Kindle Unlimited and Serials – An Experiment In Exposure

Ask a handful of authors what they think of Kindle Unlimited and you’ll get a handful of different answers. Some love it, some hate it, most seem somewhat ambivalent about. We’ll never admit that, though .We’re writers, we’re supposed to be cantankerous.

So, for those who are uncertain what Kindle Unlimited is and why it’s important think of KU (as the cool kids call it) as a kind of Spotify for ebooks. Pay a small fee each month and you can read all the books you want. You can only have ten or so on your device at a time, but once you’re done you can get more. If you’re really into reading KU is a great thing. I’m a really slow reader so it makes more sense for me to buy a couple books a month and call it good.

Authors get paid for the people who read their works through KU, but it’s not as much as if someone bought a full copy. The Clock Man, for instance, is $2.99. For each sale I get 70% of the total cost which comes out to about $2.09 per sale. For each page read under KU I get about half a cent, or about $1.59-ish for the 318 page Clock Man. A little less, but at least people are reading it, so it’s all good. Henchmen and Arise, which clock in at 200-ish pages and about 270-ish pages respectively, pay less for a full read. Again, all good, people are reading and that’s a good thing.

A couple years ago I wrote a post about digital printing and binding – the kind of stuff Create Space uses to put together a book. It’s pretty revolutionary technology, easily on par with the movable type printing press. KU isn’t a new tech per-se, but it is a new distribution method. And I am going to try to take advantage of it.

In a recent book review I discussed Felipe Adan’s Lerma’s idea for a serial novel. It’s a good idea. It used to be short stories and the like were the exclusive purview of anthologies and literary magazines. KU is a game-changer, though, and new games require new exploits. Now it’s possible to put together a novelette-length story of around 15k-20k words, enough to tell a full story without delving into short-story territory but still staying away from full-length novel territory.

I’m picturing a kind of Television show level story, where each story is a complete unit, but each unit builds on the total story arc. Something that would be ideal for KU subscribers because it would be easy enough to produce a monthly installment and the shorter time to read would allow readers to cover more stories per month. It wouldn’t pay much, but it might be good exposure and it’s certainly a good writing exercise.

Now this plays right into the Henchmen universe because of everyone’s favorite go-to guy. No, not Steven. Wilford Saxton has a story that’s separate from the main Henchmen story arc but will still intersect at a later point. In the interim, he’s out building a small army and hunting monsters. I’m still working out the long-term story arc and figuring out the first tale which will take place immediately after the events of The Hunt (one of the stories in The Clock Man).

So, without further ado, let me warn you that a new hunter is coming and all the monsters of the world had best tremble.

SaxtonAdVertical

BTW, I will never advertise this as Free on Kindle Unlimited. Nothing on KU is really free; the readers pay for it. But I am hoping to leverage KU to achieve my goals of world domination. By which I mean, selling more books. Saxton’s adventures will also be available for purchase at $0.99 and I might even compile them all into a “box set” at some point.

Expect the first one in about a month.

Freebies

Henchmen, the story that has been described as “the greatest story ever told(1)” and “better than Cats(2)” will be free 1/5/2015 through 1/6/2015.  Supplies are limited, so act now!

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(1): No one has ever actually said this except the author and he’s prone to exaggeration.

(2): Most things are better than Cats.  The musical, not the animals.  I like the animals.

Createspace and Gutenberg

I’m sure at this point everyone knows about Johannes Gutenberg.  If you missed out on Gutenberg, go check him out, he was an interesting guy.  We’ll still be here when you get back.

Also responsible for first pictures where eyes follow you everywhere.

Also responsible for first pictures where eyes follow you everywhere.

Movable type printing presses revolutionized the world in the 1400s.  Prior to printing presses books were hand written, usually by monks or others who had all the free time in the world to write a book – and usually illustrate it – with a quill pen and some ink.  Needless to say this was something of a tedious process and it wasn’t uncommon for books to take decades to write.  Sure, they were absolutely gorgeous when they were done, but imagine waiting 20 years for the next Charles Stross novel.  Hopefully it wouldn’t land with a thud like the last Star Wars movies did.  And even when it came out there would be precisely one copy of it.  Ever.  Unless you could find a monk or someone willing to copy it, which could also take decades.

