As discussed a post or so ago, Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited on Friday. $10 per month, “unlimited” access to Kindle books. None of the one-book-at-a-time limit that the Kindle Owners Lending Library had, but it seems I do have to put “Unlimited” in quotation marks because there’s a limit of ten books at a shot. I don’t know how one reaches that limit–if it’s ten books at a one time or ten books in a month’s period. I have a feeling it’s the former, which I guess means you have to remove one from a device to read another?

I’m sure I’ll figure that out this month before my subscription ends. Depending on whether I re-up–and I probably will, because I think I mentioned before I usually drop twenty bucks as soon as I see each month’s new Kindle Monthly Deals.

But I wanted to talk a little more about it from an author/publisher perspective.

I’m both. Reader first, which led me to becoming an author (I had to write the books I wanted to read that didn’t exist yet), which led me to becoming a publisher of both my own books and then other people’s.

If not for Amazon, I wouldn’t be the latter. If the third-generation Kindle hadn’t finally, finally gotten digital reading right, I would have continued on the query carousel. I would have continued to send out both Meets Girl and The Prodigal Hour, hoping for an agent, an editor, a publisher, hoping to sign at the dotted line so that one day my book would be on a shelf at a Barnes & Noble. I don’t know that it would have happened. Toward the end there, I got a lot of rejections along the lines of “The writing is good and the story is well told, but the market is just too tough right now.” Particularly with regard to The Prodigal Hour (“Time travel is a difficult market,” said nearly every query response I received).

But then in 2010 I started reading using the Kindle app, and then bought a Kindle just as I was completing Meets Girl, and I looked at it and I thought: I can do this.

And I did.

And not long after I did, Amazon announced the addition of Kindle Select to the KDP Platform. Authors could offer their books for free, if they wanted, for just a few days out of 90, but it could lead to a nice sales boost, and the books could be part of the Kindle Owners Lending Library–

If you made the book exclusive to Kindle.

If you decided you’d sell your title through Amazon–and only Amazon–for 90 days.

And there’s the rub.

One of the great things about digital is how fast it makes things. Not long ago, Nick Earls and I decided to update his novel Tumble Turns. I wanted to put it on sale and give it a new, better cover. I sent him a handful of images, and as soon as he chose one, in a matter of a few hours I’d created a new cover and uploaded it. That’s how fast this all is.

As fast as digital speeds, the internet grows, “viral” becomes digidemic, 90 days’ worth of exclusivity feels like a long time indeed. That’s 90 days when if someone refuses to use Amazon for whatever reason, they can’t get your book. And 90 days when, if someone wants to read your book on an iPad or Kobo or Nook, they have to buy it from Amazon, use third-party software to convert it to an ePub (if it’s published without DRM), and then sideload it onto their reader–and not everyone knows how to do that.

More so, it’s 90 days when you’re not contributing to the growth of the digital ecosystem, of which Amazon is merely one part. Apple could make iBooks great. Barnes & Noble could finally figure out what the heck it wants to do with Nook. Smashwords could decide to redo its website to become a robust marketplace itself (its strength seems to be as an aggregator/distrubutor–which it’s really good at–and not a retailer itself).

But the thing is, those are all things that could happen–not things that have already. iBooks is fine, but it’s limited to Apple devices, of which there may be, like, a billion or so, but on how many is it actually installed? (I hold out hope that September will bring not only new iDevices, but improvements that make iBooks truly great.) Barnes & Noble hasn’t seemed to have a Nook strategy since it first launched the Nook Color, but I don’t envy its position, trying to innovate digitally while still keeping corporate publishers happy with their stores.

And in the meantime those things could happen, Amazon is already pretty much without peer in terms of the services it provides. Look at its customer experience index–that’s a measure of how satisfied its customers are, and this year it earned the top spot, according to Forrester Research’s survey of 7500 consumers, and specifically as a consumer electronics manufacturer for its Kindle (emphasis mine).

Is it really so bad to be exclusive to the number one customer experience in the US?

My feeling is it’s not. My feeling is that Amazon has created the number one customer experience and that’s one that it’s good to be a part of, and further that you know, for 90 days, why not give it a shot to see if it works?

My further feeling is that when authors sign contracts with corporate publishers, they basically agree to go exclusive with those publishers for the life of a copyright, which includes all the time up to authors’ deaths and then 70 years beyond, and surely 90 days worth of exclusivity to Amazon is pretty much nothing compared to that.

