Business Musings: Gaming the System

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It has taken the latest Kindle Unlimited Apocalypse (KUpocalypse 2? KUpocalypse Part Deux? KUpocalypse XXL?) to help me understand my visceral reaction to all of those writers who game the system.

First, let me explain the reaction. It ain’t pretty. It comes from decades of watching young (meaning newer) writers try to game whatever system exists, whether the system is traditional publishing or indie publishing or getting an agent or trying to sell a book to Hollywood using by writing “blockbuster” novels based on current movies (I can’t even begin to count the ways that’s stupid).

By gaming the system, I mean artificially elevating book sales by doing something non-writing related.

For example, when I edited The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I stumbled on a writing article in which some newbie writer claimed to have found “the secret” to selling short stories to me. That writer analyzed every story in every issue I had my byline on up until that point, found common elements, and told the writers reading his essay that I looked for those elements.

Ooops. That was wrong. Because the first 18 months of my editorial reign included works purchased by the previous editor Ed Ferman. Just like the first 18 months of Gordon Van Gelder’s reign included works purchased by me, and part of Charles Coleman Finlay’s early years will include works purchased by Gordon, depending on inventory.

Half the things that writer found in my editorial canon were in stories I didn’t buy (and maybe didn’t like). The other things may have been things I decided I had enough of and wasn’t going to purchase for a while.

His game, done without the kind of algorithms so many retail sites online now use, was a false one, using material that had been purchased years before.

Writers do a variety of things like this even now, from analyzing the kinds of clients agents have, to writing to order based on Amazon’s bestseller algorithms. Kindle Unlimited really provokes a lot of this behavior, with writers admitting in blogs and other places that they were deliberately writing shorter works (and serialized works) to make more money on Amazon.

We’ll get to all of that in a minute. But first, I want to talk about gaming the system just a bit more.

In a closed and arcane system, like publishing used to be and like traditional publishing still can be, some amount of gaming is inevitable. Because there was no school for writers, no business training, and very few established professionals who mentored and/or taught newcomers the tricks of the trade, each generation of writers had to learn from scratch how to break into publishing.

This led to a weird phenomena. Good information got mixed with totally useless information, and presented as Gospel. New writers had an impossible task: they had to continually run at a system that deliberately kept secrets from them in order to prevent them from breaching the walls. Once writers crossed that wall, they found others. Some writers sent information back to the others trying to cross the wall; other writers just moved forward.

New writers got their information from biographies of other writers, from “guidelines” written by publishing houses (mostly designed [ironically] to keep writers away), and from a few nuggets of knowledge from panels or writing conferences or writers workshops. If the writer was lucky, those panels, writers conferences, or writers workshops were taught by career writers, who have been in the business longer than a year or two. Most often, those panels, conferences, and workshops were taught by professional writers, with “professional” being defined as anything from one short story sold to one novel sold fifteen years ago to making a living as a writer.

Because writing as a trade has no governing board, and nothing to certify writers as professionals (unlike, say, lawyers), there was and is no way to know if the writer giving information really has knowledge or is just guessing.

In a closed system, guesswork often takes the place of actual information. Guesswork means that the individual writer will poke and prod, trying to find what works.

That habit, guessing and prodding, continues among some writers, who don’t learn to substitute knowledge for guesswork. Those writers end up spending their writing life on guesswork.

And working off guesswork as a professional leads to behaviors that make those of us with a business background shake our heads, behaviors like giving an agent 15% of a copyright for the life of the copyright just because the agent made a few phone calls or like selling a book to a small press in the hope of that book becoming a bestseller when that press has never had a bestseller and wouldn’t know what to do with one if one came along.

The practice of using guesswork as fact becomes a way of life for some writers. It’s now built into the arcana of writing. It makes gaming the system seem normal, the way that business is conducted.

But the system isn’t closed any longer. Writers can publish their work themselves and—here’s the kicker—that work will be sold and get read. There are now many paths to becoming a career writer, to making a living as a writer, and to selling fiction instead of just one or two.

