First, I know those of you who follow here aren’t interested in how things work from the publishing side—except as it affects you as a reader. Recent changes in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program do affect readers, though, if only in an indirect way.

You see, the original KU program paid an author the same for a 10-page short story as for a 400-page novel. And the payment was high—very high—for the short story and low—very low—for the full length novel. Needless to say the system encouraged authors to put short stories into the program and discouraged them from putting in novels.

Some authors turned to writing shorts specifically to take advantage of the program. Unfortunately some scammed the program, scraping bits of articles here and there on the web and putting them up as shorts, and some broke novels into segments, called them serials, and put them up in parts.

Enter KU2. Amazon is now going to pay on borrows based on pages read. Yes, they have the technology to tell how much of a borrowed KU book is read. No one yet knows how much the per-page-read payment will be, but no matter how much it is, obviously a short story will pay a lot less than a novel. Amid howls of unhappiness and what one KBoards’ member, to my delight, called “speculation outrage,” it’s pretty clear the intention is to encourage novel writers to put their work into the program. A lot of indies pulled their novels out last year when they realized how badly a borrow paid compared to a sale.

With Rachel’s Eyes, of course, I was one of those who made out on a short story. The payment to me on a borrow was close to 4 times what I made on a sale. Now, if the KBoards’ math wizards are close to correct about the per-page-read payment, the story will earn half as much on a borrow as on a sale.

For Without Words, which has been in KU since its inception, I had every intention of leaving it in the program in spite of the low payment for borrows because I had a strong impression that most readers who borrowed it were different from those who usually buy my books. One of the things I like about KU as a subscriber myself is the ability to try new authors without ever getting stung when a book with a good sample turns to something I don’t want to finish about 2 pages after I bought it.

Sing My Name, which I put in KU to see how one of the older books would do, was working out very differently. Sing obviously was losing sales to borrows because the total of sales and borrows for its first month was about what I would have expected from sales alone before.

So before KU2 was announced, my plan was to yank Sing out of KU as soon as the required 90-day commitment ended and not put any of the other older books in the program. If my impression of where Without Words’ borrows were coming from ever changed, I planned to yank it too.

KU2 changes everything. A book has to be read 100% to pay maximum borrow, the author only gets paid the first time a page is read, and I’ve seen figures that say most books only average maybe 60% pages read overall. Don’t believe such a low average? Consider what someone like me who will abandon a book anywhere from the first page to the next-to-last page does to the average.

Even so, with the prices on my books, unless those KBoards’ math wizards are very wrong in their estimates of what the per-page-read payment on borrows will be, there will be little reason to distinguish between payment for a borrow or a sale on my novels.

So all this is a long-winded way to say I’ve already put Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold into KU, and as soon as I’m sure they’re down from other vendors’ sites (KU requires exclusivity with Amazon), I’m putting all my other books in the program. If the per-page-read payout rate is lower than speculated and changes the economics, I’ll be backpedaling as fast as I can, but  I don’t think the risk is high. No one will know for sure until August 15th.

To those who avoid Amazon and only read on Nook or Kobo, I’m really sorry, but as I’ve said before, my sales through those venues are very low. Without Words earned more in KU in its first two months than all the other books did through non-Amazon vendors in all of 2014. I hope those who like my stories and don’t have a Kindle like them enough to put a Kindle app on their phone or tablet.

And while I’m discussing changes…. In the past I’ve vowed not to publish anything shorter than a novel again until I had enough of them accumulated for a collection. A lot of that was because of all the “too short” reviews for Rachel’s Eyes. As my cousin Peter pointed out, though, I need to change that attitude. “Too short” is a lot better in a review than “too long.”

Some of the problem, however, is also price. If the novel Eyes is 116,000 words and is $3.99, what kind of price is reasonable for a 6,000-word short story like Rachel’s Eyes? Amazon won’t let me set a price lower than $.99. The way people get those free books up there involves more manipulation than I’m willing to go through, and that’s why RE was free on my website until I put it in KU and couldn’t do that any more because of the exclusivity requirement. What kind of price is reasonable for a novella like Luke’s Eyes at 32,000 words? Amazon wants things priced between $2.99 and $9.99 and provides a considerable financial incentive to do that.

