Category Archives: eBooks

BLADE OF THE GHOSTS – Permafree versus Kindle Unlimited


Today I’m going to talk a bit about book marketing. Feel free to skip if you have no interest in the topic, or to ask questions if you’re curious!

For the last couple of years a successful marketing tactic for ebooks has been something called “permafree”. The idea is that if you have a multi-book series, you make the first book free on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and all the other ebook retailers. If it works, people download the first book for free, read it, like it, and then go on to purchase the other books in the series. This has worked out pretty well for me – DEMONSOULED, CHILD OF THE GHOSTS, FROSTBORN: THE FIRST QUEST, THE TOWER OF ENDLESS WORLDS, and THE TESTING are all free on all the ebook platforms, and they’ve done a good job of drawing people in to the rest of the books in their respective series. In marketing-speak, this is called building a “funnel” draws people in to the rest of the books.

In the last year and a half, free books have become less effective than they used to be on Amazon while continuing to work on the other retailers. One reason is that Amazon added an additional click to get to the free lists – they used to be displayed side by side with the paid bestseller lists, but now you have to specifically click through to find them.

A far bigger reason, though, is Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s subscription program for ebooks. I don’t think predictions that KU would destroy the paid ebook market have borne out – I sell more books on Apple, Kobo, and Google Play than I did before the advent of KU – but I do think that a lot of the people who used to read free books on Amazon have shifted over to Kindle Unlimited subscriptions instead.

The logical response, of course, would be to switch the first book of the series to Kindle Unlimited. The significant drawback would be that the formerly permafree book would no longer be available on the other retailers, and it would be kind of stupid to have, say, DEMONSOULED books 2-7 available on Kobo, but not the very first book. No one starts a series on the second book, or at least not very many people.

So I thought about this for a while, and I decided to try an experiment.

I wrote BLADE OF THE GHOSTS, a short novel set between CHILD OF THE GHOSTS (GHOSTS book #1) and GHOST IN THE FLAMES (GHOSTS book #2). When CLOAK GAMES: REBEL FIST comes out next week (if all goes well), I will give BLADE OF THE GHOSTS away free to my newsletter subscribers for a month, but after that month is up, I’ll put it into Kindle Unlimited.

We’ll see how it does. If it performs well on Kindle Unlimited, it will stay there, and if it does not, I’ll put it back on all the other retailers. It will make for an interesting marketing experiment, and if it doesn’t work, one can always obtain useful knowledge from even a failed experiment.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

There are many things for which I am thankful, but I will limit myself to pointing out only one. After two weeks, GHOST IN THE THRONE is still #1 in its category. Thanks everyone!


You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.


The $50 Kindle Fire

I got one of the new $50 Kindle Fire tablets.

First, a pet peeve. I dislike it when reviewers say it costs “only” $50. Fifty dollars is a lot of money!

However, it is a lot less than the $400 to buy a new iPad Mini. The new Kindle Fire is only an average tablet, but for $50, it is an amazing tablet. By way of comparison, the original iPad Mini from 2012 had roughly the same specifications as the new Kindle Fire, and that cost $329.

Because of that, I’m comfortable using the $50 Kindle Fire in public the way I wouldn’t with, say, an iPad. If your $399 iPad is stolen or broken, it’s a catastrophe. If your $50 Kindle Fire is stolen or broken, it’s bad, but not $399 bad.

Anyway, it’s a good little tablet, and provides good value for the money. Especially for $50! (It also seems to have excellent battery life.)


notes on the business of self-publishing September 2015

Let’s have some assorted observations of the business of self-publishing ebooks as of September 2015!

One thing I realized thanks to the article I wrote on the “golden age of publishing” is that a lot of writers don’t enjoy the marketing/business side of things. I get that, but if you handle the marketing/business side of things yourself, you get a lot of freedom you wouldn’t have otherwise. And, truth be told, the best person to look out for your interests is you. Even if you get a publisher, the publisher will not care about your book as much as you care about your book. That’s just the math – even at a competent publisher, your book is just one more book in the catalog. Whereas if you completely control your own book, you can do whatever you want to (or need to) do with it.

Like, if your book has a problem (typo, formatting, cover art, whatever) you can fix it yourself if you’re self-published, but if you’re traditionally published, you’ll have to get someone at the publisher to fix it (if at all), and that person might 1.) have 30 other books to deal with that day, 2.) be kicking any problems down the road until retirement, 3.) might actively dislike your book, or you personally, or both, and 4.) might not actually care about your problem.

So I think self-publishing is better. But, as ever, YMMV.

Now, onto some observations about the state of the business.

