Amazon

Half-formed thoughts on Kindle Unlimited

To add onto SgL’s last post — I have been wondering if Amazon’s latest program, Kindle Unlimited, the subscription service released back in July to compete with Scribd and Oyster, is part of their ongoing experiment with non-traditional models. (And if Kindle Serials, which functioned much like a subscription service, has become obsolete and will ultimately be phased out.) A lot has been said already about KU from a reader’s perspective, as well as a lot of ongoing chatter/controversy at various writer boards, so I’m wary of adding much more to the conversation.

But. A few things that have been on my mind:

1. The rise of paid serials outside of existing programs (in particular Kindle Serials)

– I think this started roughly in 2013 with H.M. Ward and her (still ongoing) “Arrangement” serial. Each installment is short novella length (~20k?) and published for $2.99.  She’s been wildly successful, obviously. This led to a surge of serialization in various romance subgenres.

– To be precise, there was stuff going on with the form as early as 2011, and 2012 is probably where it first started hitting its stride on Amazon, especially in the erotica/romance realm (H.M Ward among them). I remember this being the impetus (or one of them) for the Kindle Serials program (unleashed late 2012). I wasn’t paying as much attention at the time though, so please do correct me if I’m mistaken. (2013 is only when it seemed to me serials started becoming “mainstream” due to a variety of factors.)

– 2014 in particular saw the rise of serialization in paranormal romance, with several writers finding great success there, all without relying on Kindle Serials

– I believe SF was the other genre that saw an indie serialization boom thanks in part to Hugh Howey (but I did not watch this as closely)

2. Ye Olde Pricing Dilemma

– H.M. Ward prices each installment at $2.99, as mentioned above. A fair number of serializers follow this model too. But there are also a lot of 99c per installment serializers, who then price higher for “bundled” versions of the story. Installment lengths vary (especially depending on genre), but are generally in the 10k-30k range.

– There was a lot of vocal reader complaint about these pricing models, especially since way back at the start of the Kindle/self-publishing movement the fad had been full novels priced at 99c (with $2.99 being the other common option). There’s been a definite shift in pricing models over the years, but it’s also undeniable that the math can be harsh for the serial reader: last I checked “The Arrangement” is now on part 17, for example, with several offshoots. That’s $50+ in all for maybe 3-5 novels’ worth (if we count strictly by words and assume a base of 20k)… which actually isn’t that outrageous compared to equivalent print pricing*.

Of course, either way it hasn’t really stopped these installments from selling like hotcakes. Despite complaints, there has clearly also been a large contingent of readers who are perfectly happy paying for what they love (or who complain about it but pay up anyway).

* sure, apples and oranges, but probably just as much so as comparing serials with novels in the first place

– 99c may be a friendlier price for readers (from what I observed there were complaints even at that price point though), but disadvantages authors due to the lower royalty rate

– This was an issue Kindle Serials faced as well. The program seemed to approach the matter essentially as if serials were novels: a reasonable one time payment per serial with all subsequent episodes free. Great deal for the reader and fair for the author, but potentially not as profitable as independent releases as above, and also not good for writers with really lengthy serials.

3. Enter Kindle Unlimited

– For $9.99 a month, a reader can read anything they want in the program. Authors are paid per read out of a fixed pool (which may just be there for show, considering the fact that Amazon has manipulated the size of said pool every month of the program’s existence thus far to ensure [or so it seems to me] deliberately calculated payout rates). For the serializing community, this is a win-win for both sides… assuming, of course, that the reader is voracious (i.e. reads other writers’ material in the program too) and/or there are enough installments published and/or the writer publishes frequently. Reading either three to four $2.99 installments or ten 99c installments in a month is enough to make that fee worth it.

– But the program’s exclusivity requirement (anything in KU cannot be published anywhere else) may or may not be to its detriment, as well as the fuzzy payment pool issue. H.M. Ward (who was allowed to experiment with KU without being bound by the exclusivity requirement) recently claimed to have seen a drastic loss in revenue due to the program and has since pulled her work out. Whether or not the loss of revenue for her is true, it’s certainly true that readership will be limited to the Amazon customer base (which is nothing to sneeze at, mind).

