the new KU isn't the giant middle finger to authors that many self-published writers have been proclaiming it to be. You'd think Amazon changing its KU payment system was the end of the world listening to these people kvetch. But while I do have great sympathy for those authors who lost money when KU changed the way it plays, I think these changes are exactly what needed to happen for the future of indie publishing as a whole.

By paying a flat rate per borrow, the old KU payment system tacitly encouraged short stories and serial fiction. More titles, no matter how short or even how good, were the way to make money. Now, though, everything is different. By changing the payment rules to reward authors for writing things readers actually read instead of rewarding people for who can write the most click-baity title, Amazon is actively encouraging the production of long, engaging, quality books that readers will read all the way to the end. I think this is a hugely positive change for readers and authors alike, and I hope that the new KU will be around for a long, long time.

I hope you've enjoyed this post on the new KU! If you want to read more of what I think about the program (Spoiler: I've been a fan for a while), try these older KU posts:

We also have an actually accurate report of the money we made off the old pay per borrow system if you're interested in seeing the earnings difference between the new and old systems for yourself. 

Thank you all so much for reading this special Saturday report! If you're having success in the new KU (or if you aren't and you want to vent about it), please leave a comment below! Let's talk numbers!!!

Until next time, I remain your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man author,

8/17 Update! Now with even more numbers!

Everyone's talking about KU2! Hugh Howey wrote about his experience with the program and has some AMAZING stuff to say about KU in general. Including his ultimate argument against going wide purely for the sake of going wide:
"I see people all the time bemoan what might happen if we put all our eggs in one basket. Not only does this ignore the fact that I own the eggs and can move them at any time, it ignores the damage we do by trusting our eggs to bad baskets."
SO GOOD, Y'ALL. Read it now!!

Joe Konrath also chimes in with his actual KU numbers, which are very interesting to see since he writes both novels and short fiction. He's also very pro-KU, so it seems to be getting a lot of positive press from the top of the indie world, at least.

Unfortunately, not everyone is doing so well under the new system. Though changes were meant to shut down scammers, lots of legit short fiction authors have seen their KU earnings take a nose dive under this new system, as seen in this Kboards survey.

These authors have my utmost sympathy. It sucks when you're writing what you love and the rug gets pulled out from under you. I hope short fic authors find a way to make up the difference, but if they don't, you're always welcome to come join us on the novel side! We have cookies :)

That's it for numbers for now. I'll be back on Wednesday with another Writing Wednesday craft post, and we'll be posting a sales analysis on release month numbers and preorders for One Good Dragon Deserves Another when we have all the data at the end of the month. 

If you're new to the blog, you can see more posts like this by clicking on the business tag at the bottom of the post (or, you know, the link 14 words ago). I also have 5 years of writing craft posts with new ones going up every Wednesday! Subscribe to the blog via Feedburner or follow me on Twitter / Facebook / Tumblr / Google+ to get new posts and writing info delivered right to you. 

Thank you all for reading, and keep on writing!



Nick Green said...

Very interesting indeed... Thanks for explaining it so well. I just wish I knew your secret for getting people to discover your books in the first place and so read them. Mine tend to just sit around turning slowly invisible, getting read maybe a couple of times a month.

Rachel Aaron said...

Visibility seems to be a combination of good cover, good title, good blurb, and good first pages. If you've got those, people will click when they see your book in the line up, and the more they click, the more Amazon will put you in front of new readers who will hopefully also click.

All books sink into obscurity over the long run, though, which is why it's also important to build your author web presence and keep promoting through sales, ads, author events, and email services like Bookbub. Reach out to your existing fans through your blog and social media and get them excited about spreading the word. My fans are absolutely incredible about recommending my books to people, and I can't thank them enough for it!

For paid ads, though, every book is different, so I suggest trying a lot of different advertising avenues until you find the one that reaches your audience. One of the best parts of being indie published is the ability to change tactics quickly and fluidly if something isn't giving you results. We try crazy stuff all the time!

I hope you have good luck getting your book in front of more readers

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're having so much success with this. Unless my math is wrong, it looks like you're actually making more money off an unlimited borrow than the total sale price for OGDDA. Assuming the price per page doesn't change.

I felt a little guilty getting the book through unlimited when I had expected to buy it, but seeing that it works out better for you makes me relieved.

Also, I was one of those people constantly refreshing the Amazon page at midnight, waiting for the book to come out, wasn't disappointed. Can't wait for the next one.

Unknown said...

Those numbers are really interesting, also they are good for me coz if you're doing well I get more books win!

BriandAndersonbooks said...

Great article. It's been profitable for a lot of us fantasy writers. I know I've enjoyed it. Of course in my case, my old series was already in KU, so I just earned more money for doing what I was already doing (Yay me!) I'm reluctant to put my new stuff in just yet, but I probably will in another month or two.

Brian D. Anderson

S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) said...

Thank you for sharing your experience! I'm even more convinced now to put my books in. I'll advertise them too to get some added visibility and hopefully a jump start on reads. We'll see! PS) Loved 2k to 10k. A great book!

Nick Green said...

Ah, Bookbub. Yes, I've tried Bookbub many times, but they won't take my money! It seems you need a certain level of... something or other, before they will take you on.

Tried blogging for a long time, as part of a group blog involving about two dozen other indie authors. But pretty much all the visits / comments seemed to come from the other bloggers... I wasn't convinced that many people were coming from outside to read it, or that it had any bearing on sales for any of us. So I quit that.

