Kindle Unlimited: Good Plan or KU Hamster Wheel of Death?

When Amazon’s publishing program, Kindle Direct Publishing launched, many authors had high hopes. KDP promised writers a seemingly fair shot at visibility, competitiveness and better compensation. KDP and it’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) program—in theory—presented what appeared to be a more “meritocratic” chance at fame and fortune. Paid per page read. Good books would make more money!

Btw, it’s me. Cait Reynolds. Taking over, yet again. I’m here to continue Kristen’s dismantling of the most common grifts impacting writers. She asked me to talk about a subject that, sadly, I know all too well. The Kindle Direct Publishing—KU Grift.

This is an updated and CORRECTED post…I forgot I was writing and using my own mental shortcut of just calling everything KDP. I’m only human…well…mostly human. Part hamster. 

*has flashback* *everything spinning*

Where was I? Oh, yes..

As I said, at first KU looked like a sweet deal. Meritocracy! FINALLY!

Yay US!

Initially, it sounded like a great idea and KDP did have some notable accomplishments, like shaking up legacy publishing and allowing fresh and diverse voices a chance to be heard.

Many writers were super excited. So much to celebrate! We were so tired of being used by those “other publishers” who didn’t SUPPORT OUR DREAM. We were thrilled KDP and KU was different.

Success was OURS! If we just worked hard enough, put out enough content, and promoted until we dropped dead from karoshi (Japanese for ‘death by overwork’)….

*screeching noise*

Wait, what?

Does all this sound familiar?

If you haven’t noticed, KLamb and I are tackling the multitude of ways writers are being exploited, used, abused, and often shamed for wanting to be paid in actual money.

Which brings us to KU, or as I like to call it…

The KU Hamster Wheel of Death

Kindle Unlimited? Yeah, We Tumbled. I Know…Things…

My name is Cait Reynolds, and I’m a KU Survivor.

KU and me? We go back a ways. I was once young and foolish with more dreams than sense. KU reduced me to the animal state. More hamster than writer.

Oh, but the price I paid for wisdom.

I was one of the lucky ones. I escaped, bloodied and battered, but thankful to be alive with all four paws. Others were not so fortunate. May Squeaky rest in peace… *moment of silence*

We all start out the same. We want action, adventure…RICHES. Alas. Truth in war and KU is much the same. More gory than glory.

Vintage photo of Cait Reynolds during her tenure with various defunct publishers…

I’m the tough, battle-scarred old hamster sitting in my corner of the darkened rodent cage far from where the young ones socialize at the Nutri-Log. They’re still fit enough to enjoy the habitrail.

I sit alone in my corner, a bottle of gut-rot clipped nearby. With my good eye, I watch all the brash young hamsters eager to see some real action at last. A thoughtful youngster notices me and, on a dare from the others, approaches slowly.

I’ve been known to bite, so his caution shows he has at least some smarts.

The kid’s fearless and bold. He tells me he’s got a book and just signed up for his first tour of duty with KU. Amazon has given him orders to deploy. He’s off to Kindle Unlimited where The Wheel awaits.

“Is it glorious like in the stories?” he asks, voice quaking with forced cheer.

“Son,” I say, sipping my bathtub gin from the spout. “Walk away.”

“I can’t,” he says, stammering. “All my friends. They say it’s the best way to go BIG! One member of our group made ten thousand dollars in a week using KU!”

“Really? Who? Name.” My whiskers twitch.

“Um…um….” He backs up.

“NAME!” I shout, slamming my paw hard into the cage making it rattle.

Everyone is silent. All eyes are on us.

The kid shuffles his paws through the urine-soaked sawdust. “I uh, well it was actually a guy from a group who had a friend of a friend who knew this writer…”

“The Wheel will kill you. The Wheel is pain and death.” Lowering my voice, I say, “You wanna live? Walk away.”

I raise my voice for the others. “Do not tangle with THE WHEEL. The KU WHEEL cannot be reasoned with. It cannot be bargained with. And it will not stop ever…until you are dead.”

Come with me if you want to live…

Kindle Unlimited—To Beat the KU Wheel, KNOW The Wheel!

KDP, KDP Publishing, Pay the Writer, Cait Reynolds

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Daniel Davis

I told my metaphoric hamster story to (hopefully) make an impression. This is a matter of life and death. Writers are fighting for survival while the rich play games at our expense.

Amazon promises authors—via KDP—that we can be that successful author who quits the day job in a haze of confetti, middle fingers, and glory.

Exposing the KU WHEEL…

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing promises if we (writers) just work hard enough, we can become that mythical creature known as The Kindle Millionaire.

