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KDP 101: Your Kindle Direct Publishing Questions Answered

Since Amazon controls a pretty big share of the ebook and self-publishing market, you’ve likely encountered the words “KDP” and “KDP Select” a few times in trying to get a handle on the intricacies of self-publishing. You might know that whether you enroll in one or the other affects your royalties, and whether someone can “borrow” your book, and whether you can publish your book in other stores... 

But if you've ever wondered what each one means, and how it all works, this post is for you!

As we’ve worked with authors to get their books published, we walk them through uploading their book, selecting pricing structure, and choosing whether to enroll in KDP Select or “go wide”. Since we answer a lot of the same questions, we wanted to pull them together and share them with you to help clear things up.

What is KDP? What is KDP Select? What’s the difference?

KDP simply stands for Kindle Direct Publishing, and is Amazon’s self-publishing platform for ebook and print. KDP Select is Amazon’s program that allows you to enroll your ebook in Kindle Unlimited.

How do royalties work in KDP and KDP Select? Does it matter how I price my book?

Pricing matters a great deal in terms of the royalties you receive from Amazon for the sale of your book. Currently, Amazon’s royalty tiers are as follows:

  • Between $.99 and $2.98 = 35% royalty rate
  • Between $2.99 and $9.99 = option to select 70% royalty rate
  • Between $10.00 and $200.00 = 35% royalty rate

Some authors choose to price their book at 99 cents to potentially move more copies, while other authors opt for $2.99 in order to qualify for the higher royalty rate, so how you price your book is up to you and may require a bit of math. But it’s worth noting that in most cases you would be best off pricing your book in that $2.99 to $9.99 range. As an example, a book priced at $10.00 would net you $3.50. If you had priced your book at $9.99 instead, you’d be getting nearly $7.00 in royalties.

These royalty rates are applicable whether your book is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited or not, for all of the major Amazon marketplaces.

Okay, I got that. But what’s Kindle Unlimited?

Kindle Unlimited (KU) is like Amazon’s Netflix for ebooks. Users pay a monthly fee to access a variety of books for “free”. If a book is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, a reader will be able to borrow the book as part of their subscription. Many readers will of course want to get the most out of their subscription and will search specifically for KU books.

Why would I want to enroll my book in KU as an author? Do I still get paid?

Enrolling your book in Kindle Unlimited does give you some advantages - higher visibility in the Kindle Store, access to Amazon promotional tools (Countdown Deal, Free Book Promotion), and yes, you still do get paid! The way KU works is that authors receive a set amount per page of their book read. This price changes each month based on an author “pot” Amazon creates, divided by the total number of pages read in Kindle Unlimited, but it’s generally in the range of .4-.5 cents per page. So if your formatted ebook is 300 pages, you may get about $1.20 or so for every reader who finishes your book.

It’s important to remember that Amazon calculates your page numbers based on your formatted .mobi ebook file, so don’t base your mental calculations on your unformatted Word document!

Okay. That makes sense. Wait, what’s a .mobi file?

Ebooks can be in a number of different file formats, although EPUB is the most widely used and device independent; .mobi is the ebook file format that is preferred when uploading to Amazon, although it is not required.

So I should enroll my book in KDP Select right? What are the benefits?

Enrolling your book in KDP Select can help give your book release a boost in the Kindle Store, and Amazon offers some enticements to convince authors to do so:

  • Payment per pages read by KU subscribers - as we mentioned above, every page of your book read by KU subscribers pays out between .4 cents and .5 cents.
  • Increases likelihood of a reader “taking a chance” on your book - a reader with KU may be more likely to grab an unfamiliar book because it’s free with their Kindle Unlimited subscription. If you’re an unknown (or relatively unknown) author, this can help get you in front of more readers.
  • Higher rankings in the Kindle Store - books that are enrolled in KDP Select often reach higher rankings, and get more sales, than books that are not enrolled. Amazon is famously and purposely vague with the exact algorithms they employ to generate book rankings, but they do count KU reads towards rankings and seem to favor KU enrolled books in their search results.
  • Exclusive promotional programs - enrollment in KDP Select allows you to take advantage of promotional programs not available to other authors. The Kindle Countdown Deal offers your book at a discount and is promoted by Amazon. The Free Book Promotion allows you to offer your book free for a period of between 1 and 5 days. Both of these promotions can help increase your “Also Viewed” and “Also Bought” listings, your reviews, your mailing list sign ups (if you’ve included your mailing list in your book) and your overall visibility in the Kindle Store.
  • Boosting your back catalog - if you already have a few books out under your name, enrolling your new book in KDP Select can also help make more readers aware of your other books, especially if you included links to your books in the back matter of your ebook.

Awesome! I’m convinced, I’m definitely going with KDP Select!

Hold on! KDP Select does offer you a number of benefits, especially as a new author hoping to get your book in front of readers. BUT, there’s also a catch.

KDP Select gives you lots of goodies in exchange for allowing Amazon to exclusively publish your book for 90 days (the length of enrollment). During those 3 months you absolutely CANNOT publish your book anywhere else - not on Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo… not even on your own personal blog. Your book should not be available in digital form anywhere else. If it is, and Amazon finds it, they can remove your access to the KDP Select program or even shut down your author account.

This does not apply however to printed books, you can have your book available for sale in print on Amazon, IngramSpark, Barnes and Noble, anywhere else you’d like, but your ebook must only be available on Amazon. At the end of 90 days you are free to unenroll in KDP Select and publish your ebook anywhere, or continue on in the KU program.

So, then what should I do? What’s the best choice?

At the end of the day, to KU or not to KU is absolutely a personal choice. Amazon is a heavy hitter in the ebook market, but they aren’t the only store out there and you can definitely make good money by “going wide” and selling your book to customers in other stores. But, enrolling in KU can be a good choice as part of your overall launch and marketing plan - #KU and #KindleUnlimited are popular hashtags in the indie author Twittersphere and putting your book up free for KU subscribers can be a good strategy for getting more visibility. Based on that, we often recommend that authors go with KU for that first 90 days, and then evaluate whether they want to publish wide at the end of their enrollment period.

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