From Scott:

Several weeks ago, I discussed the different publishing options available to authors these days. You can go the traditional route, through legacy publishers, with or without an agent. You can pay to have the paper version of your book released through a vanity press, which is expensive and sounds the death knell on your chances of using a traditional publisher. Or, you can try the new indie ebook publishing options available through such online outlets as Amazon.com and Smashwords.com. The choices are many.

This blog will assume you have chosen to go through the indie ebook option. I will address another choice you will face. You’ve written your book, edited it until you’re blue in the face, picked out a strong title and great cover art, and set your price. Now comes the big question. Do you make this ebook available through multiple outlets, thereby addressing the largest possible audience, or do you go through the Kindle Select Program, making the ebook exclusive to Amazon for three months?

First, let me back up a half step. Before you can make a decision, you need more information. What exactly is the Kindle Select program? What does it entail? Is this a better option than releasing it through the standard ebook route? What books are eligible? What are the requirements?

The Kindle Select program is a relatively new option available to the indie ebook self-published author. It can be applied to a new release, or to any book in your library, at any time. The main requirement for eligibility is that you own the rights to the book, exclusively. Once the book is enrolled, it is in effect for 90 days. But there are a few conditions that must be met. First and foremost, the book must not be available in any electronic format other than Amazon’s Kindle. It can be available in paperback, but you cannot offer it in ebook form anywhere else , such as Smashwords.com or even on your own website. The exclusivity is why Amazon can make the offer. You’ve guaranteed that no one else will be selling your ebook for at least those 90 days.

Kindle Select makes your book available to Amazon Prime members in their lending library. Any book in the library can be “borrowed,” with no due date, by members of Amazon Prime. During this time period, the book is still for sale on Amazon.com, and you still earn the same royalties on those sales. As for the “borrowed” books, Amazon establishes a monthly fund (currently $500,000-$700,000), which is divided among the participants. As a participating author, your share is based upon the number of times your book is borrowed. If the fund is $500,000, and in that month there were 250,000 borrows, you receive $2 for every time your book was borrowed. If you have priced your book properly, this is likely to be less than your royalties.

[Rick adds: Ideally, you rather have readers buy your book, but this is better than what currently exists with library borrowing. When someone borrows a book from a library, the author gets nothing other than the royalty from however many copies the library purchased for its shelves. Whether that will change in the future with ebooks is unknown.]

Another option for books in this program is that at some point during the 90 day period, you can offer your book for free for a total of five days. This may sound like a bad idea, as you will earn no royalties during that time. But Amazon has a separate “bestseller” list for free books. If your book ranks high enough in the free download rankings for your genre, you will receive extra marketing from Amazon. This can result in more sales in the long run, both for this book and for your backlist. So it may be worth it. If you don’t like the way the Select program is proceeding, you can opt out at any time. Keep in mind, however, that if you do decide to cancel (opt out of) the program, the exclusivity restriction still applies for the remainder of that 90-day period. [Rick adds: And it automatically renews unless you opt out.]

The first question to ask yourself is, “Is this program worth it?” The answer is a definite maybe. There are simply too many factors involved to have one answer work for all books, and for all authors. I have another book coming out soon, but I have not yet decided about the Select program. I will need to consider all the factors and walk myself through the same thought process I am describing here.

If you already have other books available through multiple ebook outlets, you can have a better idea of how this will affect your sales. I currently have five books available, through Amazon.com, Smashwords.com, and Createspace.com. (Note: Createspace sells the books in paperback format, and as such would not be affected by the Select program). Looking back at my history, it appears that about 98% of my sales have been through Amazon.com. Taking these books away from Smashwords would not have affected my sales by a significant amount. However, to go back and do the Select program now would require me to un-publish these books on Smashwords. Doing so would take my ISBN numbers away, which means that at the end of the 90-day period I would have to pay for another ISBN. At $10 each, it gives me pause. [Rick adds: I have heard from some authors that after un-publishing from other platforms, it may take a while before the book disappears from those sites. This possible delay is another factor to consider.]

What do you hope to gain by using the Select program? In my case, I want to expose more readers to my work. If they read my next book in the Select program, and they like it, they might be inspired to look at my backlist. They also might tell their friends about it. Word of mouth is a powerful way to advertise, and it costs you nothing. Then again, you might make your book available through Select, have some free downloads, and end up with no extra sales. The best way to examine this is through some past experiences of other authors.

Robert Vardeman, our guest blogger last month tried the free promotion route. This was not the Select program, but similar. On his blog, January 13, 2012, he lists the results for making two of his books available as free downloads for a brief time. Career Guide To Your Job In Hell saw 1073 free downloads, while Moonlight In The Meg had 357 free downloads. He notes that during that time, the per-borrow rate in the Select program was $1.70. Had his book been borrowed at that rate (no guarantee, since only Amazon Prime members can participate, which limits the audience pool), he would have received $2,431. However, after the promotion, he saw no increase in his sales. So in his case, the promotion didn’t work.

On his January 2, 2012 blog, Joe Konrath offers the Select program his full endorsement. He said that his numbers soared during and after his time in Select. If you read his blog entry, he lists a whole series of sales and borrow numbers on several of his books. He said that one of his books hit #1 on the free bestseller list for Amazon.com, and that once the free program ended, that book went high on the regular Amazon bestseller list. He credits the publicity and added distribution of the Select program for his increase in sales.

In my case, however, neither of these two authors’ experiences really indicates how my own Select performance would go. They are both established writers with a broad fan base. True, I have five books available already, but my sales numbers are not that high. By comparison, I’m still an unknown author. How would this program affect my sales? The only way to find out is to actually try it. And I might do just that.

If I do go the Select route, here is how I will track my results. Before the program starts, I will monitor the daily traffic on my website for a few weeks. I’ll compare those numbers, and my sales figures, to what happens during and after the Select program. And rest assured, if I go through Select, I will report my results back here. Regularly.

So look this blog over. Think about how your other books have performed. Are you already selling well, or do you need a boost? Can you do without the sales on other platforms for 90 days? How many of those sales would only be postponed, not lost, by waiting to release the book on Smashwords.com, or other similar sites? Only you can say.

–Scott