09 Sep

So about that Amazon 99 cent phone…

According to Amazon’s press releases about how lower prices *always* mean more success for books, because they’re just widgets and the cheaper they are the more units they sell, and the more I, the author, profits, this means that Amazon just had THE BIGGEST SUCCESSFUL PHONE LAUNCH EVER!


“Amazon has given up on trying to get you to pay $199 for the Fire Phone with a contract. Now the retail giant has brought the price down — way down.

The Fire Phone, Amazon’s first and only mobile phone, will now be available for just 99 cents with a two-year contract, the company announced on Monday. Available exclusively through AT&T, the deal also comes with a one-year membership to Amazon Prime and unlimited cloud storage for photos.”

(Via Amazon Just Slashed The Price Of Its Phone To 99 Cents.)

I’m looking forward to paying hundreds for my next iPhone. Because I actually want that, and I will pay for it. Maybe Amazon has opinions on what Apple should minimally price it at?

Meanwhile, others will pay other various prices for Android and Windows phones.

And it’s all good. A variety of prices (including diamond bedazzled smartphones for crazy money) is how markets work.

20 Jun

DRM and Hachette

Cory Doctorow is smart about identifying one of the reasons Hachette, and other publishers, are locked into Amazon by dint of their using DRM:

“By allowing Amazon to put a lock on its products whose key only Amazon possessed, Hachette has allowed Amazon to utterly usurp its relationship with its customers. The law of DRM means that neither the writer who created a book, nor the publisher who invested in it, gets to control its digital destiny: the lion’s share of copyright control goes to the ebook retailer whose sole contribution to the book was running it through a formatting script that locked it up with Amazon’s DRM.

The more books Hachette sold with Amazon DRM, the more its customers would have to give up to follow it to a competing store.”

(Via How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage | Technology | theguardian.com.)

Further commentary on twitter:

28 May

The Humble Bundle eBook Bundle IV is live! Get amazing books, support charity! Name your own price!

Humble Bundle is a super cool idea. You name your own price, help support charity, and get cool stuff. The Humble Bundle eBook Bundle IV features a collection of great eBooks, including novellas by me and Paolo Bacigalupi (The Alchemist and The Executioness) if you pay more than the average amount for the bundle.


Check it all out. And name your own price. You can even choose how much goes to charity and how much goes to the author and/or Humble Bundle.

More details:

Nine digital literary works. Humble eBook Bundle 4 is here with a wonderful mix of literature and graphic novels. Pay what you want for The Sword & Sorcery Anthology with contributions by Charles R. Saunders, Glen Cook and George R. R. Martin, March: Book One by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, and Wizzywig: Portrait of a Serial Hacker by Ed Piskor.

Those who beat the average price will also receive From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Executioness by Tobias Buckell and Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind.

Pay $10 or more and get everything plus Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw and Lovecraft’s Monsters with contributions by Neil Gaiman, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Joe R. Lansdale and edited by Ellen Datlow.

Pay what you want. Separately, this instant eBook library would typically cost you more than $55, but we’re letting you set the price!

03 Jun

Do we need to reinvent pulp? I’m not so sure

In referencing my post about survivorship bias, a long essay about how eBooks could be the new pulp. More comments below.

“So, what’s the big deal about Pulp? Why should Ebooks aspire to that?

Right now E-books are the new Dime Novels. In the late 1800’s, on the back of new publishing technologies and the rise of mass literacy, there was a ‘Publishing Revolution’ (actually several) in the form commonly called Dime Novels. The name came from the first series, Beadle’s Dime Novels, establishing the norms of the format: 100 page paperbacks, roughly 6½’ by 4¼’, lurid adventure tales with breathless titles.”

(Via Ebooks need to re-invent Pulp! | Voices on the Square.)

Yeah, the biggest issue I see with this is a comment referenced but not truly appreciated in that blog post, which is that pulp serials were ‘like the TV’ of their day.

While I think eBooks are going to create a new low-cost market (and have, really), the evidence is more that they’re eating up the cheap paperback of the 70s and thereabouts, than pulp.

Pulp was ‘like the TV’ of the day.

