Kindle Unlimited will be undergoing a big change next month, overhauling the way that authors get paid and forcing many of us to get in touch with our inner starving-1940s-pulp writer.
Under the old system, KU paid out of the collective pot whenever a book was read up to 20% of the way through. This counted as a ‘borrow’ and meant Amazon would have to reach into their moth infested pockets to the tune of round about $1.30 or whatever that month’s KU rate was.
It didn’t matter if the book in question was a full length novel or a 4000 word long short story about some girls who mysteriously grew dicks after eating gas station hot dogs or drinking weird punch. If the reader got up to 20%, it counted as a borrow.
You can see how the novelists were getting the shaft from this system. Even more than the boyfriends of the girls who ate the gas station hotdogs, although almost certainly a lot less pleasurable.
Now, don’t start thinking that Amazon’s overhaul of the system has anything to do with their love of the long form novel. This is Amazon we’re talking about. They love only money and were getting pretty pissed off at having to pay out the standard borrow rate every time someone waded through the bloated front matter of a ropey porn book only to find that it was illiterate garbage.
Under the new system the author will be paid per page read. Nobody knows precisely what the rate per page will be yet, but there will also be new software in place to catch out authors who attempt to stuff their frontmatter (copyright pages, acknowledgements, etc) and also compute a standard number of words per page. So if you have one of those pages that spill a sentence into the next, no matter how you format the thing, you probably won’t be getting paid for that.
Admittedly I have more than one horse in this race. I mostly write novels, although I have been known to amuse myself with 7000 words of tentacle porn or werestrippers from time to time. On one hand I’m pleased that I might see some more money from KU on account of my longer works, but on the other hand I’m kind of sad that I can no longer make fast, dirty money from alien dickgirl threeways.
Does longer mean better?
Good lord, no. For reference, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged weighs in a whopping 645,000 words, while The Great Gatsby is as svelte as a bright young thing of the Roaring Twenties, clocking in at roughly 47,000 words. A book should be as long as it takes to tell the story and no more.
This is not to say that you can’t spin the story of two uninteresting people having boring sex with each other out for the length of the equivalent length of Lord of the Rings and more. EL James managed it, and is now at work on her Silmarillion, if the Silmarillion was a tacky money grab composed mostly of copypasted dialogue and e-mails and constant thoughts about the main character’s penis.
Several options spring to mind for the Kindleporn writer.
1) Move into erotic romance. This will mean writing longer works, because romance readers will tar and feather you if you attempt to make them pay $2.99 for 5000 words of fucking.
2) Bundling – putting stories into collections in order to garner a bigger page count for $$$.
3) Pull out of KU altogether. Amazon will be giving authors a chance to withdraw their books from KU immediately in July, regardless of the dates of your current 90 day enrollment period.
4) Start writing filthy novels. Yes, it takes longer, but in my experience dirty novels have a far better shelf life than short smut. None of the nine or so stories I wrote last winter have made me any money this month, but I still occasionally get royalty cheques for erotica I wrote back in 2001.
It’s definitely going to be an interesting time in the next month or so; nobody is really going to know the full story of how this affects them until the 15th of August, when July’s royalty statements roll around. To all of those authors who are panicking because they think the Kindleporn goldrush is over, it probably is, in a way . I think the series format and short form erotica are pretty much dead in the water, but remember – self publishers have a huge advantage in this respect. We can respond faster to changes in the market than publishing firms.
Change can be a good thing. It’s all about how you react to it, how you work with it. You’ve got to turn and face the strange.
And then maybe offer it a gas station hotdog. Just to see what happens.
Anna Roberts’ latest novel, A Box Full of Ashes is now available on Amazon.com and through Kindle Unlimited. It doesn’t contain gas station hotdogs though. Sorry about that.