Better yet, the internet has made it possible for writers, without leaving the comforts of home, to actually gain knowledge on how to be successful from people who have long-term careers.

Why am I stressing long-term careers? Because a lot of things work in the short term and don’t work long-term at all. Writers who have freelanced for decades know how to survive the ups and downs of the publishing business.

When Dean and I teach or advise new writers, we always tell them to learn from someone who is already on the path the writers want to walk. There are so many paths now that writers need to understand they have choices.

Almost all of those choices take patience. There’s a reason that phrase in English for becoming a professional is “building a career.” You don’t rocket into a career. You luck into an overnight success. You might start at a different place than someone else—higher or lower—but you build from that place.

The first thing you do is create a solid foundation. Often, people who rocket to success have to go back and build the foundation underneath them. That’s why so many rockets flame out. They never go back and do the fundamentals.

What are those fundamentals? The things I harp on: learn your craft; keep learning and growing; learn business; and learn copyright. Notice the repeated word. Learn. Learn. Learn.

Learn what makes someone else’s work successful, but don’t copy that work. Don’t plagiarize and don’t expect that just because someone wrote a successful vampire detective novel, your vampire detective novel will succeed in the same way.

More than that, don’t expect to have the same career trajectory that someone else does. Your career will go your way; theirs follows its own path. Accept that.

I know all this. I know that sometimes there’s no clear boundary between learning the closed system and gaming a system. I also know that writers have tried to game the publishing system since there was a publishing system.

I hated it when I started; I hate it now.

And yes, I’m using the word “hate.”

In the beginning, I tolerated gaming the system.  I used to think that writers would get by it. Some writers do get past that idea that they can game their way to success. Some writers do game their way to success. But I have learned that every writer who games his way to success has short-term success.

And then that writer gets caught or the system changes or the bottom falls out. Most writers quit at that point. Last summer’s Kindle Unlimited Apocalypse took out hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers who had some success. Many of them left writing altogether.

Some of them found a new way to game the system, still with Kindle Unlimited, figuring out the new algorithms and what those writers “should” be writing in order to win the big prize—which is, either, some imagined (unprovable) bonus to their bestseller rankings or part of the Prize Pool. Ooops. I mean the Select Global Fund. Or none of the above. Honestly, I haven’t made much of a study of it, because, as you can tell from my tone, I don’t think it important.

The remaining writers who were gaming the system and got nailed did the cliché thing and turned lemons into lemonade. They learned that they were approaching their business wrong, and they took the collapse as an opportunity to build a foundation underneath their writing career.

A lot of those writers are showing up in the discussions about the latest change in Kindle Unlimited, and mentioning how they changed their behavior, so that this year’s change will have little or no impact on the way they’re doing business. I’m very impressed by these folks.

Because we all take wrong turns, particularly early on, and we don’t always know whether we’re following a real path or a goat trail that leads off a cliff. The folks who have expanded their markets, clicked out of Select, and stopped playing games, have taken the most important step possible in their careers.

They now own their successes and their failures.

Or as we say at our workshops: You are responsible for your career. You’re responsible for your successes and your failures. You’re responsible for whether or not you have a career.

There are ups and there are downs. You ride them, like you surf a wave. No surfer rides the crest of every wave each time. Surfers do crash and burn. Then they paddle out and catch another wave. And no wave is the same.

Some waves are gigantic. We have Big Surf competitions in my small town; people from all over the world come here to ride waves as big as skyscrapers. Not every surfer wants to ride those waves. It takes a lot of skill and it’s dangerous.

Some waves are merely big, but they don’t come around often either. And you’ll note, in our surfing metaphor, that the big waves come along with bad weather or very choppy seas, so it takes a lot of skill to handle them.

Smaller waves are easier to predict, and easier to ride. Even those smaller waves will dump the surfer—particularly the inexperienced surfer—into the water.

If you ride the wave—which is what having a career in the arts is all about—then expect to get wet. Repeatedly.