(NOT, however, limited to KU subscribers. Those who don’t subscribe can still purchase, as before.)

– Also, KU was not designed specifically with serials in mind. Whether or not it has succeeded for novels is kind of a touchy issue among writers. But the impact of the program has definitely been far broader than Kindle Serials. And even half a year in, it’s really tough to gauge the full implications — in particular the question of “who is really using/will continue to subscribe to KU in the long run?”

4. Differing paths of evolution…

Over the past few years it’s started to appear to me that “webfiction” and “serials” have been evolving along different (but not necessarily contradictory) paths — one with a free/community-based model (Wattpad et al), and another, more aggressive commercial model. KU feels like a gamechanger, and yet it’s hard to say how things will develop from now on. The market is in constant flux. I’m not convinced the dust has settled, and even when it does (if it does), I’m sure there will be more changes waiting ahead of us.

Either way, as 2014 comes to a close, there are a lot more options now to consider, especially for a new writer interested in serializing. Having experimented with a few options myself by now (some under another, secret name), I’m not convinced any path is easier/superior to the others.

But that freedom of choice is what makes this all really so exciting.

Advertisements

Amazon and Write-On: Take Two on Serials

I apologize for months of radio silence. Work decided to have its own crisis which I hope will subside in the next few weeks.

While Amazon seems to have been in publishing news this entire year irritating the traditional pub world, I think it’s worth noting their interest in “non-traditional” models like serials. I’m not sure what has become of Kindle Serials which I’ve discussed in previous posts.  I haven’t seem much sign that it is currently growing nor many post-mortems on the program. Its current submissions page  remains closed — closed for so long so you wonder if it’s considered retired .  As I don’t see much publicly stated from the participants or Amazon themselves online, I point you instead to Jane Friedman’s post from earlier in the year trying to dissect the serial landscape.

While in a work-induced delirium, I caught an article very late last month on TechCrunch   regarding Amazon WriteOn (beta). The headline implied it was a counterpoint to Wattpad which is everyone’s favorite Canadian startup (if one reads all the  venture capital hype).

Like any sufficiently curious and sometimes informal reporter, I signed up to poke around. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed moderate benefit from Wattpad in terms of finding new readers (but no sales, alas) although having a work that doesn’t hit the ideal Wattpad demographic squarely in its face. (I like to say that I am on the Wattpad demographic dartboard but my work is too long, language somewhat complex, and not strict romance so I tend to graze the dartboard and then fall off it!)

I signed up for the beta and within a few days was provided an access code to log in using my existing Amazon account (currently linked to my Kindle Publishing account). As promised, it did appear to be what was advertised and has mostly writers (not readers as of yet) onboard.  What is particularly nice is that the writing quality (as a baseline) is far higher than Wattpad . My guess is that part of this is because the beta is tied to existing Amazon accounts which, I suppose, need bank/credit card info attached so skews the age of participation higher. (That said, who knows?) And I guess that the earlier invitees were all authors or people who hung out in writing forums in Kindle perhaps… makes sense… and the pay off is that the baseline quality of work is much better than what’s currently out there on a lot of “serial sites.”

I found the previous requirements in the open submission phase for Kindle Serials to be too onerous. If you weren’t done with your book and able to produce on weekly/biweekly installments at a proscribed word count, it wasn’t for you.   This looks far less restrictive and, in the beta, ideal as a writing community goes.

However, as it is a beta and everyone is starving for feedback, I haven’t yet jumped in. Tossing in a book and not engaging likely would be seen as obnoxious based on some of the forum conversations I was reading. Also, I clearly would need to bring my A-game once I do start posting my current serializing piece of fiction. The covers I see are really great and Kindle-worthy.  What passes muster on Wattpad won’t work here. (And so I need to enter when I’m ready. Not now.)

Let’s hope this effort matures. I think we need more than one Wattpad out there to help shape the serial market . Who better than Amazon?

