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KU or Wide? Considerations for Malaysian Self-Publishers

KU or Wide?

One of the first dilemmas most self-publishers face is whether to go KU or Wide, or rather, should they sell exclusively on Amazon or try to sell on every publishing platform? There are pros and cons to both—as well as successful authors on both divides—so it’s not so much a debate on the right way to sell, but rather a question of what your personal preferences and goals are.

Still, when we started this post, we began to wonder if it’s really relevant because we’re Malaysians. OBVIOUSLY, if we want to sell ebooks to Malaysians, we need to go wide—otherwise, how would Malaysians get their hands on our ebooks? Then we figured that we might as well explain what KU or Wide is and how it impacts you so that you can make an informed decision.

 

So, first of all, what is KU?

Or, what do we mean when we say KU or Wide?

The term, as used here, is actually a misnomer. KU stands for Kindle Unlimited, which is the end user’s (i.e. reader) subscription service. What you, as the author, sign up for is KDP Select.

 

KDP Select? What’s that?

Remember #14 in our Step-by-step Guide to Publishing on Amazon?

Yeah, this whole post is about whether you should tick that button or not.

When you sign up for KDP Select, you’re basically going exclusive at Amazon for a minimum block of 90 days, which is automatically renewed until you opt out of the renewal. “Exclusive” here means that you cannot sell your ebook anywhere else, even your own website. This doesn’t affect print though, so you can still print your book and sell that on your website.

 

Why would I want to do that?

First of all, signing up for Select automatically enrols your book into Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). This means that thousands of subscribers (maybe more) have access to your books for a flat rate whilst you get PAID for what they read. (More on that at the end of the post.)

Secondly, you get to choose between free days or countdown promotions, which are pretty nifty promotional tools that non-select publishers don’t get.

You’ll also get 70% royalties in some markets (Japan, India, Brazil, Mexico) which normally only pays 35% royalties.

 

Why is KU a good thing?

The good thing about KU is that borrowers can read your entire catalogue for cheap to them, whilst paying you. Bigger plus point: you also get paid for however much the borrowers read of your book—even if they hated it and stopped after like page 20. The rate per page may seem small, but if you’re great at marketing, it may add up to a lot.

By locking yourself in to the Amazon ecosystem, you also get to take advantage of all the special selling tools Amazon has (as mentioned above), which helps with visibility, ranking, and ultimately sales.

 

So why the whole KU or Wide debate?

The problem here is the “Amazon exclusive” clause. Because Amazon does not have a Malaysian (or international, bar a select few) market presence*, this creates an additional barrier to making sales in Malaysia (or internationally, in general). Those who really want to buy your ebook internationally in places without an Amazon market* will have to jump through the usual hoops (VPN, gift cards, etc) to get it—and they’ll only do it if they’re already diehard fans. The casual reader or potential readers will just see “not available in your region” (if they even look at the Amazon page) and move on.

And let me reiterate, you can’t sell your ebook anywhere else, even on your own webpage, if you’re on KDP Select. Doing that will get all your books pulled from Amazon and your account might be banned/blacklisted.

 

Should I just go wide then?

Personally, we think you should. But that depends on your goals too. If you’re trying to tap into the American market and/or you write in genres with very avid readers, it might work to your benefit to go KU. If you’re hoping to sell internationally, or you write in a genre that doesn’t do so well with borrows, you should probably plan on going wide.

We found these questions on this KU board very helpful.

Questions to ask when deciding between going KU or Wide

The questions (and answers) are:

  • Do you want to quickly earn back the cost of the production of the book? Yes = try KU
  • Do you live in the US and/or is your book geared towards US readers? Yes = go in KU
  • Do you want to build a loyal reader base who will buy all your books? Yes = go wide
  • Do you expect your books will have international appeal? Yes = go wide

Other advice on the web:

Susan Kaye Quinn, who’s this really amazing and generous author (we learnt a lot about self-publishing from her), suggests an all-in approach. Whichever way you choose, commit all your books to it so that you can work the advantages of either approach. Don’t try to go half-half, because you might end up frustrating readers.