First, sometime in September 2015, I sold my 300,000th ebook. Thanks everyone! That really is a boggling number. Truly, the Lord works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

September was almost the last full month that the DEMONSOULED series was in Kindle Unlimited (its term in KU expired on October 23rd). In September, the DEMONSOULED series racked up 106,623 page reads. The page read rate for September turned about to be $0.00507, which means DEMONSOULED earned about $540.57 in KU for the month. That said, I do think you run into a point of diminishing returns on Kindle Unlimited, so DEMONSOULED is getting rotated out of KU. (You see something similar on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime as media companies rotate their TV shows in and out of the service.) I also want DEMONSOULED to take advantage of promotional opportunities outside of Amazon (more on that below).

THE THIRD SOUL series will be going on Kindle Unlimited, probably before the end of October. I haven’t done much with it since 2013, so it’s a good candidate for KU. I would like to do more in the series, maybe in the second half of 2016. I would very much like to see Rachaelis & Corthain meet Raelum the Black Paladin at some point, if I can manage to pull it off.

However, Kindle Unlimited isn’t always a good choice. Case in point: my new Windows 10 book. I initially considered putting it only in KU, but discarded that idea and published it everywhere in September. This turned out to be a very good idea, as in September I sold more copies of WINDOWS 10: 101 TIPS & TRICKS on all the non-Amazon platforms that on Amazon. In fact, it sold the most copies on Apple. That leads to the amusing mental image of people reading a book about Microsoft’s Windows 10 on their Apple iPhones and iPads, but apparently that is what happened.

Apple does seem to be competing hard in the ebook space. Kobo is as well – it recently introduced an integrated “Promotions” feature. Basically, Kobo is running its own Bookbub-style promotions in exchange for a small fee or a temporary percentage of the ebook’s sale price. It seems like a really good idea, and I’ve had good luck with Kobo’s old promotions, so I’m curious to see how the new ones will do. This is one of the reasons I swapped DEMONSOULED out of Kindle Unlimited – FROSTBORN has done very well on Kobo because of promotions on FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT and FROSTBORN OMNIBUS ONE, and I’m curious to see if the same thing can happen with DEMONSOULED.

Kobo and Apple are competing with Amazon, but Barnes & Noble and the Nook seem to have given up. I’ve sold more on Kobo in the last couple of months than on Barnes & Noble, and I can see the same thing happening with Apple if current trends continue. I think either Kobo or Apple will overtake B&N as the #2 ebook retailer in the US very soon, if it hasn’t happened already.

CLOAK GAMES: THIEF TRAP passed its 1,000th copy in September. Not bad for the first book of a new series! Naturally, anyone who read the book has been reported to the High Queen’s Inquisition for suspected elfophobic leanings. :)


additional thoughts on “a golden age of publishing”

I had some follow-up thoughts on my “Is this A Golden Age Of Publishing?” article I wrote for last week’s discussion for Superversive SF.

Concerning the economics of writing, if you write novels, its seems that the math strongly favors self-publishing your novel over submitting it to traditional publishers. Over the last two years, the Author Earnings website started by indie author Hugh Howey and the anonymous Data Guy have been tracking ebook sales on Amazon US (and occasionally Barnes & Noble), and have concluded that self-published ebook writers generally sell more ebooks and make more money than their traditionally published peers. (Anecdotally, I can confirm I sell way more ebooks as a self-published writer than I ever did as a traditionally published one.) Veteran writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch had some mild criticisms of the Author Earnings (mostly its Amazon focus), but agreed that the math for self-published writers is vastly better than that for traditionally published ones.

Time is another factor with that. When I listened to the discussion, L. Jagi Lamplighter mentioned that it took her 17 years to get published the first time. Technical/SF writer Jeff Duntemann pointed out that he was 63 years old, and that he didn’t really have time to wait 17 years on the agent/publisher rejection treadmill.  (Fortunately, he avoided it entirely to publish his novel.) A new writer could spend five (or 17) years trying to sell a book to a traditional publisher, or self-publish it to Amazon tomorrow. I spent from 2008 to 2011 trying to sell my book GHOST IN THE FLAMES to a traditional publisher, and self-published it in the summer of 2011. Since then, it has sold over 15,000 copies.

Truly, the math is just better for self-published writers.

One of the points of discussion was that the Kindle doesn’t handle custom fonts or images well. I can attest that this is true – I stopped doing screenshots with my tech books because handling the screenshots was a pain. In my opinion, custom fonts for ebooks are a waste of time. One one of the benefits of an ereader is that you can dial the font size up to whatever size your eyes require, which is really nice if you’re reading on a phone. The trouble with elaborate fonts is that they don’t always scale up well, and sometimes don’t scale up at all. I’ve read ebooks where you couldn’t adjust the font size because of the publisher’s font choices, and it was quite annoying. I think if a publisher wants to make a book that looks like a work of art, with beautiful illustrations and fonts and the like, that it would be better to focus on the print version.