Mainly my feeling is that authors need to try things out and see what works. They need to explore options open to them (and it’s great when all are, but that’s not always the case). They need to decide what they want, what their goals are, and try to figure out how different tools and strategies and tactics might help them achieve those goals.

One of the things that Nick Earls has said to me he likes about how we work together is that we can try new things immediately, that we can be agile and flexible. To that end, I’m pleased to announce that Exciting Press is participating in Kindle Unlimited, if on a limited basis. You’ll find my novel, Meets Girl, which was available for a long while on the iBookstore but never really sold much there. You’ll also find several books by Nick, including the aforementioned Tumble Turns. We still have a dozen or so titles on the iBookstore (several free, so be sure to check those out), and we’ll also continue to explore new options as they make sense (so I don’t know if we’ll ever be on Nook again. When I see B&N has some strategy for it, I’ll consider it).

That’s the first zucchini from my wife’s garden. Well. A quarter of it, anyway. And it’s awesome.

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Annabel Lee, now formally known as Southshore Maiden You May Know, CGC (Canine Good Citizen). Informally, she’ll always be Annabel Puppydog.

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Big news today: Kindle Unlimited.

Ten bucks per month for unlimited access to any Kindle book in the program, on any device.

Who’s got two thumbs and started his free trial within ten minutes of the announcement? Yeah, this guy.

Let’s be honest: from a reader perspective, this is awesome. Ten bucks per month? Hell, I’m lucky if I don’t spend three or four times that every first of every month on the Kindle Monthly Deals.

From an author perspective? A publishing perspective?

Look, I’ll be candid: of that I’m not sure yet. For quite a while, Exciting Press titles were in Kindle Direct Publishing Select. They were exclusive to Kindle, could only be bought from Amazon. We publish without DRM — always have and always will — so readers could convert their books for whatever device they were using, but let’s be honest there and note how tedious that is (if you even know how to do it in the first place, which a lot of readers may not). But if I may be further honest here I would argue that Amazon’s gained dominance in the ebook marketplace simply because its experience is so superior for readers, and I think that makes a difference.

According to my KDP page, by enrolling in KDP Select, my books can be part of Kindle Unlimited. And when a reader reads 10% of my book, I’d get paid. It’s not clear how much, but my guess is that, as with the Kindle Owners Lending Library, authors get an equal share of a fund dedicated to all participants eligible to get paid.

Is that more or less than I get from the 70% I get now? I’ve no idea. It may be less per book but ultimately more overall, depending on the success of the program and my hypothetical book’s performance within it.

I’m not here to tell you it’s awesome or terrible. It may be both, depending on your perspective. Who knows? Arguably nobody writing about it today, or yesterday, or the day before.

But I did want to highlight why I think it’s interesting. Because every article I’ve seen about the idea in general– that of streaming ebooks, basically–compares it to Netflix. The shorthand is it’s “the Netflix of ebooks.” It’s “Spotify for stories.”

What I think is interesting, though, is it seems like it’s precisely the opposite.

Netflix? Spotify? They worked with studios and labels to get the content their platform would use. Which I think prompts a question, and maybe a couple: How much do the artists get paid? How much do the labels get paid?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ve heard that it’s a low number–for some reason, 11 cents sticks out in my head. But I may have just made that up.

Point is, though, in the case of Spotify, authors make their royalties based on their agreements with their labels — whom Spotify pays.

You probably see where I’m going with this.

What’s brilliant about the way Amazon did this is they didn’t have to talk to anyone beforehand. They didn’t have to go to the corporate publishers. They spent years building this awesome digital reading platform, and then they spent more years attracting some terrific authors, and offering incentives to those authors to go all-in with them. “Let us be the only place people can buy your ebooks,” they said, “And we’ll make it worth your while. We’ll give you free promotions. Countdown deals. We’ll let people borrow your book.”

“We’ll make you part of Kindle Unlimited.”

For authors who are already in KDP Select, they are automatically pulled in to Kindle Unlimited. I’ve already heard people complain about the opt-out versus opt-in system (I think it was more efficient than anything else. They were authors who were already exclusive. Now they get access to this really cool program a ton of readers are going to sign up for).

Now, I don’t know for sure they didn’t talk to the corporate publishers, but I do know they didn’t launch with any.

That’s huge.