I hope to start in on reading works in a few weeks but do have an account. If you sign up and are wanting to connect, let me know! Would be great to have some other points of view from the writer community!

On Becoming Part of the Collective

I should probably start by introducing myself. I’m Jim Zoetewey, and I’ve been writing a web serial called The Legion of Nothing for the past 7(!) years that I’m turning into a series of ebooks. About a month ago now I announced that I’d become part of a group of superhero prose fiction writers.

PenAndCapeSociety_logo_smallSo before I do anything else, I should make it clear that this wasn’t my idea. It was Drew’s. In fact, I wasn’t even in the initial group of people emailed about it because Drew couldn’t find contact information for me.

Nonetheless, I was invited, and joined. Why? Because it’s an incredibly good idea.

In fact, it’s an idea that I proposed a couple years ago, but didn’t actually put into practice. The moral to that? If you have a good idea, sometimes if you wait a while, someone else will put it into practice and save you the work.

That said, I suppose I should explain what the idea is, and why it matters.

The idea is that people who write prose superhero fiction should join up, create a group, and promote each other’s work. The Pen and Cape Society includes people who write web fiction, posting only on their website. It also includes people who are focused solely on writing ebooks as well as a number of us who are doing both.

In my mind, that’s where the strength of the idea lies. It could only become stronger in my opinion if we also managed to connect with similar groups who are cross promoting each other’s superhero web comics.

The web has a long history of groups getting together and doing this exact same thing–cross linking sites in a webring, listing the comics or blogs you like on your own blogroll.

We could theoretically have gone with an “only webserials” group or an “only ebooks” group, but going with an “all of the above” group connects more people.

It assumes what I think is a fairly basic insight: websites and ebooks are distribution methods, and only writers care about the distribution method. Readers just care about a good story.

Web fiction writers have often fallen into the trap of promoting themselves only to people who already read web fiction. This is done in various ways, ranging from only promoting one’s work on Web Fiction Guide to only contacting other web fiction writers about crosslinking.

What this group does is make people aware that they can find the same thing in different forms in more than one place–not only ebooks, but also for free online as a serial.

In short, forget the distribution method, we’ve got the same kind of product in two different places. This has the side effect of introducing people who read ebooks to the idea that web serials can be good. It also has the side effect of introducing people who read serials to the current small, but noticeable boom in the availability of superhero fiction.

It’s funny. When I was working as a freelance computer consultant, creating websites and small businesses computer networks, I became part of a business networking group. It connected me to clients I would never have met on my own. More than four years later, I still do work for some of these people.

Similarly, this has been the best month for The Legion of Nothing’s first ebook since its launch. Plus, when the Pen and Cape Society’s website went live I received at least one hundred new visitors to my web serial in the first week. Not all of them stayed, but some definitely did. My stats have been up since then.

I can’t speak to the effect of the organization’s existence on everybody. Drew Hayes (Superpowered), Vaal (The Descendants) and Jeffrey Allen (Portal) report that their websites received a noticeable number of new visitors. Drew, Ian Healy (Just Cause Universe), and R.J. Ross (Cape High series) all report that their ebook sales are up. That said, they’ve all got other reasons that their sales might be up (like releasing new books), so they’re not completely sure of the cause.

Cheyanne Young (Powered series) only has one superhero book out, and feels like she’s got nothing to compare it to.

Aside from the group website, we haven’t done much cross-promotion as yet, so getting some effect from what we have done is a good sign. Hopefully this will grow with the release of an anthology we’re working on, and other projects we’re talking about.

If nothing else, we’re all now in each other’s “people who bought this also bought…” section on Amazon, something that can only help us.

It’s said that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. Creating a group of people who mutually benefit from promoting each other’s work expands your word of mouth whether it’s for a computer business or selling ebooks. In the end, that’s why groups like this matter.

From Web-Serial to Book

Hey all. My name is Drew Hayes, and I’m here to talk to you about drinking responsibly… while working in an office.

