Category Archives: eBooks

a short thought on Kindle Unlimited

Recently, Amazon changed its terms of payment for the Kindle Unlimited subscription program. Previously, an author got paid if someone read to 10% of the borrowed book, and usually that payment was about $1.30 to $1.40 per borrow. Now Amazon has changed the pricing scheme so that the author gets paid per page actually read of the book, and estimates for the payment per page vary from $0.0025 to $0.0057 per page. Since that money comes out of fund that will be divided out by the number of pages read, we won’t know the exact number until mid-August.

$0.0025 to $0.0057 doesn’t seem like a lot, but Amazon seems to define “page” very generously. My book SOUL OF TYRANTS is about 260 pages in trade paperback, but that comes to about 900 Kindle Unlimited pages, and SOUL OF SWORDS weighs in at a whopping 1,140 Kindle Unlimited pages. Under the old payment system, I would get about $1.30 to $1.40 per borrow of SOUL OF TYRANTS, and $2 for each copy actually sold. Under the new payment system (depending on where the rate per page lands), for a borrow of SOUL OF TYRANTS I would get between $2.25 to $5.04, assuming the book is read in its entirety. I should point out that amount is actually more than what I would get from a straight sale of the book, assuming the per-page rate doesn’t drop below $0.0025. The difference is even more pronounced for SOUL OF SWORDS – at $3.99, I get $2.70 per sale, but with a borrow and a full read, I would get between $2.86 and $6.40.

So I don’t have an opinion on the new version of Kindle Unlimited until I see how it actually performs in the field, and I suspect Amazon will adjust the formula it uses to calculate page counts. That said, I do think a lot of press coverage of the change has been histrionic (at best), hyping up the “Amazon only pays half a penny a page!” angle without displaying any understanding of what is actually happening. One quote from a particular Guardian article caught my eye:

“Since the overall amount paid out to writers is intended to remain the same, there will be winners – mainly those who write longer books that are read in full.”

That’s a relief – I’ve been trying to write longer books that are read in full for almost twenty years now!



Yet Another Argument That Self-Publishing Is Superior To Traditionally Publishing

Recently I was reading a self-published book. You could tell that it had been the writer’s first book – there were many excellent sections, but there were parts that were pretty rough in a structural sense – like, long infodumps, out of character plot twists, wholly gratuitous sex scenes, the sort of things you see in new-ish writers who haven’t quite yet found their voice. Yet there was definite potential there, and I would be willing to bet that the writer in question will continue to get better with every book. Additionally, I have also read many tradpub books that were worse than this book.

The book was the first of a series that has reached its fifth volume. The series had good reviews that got better with every volume, and a pretty good Amazon sales ranking. Like, the kind of sales ranking that comes from at least a couple thousand sales a month. It seems safe to assume that the writer did indeed improve with every book.

So what would have happened, I wonder, if this writer had decided to try and traditionally publish his book? There would have been one of three potential outcomes.

OUTCOME 1: The writer sends his books to agents, who respond by ignoring his query, or issuing form rejections after twelve to twenty-four months. The writer, discouraged, tries writing an entirely different kind of book in hopes of attracting an agent’s notice, to the same result. Eventually, the writer becomes discouraged and stops writing.

OUTCOME 2: The writer, believing there is something wrong with his book that needs fixing, decides to rewrite it from the beginning. Or he takes it to a writers’ group for workshopping. Typically, a writers’ group will have people who know even less about writing than he does, so the writer will end up with a book that’s a mess, or one that is polished to bland dullness. Discouraged, the writer gives up and stops writing.

OUTCOME 3: The writer publishes with a small-press “publisher” that is a one-person shop. The publisher goes under when the owner takes the royalty money to pay for gall bladder surgery on three of her cats or spends it on paying off her credit cards, and everything dissolves into a mess of lawsuits. Discouraged by the chaos, the writer gives up and stops writing.

Pretty depressing, huh? Up until about 2009, that would have been the likely fate of our writer’s first book. But now, of course, there are different options. Such as what actually happened:

THE ACTUAL OUTCOME: The writer self-published his book. A few people read it, and some like it, some don’t. The writer, heartened by this reaction (and the little bit of money from the book sales), writes a sequel, and then another one. He gets better with every book, and grows his audience with each volume. That first book turns into an ongoing series, a series that literally would not have existed in any of the previous three scenarios.

Definitely a better outcome!