KU solves that dilemma for me. I’m going to go ahead and publish Luke’s Eyes (probably sometime next month) and put it in KU. Those who would rather own it can buy, and those who would rather borrow it through KU as part of their $10 a month subscription can do that. And those of you who received it when you joined my mailing list and found it disappeared when deleted from your Kindle because Amazon doesn’t save to the Cloud anything not purchased from them won’t have to send me sad emails. 🙂



24 Responses to Changes

  1. Patricia Patterson says:

    I have never joined KU. I like owning my books. I am happy to pay the authors….but…..I have a max price of $7.99. I read every day so $9.99 is too high for an electronic book for a retired teacher. What about rereads? I have read all of your books multiple times. Will you get paid extra for that? I do NOT like the idea that my reading can be monitored after I buy the book. That feels creepy.

    I look forward to your next book. Thanks for sharing the ins and outs. Best wishes.

  2. You make great points, Gypsy. Probably most of us who are voracious readers have book budgets and have to be careful. There are half a dozen authors I’ll pay more than that $7.99 for, but I won’t pay even that much for a new-to-me author, which is why I do like KU. One thing about traditionally published books is most of them are overpriced and all of them can be had from the public library. 🙂

    In the past I have bought books I previously borrowed – from the public library in both paper and ebook format and from KU. But when an author/book is new to me, I have no idea if I’m going to want to reread. The odds are heavily against it. Out of all the books I read, only a few fall in that category. (Did you ever read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries? Sometimes I think of Wolfe’s rating system for books. Only a few earned a place on his shelves.)

    As to repeat payments, no. Just as I only get paid once when you buy no matter how many times you reread, I only get paid once when you borrow. One difference is if you buy, you could never read the book, and I’d have my percent of the sale. When you borrow under the KU system, I’d never see a penny unless you read at least some of the book.

    And creepy? Yes, it is. However, in this day and age unless we avoid all electronic devices, we live with creepy. Websites, phones, and ereaders all keep certain data on use. I saw something not long ago about how Oregon was going to start taxing people for road use by the mile. That means they’re going to keep track of how many miles a person drives somehow. If one is still driving a ’55 Chevy with no electronics, I bet they’re going to make people attach some kind of device.

    The figure about the average percent read for books being so low came from Kobo, so it isn’t just Amazon tracking ereaders.

    ~ Ellen

  3. June says:

    Phew!!!! I read all of the above. Can’t say I really understand it, but I am very glad you do!!!! I just want to buy your books. I am currently re-reading Eyes for the umpteenth time. When is your next book due please.

  4. Lena says:

    Ellen, I always enjoy your blogs about publishing. It helps me understand the “business-end” of the writing world. It’s just fascinating how Amazon/Kindle has changed writing/publishing in recent years.

    Like Gypsy, I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea that Amazon knows the exact page that I read to, but I suppose that is the new digital age. Like June, I prefer to buy your books, and I have re-read them several times because I love the characters and your beautiful writing style. I do wish there were a way you could get “credit” for those re-reads.

  5. Regan Walker says:

    Thanks for this post, Ellen. I have the same impressions about the new KU program. Now that I’ve gone “Indie,” I’ve put my self-published books in the KU program as I will my others coming in future, unless the payment to me for it isn’t worthwhile. I, too, have found B&N and Kobo to be a source of low sales so I’m leaving my self-published works on Amazon for now. Oh, and I did have one reviewer who complained my 20K word short story The Holly & The Thistle was too costly at 99¢. Sigh.

  6. DonnaG says:

    Dear Ellen, I am another voracious reader who has never joined KU. I love being able to go back and reread a series whenever a new book is released. For authors that I love I will pay up to $6 AUS but over that I am reluctant. I read up to 7 books a week and I love the really long ones. Don’t worry, your books will never be too long for me.

  7. Patricia Patterson says:

    Totally agree…your books cannot be too long.

  8. jwocky says:

    If a book is on KU can you still buy it from Kindle? I’m confused on the new system. Also, are you saying that you are going to write more short stories? Yay! But they’ll be 2.99 to buy? Boo (just kidding.) But I would buy your short stories at .99 as fast as you could put them out. Even at 1.99 I’d still go for them every so often. But they’d have to be longer for me not to feel cheated at 2.99. Just my 2 cents, though.
    But I have to say that you are on the short list of authors that I re-read, Thank you!