Oooooohhhhh…. Ahhhhhh…..

If we can suffer through the grind and suck, it will pay off and our biggest worry will be how to choose between offers from HBO or Showtime. Coin toss maybe?

If we just work hard enough, we will find a way to:

Single-handedly manage the workflow for a producing a book from start-to-finish every two-to-four weeks while…

Keeping up with daily meaningful interaction with ALL our followers on InstaFaceTwitChat while…

Driving massive traffic to our Rafflecopter giveaways while…

Hosting fun, unforgettable Facebook events, setting up blog tours, adding to our list of newsletter subscribers while…

Also doing all the freelance work of cover design/editing/proofreading/marketing support that we pick up in order to make ends meet while….

Working a day job and maybe bathing.

Okay, forget bathing *sprays on Axe for Women*.

We do ALL OF THIS…until our Kindle Millionaire status kicks in!

KU Dream? It Was Never Gonna Happen

The point is that the KU model drives authors to get continually faster and louder just to hold onto their place in the rankings, let alone go up.

Faster and louder also means continually having to spend more money up front on marketing and book production.

There’s no delayed reaction windfall coming from KU.

There never will be.

There simply cannot be because we will never be able to catch up or even truly get ahead. Even when it looks like we have finally got the hang of a successful book production and release strategy, Amazon changes the rules and algorithms on us.

Why? Because they can.

Because they have to. Because they’re not in the business of making anybody other than Amazon shareholders truly rich.

Remember that.

In order to generate income in this model, we have to create volume of pages to be read and market the crap out of those pages. We are also competing against all the other authors who are doing the same thing. Therefore, we must create more volume and do more marketing.

And NOW you understand the KDP Hamster Wheel of Death.

No it isn’t fair. Fair is a weather condition.

And, like Kristen says, “Amazon is gonna Amazon.”

Show Us the Money Kindle Unlimited! Oh, You Can’t!

Why are we writers in such a hurry to churn out the pages? WHY are we in that much of a rush to earn that whopping $0.00419 per page read (August 2017 KDP Global Fund Payout)?

Let’s take a moment to examine the KU payout structure more closely.

The KDP Global Fund is the pool of money from Kindle Unlimited subscribers. It’s what funds the royalty payouts to authors. The KDP Global Fund has grown steadily since its inception.

Payouts from the fund, however, have stalled, stagnated, and even declined.

KDP Payout Rates

Image from Written Word Media (, 4/13/17. It’s an excellent article with insight into the inner workings of KDP.

Case in Point

If a reader outright buys a 100-page ebook at $2.99, the author makes $2.09 in royalties. If a reader borrows the book via Kindle Unlimited and only reads 30 pages, the author makes $0.12. The payout is capped at $0.75 via Kindle Unlimited.

The reader is also under no time constraints to read the book. They could read those 30 pages the same day, or six months from now.

Or never.

The author has no control over when and how many pages are read. That’s like trying to run a business without knowing when your customers are going to pay you, how much they will pay you…or if they EVER WILL pay you.

On what planet is this a successful business model?

Let’s open a bakery where a customer takes her choice of our cakes and only pays us if and when she eats the cake, and pays per bite. But if the consumer never eats the cake or decides to return the cake for another cake after taking two bites…then too bad.


Oh, so this business model dumb for a baker but AWESOME for writers? No. It isn’t.

The KU Grift

KDP, Cait Reynolds, Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing

Amazon is pulling a grift with Kindle Unlimited and counting on the naivete of most readers and writers. Remember Kristen’s earlier post? The best hustles are completely legal.

Most people want to believe in a world where business is conducted in good faith, because to think differently is terrifying. We must have a certain amount of faith and trust or everything crumbles.

Amazon offers the Kindle Unlimited service to avid readers who–in good faith–assume Amazon is working for the benefit of the authors participating in the program.

Those enjoying the benefits of KU assume writers are being compensated and treated justly (much like most readers of HuffPo blogs have no idea most writers are unpaid workers).

Writers, simultaneously, are relying on urban legends and empty promises while killing themselves for fractions of pennies….and it looks a lot like this.

Are We a Human or a Hamster? A Writer or a Rat?

Kristen has talked a lot about blogging and exposure. MEGAs can be predator or benefactor depending on how well we are educated (because MEGAs can spot a sucker and always need more to power the grift).

Same applies to Amazon. Amazon is not our friend…but also not necessarily our enemy. KDP and KU can be useful. It has a purpose and can offer benefits which we will talk about another time. But, like all MEGAs, Amazon must be handled with CARE.

