Balls Deep in Kindle Unlimited: The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

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Original artwork by Jack Sparling, from House of Mystery #173 Copyright 1968, 2014 DC Comics, Inc.

Or at least that’s the way it seems in some quarters. Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s new subscription-based e-book service, has been the hot topic for about five days now, which is of course more than enough time to know EVERYTHING about the service and EVERY SINGLE THING it could effect. Not.

Here’s the facts, as far as I can determine, for each end of the equation.

Readers:

Readers pay $9.99 a month for Kindle Unlimited. At the moment, all participants are enjoying a free trial month.

For that sawbuck, they get access to several hundred thousand books, of which they can borrow ten (10) at a time. If you have ten on your Kindle and you return a book, you can borrow another.

Unlike similar subscription services like Scribd or Oyster, KU does not require a separate app to use; e-books are delivered directly to your Kindle as they normally would be with any e-book purchase or library borrow (or can be downloaded to your computer to be sideloaded onto the devices if you don’t have a wireless connection).

The title selection currently includes a number of traditionally-published and independently-published titles, such as the Harry Potter books, the Hunger Games trilogy, and the Life of Pi, along with a good collection of titles from indie writers. Most genres appear to be fairly well represented, with the exception of erotica (click the picture on the sidebar below to see the numbers in each category).

You can return your Kindle Unlimited titles from your Kindle if you go to the Kindle Store, select “All Categories”, choose Kindle Unlimited, and then pick My Kindle Unlimited books, which will bring up the proper interface to return them.

If you return your books via the internet on your Manage Your Content page, the book will be deleted from your Kindle the next time you sync it. So, if you’re reading one and haven’t finished, don’t return it that way. It WILL be deleted and no, it isn’t a conspiratorial scam like many might tout that sort of invasiveness after the 1984 debacle of a few years back.

Readers also have access to a select number of audiobooks (noted by the Audible Whispersync logo in the book listing), which can be downloaded much like you would from Audible.com (this requires a software download to your PC or laptop, or the Audible app on your Kindle Fire). I personally haven’t tried this yet, since I’m not a big audiobook consumer at the moment.

Categorys and numbers of titles in Kindle Unlimited as of July 22, 2014
Categorys and numbers of titles in Kindle Unlimited as of July 22, 2014

 

Authors: 

In order to participate in Kindle Unlimited, you MUST be a member of Kindle Select. If you are already a member, your books were automatically added to the KU library (if you do not wish to be in the program, you can withdraw them without penalty to your Select account for a limited time on the KDP website).

Naturally, the exclusivity rule applies as it would to any Kindle Select title: You cannot have your book for sale on any other venue but Amazon during your 90-day enrollment in order to use the program. Just like the commercial says, “membership has privileges”.

Authors will get a paid a royalty share, much like the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) for each book that is read at least to the 10% mark. That exact amount is unknown at the moment, but KOLL has averaged about $2.00 USD per borrow over the past year or so.

And that’s pretty much all we know. The two notable items that no one is quite sure of at the moment that, in my opinion, will make or break Kindle Unlimited are:

1. How many readers are going to re-up for a second month (and longer), actually paying the $9.99 monthly charge?

2. Exactly how much are authors going to get for each borrow from KU? Is it going to be the same amount as KOLL? Less? More than a regular royalty? Less than that?

We’ve got about a month to wait on the former, and about a fortnight on the other.

Another minor quibble that needs to be explained is that, if a reader doesn’t use Whispernet/3G/wifi and sideloads all their borrowed e-books on their Kindles, how does Amazon know if the 10% read qualification for payments has been met or not? Surprisingly, there still are some people out there without access or who choose not to invest in a wireless connection, so this is a salient discussion point.

For me, as an indie author, I’m looking at Kindle Unlimited as a great way to get my books in front of people that wouldn’t normally read them; I have one in Select right now, but the KOLL is really a crap shoot, since a Prime user only gets one e-book a month they can borrow. And considering I review every book I read (and have done so for going on two and a quarter years now), that means that other “power readers” may also be doing the same thing. Reviews are one of those sticky points that indie authors can never seem to get enough of … or often any at all. Hopefully this could be a much more inexpensive in-road for that that problem.

I do have to say that authors in the program had better make sure their books are up to snuff in terms of formatting, editing, and proofreading. I’ve read about fifteen books since the start of the Kindle Unlimited program, all of which were books that I had interest in, but not nearly enough to chance buying them. At least four of them so far would’ve been returned for a refund because of poor presentation (two were nearly unreadable because of formatting issues).  This program could be a boon to indie writers, but we cannot live up to the stereotype that’s been forced upon us by the less scrupulous segments of our own community through a lazy attitude toward the basics of publishing!