Related to that is the idea of “enhanced” ebooks, which usually means ebooks with added multimedia content or capabilities – music, images, videos and the like. One of the criticisms of the Kindle is that it doesn’t exploit the potentials of enhanced ebooks. Apple has made some stabs in that direction with its iBooks Author application, but nothing much has come of it, and enhanced ebooks may be an untapped market. One of the panelists predicted that the age of the self-published author would come to an end as enhanced ebooks became the norm (since an enhanced ebook would take a team to produce), and publishers would reassert their dominance.

I have two thoughts on that.

First, I think enhanced ebooks don’t work for novels. An enhanced novel is basically just a clunky video game or movie, or kind of like the first live-video CD-ROM computer games from the early 1990s. A novel is a different experience than a movie or a video game, and I don’t think trying to blend the experience necessarily works well. Sometimes you just want to read a book, and sometimes you just want to play the game without watching yet another stupid cutscene. I have the feeling an enhanced ebook novel would combine the worst parts of reading and the worst parts of computer gaming.

So unless readers develop a sudden taste for novels interrupted by video clips or accompanied by a soundtrack you can’t shut off, I do not think enhanced ebooks will gain much traction with novels.

Second, I do think enhanced ebooks have potential for textbooks. Like, you could tap an equation in a math book and it would show you the steps to the solution, or you tap on the name of, say King Canute or John III Sobieski, and it shows you more information about the person in question. I do think it would be very difficult for an individual author to create something like that, which would require a publisher’s help.

The problem with writing textbooks, though, is that you then have to sell them to the school system, and selling to the school system manages to combine the worst parts of bureaucracy with the worst parts of publishing, both wrapped in a layer of political expediency and good old-fashioned cronyism. Consider the ongoing lawsuits and criminal investigations around the Los Angeles school district’s attempt to purchase iPads for every student in 2013. Calling it a billion dollar disaster would be generous. With a market that dysfunctional, it is not surprising that enhanced ebook textbooks have rather failed to catch fire.

I talk to a lot of teachers, and I suspect most of them would either prefer to make their own smartboard class lessons, or use the smartboard class lessons that are included with a paper textbook. Those that do use iPads tend to employ them for uses other than enhanced textbooks.

So I think that there is potential of some kind in enhanced ebooks, but that no one has yet realized it and no one is currently in a position to realize it. Enhanced ebooks may be a solution in search of a problem. But I have been wrong before – I though the first generation of Microsoft’s Surface computer was a bad idea, but three generations of the Surface later Apple and Google and HP and others are falling over each other to copy the design.

Finally, the discussion pointed out that many writers are unable or unwilling to find their own covers, upload their own ebooks, edit their own books, etc, and that publishers exist to provide these services for writers. I would argue that it is better to hire out those services for a one-time fee than a permanent percentage of the royalties, but not everyone might agree. I suppose it depends upon how entrepreneurial someone is willing to be. Some people are more comfortable being their own bosses, and some people are more comfortable being an employee.

There’s nothing wrong with that, though I still contend it is better to be one’s own publisher than to have a publisher. :)


a golden age of publishing? (UPDATED)

Let’s talk a bit about the business of writing today!

Recently SCI PHI JOURNAL hosted a roundtable discussion on whether or not this is a golden age for publishing, thanks to the Kindle and ebooks and the iPad and so on. L. Jagi Lamplighter, one of the writers on the roundtable, invited me to take part, but unfortunately I was traveling that day.

Nevertheless, I was able to contribute an essay on the topic “is this a golden age for publishing?”, which you can read at this link.



Anthony M writes to say:

Hello! I would just like to point out that Superversive SF and the Sci Phi Journal overlap, but aren’t actually the same thing. Sci Phi is a journal that publishes science fiction with a philosophical bent, while superversive SF is about a particular literary movement. Jason Rennie is heavily involved/runs both, but they’re not exactly the same.

eleven years to write a book

Today I read an article arguing that writers shouldn’t write more than four books a year. The idea is that the creative process suffers from haste, and a writer should spend time contemplating his work.

The article favorably cited one writer who had taken eleven years to write her book.

I dunno. Eleven years? Whenever I hear that a writer took eleven years to write a book, I wonder what they actually did with all that time.

WORLD OF WARCRAFT came out in 2004. That was eleven years ago, which I suppose might explain why it took so long to write that particular book.

Well, this year I’ve done six books, and I’m halfway through the seventh. If I get to eight like I plan, they’ll have to revise the article to warn against the dangers of writing eight books a year.


Windows 10: 101 Tips & Tricks Now Available


My book WINDOWS 10: 101 TIPS & TRICKS is now available for $0.99 everywhere except Barnes & Noble, and it should show up on Barnes & Noble any minute now.

