Kindle Unlimited: a few observations

This is a post for writers.

Some background:

In July 2014, Amazon rolled out its Kindle Unlimited program. For $10 a month, Kindle owners in the US, UK, and some European countries can “borrow” as many ebooks as they want. I don’t have a Kindle and if you’re interested in this feature, I suggest you go to the Amazon website and check it out.

In short, it’s a subscription service.

For authors, any book that is enrolled has to be exclusive to Amazon. For some, mega-selling authors, they sweetened the deal with a “winners” pot of extra bonuses and they dropped the exclusivity requirement.

A lot of self-published authors reported big losses in sales numbers in July (I didn’t, but I seem to be in a minority). These were authors who were in KU and ones who were not. The theory went that all readers were sucked up by the program. For a while the top sellers were putting on a brave face.

Amazon bestselling author H.M. Ward broke the ranks by posting this

And then Joe Konrad added his voice

In short, it seemed that KU caused widespread carnage amongst self-published writers.

Well. Maybe. Or maybe not.

My sales have suffered absolutely no effect whatsoever. In fact, KU has been a nice little bonus to me.

So what have I done and what are my thoughts on the program?

I had a couple of short stories that I was thinking of bundling. I put them in the KU program for three months for a look-see. People “borrowed” these stories. I’d previously found it impossible to sell single short stories. I decided to add some stories that had never sold a single copy on Amazon before (short stories used to do OK on B&N but that’s no longer happening). Some of these stories feed into novels. People are clicking on the links in the back of the short stories, so I presume some sales come from them. The amount of money involved is not huge, but I’d call this a win because previously these stories were making me precisely $0 per month.

But would I put any of my full-length novels in it? No way! Why should I take $1.39 for a “borrow” when I can get $3 for a sale? I think that best-selling authors who fell for this had the wool well and truly pulled over their eyes. Maybe Amazon promised wonderful marketing. Maybe. But I’m always astonished by people who only ever expect growth, and whose outlook for the future does not include the possibility that they’re already at the top of their current game, and that there is no more growth in their current readership. After all, who still buys Twilight today?

Ironically, the whole KU affair also illustrates why, as a writer, you need to stop relying on Amazon to market your book and take control of your audience. If you plough through that thread on the Kindleboards, you’ll see people musing on Amazon’s rationale for introducing the program. That they introduced it to crush similar subscription services seems to be a popular opinion, although, by requiring exclusivity, Amazon seems to have ended up with an infinitely inferior product to, say, Scribd.

This raises the question? What actually is KU? To which my answer would be: an excellent place to stick pay-per-read articles and short fiction.

Another thing that frequently comes up in these discussions is that Amazon isn’t interested in selling ebooks, or books even, but wants to sell everything. And here we arrive at the single most important reason why as a writer you should list everywhere: because the full sentence should read:

… because they want to sell everything to people in America

If you’re not in America, Amazon doesn’t want to know about you. They charge quite exorbitant postage to deliver the littlest things. I tried to buy a $15 piccolo stand a few months back. They were going to charge me $35 for the cheapest delivery option. What. The. Actual. Fuck.

Want to sell everything, my arse. I’m not in America so Amazon doesn’t give a shit about me as customer. See also the anaemic presence of Amazon’s AU store, where we can buy ebooks only with less choice for inflated prices.

As writer, you should list everywhere, because the majority of people who read English are also not in America.

You should stop relying or spend huge wads of time figuring out how to game store algorithms, because they only need to change one line of code in their site software and you’re Dead. In. The. Fucking. Water.

Take responsibility for your own readership.

Spread yourself widely, and yes, listing widely includes having some short stuff in KU

  • Set up and maintain your website and blog
  • Set up and maintain your mailing list
  • Offer some freebies across all sites. Don’t get me started on the inability to make books free on the Amazon site by simply entering $0 in the price field, and Amazon’s inane tendency to randomly un-free titles, especially in the non-US stores. Get my stuff at Kobo, people. Please. they’re nice and reliable.

Kindle Unlimited: a few observations was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Short story sale (or sales?)

I’ve just heard that my short story Abode will be published in Aurealis magazine #50. This story has been the victim of more almosts than I can count in the fingers of one hand. It’s a story I really liked. It’s set in a self-sufficient and rather backward community in the dark and gravity-less world of the Oort cloud. The title refers both to this setting and the fact that the main character is trying to build a house out of ice (which would be rock-hard out there at temperatures of about 3K). Why does the title refer to the setting? Well, of course, Oort was someone’s last name, but in various germanic languages, it means… you guessed it.

And I’m not sure I’ve mentioned on this blog that I sold my story Survival in Shades of Orange to Analog. This is my WOTF workshop 24-hour story. It is set on a planet with an 90 degree inclination, which means that the planet rotates side-on, like Neptune. This does some really interesting stuff to the climate. How does life survive in such a place? Well, that’s what our characters are about to find out.

Dead Red Heart: Australian vampire tales

ETA: 15 April 2011 – this book is now available!

What business does a hard SF writer have to write a vampire tale? Good question, but Ticonderoga Publications editor Russell Farr liked my story Quarantine enough to include it in the press’ monster (both in size and subject) anthology Dead Red Heart. ToC and the amazing cover below:


The stories

“The Tide”, Martin Livings and friends
“Mutiny on the Scarborough”, Shona Husk
“Sun Falls”, Angela Slatter
“Such is Life”, Jeremy Sadler
“Apologetoi”, Chris Lawson
“Punishment of the Sun”, Alan Baxter
“Red Delicious”, Felicity Dowker
“Just a Matter of Economics”, Yvonne Eve Walus
“Quarantine”, Patty Jansen
“Out of the Grave”, Amanda Pillar
“Desert Blood”, Marty Young
“Thin Air”, Simon Brown
“Kissed by the Sun”, Jodi Cleghorn
“Black Heart”, Joanna Fay
“Renfield’s Wife”, Damon Cavalchini
“Listening to Tracy”, Jen White
“Breaking the Drought”, Jay Caselberg
“Children of the Cane”, Jason Nahrung
“The Sea at Night”, Joanne Anderton
“Sky in the Morning”, Sonia Marcon
“Taking it for the Team”, Tracie McBride
“All that Glisters”, Pete Kempshall
“The Rider”, Martin Livings
“Vitality”, George Ivanoff
“Coming Home”, Kathryn Hore
“The Little Red Man”, Ray Gates
“Deathborn Light”, Helen Stubbs
“The Life Stealer”, Donna Maree Hanson
“Behind the Black Mask”, Jacob Edwards
“Interview with the Jiangshi”, Anne Mok
“White and Red in the Black”, Lisa L Hannett
“Lady Yang’s Lament”, Penelope Love

Order your copy here

the famous pair of scissors

One of the questions I hate being asked most is: where do you get your ideas? Usually, this question is asked by well-meaning relatives and neighbours and other casual acquaintances after they hear you write science fiction.

In one case, the answer is clear: I bought a pair of scissors. Notice the brown-coppery hue of the blades? This is not due to the fact that I was wearing a magenta shirt (which I was), but because the blades are that colour. They’re made from titanium.

Wow. Cool scissors.

That’s what I thought when I bought them, too, in January this year, when shopping at one of those mega-office-supply stores with the kids for the start of the school year.

When I came home, I decided I wanted to know more about this mysterious thing called titanium, and from one thing came another. It inspired me to write a short story.

That short story has just won the second quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest.

From the stationery store to LA. Pretty special pair of scissors indeed.