The first week of December only, save $5 on One Last Time.
Of all of the regrets I have in life, I find that more of them fall into the category of “missed opportunities” than “things I did that I wish I hadn’t.”
I wonder if most people’s regrets don’t fall along the same lines.
Some of us are compulsive examiners of our own lives. Others aren’t. Even for the latter group, I wonder if there aren’t midnight moments when they wonder, “What if I’d only…?” “What if I’d taken that job in another state, but I didn’t because…?” “What if I’d asked So-and-So out in high school, but I didn’t?” “What if I’d only dared to…?”
So it seems odd to me that so many people–many of them frustrated with the course of their lives and society and feeling helpless in the flood of events that they can’t control–why they don’t bother to do what they can do, even if that action takes little effort and seems inconsequential when taken by itself?
Sure, it often seems that the outcome is pre-determined, and in many cases it is. There’s no point in voting Republican in Southern California or Democratic in Florida… today. But it once was. What changed? Was it only that voters became so disillusioned that they gave up? Maybe your party is out of favor today, and maybe it will be out of favor tomorrow. But what if you vote your conscience anyway, and others vote theirs? Couldn’t it be that eventually the tide will begin to shift?
Moving from the sublime to the petty, I think the same thing about book reviews at Amazon.
Over the past two or three years, I’ve found it harder and harder to gather reviews for my books at Amazon. Where once it seemed that every reader was eager to present an opinion, now it seems as if they’ve taken a vow of silence even as Amazon makes it easier to write a “review.” I put the word in quotes because it’s now possible to leave only a rating or a brief comment such as “I liked it.”
Why are reviews so important to authors? Because, if you want to promote your book, you need reviews. Not just glowing five-star reviews, but a nice, credible cross-section that lets people know that the reviews aren’t all written by your relatives and friends. Sure, a five-star review is nice, but it could be the four- and three-star reviews that make the difference between being able to promote your book or not.
Why? Because promotional sites have their own, personal requirements on number of reviews before you can purchase an ad. Some require twenty or thirty reviews. Some don’t seem to be interested until you have a hundred!
An incredible number of books these days are series. Some people have said that it isn’t even worth publishing a standalone book. But how does an author know if an idea is series-worthy? Well, by sales, and also by reviews. Is the public clamoring for more, or would the author be better served by moving on to the next concept?
We are in the unique position these days when readers can actually have a voice in what books get written. They can vote by buying books, and they can vote by leaving a comment. Yet, most don’t. (It’s not just me, by the way. This is a common complaint among authors.) Yet most readers remain silent, quietly hoping for a sequel without ever standing up to say, “Hey, Author… write another one!” Or contrarily, to post a comment to the opposite effect.
I’ve never been hesitant to express an opinion, even when I knew that it carried very little weight. I feel compelled to do so on the off chance that my opinion will add minutely to the swell of others’ opinions and maybe, sometimes, change will happen in my favor. What is the alternative? To remain silent and hope for the best?
So I leave reviews at Amazon, and I vote, and I can rest easy knowing that I’ve done whatever I could, however minuscule the impact, to nudge the world in the direction I want it to take.
I feel often that we’ll be doomed, not by the wrong we do, but by complacence, yielding our fates to those who care more than we do about what gets done and what is prevented from being done. Though, of course, caring itself isn’t enough. We have to act. We have to do. We have to at least… at the very least… speak out.
The self-publishing world is still buzzing about the effects of Amazon’s new program, Kindle Unlimited. KU is a subscription service that allows subscribers to borrow up to 10 books at a time from Amazon for a flat monthly fee of $10.
There’s no doubt in my mind but that KU is going to be a game-changer for self-publishers. The late, great Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko once said that he believed the timeline of American history would one day be divided into two eras: Before Crack and After Crack. I think that the timeline of ebook publishing may well split between Before KU and After KU.
Crack and KU both offer a cheap high that can easily crowd out more sublime pursuits.
The inevitable result of the KU program as it’s currently configured is much more work–shorter work–being hurriedly created and needlessly serialized in order to grab more pieces of the monthly KU pie. (See previous posts for an explanation of how Amazon pays KU authors.) This isn’t to say that no good work will be available through KU, but that work is likely to get lost in a morass of novellas and novelettes and individually packaged short stories churned out with a priority of quantity over quality.
The system dictates this ordering of priorities.