                (Off-stage whisper)

                Really? They want to hear about that? But I had this whole bit about making liquor injected donuts.

                (More off-stage whispering)

                Well, alright, I guess we’ll give them what they want. Ahem, so, my name is Drew Hayes and apparently I’m actually here to talk about the process I went through of taking my web-serial, Super Powereds (hosted at DrewHayesNovels.com) to an e-book.

History

                Super Powereds was actually my second web-serial, following a comedic project called No More Ramen. My first web-serial was a test of self more than anything else, seeing if I had the gumption to actually put my work on display for the masses (masses here meaning the five readers I managed to accumulate). With SP, however, I decided to write it because it was the sort of project I really wanted to read but couldn’t find. All of the super-hero stories were either nothing but action with no emphasis on character development, or eschewed the abilities so completely that they may as well not have been there. I wanted to see realistic people coping with their own abilities in a world where you never know who can do what.

                Super Powereds is the story of five(ish) people with super human abilties going to college. In my world, people with powers who want to serve as crime-stopping cape-wearers, Heroes, must get certified just like any other response personnel. This lead to the Hero Certification Program: an incredibly difficult course running four years in parallel with college. There’s also a bunch of sub-plots and blah blah blah, but we’re not here to talk about the work itself, we’re here to talk about taking it from medium to another.

                Also, if there’s time at the end, liquor donuts.

Making the Change

                When I started SP, I never imagined I would see it on any kind of digital format other than my website. This was 2008, and while there was undeniably an indie book scene on Amazon, it wasn’t nearly as touted and well-known as it is today. And, to be frank, SP didn’t have the makings of a classic book. It was long and sprawling, with a multitude of characters that require a wiki to keep track of. I’m pretty sure that even now, with good reviews and a history of sales, I couldn’t get an agent to touch the thing.

                The e-book actually came about in response to reader request. Many of the people visiting my site would e-mail me or comment about how they enjoyed the story, but it wasn’t practical for them to sit at a computer all day. They wanted a digital version that would be portable and easy on the eyes. After a bit of debating, and a lot of research, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to throw an e-book into Amazon’s Kindle program to accommodate the people kind enough to read my words.

                Now why Amazon, I’m sure you’re wondering. In the digital self-publishing world, there are three main entities I’ve become aware of: Amazon, Smashwords, and Nook. Amazon is actually the most limited of these, in that the file type used by its propriety Kindle (.mobi) will not work with any other e-reader. Smashwords usually sells both types, while Nook sells .epubs that will work with pretty much anything except a Kindle. Ultimately, I went with Amazon for 3 reasons:

                1. Kindle Apps: While the structure of the Kindle seemed limiting, there was another side to it. There are Kindle apps for iOS and Android, turning nearly every phone and tablet into a Kindle with access to the owner’s library. Nook, at the time, had nothing approaching this, so going through them would have meant a far more limited options for the readers.

                2. Price: Listing on Nook and Amazon are commission systems, where you pay them a portion of your sales. Smashwords, on the other hand, requires money upfront for formatting and various other options. You can make a free book on Smashwords, however it’s not quite as streamlined a process, and for the first-time e-book maker I was, ease was invaluable.

                3. Exposure: Though Nook has rallied in recent years, the honest truth was that I viewed Amazon as having the biggest network available. Even though I wasn’t anticipating much in sales, I’m optimistic and ambitious. I saw no reason to hamstring myself from using the network with the widest reach and greatest opportunity to gather new readers.

                For the record, I’m not trying to advocate that just Amazon, or Amazon at all, is the right choice for someone launching their first e-book. All I can tell you is that it was right for me at the time. Some of you might be asking why I didn’t do all three, or at least Nook and Kindle. That was the original plan, but Amazon’s Kindle Select Program ended up changing my plans. We’ll get into that a little later on though.

From Web to Book

                There was never any question that I would need an editor. Some authors have amazing and honed skills; they can spot typos, inconsistencies, and grammar mistakes with eagle-eyed precision. Some of us having typo-based drinking games readers play when on our sites. I’m the latter.

