Why KU Short Fiction Still Makes Sense

I assumed six months ago that the KU payout terms would eventually change. I wasn’t sure if Amazon would go with a pay-by-page scheme or something that put works in tiers by length, but many observers knew this was a question of “when” and not “if.” Despite the overblown and horribly researched coverage in the wider press, the new payout terms fix a glaring discrepancy in how authors are rewarded for their efforts and how readers’ behavior will influence what is offered across Kindle Unlimited.

When I realized the change that was coming, I started concentrating on short stories. I began planning serials. I knew my time would be better spent mixing at least 6 to 12 shorter pieces in with each of my novels. In fact, I think most people analyzing KU and the length of works to offer are getting it wrong. KU does not reward longer works: It rewards good works. It rewards gripping works.

A lot of authors are going to make a huge mistake as they write with KU in mind. Chapters that would’ve been cut for being boring filler are going to be left in place, as writers now think they are being paid by the pound. Nothing could be more wrong. To understand why I stand to make more money with short fiction than with novels, a few different mental mistakes have to be corrected. Let’s go through each one:

The first mistake we make is to think that a system that was overly generous to short fiction, once corrected, is now punishing short fiction. This is absurd. The playing field is now level. A page read is a page read. Just because a system was unfair in one direction in the past (and it was) does not mean it’s unfair in the other direction now. In fact, short fiction still has some amazing advantages, which we’ll see in a moment.

The second massive mistake I see people make when discussing the new KU is to assume that the amount of work that goes into a novel and a short story is even close to the same. Because we were paid the same in the previous system, no matter the length, we’ve somehow lost sight of the very obvious truth that 60,000 words of writing is still 60,000 words of writing. If you package it as a novel, or if you release six 10,000 word short stories, you’ve still written and revised roughly the same amount. If the reader gets through all those words, you’ll get paid the same per hour of work.

So instead of comparing a 60,000 word novel with a writer who put out a single 6,000 word short piece, the fair comparison is to realize the second author probably released TEN works in the same amount of time.

Which brings us to the reality that everyone knows but no one will admit: Most KU downloads aren’t read to completion. Many are sampled. When the works feel free (I know there’s a monthly fee), there’s no guilt-induced pressure to finish any work. So a reader might grab four novels, try each, and then finish the one that grabs them. If you pad your novel, or open it slowly, thinking you’re going to get paid for every one of your 300 pages, and I write a 20-page short story that readers can’t put down and fly through, then which of us spent our time more wisely? And which of us provided the reader with a better customer experience?

A downside to short fiction is more cover art expenses. An upside is much lower editorial expenses. I see these as a wash. Plot can be so much tighter in short fiction that developmental editing is much reduced. And most writers can get 10,000 words largely error-free before sending off to a copyeditor. I find that editing a 60,000 word novel takes much more than merely six times longer than a 10,000 word short. And serialized works benefit from the re-use of cover art designs, so the cost there isn’t really six times as much (to stick with our hypothetical examples).

Then there are the two HUGE benefits to short fiction, both of which increase the chances of something taking off. The first is the visibility of having more works peppered across Amazon’s storefront (we’re talking KU, so keep in mind these works are exclusive). More works means more reader impressions. It means more recommendations from Amazon to customers. It also means writing six different stories, with different characters, and seeing which ones do the best, then writing sequels for those pieces.

beacon 23 2BEACON 23 took off for me in a pretty spectacular way, with lots of reviews, lots of call for sequels, and even the great Warren Ellis plugging the work in his latest newsletter. Likewise, GLITCH has been a fantastic seller. Other works have done okay but not nearly as well by comparison. And I can never guess which ones will do the best. But by writing lots of stories, I can invest my time following up with the worlds that readers found most alluring. Again, this means an improved customer experience and a more efficient use of my writing time.

Yet another advantage: There is a massive bonus when readers finish your work. In the old KU system, the bonus seemed to have come if readers got to 10% of your work, which was when the per-unit payout was triggered. But now, the advantages to getting a reader through to the end of your story are compounded, because a finished work is more likely to be a reviewed work. Even if readers just star-rate the work, this will influence whether or not Amazon recommends them more of your titles. And word-of-mouth can’t get going unless readers complete a story and find the end satisfactory. This means my completed 20-page short story doesn’t just pay out the same as the first 20 pages of an abandoned novel — it also gets the bonus of completion, which the abandoned work doesn’t.

This doesn’t mean novels aren’t more fairly rewarded under the new system. Of course they are. And many readers want thick works that they lose themselves in for days and weeks. If you write that sort of work, you are going to do very well with the new KU. We should all be celebrating that (writers, readers, and the retailer). But the idea that novels are more powerful for the career writer than short stories simply doesn’t hold. The advantages of competent serialization and a wide mix of offerings are the same old advantages. The pay might not be skewed like it was, but the revenue per hour worked is probably still better for short fiction, and all the other bonuses of visibility, reviews, algorithms, diversity, and word-of-mouth still apply.

I’ll be very sad to see authors creating boxsets of their works, thinking that size now matters. I think they’ll lose opportunities this way. If there’s one story in there that will cause readers to pick up a different work, then you’ll miss the reward of them getting to the works that come after. And the readers will have missed out on the enjoyment. And Amazon will have missed a positive customer experience. But if those works are separate, then an abandoned read doesn’t hurt as much.

Another way to think about the new KU is this: You aren’t paid for every page read so much as you lose money for every page left unread.

For novel writers, this means thinking of every scene as its own short story. It means thinking of every chapter as its own separate work. Does the world-building power readers forward? Does the tension tug them along? Do the characters come alive and chase readers all the way to the end? If any part of the story is weak, then get rid of it. Delete it. Or your novel will be like an anthology with a story no one can finish sandwiched in the middle. You run the risk of all the hard work that comes after being for naught.

Make no mistake, KU now rewards one thing, and one thing only: Reader enjoyment. This is how it should be. We aren’t writing by the pound; we are writing by the pulse. It’s hearts that we should concentrate on pounding, not keyboards. Write well and write efficiently. Write what you want. There’s a good chance there are more readers out there just like you, looking for the same thing.

 

COMMENTS (79)

This just underlines what I’ve come to believe: In an age of handheld mobile reading devices – where you can read on the subway, in buses, in waiting rooms, anywhere – we are in a new Silver Age of the short form.

“For novel writers, this means thinking of every scene as its own short story. It means thinking of every chapter as its own separate work. Does the world-building power readers forward? Does the tension tug them along? Do the characters come alive and chase readers all the way to the end? If any part of the story is weak, then get rid of it. Delete it. Or your novel will be like an anthology with a story no one can finish sandwiched in the middle. You run the risk of all the hard work that comes after being for naught.

Make no mistake, KU now rewards one thing, and one thing only: Reader enjoyment. This is how it should be. We aren’t writing by the pound; we are writing by the pulse. It’s hearts that we should concentrate on pounding, not keyboards. Write well and write efficiently. Write what you want. There’s a good chance there are more readers out there just like you, looking for the same thing.”

Well said, Hugh. Thanks.

Another great article! Thanks for your advice. I’ve not tried shorter fiction yet, but your arguments make sense, so I’ll have to reconsider that. It’s going to be a big challenge learning to structure shorter works so as to have a complete story arc in one-fifth to one-tenth of the length I’m used to writing, but I guess that’s part of the fun of writing.

Great points, Hugh. As usual. I wonder, how the thought process of the KU subscriber sees the short story. The way I see it is like this (and I’m not a subscriber): I pay $10 bucks a month to have unlimited ebooks delivered to my Kindle, granted, only a handful of books at a time. I know individual price should not be a factor to my thought process of adding those books, but it is. I see the inherent “value” of adding the higher price books to my KU order, while simply just paying the cheaper price per book from my shipping saver credits. I pass over all the .99 cent books on KU, and add the books valued at $3.99 and up, because I am less likely to pay more money on a flier for fiction. Unless your name is Hugh Howey, obviously. ;)

I’m not questioning your insights here, just pointing out how one might think in the other direction. Personally, I have a number of books in KU, prices ranging from .99 cents up to $5.99. My $5.99 book gets borrowed A LOT more than my less expensive, short stories. By a huge margin too.

Regardless, I am also planning a short story serial that I plan on beginning to release late August, once I get through the initial writing process of all parts. I plan on releasing them like clockwork, every two to three weeks. Once I figure out what the best time schedule works best, I’m going to stick with it through all the parts. Then, maybe sometime next year, I’ll box them up and release the omnibus.