Only, we *have* TV today.

And videogames.

Reading is not a dominant entertainment activity. Which is why any reading today is never going to exactly mirror reading of the past. This is the hiccup with paying too close attention to models of the past. The ecosystem has changed.

That isn’t to say that I think serials or shorter books aren’t a good thing. I’d like to see more of a realization that novellas are a compelling read and John Scalzi just showed us the potential impact of serials.

Addendum, both Bruce and Philip Brewer think I miss the point. Their comments here and here.

In an email to Philip I wrote:

What I think you both miss is that it’s beside the point. It’s next to impossible to get the investment needed to replicate that model because fewer people read as primary entertainment to such a level that a structure can develop around ‘new pulp’ that can replicate any of that.

Most of the ‘new pulp’ and directions we are going are leaner. More freelance, more picking up editor or copy editor as fellow freelancer as needed, more author central.

All the things you’re focusing on are replicated in TV and video game media. Team-centric, highly collaborative, heavily invested in. I don’t see signs of that coming back into print, it’s going the other direction with text.


Are there technological effects that can come out of this? Yeah, I see teams that form around a single book that everyone is passionate about forming. I see more communities forming. There are opportunities. But pulp got its benefits from scale, fewer channels, lack of competition from other media, and we’re in a rapidly nichifying, high media competition environment. I really don’t think looking towards its structure as beneficial, though I do like the form factor of smaller, leaner novels and the return of the novella, which I’m investing in myself.

But Crowdfunding, building your own list serv of passionate fans, using single-project technologies to gather and create art together, then disband, etc etc, which are becoming the needle of our new secondary industry here, these don’t map very well to pulp as far as I can tell.

27 May

Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now

I love this quote from the recent marketing guide that Smashwords published:

“we cannot promise you your book will sell well, even if you follow all the tips in this guide. In fact, most books, both traditionally published and self-published, don’t sell well. Whether your book is intended to inspire, inform or entertain, millions of other books and media forms are competing against you for your prospective reader’s ever-shrinking pie of attention.”

(From Smashwords — Smashwords Book Marketing Guide – A book by Mark Coker – page 7.)

This just does not get emphasized nearly enough. And it’s something I’ve been thinking about a great deal since I published The Apocalypse Ocean. One, because so many rah rah eBook advocates have been indicating to me that if I’d only just publish digitally first I’d keep 70% of the profits and *obviously* make more than I would with ‘traditional publishing.’

Since 2001, I’d been involved in selling eBooks. I initially began with stories being sold through Fictionwise. I did this to test the waters, and begin understanding what I felt was going to be a new way of reading. I also have been reading eBooks since the same year. I’ve since switched to selling a portfolio of short story collections, individual short stories, novellas, and a novel via various eBook outlets.

I lay down my bonafides, because usually the first thing I get is a lot of ‘booksplainin,’ by which I mean people lecturing me about what to do as if it’s self evident, obvious, and usually based entirely on their own anecdotal experience.

In fact, the self assured expertise of anecdotes drives me nuts.

Here’s the data. Mark Coker, looking at sales of *all* the books self published at Smashwords, points this chart out in a recent slideshare of information and best practices (for all that he’s been an initial booster, I’m grateful to him for sharing some raw data, unlike the other venues which highlight, boost, and act as if the superstars’ stories are average):


The problem, right now, in eBook direct sales, is that everyone is paying and listening to people in the green area. They’re listening to everything they say, and sifting everything they say as if it’s a formula for success.

Like in most cultish behavior, if you follow the rules and don’t get the results, you’re either ostracized, ignored, or it’s pretended you don’t exist. Many who don’t get the same results just shut up and go away. Thus creating an environment where people are creating massive amounts of confirmation bias by continually listening to the top sellers.

In an interview recently, David Kirtley pointed out that in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting. One of the things I’m constantly trying to point out is that we’re not doing nearly enough to highlight both median and failure modes, because that’s where the real lessons lie. As for myself, I find message boards where new writers struggle to sell more than a few copies interesting, and where I harvest data about the low end.

