Thursday, April 13, 2017

Kindle Unlimited: Is It Worth It?

By Marcy Kennedy, @MarcyKennedy

Part of the Indie Author Series

Back in June I wrote a post where I outlined the pros and cons of Kindle Select, a program where you’re required to make a book exclusive to Amazon for 90 days in exchange for certain perks.

One of those “perks” is that the book we enroll in KDP Select is also placed into Kindle Unlimited. Kindle Unlimited is a subscription-based service where readers pay a flat monthly fee for the ability to read the books in KU without paying anything additional for them. Authors whose books are in KU are paid based on how many pages of their books are read. The per-page payout varies per month, and Amazon announces what it will be on the 15th day of the following month. (In other words, you find out on March 15 what the payout will be for page reads from February.)

Whether or not an author chooses to enroll some or all of their books in KDP Select is a personal choice and should be based both on what’s working now and on what our overall career goals are. I can’t tell you what to do because there’s no one right answer in this business.

What I can tell you is that the reason my pen name’s books are all still in KDP Select is Kindle Unlimited.

So what I wanted to do this month is share some of the data I’ve been able to collect about my page reads compared to my sales and how borrows have influenced my sales’ rank in order to explain why—for me—Kindle Unlimited is worth being exclusive to Amazon.

Quick Disclaimer: My pen name writes mysteries. Your mileage might vary if you write in a different genre where readers haven’t embraced Kindle Unlimited. My pen name is also fairly prolific. She’s published four novels in less than six months. I can’t speak to how my results would be different if I published once a year or once every six months.

Percentage of Income

The percentages below are based on my numbers on US Amazon since that’s where most of my sales are made. They’re also overall, meaning that I didn’t only look at what my books in KU were making compared to the sales of the books in KU. These are my total numbers, real name and pen name. My real name has 11 non-fiction titles and a book of short stories (all are wide), and my pen name grew from one book to three (all are in KU) over the course of my examination.

November 2016 (one book in KU) – 15% of income from KU

December 2016 (two books in KU) – 21% of income from KU

January 2017 (two books in KU) – 27% of income from KU

February 2017 (three books in KU) – 36% of income from KU

I don’t have my final March numbers at the time of writing this, but based on my preliminary numbers, the percentage of my income coming from KU has continued to rise in March.

If I’d taken out my real name books, the percentage of income from KU would have been even higher.

Do these numbers change if I add in my wide sales? Not enough to be significant. I made more from KU in December 2016 alone than I made from my wide sales total over the course of all four months. That makes going wide much less tempting for me.

Are the borrows cannibalizing my sales? It’s hard to say for sure, but I don’t think so. The increased percentage of KU income isn’t because my sales were going down. My income from sales increased each month as well. I suspect that the longer I’m in KU, the more I’m building up a readership among people who read almost exclusively within KU.

How Borrows Influenced My Sales Rank

There’s a synergy that happens when you have a book in KU. Borrows count toward your sales rank, and a higher sales rank means greater visibility. Greater visibility means more sales and more borrows.

Assuming that to be true, one of the ways I decided whether or not it was worth it for me to stay in Kindle Unlimited was I looked at where my books ranked and then I compared that with where (approximately) they’d be ranking if I had only my sales and no borrows contributing to my sales rank. (There are tools and charts that allow you to make a pretty good guess, and I could also look at my non-KU books as a comparison tool as well.)

I wanted to know if I could still make the top 100 lists on Amazon without the borrows. As soon as a book drops off the list, its sales will drop dramatically because it’s more difficult for readers to find.

I’ll give you an example of how my rank compared. I’m going to use my January 2017 data for the first book in my pen name’s series.

To make the top 100 list for my category of mystery, a book needs a sales rank of around 4,100. The first book in my pen name’s series was on the top 100 list throughout January, ranking consistently between 3,000 and 4,000.

Based on my sales alone, I’d have had a rank closer to 10,000-12,000. Most of the time, that wouldn’t have allowed me to even make a sub-list in my category.

So, for me, Kindle Unlimited makes a lot of sense right now.

If anything changes, expect a follow-up post!

Anyone else want to share their percentages? How do your page reads payouts compare to your overall income?

Marcy Kennedy is a mystery and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance fiction editor and teaches classes on craft and social media. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at

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About Showing and Telling in Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide

You’ve heard the advice “show, don’t tell” until you can’t stand to hear it anymore. Yet fiction writers of all levels still seem to struggle with it.

There are three reasons for this. The first is that this isn’t an absolute rule. Telling isn’t always wrong. The second is that we lack a clear way of understanding the difference between showing and telling. The third is that we’re told “show, don’t tell,” but we’re often left without practical ways to know how and when to do that, and how and when not to. So that’s what this book is about.

Chapter One
defines showing and telling and explains why showing is normally better.
Chapter Two gives you eight practical ways to find telling that needs to be changed to showing and guides you in understanding how to make those changes.
Chapter Three explains how telling can function as a useful first draft tool.
Chapter Four goes in-depth on the seven situations when telling might be the better choice than showing.
Chapter Five provides you with practical editing tips to help you take what you’ve learned to the pages of your current novel or short story.


  1. Thanks for your post, Marcy. I'm on the other side of KU...the subscriber. For the small amount I pay a month(about the cost of two paperbacks), I can read to my heart's content. I'm a writer, too, and your Busy Writer's Guides have helped me tremendously in my journey.

    1. I'm so glad they've been a help to you! I'm not yet a KU subscriber, but I keep thinking of signing up because I'm also an avid reader.

  2. Great post! Thanks for the info, Marcy.

  3. Thank you so much for explaining in a way that I can understand. Great post.

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