In addition to the writers who mentioned they had left Kindle Unlimited last year and put a foundation under their business, a number of other writers commented on the changes. Those writers defended the fact that they were continuing to game Amazon’s system, and those writers vowed to find the new way to game the system.

And that bugs me.

It bugs me because of the contempt these writers show for the craft of writing. In the changes to KU, Amazon stresses that it will pay the writers who stay in KU by the number of pages in the book and the number of pages read. The letter Amazon sent out to the Select writers said,

“Under the new payment method, you’ll be paid for each page individual customers read of your book, the first time they read it…. the amount an author earns will be determined by their share of total pages read instead of their share of total qualified borrows.”

Yeah, there are problems with the way this will work, and people are already coming up with ways to game it. (sigh) (Please don’t discuss that in my comments section. I don’t think you should be exclusive to any one market in the first place. Figuring out how to game that market is irrelevant.)

But a lot of writers are claiming in their comments on this new policy that reading shouldn’t be the metric. Who cares, the writers say, whether or not the books get read. One writer even said it’s not normal for people to read the books they download (!).

Every writer should care whether or not people read their work. Back in the days before the internet (when we had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to the library to hunt the wild paper books), writers would sometimes buy their own books by the case to game the bestseller lists.

In that instance, just like in the gaming of Kindle Unlimited, the goal isn’t to gain readers, it’s to hit something important to the writer—like a bestseller list or a certain percentage of a prize pool.

People who game the system do not respect the system. And by the system, I don’t mean Amazon itself or even the publishing system.

I mean this system:

Writers write books.

Readers read books.

Writers want their books in the hands of readers…who will read those books, and have some enjoyment for an afternoon or a week or two.

In other words, gaming a system, like Kindle Unlimited or the New York Times bestseller list is extremely disrespectful. It doesn’t require the writer to get better, to become a better storyteller or to build a fan base. It only means that the goal—whatever that goal is—means more to the writer than having readers does.

Like those people who purchase a spot in a marathon, run the first mile, then hop a bus, get off on mile 22, and run the remaining 4.2 miles as if they had actually run the entire race.

Not everyone can run 5.2 miles, so not everyone can do that.

But hopping a bus in the middle of a marathon to get to the finish line faster is disrespectful to everyone else, from the race organizers to the spectators and, oh, yeah, the people who actually run the 26.2 miles. Not just the people who run it in a few hours, and take home prizes. It’s also disrespectful to the people who take six or more grueling hours to finish, because the effort means something to them.

The gamers of the writing systems always want the “trick.” They’re the ones who want to make a fast buck.

Most of them left last summer.

I hope the rest of them leave with the KU changes this summer.

Because, my friends, they don’t just disrespect other writers. They disrespect readers. These writers want people to buy their books (or borrow them for a fee, as in KU), but these writers don’t care if the readers read the book.

They want a reader’s money and they want to give the reader very little in return for it.

Writing is both a craft and an art. It’s the art and craft of storytelling.

To tell stories, you must have someone to tell them to. And you should respect your audience. Because without them, you’re just singing in the shower, listening to the echo of your own voice.

Value your readers. Give them the best reading experience you can. Always strive to improve.

If readers don’t like what you’re doing, they’ll let you know. They won’t buy the next book. They won’t remember your name. They won’t recommend your work to their friends.

It’s not your job as a writer to force readers to buy your books. It’s your job to entertain people who read your work. If you’re a good enough entertainer, more people will pick up your work. Over time, more people will pay for it.

Because they value it. Because they want more of it.

Not because they got it for free and they didn’t read it after downloading it.

Not because they were guilted into buying it or borrowing it.

Readers don’t pick up books because those books hit an algorithm. Readers pick up books because the book looks interesting. If, after reading a little bit, the reader decides the book is interesting, the reader will finish the book. If the reader likes the entire experience, the reader will then go to the writer’s other works.

If you want to play games, play games with yourself. Game your own system. Figure out how to write better stories. More enjoyable stories. Entertaining stories.

Write because you love it, not because you’re chasing some dream of being a famous writer.

Be the best storyteller you can be each and every time you sit down at the keyboard.