That survivorship bias is useful to understand, and I just read a very large article that I think should be required reading for authors.

If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognize that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognize that there is missing information at all.

You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other.


Survivorship bias pulls you toward bestselling diet gurus, celebrity CEOs, and superstar athletes. It’s an unavoidable tick, the desire to deconstruct success like a thieving magpie and pull away the shimmering bits. You look to the successful for clues about the hidden, about how to better live your life, about how you too can survive similar forces against which you too struggle. Colleges and conferences prefer speakers who shine as examples of making it through adversity, of struggling against the odds and winning.

So here’s how survivorship bias affects people. Here’s a chart from Smashwords of how all the books do in their system:


Guess where on this tail-like chart above the books and authors with the most articles, blog posts, and largest followings sit?

Mark helpfully takes out the top 100 so we can get a better look at it. But remember, the people in the top 100 are the ones that everyone points to as if those results have some meaning for the rest of everyone else.


Does this mean I’m somehow against direct digital publishing? No, obviously I’m a hybrid player and have been for over a decade now. But my refusal to damn either version of publishing means I don’t get lauded by certain parties, ink isn’t spilled over me, I’m not some vanguard. I’m just a working stiff, a mid list writer with a decent but passionate audience. Both methods have benefits and drawbacks, and I’m fully aware of both and try to communicate that.

I am trying to say ‘please approach this with some rationality.’ I’m slowly building up a portfolio over time of work that I hope will offer me an additional income stream. There are some benefits to this form of publication that I like, but to be honest, in a direct apples to apples comparison, I’m making more off the much despised traditional publishing still. By a large margin. This piece of anecdotal data means that the formula for each writer is different, and the constant ‘us vs them’ battle going on is harming artists who are losing a chance to make more money, or get a larger audience, who are being led astray.

It is only by trying lots of different methods, and paying attention to real data, not cherry picked anecdata, that you will best succeed.

If you’ve been successful, good on ya. I’m thrilled when any artist breaks out to making a living. But genuinely understand that survivorship bias means there are plenty of people plugging the same formulas and not getting results that look even similar.

This is not bitterness on my part. I’m actually thrilled with where I am, which is far ahead of many. Over half my income comes from writing fiction (and if I weren’t in debt from having a medical crisis in 2008 I’d likely be able to make a living just on my fiction). I’ve been slowly building my career since 1999, since my first tiny sale. Each year my readership grows, my blog audience grows, the money I make off my fiction grows. I use eBooks, traditional publishing and crowdsourcing all as tools to survive. I’m playing the long game. And maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m pretty open to that, but I’m always happy to report on what’s going on. Each successful career I’ve seen, though, requires a ton of hard work, and many people I see trying any method with a focus on shiny and new and ‘beating’ some system often flame out and fall away. Lots of people who’re doing the right thing and working hard flame and fall away too.

Making a living off art is hard.

But that isn’t a sexy sell.

That isn’t to say you should give up. Fuck that. But I am going to say: get ready to work, don’t expect riches. Focus hard on the art.

And pay attention to those charts and adjust your expectations accordingly.

There’s a lot of snake oil sales going on. And a lot of well meaning people who won the lottery telling everyone to go buy lottery tickets while financial advisors shake their head.

Pretty much the same as its always been…

PS: this survivorship bias also works for writing advice about ‘how to write’ if you think about it…

26 Apr

Amazon removing Kindle books under 2,500 words

Interesting that Amazon is doing this. They should open up Kindle Singles, but right now the only way to get into that is… oh, yeah, they have evil gatekeepers.

I think a short story digital marketplace of Kindle Singles at 30 cents to 99 cents, with 70% royalties, would be amazing. But you have to be in Amazon’s clique to get access to that.

Fair enough. But interesting to see them taking back more and more of what they initially gave (you can only have 70% royalties in some regions, you can unlock them if you sign with Kindle Select in some major regions now, and the limited access to short story royalties now getting tightened).

It’s for the customer’s benefit. It’s smart on Amazon’s part, getting rid of cruft and spam with low content ratios, to make readers happier about not having to wade through chum.