Approach is everything and education and strategy is key. Be willing to walk away and trust in something better.


Thank you, Cait! I actually asked her to do this post since the young hamster in the story…was me. And she stabbed me. But we made up and became besties 😀 .

What are your thoughts? Have you been caught on the KU wheel? Survived? Lived to tell the tale?

I have some new classes below to help you out and show you HOW to play to WIN, so make sure to sign up.


What do you WIN? For the month of OCTOBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).



Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $50.00 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: THURSDAY OCTOBER 26th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Whenever I mention the word “blog” writers go pale and likely envision some mindless alien life form that rolls over crowds of screaming people, then melts and absorbs them.

For clarification that is the BLOB and NOT the Blog. Though the way blogging is so frequently taught? Totally understand the confusion.

Blogging is THE most powerful form of social media, and ALSO the most misused and misunderstood (hence why writers avoid it and throw holy water on it).

Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

Oh it is also the easiest of all forms of social media to monetize and the more love you give it, the more it will give back.

This class is going to cover:

  • How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
  • What do we blog about? What is going to draw readers and get them excited?
  • How do we understand the magical sorcery of Google and harness it to work our WILL? *evil laugh*
  • How can we monetize a blog? Oh no! Asking for money! Scary stuff indeed.
  • How can you cultivate a fan base of people who are uniquely YOUR fans?
  • How does a blog sell books? Because they do…seriously.

Blogging is only hard if we make it that way. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.


Includes the class (recording included free in purchase price) PLUS one hour with me one-on-one discussing your brand and your blog. How can you connect to and cultivate YOUR readers?

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  1. Before KU I made (some) money from Amazon. Ever since, my bottom line is in the subterranean levels. No more KDP or KU for me except for limited initial listings.

    1. Thanks for the update – I figured what you was meaning.

  2. Thanks for fixing this. You had me confused for a bit.

    I don’t mind publishing through KDP but the Moshiach will come before I sign on for KU. *shudder* Have to admit I’ve never understood the appeal, the math just didn’t add up no matter how I looked at it.

  3. Cait, you’ve still got the program name wrong: It’s KDP Select, the exclusive marketing program that’s targeted at writers, not Kindle Unlimited, which is targeted at readers.

    I sure hope your future post on how to beat this “grift” is, in fact, a tutorial on how to do it, and not simply a promotion for another class. Wouldn’t such a promotion, without any actionable information in the post itself, be yet another kind of grift? Offering marketing/platform-building classes IN ADDITION TO information in the post is fine; using the post only as a marketing tool for the class(es) is not. At least some of your readers are smart enough to be able to tell the difference.

      • Ilsa on October 25, 2017 at 12:11 pm
      • Reply

      Yes, this. ^^^

      1. If you feel you’ve been grifted with my FREE posts? I wish you the best on a blog that better suits your needs.

    1. Hi Ross,

      I do know that it is KDP Select, but I am deliberately choosing to use Kindle Unlimited because it is a term that both writers AND readers are familiar with. Also, if our books are enrolled in KDP Select, we do not promote them as being enrolled in “KDP Select” to our audience. We say that the book is available on “Kindle Unlimited.”

      The point of this post is to start by bringing the problem to light. If I were to include everything I want to say about this subject, including how to get OFF the KU Hamster Wheel of Death, I would end up writing a small book.

      The fact that we are offering classes at the end of the post, and that some of the classes have to do with marketing, is not a grift. If you are at all familiar with Kristen’s blog and Kristen’s classes, you know that she has long been the standard-bearer in the fight for quality over quantity, authenticity over spam, and value over hype.

      All of our classes are designed with two goals in mind: helping people write better books, and helping people find their best, most effective and authentic voice and brand.

      You will not find “10 tricks to grow your newsletter to 10,000 subscribers in a week” here. Nor will you find, “How to automate your Twitter posting so you have time to spam Facebook.” What you will find is how to express yourself and connect with readers in a way that is real, organic, and lasting.

      This blog is free, and we offer classes because a) we love teaching and are passionate about these subjects, and b) we need to make a living. We have been offering classes at the bottom of our blogs for a very long time now. Not every class is tied specifically to a topic – that would be turning the blog into an advertisement. Some are, but only when we really have something to say that is relevant to the class or are introducing a new class or concept. It is a point of pride for both me and Kristen that our blogs AND classes go way beyond hype and offer real insights, information, and value for your time (when you read our free blog) or money (when you take a class with us).

      1. Bravo, Cait! Well said. I have taken some of the classes, and they’re excellent and helpful. So is Kristen’s blog. She’s genuine and amazing.