It's often easier to suggest in hindsight what has made a particular book successful, but then you can point to ten other books that have had the same kind of promotion etc which have sunk without trace. It's like when very old people explain the secret of their exceptionally long lives: they'll cite everything from olive oil to exercise and porridge to (even) smoking five cigarettes a day, but the fact is they don't actually know.

Ed Robertson said...

The initial borrows count toward rank. Page reads don't. This is really easy to test if you've got a book in KU that hasn't sold anything in a while.

Lindsay Buroker said...

Congratulations on the great numbers and the new release!

"I've seen established indie authors with multiple titles in the program reporting earnings of over $100,000 in July for KU alone."

Oh, Rachel, you're tempting me. I've been mid-five figures a month for a while, which is sweet, but the greedy part of me is tempted to see if I could hit one of those six figures months if I threw my two main series into KU, lol. I wasn't that tempted under the old system, but I have a lot of books over 100K words, and even a 200Ker. :D And the idea of having even my thousand-odd-page 99-cent omnibuses in there... lol. *twitch*

Of course, now that everyone is saying how awesome KU2 is, tons of authors might charge back in, thus lowering the payout, lol.

Rachel Aaron said...


If you can do it, I say go for it! If it sucks, you can always pull out again. Three months is not an inconsiderable lockout, but I think the gamble is worth it if for long form writers like us! And I don't think Amazon's going to let the per page amount fall off any time soon ;). They need KU to succeed more than anyone, and that can't happen if all the authors flee. Also, all the KU readers who just tore through my books need more quality novels to read!

You should TOTALLY come over and join us! At the worst, you lose 3 months of earnings on non-Amazon platforms (and since I don't know how those pay for you, I don't know if that's a dealbreaker) At the best, you get a bunch of new readers and make some nice money.

Though, I'm admittedly very biased on this topic, so take this with the requisite a huge grain of salt. ;)

Nick Green said...

"...over $100,000 in July for KU alone." Wowsers! Meanwhile, over at the other end of the scale, I have eight books earning about $16 a month in total. *In total.*

Actually that's not even the other end of the scale. I'm pretty sure lots of authors earn less than that.

Of course I know the obvious comeback. One has to write better books, or at least more of the kind of books that people want to read. But... I don't think my books are *that* bad. Maybe I'm biased, alright I'm totally biased, but... they are a bit better than their earnings reflect. I think.

Anonymous said...

Just because some authors choose to write short stories doesn't mean they're spammers or click baiters. Some authors write awesome short stories and have tons of fans and now they're getting hammered by the new KU and not making much money at all. So I don't think it's fair!

Morris Rosenthal said...


Do you know the word count for your example text that went from 287 pages in print to 703 Kindle equivalent pages? Looking at "Nice Dragons Finish Last" on my Kindle, I would have guessed around 100K words.


Jimney said...

KU sure seems amazing! Then again, you're a very very popular midlist author (with good reason!), and, as you said, plenty of others will get less. That being said, I also am a KU fangirl. :]

Anonymous said...

I have some short stories which I serialized in a 4 book set. Each book was between 10,000 and 16,000 words. If I put it all together I have an 80K novel. Before it was cost effective to break the books into parts. Now it's not. So only one cover to make! Woo Hoo! I'd rather be writing anyway. However, in those short books, I have Kindle pages from 51 to 70 pages without any rhyme or reason that I can see. Any ideas about how Amazon decides the page length or number of pages?
Samuel’s Promise 54 pages 14,003 words
Amish Fire 51 pages 10,000
Sarah’s Suspicion 70 pages 15,500
Sadie’s Mistake 51 pages 12,000
Samuel’s Sin 65 pages 16,200
Sadie’s Blessing 60 pages 12,000
Simon’s struggle 60 pages 13,550

Unknown said...

Amazing stuff, Rachel! Glad to see that novelists are being rewarded for their work.

I'm sorry to sidetrack, but I just have to ask Nick Green a question. "If you are a professional author and want to make money at this business, why don't you have a author central page?" Yes, I took the time to look you up. Your covers don't grab me. Your blurb didn't grab me. These three things alone make me believe you probably didn't get your book professionally edited and I've already read a few too many books like that.

Being an Indie Author is about more than just writing, there is marketing to learn and techniques that can be learned from more than getting onto BookBub. Use your free promo days, especially on your first book.

Cathryn Cade said...


Thanks so much for your generous sharing, not only of your fast writing methods, but your KU success. Kudos to you!

Michael Cordova said...

Great post Rachel, and thanks for sharing. We've all been on pins and needles about this change. We were figuring that publishing a good novel or story of any kind that actually gets read means you'd benefit from this change. That is definitely what we strive for at WildBlue Press.

Keeping an eye on it...

Unknown said...

Great post which I just shared over on Pat's First Kindle Book (From Start to Finish)with my recommendation to consider with her newly approved BookBub promotion in Sept.

Seems like a good fit for her series at 246 pages.
Again thanks for sharing your details. I know Joe Konrath is going bonkers with it, as you mentioned.

Unknown said...

I have an opinion that the new KU price structure doesn't just hurt authors, it hurts consumers. There are many people who desire to read short works. Commuters, busy workers, people who like to digest a bit of a story at a time (therefore serials), etc. As KU forces authors to stop writing short material, the customer base for these will not be happy. I wonder if Amazon does not have a care for people who like shorter reads.

Unknown said...

I don't see how it hurts people who write short works. When you get paid by pages read, it seems to level the playing field. What it does do is eliminate the benefits short work authors had over the longer works.

Panharith said...

Great article.


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