What we understand from this is that if you have half your books in KU and half not (you need to opt in by book), your KU readers can’t read all your books and they might be stopped from continuing because they’d have to spend more to buy non-KU books above their monthly subscription fee. On the converse side, international readers who have purchased your book, say on Kobo or Smashwords, might be trying to find another book of yours to read—and if it’s in KU, they might not be able to get it at all.

She also says this in defence of KU:

‘KU readers are often people with limited incomes and a voracious love of reading. These people would normally go to the library or used bookstores to feed their habit, but often those things aren’t even available. KU allows them to have the bright spot of reading in their lives, even though they can’t afford to buy all those books. … the indie market has a lot of bargain shoppers in it, not just because they’re “cheap” but because they legit just don’t have the money.’

So, in this case, KU works in your favour if you write in a very popular genre with a lot of avid/binge readers.

Susan’s articles: KU Vs Wide and KU vs Wide Benefits for Readers

 

Another big name in self-publishing, David Gaughran also espouses the all-in approach, with the point that success in either approach is mainly due to differences in marketing styles and systems:

‘…as soon as you contrast the authors who have been successful in KU with those who have been successful wide: they are two very different approaches. … Some people are succeeding though—both those who are in KU, and those who are wide, and what I’m seeing is that it’s usually people who are all in with whatever distribution model they have decided upon.’

Based on his analysis, because the Kindle store is algorithm-driven, big monthly blasts and advertising works well to boost sales. However, most of the other online platforms are often curated, or human-driven, which works better with a slow and steady, drip approach. There isn’t one answer (we agree) and he suggests that you’ll need to experiment to find out what’s best for you and your books.

David Gaughran’s article: A Tale of Two Marketing Systems

 

Bringing it back to the Malaysian context, Teaspoon Publishing’s founder, Anna Tan, wrote back in 2016:

Going Amazon Exclusive is not for everyone

There are a lot of tips on how to use KDP Select to your best advantage and head up the Amazon bestsellers list by keeping everything exclusive to the Amazon ecosystem. Which is good, if your audience is primarily in America, but not so good if you want to reach the international market.

In my case, since my primary fanbase (aka family and friends) generally do not have access to buying on Amazon, keeping it exclusive to Amazon, whilst it might help sales a little due to the free days and internal Amazon algorithms, will only hurt me in the long run. Because it’s friends who recommend to friends and word-of-mouth that counts, yes? Even with my international appeal (at least according to blogger’s stats), cutting out 25% – 50% of my audience by not selling it in a place they can access is just bad business sense. But well, this really depends on your audience or intended audience.

Anna Tan’s article: Things I Have Learnt About Self-Publishing As A Non-American (aka Amazon Hates Me)

 

So should I go KU or Wide?

We really can’t decide this for you, but here are some simple steps to use to decide.

  1. Think about your goals and your books (genre, market). Also look back at the questions above!
  2. Figure out what marketing strategy you can cope with. Do you like complex marketing plans and frenetic energy or do you need something simpler?
  3. Choose whether to go KU or Wide based on #1 and #2
  4. Draw out a marketing and selling plan and stick with it!
  5. If it doesn’t work, start from #1 again.**

* This might seem confusing because you can shop on Amazon and get things shipped to Malaysia. But you’re purchasing as a Malaysian on the American website. They allow that for goods which require physical shipping but usually not for digital products, especially ebooks.

** “Doesn’t work” needs an evaluation period of at least six months to a year. Don’t try something for one month, get frustrated and give up.

 


More info on KU and KOLL

Kindle Unlimited (KU) is a subscription program for readers that allows them to read as many books as they want. It’s like Netflix, for ebooks! With Kindle Unlimited, customers can read as many books as they like and keep them as long as they want for a monthly subscription fee (up to 10 titles at a time). They don’t need to be Amazon Prime members. This is available for users in US, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, India, Japan, and Australia.

The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) allows Amazon Prime members to borrow one book per month for free from the collection or “library”. They can only keep one book at a time for a long as they want. This is available to Prime members in US, UK, Germany, France and Japan.

