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Dead Rat and Squid - 500 Wide.jpg

We had another estimator come out today for the move. After she was gone, once again Carol and I collapsed on the couch and didn’t say much for awhile. The reason is interesting: After working on this move for as long as we have (and with about 150 boxes stacked up to prove it) we get worn out thinking about how much we still have to do. We’re going to drive down to Phoenix in November with a small U-Haul trailer and no dogs, to make sure all the work on the new house was completed and done correctly. Then we fly back and kick into high gear on packing in preparation for a December move.

A fair amount of stuff will remain in this house so that we can come back in the spring to finish repairs and stage it for sale. That will take a couple of months, and we’ll have to have the ordinary machineries of life available while we work: clothes, a bed, a kitchen table, a coffee maker, a couch, kitchen implements, etc. Resistors and capacitors, not so much. So we’ll need to have a second (much smaller) truck bring down what’s left when the house goes on the market.

Among (many) other things, we packed the stuffed animals today. Some people have knicknacks (and we have our share) but a lot of the odd items on our shelves are stuffed animals. Not all are animals; I have a stuffed Space Shuttle, created by my very brilliant seamstress sister Gretchen Duntemann Roper. Decades ago, in the Age of APAs (google it; blogging didn’t come out of nowhere) I wrote an APA called “A Dead Rat and a String to Swing It On.” So she made me a dead rat, complete with a string to swing it on. (Above.) Nearby was the closest thing to an action figure that I own: a giant squid with posable (is that the word?) tentacles. I’ve never actually handled a dead squid and it’s not on my bucket list, exactly, but I’m wondering how well one would hang together if swung in a circle by one of its long feelers. (I suppose it depends on how long it had been dead.) However, someday, perhaps in some saga I have not yet imagined writing, somebody will grab a giant squid by a tentacle and swing it in a brawl. The image smells a little like a Stypek story back in his ancestral Realm of Tryngg, but no promises.

A book came to hand on its way to a box today that I think I’ve mentioned before: Conjuror’s Journal by Frances L. Shine. (Dodd-Mead, 1978.) I see that numerous hardcovers are available on Amazon for 10c plus shipping. Read the first review of the book, which is mine. If you want a quick, cheap read that will, at the end, both bring tears to your eyes and make you want to stand up and cheer, this is it.

Tomorrow is Halloween, and we’re having our first and last Halloween nerd party here at Phage House in Colorado Springs. I’m of way more than two minds about leaving here, but the little box I just clipped to my finger says my blood oxygen is at 88%. Better than nothing…but it’s not enough. And so the move goes on.

Rant: The Lasting Legacy of the Sad Puppies

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After the appalling 2015 Hugo Awards ceremony (google “Hugo Awards asterisks”; I can’t bring myself to write about it) there arose a litany:

The Sad Puppies Lost!
The Sad Puppies Lost!
The Sad Puppies Lost!
(Repeat until purple.)

Except…they didn’t. The losers were the poor writers who would likely have won the award if the Worldcon Insider Alphas hadn’t decided to burn the award down rather than let people they disapproved of win it. The even bigger losers were the Hugos themselves, which are now proven to be political proxies for a bogglingly stupid culture war that most of us would prefer not to fight.

The biggest losers of all were the hate-filled tribalists themselves, Alphas down to their shitflinging Omega footsoldiers, who got their asses handed to them in a big way and threw the only tantrum that they could. Now, I don’t know precisely what to make of it, beyond my longstanding contention that tribalism will be the end of us all if we’re not careful. What I can say with fair confidence is that it isn’t over. (More on this later.) What I can say with complete confidence is that the Sad Puppies won big on several fronts:

  • They brought the cobwebbed machinery behind the Hugo Awards out into the open where everybody could look at it. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
  • They made everyone aware of the curiously obscure fact that you don’t have to go to Worldcon to vote for the Hugos. All you need is $40 (soon to be $50, I think) and an Internet connection.
  • They exposed corruption that’s been going on for quite a number of years, and I’m not talking about inclusiveness, or diversity, or clever (if silly) experiments with pronouns here. (That’s a separate issue.) I’m talking about the fact that a derivative and mostly boring novel like Redshirts can only win a Hugo via corruption.
  • They alerted everyone to the fact that Worldcon and traditional SF fandom are rounding errors compared to the number of people who buy and enjoy SF and fantasy. Too few people nominate and vote for the awards to make corruption impossible and the awards themselves meaningful.