I guarantee you that, over time, you will gain readers. And if you keep improving and keep doing what you love, you will gain more readers.

Then one day you’ll wake up, and you’ll realize you’ve been doing this work for decades. As a freelance writer. Sometimes you hit bestseller lists. Sometimes you don’t. But you have readers and fans and one other thing.

You have a career. A long-term career.

As a writer.

And really, there’s nothing more fun than that.

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“Business Musings: Gaming the System,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

54 thoughts on “Business Musings: Gaming the System

  1. Hi, Kathryn. Good article! My experience with KU, however, has been very positive. When my third novel (My Other Car is a Spaceship) released out last August, I put it up on KU. Sales took off almost immediately, and “dragged along” my other books with it. In the first two full months of sales (Sept./Oct.), I received royalties on 10,134 copies. Of those, 32% of the copies (3,253) were through KU. Sure, the revenues were lower that way, but only by about 25-30% (the amount per copy varies from month to month). I was thrilled. On my best day, there were 74 KU downloads (out of 440). I also had a couple of 73 KU download days.

    By mid-November, overall sales had slowed considerably, and KU downloads were down to about 10 a day. So I decided to pull the book out of KU and go with Smashwords (which distributes to B&N, Kobo, iTunes, etc.). It didn’t take long to reformat the ebook to meet SW’s specs and I uploaded the book. SW said it would take approximately 2 weeks to show up on resellers’ shelves (which would have been early December, in time for holiday sales. In fact, it took a month longer than that. It finally appeared on Dec. 28. Big whoop. (Perhaps the excessive delay was due to the upcoming holidays. I don’t know.) So my book was out of KU for two months before it even appeared on anyone’s digital shelves. Who knows how much I lost in royalties during that period? But I figured it would be worth it once millions of non-Amazon customers discovered my book.

    So, what was the result? After 4 months, I had sold exactly 20 copies through SW. Frustrated, I went back to KU and sold 42 the first week. Perhaps if I had stayed with SW for a year the book would have eventually caught on. But sales were actually tailing off on SW before I left them, not growing. In the the last month, they sold all of 2 copies. I can’t say I was impressed with SW overall.

    My next novel will be out in 19 days. I may try SW again after the initial sales die down, but maybe not. I’ve heard from other authors that they were disappointed in SW sales and went back (or finally started with) KU and their sales picked up.

    You’re probably right about other countries not buying from Amazon (although Amazon has sites in 13 countries). But my books have done fairly well in the UK and Australia (hundreds of copies each), and to a lesser extent in Canada. Not huge numbers, certainly, but it all adds up.

    Is Amazon/KU-only the perfect situation? Certainly not. But that doesn’t mean it’s always the wrong choice. I have no idea how well this new payment system will work, but I’m willing to try it for a while. If I’m not happy with it, I’ll switch. But as it benefits authors of well-written and longer books (mine are all 100K+ words), I’m hoping that royalties will increase for me. We’ll see.

    1. Thanks for the report, Mark. Clearly, you’re not one of the people Amazon targeted with the new rules. Your longer work will benefit from the changes.

      Yes, there are always reasons for writers to use some tools. Sounds like you analyzed this for what you want for your business and did exactly what you consider best.

      If I did what you had done, I would lose thousands of dollars per month, since Amazon is only about 40% of my total sales (of the works that are not published through NY). It has taken years to grow with the other sites, so as always, patience is the watchword. And my second biggest seller is paper. Maybe after this month, my biggest seller, which I have to say, surprises me.

      So each career is different.

      I’m glad that Amazon is fighting the people who game the system. That only helps both of our businesses.

    2. Mark, if you are going to use a distributor to other venues besides Amazon, consider Draft2Digital. Their converter is more friendly than the Meatgrinder over at Smashwords, they have some extras that make your publishing experience a little more pleasant, and you get reports back much closer to real time. Also, they are very responsive to work with.

      Smashwords has never really positioned itself as a retailer. It’s more of a warehouse that has a storefront. Mark Coker has even said they concentrate on getting distribution deals with other retailers rather than attract retail customers.

