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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.


  1. Jeff,

    It’s kind of you to crunch the numbers so those of us who are numerically challenged don’t have to! Invaluable stuff.

    Your findings jibe with my own research. You’ll still find a roughly 50/50 split among indie authors re: whether KDP Select is a good deal or not, and whether the new KU page count metric is fair (as a short story writer and a novelist, I’m convinced it is).

    Most of the debate revolves around the effectiveness of free promo days and countdown deals. The former are said to be less useful to folks like me with a single book out.

    The one point of consensus is that anytime Amazon experiments with KDP, early adopters tend to win big. The changes to KU seem to be continuing that trend.

    Wishing you continued success,

    1. Many thanks for the vote of confidence. This is a weird business, but I knew that, and it helps to be able to roll with the changes. I was preparing some short stories for individual publication, and then they changed the payment rules. No biggie; I have other stuff in the pipe, and it would be out sooner except that I just bought a house in Phoenix and there is a lot to do in my near future that has nothing whatsoever to do with writing.

      I’m going to try some countdown deals after I get a couple of other things posted, including my second story collection and my Keith Laumer tribute novella, “Firejammer.”

      1. You’re very welcome.

        “I was preparing some short stories for individual publication, and then they changed the payment rules.”

        D’oh! Well, Amazon is kind of like a hippo. Sometimes it rolls over, and the folks who were under it are happy; but the folks it rolled onto are sad. Personally, I’m waiting for one last distributor who got my book through Smashwords (which I made the mistake of using at launch) to remove it from their online store so I can join KDP Select and get in on the KU action.

        Speaking of which, what’s your take on offering short stories individually and then releasing novel-length collections?

        P.S. Firejammer sounds dead awesome!

        1. Short stories might make sense sold individually as pieces promoting a larger saga, or (naturally) the author him/herself. I may release “Drumlin Boiler” as a 99c solo novelette (11,000 words) because it’s a good intro to my Drumlins saga. All the Drumlins shorts are currently in Cold Hands and Other Stories, but that won’t always be the case.

          I wrote Firejammer literally 34 years ago, originally for Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Adventure Magazine, but the mag folded before I finished the story. It was what I call “That Hideous Length:” 27,000 words. Too long for the magazines, too short for a standalone book. So it sat around for three decades waiting for some way to get it in front of the public. We now have that way.

          As for the story, it’s a humorous action/adventure romp in Keith Laumer’s style, with funny aliens, ray guns, incompetent human paper-pushers…and stone battleships with copper sails going to war on a sea of molten lava. I’m still trying to nail down a cover for it, but buying a house has slowed me down on many fronts.

          1. Carrington Dixon says:

            I OD’ed on Laumer in the late 1960s, but he could still amuse me in smaller doses. I should expect your story to have the Laumer wit without the Laumer excesses. (I bet that after these decades I could even enjoy Retief again.) I certainly look forward to your story.

      2. TRX says:

        Ooohhh… the Usual Suspects hate Laumer almost as much as Heinlein. I’ll be interested to see your take on a Laumer-style story.

        1. The Usual Suspects hate anything that doesn’t surrender to or push their agenda. I generally don’t think about them anymore. Now that I know I can make money publishing my own material, they’ve lost all power over me.

          As for Firejammer, it’s an adventure with repartee, comic relief, and enough ideas to keep my reputation intact. How Laumer-ish it is may be hard to tell. I’ll have to let my readers decide.

  2. Matt Knecht says:

    Mr. Duntemann,

    Purchased Friday, finished this morning – definitely a page turner!

    I’ve read a LOT of indie-published stuff since Vox Day’s blog pointed me at Correia and then Sad Puppies 2 last year… a lot of even the best stuff is rip-roaring good stories often held back by rawness of craft skills. It’s frequently painfully obvious which ones are early novels. Not so with The Cunning Blood – great big ideas and lots of fun, and I was absorbed in the story the whole way. I’ll definitely be looking into more of your work. Do you have a suggestion where to go next? My reading tastes are eclectic.