That’s a lot, right there. That would be enough, in fact, to persuade me that the Puppies won. But the Sad Puppies did something else: They created the nucleus around which a whole new fandom is crystallizing. People who took that lonely walk away from SFF suddenly realized that lots of other people were taking the same walk, and for the same reasons: Modern print SF is for the most part dull, dudgeon-rich message pie, and fandom is ideologically exclusionary and mostly under the control of a handful of high-volume haters. (I and many others have been called fascists one too many times.) If you have the unmitigated gall to have libertarian or (gasp!) conservative leanings, there is no place for you at that table.

Well, alluvasudden there’s a brand-new table.

In part (like most of everything else these days) it came from Amazon. The NY imprints have a powerful bias against fiction with libertarian or conservative themes. While they were the gatekeepers, there was little to be done. Now, with indie-published ebooks generating close to half of all ebook sales, authors can make fair money (or even a good living!) without bending the knee to Manhattan culture. They don’t even need ISBNs. They do have to rise above a pretty high noise level, but that’s a technical challenge: If you write well and understand the nature of the game, you will be noticed. The more you write, the more you’ll be noticed, and the easier it becomes.

What didn’t come from Amazon came from Google. The commotion generated by the Sad Puppies’ sweep of the Hugo nominations got a lot of attention. Commotion does that; it’s almost a physical law. People who hadn’t followed the SF scene for many years (if ever) discovered Web forums and new authors whose vision of SFF was far closer to their own.

Ironically, most of that commotion came from the Sad Puppies’ opponents, who could have strangled the Puppies in their sleep simply by keeping their mouths shut. But no: They had to vent their tribal butthurt, and in doing so recruited thousands of brand-new Puppies to the cause.

This new fandom centers around a crew of writers who (I suspect) give the New York imprints nightmares: Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Brad Torgersen, John C. Wright, Peter Grant, Cedar Sanderson, Brian Niemeier, Amanda Green, Kate Paulk, Tom Knighton, R. K. Modena, Dave Freer, and many others whose work I’m only beginning to sample. Some have books from the tradpub imprints (Baen especially) but all are indies as well. I’m linking to their Web forums here so you can discover them too. Additional sites of interest include collaborative webzines like The Mad Genius Club, The Otherwhere Gazette, and Superversive SF. (Several of the above authors contribute to all three sites.)

At least one SF convention leans libertarian: Libertycon, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There may be more than that, especially among the smaller gatherings. I don’t know, but I’m always looking. I think there’s a lot of upside in smaller, in-person meetups held in local pubs and other gathering places, and if I can’t find one in Phoenix I may well start one. I’m intrigued by reports from the major Puppy authors who have attended various media cons around the country. Sarah Hoyt’s is instructive. The boggling crowds at events like ComiCon are more diverse by far than attendees at traditional literary cons, and much, much younger. There is way more interest in textual SFF at the media cons than I expected. It’s not all movies and comic books. Now, I’m not sure how much I’ll be attending media cons; Worldcon-level crowds make me a little crawly, and the media cons draw eight to ten times more people. What stood out in those reports for me was the fact that people at the media cons were actually having lots of pure freeform fun, not searching desperately for something to be offended about.

The bottom line is that a vast and mostly invisible network of new friendships happened as a result of the Sad Puppies phenomenon. I’m reading more SFF now than I have in a decade. The Paperwhite helps, of course, as does the “toss-it-in-the-cart” pricing that predominates in the Kindle store. I’m corresponding with other writers whom I’d not met before. I’ve learned that indie publishing can work, and work well. (Thanks, Sarah!) I’m hearing others saying more or less the same thing about the Sad Puppies universe: “It was like coming home.”