Interesting point. I don’t look at price when I’m browsing KU. I grab what I want to read. But maybe I’m in the minority here.

In which case, jack up the price of short fiction to $9.99, and forego all sales for extra borrows. :)

It’s hard to see any advantage with short stories. A KU member downloads my 30 page short story, reads it, and I get 30 cents if I’m lucky. The old system would have returned $1.30 for the read.
The lost income from the new system means writing more shorts to increase my actual sales. Jacking the price of a 30 page short up to $9.99 or even $4.99 would be suicide for a short story writer (unless you’re Hugh Howey ;) )
Also as an aside. Did I read correctly that the new rules stipulate you will only be paid on the first reading?
If so let’s surmise that my 30 page short gets a download and the KU member reads 1 page then decides he will read it to completion the next day when he has a spare hour.
I get paid for 1 page = 1 cent. He reads the rest the next day and I am out of pocket 29 cents!

30 cents for reading a short story doesn’t sound crazy to me. It only sounds crazy after we were getting for 10% of a short story read what a Random House author gets for a paperback sale. And that’s comparing borrows to retail sales.

Having sold stories to pro markets, I see KU as a windfall compared to the world pre-KU. Looking at KU 1.0 as a guideline for realistic expectations just doesn’t seem right to me.

When you compare it to the traditional physical book publishing royalties it all really makes sense and is as you say a much better system for us indies. Those of us who are level headed will wait out the month and compare. But what it all comes down to is even getting less through the new KU.2 you are still getting something. Pulling all of your titles from KU means you get zilch. Something is better than zilch.
That’s my pennies worth or should I say 0.57 pennies worth :)

No, you get paid for the first read of the page, the first time it is read. It’s like syncing between devices (which should also work). I suspect they could even read page one and return the book, but borrow again later and the page read count should kick in where it left off. That’s how it works when I get a new Kindle or open the app on a new device. It knows the last location I was in any book (owned or borrowed).

Thanks for clearing that up David, it really had me worried. I hope you are correct.

This is an interesting article that brings a whole new perspective on KU. My biggest concern with this service (and I think it’s thhe concern for many writers) has been the exclucivity. But this post has allowed me to see KU in a different light. Short stories do have a place. But it’s also andouble-edged sword. Many readers express their distaste in short books, and have had the problem of seeing more shorter stuff in KU than longer works. Of course, I think the effectiveness of short stories is going to largely depend on the genre. It would be interesting to see a chart or something for Author Earnings that shows how well shorter and longer works do in KU, by genre.

THANK YOU! I’ve read enough hysteria about KU elsewhere; it’s refreshing that you laid out some common sense.

I see Hugh is a late and surprise follower of Magic Math.

I’m really awful at maths, so I have to use boring old real numbers. Using those, a 10k story @ 300 wpp and *read to completion,* with even an optimistic 2¢ page rate looks quite like a 66¢ transaction from here. AKA, a lot less than half what I’m presently earning for that same piece of work.

Tell me again, Hugh how that isn’t a 66% cut in revenue?

It is a cut in revenue.

So the question becomes: Do you think you deserved $1.38 for a 10K story after a 2-page 10% threshold while a novelist received the same amount for a 100,000K work after a 30-page 10% threshold?

If you think the prior system was fair, then we just disagree. If you think what you made under an unfair system should equal what you make under a fairer system, then we again disagree.

To me, the Magic Math is thinking the old system made any sense.

I agree that the system is more fair to everyone. It’s made me actually put a few works into KU again, and give it a try.

I just hope Amazon keeps the per-page payout at a decent level. If they do, there’s a good chance I could go all in with them. But it’s definitely a wait-and-see thing.

I’m not sure this is the final solution, but I agree 1000% that this is a move in the right direction. Short form, long form, whatever you do, bring your best game to the show and put out work you believe in. If you do that readers will find you. I’m glad to see the system correcting itself from a platform on which people could publish 14 pages and get paid the same as my 96,000 word novel. And yes, I have shorts out there under 5k words and have no problem being paid less for that then someone else is for a full novel.

Some good thoughts here, but you did not address one very important market: children’s books. Many picture books are between 20-30 pages, and include lots of illustrations. Unless the author is also an artist, they’ll have to contract the work out, which gets very expensive. Since children’s book authors are already adversely affected by Amazon’s delivery charge when a sale is made, they will now make a meager amount per borrow (20-30 cents vs. $1.35ish).

The new model doesn’t seem all that fair to them, and who’s to say that a customer can’t get the same level of enjoyment out of Wool vs. Green Eggs and Ham (which I suspect would be read over and over again to young ones, but paid out only once).

Unfortunately, the children’s books genre is the exception to the rule, and its authors will pay dearly for it; unless, of course, Amazon makes good on the promise to add multipliers for illustrations (another author I spoke to contacted Amazon customer service and their response was they MIGHT do this–but MIGHT isn’t a sound place for basing business decisions/strategies).

I didn’t say that I thought the arrangement at present is fair but then I didn’t design it, so I don’t feel responsible for it.

I’m not sorry to see writers of longer works better rewarded, I’m just not very pleased about their taking food off my table.

Lets say I write 20 short stories at 20 pages apiece. Roughly 100,000 words.

I get 1,000 total borrows.

That’s a maximum of 40,000 pages read, even if I get 100% read-through, which I won’t. The best author in the world won’t get 100% read-through on 20 shorts and 1,000 borrows.

Now lets imagine I write one novel, 200 pages, 50,000 words. Lets say I get the same 1,000 borrows. Now I have a maximum possible 200,000 pages of readable content. Once again, I won’t get 100% read-through. But… Even if this book is a relative flop, how much read-through will I get?

60%? 40%? 20%?

Even if I only managed to get a paltry 20% read-through on that novel, it will out-earn those 20 shorts under the new system.

No matter how you look at it, novels are being incentivized under the new system (going UP in value), and short stories are being de-incentivized (going DOWN in value). A page written in a short is not worth what a page written in a novel is worth.

I wrote lots of compelling short fiction in KU 1.0, and I was well compensated. My almost-year of Kindle Unlimited represented over $350,000 worth of earnings on a catalog that was largely hundreds of short stories, a few short serials, and the occasional novella/novel. I earned that income writing stories people wanted to read. Compelling and interesting pieces neatly packaged into 5 and 10 and 15 thousand word works. I won several Amazon all-star bonuses because I was satisfying the demands of the market. I put in massive amounts of effort building and cultivating readership and writing books they appreciated.

Under the new KU 2.0, there is no way I could continue writing short stories. My income would be absolutely eviscerated under the new system. You can’t overcome the math. Even in CRAZY WORLD where pages-read pay out at over 7 cents per page and my short stories are still worth exactly what they were under the old system, it still makes sense to jump to longer work. Why? Because in that crazy example, novels would be worth absolutely obscene amounts of money.

No matter how we want to spin this, you can’t ignore the reality. Short stories are going down in expected value. I expect a 50% or larger drop in short story value. Novels will go up. I expect a 3x to 7x increase in value on novel length work.

So what am I going to do? I’m writing novels. I’ll be making the box sets that you seem to be talking negatively about because size absolutely matters. It doesn’t matter how many pages go unread. Unless the percentage-read is absolutely abysmal, the novel is going to significantly out-earn anyone writing shorts with similar amounts of effort put in. Even 100% read-through on every single short you write can’t overcome the massive advantages novels have under KU 2.0.

I can say this: Historically, my novels earn about as much as any 10-20 of my shorts that you pick from my catalog. My average novel has earned about $20,000 over its lifetime. That’s not a rampant success by any measure, but it is reasonably successful. I’m an expert at short stories, and only semi-proficient at novels. That’s what kept me writing shorts. I’d rather share my talent at shorter-form work with readers who enjoy it, especially since I was earning a relatively fantastic living doing it. That changes on July 1st. Under the new KU, a novel at that level of success will earn substantially more than that. A $20,000 novel becomes a $60,000+ novel even at terrible levels read-through and per-page earnings. The same effort in shorts shrink in value. $20,000 in shorts becomes sub-$10,000 worth of income.

My time is vastly better spent writing longer-form under the new system. I disagree with your assessment Hugh. KU 2.0 rewards page count above all things. KU 2.0 rewards page count over reader enjoyment.

I’ll still attempt to write the best possible book, of course. I’m not going to stuff novels with garbage writing in an attempt to inflate page count. A novel that achieves higher level of read-through is worth more than a slightly larger novel that is stuffed to the gills with poor writing and extra tacked-on chapters. Obviously you want to write something people are going to love and finish.