  2. Just one more data point/question: I have an older Kindle which I connect online almost never because wifi drains the battery faster. I prefer to download via computer. Would this new plan even be able to track my “pages read” (if I belonged to the plan, which I don’t)? Does that mean Amazon doesn’t pay those authors ANYTHING now?

    1. I don’t know about an ancient Kindle, if Amazon can track it. Probably not. And that means if you are a member of Kindle Unlimited and borrowed the book and read it on your old Kindle, the author would get no money. But if you read it on your computer through the Kindle app, then yes, the writers will get paid.

      Mostly, though, the writers who are in KU who write good books that people actually read will get paid. So no worries there.

  3. Thank you for such a useful article. I admit to know nothing (or very little) of KU. As a reader, I’m not satisfied with their offer, at least wasn’t the last time I checked, and as a writer, I don’t want to launch into self-publishing. It’s a venue for people with tougher spirits and higher survival skills.

    What baffles me about all this is that people don’t want the satisfaction of having actual readers and fans that no money can buy. I had a few readers for my WIP (reworking it now after rejections from publishers), and I always find it amazingly-pleasant to have someone to discuss your work with, an occasion to gossip about your favorite characters or have the readers tell you what they expect to see in a sequel. It’s immensely gratifying. It’s this warm feeling of not being alone in your bubble, face to face with Word.

    However, I think that those who game the system will be gamed by it in the end, exactly like you said. Readers like quality books and once they spot a gamer, they won’t buy his books, give him low ratings and spread the word via Twitter, Facebook and such. Nothing can be kept a secret these days.

    Thanks again for a helpful (and thought-provoking) article.

  4. I saw the Passive Voice comments section. It was a shock to see the indie authors who bragged about gaming the system and writing to cash in on trends rather than what they wanted to actually write. I see self-publishing as a platform to release my work. A means, rather than an end to make money. Even if I was traditionally published, a traditional publisher is still just a platform.

    If people want to make money that badly, they ought to get a job as stock trader or banker so the rest of us can get back to writing quality stories and learning the craft of writing better.

    1. I was shocked too, and angry, even though I know that some writers have done this since the beginning of time. I’m still amazed that some of these people are bragging about moving genres to follow the money, not because they like the genre. Ah, well. Every once in a while, I need to let out some steam, I guess… 🙂

      1. “Following the money” and “writing genres you like” aren’t necessarily exclusive—nor does following the money necessarily mean you’re giving readers an inferior product. Both situations can be an either/or, but they can also be a both/and. Depends on the writer and the situation.

        Even for the writers who follow the money and put out a lower-quality product to do so…it doesn’t bother me too much. I don’t care for it, but the system sifts them out—readers as a whole don’t purchase and stay happy with their product(s) long enough for that sort of gamer to stay happy with it for long, even if they hit the market right at a single moment.

        1. Note: I point that out because it sounds to me as if you’re conflating them. I’m not arguing with your right to dislike when folks do that sort of thing. 🙂

          1. If I conflated them, Carradee, I’d be a hypocrite. Because when I was in traditional, I always looked at what I liked to read/write, and saw if I could sell it. Sorry it seemed that way to you. It’s the folks who write in genres they don’t know or don’t like only for the money who piss me off.

  5. I wandered over to the PG’s re-post and I’m amazed at the name calling. I know you and Dean have talked about it, but I still find it shocking.

    Someone there can disagree and say “gaming worked for me and still does” or misunderstand what you mean by “gaming the system” and think it means making smart choices about keywords you use and such, but honestly, the hostility there is astonishing. Who knew there were such nerves to hit around marketing books?!

    As always appreciate your honest opinion and so glad you are willing to keep stating it. Some of us value it and appreciate it–

  6. I frankly would rather folks game a system like KU—which will adjust and knock them out of profitability, eventually—than game their families, their children.

    I also see a difference between making use of a system glitch as a temporary tool and relying on that system glitch as THE tool you use.