This is the number one online retailer of both print and ebooks. Amazon accounts for at least 60% of the market, and I’d posit that’s a gross underestimation there. They built the best digital book experience — from shopping for them to reading them — from the ground up, and when it came time to offer its customers a method by which they could spend $10 per month for unlimited access to ebooks, they did so without having corporate publishers’ titles in their libraries.

This may just be the largest endorsement of independent authors and their work . . . pretty much ever.

Those 600,000 books? There are some from publishers, small and somewhat larger alike. Open Road Media is there with some Michael Chabon titles. There are a few other big names from popular presses. But the vast majority of them are by independent authors. There are 55,000 books in fantasy and science fiction alone, and most of those titles appear to be independent.

Amazon believed strongly enough in the quality of all that work to launch Kindle Unlimited without the support of a single corporate publisher. And it didn’t just believe, mind you; it likely has all the data it could possibly want to bear out that this was a good move for them.

Fresh from my wife’s garden. Those beans are awesome.

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#venisonburgers and #shocktopbeer Happy Independence Day everyone!

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First strawberry of the season! You can’t see her thumb, but it’s verdant as that leaf.

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Want to know why Amazon is fighting Hachette? Because the latter believes $9.99 is a bargain price for an ebook. on Flickr.

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Yes, I make the perfect S’mores.

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Great show by @eddieizzard.

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Annabel’s response to “Say please.” This is her Blue Steel.

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Wife gave me a #shakespeare action figure and Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back for my birthday. So cool!

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I told Annabel to sit. This is the result. on Flickr.

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“How much mix do you need?” “A Jeff Goldblum size.” “…” “You know, one big pile of—” “I see.” on Flickr.

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So He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named grocery shops in Pittsburgh (at @gianteagle). Who knew? on Flickr.

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Not long ago, an author with whom I work via Exciting Press, Martin Lastrapes, asked me if I’d participate in a blog tour for him. I first encountered Martin several years ago when he wrote a post about being independent and what it meant for him and his passion for both telling stories and getting them out there.

When I was in my early to mid-twenties, I used to go to bars to see my buddies play in a band which went through several line ups and iterations. In those bars, I often felt like a lot of those aspiring bands attempted to use volume to make up for their lack of talent. I feel the same way about a lot of the current writing/publishing scene lately, which is why I’m so happy to work with Martin–dude’s got chops. I don’t know what sales of his novels are like, but I know his debut, Inside the Outside, is among the best I’ve read. It’s just so creepy and surreal and so utterly matter-of-fact about both. I can’t imagine anyone else who could make a lesbian’s escape from an incestuous, cannibalistic religious cult seem un-extraordinary, and that’s the highest praise I can offer.

I know what sales of his short stories are like, because those I’ve worked with him to publish. Healthy, certainly, but short stories are still a difficult thing to market.

What we share in common is the idealistic hope that, ultimately, quality will bear out. That things like “building a platform” and etc. are all just noise when what we really need is writers who produce a signal.

So this is his blog tour, I think. I haven’t blogged much lately. Sometimes I think about it, but there’s always something else to write or publish. I might not have blogged much in the past year, but I’ve published like a dozen books, and they’re all amazing.

That’s actually the answer to the first question (there are four).

What am I working on now?

Exciting Press. Independent digital literature. Sure, I’ve got half a dozen works in progress, including two or three novels, a non-fiction piece, a couple of scripts, and several short stories. My ideas aren’t going anywhere, though, and for now what feels vital to me, what feels important, is what I’m making possible. I’ve written two novels I’m damned proud of, both of which have been received positively and one of which was, for a brief and shining moment, the most popular ebook in the world.

And that’s why I’ve wanted to focus on Exciting Press. That’s why I wanted to focus on the amazing authors who’ve given me a chance to produce their stories as ebooks. That’s why I wanted to break publishing, once and for all, by totally up-ending How Things Are Done. That’s why I’m using a limited-term license (7 years) and offering my authors 70% of everything that comes in.

In a time when corporations think that 25% royalties is fair, I want to be the signal demonstrating it’s not.

To that end, I’m working on the final installment of Nick Earls’ new Brisbane Rewound trilogy, Bachelor Kisses. I’m also working on a couple of other novels from some other authors I’ve signed, but Nick’s latest novel The Fix was just published by Amazon, so it’s in front of me.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

To be honest, I don’t even know what this question means anymore. Genre is really just readers’ way of sifting through books on the Kindle bestseller lists. I don’t really write to genre: I write to story. I want to write the most exciting and visceral stories I can manage, and I usually want to subvert any genre they’d ostensibly be part of. My first novel, Meets Girl is sort of an urban fantasy, but really it’s a debut literary novel that in addition functions as a satire of debut literary novels.