So, along comes the printing press and suddenly it takes a whack of time to set up a book because you’ve got to custom make the plates but you can crank out a ton of copies in a short amount of time.

Groovy, man.

Now, imagine moving from this world into the movable type printing press world.  Mass communication just became a reality and it was a serious thorn in the side of both political and religious leaders.  It made information easier to come by and made it a damned site harder to hide secrets.

In its own way, mass communication was a weapon more powerful than anything that had ever come before.  Movable type printing presses allowed the first mass production and dissemination of information.  Things like this allowed the Renaissance to happen, kick started the scientific revolution, and wrested information from the iron grip of the literate elite of the time.  Writing made information portable, printing presses made it affordable.  And that right there is a powerful weapon.

Information is still a weapon, and an amazing one at that.  To paraphrase Spider Jerusalem, with the right information in the right place you can blow the kneecaps off the world.  And you can do it with a single shot.  Wars are won and lost on information.  Kings fall because of information.  Lies are opened wide to the world instead of lurking in the shadows.  Information, as they saying goes, is power and printing presses redistributed power.

At the time Gutenberg was working with movable type the presses were expensive and cantankerous beasts.  It took some know-how and a lot of money, but you could put out a flier that not only said the king was a big doody head, but had proof.  You could publish novels and stories and all sorts of information that kings and priests would have preferred stay hidden.  It wasn’t easy, but you could do it without spending a lifetime writing it by hand.  Information could be more timely; maybe the king was a big doody-head at this moment in time, but he was okay at others.  By hand you could spend months or years writing up a diatribe about the king only to find when they were done that the king had been whacked and replaced with someone completely different.

You just look foolish showing up with fliers decrying the previous king.  Especially if the new one actually turns out to be a decent guy (or gal).

Things stayed like that for a very, very long time, at least until mimeograph machines and later Xerox taught us a few new tricks and became economically viable to print up a slew of flyers about your missing cat or candlelight vigils for dead rock stars.

Awesome-Missing-Posters-3

Not saying it’s aliens, but it’s aliens.

For the professional set, though, the printing press was still king and even in the late 80s (when I started doing page layout), you still had to know a thing or two about design and the rules of printing.  My first page layout was done on huge sheets of grid paper with a large ruler and a pencil.  I didn’t get to work with actual desktop publishing software until I was in college.

Again, things stayed like this for while.  You could photocopy some stuff or you could do it right and take the time to put things together and send it to a printer.  If you want to send something to a printer you found out quickly that printing was fantastically expensive.  $20k-$30k for the first book off the press.  The rest of them cost less than a dollar, but that first one was a doozy.  And, no, you can’t skip printing the first book.  Trust me, I tried.

Into this milieu drops a little thing called the World Wide Web, a subset of the Internet.  Most people think the web is the Internet, but it’s only a small portion of the whole Internet.  HTML and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol were relatively easy to use and let anyone put together something that looked – well, pretty godawful if I remember the early days of the web correctly.

HTML gave rise to a slew of publishing technologies including ebooks.  Amazon spearheaded the indie author revolution with the Kindle and self-publishing became a thing.  Now everyone, including me, has written a book (or several).  Some of these are books that never would have seen the light of day under the traditional printing press model.  Printing was still hugely expensive and publishers were wary of publishing anything they didn’t think would sell well.  Can you imagine anyone ever printing Bigfoot erotica?  No way in Hell, right?  Yet, someone self-published it and it became a huge thing for a while.

I have no idea what bigfoot erotica looks like, so here's a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head.

I have no idea what Bigfoot erotica looks like, so here’s a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head.

Actually, when you get right down to it, the Kindle was a god-send for erotica authors.  Now you could be reading Bigfoot porn on the train ride to work and no one would ever be any the wiser.