  7. I’ve sold 100 books to conventional publishers, reissued 30+ as ebooks myself, and begun writing a series to self-publish. This is a fantastic, utterly true blog. My advice to new (and other) writers, in six words, is: Learn your craft. Respect your reader.
    I frequently have to shake off bad or simply incomplete advice about how to jump through a hundred hoops to self-publish. There are lots of choices, and I’m making them judiciously, but always keeping my long-term readers in mind. Plus, of course, my self-respect and love of writing. Thanks for putting this down in words!

    1. I too have to shake off the bad advice, Jacqueline. A lot of the people who are giving advice don’t have longterm readers yet. (Some never will.) They don’t understand what an honor it is to have readers who have read your work for decades, and still enjoy it. And let you know when you miss. I value those readers so much, and all of my readers. I can’t do this without them.

      I guess that’s why this new KU thing shocked me so much (and angered me). A number of people said they didn’t care if people finished their books! Really? Then why write at all? That is so disrespectful to the entire process of reading and writing.

      Thanks for the kind words.

      1. I’d love to have readers over time. I can’t understand writers who don’t care if their books are read. What is the point in that? I’m hardly ever read, but when I am it’s a smiley feeling! I think I will stop reading re-posted blogs too. The commenters were going crazy.

      2. I think that’s the key distinction: when they don’t care if readers finish their books . . .

        That shows your motive is to make a buck off of someone, not provide value.

        And I hate it when someone just wants to make a buck off me.

        But if you want to provide great value, then there’s nothing wrong with using all the tricks in the book to maximize your profits in this or that platform while doing that. That’s just good business.

        So I don’t see anything wrong with folks who wanted to provide value AND maximize profits by deciding to put some properties in KU to take advantage of the short-work payouts there. That little bonanza is now gone, but the value-providers will find other ways to provide their value and maximize profits.

        And the shysters will find some other way to fleece someone. But at least they’ll be doing it somewhere else.

  8. I read yours and Dean’s and the Passive Voice’s blog regularly. I think I need to stop reading PG’s reposts of your stuff. It never ceases to amaze me what people think you’re saying vs what you’re actually saying.

    Thanks for continuing to say it regardless.

    1. Thanks for the defense, Liana. I appreciate it. But you’re right. Writing time is better spent writing than it is posting. People hold tightly onto their beliefs, and sometimes those folks won’t change their minds. Sometimes they change their minds later as evidence accumulates. Plus, over the decades, Dean and I have accumulated a few trolls, who always post anonymously. I figure it’s not worth fighting with people who won’t sign their name to their comments. 🙂

      Thank you again, though. Much appreciated.

  9. I just came out of some big time Critical Voice Land issues, only now getting back on the wagon and producing again, though slowly. I can’t imagine smacking down the problems I had and then running off to game the Amazon algorithms. Talk about exhausting and soul killing. I’ve had day jobs that were more fun.

    This essay hit home with me… thanks for writing this.

    (long time lurker and fan)

  10. Thanks for this post. I’ve been tempted to “play the game” because my sales have never been stellar, but I can never bring myself to do it because I want to earn any success I have on my merit as a writer. Yes, luck plays a part, but that’s beyond my control. As long as I’m writing each story to the best of my ability and people tell me they enjoy them, I figure I’m doing something right.

  11. All systems are gamable, and we as humans game. We’re humans. That’s what we do. Any well designed system is gamable to the benefit of the system. That is, the system clearly tells you what’s important.

    In the case of KU, their new system is gamable by writing very engaging books. Readers then get very engaging books to read. I know that this is a good decision by Amazon because that is the same system used by every publisher. Writers write to their intended audience, editors buy for their intended audience, and readers get enjoyment being the intended audience.

    In the old system, you only needed 10% quality. Now you need 100% quality.

    I keep a few items in KU as a learning experience. I am very interested in measuring my engagement.

    1. But engagement doesn’t cross from product to product. You’re not making widgets. Each story is different. So if one story doesn’t resonate with readers, does that mean you need to up your game? Maybe in that genre. Maybe only with that story. If stories were widgets, your experiment would be a sound one. But they’re not. So write and release. Rinse, repeat.