    Good luck going indie – it’s a great time to be writing books!

    –Matt Knecht

    1. It’s a terrific time to be writing, for genre people generally, and writers of page-turners in particular.

      It’s true: A lot of otherwise well-conceived items I’ve read on my Paperwhite have needed a strong editorial hand. KU may put some pressure on people to at very least shovel out the typos.

      I’ve got a few more things to be posted, but as I said in another comment, my wife and I just bought a house in Phoenix and we have a lot to do that has nothing to do with writing. I have a story collection out there now; search for Cold Hands and my last name. I also have a short novel called Drumlin Circus, which ideally should be read after the Cold Hands collection, which contains some Drumlins World short stories that may give you some context, “Drumlin Boiler” in particular. Drumlin Circus comes with a short novel by Jim Strickland, which is also set in the Drumlins World.

      I still have a second short story collection to convert to ebook format, and a long novella that needs a cover and a final pass. In January I’ll be publishing my newest novel, Ten Gentle Opportunities which I suspect is like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Once we have the house in Phoenix settled, and ideally after we sell our house in Colorado Springs, I’ll have the energy to get a few more novels and short novels cranked out. Stay tuned.

    2. I assume you’ve already burned through Larry’s stuff. I’m working on the Grimnoir books now. I’ve got John C. Wright’s Count to a Trillion and it looked promising.

      One other request, which I’ll address to everyone here: When you read indie books and you like them, post reviews wherever you can, and talk about the books with your friends. Word of mouth is most of what indies have in terms of promotion, lacking budget for advertising and bookstore pay-to-play.

    3. “It’s frequently painfully obvious which ones are early novels.”

      You’re right. With a lot of indie authors skipping the rejection carousel, their initial Amazon readership become their de facto beta readers. That’s one reason why leaving feedback in the form of reviews is so important.

      Not that I condone the practice of releasing unfinished material for sale. If one plans to be a self-published author, one should understand that it entails taking on all the responsibilities of an author *and* a publisher. That means professional quality art and formatting, and hiring a pro editor (I was lucky enough to retain the expert services of L. Jagi Lamplighter-Wright).

      Fledgling efforts aside, you’re not the first SF fan I’ve encountered who rediscovered the genre’s sense of fun and wonder through indie. I think we’re seeing the start of an indie-driven SFF renaissance.

      The new crop of authors who started with indie may need time to get their sea legs, but I’d be surprised if an environment of such unbridled creativity doesn’t produce, if not new Heinleins, Asimovs, and van Vogts; then something unprecedented but just as grand in its own way.

      1. Just bought your first book, BTW. I’m a little backed up on my reading due to the moving project, but it looks very promising. For onlookers, the link is here:

      2. Matt Knecht says:

        I actually managed to pace myself just right to avoid the “drift away from the genre” experience that many people have said they had in the 90s and early aughts. I’ve (until recently) maintained a collection that began in the early 80s and got a lot of reread mileage out of my favorites throughout that time, and as a result didn’t discover things like the Miles Vorkosigan books and Peter Hamilton’s “Nights Dawn” books and Brust’s early “Taltos” books until a bit after they were published… so when we really reached the doldrums in the last decade or so, I had some catch-up work to do on quality books from the decade previous. By the time I got through that stuff, Peter Hamilton had written more, and then there was Harry Dresden saving urban fantasy from itself while everyone else went the way of the romantic sparkly vampire.

        I had just come to the conclusion after the third or fourth “Old Man’s War” book and then “Redshirts” that Scalzi wasn’t all he was cracked up to be, and then several of the free books that was giving away in its early years were… strange and dark and less interesting than I thought they ought to be from the largest SF publisher… and the articles appearing on were drifting more and more in a particular political and social direction, not to my taste…. when I discovered Larry Correia and then the indie renaissance via various blogs out there. Thank God.