                Finding a freelance editor is a daunting task. A lot of the ones you find through Google are very expensive and difficult to book. I got quotes upwards of $3,000 dollars for editing on Super Powered: Year 1 (To be fair: they charged by word and it was over 200,000 words). Fortunately, if you’re plugged into the writing community you can find many editors who are newer in the game and hungry for work. They tend to have more accommodating schedules and reasonable prices. In my case, I got lucky. One of my best friends from college opened up a side-business doing editing. Shameless plug: She does great work and can be reached at cooley.edit@gmail.com.

                Once the editing was done, I had to think about the structure of the book. SP published twice per week, with chapters ranging from 1000-1500 words (sometimes more, but never less). Year 1 ended up having 156 chapters, each of which was far shorter than the length of an average novel’s chapter. It took a lot of puzzling (till my puzzler was sore), but I ultimately decided to keep it as it was. This was because:

                1. The breaking points in the chapters worked for the overall flow of the story and I didn’t want to start jamming them up.

                2. As I mentioned, Year 1 is really long. Putting the chapters in bite-sized pieces allowed a reader to take a few chapters down whenever they had time, without feeling like they were pulled out of the narrative or lost their place.

                Despite my worries, this actually went over quite well, and when I put out Year 2 I decided to keep the structure once more.

                The last thing to tackle was the cover. For my first release, I made my own, and I regret it to this day. A decent graphic image artist can get you a cover for $100-$200. I now know other authors who spend far more on custom images people paint by hand, so that’s a great option if you have the free capital. Bottom line: make sure the cover is professional looking. We all know the old adage, but the truth is people judge an e-book first by its cover, then it’s summary, and then its price. If you don’t grab their eye when they’re scrolling through countless other books, they never even get the chance to become customers.

Going Live

                When I converted the book (a tedious process documented at here) and uploaded it to Amazon, I thought that was the end of it. Oh how wrong I was.

                First off, during the upload, I had to do something that had sincerely, never occurred to me: set a price. I, like most web-serial folk, give my work away on the site, only making a small bit from ads and donations. The idea of charging people for what I already gave away at first struck me as crass. However, since Amazon doesn’t allow free e-books without a lot of hoop-jumping, I made peace with it. I eventually settled on a price of $3.99: high enough to show the amount of value I felt the work had, but low enough not to trip anyone’s mental circuits as a major purchase.

                When that was done, Amazon next presented me with another choice: Did I want to enroll in the Kindle Select Program? This essentially means you agree not to sell through anyone but them. In exchange you receive: the ability to make deals and promos, a higher percentage of international royalties, and a piece of the communal Prime Member pot when Prime members borrow your books. The promo deal intrigued me, and having just finished making the .mobi I was already dreading doing an .epub for Nook, so I signed on.

                With that, it was just a matter of being reviewed, posted, and put up for sale as an Amazon e-book. At long last, my journey was completed.

                Right?

The Aftermath

                When I graduated high school, I decided (on a whim) to go to college in a town ten hours away from my hometown where I knew exactly zero people. For most of my adult life, I referred to that as the impulsive decision that had the largest consequences. The e-book of Super Powered: Year 1 overtook that honor within months after it was published.

                While I originally planned to put out a portable story for my more dedicated readers, the book quickly took on a life of its own. I didn’t realize it when I published, but superhero stories are a huge indie author bonanza right now, and I’d published right into the niche where books were being gobbled up. It was great; it meant a few dollars in my pocket and new visitors to my sites.

                Then, as it always does, reality set in. There were forums with readers asking me questions on Amazon’s site, so keeping a good relationship with them meant hitting it several times a week. The longer I spent on the site, the more I got to see the various authors scrapping to keep their sales rank and review numbers high. As more sales came in, it occurred to me for the first time that it might be viable to make a living off that. It became a pipeline of both income and new readership, and like all pipelines it required management if I wanted the flow to continue.

