The Great Indie Upheaval of 2015

The Great Indie Upheaval of 2015

I wrote this blog post from the heart and the gut. Therefore, it is full of tough love and occasional swearing. It is also long. Might want to make a cup of coffee.

The arrival of KU 2.0 has caused what I will remember as The Great Indie Upheaval of 2015. 
I will admit, at first I was leery. Monica (my assistant) and I dove into all the articles we could find to figure out how this was going to affect us. I have baseline business expenses and her salary to cover before I ever get to add up the change and celebrate staying alive one more month with a mocha. (Which I get at a discount because my niece is a barista.)

This new "pay per page read" method was uncharted territory and many many authors are crying foul. Some have (as we are only four days into this new program) given up on writing all together. (scratches head, cocks eyebrow)

I held back my initial public response because, one, after nearly seven years in this game, I've gotten used to Amazon changing the rules suddenly. It's just what they do. Two, I needed to approach this from a business standpoint, not an emotional one. 

If you don't know what this change means then you are probably a reader and you will ultimately benefit from what's happening. I'll briefly explain. Amazon pools money from Kindle Unlimited subscribers and that fund is dispersed between authors. Until July 1st, it was divided evenly per download. Now, it's literally paid per page read in the amount of roughly 0.006c per page. 
After much thought and deliberation, I have a hunch as to why they are doing this. I'll get to that later.

First I'll address the panic and why you (if you are an author) shouldn't.

I have several novels, shorts and episodic serials published. Take one episode of Purling Road. 8K words. Roughly 30 'normalized' pages. Under KU 2.0, that is a royalty of .18c, if they finish it. Under the old KU program, I'd make 1.40-ish. That's a very drastic drop in revenue! 
Egads!! (eyes bulge, pulls hair, breaks out emergency food rations)

Mayday! Mayday! Abandon ship! 

I think not. 

There is something that people are forgetting. It took me less than a week to plot, write, proof, format and send that off for editing. Still, a week of my time, energy, blood, sweat, tears, teeth gnashing and all the other melodramatic things that go along with this lifestyle. (shoves the bottle of Jameson further under the desk) And for that, I get 18c. No one in their right mind would put in 30 hours of work for 18c.

If you think about it on a microscopic level, panic is justified. But stand back and look at the bigger picture. Once that title is out there, I never have to do anything with it again and it will keep providing residual income that will, despite the single royalty, compound over time. On the other hand, my first novel, 1929, is a whopping 420 pages long and will bring a royalty of 2.52. That's nearly double the old royalty average of 1.40 per check out. See where it starts to average out here?

Another thing people are forgetting are sales. Sales are sales, even if they never click the book open. Through the introduction of KOLL and KU and even now a few days into KU 2.0, I haven't seen much of a change. 

There are wild speculations as to why Amazon is doing this. Here's mine, bluntly put.

Amazon outright stated that if we fail to hold the reader to the last page, that will affect royalties. A polite way of saying they are trying to weed out crap. This is, in my opinion, the great vetting of 2015 that my amazing assistant predicted in the fall of last year. We have been waiting for this. 
Amazon isn't doing this to create enemies out of authors. They are balancing payouts and cleaning house. The massive influx of self published titles in recent years was best described by Chuck Wendig when he said, 

The rise of self-publishing has seen a comparative surge forward in quantity. As if we’re all rushing forward to squat out as huge a litter of squalling word-babies as our fragile penmonkey uteruses (uteri?) can handle.

You can visit his blog here. Wildly vulgar and utterly honest. 

My experience with KU backs this up. I subscribed for one month because there were two books I wanted to read. After I read them, I went on to look for more and guess what? I started ten different books and couldn't finish them. I spent the remainder of the month reading technical books on writing and then canceled my subscription. That is lost money to Amazon. If enough people cancel because the selection isn't good, that's bad news for all of us. The pot and our paychecks, get smaller and smaller.

Consequently, many authors will leave their Amazon contracts and go multi platform. Others will give up all together, pull their titles and walk away. Some will give up shorts and serials and that is most alarming to me. Some stories are meant to be told in shorts. Some characters are more dynamic in serial format. This change will drive some authors to take a perfectly good forty page short story and pad the hell out if to reach the higher royalty. Grave mistake. The minute readers get to that mundane penny driven dribble, (I liken it to the pink goo that chicken nuggets are made out of) they will close the book and guess what? Now you just spent six months writing big, but people won't finish it and you lost out on the revenue anyway.

I won't stop writing shorts. I love them. I have three planned as we speak. I will not alter my future plans. I will not, EVER, write for word count. Hell, as most of you know, I can barely write for genre. I let my wild book babies spiral off in whatever crazy direction they want.

Many blogs I've read have authors scrambling to find a way to keep their income stable through this change. Here's the short answer. 

Write better. Work harder. No one ever said this game was easy. When I first started I had my ass handed to me more times than I can count. (Still do, on occasion.) Being stubborn, I kept jumping back in. I didn't try to game the analytics, work around the system or any of that. I just aimed to be better. THAT is what this change is forcing people to do and if you are panicking, ask yourself why. 

I won't complain about my sales, but I know they could be better. Why? Because I can be better. 
I started a new project this week and didn't worry about genre, word count or how many cents I would get for my work. I went over the first paragraph twenty times and I'm not exaggerating. I looked at every word, every sentence, the paragraph as a whole. Over and over. Is this as gripping as it could be? Does every word matter? Did I grab them? Of course I did this review before, but not in this much detail. Not like my life and career depended on it.  I should have been. I will from now on. I'm also enrolling (7 books later) in two writing courses. Because when you stop learning, you're done. 

I can't argue that this change isn'y paying more fairly for a one week short story verses a eight month in the making novel. I think it is. I also think this change is weeding out crap from prose, profiteers from word lovers, hobbyists from career writers. (Not that hobbyists produce crap at all.) It's forcing everyone of us to be the best we can be. So Amazon can be the best it can be. Short story or mammoth tome, if their catalog is full of "squalling word babies" written for profits, people will stop coming. If you went to a farmer's market that was full of broken down shit thrown out on a table for a quick buck, would you come back? 

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Posted on July 4, 2015 and filed under Writing.