My point isn’t that people should write bad novels.

My point is that even bad novels will out-earn their weight in fantastic shorts. That’s not conjecture. That’s math.

Kindle Unlimited as a program was dependent upon keeping the subscribers happy. In the short year it has been around the choices have become shorter and shorter as the authors worked to ‘game’ the system. Many authors pulled their longer works from KU while others serialized them. While this may have led to more revenue for the author it created a devaluation of the program. The type of reader who subscribes to a program like KU is going to typically be a voracious reader. While some may be happy reading short story after short story I doubt that most would have been.

What we don’t know, and Amazon does, is how the subscription levels have faired as KU progressed. If I had to hazard a guess, based on following the kindle forums is that KU subscriptions were not where Amazon wanted them to be. How many people tried the free trial of KU only to cancel before the month was up? If the program is not successful with the target audience it will not succeed. Stop viewing this program as a steady income source and recognize that your income levels were only going to stay the same if readers continued to subscribe.

As Hugh has stated many times, these changes benefit the readers (subscribers) and in the long run that keeps your income stream in place. Stop viewing these changes as potential cuts to your revenue and recognize that they may have saved you from having all your revenue end. If you are not able to put food on your table by keeping readers reading through your books and writing enough to gain followers but were dependent on a flawed system than it isn’t Amazon taking food off your table, it is you.

My readers may have been reading 100% of the stories they borrowed and they may continue. I’ll still need three times as many of them.

It isn’t that I’m viewing this as a potential cut in revenue, it is an actual slash. Probably more than 50%.

Addressing an unfair system by innovating new unfairness isn’t something I’m ready to applaud. As has been mentioned, publishers of children’s books will suffer far worse than short story writers. Cookery books will fare badly, too.

Under this system the pages in a longer work are much more valuable than those in a shorter work, irrespective of quality. How that’s good for writers in the long run is still mysterious to me.

Alice wrote: Under this system the pages in a longer work are much more valuable than those in a shorter work, irrespective of quality. How that’s good for writers in the long run is still mysterious to me.~~

No. The authors will be paid by pages read. Short work or long work. The pages of a novel will not be more valuable than the pages of a short story, a novelette, or a novella. They will pay the same.

Per borrows will be less for short works because they have fewer pages.

As a reader (and KU subscriber since the month after it debuted), I don’t finish MOST of what I borrow. But I just finished a 674 page non-fiction book. I am glad the author is paid by the page for that one. Took me a while to work through it. :) But I sample a lot, skim some, and because it’s 9.99 a month, I feel no need to finish anything. Not that many stories hold my interest through to the middle these days. VERY few hold my interest to the end. The writers who hold my interest get more: I think that’s a nice extra reward for having solid narrative drive.

As a buyer of ebooks, I will not pay more than .99 for a short story or novelette unless it’s by one of my 2 or 3 fave authors. Authors would get paid 35 cents for that short story purchase. Now, they may make that or more for a borrow of the short story. So, unless the payout is really tiny per page, the author will make as much on a borrow as on a sale of .99 short (maybe even a 1.99 short, we’ll see).

And since the program is voluntary, anyone who doesn’t like the change (and future changes, which, knowing Amazon, will be regular), can opt out. Now, in fact. Can opt out right now, without penalty.

As far as affecting earnings: of course. Changes in company policies have affected our wages–layoffs, lack of raises, loss of benefits, etc. Such is life. Things change. What one earned last year is not guaranteed this year for anyone. (Well, except maybe Patterson and other bestseller juggernauts.)

Changing strategy–as some have talked about here– is how authors have to deal. When short paid better in KU, author friends of mine wrote shorter. Now, they can write longer in KU. Some hate KU and decided to opt out. Others had opted out before and now are opting in again. I have no idea what is the best strategy for them. Time will tell.

But I think Hugh’s system of gauging from short reads what readers want more of…and giving that to them…that’s pretty smart.

Jennifer Daydreamer

Do you think this policy will become the general policy for all ebooks and not just KU? What bothers me is that if a reader is attracted to a book cover, a short story or a longer book, i think the writer should be paid, even for one click of the book cover. Amazon should not get the credit for the attraction of a book cover that they did not design. It does not mean I don’t care about the quality of the written word. An unread book is still the creation of someone, not someone from Amazon. These unread or partially read stories pull in interest from consumers to look around Amazon and try books out. These books are part of the storefront – books in a store window bring people into the bookstore. There should be a clear, strong delineation of ownership and product from A-Z.

“What bothers me is that if a reader is attracted to a book cover, a short story or a longer book, i think the writer should be paid, even for one click of the book cover.”

That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Authors should be paid because someone BROWSED? So, if you go to the grocery store and pick up a box of some product to read the label, you should have to pay the grocery store for that? For every tomato squeezed and peach smelled? B&N should pay publishers for every book taken off the shelf, even if it got put back after a browse?

Seriously?

Wait. That was Onion type satire, yes?

Jennifer Daydreamer

I think there is monetary value inherent in the unlimited offer of KU. Amazon receives money for this once a consumer joins. A consumer may not read any books, but Amazon will still make money from that consumer. Amazon needs the books to create the storefront, the store, and the robust unlimited offer.

The reply function doesn’t seem to be working on the site. In response to Dannidee–I can’t speak for other KU users, of course, but in my borrowing/reading experience I think even a 20% read-through on novels is being generous. I’ve borrowed somewhere around 100 novels through KU since the program’s inception and read ~20 of them to completion. The other 80 I didn’t go past 10%, and the only reason I read up to 10% on most of them was to make sure the author got their piece of the borrow pie.

This is specifically why I joined KU when I have 1500 books in my TBR pile (thousands in my home library and ebook library combined I can read or reread): I wanted longer samples.

I got tired of clicking for a sample and, after a bunch of front matter, having sometimes NO relevant sample (this happens a lot in non-fic and poetry collections). This also allows me to happily drop a novel if it bored me by chapter 3 and not feel like my money was blown.

Extensive sampling. That’s what my 10 bucks a month offers me. I can sample away and skim non-fiction for pertinent chapters that don’t show up on samples. Plus, I like short stories. I prefer short stories to long novels.

I finish maybe 15% of what I borrow.

I would buy almost none of the books I borrow, so it’s money authors wouldn’t normally get from me.

I found an author I like a lot and have borrowed 2 of his long nonfics and plan to read others. I now would consider buying his pricey ebooks (if not in KU) or borrowing more, knowing I’ll read to the end. So, he got a new fan because of KU, since his ebooks are 9.99 for sale, and I don’t much like paying that much for an ebook.

Dannidee, first off, congratulations on the success you have had with short stories – that’s awesome! It is true that under the new system short stories on the order of 5K, 10K, and 15K words are going to make less per borrow than the old system. But the rest of your comparisons and analysis don’t make much sense.

First off, you are comparing 1000 borrows of 20 different short stories to 1000 borrows of one novel. Which is easier to achieve, 1000 borrows spread across 20 different titles (each a unique opportunity in the Amazon store for someone to discover your work), or 1000 borrows of a single title? Also, as Hugh suggested in his article which do you think will have higher completion rates, individual short stories or entire novels? My guess is that is easier to accumulate 1000 borrows across 20 different stories and you will get higher average completion rate on short stories.

Also, you suggest that you are better at writing short stories than novels. Why would you throw away that advantage? Presumably, you pace of writing will be the same or similar regardless if you are writing shorts or novels, so either way you will be producing the same number of new pages. Since pages are what will matter in the new KU system, wouldn’t you be better off producing pages as part of short stories that you feel you write better (and as suggested above will probably have higher completion rates)?

Again, you are right that you will be earning less for shorts going forward, but I think your conclusions that you will earn more on novels when you factor in time don’t make any sense. If you can write a million words a year, then you can choose if you can divide those words up into 20 novels or 100 short stories. If your short stories tend to be better, then doesn’t it make sense to continue down that path? Why do you think you will make more off the same million words (or whatever the number really is) you write the next year if they are packaged in novel format?

Hugh, no offense, but I really don’t like the new website. I wanted to send you a private email to submit this comment but I couldn’t even find a way to do that (not sure if you used to have a way to contact you on your old site).

The new website doesn’t feel like the home page for a science fiction author at all. I get that you love your new boat, but I also think it is a huge mistake rebranding the website as “Wayfinder.” It’s a little unsettling that your follow-on comments on blog articles come from Wayfinder – it feels very impersonal. One of the greatest aspects of your author persona is how very personal you are with your engagement with your readers. This new website really takes away from that personal engagement.