          • Mary Van Everbroeck on October 27, 2017 at 11:51 am
          • Reply

          The ones I’ve had the opportunity to take have been excellent. I’ve learned so much! I also have appreciated that the fees charged are very reasonable!

    2. First of all Ross, if you would like to add clarification for edification of all, fine. We all do this to help each other. And the fact that Amazon uses KDP, KDP Select, K Unlimted, KU, KKKKKKKKKKK and blinds us all with Ks adds to business confusion especially for neophytes. She was using a term writers/readers and the general public could understand.

      But, Cait doesn’t have ANY class listed below for “How to Work Amazon to be a Millionaire” or “How to Beat the KU Grift”. She gets nothing out of this post aside from feeling as if she is doing something to help educate fellow writers and show how something that COULD be good can be a royal screwing if we don’t use strategy.

      And she DID edify HOW the KU wheel grinds down authors. She used a graphic, challenged writers to contemplate the wisdom of this business plan and warned what often happens for those who rely solely on trying to “make it with KU. How it easily becomes a nonstop chain of churning out books, paying for promotion and marketing and killing the writers when there are better approaches.

      Many authors are not aware all this effort is to scrabble over .00014 cents per page. She is educating. That is what this blog does.

      And if she HAD gone into greater detail she would have had a 4,000 word blog post and since we value your time, we are breaking these up.

      As for calling this blog out as a grift?

      I have written over 1300 blogs for the joy of helping other writers, serving them and fighting for them to be treated with dignity they deserve. And your comment is exactly the stuff that lights my fire. It is okay for me to read hundreds of books, dissect SEO, figure out search engines, unravel how authors are being used and detail better approaches in blogs and post millions of words for FREE…but if I want to offer a class that costs less than dinner at Applebee’s at the bottom it is a GRIFT?

      Back the train up right there.

      You are right. Maybe you are smart and I am the fool. If I were a better business person I would put all this information in books and sell it and offer ridiculously expensive seminars like those other “experts.” Instead of relentlessly pushing to give better information for FREE, to serve and advocate for authors, maybe I am the dummy. Shame on me for offering affordable classes with detailed ways to empower authors, when my competition selling is blog classes at a thousand dollars a pop.

        • Ross Lampert on October 25, 2017 at 1:55 pm
        • Reply

        I clearly touched a nerve here, harder than I intended to.

        Kristen, I’m a fan of yours. I’ve subscribed to your blog for years, share many of the posts widely, made sure I was in the audience at your Tucson Festival of Books presentation a few years ago, have taken at least one of your classes, and own and have read a copy of Rise of the Machines (some parts more than once). I know what value you and Cait provide and am very grateful for it.

        I suggested that Cait use “KDP Select” rather than “Kindle Unlimited” because KDP Select is what is marketed to writers. I simply felt that was more accurate.

        I have NO objection to the two of you providing information on upcoming classes at the end of your posts. Nor do I object to you selling seats in these classes. That’s fully appropriate and your prices for them ARE reasonable. From time to time I feel that a post is little more than a promotion for an upcoming class, and I’m disappointed by that, but that is not common. It’s certainly not the norm. I was trying to ask that it not be the case in whatever post(s) follow today’s.

        No, I do not expect that follow-on post to be “10 tricks to grow your newsletter to 10,000 subscribers in a week,” as Cait put it in her response. I know that’s not the kind of thing either of you post. I was trying to simply express a wish that whatever does follow will offer at least a thought process/strategy (or more than one) we can use to make better decisions on how we market our books and through whom.

        Full disclosure: About a year ago I made a conscious, considered decision to sign up with KDP Select. I did so because the bulk of my sales were coming through Amazon and I hoped to make use of their market power to improve my sales/income. Since then, the bulk of my income has come from pages-read payments, rather than sales of the complete ebooks. Could I be making more from actual sales? Absolutely! Is this (being paid for pages read) an easy way–maybe too easy a way–to generate SOME real income? Absolutely. Are there some serious problems with how Amazon pays authors through this program? Oh, heck yeah. (See David Gaughran’s many posts on this topic.) Have I come up with a marketing strategy for selling more complete books that I’m comfortable with and am willing to put the time into to make work? Absolutely not. That’s my “fault,” no one else’s. I know I need to keep working at it, that there’s no silver bullet, that the strategy won’t be one thing, but a combination of things. You taught me that.

        I am VERY grateful for what you and Cait do. If I was less than artful in expressing a concern about what might be coming, I apologize for that. I know you’ll keep up the great work you’re doing, and I’ll keep reading it, sharing it, and learning from it.

