Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Ebook Subscriptions Q & A

Q: Joe, I hate Amazon, and I hate their new Kindle Unlimited terms.

Joe sez: Opt out. It's voluntary.

Q: They're an evil monopoly.

Joe sez: They're neither. But if I felt that strongly about a company, I wouldn't work with them.

Q: But they're the only way to make money.

Joe sez: So, you hate the cow that gives you milk. I can't help you there. Try the serenity prayer. You know, the strength to accept the things you cannot change.

Q: These new KU terms are unfair.

Joe sez: Who said life was supposed to be fair, fun, or easy?

Q: Amazon is ruining my career.

Joe sez: My author rank has gone from #977 to #433 since the new changes began. I've done no promo, released no new titles. I'm simply being read the same pace as before, yet it now counts for more.

Q: That's not fair.

Joe sez: Can you point me to the blog post where I whined the old system--that paid a 10 page short story the same amount as a 400 page novel--was unfair?

Q: You never did that.

Joe sez: You can curse the darkness, or light a candle.

Q: But there is no change unless people complain.

Joe sez: I didn't complain. And yet, here is change.

Q: You're making more money now because you write novels.

Joe sez: First of all, I won't know if I'm making more or less money until I know how big the pot is for July, and what my percentage is. It's too early to start worrying.

Second, writing longer books isn't what is going to earn people money under this new system.

Q: If not length, then what?

Joe sez: Quality.

Under the old system, you got a full share if someone read 10% of your work. A 20 page work meant the reader had to get through 2 pages.

Anyone can get through 2 pages, even if the 2 pages are awful.

Now, we're being paid according to how much the reader is reading. Isn't a writer who is able to sustain a reader's suspension of disbelief for 100,000 words more deserving of being paid more than a writer who can't sustain a reader for 3 pages?

Q: So you're saying I'm making less money now because I suck?

Joe sez: I'm not saying anything. I'm looking at this logically.

Farmer A works 10 hours and plows 10 acres, feeding 10,000 people.

Farmer B works 1 hour and plows 1 acre, feeding 1000 people.

Should they be paid the same?

Q: I know I don't have enough data yet, but I think my income is shrinking!

Joe sez: That's too bad. I suggest you consider writing longer works. And make sure they're page turners.

Q: So now I have to write page turners!? I'm a serious literary novelist, not a genre hack like you.

Joe sez: An artist of your caliber should be looking into government and university grants. You shouldn't be toiling with the unwashed masses in the cesspool of popular consumer swill.

Q: That sounds sarcastic.

Joe sez: It is. Learn to hold a reader's attention, and you'll get paid. Spend 100 pages describing an unlikeable protagonist without introducing a whit of conflict, and I invite you to go fuck yourself.

Q: Art needs to be protected!

Joe sez: Here's a thought experiment from my friend, Barry. Pretend that, throughout history, writers have always been monetarily compensated for how many words the reader read. Imagine there has always been some counter in place that kept track of word counts, and writers got paid accordingly.

Then some upstart company came around and wanted to charge a flat fee for a book, no matter how long it was, no matter how much of it was actually read.

Doesn't that sound silly? Suddenly, authors could make money without a single word being read. They could be compensated for writing books no one ever finished. Why toil away perfecting craft, learning how to tell a compelling story, if a sale becomes more important than a read?

Amazon's new way of compensating authors not only makes sense, I contend it should have always been like this.

What kind of writer wouldn't want it to be?

Q: All I know is that I had a lot of short stories that were making good money, and now I don't think they will.

Joe sez: Which was a loophole. An unfair way to compensate authors. Did you complain that it was unfair when you were benefiting from this loophole?

For example, I think current copyright laws are unfair. And even though these laws benefit me, I want them to be reformed so I have fewer rights.

I understand defending things you benefit from. But we should all look closer at what we benefit from and ask if it is also good for others. For society. For the world.

The old Kindle Unlimited compensation structure wasn't balanced. This wasn't collectively good for writers or readers.

Q: How was it not good for readers?

Joe sez: If writers only had to hold a reader's attention for 10% of the work to get paid, where is the impetus to keep those readers hooked for the other 90%? Where is the impetus to make the story longer, and more entertaining?

The impetus, in fact, is to hook them for 10%, then quickly make them stop reading so they'll pick up something else.

In software terms, there is something called shovelware. It endorses cheap quantity over quality. No one likes shovelware. A hundred games that sort of amuse aren't as valuable as one game that enthralls.

Can you show me how the old KU system promoted quality better than this new system does?

Q: This new system punishes short story writers.

Joe sez: Bundle your stories together. Make it easy for readers to read them all at once. Or opt out. Amazon can't punish you if you aren't enrolled.

Q: You spent years on this blog, hating on legacy publishers. Why didn't you ever opt out?

Joe sez: I did. I got my rights back, at great personal and emotional cost.

Q: The early years of this blog read like love letters to your publishers.

Joe sez: During my early years of being published, I had no choice. I wanted to reach readers, legacy was the only way, so I took whatever I was offered. And I didn't whine about it. It was the only game in town, and I played that game as best I could. You don't shit where you eat, and you dance with the one who brought you to the party. Criticizing unconscionable contracts meant I'd never get another contract. So I played nice.

When an alternative--Amazon--presented itself, I burned all those legacy bridges. My criticism of legacy publishing is a warning for other authors.

Right now, there are alternatives to Amazon. If you hate Amazon like I hated legacy publishers, leave and burn that bridge.

But you don't actually have to burn it. You can opt out and opt in as often as you like, even while vilifying Amazon all over the net.

We've come a long way, baby.

Q: The only reason you're successful at self-publishing is because your legacy publishers gave you a fanbase.

Joe sez: I debunked this meme years ago.

Q:You're an Amazon apologist.

Joe sez: I'm a pragmatist. My current goals are aligned with Amazon's. Sometimes they do things I don't like. I try to adapt.

Q: I'm going to laugh when they cut everyone's royalties to 8%.

Joe sez: You mean they could possibly cut royalties to the same percentage that legacy publishers pay? Gasp!

Q: Amazon knew writers would hate this new format.

Joe sez: I think Amazon knows it can't do make any decision without scores of writers forming a dudgeon mob of righteously indignant social justice warriors. Welcome to outrage culture, where the slightest feeling of being wronged can stir up a shitstorm on Twitter and get the attention of major media outlets. Come and jump on the bandwagon, and don't worry if you haven't learned a lot about the issue and don't understand the little you have learned. It feels good to vent, doesn't it?

But, seriously, whining after the horse has left the barn is pretty lame. You made hay when it was sunny. It isn't sunny anymore. Move on.

Q: What's with all the platitudes?

Joe sez: It's funny how the older I get, the more old sayings seem to be applicable. A proverb is a short sentence based on a long experience.

Q: So how do we survive this awful situation?

Joe sez: Easy.

1. Write good books. Books that readers love. Books they recommend to others.

2. Experiment. Try new things. If you aren't failing, you aren't trying.

3. Innovate. Start your own ebook company. Certainly some of you have ideas. Go do something about it.

4. Share what you know. That's the point of life. Learning is only half the equation, you also have to pass it along so others can benefit.

If you don't like how the way things are, do it yourself, and do it better.

Now I'm going to go back to writing. I suggest you do the same.