And it’s not over.

No sirree. Sad Puppies 4: The Embiggenning is well underway, run by Kate Paulk, Sarah Hoyt, and Amanda Green. These are formidable women; I pity the poor tribal troll who tries to call them “female impersonators.” The logo once again is from Lee “ArtRaccoon” Madison. Sad puppies Frank, Isaac, and Ray from last year’s logo have returned, this time bringing their new robot friend Robert with them. Robert isn’t the least bit sad. He has no reason to be.

His side is winning.

(More thoughts on this issue of a new SFF fandom as time/energy allow.)

KU, “Turniness,” and the Reshaping of Genre Fiction

There’s a marvelous weirdness about Kindle Unlimited that I have not yet seen anyone else comment on. For the last two weeks, since I posted The Cunning Blood on KDP Select, I’ve kept the reports dashboard open in a window, and every five minutes or so, I refresh it. Almost invariably, the KENP numbers go up by a hundred or two, sometimes more. It’s a very weird feeling: Somewhere people are reading my book Right Freaking Now. It’s like looking over God’s shoulder down at the universe of people sitting in chairs and on buses and trains and airplanes, and knowing for sure that a certain nontrivial number of them are following Peter Novilio’s adventures at this very moment. I have no way of knowing precisely how many, but I can guess (given that a person doesn’t read a hundred pages a minute) that it’s more than one or two.

I’ve had a number of surprises since my first novel went up on July 31, but KU was the biggest. I’m getting a lot of page turns; on August 11 alone I got 12,448. Given that the book is 643 KENP pages long, that’s 20 full copies of the book read in one day. Of course, it may be 30 or 40 or more partial reads. I have no way to tell. But at the estimated rate of $0.0057 per page turn, KU earned me $71 that one day.

The numbers since the beginning two weeks ago were surprising, and I’ll gladly share them with you: I’ve sold 662 copies of the ebook, of which 21 (3%) were sold to countries where the 35% royalty is in force. The rest (97%) were sold at the 70% royalty rate. I’m still not entirely sure how KDP handles royalty currency conversion, but I’m assuming the cover price is roughly equivalent to $2.99 USD in all currencies. That makes my total take on sold copies about $1,304.

The KU payout is a little simpler to calculate, although we’re still not completely sure what the July and August per-page rates will be. I’m going with the estimate of $0.0057. Since publication, The Cunning Blood has recorded 127,749 page turns. Multiplied by .0057, that gives us $728.17.

Adding that to the books-sold royalty of $1304, I get $2,032.17 as royalties earned so far, in the book’s first two weeks.

That’s pretty damned surprising right there. I was expecting about half that. But what really surprised me was that over a third of that revenue–36%–came from KU page turns. In truth, I had no way to guess how many borrows I’d get nor how many borrows would be completely read. My gut told me 10-15%. I was very glad to be wrong.

Now, there’s a number I would love to be able to calculate, but which I can’t calculate from the information Amazon gives me. Amazon does not tell authors how many KU borrows a book has gotten. If I knew how many page turns I’ve had across how many borrows, I could calculate how many pages were read per borrow. This factor could be interpreted as the degree to which a book grabs the readers’ attention and keeps them turning the pages. I might as well call it “turniness.” If I could calculate how turny a given book is, over time I could probably make them turnier. In the new Kindle Unlimited universe, the turnier a book is, the more money it will make. Smart authors will thus strive to make their stories as turny as possible.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. There’s no incremental cost to making a KU borrow, and a certain number of people who borrow a book purely on spec will read a few pages, realize it’s not their thing, and return it, irrespective of the book’s quality or its turniness. Then again, that factor is probably constant across books and cancels out. We don’t know yet and won’t know until Amazon gives us more data to play with.

What this means is that literary and experimental writing will not pay as well as engrossing genre fiction. What follows from that is that that authors may pay more attention to the factors in their writing that contribute to turniness (suspense, rapid pace, constant action, mysteries revealed over time, etc.) and strive to be better at them. Over time, genre fiction will follow the money and become better and better at its own stated mission of keeping readers entertained.