        1. I appreciate the apology. Why the post did NOT have more “actionable elements” is that we are breaking posts up so they are not 4,000 words long. We can reference to the post that lays the groundwork for the BIG picture. For instance, I am taking on the SEO scamming. I wrote some REALLY long posts that took months of research and DAYS to write. Sure I will go back with 5 Ways to Beat the SEO Scam…but if there is no post for reference? The newbie has no context.

          Cait had planned posts for meaningful ways to use these programs (KDP, KDPS, KU), but if she doesn’t first lay the foundation, of how it’s killing writers using it the WRONG way, it can get confusing for the newbie. And no class listed had anything to do with Amazon.

          Sometimes a post might directly relate to a new class. But there is ALWAYS takeaway lessons/instruction for free. The classes are there for those who want more and are affordable and optional. No one is being used.

          Seth Godin, Chuck Wendig, Michael Hyatt, Larry Brooks, Writer Unboxed and on and on all blog and offer other products and services.

          Cait and I worked hard to entertain and inform. Maybe we missed the mark. We try new things, stretch our skills, offer new classes, but everything we do is to serve and empower the writing community. I am glad to keep you as a reader, but I am also very human. Thanks for the follow up. I’ll call that guy I hired on Craigslist to spray paint you purple and rub you in butter, and tell him it’s a no-go 😛

        2. Thank you, Ross. Trust, me I have a LOT more to say about the risks, benefits, and strategies for working with Amazon, and hopefully, everyone will start to see where I am going now that I’ve unbolted the hamster wheel from the cage 🙂

      1. Kristen, you are brilliant and I’ve learned so much from you. You’re my idol. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

      2. I wouldn’t worry about the negative comments- either to Cait or yourself. Keeping up a blog with consistently helpful posts takes time and thought. It doesn’t take much time or thought to get attention negatively.

        I am on KDP Select and I am so darn lazy about promoting my books that when someone buys one I wonder why? I will continue to pursue traditional publishing but at least we get to see a cover on our stories. But as far as becoming the millionaire hamster – not going to happen.

        Keep up the good work Cait and Kristen.

      • Angela on October 25, 2017 at 12:55 pm
      • Reply

      how long have you been following this blog for?

    3. Well, no. KDP Select is the program where your book is exclusive to Amazon. It “allows” you to do countdown deals and…I guess that’s pretty much it. KU is where you’re paid pretty much nothing. They’re not the same thing although they are both a way for Amazon to get richer while hiding your books.

    4. Ross,

      You have to understand the depth of a problem before you can take appropriate action. If you’ve read the past few blogs you know the topic isn’t complete yet. Get off your high horse.

      KU payments are very different than books sold via Select. If you can’t understand that simple concept then an action plan is of no use to you anyway.

    5. “At least some of your readers are smart enough to be able to tell the difference.”

      Yes, we are able to tell the difference. As one who has followed Kristen’s blog for years and have benefited from all of her free posts, advice, and advocacy, I can tell the difference between this shield maiden of novelists vs those who grift people with promises of snake oil they never deliver. So what if Kristen and Cait offer classes at inexpensive rates? Why is it wrong for any writer or teacher to want to pay the mortgage and feed their kids?

      • Jennifer on October 25, 2017 at 1:49 pm
      • Reply

      Ross, if you think Cait and Kristen are trying to swindle writers, you are certainly new here. I hope you will actually take some time to get to know both Cait and Kristen through their blogs and find that they are actually advocates for writers, without prejudice.

    6. Ross, did you miss the “actionable information” provided in this post? The chart of KENP fractional earnings? The “Case in Point” section? What kind of “how to” are you looking for? How to “game” Select? Lots of people do so, unfortunately, with pirated material and click farms. That’s not what Kristen and Cait offer here.

      The point of this piece is that, if you’re going to put your books on Select, you do so with your eyes open and expectations low. It’s not that hard to figure out.

      By the way, if you want actionable info, this blog site has plenty of it – for FREE. Type in key words about publishing or writing, and you’ll find solid info.

      “Grift” is petty swindling. That’s an extreme term to throw at a person. Who is swindling you here? How are offering classes relevant to the topics that writers seek out on this blog any sort of swindle? These are opportunities that many consider worthwhile. If you don’t, just move along.

      1. Well said, Kathy!

    7. 1. A “grift” is a petty swindle. A free blog post at a site owned by an author that is followed by that author’s advertisement is in no way a swindle.

      2. For people unfamiliar with the program who are thinking about signing up for it, the post is informative, and that information is appreciated.