KDP Select authors get paid for KU and KOLL based on page reads, to a maximum of 3,000 pages per title per customer. Every time a unique customer reads pages in your book for the first time, you will be eligible for royalties. If the same customer re-reads pages of your book, this won’t earn you any additional royalties.

Formula: Monthly KDP Select Global Fund / total pages read for the month * pages read of YOUR BOOK.

 

Further Reading:

https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2018/05/selling-out-going-wide-or-going-exclusive-to-amazon/
https://selfpublishingadvice.org/going-wide-ebook-distribution/
https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2014/08/30/exclusivity/
https://www.standoutbooks.com/amazon-kdp-select/
https://justpublishingadvice.com/whats-the-difference-between-kdp-and-kdp-select/
https://justpublishingadvice.com/should-i-enroll-in-amazon-kindle-kdp-select/

Publishing on Amazon: Other Important Matters

Publishing on Amazon: Other Important MattersWe covered how to publish your ebook on Amazon KDP in detail in our last post. But the big question everyone wants to know is this: HOW DO I GET PAID?

You gotta have several things first before you start seeing any money:

  1. Sales
  2. A US bank account
  3. A W-8BEN

Amazon pays royalties “approximately 60 days following the end of the calendar month during which the sales were made.” This means two months after the month in which you sold your books, so if you made any sales in January, you’ll probably receive your money at the end of March/beginning of April.

Yay, money! Right? Unfortunately, as a Malaysian, it’s not that easy. You’d wish that you could just enter your bank account number and see the money roll in. Nope.

The first we can’t help you with. Sorry. For the other two, here are some general tips on how to get set up.

 

Update your Author/Publisher Information

Go to your account (the link on the top right-hand corner) and fill up your publisher information.

 

Amazon Account: Author Info Screenshot

Full name here is your official name, according to your IC. This is NOT your pen name. This information will not be shown to the public anywhere—it’s only for finance use.

I’m pretty sure you know how to fill in your own address so…

Getting Paid

If you’re a super patient person (or you don’t have a bank account with any of the recognised marketplaces), you’ll have to wait for a cheque. Which will only be paid AFTER you reach $100 in the respective marketplace. Note that this is AFTER applicable tax withholding too. Meaning, you’ll need to get about $143.00 in royalties in the US Kindle Store before you’ll get a cheque ($143.00 – 30% = $100.10).

Amazon payment thresholds (screenshot)
Screenshot from https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200641050

And no, Amazon does not pay out through Paypal, so that’s not an option.

What IS an option (and the one we’re currently using) is Payoneer (referral link). What Payoneer does is it sets you up with a US bank account (and others, but you mainly only need US) so that you can opt for payment via direct debit/EFT. Enter the bank details given by your Payoneer account into Amazon and voila, you’re getting monthly royalty payments*!

Tax Information

Malaysia does NOT have a tax treaty with USA, so all your royalties is subject to a 30% withholding tax. What you need to do is fill up the W-8BEN, which is a very simple document.

W-8BEN screenshot
This is what it looks like.

Some websites will ask you to download the form, fill and upload, others (like Amazon) allows you to fill it directly on the site. Most of the stuff is self-evident, but here are the parts you’ll probably have questions about:

W-8BEN extract

#5 – Leave this blank. The SSN (Social Security Number) is only applicable if you live and work in the US (which, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not) and the ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) is only applicable if you’re paying taxes in the US (which, if you’re based in Malaysia, you’re probably not). You CAN apply for an ITIN, but we can’t give you any advise you on that.

#6 – Fill in your Malaysian tax number here (usually SGxxxxxxxxx). If you don’t have a tax number because you’re not taxable yet, you should write “not legally required.”

#7 – Leave this blank. This is usually if you have some funky tax arrangements, which if you’re just trying to self-publish an ebook, you likely don’t.

W-8BEN extract

Leave this whole section blank because Malaysia doesn’t have a tax treaty or any special rates to claim. 🙁 You have to pay that 30% withholding, okay? (Not happy? Take it up with the gomen.)

Right! So now this is filled up, sit back, relax, and wait for your money to roll in*!

More questions? Ask away! We’ll dig up some answers for you.

