Sunday, 21 October 2012

eBook prices

A little while ago I read a letter in Web User complaining about the prices of books at Amazon and that Amazon was making a huge profit because of this. The complainant said they could not afford to buy books for their Kindle because of these inflated prices. I felt I had to reply in defence of Amazon. Here's my reply which was printed in the 18th October 2012 issue of Web User:

Web User Magazine
    In issue 301 a reader wrote that they were disgusted by Kindle book prices. I have to say, as an author, that is NOT Amazon's fault! With one exception Amazon lets the author or publisher set the price of an ebook. The exception being that they will not allow an author to set a book price of less than $0.99 which in the UK means a price of £0.77 on average.
First there are two different types of publisher: The independent (Indie) author and the conventional publishing industry who make their books available as ebooks. It's the latter who keep their prices high and on occasion you'll find their ebooks more expensive than printed books due to discounting by the retailer. It's in their interest to do so if they want to keep their printing industry alive.
    The Indie authors again fall into two groups: Successful authors with established, best selling printed books and new authors with a limited offering of printed books (or none at all). A proven best selling author can make more money from selling ebooks than from printed books. They keep their prices high but less than the cost of a printed book. The newish indie author has to get their name recognised and climb up the publishing ladder. There are millions of them competing for your money and prices tend to be low.
    To keep indie authors from cutting their own throats, and to allow Amazon to make money, Amazon will not allow an indie author to set a price of less that $0.99. They pay a royalty of 35% on that which on a $0.99 book amounts to $0.35 (about 21p). If the author sets their book price at $2.99 to $9.99 then Amazon offer a royalty of 70% after deducting a delivery charge which covers 3G delivery. On an 80,000 word $2.99 book with a $0.08 delivery charge that means a royalty of $2.04 (£1.26). In the UK that book would cost £1.90 and would include 3% Luxembourg VAT (Note - Going up to 20% in Jan 2015). You would have to pay delivery on top since it would not qualify for free delivery.
    As to the costs of producing an ebook - if you go it alone, the cost can be zero. If you can't do all of the steps yourself you may need to pay for line editing ($0.02 per word), ebook formatting ($80-$150), cover design ($40-$200). Relatively few authors have all the necessary skills and as a result you'll see some poor quality ebooks from authors who can't afford to pay the professional. Conventional printing houses have to pay for a professional to do these tasks. If they cut corners (as some do) - complain loudly!
    Amazon are NOT the only source of ebooks though. You can download ebooks in Kindle format from SmashwordsProject GutenbergAutharium and others. Project Gutenberg books are out of copyright and free. Smashwords allows the author to give away a book free. Authors often give away the first book in a series to encourage the reader to invest in the rest and hopefully to get Amazon to 'price match'.

Free Books

Get it at Amazon
Now what I didn't cover in my response was just why an author, who normally wants to make money from their work, would give away some of their books? How can that possibly make them money? The Amazon 'Select' program allows authors to give away a book free for just five days every 90 days. The author hopes it might get their name known a little and if the reader enjoys the book, they might write a review or better still, recommend it to their friends, which will help the author sell more books when the 'Free' offer no longer applies. To join the Select program the author must agree to give Amazon the exclusive rights to sell the ebook for 90 days.

Does this actually work? Well it does and it doesn't. Thousands of authors have added books to the program and millions of books have been given away. The number of reviews written is tiny compared with that number though. Many Kindle readers are still not aware of the free books available because Amazon do not publicise where they are on the site and leave it up to the author to do this. The original letter writer to Web User obviously was not aware of the free books available.

Free books for the reader

If you are a reader you can find free books by searching for 'free ebooks' on the kindle page or you can follow one of these links:
US/Canada ( -
UK -
Navigate to the genre you want at the left of the page and select 'Top 100 Free' at the top.

Free books and the author

If you are an author, it's up to you to promote your free ebook. It will appear as Free on the books page/s and you can then make the link known in your publicity. Do nothing and you are unlikely to see a result from your free offer. A good page, telling how to publicise your free promotion was written by   at

Kindle Select Program

So when does the Kindle Select program work for authors?