      3. As for “KDP Select” vs. “Kindle Unlimited,” I know plenty of bestselling authors who commonly refer to the program as “Kindle Unlimited” in their conversations, whether it is applying to writers or readers. While not technically accurate, it does reflect common useage.

      4. People who want and expect authors to work for free, giving readers their time, efforts, and knowledge and never even mentioning what they have for sale, are literary panhandlers.

      1. Piper, you go, girl! Preach it, sister!

      • Anna Erishkigal on October 25, 2017 at 2:11 pm
      • Reply

      Wow …

      Just … wow.

      Not even going to snipe at that comment. Suggest you re-read what you just wrote [*along with all the hidden assumptions of entitlement and privilege*] and then consider deleting it and apologizing to the bloggers before the people who come here every week and are grateful that Kristen and Cait share their considerable expertise instead of charging us editor’s rates, or SEO expert rates, for the aforementioned advice rip you a new one.



      1. Ross apologized with a lot of grace. Thanks for standing up for me but also know Ross admitted he misspoke and was brave enough to take the mea culpa. We all made up and we all have bad days. Sometimes just have to laugh it off and move on. It’s what friends do and we are all friends here. We are not alone 🙂 .

        1. That’s right, we are not alone! <3

  4. Hi! You said that KU payout is capped at seventy-five cents? Since when? Cuz, if that is true, I am sincerely freaking out. Thanks for the blog.

    1. Hi Layce! That is just an example for a 100-page ebook on KU. Check out for more in-depth explanations on how all the payouts work – and don’t freak!!! ?

  5. Good post Cait and I want to say, most professional self-publishing authors recognize Kristen’s blog as the absolute best blog for obtaining information useful to indie authors. I think both of you have written many wonderful blog posts here and I thank you both. Also let me point out to the one lone naysayer that if he bothers to look at other blogs he will notice that authors, editors, teachers, artists, etc. all use blogs to promote the work they do in an attempt to make an honest living. In my opinion you and Kristen do it more tastefully and less obtrusively than others. Your posts are 95% helpful content and 5% promotion with content always getting top priority.

    As for Kindle Select, I was very sceptical for a long time because I’ve always been a Smashwords-first kinda gal. This is because Smashwords was recommended to me by an agent who liked my work but couldn’t find me a publisher. Smashwords is always where I have published all my books first. Then I publish them on Amazon second. I make most of my money on Amazon but Smashwords also distributes my books to all other retailers, worldwide. I end up making about 80% of my royalties from Amazon and the other 20% from Smashwords and the retailers to which they distribute. It never made much sense to me to go Kindle Select because they have this rule that you can’t publish with any other retailer if you want your book in that program. Seemed to me that would require me to give up 20% of my already meager income.

    Then, last spring, I decided to try a sneaky experiment. I took the four novels I had written and published Smashwords-first then Amazon and signed them all up for Kindle Select. Against the rules right? Shhhh don’t tell please. Amazon quickly found out in the case of two of the four novels and I obediently withdrew them from the program, pleading ignorance of the rules. But the punch line here is they still haven’t noticed about the other two and I’m getting a nice revenue stream from Kindle Unlimited. It’s so nice I was tempted to publish my 5th novel on Kindle Select honestly exclusive. That is until I read this blog post. Now I wonder. Is this revenue stream really going to dry up now? I mean, $0.75 on thousands of books is a lot better than $2.01 on a few hundred. Please tell me what you think because I’m just about to publish book five.

    1. The thing with Amazon is we need to keep eyes on it. Unlike legacy where there is a BINDING contract, Amazon can change at will and our job is to stay frosty. Some is Amazon making money for Amazon. Other times there are “writers” scamming the system and they have to “correct” things and we get hit in the blast radius. Like that time a bunch of authors had friends and family getting their books and just turning pages so they could make money. It’s like SERIOUSLY???? WHY do you have to be greedy?

    2. Hi Jini!

      I’ve been reading and researching about this issue for several years now. I honestly don’t see it getting better. The number of people signing up to publish through the program is not going to go down, and the pace of growth of the KDP Global Fund might grow, but as evidence shows, it’s not like authors see any of that because Amazon has to maintain a certain profit ratio for analysts and shareholders.

      More than that, though, I feel like it’s a question of what are you building toward in your career? Are you happy and comfortable writing shorter novellas? If that is the case, then KU is probably the right program for you. If you want to move toward having the time to put into longer works with a back list that supports you, then, you might want to keep some series in KU (making the first book perma-free to hook people into buying the rest of the series), and then write longer books with longer lead times and do a straight-up sale instead of pages-read.