 

*Assuming you’re making some sales la har. 😉

Publishing on Amazon: A Step-by-Step Guide

Publishing on Amazon is really easy. Promise. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you do just that. Feel free to skip points that are obvious to you and jump to items you’re not sure about. And if you have any questions, just ask!

The absolute minimum you need to start publishing on Amazon:

  1. an Amazon KDP account
  2. a completed (or almost completed) book
  3. a book cover
  4. a book description

Everything else you can figure out on the way.

1. Register an account

To publish ebooks on Amazon, you have to register an account at http://kdp.amazon.com. For obvious (or not so obvious) reasons*, it’s best to create a separate publishing account from your normal purchasing/reviewing account.

*Obvious reasons being that Amazon has some kind of anti-competitive (?) rule in place where they discourage authors from reviewing books by other authors because they subscribe to the traditional-publishing-as-competition model instead of the new collaborative-indie-publishing model.

For now, click Kindle eBook and we’ll get started—we’ll look at creating a Paperback in a future post.

E-BOOK DETAILS

2. Language & Title


The default language is English. Amazon currently supports various languages, but not Chinese or Malay, unfortunately. If you write in Malay or Mandarin, check out publishing on E-Sentral.

Next, enter your book title. We’re taking these screenshots while setting up a pre-order for A Still, Small Voice, so you can see where stuff goes.

You don’t need to have a sub-title, but if you do, add that in the second line.

3. Series & edition

Only fill this section if you’re publishing a series. In our case, A Still, Small Voice is #4 in the North series, so we’ve filled in those details.

You can usually ignore Edition Number, unless you’ve made major changes to your ebook and are uploading a new version.

If you’ve just made minor changes, e.g. to fix typos, this doesn’t count as a new “edition.”

4. Author and contributors


This is where you enter your pen name (if you use a one) and any co-authors or contributors. A point to note is that the primary author that appears here must be the same as the name on your cover! In this sample, we acknowledge the cover designer of A Still, Small Voice. It’s “optional” but it’s a nice thing to do. Please do credit anyone who has contributed substantially to your book.

5. Description


Also known as your book blurb or back copy, this is the description of your book. Go to any Amazon book page or turn to the back of a paperback and you’ll find examples of what to write in your description. This short section (KDP allows you 4,000 characters—not words, characters) is what will help you sell your book. To write one, think about the books you’ve browsed and what made you decide to read it. Oftentimes, the cover attracts our attention, but it’s the description of the story that sells it to us.

The main points to consider are:

  • – what is this book about?
  • -who is it for/who will like it?

For more tips, check out these articles:

6. Publishing rights

This is basically to confirm that you wrote it and you have the right to publish it. If you’ve sold your book to some big publisher (yay you!) you probably don’t have the publishing rights to put it up on Amazon on your own anymore unless you negotiated that as part of your contract. (Your publisher will probably be looking into publishing their own ebooks that may or may not be on Amazon.) But since you’re looking at this as a guide to self-publishing, it’s probably safe to say you own all your publishing rights. Unless you stole your book from someone else (don’t do that).

7. Keywords & Categories


Think of all the words that you would associate with your book. Are there themes that you cover/address? These are what will be tagged to your book as “search words”. This means that if someone were to search for “short story about Dragons” A Still, Small Voice would most likely come up in the search.

Categories tell Amazon where to put your book. You can only select two, but Amazon will eventually sort them into more relevant categories or you can email them later to request specific categories.

8. Age range

This is mainly helpful if the books you’re writing are targeted at children, or if your books are adult-only. We usually leave this blank since it’s optional. If you do know the minimum age range and/or reading level (which you can estimate using Word), you can update it.

9. Release date


If you’re filling up this page with your book and cover ready, go ahead and select “I’m ready to release my book now.” This means that once you’ve uploaded everything and the book has passed Amazon’s automatic checks, then your ebook will be available for sale instantly*!

* usually within 1-5 business days

Even if you have everything ready, you don’t have to release your book immediately. You can set a release date (up to 90 days in the future) to allow you to work on things like marketing and promotion before your book goes live. You’ll also be able to direct people to the Amazon book page so that your fans can pre-order your book.