My conclusion: Kindle Unlimited is the best thing that’s ever happened to genre fiction.

Genre authors, if you haven’t tried KU yet, you’re missing out. The Turniness Revolution is upon us. Let us unroll our mats, boil those pots, tell our tales, and cash those checks.

Some Kindle Unlimited (After) Math

It’s been a wild couple of days, as Contra readers already know. I finally posted The Cunning Blood to KDP Select last Friday, 7/31. In three days, I’ve sold 322 copies of the ebook. How much I’ll earn from that is a little fuzzy, because some small number of sales were outside the US, and were paid for in other currencies. For the US sales (which were well over 95% of sales) I get $2 per sale as a 70% royalty on a $2.99 cover price. Sales in some countries only pay 35%, but if I read Amazon’s doc on royalties correctly, most of the Western democracies pay 70%. Reading the sales reports, only two copies have so far been sold at the 35% rate.

All of this I pretty much knew in advance, from my study of the KDP system. What I didn’t know and was anxious to find out is how KU fit into the picture. The missing variable in the equation was the number of Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) my book represents. Because ebooks aren’t divided into arbitrary pages, Amazon crunches ebooks and assigns each one a page count based on word count, font, and a few other things that I still find obscure. I didn’t know the page count for TCB until the book itself appeared in the Kindle store. The magic number is 651. (The Amazon sales page says 453, which is some sort of mistake. The 651 number comes from the title summary in my account, and is explicitly labeled Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count.)

Having that number allows us to do a number of calculations. The first thing I was curious about is how many words there are per KENP. TCB is 144,000 words long, so dividing by 651 gives us 221 words per page, which is about what I’d expect.

The KDP Select dashboard shows KU “page turns” for a given title on a daily basis. As I write, the total number of page turns is 10,206. If the KENP page count is 651, that means that KU subscribers have read the book 15.68 times. That number, alas, is bogus, because nothing in Amazon’s reports tells me how many borrows there were, nor how many pages have been read in each borrow, as good to have as those numbers would be. Some of the borrows may have been read completely already. Most, I suspect, are still underway. Some number may have stopped reading and won’t finish.

What we can calculate, very roughly, is how much money those page turns will pay me. A precise figure can’t be calculated because we don’t yet know what the per-page turn figure is for either July or August. Taking the May figures that Amazon has revealed, it looks like a rate of $.0057 (that’s a little over half a cent; don’t get the decimals wrong!) per page turn. (The calculations used to derive that figure have been done here.) That number is not set in stone, and depends very heavily on how much money Amazon puts into a sort of KU “money pot” that all page turns share, and that changes on a monthly basis.

But as a ballpark figure it’s useful: 10,206 X .0057 = $58.17 total KU revenue. The per-book payout (assuming that the book is read clear through) would be .0057 X 651, or $3.71.

We can all gasp together. The KDP bookstore pays about $2 per ebook sold. For my book (or any other book with 651 KENP pages) KU therefore pays 1.8 times what the bookstore pays, if borrowers read the whole book.

Why so much? It’s a big book. The reason I suspect I couldn’t sell it to the traditional print publishing companies is that it was too long. First novels should hover around 100,000 words, and err on the low side. Paper, ink, and glue do cost. Ebooks are a whole ‘nother country.

Another calculation I did was figuring how long a book would have to be (in KENP pages) to generate the same $2 earned on the 70% royalty rate for a $2.99 book:

.0057 times X pages equals $2

Solving for X, we get 350 pages. And if a single KENP comprises 220 words, that means that a 77,000 word novel would earn $2 at May’s KU per-page rate. (Remember, that rate can and will change month-to-month.) Shorter novels will earn less, longer novels more. A really long novel earns a lot more–assuming it’s a page-turner and that the pages actually get turned. I think I’m in good shape on that score: I design all of my fiction to be page-turner material. It’s what I’m good at, but more to the point, I think it’s what my readers want and are willing to pay for.