      Remember, people tend to value what they pay for. The readers who will happily gobble up your books as part of their $10/month subscription fee will also turn around and spend $15.99 on the new ebook of a traditionally-published author they like. Also, don’t forget that Amazon is likely to change the game and can/will change the game any time it suits them. Remember the brouhaha over PageFlip? They claimed they “didn’t know” it erased all pages-read when they first put it out. They also have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

      There’s no one way that is right for everyone. The best strategy is one that is based on where YOU want to go with your CAREER. Maybe it’s a mix of KU and regular sales. Maybe it’s using KU to prove your bankability and moving on to getting an agent. Maybe it’s staying with wide distribution and seeing who’s nipping at Amazon’s heels. I wouldn’t underestimate iBooks or GooglePlay. KDP/KU could very well be the Napster to Apple’s version of Spotify with their iTunes subscription service.

      I hope this helps! And thank you for your kinds words 🙂

      1. Yes, thank you Cait, a million thank you’s. Your reply really helps me to know how to at least start thinking about what to do. Yes, I’m using the “give the first book in the series away free” trick. It’s one of the reasons I publish Smashwords first; they let me make a coupon for giving out free books so I can tell people in places like Goodreads that they can contact me to get a free copy. Amazon has a rule of minimum price for KDP books (currently $1). And yes I write long novels. My shortest is 104,000 words and they kept getting longer. My last one was over 300,000 words. I don’t know what I’m going to do about Kindle Select yet but you have certainly helped think about it rationally. Blessings.

        1. My pleasure! Always happy to help!

  6. Indie authors have control and can choose NOT to participate in KU. I follow the lead of top tier authors and their publishers who do not participate. If readers enjoy an author’s work, they will shell out a few bucks for the Kindle download, and the indie author gets to keep up to 70% depending on the pricing option chosen. Not bad! I do my own design and layout using the CreateSpace model and then covert to Kindle. I purchase no additional services which makes my upfront cost zero.

    I agree that as authors it’s our responsibility to do due diligence when making our choices. This model works for me, and I’ll say that Amazon has been good to me.

  7. Thanks for the information. I have not done much indie publishing, and I’m glad for your take on the value of KU.

  8. Really edifying, clear and concise. Thank you! A lot of my writing buddies jumped into KU at the beginning and I felt like a real idiot for procrastinating. I never did get in there. So maybe I’ve done one (small) thing right!

  9. This has been very helpful, thank you! I have books on Amazon and Smashwords, and have not even considered KDPS/KU. While I want to cautious and informed, this has opened up my mind to the idea of maybe putting some of my books on the KU program, just to test things out.

  10. This is an awesome post. I’ve often wondered about the pros and cons of KDP and KU. Thanks for spelling it out where I now understand.

  11. So do you recommend NEVER using KDP Select? I used it for my first release (because I didn’t have time to format an ePub and upload it to other distributors at release time, but once the Select period expired – 90 days, I think – I took it off KDP Select and uploaded to a few other distributors).
    I’m curious. My small publisher is considering enrolling my novella series in KDP Select and if that is a BAD business move, then I want to know that now.
    For the record, I debate signing up for KU all the time because I’m a voracious reader (3 to 4 books per week). BUT, as an author, I feel KU doesn’t reimburse authors in a fair manner, so I’ll continue to purchase the ebooks, and if I get a bum now and again, I’ll shrug it off. Believe me, I’ve paid $7.99 for an ebook I couldn’t finish before…and it hurt. But I won’t be buying from that author again.


    1. Sharon, I think KDP Select can be a good strategic tool. For a novella, especially if it is part of a series with a good backlist, it might very well be the right decision. I want authors to be aware that KDP Select is not the easy road to riches that it promises to be. If, as a writer, you write well and quickly, and you are comfortable with a shorter novella format (50k words or less), then it might be a good move for you. If, on the other hand, you tend to write longer, more involved and time-consuming books, then you should look further into whether KDP Select is right for you. Also, if your publisher has a strong marketing program and proven traction, then it may very well work for you. However, just remember that they are taking a percentage of that pages read rate! They will get 40% of every $0.00419 😀 However, in the long run, if they support you well and you are a naturally fast writer, this could work very well for you.

      At the end of the day, the important thing is to go in with your eyes open, and that’s why I write posts like this!

  12. I have no desire to sign up under KU, especially after reading this post. Thank you for sharing so much valuable info, Cait and Kristen. Much appreciated.

    1. My pleasure, Lynn! I’ve got more coming! Don’t write off KU just yet 🙂 It can be a good strategic tool…as long as you know what you are getting into, which, sadly, so many authors don’t. I’ll be talking more about this in the coming weeks 😀 Thank you for your kind words and support!