So the sky is not falling. Rome is still standing, and in fact, Nero hasn’t even gotten his fiddle out. The Silver Surfer has not located us yet. Darkseid’s still a few factors away from the Anti-Life Equation. It’s still the main aria and there are no Viking helmets in sight. Let’s all just sit back and let things progress naturally, so we can all make some properly informed decisions on Kindle Unlimited.

Balls Deep in Self-Publishing: The Fussy Homophobe

Apparently, according to the folks over at the Fussy Librarian, only straighFussyhomophobet people can have contemporary romances. Everything else is just gay and lesbian whatever, all rolled into one big category to fight it out on the shelves and screens of the literati.

A friend of mine who’s a very erudite and readable author just finished a romance novel and submitted it to TFL. Unfortunately, They won’t run the book in the “contemporary romance” category because it’s about a romance between two men. Now I’m sure that this is probably de rigeur for a lot of these fly-by-night promo places (and, as far as I’m concerned, they’re ALL fly-by-night since they’re vampires sucking the money out of indie author wallets), but if you’re paying money up front, you’d like to think that’s one thing in a capitalist society that can overcome those outdated and moronic social mores. In this case, they refunded half of my friend’s cash and are going to run it in the “Gay/Lesbian” category.

Now, mind you, there is nothing wrong with having a separate category for LBGT works, but if a writer is just writing a story and doesn’t necessarily feel the need or desire to put in that category, why should they have to? A simple romance story is a simple romance story, no matter who the imaginary participants happen to be.

Sure, the Fussy Librarian is within their rights. They are the Fussy Librarian, after all. Yet another of the vampires that prey on the promotional needs of writers, with stringent review requirements, since having a lot of reviews always means you have a better book. Not.

But c’mon, people! We’re paying you to promote our work. WE should be the ones who decide where it goes, not you and your homophobic instincts. If you want our cash, fucking listen to us! The customer is always right, right?

 

Balls Deep in Self-Publishing: Crowdfunding, or as it should be called, Begging.

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It seems to be one of the more common things today, using one of the various crowdfunding sites to get your good idea off the ground and running. No problem with that at all; there are many interesting ideas, inventions, causes and the like that are worthy of the crowdfunding model.

However, I just can’t see independent authors and self-published authors using this method as a viable way to get their book published. If anything it should be the Court of Last Resort for any indie publishing effort, after all other options have been attempted.

I’ve seen quite a few campaigns on kickstarter, and particularly Indieagogo, from “authors” and even “publishing houses” trying to get money to fund their efforts. Most of them have been pretty outlandish, at least to anyone who knows the self-publishing game.

With many projects, you can estimate your expenses here and there. Hell, you don’t even have to give specific breakdowns for what you plan to do with the money, just say it’s going for this, this and this. A lot of people liked posting it like a budget. That’s where you get to see who’s fudging the numbers and who’s gonna be livin’ large on the fatted calf after the campaign’s over. People want money to cover printing expenses, e-book conversion, cover creation, editing, proofreading, promotional costs, and pretty much everything else that a self-respecting indie author works out on his or her own, either by saving up and forking over the dosh, working out a payment plan with an editor, or learning how to do things themselves. Three-quarters of the expenses of publishing a book, using Createspace and/or KDP (or Smashwords), normally end up adding up to a big goose egg for most indies.

Whenever I see exorbitant costs listed for “printing expenses” on self-published books, or expenses for turning a book into an e-book, and other items that don’t actually cost anything, I know that either someone’s playing the game, or they got caught by AuthorSolutions and are trying to get other people to pay for their moronic mistake. (And I am sorry if that offends anyone who got snookered, but getting caught by a vanity predator like AuthorSolutions, iUniverse, PublishAmerica or their ilk IS a moronic mistake, given the wealth and depth of information available about their shoddy business practices on the internet. Fucking learn to Google, people!)

I saw a recent campaign from a publishing venture that needed help, even though they were an “established” entity already. They noted the funds were going for such things as a new printer, and to pay their employees. Umm, I hate to tell them, but you can get a pretty decent printer at Wally World for about $50. If you can’t afford an outlay of fifty bucks without resorting to selling pencils on the street corner, you are NOT a publisher; you shouldn’t even be in business. I really felt sorry for the authors associated with that one.

It comes down to this: Crowdfunding is begging. It has its moments, where things gibe and the process works great and there is innovation. Publishing your own book is NOT innovation. I can publish a book. It doesn’t cost me a damn thing.

Indie authors are already at a disadvantage. There have been so many lackluster and generally crappy books out there since this new publishing paradigm started, that we’ve got a huge stigma to overcome when compared with “real” and “traditional” authors. We do NOT need to be called beggars and mendicants as well.