Also, threaded comments don’t seem to work – and that is annoying as well.

You have mentioned split testing on Amazon many times before. In that vein I would suggest polling readers/subscribers about which website they liked better. My guess is the overwhelming majority will prefer the old style.

While I follow your argument on box sets as cutting off some channels, I still think they aren’t the bad idea you’re presenting. Some readers don’t mind chasing down every story from an author they like, while others prefer to have a massive binge. It shouldn’t be stories or collections, it should be stories and collections, to have something to appeal to both sorts of readers. I’m a box set reader for choice; if there’s more available at the swipe of a finger, I’ll keep going. Why not have a product for readers like me? Or do you really want me thinking, “Okay, that was good. I’ll get the next one. Later.”

As a reader, all I care about is the fact that Amazon doesn’t not make it easy to find the length of an item when you are searching without clicking through to each item (which is very time consuming). My searches are filled with 99 cent short stories and serial chapters despite the fact that I primarily buy and read full length novels.

What about this program rewards “good works” as compared to the old program? How did the old system, wherein good works got more borrows, sales, and word of mouth, not meritocratic enough?

Nothing is changing on the reader’s end. We’ll have the same exact readers, wanting to read the same exact things. If your novel only had 2 people that wanted to read it, congrats, you still only have 2 people that want to read it.

All that is changing is how much we’re being paid.

Period.

And this new pay scheme absolutely, without a doubt, only benefits novel writers. There’s no world where short story writers are being rewarded in this system. A good short story is still going to make less than a mediocre novel.

I’m still going to make less on the same amount of borrows. I’m still taking a pay cut. I’m a full time author, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to feed myself and my fiance with July’s earnings. I won’t know until July’s sales are already said and done. Wonderful! What a great reward!

Tell me more about how I’m being rewarded for my good stories… while being paid less money for them.

“Good” must be a euphemism for “long”, because if short story authors are to be paid even the same as they were before, novel authors will end up making $10, $20, $30 per full read.

Yeah right.

Sorry, “How did the old system, wherein good works got more borrows, sales, and word of mouth, not meritocratic enough?” should be “How was…”

In response to a few people above:

Jim Johnson – You said you read less than 20% average of a novel, then you go on to say you borrowed 100 novels and read 20 of those novels to completion.

Even assuming you didn’t read the other 80%, that’s still 20% average read-through on 100 novels :).

The research I’ve seen on this matter says the average novel hits >60% read-through, but again, even abysmal read-through ends up nailing down better income than the comparable shorts.

To Daniel Knight:

I’m comparing apples to apples based on the success of my own catalog.

My average short story earns more than $1,000 in a year. My average novel earns more than $20,000. On average, my shorts run about 7,000 words when I take them as a whole. My average novel tops out at 51,000 words.

There are outliers of course. I’ve got 5,000 word short stories that earned $8,000+ over the last year, but in terms of novels the outliers are far closer. My worst selling novel over the last year still earned more than my best-selling short.

So I can make some general assumptions about the success of a book going forward. Off the back of more than 500+ short stories and a decent selection of novels/novellas/serials, I can tell you with a very strong degree of confidence how much money the next story off my fingertips will earn.

ONE of my novels will earn as much as between 10 and 20 of my average shorts, even if we’re throwing out my flops and focusing only on shorts that earned decent income.

So when I use the 1000 borrows VS 1000 borrows, I’m not doing it lightly. My borrows on 1 novel vs the borrows on 20 shorts is roughly comparable. I have years of extremely meticulously collected data to back that up.

And even if your assumption that getting 1,000 borrows on 20 short stories WAS true, understand that we’re comparing more than 100,000 words written in short stories to 50,000 words written in a novel. Yes, Hugh is right, it’s harder to write a 50,000 word novel than it is to write 50,000 words worth of short stories, but it isn’t 2x harder. I can write a 50,000 word novel in roughly the time it takes me to write 12 well crafted shorts. I know this, because I’ve recorded the time it takes me to write these things. I know exactly how much my time and the words I write are worth. Right down to the second and down to the penny.

And it doesn’t matter. Even if you take a flopping slap-and-dash novel VS a decent array of high-selling shorts, the novel still wins. I was using 1 novel vs 20 shorts, but if I went with 1 novel vs 12 shorts (which is what MY situation would look like) things get hilarious. The novel is more successful even at a fraction of the total borrows and terrible read-through rate.

Your last paragraph is totally wrong. Lets say I do write 1,000,000 words this year. 20 novels, or 100 short stories, as you say. Why do I assume I’ll make more money on the 20 novels than on the 100 short stories? Because the novels will absolutely fundamentally earn more. The math is pure on this.

So lets take those 100 stories. 10,000 words each! That’s probably going to be roughly 40 pages (how many pages it is actually doesn’t matter, since KENPC is going to equally apply that algorithm across novels and shorts, your slice of the pie won’t change).

Lets compare that to 20 novels at 50,000 words each. 200 pages each.

Lets ignore the fact that novels sell more than shorts (sales on novels are higher than sales on shorts) which swings this even more in favor of novels. For now, lets just focus purely on borrows.

Lets go even crazier. Lets pretend that each and every one of those 100 short stories sells exactly as much, individually, as the novel does.

So here we are, I’ve got a novel that is a total flop. Short stories are getting borrowed on a 1:1 ratio with it.

Lets use simple numbers. My 100 short stories are getting 100 borrows each. That’s 10,000 borrows!

Those poor novels are only getting 100 borrows each. What total garbage! They only managed to get a paltry 2,000 borrows. They are total flops! Why did I even write this garbage? I could have wrote 100 shorts and ended up with 10,000 borrows!

But wait… This is KU 2.0 we’re talking about…

200 pages in each novel * 2,000 borrows = 400,000 potential pages read…

40 pages in each short story * 10,000 borrows = Holy cow… It’s exactly the same! 400,000 potential pages read.

That means the novel only needs to average the same read-through rate as the 40 short stories in order to earn exactly the same amount of money.

Do you think short stories get 100% read-through? Spoiler alert: They don’t.

Would the 100 short stories end up earning more than the 20 novels in that crazy batshit example? Maybe, but not by any wide margin. The research I’ve seen says the average novel is read to >60%. The average short might be slightly higher than that, but it’s definitely not 100%. The margins here are small enough that it is completely within the realm of possible that the novel could earn just as much as the shorts, despite being totally outclassed in borrows. All it has to do is match the read-through rate on average and the novels reach parity.

How well do the novels have to do to outpace the shorts?

Lets use the same example, but lets have our novels do a tiny bit better.

Now we’ve still got 100 short stories getting 100 borrows each. 10,000 total borrows, 400,000 total potential pages read.

Next door, we’ve got 20 short stories, but they are a bit more successful. They are getting 200 borrows each. That’s still terribly unsuccessful btw, they are barely managing to get twice the number of borrows that a 10,000 word short story is getting. Why did I write these things again? It makes no sense!

Except, once again, this is KU 2.0 we’re talking about.

Now those 20 novels with 200 borrows each have moved 4,000 borrows. They have a potential pages-read count of 800,000 pages, twice what the short stories can manage even if they receive 100% read-through.

Once again, we are still talking about a fantastically unsuccessful set of 20 novels in comparison to those shorts. Those shorts are getting more than TWICE as many borrows in the market!

Has the money shifted? Yes. Massively.

Lets give the shorts the benefit of the doubt and say they managed 80% read-through. Those novels only need to pull off a paltry 40%+ read-through average in order to earn more than the shorts. That’s nothing, and I’d argue that the shorts aren’t going to get that AMAZING 80% read-through either. If the read-through is lower, the totals on the novels becomes even more laughable.

At 50% read-through on the shorts, you only need 25% read-through on the novels to beat them.

And that brings us full circle. In my own experience, a novel sells AND borrows out roughly as many copies as between 10 and 20 of my short stories. In the above example, I gave a single novel twice as many sales as a single short. In reality, I’m seeing upwards of 10X as many sales AND borrows on a novel than I do on any average short story in my catalog.

That’s why I was comparing 1000 borrows to 1000 borrows. Because that’s how things look in my dashboard. Ten shorts are worth roughly what one novel was worth under the old KU system based on my own writing and my own success.

If I apply that, things get silly, as I explained above.

100 short stories borrowing out 100 copies apiece = 10,000 copies, 400,000 words.

20 novels borrowing out 500 copies apiece = 10,000 borrows, 2,000,000 words.