  • It works when you have more than one book available for readers to buy
  • It works when the book made free is the first book of a series
  • It works if you heavily promote the free offer in advance, during the promotion and after the promotion
  • It works when your free book contains links to the other books
  • It works when you leave a message to readers at the end of your book inviting them to leave a review at Amazon
  • It works if you don't mind restricting your book to Amazon sales outlets

Alternatives to Kindle Select

Are there alternatives to Kindle Select? Indeed there are. Smashwords allows an author to set their book price as free on a temporary or on a permanent basis. They distribute books to other sites, making them available at iTunes (iBooks), and to Nook, Kobo and other readers. A free book at Smashwords will be made free at these other sites also. Smashwords also allows you to set a price for your book but to give away codes which make the book free to those with the code. Great for prizes, promotions and free review copies. Smashwords isn't the only alternative distributor. Try also. Publishing your book to Smashwords and making it free is a great idea for the first book in a series. Sooner or later Amazon will find out about this lower price and will 'price match' the Amazon copy. It may take months for this to occur though. My co-author and I went through this process months ago with our A Vested Interest series. Book 1 was made free at Smashwords. After about two months Amazon price matched it at  It took more than five months for it to be made it free at though, so for a while we had to set it at 77p there (the minimum allowed). Sales of the rest of the books in the series took an immediate jump once price matched. For a while the reverse was true for where there appeared to be some resentment that the first book wasn't free! (If you live in the UK, it's free now and you can also get A Vested Interest free from a number of sources listed here)

32 cent (20p) Books

One last bit of information. In late 2012 a court case has meant that Amazon can now discount ebooks as special offers. This is good news for readers, who can buy books for as little as 20p (32¢). It's good news for the author too since they get the same royalty as usual and not just a percentage of the discounted price.

How to find them at Amazon? Just type into's search bar '20p kindle books' and scan through the list of books found. If you live in the US and find a book you want then change the in the address bar to .com and you should find what you want.

Found a book that's free in the US but not in the UK?

Try looking the book up at Smashwords. Often a book has been made free worldwide but Amazon have not yet price matched it. If you find it free or at a lower price - tell about it!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

How long should a book chapter be?

Who cares?

Before I started writing professionally I really didn't care how long a chapter should be. For non fiction, the answer was simple - a chapter should cover a topic completely. Imagine a world guide to travelling where you visit fifty countries. You would expect each country would have it's own chapter. That seems pretty logical to me.

Fiction is entirely different though. What makes up a chapter? How long should it be? Does the length matter? The more I looked into it, the more I realised that it may be important.

Consider how and when people read.

In the BBC sitcom 'My Family' Ben Harper (Robert Lindsay)
 read Tom  Clancy books in bed, appearing to take a year
to finish each book.

  • Some sit down for an extended period of time and read a book all in one sitting because they are totally engrossed by it. (Please - Powers that be, send me more readers like that!)
  • Some read in bed before they go to sleep
  • Some read in those quiet times of the day
  • Some snatch a few minutes at various times while they are busy
  • Some read to relax and wind down
  • Some read paper books
  • Some read ebooks on an e-reader or their phone
  • Some read ebooks on a computer
Next consider how fast they read. It seems an average reader, reading fiction has a reading speed of about 200-240 words per minute or a little less than a page. This reading speed drops when reading non-fiction, where comprehension and retention is more important. It also drops when reading on a computer screen - e-readers don't appear to suffer from this effect.

If you want to measure your reading speed and comprehension I found a page at http:// which allows you to test your reading speed.

So let's take the scenario of a reader reading a paper novel in a break at work.
  • They have perhaps 10 minutes
  • They read at 200 words per minute
  • It's not vital that they remember everything
  • They don't have a bookmark with them
  • They don't want to spend five minutes finding their place
Under such a situation you need to keep a chapter to 2,000 words or about  eight pages. Less is probably better.

Ebooks have changed the game. They remember your place in a book so there is no searching for your place. There is still that "I'll just finish this chapter," effect though. A good author needs to finish the chapter with a 'hook' to make sure the reader comes back and reads the next one rather than put the book down and forget it.

...and that means

Keep your chapters short - maybe five pages.
Try to finish each chapter with enough of a cliffhanger to make your reader want to continue.

Now the question is am I right? Do you think shorter chapters are better? We've certainly tried to do this in the later books of the A Vested Interest series.