So far a lot of what digital direct publishing for authors and for customers lined up in Amazon’s view. Now that things are shifting, Amazon will always allay with the customer.

It’s nice when their interests overlap with writers. I’m happy with my digital sales, but this is another reason I’d never put all my eggs in that basket; if Amazon is willing to ‘clean’ this up, what happens when they decide they want tweaks elsewhere?

“Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is reportedly planning to remove Kindle books that are less than 2,500 words.

At the KBoards site for Kindle readers and writers, one author shared a letter from Amazon that explained: ‘Content that is less than 2,500 words is often disappointing to our customers and does not provide an enjoyable reading experience.’”

(Via Amazon Cracks Down on Kindle Books Under 2,500 Words – GalleyCat.)

07 Apr

Mitigated Futures pops up onto a list, let’s break down what that means a little

A lot of people enjoy when I talk honestly about what a midlister like me is doing with his hybrid career. Here’s another such entry.

About two weeks ago I noticed that my collection, Mitigated Futures ([Amazon Kindle] or [B&N Nook] or [Kobo Books] or [directly from this page), had been popping onto the very low edge of the Cyberpunk bestsellers list at Amazon. Considering that I’d neglected the collection (not sent out much in the way of review copies, or pushed it meaningfully) I thought that was interesting.

So I dropped the price to $2.99 for fun and games and watched it climb up to #1, which entertained me much:


It stayed there for a few days then dropped.

There was a fun moment where it sat near two of my favorite novels, so I had to take a snapshot for my 15 year old self:


I twittered about it, for fun. But sometimes I have to remember I can see the raw numbers and don’t take this that seriously, because a few people emailed me a message that went a bit like “Dude! Congratulations, holy shit, you’re an Amazon bestseller!”

I’ve done this a few times, dropping prices to add data on sales numbers vs profit to my spreadsheet, to try and figure out the right price for a title I have up for sale. Tides from the New Worlds, my other short story collection, has made it up to the top 10 or so of Collections and Short Stories.

When you drop the price suddenly, it usually finds you a surge of people who otherwise wouldn’t have paid at the higher price. In retail, it’s not an uncommon strategy to launch with a higher price, and over time bring it down to capture more and more people.

But just spiking up there doesn’t mean all that much, other than the fun of it. Often the title comes sliding back down. It’s competing with hundreds (nay thousands of other titles) and it’s competing with the limited pool of your potential readers.

Look, readers give two valuable things to you, a writer:

Their Money (usually what we’re always focused on)


Their Time.

Time is harder to part with than money. Readers have shows, movies, video games, dinner, family, their job, and real life that competes with your work. It’s getting them to give you their time that’s tougher than their money in many cases (I still remember a dear friend being shocked at releasing a novel for free, and getting so few downloads it was comparable to how many had been paying for it. I pointed out there is no guarantee just making something free gets over the people who invest time in you barrier. Keep it free, I love the first book in a series as cheap as possible or free stories as lead ins and loss leaders, but it isn’t a simple growth curve you can automatically kick off).

That’s why we often have a limited pool of potential readers. People who can be convinced (based on formula, which none of us know of reading our past work, buzz and word of mouth, cover design, description of the project, time they have at hand) are potentially infinite, if a work gets escape velocity through buzz, but if you aren’t on that path, you’re actually depending on your existing pool. Yes, we’d all like to hope we’ve written something that has achieved escape velocity, or is maybe close, but more often than not we’re in a position of slowly growing the pool. And when you lower the price, what is happening is that the people who have already committed time are now going ‘the price is right.’ Maybe you’re also slightly growing the pool for the next round!

At least, that’s one metaphor I use to visualize this process (is escape velocity the point where the pool floods and spills over and joins a larger body of water and gets momentum from a burst dam? Not sure, it’s not happened to me yet, so I’ll report if that ever happens).

So the brief spike isn’t surprising, it’s just a fun piece of the roller coaster ride. I will not be putting ‘Amazon bestseller’ on my card.

Cyberpunk is a sub-category. And though it climbed up it, here is what that means in terms of sales.

I made $100.