The potential earnings gulf between these examples is insane. The novels are worth massively more than the shorts.

Yes, I don’t care how you try to shake it, in my experience and based on my sales figures, the 20 novels will out-earn the 100 short stories by an absolutely massive margin. If I keep writing shorts, my income will decline significantly year-over-year. If I write novels, my income will more than double. That’s a no-brainer. It doesn’t matter if my shorts get 100% completion rates and my novels suck. As I explained above, even a 20% completion rate on those novels earns more than those shorts. No matter how generous you want to be about your assumption of the read-through rate of those shorts, the novels win. Pretend the shorts get 70% read-through. How much do the novels have to manage to beat them?

14%.

I’m sorry, but even for an expert at crafting short stories, novels are more valuable. There is no way around this. Under the new system, page count is king.

Long or short, if you deliver a strong opening, the numbers crunching on pay-per-page or pay-by-percentage-read will not make a difference. If you have a strong opening in a strong book, they will read past the first 10% anyway, which we owe the reader in any case. It shouldn’t make a difference.

“If I keep writing shorts, my income will decline significantly year-over-year. If I write novels, my income will more than double.”

Well, until the KU program changes again, anyway. So I think the question becomes Should a writer write to fit a market or do they write to their passion?

“Well, until the KU program changes again, anyway. So I think the question becomes Should a writer write to fit a market or do they write to their passion?”

I’m a professional author.

Writing is and has been my career for quite a few years now. I’ve written plenty of things I’ve loved to write, and on the other side of the same coin, I’ve written plenty of things purely to satisfy the whims of the market.

Over time, I became particularly adept at satisfying the market. This is what made me successful.

I do what is necessary to maintain my income because at the end of the day, this is how I pay for the lifestyle I live. I’m not doing this to be a starving artist. I have a family to support. I’m not going to take a stand on principle and avoid the truck-load of money heading my way, and I’m definitely not going to stand idly by and keep doing what I’ve been doing while I watch my income get devastated.

Lets face it, moving to novels has always been the wise long-term move. Amazon is incentivizing full-length work, and they are providing me with the necessary motivation to change my ways. I choose to see this as an opportunity.

I’m not complaining about this. If you look at my posts above I’m not sitting here moaning about how awful Amazon is for changing things on me. Will this change hurt me? In the short term, absolutely. No question. I’m choosing not to dwell on that aspect of things. I’m going to make the changes to thrive under the new program. I intend to make more money off KU 2.0 than I ever did on KU 1.0. Novels make that possible, shorts do not.

In Hugh’s post, he mentions that a word is a word, and that you’ll be paid the same whether that word is in a short or a novel. I think I’ve laid out the case pretty clearly that this is a fallacy. Words written in novels are going to be worth more than words written in shorts under the new system. Do the math. It’s plain as day. Novels are incentivized at the expense of shorts. That’s even Amazon’s stated purpose of the KU 2.0 change!

I’m going to roll with the punches.

Finally, to BP Shea, it absolutely makes a difference. A strong short will earn less than a weak novel. That’s the issue here. A strong novel will earn massively more than a strong short.

BTW, I’m sitting here posting pretty quickly in the early morning, I’m about to go on vacation.

In my first example, I actually made a SMALL error and I’m surprised I didn’t catch it. I was making the example that 20 short stories at 20 pages apiece read 1,000 times = 40,000 potential pages read.

That’s TOTALLY wrong. I don’t know how I screwed that up.

It’s actually 20,000 pages :). HALF what I mentioned, making the shorts even WORSE.

So, lets fix this…

20 short stories @ 20 pages apiece manage to get 1,000 borrows. That’s a total potential pages-read of 20,000 pages (if the 1000 borrows read to 100%)

1,000 borrows on a 200 page novel = 200,000 potential pages read. The novel only has to hit 10% average read-through to beat the maximum amount those short stories can earn.

Here’s the fixed comment, since I can’t edit my comment above:

Lets say I write 20 short stories at 20 pages apiece. Roughly 100,000 words.

I get 1,000 total borrows.

That’s a maximum of 20,000 pages read, even if I get 100% read-through, which I won’t. The best author in the world won’t get 100% read-through on 20 shorts and 1,000 borrows.
Now lets imagine I write one novel, 200 pages, 50,000 words. Lets say I get the same 1,000 borrows. Now I have a maximum possible 200,000 pages of readable content. Once again, I won’t get 100% read-through. But… Even if this book is a relative flop, how much read-through will I get?

60%? 40%? 20%?

Even if I only managed to get a paltry 10% read-through on that novel, it will out-earn those 20 shorts under the new system.

No matter how you look at it, novels are being incentivized under the new system (going UP in value), and short stories are being de-incentivized (going DOWN in value). A page written in a short is not worth what a page written in a novel is worth.

I wrote lots of compelling short fiction in KU 1.0, and I was well compensated. My almost-year of Kindle Unlimited represented over $350,000 worth of earnings on a catalog that was largely hundreds of short stories, a few short serials, and the occasional novella/novel. I earned that income writing stories people wanted to read. Compelling and interesting pieces neatly packaged into 5 and 10 and 15 thousand word works. I won several Amazon all-star bonuses because I was satisfying the demands of the market. I put in massive amounts of effort building and cultivating readership and writing books they appreciated.
Under the new KU 2.0, there is no way I could continue writing short stories. My income would be absolutely eviscerated under the new system. You can’t overcome the math. Even in CRAZY WORLD where pages-read pay out at over 7 cents per page and my short stories are still worth exactly what they were under the old system, it still makes sense to jump to longer work. Why? Because in that crazy example, novels would be worth absolutely obscene amounts of money.

No matter how we want to spin this, you can’t ignore the reality. Short stories are going down in expected value. I expect a 50% or larger drop in short story value. Novels will go up. I expect a 3x to 7x increase in value on novel length work.

So what am I going to do? I’m writing novels. I’ll be making the box sets that you seem to be talking negatively about because size absolutely matters. It doesn’t matter how many pages go unread. Unless the percentage-read is absolutely abysmal, the novel is going to significantly out-earn anyone writing shorts with similar amounts of effort put in. Even 100% read-through on every single short you write can’t overcome the massive advantages novels have under KU 2.0.

I can say this: Historically, my novels earn about as much as any 10-20 of my shorts that you pick from my catalog. My average novel has earned about $20,000 over its lifetime. That’s not a rampant success by any measure, but it is reasonably successful. I’m an expert at short stories, and only semi-proficient at novels. That’s what kept me writing shorts. I’d rather share my talent at shorter-form work with readers who enjoy it, especially since I was earning a relatively fantastic living doing it. That changes on July 1st. Under the new KU, a novel at that level of success will earn substantially more than that. A $20,000 novel becomes a $60,000+ novel even at terrible levels read-through and per-page earnings. The same effort in shorts shrink in value. $20,000 in shorts becomes sub-$10,000 worth of income.

My time is vastly better spent writing longer-form under the new system. I disagree with your assessment Hugh. KU 2.0 rewards page count above all things. KU 2.0 rewards page count over reader enjoyment.

I’ll still attempt to write the best possible book, of course. I’m not going to stuff novels with garbage writing in an attempt to inflate page count. A novel that achieves higher level of read-through is worth more than a slightly larger novel that is stuffed to the gills with poor writing and extra tacked-on chapters. Obviously you want to write something people are going to love and finish.

My point isn’t that people should write bad novels.

My point is that even bad novels will out-earn their weight in fantastic shorts. That’s not conjecture. That’s math.

Also, in an above comment I said “400,000 words” and “2,000,000 words” when I meant to say “400,000 PAGES” and “2,000,000 PAGES”. Again, typing fast, packing for a vacation :).

Dannidee,

Some of your math seems a bit off. You say that 1,000 borrows of twenty 20-page stories equals 40,000 pages of content. But the total page count for those 20 stories is 400 pages. Borrowed 1,000 times comes to 400,000 pages of content, right? So if someone only reads 20%, that’s 80,000 pages read. By comparison, 20% of the 200,000 pages offered by 1,000 borrows of the 200-page novel comes to 40,000 pages read. Sounds to me like you’re coming out ahead.

Most of my fiction is 250 to 350 pages of fast paced pros. I’m confident that most writers like myself will benefit hugely from this new format for Ku and am so happy to see a company like Amazon taking such a proactive stance on progress/change.

Hey Chris!

I actually did make an error (if you look up a few responses in this chain you’ll see that I mentioned and fixed it). It’s not an error in the direction you’re hoping for though :).