        Your point re: reviews is well taken, and I will be leaving reviews for both The Cunning Blood and for your Nethereal – which I read immediately previous – in the next few days. Then I need to invest some time in reviews for all the John C. Wright, Sarah Hoyt, Dave Freer, Cedar Sanderson, Kate Paulk and Peter Grant that I’ve burned through in the last 18 months or so. AND the two Jagi Lamplighter YA novels, which were lots of fun.

        *sigh. Looks like I’ll have very little time to read more this weekend. It didn’t used to come with homework.

        1. Quick correction: Nethereal was written by Brian Niemeier, not me. I just bought it and flipped through it a little and it looks very good, but I’m still not quite through Pixie Noir, with Dan Hoyt’s book right behind it, so I won’t be able to chow down on it for another couple of weeks at this rate.

          I stumbled on the Correia/Torgersen/Wright/Hoyt/Sanderson/Grant corner of the galaxy only a few months ago, when the Sad Puppies thing popped up on my radar. I now feel like I’m finally home, after years of wandering, disappointed, through an increasingly hostile (and boring) jungle.

          On behalf of all writers I thank you for taking the time to review us. Word of mouth is the only way that the indies can prosper.

          More good stuff coming, too. As time allows (the Phoenix house project is eating all my available cycles) I’ll be posting a second volume of short stories, a long novella, and (probably in January) a whole new novel. I’m also working on a brand-new Web site to go with my domain Not sure when that will happen, but the wheels are now turning.

          Stay tuned.

  3. Matt Knecht says:

    Followup – Just sent feedback to Amazon customer service about the fact that the Amazon search engine does not return a result when searching either for the book title or for your name. A Google search yields an Amazon link to the hardcover with a corresponding link on that page to the Kindle version, but nothing when searching directly from Amazon’s home page search box.

    1. Thanks! I have that and a couple of other bones to pick with them, and I need to do it in the next few days.

  4. Bob Fegert says:

    I hope you make lots of money from the sale of your books!

    I like hard SF and your work is excellent IMO.

    1. I’ll be posting more on the financial side of things in a future entry, but in the first week TCB has pulled in almost $1200, of which 29% is from KU page turns. This surprised me; I was expecting 10% – 15%. We really are off the edges of the maps in some respects.

      As you might expect, I’m a very happy guy right now.

  5. William Meyer says:

    Some minor observations. First, I did finish, and thoroughly enjoyed TCB. I have not lately found other good SF, and am tired as hell of fantasy, though in general, it seems better written than much recent SF.

    Second, I found only the very few issues I reported to you on FB. That in itself is remarkable these days, as typos and lack of editing have become Kindle hallmarks. The last one I reported, though, was odd. Finding a sub-vocalization terminated with “‘]” rather than the “?|” which is what I would have expected is something which struck me as the sort of error one sees form OCR. Did you, at some point, have to recover some portion of the text from print? Just curious.

    On the whole issue of price: I have moved more times than I care to remember, and out of sheer necessity, have slimmed down my collection of paper books. In particular, I cast away a few zillion paperbacks–including, especially, old computer language books–and have more recently adopted a new rule: If I am not really certain the book is one I will want to read, old-style, multiple times, and share, old-style, with friends, then I prefer an e-book. OK, back to price. The Amazon model is interesting, especially the strong incentive to fall in the $2.99-9.99 range. If reports are true, John Locke has made more than a million with his e-books. My reading habits have shifted, in genre as well as embodiment. At the price, I was not going to buy the hardback TCB, but was certainly willing to buy the e-book.

    There is a level below which I think e-book purchases yield to whim or impulse buying. I believe this is less so with more expensive books, be they paper or bits.

    I hope your Kindle endeavors will be insanely successful, and am looking forward to the sequel!

    1. I made a stupid mistake with TCB: I made lots of changes to the InDesign layout file over the past ten years without making them to the Word 2000 manuscript. (I typeset the book for the publisher.) I even tweaked the PDF and didn’t capture the tweaks elsewhere. So I had no choice but to extract a Word file from the PDF print image, which is done using a utility called PDF Transformer via a species of OCR. I went through it and shoveled out a great many OCR errors, but that one slipped past.