My time travel novel probably bears the influences of Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz more than anyone.

Like I said, I work backwards. I just have the story, and I want to tell it as excitingly and realistically as I possibly can. I really don’t think about genre until I go to Amazon to click ‘Publish.’

Why do I write what I do?

Because nobody else has. If the books I wanted to read existed, I wouldn’t have to write them.

How does my writing process work?

One word at a time.

That’s it from me. Go check out Martin Lastrapes. And PS, it’s Lastrapps, in case you thought it was Lastrayps, as I did.

And PPS, sorry this was a day later, Martin.

Ranking All 64 Stephen King Books — Vulture:

Great list on the 40th anniversary of Carrie. I was just thinking about this the other day, as I just finished IT. My top 5?

5) The Shining

4) It

3) Night Shift

2) Needful Things

1) Different Seasons

What’re yours?

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Annabel was very enthusiastic about helping us with the new garden boxes. on Flickr.

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What Getting An MFA In Fiction Meant To Me:

Alexander Chee with a great essay on getting an MFA.

I went to USC to study fiction—and hoping for a book deal with a major publisher. Rather than getting one, I got started on the path to—hopefully—ultimately becoming one. I also became a better writer.

I don’t think workshops produce the same sorts of fiction; I think a lot of writers read the same sorts of books and writers, and that bears out. I think the more widely an author reads, the more likely their will be more breadth and depth in their fiction.

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Seduce the Whole World: Gordon Lish’s Workshop : The New Yorker:

Wow. The New Yorker pretty much bringing Lish down. I’ve always been kinda meh about Lish. I’d heard great things about him, but then I read—also in The New Yorker—Raymond Carver’s original “The Beginners” story, which Lish edited into “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” and it really wasn’t all that *better*. Different, sure, but better? Not so much.

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Why Traditional Publishers Should Surrender To Self Publishing | Eoin Purcell’s Blog:

This is great. “The ‘self-publishing’ war wasn’t and isn’t real.” So true. This is a revolution of technology and information, and what we’re seeing is several large corporations struggling to keep up with early adopters and innovators who are outpacing them, pound-for-pound.

Agents (and managers and financial/legal consultants) aren’t unnecessary. Editors will always be invaluable. Designers will always be imperative.

In the end, though, it all comes down to the idea that the only thing absolutely essential between writers and readers is stories, and anything that tries to add friction to that is in trouble.

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The changes I mentioned to Raven Noir were the least of a reorganization I’m in the middle of. You can find all our Amazon titles right here.

In fact, I’m in the middle of a reorganization of my whole life. In my day job, I’m performing the same function but moving around within my department. At home, I’m trying to get things organized and packed away, trying to get things in order.

And with Exciting Press, I’m trying to create a bold new strategy that will mean more readers will find great books.

I’m converting a bunch of books from print to digital. Two novels by Nick Earls, another by Kurt Wenzel, several others besides by James Brown. It’s not an easy conversion process; I have the right hardware and software, but scanning a print book doesn’t just give you the words in a neat manuscript; it gives you new pages and sections and some elements drop off, which means I have to go back over everything to ensure it’s correct.

It’s slow going, unfortunately. But it goes nonetheless.

That’ll mean Exciting Press will have at least three new novels this year, plus some other work. New titles.

New prices.

I’d been operating Exciting Press as a start-up, with new-to-everyone authors. I was also looking at it as a reader, first. Whom did I want to read?

How much did I want to pay?

Me, I notice more and more than I’m less likely to simply pick up free and inexpensive ebooks than I used to be. I still get newsletters every day with new Kindle deals, but I might pick up one or two per week; rarely do I buy more. I also thought that $4.99 was the upper limit of how much I’d want to pay for an ebook, but I’m realizing that’s not the case–lately I’ve been going as high as $6.99. That feels like a mass market paperback price to me, and especially when there are complementary titles, I’m happy to explore. Just the other day I picked up two books, one of which was a sequel to the other; the first was 99c, while the second was $5.99. Two books for $3.50-ish each total?