I said 1000 borrows of 20 page books equaled 40,000 potential pages read. This is a mistake. I was typing fast and for some reason I was doing calculations on 40 page books. Anyway, 1,000 borrows of 20 page books actually only equals 20,000 potential pages read. HALF what I stated, making everything even worse for shorts.

You’re making a mistake in your calculations, let me help you…

Here’s what you said:
“Chris Morris:
Some of your math seems a bit off. You say that 1,000 borrows of twenty 20-page stories equals 40,000 pages of content. But the total page count for those 20 stories is 400 pages. Borrowed 1,000 times comes to 400,000 pages of content, right? So if someone only reads 20%, that’s 80,000 pages read. By comparison, 20% of the 200,000 pages offered by 1,000 borrows of the 200-page novel comes to 40,000 pages read. Sounds to me like you’re coming out ahead.”

Ok, lets over-simplify so I can make this clear. Lets pretend you get 1 borrow of a 20 page book. How many potential pages can a reader read?

20. Period. 20 pages. That’s it.

How about a 200 page book? Borrowed 1 time, there are 200 potential pages to read.

Now scale it up. I had 1,000 borrows being shown. EACH of those 1,000 borrows can only give you 20 potential pages. So, the math is simple. 1,000 * 20 = 20,000.

And the 200 page book? 1,000 * 200 = 200,000.

Like I said, I -did- make a mistake, but it was actually in the short stories favor. If you scroll up you’ll see that I fixed it.

I’m sorry, but there’s no way to bend the math here. Shorts are going to earn substantially less, and novels are going to earn more.

When I first started writing, many moons ago, some of the best advice I ever received was: “MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.” I have that hanging on my desk, and when I am writing a scene, a chapter, etc. I often stop and think, “Is anything happening here?” Not that a story has to be ALL action, but the prose MUST pull the reader along to see “what happens next.” And that, in essence, is why readers finish a story – whether long or shot. Good advice on this post also about story length.

I write kid’s books. Kid’s books are shorter (in 90% of the cases would be my guess) than adult books. But just because they are shorter doesn’t mean they are no longer called books. My personal preference is that authors be paid per book, not page. But, I’ve been in enough discussions about this around the web to know most people don’t agree with me so there’s not much point in still arguing the point. If Amazon eventually moved to some sort of a tiered system, that would probably be better for me than per page. But…and here’s the important thing…I really don’t know. My guess is that my income will go down next month. But, I’ll adjust and it will adjust. I didn’t write kid’s books to take advantage of KU’s payment system and I won’t stop writing kid’s books become of the new system. I may leave KU, I may not. I’ll have to look at the data. I’ve got no problem with that. That, of course, is one of the great things about indie publishing. I can react blisteringly fast to changes. That’s pretty cool . And I’m thankful for the freedom each and every day. DK

Dannidee,

I see that you tried to fix your earlier comment, but you failed. Here’s what you wrote at 5:45:

“Lets say I write 20 short stories at 20 pages apiece. Roughly 100,000 words.
I get 1,000 total borrows.
That’s a maximum of 20,000 pages read”

Wrong. That’s a maximum of 400,000. Here’s how it works:
20 (stories) x 20 (pages in each story) = 400 (total pages)
400 (total pages) x 1,000 (borrows) = 400,000 (total pages available to be read)

As for your other comment, well, yeah, under the new payment scheme, a single 20-page story is most likely not going to earn as well as a 200-page novel, but the question is, should it? But if you have ten of those shorts, making the page-count between the two equal, the payout is more likely to be equal as well.

No Chris, you’re doing the math wrong!

What you’re missing is I’m getting 1,000 total borrows. I only got 1,000 total borrows. Stop a second, ignore the fact that I wrote 20 stories. Ignore everything except the fact that I have 1,000 total borrows.

Those borrows are for individual 20 page books. Each borrow can ONLY account for 20 pages. So, at maximum, you get 1,000 borrows * 20 pages – because that’s all you can read.

You can’t read 400 pages per borrow! Your math is totally wrong.

All of this talk about how your income and career is being impacted by Amazon’s decision to change the terms of KU and yet it seems no one is talking about the fact that this program has only been around 1 year. Why does that matter? If you have been hugely successful in KU how were you doing before KU?

Using the 1000 borrows of the 20 page short story and the 1000 borrows of the 200 page novel as an example, lets say you have your short story priced at $.99 (the minimum allowed by Amazon) and you sell 1000 copies. I believe that the royalty/percentage the author gets on that sale is $.35 therefore you would be making $346.50. If the 200 page novel is priced at $3.99 (which earns $.70 I believe) that author would be making $3990.00 for the same 1000 sales.

Currently those same books in KU would earn each author (using 1.38 per borrow) $1360. Under the new structure the short stories would be worth (at .02 per page) $400 and the novel would be worth ($4000). As you can see the new structure puts the revenue on a closer level with revenues on sales.

Those who have built a successful career by cashing in on the very young KU program have done so at the expense of sales revenues to both authors and Amazon. Which is great for you but not so great for them. And again, no one seems to want to address the issue of how the rash of short stories in KU is effecting subscription levels.

People who read short stories are still going to want to read short stories. Fantasy novelists aren’t going to suddenly be picked up by rabid short erotica readers just because they’re what’s in KU.

If there has been a rash of short stories in the market, that’s because that’s what the market wants.

I’m willing to bet that if every short story were removed from KU, the program would crash and burn. Punishing short story authors for giving readers what they want is only going to hurt the program.

I suppose we’ll see on August 15 how bright KU’s future looks.

I was making a substantial income before KU, and I intend to make a substantial income in KU 2.0.

I roll with the punches Vickie. KU 1.0 made short stories significantly more profitable, and gave me good reason to specialize further, creating a rich wealth of content for my readers. I could have likely earned more than I did by specializing in novels instead of shorts even under the KU 1.0 system, but I preferred spreading my risk across a wide catalog and I enjoyed a remarkable amount of success doing it.

The new KU 2.0 gives me incentive to move hard in the opposite direction. I’ll be turning out novels on a monthly basis going forward, as it is a more valuable use of my time.

I’m not worried about my success. I’m confident I can survive and thrive in the new KU even if it negatively effects my income in the short term. I’m just saying that there is no math by which short stories are somehow benefitted by the new changes. Writing mass amounts of short stories under KU 2.0 is going to be significantly less valuable than the same amount of words put in novel form.

But under the new scheme, you’ll be paid by the number of pages read, not the borrow. I realize you can’t read 400 pages in a borrow. But if I, as a KU subscriber, read all your stuff, wouldn’t that be 400 pages read?

“Writing mass amounts of short stories under KU 2.0 is going to be significantly less valuable than the same amount of words put in novel form.”

I’d argue that this has been true for a long time, even before KU. There are very few professional writers making as much money off short story sales as they are off novel sales. Even with international market sales, reprints, and the like, there’s more money in novel sales than in short sales.

You’re probably right Jim, but I was quite comfortable with short stories. I was on pace for half a million dollars this year, and to be quite honest, I was fine with that. :)

And Chris – YES, if you read all 20 of my books, you’d read 400 total pages. But that doesn’t change the fact that you only accounted for 20 total borrows.

And it doesn’t change the fact that 1,000 total borrows are worth 20,000 pages. Re-read my above examples and you’ll see that whether you read all 20 of my books or not, it doesn’t change things. Each individual borrow is still only worth 20 pages.

I was comparing 1000 borrows on short stories VS 1000 borrows on novels.

And again, it doesn’t matter how much you adjust it, the numbers still don’t work out. The novel could sell 500 copies vs those 20 short stories selling 1,000 copies, and you’d still be better off with the novel.

I’ll put it a different way.

If you’re a bad novelist, you’ll probably make a bit more money under the new system. If you’re a bad short story author, you’ll watch your income drop to near-zero.

If you’re a mediocre novelist, you’ll make significantly more money under the new system. If you’re a mediocre short story author, you’ll watch your income drop to near-zero.

If you’re a fantastic novelist, you’ll make an absolutely incredible amount of money under the new system. If you’re a fantastic short story author, you’ll watch your income drop by over 50%.

Lets not mince words. Amazon specifically designed this program to elevate novel income at the expense of shorts. Whether that is right or wrong is irrelevant, but pretending that shorts are still viable at the level they were before is wrong. They are taking a significant haircut in July, and that’s just the way it is. It will hurt a lot of people, and at the same time, it will make a lot of other people very happy.

I’m entering July as one of the former, but I have every intention of writing hard and becoming the latter.