There is a problem with digital printing, though.  The initial cost barrier, much like using a printing press, ain’t free.  You need a Kindle or a Kobo or an iPad or something similar to read these books.  If you lose power or network connectivity you’re boned.  This brings me to Createspace and on-demand printing.

Back in the day, some relative of mine (a great-grandfather, I believe) wanted to write a book.  He sat down, wrote that bad boy and found no one was interested in publishing a book about his dog.  So he did what any red-blooded American would do.  He payed to have it printed.  I still have a copy around here somewhere.

It was called vanity publishing at the time and it was hugely expensive.  That and you had to buy a lot of copies, which meant you just dropped a wad of cash on a bunch of books that you wrote and you still had no guarantee anyone else would want to read them.

On-demand printing is, in my opinion, a truly amazing technological marvel.  Forget ebooks, that’s just pushing electrons around.  I’ve seen on-demand printers and they’re incredibly cool.  Think about a large box, not entirely unlike an advanced copier.  Paper and instructions go in one end and a book comes out the other.

Chug chug chug ping!

Chug chug chug ping!

I hear Amazon has a couple of these things lying around somewhere.  Think of it as a World Wide Web in a box.  Gutenberg, after you peeled him off the ceiling and stopped his ranting about the demons controlling the magic box, would probably have loved these things.  The print on demand printer has finally done something Johannes set out to do back in the 1400s: made printing truly flexible and within the capabilities of the average person.  The input is relatively easy to do and the output looks pretty damned amazing.

I can see why traditional publishers would be leery of these things.  Now, after six hundred years of innovation, it’s easy to make a printed book.  Anyone can do it, Createspace lets you do it for free and even gives you royalties.  IngramSpark lets you do it for a minimal cost and even gives you royalties.  The eBook revolution may have let anyone write and distribute a book over the Internet, but eBooks are limited to digital distribution.  Print on demand technology will let you, with a minimal amount of work (Henchmen and Arise took less than a day to format) print an actual, factual book.  And it doesn’t even have to be a Bible.

And that’s a pretty amazing thing.

Writing

I started writing Henchmen in around July of 2013.  As long as I can remember I always told myself stories and thought they were devilishly clever.  That July I was sitting on the couch.  It was hot as balls in Albuquerque and I was playing Saints Row III for, like, the fourth time.  Don’t get me wrong, Saints Row is awesome, but after the fourth time through I was kind of getting bored with it.

That was one of those “fuck it” moments.  I’d been bandying this idea of a group of henchmen around in my head for years.  I’d had several false starts with it (I should see if I’ve still got the original first chapter around here somewhere -it’s dreadful) and something clicked.  I started writing and never looked back.  Even after I didn’t sell a gajillion copies I just kept going.  About a month after publishing the first book I finally figured out where to go with the second.

Writing started as something to do, became a hobby, and sort of spiraled out of control from here.  It’s become my release in a way that gaming never could.  There were times when I caught myself writing with my eyes closed; so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open but still typing away.

Times like those always make me happy that I learned to type on an old mechanical typewriter.  I was trained by a woman who had been a professional typist (read secretary) back in the day.  She was a serious battle-axe.  Everyone in my junior high school was terrified of her.  I found that if I just paid attention and tried my best she was remarkably easy to get along with.  I was never quite good enough to use the electric typewriters, though; only the really good students got to use those and I never broke 60 words per minute.  Now, as a programmer, I’m probably better than I was back then, but that just means I can type semi-colons and curly braces like fiend.

Anyway, I found myself typing with my eyes closed, seeing the story unfold in my head and transferring it to the screen by touch alone because I was too damned stubborn to, you know, go to sleep.

Now I can say I’ve written two books and am working on a short-story collection, which is something I never would have guessed I’d be able to say a few years ago.  I haven’t made squat for money, but I don’t think that’s why I’m doing it anyway.  I’m torn between saying I keep writing because it’s a great way to while away the time and I keep writing just because I want to think someone, somewhere, is listening to what I say.

At any rate, if you’re thinking about writing a book, go for it.  Just think of it as telling someone a story.  You may not get famous or rich, but you might find you have a good time doing it.