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.

 

 

 

When is “free” just a slap in the face?

After doing some browsing on Amazon last night (can’t tell I do my posts by the skin of my teeth, can you?), I really think I see the problem with the serious lack of sales that the majority of indie authors seem to experience: There are STILL too many bloody free books out there.

I went looking for something new to read and checked out the mystery and the science fiction categories. Clicked the “Price: Low to High” sort. And found every blood sub-category had at least a page (and the broader ones five to ten pages) of $0.00 books.

They may not be publicizing them, or allowing the big former-freebie sites to do the same much anymore, but the free books are STILL very much in evidence. It just takes an extra click to get to them, that’s all.

Who’s going to bother buying anything when you can still fill your Kindle with free books. It’s not just classics and old public domain books, either – 95% of the free books are brand new, mostly indie and self-published titles. The closest I found to a “big name” in the slush pile was a David Drake sci-fi novel on special. But if you can get a plethora of titles in the genres you like reading, why bother paying for anything?

I downloaded about twenty titles that looked mildly interesting tonight, and out of those twenty, I bet three-to-five will actually get read this year. When your Kindle’s a library, you can leave titles sit on the shelf forever. Just like a real library. Or bung in the trash. ,Just like a real library. So whatever advantage these authors who like giving away their hard work think they might be getting is almost completely imaginary. No reviews. No sales upticks, other than by happenstance. No fan bases. Zilch. De nada. Goose eggs Benedict.

The advantages of free books are mostly illusory. And you’re giving away your own hard work to maintain that illusion.