It’s a common misconception that a short story has to have the same kind of plot arc as a full-length novel or a novella. A short story has to have unity and a satisfactory completion. There are many ways to achieve that besides compressing an arc into 3000 words.

This is such a great insight, and a comfort. I was hesitant about KU destroying the short fiction category. But I agree that lately too many authors are focused on quantity (“by the pound” is a good description) over quality. I imagine authors who have 100,000-word doorstops in KU will be shocked to discover readers don’t get past page ten. Instead, this will focus on making more compelling fiction. It’s a different way of writing, but one better for the reader. I’m in.

Excellent perspective, Hugh. Most of my comments on articles, blogs, and in groups on this topic have been in defense of the reforms to KU. It was just wrong for a 14 page short to be be paid ten cents per page on a borrow, while a 280 page novel was paid half a penny per page. The disparity was even worse when you consider that those shorts hardly ever sell for more than 99 cents, with 35% royalty on sales, but were earning the author $1.40 per borrow.

The revisions to KU make perfect sense. A person can read a dozen short stories in the time it takes them to read one novel. The $9.99 per month subscription will now be divided by the amount of time each author entertains a subscriber, as measured in the number of pages read. As you point out, this is not a goldmine for lengthy tomes, unless they are also well written works that grab and hold the readers’ attention. Thus, the new system will reward quality as much or more than quantity.

While you make a good argument for the future of shorts under the new terms, I might add that readers will also see a return of longer and more expense titles to the ranks of KU offerings. For example,I pulled my 788 page trilogy out of KU to encourage subscribers to borrow the individual books in the series. Under the new terms I don’t mind re-enrolling it. Of course we always face the challenge of holding the reader’s attention and interest with any length book, and that probably does get more difficult as the length of the work increases. The upside is that we will probably see more of all length titles available in KU, and the cream will rise, regardless of length.

Sadly, none of the articles in the mainstream media made the issues at stake very clear to the general public – especially that it would have no effect on the readers, or royalties paid to authors on book sales. The coverage was all about paying authors per pages read, and some made it sound like a dastardly deed by Amazon. In fact, this new system is probably the fairest way to slice the pie of the KU/KOLL monthly pool. I’m optimistic.

“For novel writers, this means thinking of every scene as its own short story. It means thinking of every chapter as its own separate work. ”

This is how I’ve been approaching learning how to write a novel, and I think it’s a great way to write regardless of whether it’s for KU or general reader purchases. Very important that each chapter has a compelling narrative structure to it. Great advice all around.

And at half a cent per page… no one wins. *sells house*

First, check your new KENPC for each title on the promotions page of each title on your KDP Bookshelf. It looks like most titles are getting awarded 33% to 50% more “pages” in the KENPC than shown on the Kindle Store sales page for the same title. My 44 page novelette got a KENPC of 66, while an “estimated” 262 page novel got a KENPC of 512.

Any title given more than a KENPC of 70, and read to completion, should earn a much as the royalties on a 99 cent sale in the Kindle Store. Novels with a KENPC over 280 will earn more than the previous KU payouts per borrow (at half a penny a page and fully read). There will be winners and losers in this new system, but most of the losers were exploiting the flaws of the previous system at the expense of novelists and Amazon (which was subsidizing a broken system to the tune of millions per month).

I was losing out on the previous system, but always earned more from sales than borrows each month anyway. I expect that to remain unchanged, but am pleased to see a fair system being put in place.

Even if a reader enjoys the hell out of your short story and completes it, at .005 cents per page you’ll only end up making .15 cents per read on a 30 page story. We’re looking at an 85% pay cut. Authors of longer works are in for a surprise as well… just because you’ve written 300 pages doesn’t mean all of those pages will actually be read. This new system favors nobody but the already established and popular authors, it’s an exclusivity grab on Amazon’s part. They’re looking for people like you, Hugh. They don’t want the rest of us.

Unless they pump even more cash into the pot to up this paltry .005 cent per page payout, I expect a mass exodus from the KU program. The exclusivity just isn’t worth it at that rate.

Joe, you’re an order of magnitude too pessimistic there; if it was 0.05 cents per page, I’d be screaming as well. With the current estimates – and let’s not make any mistake about this, these are just estimates based on last month, on a pot that past performance suggests Amazon will increase – it’s 0.58 cents per page. I’ll confess that I’ve got the same jitters that everyone else with a stake in this poker game has, but we’re really not going to know anything until August 15th.

Is it worth withdrawing books? I suppose that depends on the writer involved, but we don’t even have twenty-four hours of information on page counts yet. And the fundamental truth still remains – you are being paid for pages read. (Noting here also that Amazon seems to have significantly inflated the page numbers of each book; I was astonished that my 70k novels are 400+ pages long!)

I write for a living; this is my sole source of income. Am I concerned about anything that changes it? Of course I am, I’d be crazy not to be, but writers don’t sell widgets, they sell compelling stories. All this means is that now we get to see how many pages people actually read of our books. (Depressingly, I have one that as yet has 1 page read. I’m presuming/hoping that he opened it by mistake and will come back to it later…)

Is there a sweet length for books? Of course there is, and it is simply this – the perfect length for the book is the one that allows you to tell the story you want to tell, whether that is 500 words or 500,000 words. Pad the book out, and you’ll lose readers. All we can do is all we have ever done, and try and make our books the best that we can.

Richard, you may want to crunch your numbers again. A projected $11M pot with an historical (June) 1.9B pages read (per Amazon’s email this morning). That comes out to just over a half cent per page read. Perhaps we’re both writing the same figure in a different way… I wrote .005 as a half cent (calculator math). That comes out to about .15 (15 cents) for a 30 page story, if it’s read to completion. That’s not good. Amazon’s projected numbers counter what Hugh said in this post. If you’ve written 300 pages, that’s $1.50 provided the entire book is read. Not good either. This is all based on the numbers Amazon gave us today. I hope it’s not the case because it’s incredibly pessimistic. I personally have almost 1000 pages read today; if that’s only worth $5, I’m out of KU.

Yes, we are writing the same figure in different ways! Still, I’m a little less pessimistic than you are, I think. My ‘average’ book length comes out at around 70,000 words; I crunched it out at about $2.35 a book for a complete read, 85% of what I get for a sale. (That’s based on .58 cents; I suspect that Amazon will boost it a little. I’ll be astonished if it is more than a cent a word – my personal guess is around .75 – .85. If they want to bring writers back, they’ll have to make it attractive.)

Essentially, we have next to no data to work with at the moment, and won’t until August 15th. Until then, we won’t know what sort of payouts to expect – and even then, based on last time, they won’t stabilize until December. Until we see what the figures then, we’re still arguing in a vacuum. My guess – based on how the loans were working – is that Amazon has a figure in mind, and that we’ll be able to predict more accurately in six months. The only thing I will note is that Amazon has a habit of boosting the loan pool to reach that figure – and that they have gone from saying ‘$11 million’ to ‘at least $11 million’.

I am on the fence on KU. I am finally going to push a couple short stories to Kindle under my own name. Actually, two short stories bundled as one, so I offer a little more (I’ll be a new author on Kindle) and I needn’t pay for two covers.

I intend to work on my novel but still write short stories. Why write short stories? Cuz I like them, dang nabbit! (I can say that because I am pushing 60.) I can also bundle about 6 of them and sell them for a book price, the length will be enough.

But KU? Not sure how a new author would fare. Hugh, thanks for your posts abou this. Good food for thought. What I dislike about some KU discussion I have read is oh, Amazon will turn evil to authors, they really will. Evil evil EEEEEEEEEEVIL!!!! Well, how about discussing what currently exists instead of making up what might happen maybe sorta coulda woulda shoulda? Hugh, you keep your perspective real. Thanks.

Here’s the page count distribution of 54,000 Amazon Kindle Best Sellers that were in KU in May 2015, showing:
– the % of Best Selling KU Titles with that page count
– the % of KU Downloads that they comprise.

Note the discrepancy between number of listed titles by page length (dark grey bars) and number of actual downloads of titles by page length (blue bars)?

The graph shows writers putting far more short works into KU than longer ones. But the numbers show KU readers preferring to download and read works in the 200 – 400 page range.

That’s why Amazon is adjusting KU payouts. Their focus is always to improve the value they provide for their customers. And right now, they want to incentivize authors to supply KU with more of what readers are downloading the most — longer works — instead of the shorter works that readers are downloading the least.