Now, that’s not bad. Tides from the New Worlds seems to consistently bounce between $30-50 in sales (some months it gets above $50. To forestall instant advice, I’ve tried three different covers, the latest one seems to have bumped the sales up a little, as does keeping the price at $2.99 for new reader pick up, but it actually makes roughly the same at $4.99 as $2.99, in fact, a year or so ago it would make consistently more at $4.99 than it did at $2.99, but it seems to have shifted this year and it’s an older book, so I am happy with the lower price), so it doubled the usual amount I expect for a collection. Short story collections don’t appeal much to readers, it seems (my novella and my novel make way more than the collections), so seeing this makes me happy.

I’ve left the price at $2.99, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see it still continuing to sit in the top 40 of Cyberpunk, occasionally popping on and off the Short Stories list.


Being on a list like that is pretty important to finding casual readers. I’ve seen a couple twitter mentions by people joining my reader pool for the first time, which is nice, and why I think I’ll leave it at $2.99 as long its bouncing around that list. It’s discoverable, and I think the amazing cover by Jenn Reese makes it stand out.

But it still won’t make as much as my novella and the novel are making (which sit on no lists, by the way). And at some point, after another couple months in sales, I will talk about The Apocalypse Ocean and how its doing to be as open as I can for you all. But with Mitigated Futures, I’m not in the gold plated rims just yet.

But neither am I sniffing at $100. It’s more than most will make on any kind of book a month, and I live very lean in order to be able to write more or less full time (I make more off fiction than I did off the day job I had in 2000), the $100 goes toward paying down debt incurred in 2008 as a result of my heart defect.

That being said, this is one reason I’m more interested in Crowdfunding, in some ways. I was able to raise $4,290 to publish Mitigated Futures via that method. After the costs of the limited edition hardcover came out and shipping and what not, I was left with a bit under $3,000 in profit (thank you all, I love you, most short story collections don’t get any interest from publishers). In order for direct eBook sales to match the Kickstarter, it’s going to take some two and a half years of being a top Cyberpunk seller to match the Kickstarter (you can read about the impact Kickstarter had on my books and writing career here).

Which is not me being ungrateful. If Mitigated Futures sticks around the list for the next couple years, I’ll a) acquire new readers who might b) feed into the other work and c) Mitigated Futures will add $100/mth or so to my bottom line. It’s part of a portfolio of direct stuff that I’m building up, slowly and surely, to make sure I don’t have all my eggs in one basket and have a well diversified publishing portfolio: (contracts with big publishers, YA publishing, medium sized publishers, direct sales, crowd funding, and direct sales from my website).

But to answer the slightly over-excited email:

Dude, it’s an honor to see people trying it out and seeing copies move, but still not sipping cocktails on the beach just yet.

And that’s okay, too. The book is being read. I’m happy.

05 Apr

Amazon developing a cover creation tool

A smart move on their part, there are some truly horrendous self-made covers in the mix out there:

“Amazon is developing a cover creation tool for its Kindle Direct Publishing self-publishing platform, dubbed KDP Cover Creator. The tool is currently being tested by a limited number of KDP authors but the company expects to roll it out to all its KDP authors soon, an Amazon spokesperson told Digital Book World.”

(Via Amazon to Launch Cover Creating Tool for Self-Published Ebooks, KDP Cover Creator | Digital Book World.)

02 Apr

This Amazon KDP Select breakdown by CJ Lyons is interesting

CJ Lyons has a very business-like breakdown of whether Amazon KDP Select can work for you or not. I love this sort of level-headed examination, free of hype or drama. Great stuff:

“In my own experience, both times I tried Select, my lends were neglible compared to other authors. But as I polled other authors, I realized that the lending trends fall into two groups: relatively unknown authors were receiving higher numbers of lends while more established authors weren’t.

My guess is that the better-known authors with established series, good reader reviews, and bestseller status were actually being bought rather than borrowed. In my case, I could calculate the higher number of sales I received via Select and compare it to the lends as well as what I would usually sell of those titles via other venues.”

(Via Amazon KDP Select: Is It Worthwhile for Authors? by CJ Lyons.)