Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Sell Your E-books in the Amazon Kindle Store

I've been interested in Amazon's Kindle digital book reader since its inception (though, admittedly, I didn't start blogging about it until the second version came out). I haven't bought one yet because I'm waiting for the inevitable price reduction, but that doesn't mean I haven't been exploring its features and some of the content for the device.

The biggest source of content for the Kindle is, of course, Amazon's Kindle Store. The store features a lot of e-books. A quick run down of some of the categories:

Fantasy 5,267 e-books
Science Fiction 7,299 e-books
Mystery & Thrillers 13,570 e-books

Total, there's over 300,000 titles available for download to your Kindle. That's a lot of books.

I recently discovered one of the best things about the Kindle store: anyone can post products there. JA Konrath clued me into the possibility, and he does a nice job of breaking down some of his own sales numbers. You can see that he's had no small success at it thus far. Granted, Konrath is a published author, so his name is out there via other, more traditional channels, but he also puts forth a lot of effort online as well. Nonetheless, is the possibility of an unpublished writer posting his or her work to the Kindle store gold waiting to be mined? I plan to find out.

As of a couple of days ago, my novel, The Hall of the Wood, is available for purchase via the Kindle store:

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I wanted to make the price $0.25, but $0.99 is the minimum allowed price. The one catch is that, of course, you must have a Kindle to which to download the e-book to. So, if you've already spent $300 for the device, what's another $0.99? ;-)

The concept of an unpublished author finding success in this channel is a challenge. As noted above, there are over 5,000 fantasy titles available for purchase in the Kindle store. How to make my novel stand out amongst those? For one, I created a book cover. Nothing fancy, but it gives the potential buyer something to look at other than "No image available". Second, I gave it a product description, which is the standard blurb taken from my web site:

Jed's wife and unborn child are dead, killed by a legacy he dare share with no one. Seeking a reprieve from his guilt, he sets out for his former home, the Ranger Hall of the Wood. Along the way, he discovers all is not well. Aliah Starbough, a friend from Jed's past, sends him a chilling warning: the rangers are dead, the Simarron Forest, thrown into peril. Nearby Homewood has issued a plea for help, a summonings which Kayra Weslin, knight errant, and her chronicler, Holly, answer. Along with Murik Alon Rin'kres, an Eslar sorcerer who harbors a secret purpose all his own, the four attempt to unravel the mystery of the missing rangers. They soon find tales of their disappearance frighteningly untrue.

The third way to gain attention is through customer reviews. This one is huge, and the one that in my mind will allow us as writers to break free of the traditional agent/publisher dependency. It's a stamp of approval, a guarantee of quality, a statement saying that your book is not crap. Customer reviews, to a point, validate a book's worth. In general, low reviews indicate a lack of quality. High reviews, the opposite. This is not to say that every review should be taken as gospel. But given enough reviews and a trend should emerge.

I often read of the struggle authors undergo in finding an agent or publisher. There's really no rhyme or reason to it: the decision-making is subjective, and how often have you come across a published novel that, to be frank, sucks? I've begun to doubt the vindication that supposedly comes with having your work blessed by a "real" publisher, and let's face it: business models change. We might be witnessing the beginning of the end for traditional publishers here. If not that, certainly a sea change in the way we purchase and read books.

The Hall of the Wood has been available as a free pdf download for a long time now. As Konrath points out, Amazon's web site gets a lot more traffic than his own. That volume has a lot of potential to increase sales. Selling on the Kindle store seems like a real no-brainer to me.

How much does the Kindle 2 really cost?

iSuppli, which makes a business out of tearing down electronics products to see what's inside and then publishing their cost findings, released a report stating that Amazon's Kindle 2 costs $185.49 in components. The Kindle 2 retails for $359. That's a difference of $173.51.

Engadget shows the component breakdown:

I don't mind Amazon making a profit, but I'm still not sold enough on the Kindle to fork over $359 for it. James Martin of PC World did a cost-justification analysis comparing the purchase of a Kindle 2 and associated e-books vs. going the traditional route and it didn't work out so well:

"...my number crunching reveals that even a loyal reader of paperbacks would only have saved $58.82 by the end of the second year of Kindle 2 ownership."

That's a whopping savings of $60 after two years. In his analysis, he assumes 2 paperbacks per month; that's a lot of reading. I know I couldn't maintain that pace for 2 years.

He goes on to say:

"Amazon is sure to introduce a third-generation Kindle during that period, which you may decide you can't live without. There goes your $58.82 savings, and then some." 

Therein lies the crux of technology, my friends. There's always something bigger and better right around the corner. However, I'd love to own a Kindle 2, and maybe that "next gen" version will help drive down the price of the current model.

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Authors: Kindle 2 text-to-speech undermines audio books

image The Author's Guild has issued an E-Book Rights Alert, informing authors of the possible revenue loss to stem from Amazon's Kindle 2 'text-to-speech' feature because of that technology's potential to undermine the audio book market.

The Guild says this about the Kindle 2's text-to-speech feature:

[Text-to-speech] presents a significant challenge to the publishing industry. Audiobooks surpassed $1 billion in sales in 2007; e-book sales are just a small fraction of that. While the audio quality of the Kindle 2, judging from Amazon's promotional materials, is best described as serviceable, it's far better than the text-to-speech audio of just a few years ago. We expect this software to improve rapidly.

In short, Kindle 2's text-to-speech feature is just that: any text stored on the Kindle 2 can be read back to you. The voice has been described as a "not-quite-natural electronic voice", but as the Author's Guild states, this feature should improve over time. Just the fact that we have such technology is proof enough that it will improve. Text-to-speech years ago was horrible. Yet now you can listen to say, my blog posts, through a service like Odiogo.com in a voice that is fairly pleasant if not a bit inconsistent in its pacing. It's 'serviceable', no doubt.

Personally, I take issue with the Guild's stance on this issue. First of all, audio books are expensive. Amazon has clearly invented a way to bring that cost down effectively to zero. That's good for consumers, right? Second, we live in a free market society where innovation is generally considered a good thing. This particular innovation, again, is a win for consumers because instead of having to buy print and audio versions of a book, you can now buy the Kindle format and that's it. Read or listen (or both), it's up to you. Just think of it: now you can read as usual, but you also have the option of listening for those times when reading is not possible. It's the ultimate in maximizing your time while still partaking in one of civilized society's greatest forms of entertainment.

I understand the other side of the argument. The "lost revenue" side, that is. But much like Paul Bunyan had to bow out to make way for the chainsaw, maybe it's time for the publishing industry to get out of the way and let technology and innovation pave the way to a brighter reading and listening future for all.

I'll leave you with Neil Gaiman's thoughts on the subject:

When you buy a book, you're also buying the right to read it aloud, have it read to you by anyone, read it to your children on long car trips, record yourself reading it and send that to your girlfriend etc. This is the same kind of thing, only without the ability to do the voices properly, and no-one's going to confuse it with an audiobook. And that any authors' societies or publishers who are thinking of spending money on fighting a fundamentally pointless legal case would be much better off taking that money and advertising and promoting what audio books are and what's good about them with it.

 Now, what do you think?