                I will say this to all of you who are looking at taking an established web-serial and making it into an e-book: you have a tremendous advantage over many of the other authors clamoring for attention. Having a reader-base right out of the gate is a great step-up, the only reason I saw such initial success was because of the kind readers who took the time to review the book and spread the word. They gave me such a good leg-up, in fact, that I’m only now beginning to learn about promotion and advertisement. Don’t be shy about asking them to review, I’ve found most readers want their authors to meet with success; it translates into more products available for them to consume.

                In closing, I’ll say that taking a web-serial to an e-book is a very time-consuming and potentially expensive process, however it can be very lucrative even if you aren’t looking to branch out into more traditional publishing mediums. It’s a tool, and like any tool only the wielder can decided if it’s correct for that they want to accomplish.

                There, now that ALL of that is done, let’s finally move onto to office drinking. To start, the “coffee” pot can warm a fine mulled wine if you-

                (Offstage whispering)

                Out of time? This is a written blog, that doesn’t even make sense. You can’t do this! I will not be silenc-


Writer DrewDrew Hayes is a little bit writer, a little bit performer, and currently being fed to the blog sharks.  You may find his  manifestos and his serial “Super Powereds”  at at his website. 

News Roundup, ending May 22

Oh Amazon Worlds, legitimate licensed fanfiction?

I will link you to Passive Voice’s post on this because I think the comments are important. Look for the two attorneys on the blog (Marc Cabot and Passive Guy) as I think they’re raising the rock on what might be a rather problematic aspect of this otherwise amazing move by Amazon.  First, I think it’s great for authors who want to break into something to DO FANFIC. Absolutely.  Instantly forgiving audience should you cater to the wants/needs of the average fanfic reader.  Yes, Amazon takes its share of the sales. Yes, Amazon’s fine point needs to be analyzed since while you maintain your copyright to what you created, who knows whether you have to be exclusive. We’ll see.

But for a long time I’ve felt like fandom has had no real understanding of copyright and licensing and the ramifications should the licensor also have the ability to enforce their license.

I’m not an attorney but long familiar with debates about copyright/licensing as relates to IP goods.  My question is if Amazon Worlds licenses properties A, B,C, can they enforce /issue cease and desists against sites that host that content?  See, even if it’s available freely, it still infringes and second, while the author doesn’t benefit, the SITES that have ads for stories related to A,B, and C do.  That ad revenue may, in part, really belong back to the intellectual property owner whose property is being exploited on the web.

So – maybe I’m just overseeing things here, but I’m wondering if this move is intended to redefine the landscape of fandom engagement and harness a bit of the fandom into an arrangement that benefits the original holder.

However – for those fans like me who actually really do want to play nicely… I”ll admit this is interesting. I want to find readers. And there are fandom writers who leveraged their success on fanfiction.net and made it into the publishing world.  I wouldn’t mind a piece of that action either. Sadly, I would guess Amazon will deal mostly with Western fandoms and not the Japanese ones I adore… but here’s a hint. *COUGHANIMELICENSEPLEASE*

Survey Says Chinese Youth Unsatisfied with Online Literature

A somewhat provocative piece suggests that online chinese fiction might be increasingly unpopular. This in contrast to the article about profitability of online novels in China which a few years ago several us discussed over at Novelr.com.

Its’ quite possible that this survey is skewed to start with. We don’t know much about the population sampling. We also don’t have cross-tabulations comparing frequent reader beliefs vs. those who don’t read “frequently,” whatever that may mean. So – like the lone commentor suggested – who knows what to think of this “key finding”?

Story Notes – Episode Endings vs. Chapter Endings (and a change in Ep 5)

Camille Laguire hits upon some really interesting points about crafting serials. The cliffhanger sometimes isn’t literal in a way, but sometimes about setting yours readers up to have to mull and think through things in the time between installments. I really like these more subtle points about writing serials and wish readers would chime in about which serials they like and why. I do think that serial attract a different kind of reader, and that is the one who sort of enjoys the suspense behind “waiting.” I think also the best serial writers are known by their readers to be tricky and likely to surprise them. It makes the waiting all that more full of interesting analysis!

And that’s it for now 🙂