How #KU Works for Authors, and Weekly Winners


Happy Sunday! I’m sad because tomorrow is Monday and I have to go back to the office after a week off (well, “off” is theoretical with the day job). But I’m happy and a bit nervous because this next week begins my final month at the day job, before jumping off the authorial cliff.

On the surface, it’s a bad time to make the leap. God knows the health care market is iffy these days and my career as a novelist is on the cusp of change, with several orphaned series that are going to force me into the “indie” marketplace, publishing them myself. (Lesson here is, if you have an author and series you want to continue, buy a copy, leave a review, recommend it to friends. Low sales=canceled series.)

Some authors have found indie publishing to be both fulfilling and lucrative; others have found it expensive and unsustainable. Which one I will be remains to be seen. Which sort of brings us to the KU program, which is a decision indie authors have to make–whether or not to participate.

Someone—Liz, I think—asked how authors feel about KU, which is Amazon’s ebook subscription program. Here’s my understanding of it (and anyone out there who knows more, please chime in and correct me if I’m wrong).

You pay a fixed amount per month ($9.99) and in exchange you can download any ebook that participates in the KU program, read it, and return it. There is some limit to how many books you can have downloaded at one time, but I’m not sure what that is. Or you can download it, let it sit on your Kindle forever, decide you don’t want to read it and eventually return it.

I’ve heard authors come down on both sides of the issue. All of my Susannah Sandlin books are available in KU, but my Sentinels books are not—it’s the publisher’s choice unless you’re an indie author, in which case you are your own publisher and can make the call yourself.

When KU first started (I think this is correct), authors were paid a royalty amount based on the percentage of the book that was read. So if you downloaded WILD MAN’S CURSE and read all of it, I’d earn about the same amount as if you had bought the book. If you read only half of it, I’d get a half share. It’s not quite that simple because authors are paid out of a pool of money rather than a straight royalty, but the analogy is close enough.

Well, as might be expected, some authors saw a way to game the system and they began putting out a lot of novellas and short stories and serialized books, so that Author Z would earn the same for the 20-page story she dashed off in a week as I did for my 350-page novel that took six months to write.

So the rules had to change.

Currently, authors are paid by number of pages read, using a formula that equalizes factors like font size and lines per page. There’s a community pot and the KU authors divide the amount by however many pages have been downloaded and read. This is certainly more equitable. So the story author gets paid for 20 pages and I get paid for 350 pages, assuming the reader finished the story/book.

Overall, I view KU as a good thing—it gets my books in front of readers who might download one as an experiment, find they like it, and buy other books.

The downside of it is that people tend to download and store a lot of Kindle books, especially those experiments. So if you download WILD MAN’S CURSE, but you get busy and don’t read it and it sits on your device for the next year, I get nothing. Which is why authors don’t get paid by the download but by the pages read.

Anyway, that’s how KU works from the author’s end of things. I don’t have a problem with it, but I know other authors who really hate it and, when possible, don’t allow their books to participate in it. Obviously, Susannah’s publisher does participate, and Suzanne’s does not.

Hope that helps answer some questions! If you ever have publishing or writing questions you’d like me to address be sure and put them in the comments. I’ll get to them as soon as I can!

Now…did you win a book this week? If you see your name please email me at or via the contact tab on this page.

GALENA won a $10 gift card for participating in the discussion on blogs. Thanks to ALL of you who participated. It gave me some new ideas and confirmed my desire to continue this blog, especially since I’ll soon have more time to devote to it.

JULIE won this week’s Reader’s Choice giveaway and chose A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab. You can also choose to substitute any other book (print or digital) up to USD$15.

See you tomorrow for a new Reader’s Choice!



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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

10 thoughts on “How #KU Works for Authors, and Weekly Winners

  1. I didn’t join the KU program because I thought it would clash with my “To Be Read” pile of books in a negative manner. I was afraid I’d just end up with a bunch of books that I wouldn’t get to. That wouldn’t help the authors at all. I need for them to get paid so they can write more books.

    I like hard cover books best, trade paperback next, paperback, then Kindle.

    • I think your rationale on KU makes sense. If you have a lot of “auto buy” authors who publish with the “Big 5” NY publishers, they aren’t going to be available for KU. So to get your money’s worth, you’d have to bypass stuff you wanted to read for what was available. As far as I know, none of the “Big 5” participate in KU (i.e., Penguin/Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan). My Sentinels series is published by Macmillan. (So far.)

  2. After reading all that my mind is boggled!! I prefer books I can hold in my hands and add to my home library. I also get lots from the library. I do have alot on my Kindle that don’t get read until I run out of things to read.

    • Yes, it’s complicated. Even more so when you think that the community pool of money varies from month to month. And I also have a lot of unread books on my Kindle. I tend to buy things I think I’d like when they’re on sale, then read them when I get around to them….which might be never.

  3. I do use Kindle Unlimited. It gives me a chance to experiment with new authors. I have found some series which I gobbled up and I have a few books still waiting to be read.

    • I also use KU, although it’s mostly for research books that I don’t want to have to buy just to get some small bit of knowledge for. I borrowed a lot of books about game wardens for the Bayou series. So it’s not just fiction that’s available in KU! I do try to make sure I get through the whole book so the author doesn’t get shorted, however.

  4. it’s not available outside the us ( oki we can suscribe but if we try to download anything we get the ‘ service not available in your area”)
    i prefer print book for sure

    however i’m not sure we can keep the book on the device long for example if we styop suscribing we can’t keep those we had ( i think) also when in KU you can’t be on any other service ( if i understood right) so it kind of limit readership.
    Would smasword not be better ( i understood that author get more when purchase is made there than on amazon and it not necessarily exclusive)

    • That’s a good point. If you choose to stop your KU subscription, I’m pretty sure they’d remove the books from your devices, which is only fair.

      I think Smashwords is only an option for self-published books. You won’t find any traditionally published books on there. So it’s not even an option for any of my series, all of which are trad published. (And yes, there’s a considerable difference in the royalty rate if one goes exclusively with Amazon on self-published books.)

  5. While I used to far prefer something I could hold in my hand, I’ve really got to love reads on my Kindle. Being able to read at the table while eating or while riding somewhere in the car has become a fav pastime for me so I’m definitely changing the way I read. I don’t belong to KU as between Netgalley and freebies, I have a constantly full Kindle. I do tend to download a lot of freebies from Amazon that are frequently the first book in a series, so it gives me a chance to test drive a new series or author. This does often lead me to purchase additional books by an author but more often than not as a print copy.

    • I used to be a print-only girl, but age and practicality have won me over to digital books. I still have a few auto-buy authors in print, but like you I love the portability of digital. I’m pretty amazed at how much I read through the Kindle app for my iPhone! And it goes with me everywhere. And I like being able to make the print larger. I have a feeling as the years go on, I’ll value that even more!