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Publishing Your Book: The Pro's & Con's of Wide vs. Narrow

A woman thinking about pros and cons

One of the biggest decisions you'll ever have to make as an author is whether to publish your books wide or narrow. If you're asking yourself questions like: "What options do I have to distribute my book?" and "Do I limit my options to one platform or risk going wide?" keep reading!

What We Mean by Publishing Wide vs. Narrow

You may have heard the terms "wide" and "narrow" before. You may also have heard writers use "wide" and "limited" when referring to distribution of books. Here's how we're defining it:

Wide (broad/multiple markets): Distributing and selling your book in multiple bookstores and online retailers.

Narrow (limited/single market): Distributing and selling your book exclusively on one platform.

Ask any author and you'll find that they're typically passionate about one approach over the other. Why this is the case varies, but most authors are staunch believers that their choice is the right one.

Why Authors Are Talking About It

Recently, indie authors who were part of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited (KU) program were being penalized when pirated versions of their books were cropping up elsewhere on the web without their consent. Amazon was canceling the accounts of certain authors enrolled in their KU program with poor notification of why or how these authors could get their accounts back.

This caused a flurry of panic amongst self-published authors who worried that their author businesses could suffer the same fate. KU's terms and services prevent authors who enroll from selling their books through any other distributor other than Amazon. Termination of an author's account means that they lose access to their entire livelihood because they are only able to sell through Amazon.

Now many self-published authors are doubting whether putting all their eggs in one basket is still safe, or if risking re-establishing themselves by going wide is the better bet.

Pro's & Con's Of Wide

pros and cons for wide chart

The benefits of wide:

  • Less Risk: Overall there's less risk for losing income, as you're not putting all your revenue in one place. If there's an issue with one retailer or platform, your entire income won't be affected or lost.

  • Protects Stability: Change to royalties or other terms is inevitable. But publishing on multiple platforms ensures that you're not at the mercy of just one retailer by protecting you from fluctuation.

  • Larger Audience: When you open the door to multiple platforms, you expand your potential audience simply because you're hitting multiple markets instead of one.

  • Flexibility: The greatest advantage to publishing wide is it gives you more control to explore what retailers you like best and to see where your book sells the best. It allows you to focus your marketing where your readership is and you can change it when the tides shift.

  • More Opportunities: With expansion comes opportunities that you wouldn't have if you limited yourself. Each platform offers advantages for working with them such as unique sales, networking opportunities, sellers events, etc.

The disadvantages of wide:

  • Takes Longer To Build Income: Unlike with narrow, your time/energy will be split amongst multiple markets. Your income will take longer to build initially because you won't be throwing all your resources into one place.

  • More Rules To Remember: Keep in mind that with multiple retailers comes different rules to publish and upload by. Keep a journal of the parameters of each place to refer back to when needed so you don't get confused.

  • Slower Growth: Like with income, publishing wide means growth can be slower than when you publish narrow. Like a small fish in the ocean, it takes time to attract attention. Be patient and remember that you'll be competing with more authors within your genre, and juggling more responsibilities at once.

  • Larger Time Investment: Naturally, having multiple eggs in multiple places means you'll be investing more time than if you only had one basket. It'll take more time to build each platform from scratch but the overall payoff will also be multiplied once you're established.

  • Bigger Investment Up-Front: With multiple business ventures comes a larger up-front cost. Be prepared to pay more initially, but also remember that you'll gain it back and then some in the long-term.

Though undoubtedly publishing wide requires more time, money, and energy the potential growth for your author business really is up to you! With more security overall, many authors both traditional and indie have made their living from choosing this strategy.

Pro's & Con's of Narrow

pros and cons for narrow chart

The benefits of narrow:

  • Faster Income: The biggest benefit to choosing narrow is that you'll see income faster. This is because you're spending all your time, energy, and resources in one place, but also because Amazon promotes its in-house programs such as Kindle Unlimited (KU) over authors who aren't members.

  • Access To Exclusive Offers: By signing up for KU, you have access to all of Amazon's exclusive perks which can help give you an edge over competitors on their site. Examples fall under marketing: KU authors are promoted/recommended more sitewide, gain prime place slots on Amazon's best-sellers list along with KU bestsellers, and generally are shown more across the website than authors who choose to publish wide.

  • Faster Growth: Another perk of KU is the ability for readers to read and return novels before purchase. It's not uncommon for authors, particularly those in the romance genre, to see massive amounts of quick success based on the binge-able nature of their books. Readers get hooked on the first and then move through the rest of the available selection.

  • Smaller Time Investment: If your time is limited, the publishing narrow may be right for you. Focusing on learning how to publish on one platform takes less time to learn and execute.

  • Less Competitors:

The disadvantages of narrow:

  • More Risk: Keeping your income in one place makes you vulnerable if your market cancels your account or experiences other instability issues.

  • Can't Publish Elsewhere: Publishing in one place can limit the amount of long-term income you can make. Your potential is capped by the capabilities of that one retailer.

  • Niche Audience: Going narrow means you only build your audience on one platform versus building multiple audiences. You can't take your niche audience with you if you leave.

  • Less Flexibility: If sales aren't going well, you don't have the option to focus on another market. You're stuck with what you've got regardless of the ups and downs.

  • Smaller Audience: Your audience growth relies entirely on what size your KU genre has. For example, if you're writing in a small niche you won't make large amounts of income. Growth potential is only as large as the number of people willing to read what you write and you can't gain more readers from elsewhere due to the distributor agreement.

Despite the cons, plenty of published authors have found success in going narrow. It really depends on your publishing goals, your intended audience, and what you're comfortable with.

The most important thing to consider when thinking about publishing wide vs narrow is to pick the side that works best for your personal goals. There is no right or wrong answer here. There's plenty of opportunity for success and plenty of authors who have used both strategies to get there.

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