As for the first book…it doesn’t have to be perfect. Somewhere there was an audience for it, and thanks to self-publishing, the book found its audience, something that would have never happened with traditional publishing.


four years, quarter of a million books, and a free DEMONSOULED novella coming soon

I started self-publishing four years ago, and in that time I have sold over a quarter of a million copies of my books. Thanks, everyone!

I had no idea this would work so well! When I started in April of 2011, I thought I would publish DEMONSOULED & SOUL OF TYRANTS, write a third DEMONSOULED book, and call it good. I would then focus on blog posts about Ubuntu Linux, and maybe sell one or two copies of my fantasy trilogy every fiscal quarter.

This was one of those times in life when it was good that things didn’t go according to plan! Or God’s plan for my life included selling a lot of ebooks. I don’t know why, but I’m definitely not going to complain.

If you will forgive a brief personal note, I really like self-publishing, especially compared to traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is a grim and joyless place that regularly erupts into nonsensical Internet flame wars, particularly SF/F traditional publishing.  I do not miss that at all, and regard it as a stupendous blessing that I never got another book contract after DEMONSOULED & THE TOWER OF ENDLESS WORLDS, since that meant my books were free of legal encumbrances once self-publishing came along. Self-publishing is a thousand times better than traditional publishing in every possible way.

I am very grateful for it, and for all of you who have bought my books over the last four years.

On a related note, next month is May, and that marks the 10th anniversary of the first time DEMONSOULED was published. (In the DRESDEN FILES book SKIN GAME, there is a line where Harry Dresden wonders how he became a guy that things happened to ten years ago, and I know exactly what Harry means!) After I wrote SOUL OF TYRANTS in 2005 and couldn’t get the publisher interested in it, I was pretty sure the DEMONSOULED series was done and dead. So it was amusing to look back from ten years later with a grand total of eight DEMONSOULED books written and tens of thousands of copies sold.

Anyway, as a way of saying thanks, next month I’m going to give away a new DEMONSOULED novella for free to my newsletter subscribers via Smashwords coupon code. Watch for it in the third or fourth week of May! (If you haven’t subscribed to my new-release newsletter, you can do so here.)


How To Distribute Ebooks

James Latimer asks via Twitter:

“You’re a pro at this indie publishing lark, how do you distribute your books? Smashwords + Amazon? Create your own files?”

Good question!

For context, “distribute” basically means 1.) how I create the finished ebook files, and 2.) how those ebook files get from my desktop computer to Amazon and B&N and iBooks and all the other ebookstores.

For 1.), Amazon requires a file format called MOBI, and all the other ebookstores use the EPUB format. (Smashwords does something a little different, which we’ll cover below) Creating MOBI files is difficult. However, it is much easier to create an EPUB file and then convert it to MOBI, so that’s what I do.

To create EPUBs, you can use something expensive like Adobe InDesign, or something more affordable like Scrivener. I personally prefer to use a free program called Sigil (available here). Sigil is pretty bare-bones, but it gets the job done, and it also lets you see the underlying HTML of the ebook files, which makes it easy to fix errors. To make the EPUB, I copy and paste the finished chapters from Microsoft Word into Notepad, which scrubs out all the nasty Word formatting, and then copy and paste again from Notepad into Sigil.

Once the EPUB is created, I use another program called Calibre (available here) to convert the EPUB file into a MOBI file.

Smashwords is a little different in that it requires a specially formatted Word document. I used to prepare them by hand, but that was an enormous pain in the neck. I now use an excellent program called Jutoh to automatically generate a Smashwords-compatible Word doc, and it works quite well. Jutoh can do other stuff, but I mostly use it for Smashwords.

This is by no means the only method of producing ebook files. A lot of writers swear by Scrivener, and Scrivener can automatically generate the MOBI and EPUB files for you. That said, it’s possible to over-format your document with fancy fonts and layouts in Scrivener, and I prefer to keep my formatting as bare-bones as possible. One of the nice things about ereaders/tablets is that sight-impaired readers can dial up the font size as large as they wish, and excessively customized fonts can sometimes mess that up. In fact, when Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire HD in 2013, some writers got into trouble because custom fonts that looked good on the original Kindle Fire and on the e-Ink Kindles did not look good on the Fire HD.

For 2.), there are two options. All the ebookstores have some method of directly uploading a book. The advantage is that you can control everything yourself, but the disadvantage is that every time you change a book, you have to make the changes to every single ebookstore. One you have 90+ individual titles the way I do, this can be cumbersome.

