self-publishing

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.

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Next week! Indie Recon -an online conference on self-publishing – 2.25-2.27

Sorry folks for a pretty quiet 2014. I am mulling writing a short series on promotion (as there are a lot of newer writers  trying rather hard these days to find readers) but need some time to put those thoughts together.

Just a head’s up. Indie Recon is back this year and starts next week!

The schedule is available at http://www.indierecon.org/p/schedule.html

Like last year, I think everything is free and available to attend online.

Also announced is an in person convention in Utah, October 10th & 11th, 2014 dedicated to self-publishing.

 

End games – A Pep Talk

Let me relate a few seemingly disparate ideas and somehow magically (hopefully) spin this blog post into some advice.

1) Lunascence fiction archives announces it’s shutting its doors.   Most people don’t really know what it is — after all, when we think fanfiction most of us operating in fandom circles think of Fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own.  But for at least a few year’s it’s been a fairly active and healthy spot for reading all sorts of stuff if you have watched it through the lens of Project Wonderful advertiser data.   The reasons for it closing come down to economics. In spite of the heavy demand /traffic, the person who registered the site and pays for hosting cannot keep up with bills due to a lack of donations and a shortfall of advertising revenue.

2) Wattpad’s crowdfunding page disappears off the main page.  When last checked, the projects largely topped off around a few thousand dollars. Far better than the average publishing project on Kickstarter but not the success that one expected given the high popularity of stories/authors on the site.

The truth is free fiction on the web tends to attract readers (if good and promoted/visible) but these examples illustrate that it is hard to find sustainable models for converting readers into patrons.  A few authors have managed to make decent funding off donations.Both Wildbow of Worm and Alexandra Erin of Tales of Mu  seem to be such examples.  (Incidentally, congrats to Wildbow for finishing an epic run with “Worm” this week, clocking in millions of words and I think somewhere in the 1000s of updates! )    That said, very few serial authors otherwise have come forward saying that they make more than a few dollars here or there off donations. When we gather around the watercooler at Webfiction Guide or Twitter, most of us seem to joke about how the compensation most of us receive (if any ) can perhaps buy some pizza or be funneled back into a modest advertising budget at places like Project Wonderful.

And yeah, this is kind of sad.   We already know it’s hard to find the readers on the web for online work.   A lack of comments and a lack of compensation can be pretty demoralizing for an author.  These, aside from the sheer difficulty of keeping a serial going, are among the reasons many people lose steam and throw in the towel on their serial.  (Short of having a loving burning need to write in the open space of the internet or MASOCHISM, not many people I think are able to keep writing.)

It doesn’t help that people regularly scare up reasons why not to publish on the web.  For many years the common wisdom still holds concern about web-publishing impacting future traditional publishing prospects.  (Not necessarily true by the way as evidenced by the story of    Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War ” and, more recently, Pacat’s “Captive Prince.”)  

Still, publishing is even weaker than it was a few years ago  and we are squarely in the middle of a self-publishing paradigm shift whereby some stars find their indie success and hard work paying off.   The fact is that with the right combination of luck, audience charm, and hard work, the path to commercial and popular success isn’t closed off simply because one didn’t go the traditional route.

So for those of you who are discouraged and wanting to give up, do a little self-assessment.  You may never find popularity or money while serializing.  But it isn’t over.  

True, the web may not be a great place for making money off your webfiction but that same work has the opportunity and possibility of becoming something else in its next phase. An ebook. A paper book. The means, the methods, and the know-how are all out there waiting for you if you’re willing to take what you have and talk to the self-publishing and independent writer crowd. 

So don’t give up on your serial.  Finish it.   It costs you nothing to upload to Smashwords or Amazon. If you need help, ask us. Some of us before you have done it already. Make a complete work and reach a whole different audience — the one buying millions of phones and tablets and e-readers and who knows what else as we continue to stomp down the path of an exciting digital age.  (You’ll be glad to know that at least a handful more of us can say that in this stage we may not be making fistfuls of money but we are selling. )

You won’t know your measure until you try it at least once with one completed serial, one book.   

And readers?  The point of this blog wasn’t to say that authors in this community expect donations. But for those who ask and have earned your trust and have regularly entertained you, think about it. They have no way of knowing the value of their work if you either don’t donate or reach out to them.  Readers, be cheerleaders for the authors who deliver.

And authors, keep running the race.

To the end game.

News Roundup: July 1

Chimerical Tales Launches

After almost reaching their goal the first time around, the folks behind Chimerical Tales redid their Kickstarter and succeeded.  Today they launched their online web serial magazine at http://chimericaltales.com/  and begins with two stories: “Mythstalkers” (originally published as a comic by Image) and “Falling in Love, 1977.”  They’ll be posting new updates for various serials every day from henceforth.

Congratulations to the writers and producers!

Minnesota Star jumps onboard the serial bus

Looks like one periodical is attempting to serialize content just like their British counterparts.  And I guess this explains their basic intro piece on serials in the last news update. Mary Logue’s “Give up the Ghost” will run June 9 – July 28.  Looks like they’re selling the complete work at this time (for impatient readers).  As their editor explains she saw this as an opportunity to feature local talent and engage better with the arts community and then goes on to describe the process through which they found a serial to feature.  This kind of experiment I think is pretty neat. Considering that newspapers themselves are fighting a battle to survive and find unique content to provide their subscribers —  I think she’s on to something as you’ll note the next link…

The Martha’s Vineyard Patch also jumps on board

Lady Slipper Farm and the Summer People is a locally flavored serial, featuring characters drawn from the local area.  I’m not quite clear on whether the first installment is the actual start date or a repost, hence my giving the Star first props. 😉

BirdLife launch online book

Bird conservationists use Wattpad to engage a new generation.  It’s a seemingly odd route to take — particularly from the non-fiction spectrum, but it’s one I hope proves successful for these folks.  As for the connection? Ah, one Margaret Atwood :).

Self-publishing Expo, November 9, NYC

Looks like Kobo, Smashwords, and Wattpad will be sponsors and possibly featured.  More information on the conference panels here: http://selfpubbookexpo.com/panels/ . I’m pleased to see Michael Sullivan on the guest list as he is a very helpful presence on the /r/Writing reddit community.  He also has a unique perspective as  a traditional and self-published author.  I’m mulling attending this one myself… I’m always looking for a good excuse to go to NYC :D.