If you think you need to crowdfund the publication of your book, I think it’s time for you to sit down and completely reassess what you’re doing. You may not be cut out for the author game.
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Now if you want a couple of indie books that didn’t resort to the crowdfunding malarkey, and turned out exceptionally good, here’s a couple of suggestions:

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by Erin McGowan

An exceptionally good first novel. It kept my attention without a single dinosaur or outer space battle, so it’s got my seal of approval.

 

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by L.B. Clark

A very good story, that’s really hard to categorize: Romance, relationships, a dash of the paranormal, rock music, fast cars … well, it’s a very good read in any event.

 

 

 

Balls Deep in Self-Publishing: Creating your own Kindle-ready mobi file (Part 1)

I get a lot of inquiries over at Quantum Formatting about making mobi files for authors, so they can give out copies to reviewers, beta readers, etc. While it’s always nice to simply gift a copy through Amazon (and get a little back with the royalty) or use a free coupon on Smashwords, a lot of reviewers will want the book sent to them in a format they can put right on their Kindles (or other e-reader) without a lot of mucking about.

There are three really easy ways to create a mobi (Mobipocket) file for your own personal use.

The first is to download a copy from Smashwords. It won’t have any DRM (either proprietary or copy-protection), but it will have the old “Published on Smashwords” notification in the indicia, and whatever idiosyncracies the “meat grinder” gave it. One other disadvantage of this method is that a person cannot use “Send to Kindle” for a mobi file from Smashwords. At least it never works for me, and it only ever doesn’t work with Smashwords files.

(By the way, if you don’t have Send to Kindle, go download it now. It’s a very useful way to move books to your various Kindle devices.)

Nothing wrong with that, but the other two methods, at least to me, give the author much more control over the final look of the book they are sending to be reviewed or read by someone special.

The second way to convert a file will require the following:

  • A copy of your book manuscript in Word format (and, of course, a copy of Microsoft Word).
  • Download and install Kindle Previewer from Amazon.

Step 1:  Open up your document in Word.  If your file does NOT have a picture of your book’s cover at the beginning, add it now. Try to use the best quality but most compressed picture of the cover you have. Save the file as you normally would, using a file name to specify that it has the cover within.

convert001Click the Office button in the upper left hand corner and choose “Save As”.  In the pull-down menu under the file name bar in the next window, choose “Webpage, filtered.”

Please note that this will change some of the formatting of your book. Usually, the margin may move a bit to the left, and any “Small Caps” fonts will become “All Caps” instead. Nothing too traumatic, if you’ve formatted your book properly at the start.

Step 2:  Start Kindle Previewer. Choose “Open book” and choose the new HTML file you just created. It often may take a couple minutes to compile.

HINT: Make sure your book’s file is not open in Word at the same time. If it is, it will fail to compile.

After it’s done, you WILL get a WARNING! Don’t get upset about that. 99% of the time, it will look like this when you expand it to get the details:
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The warning is “Cover not specified”.  Normally Kindlegen (the program that is Kindle Previewer) would be grabbing the cover from the image you uploaded to Amazon’s KDP. You don’t have that here. And since we’ve already added the cover, we know it’s there. So we can ignore this error. If there’s anything else there noted as a warning (and I’ve never seen anything yet), then it’d be time to ask around or head to the Kindle Forums with the exact wording of the warning.

Step 3:  Double check your book using the various device options. You can see how your book will look on a Kindle, a Fire or an iOS app with the various options under the “Device” heading on the upper toolbar. Click through them and make sure everything looks hunky-dory – there will often be little glitches between devices on the same book; especially if you have a lot of lists (ordered or unordered). And the program often screws up the display. Dunno why. But, no matter, this is the most reliable way to convert: It will reliably make your mobi file look just like your Word document.  As long as your formatting is consistent, it should be fine, and no one’s going to hold a dropped cap or a single out-of-line indent against you, unless they are seriously deranged.

Step 4: Kindle Previewer saves the new file as in the mobi it created. Using Windows Explorer, go to the folder that you originally saved the HTML copy of your book in. You’ll notice a new folder there with the file name to it (i.e., “converted-The Science Fiction Quiz Book KDP-FINAL-02.htm”). If you converted the file more than once, after say editing a mistake you saw while looking at it in the Previewer, there will be a copy of each conversion, delineated by a date stamp (“The Science Fiction Quiz Book KDP-FINAL-02_2014-05-27_22-12-59.mobi”). Just pick the newest one, rename it however you’d like, and that’s the file you can send to your reviewers and readers.

Next time in Balls Deep in Self-Publishing, we look at the third way to make a mobi file, using the software that the format was named for, Mobipocket Creator.
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The Five Star Trivia Quiz Book by Rich MeyerThe first volume of the Five Star Trivia Quiz Book series is now available on Amazon and Createspace!

600 trivia questions (and answers) about pretty much anything and everything – movies, comics, politics, history, music, pop culture, TV, radio, toys – hours of family-friendly fun for everyone!

Available on Amazon.com and Createspace.com