You DO need a manuscript file to upload, so uploading one that’s near-final is always the best option. A good time to set up a pre-order page is when your book is about 90% done. Meaning, you’re probably just proof-reading it for the hundredth time or making final tweaks. Try not to do upload a book that is still undergoing heavy revisions because if you don’t update your file before the final date shown, your placeholder file is going to be sent out to your fans and that could potentially be disastrous.

A note to remember: Pre-order customers always pay the lowest price, so be fairly confident about your selling price before you set up a pre-order.

AND NOW YOU’RE FINALLY DONE WITH THE EBOOK DETAILS PAGE!!
Give yourself a pat on the back and get a nice drink before moving on to the next page. This is where you get to the formatting and fiddly stuff.

E-BOOK CONTENT

10. Formatting your manuscript

First step: DRM yes or no?

We prefer NO, because we tend to switch platforms! This is really up to your preference. Some people think that DRM helps stop piracy, but our opinion is that if people are desperate enough, they’re going to pirate anyway.

So FORMATTING. Got your manuscript ready? Great!

We’re using Microsoft Word in this sample because it’s the most common software.

A) Front matter

 
This is all the stuff you usually find in the front of a book: title page, publisher, year published, license notes, etc.

You can create something fancy and elaborate like the stuff in a paperback. The simplified version shown here was adapted from the Smashwords guide and has worked for the past few years, so it’s an easy option.

B) Body/text


Remember that you’re formatting for ebook, so whatever fancy stuff you do, it’s 90% going to be overriden by the reader’s Kindle settings. I use a standard 12 point Times New Roman with a 0.3” first line indent with 0 line spacing and no spaces before/after paragraphs. This gives you a nice tight look.

C) Chapter headings


Format your chapter headings using a “headings” style as this simplifies the process of getting your Table of Contents up. I assure you this is 100% easier than Smashwords, so be grateful! Just set your chapter title (in this series, we use roman numerals, but your chapter headings could be anything you want) to the Heading 1 style and make any stylistic adjustments you wish (we centre, bold, and TNR it) then copy the format to all your chapter headings.

D) Chapter breaks


Use the page break function to separate your chapters. DON’T use multiple paragraph breaks! Multiple paragraphs will probably not be read/recognised by Kindle so all your chapters will appear mushed up into one super long chapter instead of starting on a new page/section each time.

E) Back matter

Your back matter will likely expand over time.


We like to leave a little reminder for the reader to leave a review, but this isn’t necessary.

As a first-time author, the very basic you need is an “About the Author” section where you can link your webpage or other social media that you want to direct readers to.

Once you’ve built a backlist, you can add them into your back matter so that if readers like your book, they can go and look for other stuff you’ve written.

Don’t forget to format the headings of your front and back matter as “Heading 1” too!

F) Table of Contents (TOC)


Now that you have everything in place, it’s time to set up your Table of Contents. Go to Reference>>Table of Contents>>Custom Table of Contents.

Untick “show page numbers” because page numbers are irrelevant to ebooks. Once it’s in the Kindle, the page numbers will change according to the reader’s settings. What you DO want is that the TOC is clickable so that they can jump ahead to chapters if they wish.

Make sure that everything you want to appear on the TOC appears—if they don’t, you’ll have to check that you’ve formatted all the chapter titles/headings as “Heading 1”.

Additional reading: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200645680

Okay, so Kindle has this snazzy new Kindle Create (KC) program that we have yet to try, so we’re going to test it out for this demo. Note: We deleted the TOC for this demo as it seems that this is where the formatting steps diverge.


Right. Uploaded the manuscript. It asked if we wanted to do a bunch of stuff, which was obviously yes.

Awesome. KC found all our headings and created a TOC! It doesn’t appear to be inserted in the text though, unlike the Word document.


Hmmm with these clickable format buttons, we’re able to define a copyright page, splitting it off from the Title Page. Looks alright…

We didn’t format mid-chapter separators in the Word file but Kindle Create has you a standard separator format. If you missed out any chapter titles or quotes, you can use this to define them too. Nice.