A distributor, by contrast, uploads the books for you. Most distributors cover Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes, along with smaller ebookstores like Oyster and Flipkart and so forth. Distributors generally do not work with Amazon – Amazon will typically block a distributor from uploading, since they prefer that writers use Kindle Direct Publishing. Also, as far as I know, no distributor is currently uploading to Google Play. The main advantage of a distributor is that it saves time, since you need to only upload a book once and it shows up on multiple stores. The disadvantage is that the distributor takes a cut – usually 5% to 10% of each book sold. The two biggest distributors right now are Smashwords and Draft2Digital. Smashwords will get you into B&N, Kobo, iTunes, Oyster, and a bunch of smaller stores. Draft2Digital does B&N, Kobo, iTunes, and Oyster, and will also put your book in CreateSpace if you want. (Print book preparation is a whole different topic.)

Myself, I use a mix of direct uploading and distributors. For Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play, I upload directly. The websites are all easy to use, and that extra 5% on each book can really add up in the long run. Uploading the first time is a bit of a learning curve, but after the first time it’s much easier.

For iBooks, I use a distributor. Apple lets you upload directly into the iBookstore, but to do so you need a program called iTunes Producer, which is available only for the Mac. Getting a Mac just to use iTunes Producer seemed like an expensive hassle, so instead I used Smashwords. I used Smashwords exclusively through 2015, but lately I’ve been experimenting with Draft2Digital as well. Honestly, I’m happy with both, and both have their strengths. Draft2Digital is faster and a lot easier to use, but Smashwords has a lot of features that Draft2Digital doesn’t like coupon codes, and Smashwords also offers direct sales through the Smashwords website. (I’ve noticed a lot of “elite” ebook users, the kind of ebook users who have their own folder system for organizing their libraries, tend to buy their ebooks off Smashwords.)

So, that is how I create my ebooks and distribute them.


why do I outline my novels?

Continuing our Q&A theme of the week, a reader asks:

What do you mean by outline? Personally, I find it much harder to plan everything beforehand and then write it in detail. Actually, my “book” was supposed to be a story, maybe two pages long, until I had many more ideas and started adding layers of action and drama upon my main character(s).

Basically, it’s a two-step process. First, I write a synopsis of the book. Usually this is about a thousand words or so, and it is very bare bones. Like, “Caina goes to the Golden Palace and does this” or “Ridmark and Mara talk about Vhaluusk”, that kind of thing. After that, I break the synopsis into chapters and flesh them out before starting the book.

I think this gets the hard part over with before writing the book – that way, you know where you are going, and you don’t have to worry about running out of steam halfway through the book, or running out of plot by Chapter 7. For me, at least, that’s the hard part.

Still, I’ve heard it said there are two types of writers – “planners” and “pantsers”. (I can’t remember where I heard this, otherwise I would attribute it.) Planners create an outline beforehand, while pantsers write by the “seat of their pants”, making it up as they go along. I personally think that planning out a book in advance makes a better book, but YMMV.

For me, though, I think outlining is necessary because of the nature of the books I write. GHOST EXILE is going to be nine books, and FROSTBORN fifteen, and a series that long requires at least some planning, lest I write myself into a corner.

I have a question. Have you ever thought about rewriting your very first book so that you can publish it? Or is it a momento of you’re first struggles as a writer?

No. The amount of effort to rewrite it would be at least the same amount of effort as writing a new book from scratch, and writing a new book from scratch seems like a better use of time.

So, you’ve been writing for yourself before 2005? Did you write many more books like Holy Symbol that are never supposed to see the light of day?

HOLY SYMBOL was the first book I ever finished. Before that I got about halfway through a few others, and I don’t think I’ll go back and finish them. Partly because writing new material would be a better use of time, and partly because I’ve cannibalized a bunch of my old half-finished stuff to produce my new books. Rachaelis Morulan in THE THIRD SOUL originally came from HOLY SYMBOL, and the plot of GHOST IN THE MAZE came from a novella and a short story I wrote but never got published.


how long have I been a writer?

A reader asks:

“For how long have you been an author? Did you write in your teen years? What was your first book and when did you write it?”

I started writing when I was fifteen. I’m not gonna say how long ago that was, but suffice it to say some (or more than some) of the people reading this hadn’t been born yet.

Over the next couple of years I tried to write several novels, but I never could finish them. The farthest I got was about 70,000 words into a book that I suspect would have been a 150,000 word monster, but I just petered out. Eventually I realized that I needed to outline things first, so I started writing outlines. I wrote a 5,000 word outline for a long epic fantasy novel, and I resolved to finish it.