      I priced TCB at $2.99 explicitly to make it an impulse buy. I’ve sold about 650 copies of the hardcover. With the Kindle book, I sold more than half that number in three days. Mission accomplished!

      1. William Meyer says:

        OK, that explains it. I have done quite a lot of OCR work, so the characteristic errors tend to be pretty apparent as to their cause. I just found it odd that you would have needed to use OCR on your own writing.

        I have not paid a lot of attention to the SF market in recent years. Too many of my favorite authors have gone to their reward. But I have sampled a few things from new authors and have been disappointed. It looks to me as though you have a terrific opportunity just now, as there is a sort of vacuum. It’s not that people have no good ideas, rather that the combination of skills needed (ideas, development, grammar, rhetoric, and attention to detail) have become uncommon. IMHO.

      2. TRX says:

        If you have anything else wrapped up in some format you can’t easily get back to text or HTML, email me. I used to do a ton of document conversion and editing. I still use the tools occasionally, so unless it was a pathological case I could probably get you fixed up in a short evening or two. I’d consider it a fair trade for the years of thoughtful entertainment I’ve had here on Contra.

        Also, was that package waiting when you got back to Colorado, or do I need to unsnarl things with Amazon and have a replacement sent? Given your new real estate responsibilities I figure it’s not a high priority for you right now…

        1. Actually, the TCB file was a one-off, and a singular mistake I realized I made about four or five years ago, but by then was stuck. Fixed now. Everything else I have is in Word format, and I won’t make that particular mistake again.

          I have the DVD on the TV shelf downstairs, waiting for a little idle time to watch it. Idle time has been scarce here lately. Hang in there; I’ll send or post a report once I watch it.

  6. jon spencer says:

    According to my iPad’s kindle app, I have read 69% of the book. I should finish sometime tonight or tomorrow morning. So there’s a buck or two for you.
    Bloody good book too.

    1. Many thanks! May I ask you to tell your friends? That’s key to making indie work not only for writers but for readers: When you find something in that great big huge pile that meets your needs, spread the word. I often ask my friends what they’re reading, and what they’ve read lately that they enjoyed. I’ve found a lot of good new material that way, most recently Larry Correia’s Grimnoir saga.

  7. TRX says:

    The next step: audio!

    You might look into some of the text-to-speech converters. I’ve listened to a handful of audiobooks made that way; the lack of cadence and random inflections make it obvious it’s software, but some of them don’t sound too bad. I suspect there’s some tuning needed to make the conversion work well, but it has come a long way from the old “drunken Norwegian” output of yesteryear.

    No, the resulting product is still far inferior to even a semi-competent live human reader, but as long as it’s clear up front that it’s a text-to-speech translation, I’m usually okay with it.

    Or, heck, do it yourself. I listened to Roger Zelazny doing “A Night in the Lonesome October” with his honking Yankee accent; you couldn’t be any worse. And certainly no worse than Snot Man or Sneer Boy, who read far too much of the Random House and Audible stuff… fifteen or twenty minutes an evening, after a while you’d have it done!

    1. I’ve thought about it here and there, and may try it someday. I have a tolerable voice, if a little nasal due to my deformed sinuses. I would have to listen to a lot more audio books to get a sense for the approach. My sister and her husband have a recording studio in their basement, and know pretty much all there is to know about sound recording. If I did it there, it would be done well.

      I shrink a little from the thought of reading 144,000 words out loud, though.

      1. TRX says:

        You’d be looking at 12 to 16 hours, probably. That’s why I suggested breaking the work into bite-size chunks.

        You don’t need a professional studio, just a quiet room and may attention to your sound level meters.

        What about Carol?

  8. Jason says:

    Just finished the Kindle edition and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been my vacation reading while in Colorado Springs. We, sadly, leave on Tuesday I say sadly because I’d gladly buy you a beverage of your choice for writing such a great book if we were here any longer.

    Anyway, I’ve added you to my list of authors to read whenever they publish. Good luck!

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