  9. Thanks, everyone. Don’t worry, you can buy my books if that’s what you prefer, but you’ll have to buy from Amazon.

    Now, June, when the next one is due and when I’ll actually get it out are two different things, and since an unfulfilled due date is not only useless but maddening, I’m not saying.

    Lena, the only way I know you could sort of pay me twice would be to first borrow the book and then buy it. Unless you have reason to subscribe to KU already, that seems a bit extreme but thanks for the thought. I have bought books I previously borrowed in the past when I wanted to reread, but to date it’s always been books I borrowed in paper from the local library. Since I live far enough out in the country that a trip to the library isn’t something that can be done instantly, buying the ebook version when I realized that a particular book was one I would reread is a convenience. With a Kindle and instant access, it’s not necessary. Once you’ve borrowed a book from KU you can always borrow it again. The only exception I know of is if the author takes it out of the program between your first borrow and the time you want it again. Then you’d have to buy to get it again.

    Donna, I just saw a discussion about the Australian and Canadian dollars both slipping against the U.S. and what it means and that I should check my prices, which I suppose I’ll get around to sometime or another. I don’t want non-U.S. readers hurt or discouraged. You might want to pay attention as to whether any of the books you read are available through KU for a month or two and see if the program would pay for you. It hasn’t been as good for romance as for mysteries and thrillers in the past. Maybe the new changes will turn that around. Of course if you read erotica, it’s been great for erotica shorts because of the old method of payment, and all categories are littered with the things. I wish one other change Amazon would make is somehow enforce people putting their books into appropriate categories.

    jwocky – Yes, you can buy any ebook that is published on Amazon. You can only borrow the subset of those that are entered in the KU program.

    Right now I have no ideas that would turn into short stories. If I did, they’d be like Rachel’s Eyes and be for sale for $.99. However, I do have several novellas like Luke’s Eyes outlined and am in fact working on another one right now. Luke’s Eyes is about one-third the length of one of my novels, and yes, I plan to price these novellas at $2.99 and also put them in KU where subscribers will be able to borrow them and read them for free. I also plan to send download links for them to my mailing list before publishing them.


  10. Regan – I don’t get a lot of complaints about price, but I do see some in reviews. Believe it or not, there’s one about Luke’s Eyes, which has never been for sale and has been free to those on my mailing list. It was another case of “speculation outrage.” After all I might try to sell the thing for too high a price sometime in the future. And I guess that speculation was right. That’s what I’m going to do. 🙂

    There are bunches of threads at KBoards about how “going wide” is the solution to all problems and takes away dependence on Amazon. You just have to give it time, they say. Well, my books have been wide for years now, and the simple fact is Without Words earned more in a couple of months in KU than all the other books did in all of 2014 “wide” at the non-Amazon vendors. I sell more paperbacks than books at any one non-Amazon vendor.

    If you have a series, if you price the first one free, if you put out 4 to 6 short books in your series a year, if you run a BookBub ad regularly, if…. Well, if you do a whole lot of things I don’t do and am not going to do, the other vendors may be wonderful. For me they’re not, and you and I aren’t the only ones.


  11. Regan Walker says:

    Thanks, Ellen. I like writing the long ones, too. I only did a few novellas at the insistence of my publisher (when I had a publisher). I love the freedom of making my own choices.

  12. maria says:

    Scrolling though posts on Kboards I clicked on Eyes of Silver and you yanked me into the story before I realized the genre, price, or the damage to my plan to write this afternoon, LOL. Long story short, I bought your novel …

  13. Hey, Maria, thanks for letting me know. KBoards may get snarky sometimes – or downright hysterical as over the KU changes recently – but generally it’s a great place, isn’t it? ~Ellen

  14. DonnaG says:

    Hi Ellen, Yes the AUS dollar does bounce around against the US$, but I just wait a few days and it is okay again. Your books haven’t been too dear for me yet. Love your work.

  15. Sharon says:

    Ellen, I buy all your books without even looking at price. I never realized that it would help to get the KU first then buy them. I’ll start getting the KU first, then buy.