If you find yourself using Windows 10 and annoyed by all the changes, give WINDOWS 10: 101 TIPS & TRICKS a try. That’s why I wrote WINDOWS 8.1: 101 TIPS & TRICKS back in 2014, and the book succeeded pretty well at that mission. Hopefully WINDOWS 10: 101 TIPS & TRICKS will do the same.

It’s available at Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Barnes & Noble (coming soon), iTunes, Kobo, Google Play, and Smashwords.




Kindle Unlimited and some observations on the business of self-publishing

I wrapped up my book on Windows 10 this week, so I thought I would take some time to talk about the business side of self-publishing.

First, let’s talk a little about Kindle Unlimited, version 2.0.

In July, my DEMONSOULED series got 139,255 page reads. In August, it got 105, 932 page read. Assuming the payment rate per page stays at about $0.0058 cents, that means I would have made about $590.00. That’s more that I made off Google Play for August. I think a writer might benefit from rotating series in and out of Kindle Unlimited – in October DEMONSOULED will go out of KU and back on all the other ebook platforms, and I might (emphasis on might) put the first nine GHOSTS books in, just to see what happens. That will depend on what the payment per-page is for September, though.

Speaking of that, I suspect there is a chance the payment rate for Kindle Unlimited will remain around $0.005. I could be wrong, but I think that Amazon originally intended Kindle Unlimited to operate on a per-page read payment rate, and that the original implementation of Kindle Unlimited (payment per borrow) was rushed out in July 2014 to compete with Oyster and Scribd before Amazon was entirely ready on the back end. Having a per-page payment scheme, I suspect, makes KU a lot harder to game, which in turn makes it easier to maintain a stable payment rate.

But, I could be wrong. We’ll see on the 15th of September when Amazon announces the rate for July. :)

I almost planned to put my WINDOWS 10: 101 TIPS & TRICKS book in KU since most of my nonfiction sales are on Amazon anyway, but large portions of the Windows 10 content on my Computer Beginners Guides site is similar to the book, and I didn’t want to get in trouble with Amazon. So WINDOWS 10: 101 TIPS & TRICKS will be available on all platforms.

Speaking of non-Amazon platforms, August 2015 was the first month I made more money off Kobo than Barnes & Noble. Kobo seems to be doing a better job of competing in the ebook space than Nook. It only takes selling about thirty or forty copies of a book to get into the top 500 sales rank on Nook, whereas on Amazon it takes between a thousand and fifteen hundred copies depending on the day. Hopefully an ambitious company will buy the Nook ecosystem off Barnes & Noble the way that Rakuten bought Kobo. The Nook space has, to paraphrase a real estate broker, “good foundations”, but B&N seems content to let Nook drift along. Though the new Samsung S2 Nook seems like a clever device.

CLOAK GAMES: THIEF TRAP did really well – over 500 copies its first month. My hope was that it would surpass the first month of FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT back in August 2013, which did about 430 copies. So mission accomplished! (Thanks everyone!) Of those 500 copies, about 200 were from Amazon US, 230 from Amazon UK, 10 from Google Play, 10 from Apple iBooks, and 49 from Nook. (Kobo only did 3, alas.)

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the State Of Ebook Publishing in the last quarter of 2015. It really is an excellent time to be a self-published writer. Thanks everyone!


what am I writing next?

Lately I’ve gotten some questions about what book I will write next, so I thought I’d share my schedule here.

Right now I’m working on FROSTBORN: THE WORLD GATE and CLOAK GAMES: FROST FEVER. If all goes well, I hope FROSTBORN: THE WORLD GATE will come out toward the end of September, and CLOAK GAMES: FROST FEVER sometime in October.

After that comes GHOST IN THE THRONE, which is GHOST EXILE #7, and a (so-far) unnamed third CLOAK GAMES novel. If all goes according to plan, GHOST IN THE THRONE will come out in late November/early December, and CLOAK GAMES #3 either in December or January of 2016.

Then I will start on MASK OF DRAGONS, the second MASK OF THE DEMONSOULED book (at last!), which will be my first book of 2016.

I’m also working on a short book called WINDOWS 10: 101 TIPS & TRICKS, and I want to have it done in time for Christmas. That should be doable, since I’m about 25% of the way through it. I want to have it done by Christmas because a lot of people will be getting shiny new Windows 10 tablets and laptops and will be confused by the shiny new operating system, and I want one of my books to be there to aid them in their bewilderment. :) My book on Windows 8.1 was the #1 Operating Systems book on Amazon US and Amazon UK for a while, and that is a feat I hope to duplicate.

Anyway, those are my writing plans for the rest of 2015, subject to intervention by God, fate, illness, or just plain bad luck. :)