My conclusions are these:

  • KU has been turned inside-out. You used to get the same dollar payment for a short story as for an epic novel. Now you get paid for what the readers read, and the more they read, the more you get paid. I’m good; nay, really good with that.
  • Difficult books (or badly written books) will not do as well as slick potboilers. The challenge is to get the reader to keep on reading. Solid writing, good editing, and a page-turning style are what will net big bucks from KU now. Literary fiction will be an uphill climb.
  • Reference books and other books that you dip into will not do as well on KU. The reason is that you only get paid the first time the reader reads a page. If the reader goes back and read that same page again, the author gets nothing.
  • Obscure authors now have a chance to make some reasonable money. MM paperbacks typically pay authors fifty to sixty cents per copy sold. Even at the $2 royalty level, you can make the same money as in MM paperbacks with one quarter of the sales. With tradpub, shelf space is rapidly turning from books to Lego sets and moleskines, so sales volume is generally harder to come by. And of course, unless and until a tradpub imprint takes you on, you make no money at all.

The future looks like this: You write quickly and well. You build a fan base however it can be done. Some can do it with personal appearances, lectures, cons, etc. Others will do it online. You publish on KDP Select and sell books to your fans. Sarah Hoyt says that there is some sort of scaling discontinuity at the ten-novel point. Once you have more than ten novels out there, your income spikes dramatically. I’ve got some work to do, obviously, to get there. Still, I now understand how it works, and can spreadsheet the financial upside.

But boy oh boy, if I were running a tradpub imprint right now, I would be sweating blood by the unholy bucket.


Yikes! Glenn Reynolds just plugged The Cunning Blood on Instapundit. The number of books I’ve sold just doubled in the last hour and a quarter. He plugged the hardcover nine years ago, and we sold a lot of books then, too.

Now, as good as this is, Amazon has messed up: They were trying to “sync” the hardcover edition with the ebook edition on the main product page, and ended up removing the main link to the ebook. I’ve sent them a tech support request, and I hope they fix it soon. The good news is that all my Kindle apps and my Paperwhite see it correctly. Only the Amazon desktop product page is messed up.

July 31st has become quite a day for me. 46 years ago today, I met Carol in our church basement. Today, well, I’m getting noticed.

And today still has three hours to go.

Announcing: The Cunning Blood on Kindle

I am most pleased to announce that the Kindle ebook edition of The Cunning Blood is now available on the Kindle store, for $2.99. It’s also available through Kindle Unlimited as part of KU’s monthly subscription service. No DRM, not now, not ever.

Cover by Richard Bartrop.

My regular readers know that this is not a new book. In fact, it’s now sixteen years old, having been written between November 1997 and April 1999. I shopped it between 1999 and 2005, and eventually sold it to ISFiC Press, which released the first edition hardcover at Windycon in Chicago in October 2005. The hardcover (which is still available) reviewed well, getting a thumbs-up on Instapundit and a rave in Analog the following spring. I still have some reservations about the cover, but in general, given that it was a $28 first-edition hardcover, I consider it an almost-complete success. ISFiC was particularly good at promotion, and got me reviews in places I didn’t know existed.

I fretted and waffled over republishing it for a long time before putting my back into creating the ebook edition. Why? Not sure. As best I can tell, after so many years of trying and failing to make a name in SF, something in me just couldn’t quite believe that it was possible to self-publish an SF ebook and get any kind of hearing for it. Granted, I have some promo work to do, and am researching mechanisms like BookBub and KDP Coundown Deals. But the hardest part was just getting off the dime and doing it. Some credit for that goes to Eric Bowersox and especially Sarah Hoyt, who got a little tough with me last Saturday and motivated me to get the final 10% finished and put the damned thing on the market.

The Cunning Blood is hard SF with a vengeance, perhaps the hardest SF I have ever written. The premise (and primary world-building concept) is this: In 2142, Earth’s risk-averse world government (controlled by the Canadians) creates an escape-proof prison planet by releasing a self-replicating bacterium-sized nanomachine into the ecosphere of Zeta Tucanae 2. The nanobug seeks out and corrodes electrical conductors carrying current beyond a few tens of microamps. Nothing depending on electricity works for long on the prison planet, technically the Offworld Violent Offenders Detention Station (OVODS) but informally referred to (especially by its inmates) as Hell.