Ooh, Drop Caps. It looks like A Still, Small Voice might feature drop caps just because of this function. Ha. We didn’t test the “poetry” function because this ebook doesn’t have any.


Autosave reminders. Good job.

This pic was already in the word format and this is how it appears when converted over.


We tried reuploaded this picture to see how it works. KC only accepts pics in jpg.

KC has a handy previewer.

Oooooo themes! Not really necessary, but fun. Also, this is where you get a prettier ebook than just formatting in Word, I guess.


When you click publish, Kindle Create saves a separate file to upload on the site, same as if you upload the Word doc.

Verdict: Not really necessary, but it’s easy enough to use. And kinda pretty.

11. Cover

Covers are uber important and we recommend that you hire a cover designer to make you a pretty one. We’ve already commissioned a cover for A Still, Small Voice but it’s not ready yet, so we decided to play around with the cover creator to show you how it works.

If you really don’t have money to commission a cover, this is a cheap way to do a passable cover, but the templates are used so often that it does not distinguish your book from the millions out there. It also smacks of you being an amateur and a cheapskate. Not what you want. You want to do a professional book, right?

 

We decided not to upload a picture as we had none readily available. These were the options provided.

 

These templates are easily customiseable so just pick the options that appeal to you the most.

One great plus point with the cover creator is that if you have a picture/illustration/graphic you absolutely want to use on your cover but don’t have photoediting software, these templates help you add on the important text, such as your title and author name in the appropriate places without having to tear your hair out. 🙂 A minor downside is that the font options are kinda limited, so you have to live with what they offer.

12. ISBN and publisher


I tend not to get ISBNs for Amazon, but rely on their ASIN instead. It really doesn’t make a difference because most people don’t trace ebooks/Kindle books by ISBN anyway.

Enter a publisher name if you have one. If you don’t, just leave it blank.

13. Review your book


Now you’ve filled up everything on this page, make sure you review your file to see that everything looks good. For some reason, we’re not allowed to download the file (using Kindle Creator file) but it looks all right on the online previewer.


Ah, as suspected, you can download a preview file if you use a Word upload. This is useful if you want to use the preview file as review copies, but not for anything else.

*breathe a sigh of relief*
You’re done with the most difficult part.
Once you’re happy with your file (or you can live with it in its current format because you just want to set up the pre-order page and continue fiddling with it later) then you can proceed to the next page. The actual selling part.

EBOOK PRICING

14. KDP select

 

If you enrol in KDP select, you can’t sell your ebook anywhere else online, including your own website. Do not recommend. Then again, we’re biased to the “Going Wide” philosophy. Choose this if it fits your marketing strategy. We’ll talk about the whole KU vs Wide in another post.

15. Territories


This is where you want to and can sell the book. The obvious choice is “worldwide” unless you have reasons why you only want to limit your books to certain markets/regions.

16. Pricing


Pricing Support is another new function and a useful one at that! (Pronoun used to have something similar to this).

Because this is a short story and we’re pricing it at $0.99, the only royalty rate we can use is 35%. If you’re selling a full-length novel or even a novella, consider setting your price between $2.99 and $4.99 to get 70% royalties. You can set it above $4.99, but that usually decreases your chance of selling your ebook, unless you’re very famous.

Amazon autoconverts the prices in other marketplaces based on their current exchange rates, so you don’t really need to fiddle with international pricing unless you really, really want to.

17. Final bits!

These last two are optional.

We’re not opting for matchbook price because we’re not doing a print version of this short story. How matchbook works is if you sell a paperback on Amazon for, say, $9.99 and your ebook at $3.99, you can set up this option where someone buying the paperback can get a copy of the ebook as well at a discounted price you set (between 0 (free) to $2.99).

Kindle Lending allows the person who purchases the book to “lend” the ebook to a friend, like how you can lend a paperback you purchased to a friend.

AAANNNDDD that’s the end. Now you click “Submit for Preorder” or “Publish” and then wait for your book to appear online!

You’re probably as exhausted as we are right now, so we’ll wait until our next post to talk about the other technical bits of publishing in Amazon, including payments and tax.

Til then!