Nonetheless, I’m putting One Last Time into the program on a trial basis, for three months.
The book needs a shot in the arm. It’s sold four copies at B&N. None at Apple. None at Kobo. Nobody’s checked it out at Scribd. I’d offer a promotion but One Last Time doesn’t have enough reviews yet to allow me to promote it effectively. KU is new, Amazon’s offering free 30-day enrollments, so I’m hopping on. The exclusive commitment runs through the middle of October.
Amazon’s new all-you-can-read subscription service is here.
Kindle Unlimited offers Kindle owners the opportunity to sign up for unlimited access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library for $9.99 a month. Subscribers are allowed to borrow as many books as they wish for as long as they wish, so long as they remain in the program.
KU features a few big name authors and their bestselling books, undoubtedly licensed at great expense by Amazon. These books include the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hunger Games trilogy, Water for Elephants, The Life of Pi, Flash Boys and others.
For the most part, though, the books offered are self-published titles enrolled in the Amazon Select program, meaning they are available exclusively through Amazon. Many self-published authors find Select useful for its promotional opportunities–such as being able to give your book away for free for limited times–but it comes with the loss of distribution through all other channels, such as Barnes and Noble, Apple iBookstore and the competing book subscription services Scribd and Oyster.
These are the same books that are in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which allows Amazon Prime members to borrow one book per month. Under KOLL, the book needs to be “returned” (removed from your Kindle) and you have to wait for the next calendar month before you can borrow another book. The advantages of KU are that, 1) you don’t need to be a Prime member, and 2) you may borrow as many books as you’d like, for as long as you like, as long as you remain a KU member.
Authors are paid from the same pool that funds the KOLL. Amazon throws $1,200,000 into this pool every month and divviesit up among the books that have been borrowed that month. The payment usually works out to about $2 per borrow, paid to the author.
When you add in unlimited downloads through KU, that million bucks could get hit hard. Authors could find themselves making fifty cents a book. Or twenty cents. Or two cents. It all depends on how many people sign up for KU and how many books they download.
To counter this effect, Amazon needs to increase the size of that monthly pool. Will they? Probably. But… by how much? What will be the end payment to authors? Are we headed for a Spotify-like fraction of a cent per book?
Authors are already speculating on how to game this system by offering shorter works. Since each book is “free” to subscribers, take that 400-page novel, split it into ten 40-page volumes and offer it as a serial. That nets you ten pieces of the monthly pie instead of one, and it’s all the same to the reader who gets each book “free.”
While authors may not be quite this blatant–mainly because Amazon will find a way to smack them down–the principle will still apply, favoring novellas over novels, serials over complete works.
Another tactic will be to write a short work especially for KU, a short prequel to a larger novel or a series, the equivalent of today’s “permafree” first-in-series books, leaving the larger work or series out of KU, available only for separate sale.
For myself as a self-published author, I’m skipping KU for WSU–“Wherever it Sells Unlimited.” I’m not ready to spurn those epub readers, those Barnes and Noble shoppers, even those Scribd subscribers to go exclusively with Amazon for an unknown royalty.
Amazon is more than merely “considering” a subscription service for books similar to the popular Spotify music service.
For a few minutes in the early morning hours, this page appeared on Amazon:
Amazon already offers the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library to members who subscribe to the Amazon Prime service. Amazon Prime includes other benefits such as free two-day shipping on most purchases and access to a rather lackluster video streaming service. Members of the KOLL can check out one book per month for free. Then they have to wait until the first of the next month to check out another title. Before they can download the new title, they have to “return” the previous month’s selection by deleting it from their Kindle.
Publishers are paid from a pool–currently $1,200,000–which is divided equally among all titles that are “borrowed” in a month. Average pay-out per book usually amounts to about two bucks. Two dollars is a great deal for those who normally sell their books for $2.99 or less (who would receive a royalty of that much, or less), but it’s not such a good deal for anyone charging more than that… unless the publisher equates “exposure” with “payment” as some self-publishers do.
This new service, Kindle Unlimited (KU), promises “unlimited access” for a monthly fee of $9.99.
$9.99 seems to be a magical price point for Amazon. It’s been Jeff Bezos’s idea of the proper price for a single ebook, much to the chagrin of publishers who would like to charge $15 or more. Now it appears to be his notion of the proper price for all of the ebooks a person can read in a month.