Because the nanobugs make surface-to-orbit travel impossible, Earth handed control of the planet to its inmates, and drops convicts on Hell in disposable lifting-body landers. Earth assumes that Hell will always remain a gaslight-and-steam neo-Victorian sort of society, forgetting that the Victorians were ignorant, whereas the Hellions are handicapped. They know what’s possible, and over the next 200 years create a high-tech civilization complete with mechanical/fluidic computation and (as the story opens) spaceflight.

Earth gets a few hints about what’s going on down on Hell in 2374, and frames an ace pilot for murder, then offers him his freedom if he will travel to Hell, gather intelligence about Hellion technology, and return alive via an unspecified mechanism. Pete Novilio accedes, and not only for his freedom. Peter is a member of a secret society developing a distributed and highly illegal nanotech AI that lives in human bloodstreams. The Sangruse Society (from “sang ruse,” French for “cunning blood”) would like to establish a chapter on Hell. The Sangruse Device, after all, is not electrical in nature and could thrive there, beyond Earth’s heavy hand. So Peter descends into Hell with Geyl Shreve, a grim but talented agent of Earth’s CIA-like Special Implementers Service. What they discover astonishes them–and ignites a three-way war between Earth, a faction of American rebels intending to overthrow Canadian rule, and the Hellions themselves.

If you like action, SF ideas, and a sort of optimistic exuberance you don’t see much of in fiction these days, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Give it a shot.

Why I’m Going Indie

I’ve dropped hints here and there for almost a year, but it’s time to come clean: I’m going to give up trying to get the attention of New York publishers, and begin publishing my fiction independently. One of my longest-unfulfilled dreams is having a novel from a major publisher shelved face-out in Kroch’s & Brentano’s. Ummm, no. Borders? Whoops. Barnes & Noble, then. Well, look quick.

You can see my problem here. I wrote my first SF story when I was 8, sold my first story when I was 21, was on the final Hugo ballot at 29, gave it all up for almost 20 years, and finally sold a novel at 52 after five years of shopping it. The novel was promoted very competently by the (small) publisher, and garnered a rave in Analog and a favorable mention on Instapundit, in addition to a number of other reviews in other places. However, it was a $28 hardcover, sold in the high three figures, and as best I know was never shelved in any major bookstore.

So the dream is still alive. Or it was, at least, until I took a length of black iron pipe and beat its damfool brains out. Enough dreaming. It’s time to get freaking real. I’m going to publish my SF myself. I’m going to make money doing it. I’m not going to get rich at it…but that was never part of the dream. The new dream is about spinning yarns and making myself a name for it. As I see it, the best way there is to take the process into my own hands and do it all myself.

I wrote this post to answer the obvious question, Why? Perforce:

  1. I am already a publisher. I jumped from programming into publishing in 1985 and remained there to this day. I attended courses and seminars and learned from the best. I know in great gory detail how the print book business works (and doesn’t work) and I’ve followed the emergence of ebooks since the ’90s. I’ve had a few ebooks on the market for five years, though most of what I’ve published through my Copperwood Press imprint has been print.
  2. Manhattan SF publishing has made its preferences known to me. Some houses were encouraging and polite even when rejecting a manuscript (Betsy Mitchell, you’re an ace!) and some never even answered my emails, much less returned the manuscript. (If He’s reading this, He Knows Who He Is.) A couple of houses strongly and inexplicably believe that humor can’t sell because nobody can beat Douglas Adams. (Huh?) Well, go in peace and try not to become extinct. It worked for the coelacanth, after all.
  3. I don’t have all damned day. I’m 63 years old. I can’t wait for five years to see if one of my books will ever appear.
  4. Traditional publishing contracts have gotten nightmarish. Much has been written about this. (I sure hope you aspiring authors follow Konrath, at very least.) I’m not that desperate.
  5. The tools are now acceptable. They’re not great, and certainly not what I think they should be. But I’ve used Jutoh enough to be comfortable with it. (Tip to aspiring software developers: There is still money on that table.)
  6. Everybody has an ebook reader. Everybody. Some are even called “ebook readers.” Most of them are phones. Many are tablets. A few are laptops and desktops. Anybody who wants to read ebooks can. The market for ebook genre fiction is staggeringly large.
  7. Amazon has pretty much figured it out. The original Kindle Unlimited payment algorithm seemed kind of gonzo: The same amount for 1,000 words as 100,000 words? As of July 1, it’s now about pages read. We can quibble about the per-page payment, but my spreadsheets tell me that at current rates, an indie author gets more per sale from Amazon than authors get per sale from tradpub imprints.
  8. Authors are making money with indie ebooks. I’ve been told one-on-one that a fair number of people are making a good living off their indie ebooks, and a few are making more than I made as co-owner of a $30M publishing firm. I may have to learn to be prolific, but I’ve learned harder things, like contra dancing (natch!) and dealing with online tribalists.
  9. I already have a fanbase. Admittedly, it’s a fanbase for technical nonfiction, but anybody who says that computer guys don’t read SF (as several people in SF publishing have tried to tell me) is blowing steam. There are just short of 500,000 technical books in the world with my name on them. If two tenths of a percent of those readers buy my SF, I can probably live on it.
  10. I can control the whole damned thing. This is key. I’ve seen some of the most incredible self-destructive behavior among traditional publishing firms. If I weld my future to a boat like that, I’ll go down with it when (not if) it sinks. I want the freedom not to do stupid shit. (Alas, if your publisher does stupid shit, in effect you’re doing stupid shit.) I want to be able to try new things to see what works, and stop using techniques that don’t work. Bottom line, if I fail I’ll have no one to blame but myself.

Wouldn’t I sell more books if I went the tradpub route? Possibly. Would I make more money? Almost certainly not. The tradpub houses are suffering. They’re squeezing everything in sight to save pennies, especially authors. They’ll do anything possible to cut their costs except move from Manhattan to Middle America. To me, this means that they’re doomed, granting that sooner or later we’re all doomed. I’ve personally outlived vacuum tubes, glass-screen TVs, disco, wingtip shoes, Radio Shack, and several biggish bookstore chains, among many other things. I may well outlive traditional genre fiction publishing.

I’m certainly going to try. And I’m going to have a fine, fine time doing it!

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Paying by the Page Turn

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) book subscription system has been a laboratory of unintended consequences since it launched in July 2014. If you don’t subscribe or don’t know how authors are paid, my 4-part series on it may be useful. I’ll summarize very briefly: Each time a work available on KU is borrowed and at least 10% of it is read, the author is paid from a payment fund shared by all such borrows in a given month. The amount of money in the pot changes from month to month, as do the number of borrows. So the payment per qualified borrow changes from month to month. It’s been converging on $1.30 for some time. The length of the work doesn’t matter: Read 10% of a 150,000 word novel, and the author gets $1.30. Read 10% of a 1000-word short story…and the author gets the same $1.30. (For another another few days, at least. Stay with me.)

Care to guess the unintended consequences? Authors of novels pulled their works from KU or never opted in to begin with. Authors of short stories suddenly started making significant money. Authors of flash-length erotica (basically, isolated sex scenes) began making a great deal of money. And scammers began posting the same (very short) story on multiple author accounts, and Wikipedia articles as original works.

I could have guessed all of that except maybe the erotica, since I don’t read erotica. I had actually begun turning my individual short stories and novelettes into separate ebooks, figuring that $1.30 was way better than the 35c that 99c ebook shorts earn.

Alluva sudden, wham! Everything changes.

On July 1, a whole new KU payment system comes into force. The new system essentially pays authors by the amount of the book read. Read the whole book, author gets X. Read half the book, and author gets X/2. Read 10% of the book (perhaps because it was so bad you wanted to throw your Paperwhite at the wall) and author gets X/10. In general terms, when you read some arbitrary number of pages, author gets a pro-rata per-page payment. This is true (and evidently the payment will be the same) whether the book in question is a kids’ bedtime story, a romance novel, or a calculus textbook.

