The Five-Tenths of One Percent Solution


It’s a really good book, honest, and it’s still legal to buy for full price.

Back in July, I put my book, WREATHED, up for free on Amazon. (That’s the cover over to the left. Nice, isn’t it?) I wrote about it at length here on Medium, so if you want to read that article first, go ahead. But to summarize, I spent $65 on a BookBub promotion and gave away about 25,000 Kindle e-books while taking my kids to Sesame Place, which is pretty sweet.

I thought I would be able to sell a few copies of WREATHED after the promotion, enough to cover my costs, anyway. But I was disappointed. The promotion ended right at the end of July, and I sold 8 copies of WREATHED in the US, and 54 copies in the UK. (I have no — absolutely zero — idea of why the book did so well in the UK. I am not complaining, mind you, but it is a puzzlement.) That netted me about $120, which in and of itself is an 84% ROI. Nice, but not stellar.

I was not quite prepared for what happened next. As you know if you’re in the self-publishing business — or, more accurately, in the part of it that is controlled by Amazon — the new update to the Kindle Unlimited program rolled out in July. Kindle Unlimited allows you, the reader, to download and consume vast quantities of e-books for free for $9.99 a month. The catch is that most of these books are self-published books, and the hot trend at the moment for self-published books appears to be werebear pornography. (I am not judging, just pointing something out.)

On July 1, Amazon switched its method of paying authors for Kindle Unlimited downloads from a per-download model to a per-page read model. Instead of getting a dollar or two per download, authors started getting a fraction of a cent per page read. (That was $0.00577 in July and $0.00514 in August; we won’t know the September payout until October 15.) I did not think that the change would matter to me; I hadn’t gotten more than a pittance out of Kindle Unlimited reads in months.

And they’re also cheap as hell. Not that I’m complaining!

What I did not fully understand is that the core audience for BookBub — power readers, mostly older women who like genre fiction and have a lot of free time — overlaps considerably with the Kindle Unlimited audience. How much? I can’t say. But when you market to BookBub readers, you are marketing to Kindle Unlimited readers — and when Kindle Unlimited readers read your book, you make money, even if you gave away the book in the first place.

In the first couple of days of the promotion, I had 9600 page reads. My book is 487 “pages” long by Amazon’s reckoning. That’s something like 19 people reading the whole book (or 9600 people reading just the first page, who knows). That’s not a lot of readers, and that’s really not a lot of money (about $55).

On August 4, right after the end of the free promotion, I had just under 20,000 page reads. That’s in one day. And it kept going, never dipping below 5,000 page reads per day until August 19, and hovering around 2,000 page reads per day for the rest of the month. Here’s the graph.

It’s a thing of beauty, really.

What that adds up to is over two hundred thousand page reads over one month, totaling out at over $1300 when you add in the meager book sales. About two-thirds of that is from the UK (again, for reasons I do not understand). Just for comparison, in May 2015 — a month where I did no promotions — I made maybe $2o from book sales. And that was a good month.

Now. This is pre-tax dollars here, for one thing. It is certainly not enough for me to quit my day job. But it is easily my best month ever as a self-published author, and I am solidly in the black for the year even if I don’t do another promotion.

Will you get results like mine with your book? I don’t know. All I can say is that giving away a lot of books is more profitable for me than selling them has ever been.

Curtis Edmonds is the author of WREATHED (well, duh, as if you hadn’t figured that out by now), RAIN ON YOUR WEDDING DAY, and LIES I HAVE TOLD. He is a frequent contributor to McSWEENEY’S INTERNET TENDENCY. Other works have appeared at Untoward Magazine, Yankee Pot Roast, The Big Jewel, and the Tulane Maritime Law Journal. He works as a civil-rights attorney in the crumbling ruins of downtown Trenton, New Jersey.