  12. K. W. has stayed with Amazon and the KDP/Select program, but not because he is trying to “game the system.” It was a decision based on the sales at each retailer. After a year of tracking his sales on multiple platforms, we discovered that 90% of his sales came from Amazon. We then had to decide if it was worth the time (which might be better spent writing and editing books) to do all the formatting and monitoring of multiple accounts. The decision at our house was to stay, for now, on Amazon. Because the “borrowing” capability has worked well for him, we will be tracking the results of the new changes and will reevaluate at some future date. While I realize that this doesn’t work for everyone, it is what we determined to be the best choice at our house for now.

    1. Too bad. You’ve given him no chance to grow on other platforms. Because their algorithms aren’t as sophisticated as Amazon’s—or as old—it takes longer to make inroads. When we started, Amazon was 90% of our income too, on the ebook side. Now it’s not even half. It took years to get here, but each year on each platform has had double-digit growth (or more). I hope you make KW’s work available on other platforms. Most of the world does not like or use Amazon first. Most of my foreign sales in the English language come from the other platforms—Kobo and iBooks. And those sales are growing each year. For US-only, Amazon dominates. But, as you guys know, there’s a much larger world than the US, and outside of the US, Amazon is a small player.

      Good luck with the KU changes.

      1. Thanks. We will be monitoring the sales and the ebook industry, for sure. Also, I am not full-time editing and marketing for K. W. My freelance copy editing and copywriting business is growing, and attention must be paid to those clients, too. It’s a balancing act.

      2. Someday, Kris, I’d love to know how to get my works translated and not have to pay an arm and a leg. Do you just sell the right and the have the new publisher finance the translation into the new target language, or do you have several translators you work with? I can’t be responsible for publishing the languages I’m not fluent in, because I won’t see the typos – it seems like a can of worms to do it myself.

      3. I admit to being very tempted by KU. The bulk of my sales come from Amazon; I haven’t sold anything on Kobo and B&N for months, even after putting books out. What do you think about putting some (not all) books on KU, just for the increased visibility?

        1. You’re forgetting the rest of the world. As I said to Geri Jeter, Amazon is not the big dog in every country, and most countries have people who buy English language books. If you want US visibility in one store, then go with KU. But remember, you’re pissing off most readers who want choice in the way they purchase your product. How many times have you skipped over something because it was exclusively available in a store you don’t shop in? In other words, I think it’s a very bad idea. I’ve said that in many posts. Go look at my Discoverability series if you want to have increased visibility. There are other, better ways to do it than KU.

  13. I’ve been noticing more and more pushback in Amazon reviews complaining about serialization. Readers who say they want a WHOLE story, not something chopped into arbitrary pieces just to jack up the price.That they’d actually be more willing to buy the whole thing for $5 than four parts at 99c. They’ll give one-star reviews and tell the author that they’re going to think twice before buying anything of theirs again. I vote those reviews up. It’s good information.

    1. Yes. This. Could serial indies make a bad name for all indies soon? Readers might check to make sure they aren’t being fooled into buying an indie serial book, rather than a full novel, by not buying indie at all!

    2. I am one of those readers! I will never join KU and I refuse to buy a “story” in pieces just because an author has decided to sell in pieces to make more money. Why should I pay a fee to get books that are readily available? On the flip side, I will go to an author’s blog every week when they are putting a novel up as a free serial, like Ilona Andrews did with Clean Sweep and Sweep in Peace.

    3. Ehh, I wrote a serial sci-fi romance. :/ And I put it in KU. :/ I did so, though, because the way I wrote it fit into an episodic format much better than my attempts to muscle it into a single novel.

      I put it in KU as part of a discoverability strategy that I am playing out over long term. KU is simply one more tool in my discoverability toolbox, as are boxed sets, the dates I picked for my releases, and the advertising venues I choose to let people know about the series. KU would maximize my returns in the short-term with borrows that paid out more than my royalties would have (because I like to eat). As I roll out of KU (aka, “get out of Kindle Jail”), I roll into boxed sets and “go wide.”