How would this price point shake out in payments to publishers? That’s anyone’s guess.
If KU were folded into KOLL with no increase to the million-dollar pool, the results would be disastrous for publishers (and publisher/authors). The payment per title borrowed would plummet with the success of the KU program.
If a portion of the KU subscription fee went into the pool, the payout could conceivably remain about the same depending on the number of subscribers and the number of books they borrowed each month.
In KU alone, someone reading a book per week would pay the equivalent of about $2.50 per title. If a publisher actually offered a title at $2.50, Amazon would pay a 35% royalty or $0.875. If Amazon paid their full 70% royalty, the amount would double to $1.75.
Voracious readers can zip through two novels a day. For them, the price of an ebook would be less than $0.20 per book. At Amazon’s current royalty rates of 35% and 70%, the author/publisher would receive $0.07 or $0.14 per book.
So what would Amazon actually pay? It’s impossible to say at this point, from an outsider’s perspective. But it’s safe to predict: Far less than they’re paying now.
Comparisons with Spotify will undoubtedly point out that Spotify’s current royalty rate to musicians is about $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream. A tune has to be streamed a helluva lot of times to earn the musician(s) a check.
Obviously, it takes much longer to read a book than it does to listen to a song. I don’t believe that anyone except the most penurious readers believes that a fraction of a penny per book is a reasonable or sustainable price. What that reasonable and sustainable price is, however, is bound to be the subject of extremely spirited debate.
Amazon apparently considers $2 to be about right, judging from its payout to KOLL publishers. Many self-publishers are on board for that price point, while many others aren’t. You can bet that traditional NYC publishers find the amount equivalent to theft.
The Kindle Unlimited page that was posted briefly, labelled (if you were able to drill down through the pages) “KU Test,” engaged in some wishful thinking. Look at the titles offered: The Life of Pi, The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series… all titles available through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, but I can’t help but believe that publishers would balk big time at making these titles available on a subscription service.
Mostly, the service would launch on the backs of self-publishers and maybe some small presses. Where it would go from there, I wouldn’t venture to guess.
Was the page an actual test of a forthcoming service? Was it a mistake, accidentally leaked to the public? Maybe it was a shot across the bow of Hachette and the other big publishers, Amazon’s way of saying, “See–it could be much worse!” A preemptive threat, perhaps, like building a Doomsday Machine. Or maybe the Kindle Unlimited service is exactly the sticking point that’s bogging down the current negotiations.
Whatever it was, it’s made for an interesting morning in the self-publishing world.
I just received the copy edit on my current book, One Last Time. I hired a woman named Eliza Dee of Clio Editing Services to give the manuscript a once-over. I figured she’d find something every few pages, it’d take me a day, maybe less to make the changes.
She found something on every single page worth commenting on, or suggesting a change to, or giving me a dope slap for. Every. Single. Page.
I’m grateful for Eliza’s attention to detail, of course! This is exactly what I paid her for. The book is going to be better thanks to her scrutiny. It makes me think, though–
In a way, it’s like getting married.
One day, there you are, a single guy, pretty happy with yourself, confident, self-assured. Then you meet a woman who seems to like you as much as you like yourself, just the way you are.
You get married and this adoring woman subtly… slowly… begins the process of critique. You find that you have a habit that seems to be a bad one. You discover that an aspect of your personality that you’d considered “charmingly eccentric” turns out to wear thin after a few months. Another quirk turns out not to be so much of a quirk as a deadly defect requiring an emergency recall and repair.
I feel as if I’ve married off my manuscript. It will be better for the experience, absolutely. There is no doubt about it, just as there is no doubt that getting married makes men into better persons.
I just hope that it doesn’t come out of the process all sullen and sad and longing for those carefree days of bachelorhood when nobody cared if it mixed a tense or made careless use of pronouns.
Will it sulk off on Friday nights to some man(uscript) cave where it will drink beer and savagely rearrange its antecedents? Will it start haunting bars with fellow manuscripts where they exchange complaints about their nagging authors?
“So I dangle a participle now and again, who’s it hurt?” one of them says, obviously in his cups.
“I like skipping from ‘he’ to ‘they’ and back again,” says another.
“Hey, who doesn’t?” says the first. “Nobody’s gonna notice, and nobody who notices cares.”
“I hear ya, brother,” my manuscript says, raising a glass. “I hear ya.”