  16. Anonymous says:

    For you I will break my $7.99 rule. Your books are priceless !!

  17. Sharon – As I said above, that strikes me as a bit extreme as a way to get me an extra couple of dollars from one reader, although I appreciate the thought. Where the KU borrow would be a good idea, I think, even for readers who like my books, is for those readers who like some of my books a lot but don’t feel that way about others. And since I see reviews from readers who feel that way, I know they’re out there.


  18. Anon – Thanks! But unless book prices change pretty drastically in the future, you don’t have to worry about prices anywhere near $7.99.


  19. Anonymous says:

    Dear Ms O’Connell, I don’t care what your books cost! Your storytelling in Sing My Name was sublime to use but one superlative. Having read my way through recommended ‘Top 100s in Romance’ I would like to say that that particular novel ‘Sing’ is in my ‘Top 10’ alongside other remarkable books like Flowers From the Storm by L Kinsale. I can’t wait for your next novel to come out, – I regularly check on your Amazon site. Have just listed myself for updates today.

    I am not a fan of the short story. I can remember reading one in the last decade but had bought it by mistake.

    I do think Amazon needs to change how reviews are able to be made, but I’m sure that’s an incredible contentious issue and probably very hotly debated.

    Kind regards,


  20. I’m glad you enjoyed Sing so much, JoT, and thanks for letting me know. I’ve been revisiting some of my older books lately updating the Other Books by the Author page and a few other things. Rereading a little of Sing, it struck me all over again what a charmer Matt Slade is.

    When I have Addie Canaday say Matt is the most endearing rascal who ever crossed her path, she’s expressing my opinion.


  21. Barbara Wadman says:

    Ellen, I was so smart. When ever you posted a short story on your site I printed it out!! Now I do not have to worry if the story “goes away”. I do thank you for the additional stories from the Eyes,Bad Man and Sing books. I have a special “Ellen O’Connell Notebook” where I keep the short stories. And as another fan wrote, one of my favorite stories was “Sing My Name”. Some time ago I wrote to you and asked when we would get Beau’s story. Your replied and said you planned to write Roddy’s story first. Surprise! Don’t worry, I will buy the book even if it is not about Beau. Just to let you know that I am one of those people who have bought some of your Kindle books and then bought the printed version. The reason? The printed version was not available yet and I couldn’t wait! I have sent copies of your books to friends as gifts for birthdays, etc. and have been thanked many times for bringing you to their attention. Waiting eagerly for your next book. Barbara

  22. That was smart, Barbara. I get a few sad emails now and then from readers who have deleted Luke’s Eyes from their Kindle and then can’t find it again when they want to. Amazon doesn’t store anything sideloaded onto their devices in the Cloud, so if you delete something like that, poof, it’s gone.

    Needless to say, I love readers who buy both the ebook and the printed edition. I’d love to have more of you.:-) I’m the other way, though, I haven’t purchased a paper book since I got my Kindle (2008?). A couple of years ago, I went through my house ruthlessly and disposed of every book except the ones I know I’ll reread. So now instead of having piles of books all over, I have 3 bookcases that actually stay organized and sort of neat.

    The paper books I kept will probably stay with me. Every once in a while I have an urge to reread something and find myself wishing I had the ebook instead, but I’m too cheap to buy an ebook if the printed version is on my shelf. The one time I did that was for Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar and that was because my paperback was falling apart. It had had an elastic band around it for quite a while already, so replacing it didn’t seem self-indulgent.


  23. Margarett says:

    Rottweiler Rescue is begging for a sequel. Please tell me you are considering it. If you tell me you have a layout and a half written book I’ll be static. Love Robo! And I want to read his story. How he came to be abandoned and shot by the side of the road. I know there are thousands of abandoned dogs all over our cities who no one knows where they came from but let’s hope Robo gets to close that chapter of his life and continue working towards his happy ending.
    Love all your other books too!

  24. Barbara Wadman says:

    Read your comment where you talked about Josephine Tey’s book “Brat Farrar”. Ellen, I loved that book and have reread it many times. The book was published years and years ago but it just shows you a great story lasts forever.

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