      It’s no secret that KU gets you a visibility boost on Amazon. As someone with no visibility anywhere, I have to start somewhere. It takes time to build visibility at other retailers, and a writer will build that into their business/marketing plan for their books. Visibility at Amazon is part of overall discoverability.

      I don’t have to love them, but I’m doing business with them. I’m doing business with Kobo and Apple and Draft2Digital and other retailers (except Google Play, for reasons other commenters have outlined). There’s a learning curve I am starting on with the other retailers to understand how to find readers in those places. KU is a strategy/tactic, like a hundred other things in the indie writer’s toolbox. It’s not magic or religion, though.

  14. “Value your readers. Give them the best reading experience you can. Always strive to improve.” This is what writing means to me, in a nutshell. Thanks Kris for your wonderful insight and ‘no nonsense’ business advice you graciously share with us.

    I honestly cannot understand why someone wouldn’t care whether or not someone read their work. It’s like they’re speaking a foreign tongue…

    1. I’m with you, Anita. I’ve been watching all those blustering about the nerve of Amazon to pay based on pages read and shaking my head. Why write stories at all if no one reads them? Or maybe I should phrase that as why publish stories at all if no one reads them?

  15. And this, dear author, is why I love you and your stories – they’re interesting and entertaining and, well, fun. They are well written, the story is well told; they surprise, they inform, they spark the imagination. THANK YOU.

  16. Great Post and well said! I have tried KU twice and I only had one borrow and this last one a cat short story has had nothing. The other two cat short stories I have are everywhere and I did make one sale there. No more Ku for me or Select. I’m going everywhere as I need the visibility. I’ve also learned that focussing on my craft is what needs to be centre stage right now and build a library of work out there and of course write what I love. There has to be readers out there somewhere who share the same interests as I do.

    1. Vera, I see your cat stories on B&N, but I don’t see them on Google Play Books. I’m buying more and more things there, trying to diversify the book ecosystem. The app and a few free books came with my Nexus tablet and is probably standard on a lot of Android phones and tablets. Ditto iBooks on iThings.
      (I love kitties and the one on your covers is cute!)

      1. Googleplay has some bad features for indie authors right now, Lurkertype. A lot of us aren’t on there until the terms of service change. I don’t know if that’s true of Vera. I know it’s true of us, at the moment. And we’d really like to be on that platform, but it’s just too risky right now. 🙁

        1. Ah! I’d been thinking about asking your advice about Google Play. I’d like to have my books on it, too, but I also have qualms about some of its terms of service. I’ve been going back and forth about it for more than a year, but haven’t yet taken the plunge. Thanks for sharing that you also have concerns about the TOS and how certain issues are handled.

        2. I do have my novella series in Google Play. It’s under a different pen name. My cat stories didn’t make it there. I have one in Select and when it comes out I was going to put all three of them there or put them in a collection. On my website, I post every Thursday cat flash fiction, flash fiction and my strange short stories. I would be very interested in hearing more about Google Play.

        3. The situation with Google Play is hugely annoying to anyone who is aware of it (or who has gotten bitten in the ass about it). According to intelligence we have, THEY are aware of it too, but seem no closer to doing anything about it.

          The web comic PVP is currently doing a storyline about a company trying to get a game app through the Apple App Store. (They’re not approving it because it’s a very silly game based on — farts.) This particular strip is about Apple, but in this case, it applies just as well if if you cross out and replace with “Google.”

  17. I just write for me so I can’t complain that no one else reads my books! I suppose that’s why gamers of systems don’t bug me. Good blog post for pro writers though. Unfortunately gamers will always adapt to new games. It’s about money for them, just like for Amazon. Maybe soon all this book gaming will start to piss readers off when there’s hardly any good books to read any more, then they’ll go looking for writers who stuck with it and write good fiction, rather than just pumping out crap and then gaming the system. You can’t game real readers forever. There are actually people out there who like to read, self included!

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