As in the current system, the per-page payment changes every month, depending on the size of the money pot and the number of pages read during that month. The two big variables are the per-page payout and the number of pages in the book.

Wait a sec…pages? In an ebook?

Yup. And this is something completely new. Amazon has addressed the fact that ebooks are not divided into pages by creating the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) algorithm. As best I understand it (details are sparser than we’d like) the KU servers will examine each book posted by an author, and impose a standard page layout on the book’s text in a buffer. (It will not actually change the layout in the published book.) It will then count how many “pages” exist in the book when expressed by the KENPC algorithm. I have seen no reliable description of what will go into this standard layout. It’s obvious that they’re trying to keep people from padding out margins or tweaking fonts to turn less text into more pages. They’re also trying to equalize the differences between devices with vastly different screen sizes. KENPC takes into account photos, tables, and technical art somehow. Again, details are sparse. However, I’m happy just knowing that they’re going to some effort to make a page on one device more or less equivalent in terms of content to a page on another device. I’ve seen some grumbling about page metrics for children’s books, but since that’s a genre I have no experience in whatsoever, I can’t say much. It does seem a little unfair that a 30-page kid book will only earn what 30 pages in a 500-page novel earns.

Pages will only pay off the first time they are read. Reading a book a second time on the same borrow will not generate any additional revenue. Nor will going back to reread a chapter generate additional revenue. Swiping/tapping rapidly through a book will not pay. Some sort of timer runs while a page is displayed, and if the page isn’t displayed long enough, the page will not be considered read. Countable pages begin with the book’s starting point, so dedication pages, review excerpts, and indicia will not be paid.

Now, what can authors expect as a per-page payment? Nobody knows yet. People are guessing somewhere between .8c and 1c per page read. We’ll find out soon.

Any system like this is a basket of unintended consequences. These are the ones that immediately occur to me:

  • Authors of art-heavy children’s books will bail.
  • A lot of that flash-erotica will vanish. (This may be an intended consequence.) Or maybe not. A nickel is a nickel.
  • More previews of other books will appear at the end of a book.
  • Reference books will bail. This may include computer books, which are rarely read from cover to cover.
  • Page-turners will dominate. Difficult books (fiction or nonfiction) will bail.

This last point bears discussing. Some books are bought to be seen in buyers’ hands or (more often) on their coffee tables. As Megan McArdle points out, Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century is purchased a great deal more than it is read. I think this is true of a lot of literary fiction as well. Authors will have to understand that they’re no longer selling books. They’re not really selling pages, either. They’re selling page turns. To make money on KU going forward, each page will have to compel the reader to move on to the next page, and repeat until EOB.

This is bad news for James Joyce. This is good news for George R. R. Martin. And, I suspect, me.

It may also be bad news for writers who just don’t know what they’re doing. To pay by the page-turn, Amazon will have to report how many pages were turned. How much detail those reports will provide is still unknown. It would be terrific to know how many pages were read per title rather than in aggregate across all of an author’s titles, but I don’t think Amazon will be doing that, at least not right away. However, if you have ten 300-page books on KU and get paid for 67 pages, the reader base is telling you something.

I suspect that this is a fully intended (if unstated) consequence: to improve the readability of the material on KU. Fistfights break out frequently over whether readability and quality are strongly correlated. This is the dotted line where literature is separated from fiction, especially genre fiction. But consider what KU is: a mechanism allowing maniacal readers to get all the books they can read for ten bucks a month. If you’re a normal human being, Finnegan’s Wake will take you most of a month to bull through, and you can get ratty copies for a penny plus shipping online.

No, it’s going to work like this: If you can keep a reader up all night with your hard SF action-adventures, you can make money on the new KU. Write page-turners, and put previews of all of your page-turners in the backs of all of your page-turners.

That’s certainly what I intend to do. I will make money. Watch me.