  13. Interesting and timely post.

    I am cleaning up my first book now, and I’m planning on taking it Indie. I write fantasy romance which is more niche.

    As an Indie, KDP is clearly a huge player. You’re either part of it or not, and if not, you’re competing against other books who are. Which means those books are essentially free to readers in the program. I know romance readers make up a sizable pool of the KDP readers as romance readers read so many books, on average, a month.

    Perhaps there is some middle ground where you have one book in the program, and the rest aren’t, sort of like a teaser. Probably the same book you price at $0.99 to get people interested in your work once you have a backlog.

    Look forward to future posts on this, both for authors with a larger backlog and those of us just getting started 🙂

  14. I think the biggest let down is reviews. I wasn’t naive enough to believe that KU would catapult me to the number one spot, but I thought by letting readers borrow books and share, this would result in MORE reviews. Nope. Didn’t seem to even deliver on that.

    On that note, I’ve not had great luck with free copies resulting in review anymore either. I used to be so happy to have someone read my book. I asked them just one thing in return. Can you leave a review. I get it, people get busy, they forget. But I had to pay for that paperback. I only give out free ebook copies now and I’ve gotten stingier about that, too.

    I don’t know how to made the leap to the next level, so I just keep writing, editing, learning, creating. Doing what I love.

  15. Fascinating. I suspected this. Tell me more!

  16. Eagerly awaiting more posts on this topic. I’ve got a (debut) novel alllllmost ready for self-pub and was planning to release it via KDP in January of 2018. But I’ve got a bit of time and need to research more.

    Incidentally, it would seem that I’m the only KU subscriber who actually uses KU to identify authors whose other works I’d like to read. But even then… maybe it’s not worth it to continue to subscribe. I don’t know. There have been quite a few clunkers in the program.

  17. I really enjoyed your post, Cait. Loved the hamster imagery. Cracked up laughing several times, even though your info is sobering. I already had my suspicions. My sales/pages read have dropped way off compared to where I was even last year. I’m also published with The Wild Rose Press and the company puts our titles everywhere, so I only have certain indie titles in KDP Unlimited/Select. You are right, there are a lot of K’s in this Amazon maze and it’s terribly confusing to explain to a newcomer. I’m not sure what to do about the titles I have with KDP Unlimited. I’ve taken them in and out and now they are back in. I may submit them to the Wild Rose but they would be out of the sale loop for months until they got them published. I enjoy your and Kristen’s great info. Thanks so much.

    • Mary Van Everbroeck on October 27, 2017 at 11:44 am
    • Reply

    Hi Cait: Great Post. I learned so much! The pictures will remain in my brain; they create great images of what you and so many writers have gone through. I had no idea how Kindle Unlimited worked for Author’s but I’m so glad now that I ended this Program with them, as a reader, a long time ago. Thanks so much! I look forward to looking at the classes you are offering. Kristen’s class last evening on Blogging was terrific! Take care.

    • Rachel C. Thompson on February 15, 2018 at 3:22 pm
    • Reply

    So are you saying KU isn’t worth it? And if so, what should one use? What is the diff between KU and KDP if any? What are the numbers? What are the benefits, if any, on either platform and are they basically the same thing or not? If you go with KDP does that lock you into Amazon so you can’t sell on other platforms? It took a long while to get to the point and I’m still not sure what your point is.

    • robintvale (Jessica) on April 19, 2019 at 5:01 pm
    • Reply

    EEEK! forget kindle then. How about instead how to make a website and put our books up on there? I know HTML and CSS but not forum coding. Maybe the next article will talk about that a little. Or not. I bet that’s in your ‘the rise of the machines’ book.

  1. […] Hamster Wheel! […]

  2. […] I had to give up my KU, I simply didn’t have the time to read all the books. I know, my fault for thinking otherwise. I’d rather buy the book outright and read as I can. I think that’s fairer to the author. […]

  3. […] Lizbeth Meredith has 3 reasons not to go with hybrid publishing, and Cait Reynolds dissects Kindle Direct Publishing and Kindle Unlimited (or, the hamster wheel of […]

  4. […] a manageable long-term strategy.  But I’m not the only one who noticed this trend on Amazon. Kristen Lamb did a blog post called “Kindle Unlimited: Good Plan or KU Hamster Wheel of Death?… (The post is hilarious, especially with the hamster pictures.) I have this article on my desk and […]

  5. […] Instead, far too many authors slap down 60,000 words for whatever idea pops into their heads and then rush on to the next idea. Because if we’re not putting out three books a month, we’re gonna get tossed off the KDP Hamster Wheel of Death. […]

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