A lot of indie authors go with the $2.99 price point, or even 99c (or free). Some argue it “devalues” writing–I’m not one of those. I’m not sure I believe in inherent value; value isn’t what something’s worth so much as what the market is willing to pay. And I think the market is willing to pay more. I’d based pricing at $4.99 on Apple; the iPad is priced at $499, which clocks it in at just under $500, which is a psychological barrier. I think I was mistaken in doing so, because I don’t think $5 is the psychological barrier $500 is.

We’re also moving away from free promotions as we move away from Kindle exclusivity. There are so many iPads and iPhones out there it makes much more sense to address both platforms.

Here a lot of people cry foul that there are many more platforms, and what about those readers, and here I say, look, I’m a nano-press; I can’t please everyone all the time. I can try my best to offer the best services I can. To readers and authors alike.

Last year, we had set it up so that, every day, Exciting Press offered a free title.

This year, we’re setting a few particular titles to permanently free status for iOS. We’re going to hope Amazon matches that price. They do so at their discretion, so I’m not counting on it, but I think it’s a fair compromise.

We’re also moving away from 99c. From now on, we’re not publishing indivdual stories for 99c. Instead, we’re packing three (or more) stories together and pricing them at $2.99. It just about evens out, and it means we make more per story even while we can still offer some titles completely free.

That, too, I think is a fair compromise.

We’re going to be pricing this year’s new novels at $5.99. Given the time and effort that’s gone into creating them. We’re going to see how that works out, and go along accordingly.

We hope you’re going to continue to find new books and read new authors. It’s been a great ride so far, and it’s only getting more exciting.


Several years ago, I first published Jamais Plus, a collection of two short stories–one of them interactive–that focus on an investigation into the death of Edgar Allan Poe. The book was the first I used in joining Amazon’s KDP Select program–my first time going all-in, and exclusive, with Amazon. The first story of the collection uses the html coding to make the ebook interactive, such that readers can, at certain points in the story, choose one action or another to progress–which makes the structure very much akin to the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books so many readers, including myself, loved as children.

Turns out, enough readers loved those books that the actual phrase Choose Your Own Adventure is trademarked, and registered to a Vermont company called ChooseCo. ChooseCo was founded by a guy named Raymond Montgomery, who was one of the original writers of the series. Apparently, the original series started in the early seventies, when a guy named Edward Packard had the idea to personalize stories for his children. He started it as “Adventures for You,” and brought on several writers, including Montgomery. When the series gained popularity, Bantam books bought it and rebranded it as “Choose Your Own Adventure,” which is the phrase we all know and remember, and the one Bantam trademarked.

Random House bought Bantam sometime later, and eventually let the trademark lapse, at which point Montgomery founded ChooseCo and registered the trademark for the company, and has been republishing those beloved stories for Kindle. Packard, meanwhile, uses the phrase “U-Ventures,” and looks to be affiliated with Simon & Schuster.

At least, I think that’s how it shook out. That’s the story as I’ve been able to determine it over the past week. Why have I been trying to figure it out, you ask?

Because last week, I got an email from Kindle that Raven Noir could no longer be sold as such, due to a complaint from a rights holder. I was surprised, because I endeavored to ensure that everything appropriated was public domain. The story is sort of fan fiction, really, featuring Poe’s fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin (and one of the stories features Charles Dickens), but it’s not like Dupin’s under copyright.

No, the problem was that, in trying to help fans of that genre of story find mine, I’d subtitled “Raven Noir” as a “Choose Your Own Investigation of the . . .”

And ChooseCo cried foul. They had a trademark to protect.

Everyone was very accommodating. I wrote to ChooseCo and talked to two of their associates, and in the end simply had to remove the “Choose Your Own” words from the title, description, and meta-data. Done and done.

Just got word that the book is now live again. You can find it right here.

I like the story. It’s the first fiction I wrote in the graduate program where I studied writing, and I think it’s an interesting demonstration of how feedback can so markedly change a story’s execution. The first version was a lark, snappy and brisk, while the second was darker and more somber, perhaps more complex, too. And regardless of whether the story or characters are complex, the structure now is, considering that it’s coded that way.

I rather like that the mixed review the story has notes you can tell there are two authors, and posits the “original Edgar Allen [sic] Poe story,” given that I wrote both. I’ve sometimes feared my writing voice gets so strong you can tell it’s me, but I suppose not so much. That’s sort of fun.

I think the story is, too. I hope you’ll give it a try, if you haven’t already.