Sure, the system was disproportionately weighted towards shorter works. But now those authors get next to nothing and the novelist who spent months working on a 300-page novel is getting a bit more than $1.70 per borrow — not much of an increase and not even in line with his commission on a work priced at 2.99. So where’s his motivation to stay in KU and help Amazon develop that program?

It would be one thing if someone writing work of that length were making 5 bucks a download, while the shorts author was only making a dollar. THAT would motivate an organic push towards longer work. But this is just a kick in the face of all authors, barring those who are already quite visible, with multiple long works and established fan bases. Everyone else just took it in the teeth.

“So where’s his motivation to stay in KU and help Amazon develop that program?”

Making their work available to X number of KU subscribers who might want to borrow their work?

“Making their work available to X number of KU subscribers who might want to borrow their work?”

Sure, at the expense of being able to list their work for sale on any other platform, including their own. I don’t see the value here.

Great post, Hugh.

The one thing I really hope Amazon will do, is bring back the actual borrows. There is no way to accurately know how much of each book is being read without that. At least if we know how many pages read and how many books are borrowed to get averages, we can get a clearer picture of what is working and what isn’t.

I suggest a massive campaign to have Amazon put that back into the data we have. They already have it, they just need to put it back.

Great points, Hugh.

Let me throw in an additional reason to write short stories, which relates to my feeling that indy writers aren’t spending enough time considering the long term value of their IP library.

Many wonderful films are originally adapted from short stories. In fact, short stories have some advantages over novels in terms of getting produced. First, they’re short, so busy studio executives and producers have a better chance of reading through them. Longer novels can also be very problematic to shrink to fit into a feature length film. It’s usually easier, and more fun, for screenwriters and directors to expand on a short story, than for them to do the difficult work of compression.

Obviously, novels have more prestige (and can make great films), and a better chance of creating a fan base that demands a film version. But I think you hit the ratio about right. For every one novel, write 8-12 short stories to fill out your IP library. I think this would be particularly true for sci-fi writers. After Total Recall, very napkin Philip K. Dick jotted a note on has been optioned for a movie adaption.

The writer of a novel that gets successfully produced is going to be very happy to have a big library of short stories available for Hollywood studios to pour over when the film comes out. And, like the original KU program, the option prices for these short works will probably be about the same as longer works that took much more time to write.

Interesting update during the roll-out of KU-2.0. First, it looks like Amazon is being generous with page counts. My shortest work is listed at 44 pages on Kindle Store sales page, but received a 66 KENPC. Same goes for a novel listed at 266 on the sales page, but given 519 KENPC. That is good news for authors of all length titles. It means that KENPC adjusts to add pages to works using smaller or condensed font, as well subtracting from those that use large fonts.

Furthermore, I was playing with the dashboard to see where the page were coming from today. I kept coming up close to a thousand pages short. Then I remembered that I had pulled my 300,000 word trilogy out of KU/KDPS about a month ago because I couldn’t stand getting paid the same for that tome as shorts and pamphlets were getting. Guess what? I looked up that title on the Dashboard and found over 900 page reads today. That means a book that was borrowed under the old system will rack up page reads under the new system. And I can’t wait to see how many KENPC that “788” page trilogy weighs in at. Yes sir, I am re-enrolling that big bad boy in KDP Select tonight (as soon as I pull it from Smashwords). So, while I do wish the best to authors of shorts and serial fiction, I’m happy to see that the new system will treat longer works fairly.

The way I see it, the new system is as unfair to short story writers as the old system was to novelists.
With some basic math, one can determine that the borrow revenues received by some short story authors will be cut by up to 90%. In a flash, some authors who’re used to getting by with 2 or 3 new 5K-word stories per week will need to put out 5x as much work just to make the same amount from borrows. The change was too drastic, and due to Amazon’s short notice of the change, they’ve had nearly no time to prepare. Sink or swim. Here, hold this brick!
Was it fair that reading 3 pages of an erotic short triggered a payment for $1.30, the same amount as reading 30 pages of a 300-page novel? No, certainly not. And short story authors certainly shouldn’t have expected KU to stay implementated as such forever. But half a cent per page? Where can we even spend these half-pennies?
The new system just doesn’t seem worth it for short story authors in its current implementation, no matter how you spin it.

Those erotic shorts only earned 35 cents royalty on a sale, right? But the writers felt entitled to $1.40 from a library loan? I’d say to bundle two of them to get the same as a sale on a borrow. One year of a flawed system does not make it right. I’ve spent a year at much less than half a penny per page on my novels. I had to pull my longest titles out of the system completely because it was so unjust. But I am happy to compete with any author on the basis of the time we engage and entertain the subscribers (as measured in pages read). It promotes quality writing (of any length) and gives novelists more of an incentive to enroll titles in KU. And it is the only fair way to split up a “zero sum” pool of subscription fees based on “all you can read” each month. Heck, I could burned through my $9.99 subscription every day, if I had been borrowing and reading, or even sampling to page three of, half a dozen 5K shorts every day. The system was critically flawed. This correction, though drastic for those who got the most benefits until yesterday, was overdue and necessary. Yesterday (and in recent months) my dashboard showed dozens of borrows per day. Today it shows thousands of pages read. Time will tell which chart better reflects the reading habits of subscribers, and thus the best way to slice the KU/KOLL pie.

$2.99 has essentially become the norm sale price for erotic shorts, for whatever reason. To be honest, I couldn’t really imagine seeing any reasonable amount of income at the 99c price point. 35c isn’t a lot, even for a few thousand words.

I agree with most of your points, but I don’t necessarily see the new KU implementation as being that great for long-form authors either. Instead of getting your $1.30 after 30 pages of a 300-page book, a reader now has to get through 220 pages for you to see the same amount. What percentages of readers do that? I’d guess not as many as would get through at least 10%.

Low payouts aren’t even the only issue, because there’s also the matter of KU requiring exclusivity. Exposure is important, and of course there’s that adage about eggs and baskets..

Do erotic shorts actually sell at $2.99? [Serious question]. I mean I’ve sold tens of thousands of 60K – 90K novels at that price, but some readers still complain they are too short. The sequels also sell well, so I can only assume that many people are reading cover to cover. Borrows might be more problematic than sales, since the reader is not really “invested” in the book, but I have never had more borrows than sales. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to get some extra income from borrows, but the previous system was screwing novelists. One of my titles has a new KENPC of 1,199 pages. However, it was only paying a tiny fraction of a penny per page when I yanked it from KDPS earlier this year. Of course I enrolled it again last night.

The issue of exposure is important, but not the way you meant it — at least not to me. I have been part of KDP Select since it started in 2011. It’s where I built my fan base. I wasn’t there for the borrows. I was there for the other promotions. In 2012 I used the freebies of my first book to generate thousands of sales of the sequels. More recently I have used Countdown Deals to move Select titles far up the charts (as far as Top 25 Paid in Kindle Store when combined with another promotion). That is where I get exposure. However, for the past year, those perks have come with the condition of offering Select titles in Kindle Unlimited too. The terms were so unfair to longer works that I pulled the longest out and started writing shorter novels and novellas (which many fans complain are too short). Therefore, I am pleased with the revisions to KU.

My plan to continue to write series and serials NEVER changed after the KU announcement. I’m sure I’ll do fine. I appreciate this post, Hugh. I’ve begun tuning stuff out and I’ve left Kboards again. But your post makes sense. So I’m glad I bothered to read it.

I’m not understanding at all the argument that short fiction should be paid as much as long fiction. Short fiction you can write and publish in a day. A novel you can spend years on. I mean maybe you can be really fast and put it out in a month. Or the short fiction might take you a week to write if you’re slow like me.

But in what world should anyone expect to be paid the same for a few days of work as opposed to a few months/years?
And as others have said, if you take 3 months and write one novel or 80 shorts, you’re going to come out ahead with your shorts. (that much visibility alone is a win… and the chances of getting someone all the way through the short is by MILES better/easier than so many novels that get REALLY boring in the middle. So your short story pages have MORE value because chances are someone actually reads them.

Paying per page is completely fair.

The part that ISN’T fair, is that Amazon is so sketchy with the details. They already know the track record for Read Through. Their email was complete, misleading garbage… there’s absolutely no way they are going to pay that much per page. They just don’t want us all to bail out of the program because the most we’ll make per story is 30cents or something.

And why couldn’t they have given authors a chance to adjust to this? Regardless of whether the old system was fair or not, people were building careers around it and making decisions about ‘evil day’ jobs based on the old program. (I don’t believe for a second that they haven’t had this change in process for several months).
I mean a little more notice would have gone a long way.