So I did it. I finished writing my first book when I was eighteen. Though to be more accurate, it took so long that I was eighteen when I started and nineteen when I finished. It was called HOLY SYMBOL, and it was 330,000 words and it took me ten months to finish, from August to July. (I have since learned the values of brevity and haste.) It was frankly an atrocious book, and the only way it will ever see the light of day is if someone finds it in my files after I die. Nevertheless, it did teach me that I could finish a novel, which I had never done before. The first one was the hardest, and after that it got easier.

As for how long I’ve been a published author, DEMONSOULED was published in 2005.

I have to admit I find self-publishing ebooks infinitely preferable to traditional publishing.


Are Science Fiction And Fantasy Dying?


This Publishers’ Weekly report claims that science fiction and fantasy readership is in the process of declining, with fewer books being purchased every year.

The problem with this report is that it only tracks sales of traditionally published books, and a small subset of traditionally published books at that. It doesn’t track self-published books like mine. Even then, the data sources in the report tend not to be 100% accurate. There are lots and lots of science fiction and fantasy books being written, bought, and read right now, but since they’re self-published the “official” sources don’t notice them. (A good explanation of the phenomenon is here.)

An example may illustrate the point.

In the early 1990s, if you walked into a Best Buy you would see rows and rows of shelves of PC games in colorful cardboard boxes. In 2015, if you walk into a Best Buy, you’ll see maybe one shelf of PC games (mostly various Blizzard titles) in small plastic boxes. The logical conclusion is that PC gaming is in the process of dying…but that overlooks Steam and and other online platforms that handle most of the sales of computer games. Once you factor in Steam and GOG, you realize that PC gaming is exploding! And if you count tablets and smartphones as computers, then computer gaming has never been bigger.

The same thing is happening with science fiction and fantasy books. When I typed this post, I looked at the top 20 books for Epic Fantasy on Amazon and the top 20 books for Science Fiction on Amazon US. Of the top 20 Epic Fantasy books, nine of them were self-published, and of the top 20 Science Fiction books, ten of them were self-published. (And I suspect a bunch of the other publishers are actually LLCs or S-corporations created by self-publishers for tax reasons.)

So science fiction and fantasy are doing well, and they’re doing a lot better than they did in the care of traditional publishers. I don’t think the large publishers were actually in a conspiracy to eliminate reading as a form of recreation in the English-speaking world, but they certainly acted as if they were.


Writing Goals For 2015

Now that it’s almost February, I suppose I should decide on what writing goals I want to accomplish in 2015!

-Write 800,000 to 900,000 new words.

I would like to do one million words in a year, but realistically I don’t think it’s possible at the moment. 800,000 to 900,000 a year seems to be the current sweet spot.

-Write three new GHOST EXILE books.

-Write three new FROSTBORN books.

-Write one new tech book: WINDOWS 10: 101 TIPS  & TRICKS.


-Start bundling short stories into four-pack omnibus editions. For a while I dithered about doing omnibus editions of short stories, but I could never get the covers right. Then I saw that some other writers were doing omnibus editions by shrinking the covers of four books down to 400 x 600 pixel images and then combining them to form the usual 1600 x 2400 image. When I saw that, a light went on. So I’ll start making omnibus short story editions later in this year.

-Get up to at least 30 of my books available in print. Right now I’m at 19.

So those are my writing goals for 2015. It will be interesting to revisit in January 2016 and see how many of them I reached!


Bestselling Books Of 2014

I had a spare moment, so I tallied up my total books sold in 2014, and then worked out the percentages of the individual series.

The Ghosts & Ghost Exile: 36% of the total.

Computer Beginner’s Guides: 20% of the total.

Frostborn: 18% of the total.

Demonsouled: 12% of the total.

The Third Soul: 3% of the total.

The Tower of Endless Worlds: 1.5% of the total.

My bestselling fiction book was FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT, and my bestselling nonfiction book was THE LINUX COMMAND LINE BEGINNER’S GUIDE. My second-bestselling fiction book was GHOST IN THE FLAMES (exactly 101 fewer copies than FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT), and my second-bestselling nonfiction book was WINDOWS 8.1: 101 TIPS & TRICKS.

Thanks everyone! It is amusing in hindsight that in 2010 I decided to stop writing novels after CHILD OF THE GHOSTS. Clearly I cannot see the future. :)