Stuff I Want to Know

Okay, this would be a very long list if I didn’t give it some focus. For instance, I want to know stuff as banal as why in the movie LOOPER they didn’t just send those people back in time about a mile up above those corn fields. Be simpler and scarier. But I’m going to stick with stuff I would love to know from Amazon, since they are sitting on a pile of data that would help me reach more readers. Many of these things go for all my digital distributors, but I’m going to focus on Amazon because some of them are Kindle Worlds and Createspace related.

1) I would love to know how many readers borrow a book and then go on to buy a copy of the same book. I’ve done this before, and I tend to doubt my uniqueness. For Prime members especially, who only get one borrow a month, do they ever love an ebook so much that they decide to own a copy for good?

The reason I ask is because authors tend to view a borrow as a lost sale. If you could show me how many duplicate transactions there were like this, it would be super useful in understanding reading and purchasing habits.

2) I would love to know how far into my books readers get. Do they finish the work? Do most who drop out do so around the same chapter? What about from those who return the ebook? When I return a physical product to Amazon, I am asked to select a reason. Does that information get passed along to the supplier? If so, do the same for us. If you hate sharing even anonymous data without permission, allow the reader to adjust a slider when they leave a review to show how much they read. If they don’t adjust it, we see nothing and they share nothing. I think readers who complete works would love to participate in this.

3) I want to get to know my collector readers, the people who love a signed physical copy of an ebook they really enjoyed. I’m one of these people. After I read Max Berry’s LEXICON, I wanted a hardback, and I wanted it signed. I just loved the book that much. For years, I hauled signed books to the post office by the carload to send off to readers. The logistics were a nightmare. There are two awesome ways you could tap into the signed book market, and I’d love to know if either are feasible:

A) Let me digitally sign a page with a unique inscription. Ingest this page into the Createspace .PDF, print a copy and ship it to the reader. Easy-peasy.


B) Use your 3rd party seller infrastructure to handle orders of signed books. I get the order, sign the book, print the label, and have UPS pick the package up at my door.

Either way, the process for the reader is simple. If the author is with Createspace and has opted in, any reader who leaves a high rating on an ebook is asked: “Hey, since you like this, you might be interested in hearing that this author provides signed copies. You can get one for yourself or a gift for a friend.” I want to know why this isn’t possible.

4) Why can’t I see my lifetime sales anywhere on my dashboard? This one shouldn’t be hard. You do it on the ACX homepage. Give me total sales across all titles and for each individual title.

5) Related to the above, why not include print and audio sales as well? Are you all working on consolidating these three dashboards? The only thing comforting to me about how different the three interfaces look is that I assume the ACX royalty drop can’t have anything to do with future KDP decisions since it appears from the UX at each site that the people from these three companies have never actually met in person. You should get them all in a room together. Just don’t bring royalties up.

6) Still related to #4 (like a distant cousin by marriage), I would love to know why we don’t have any sort of gamification of writing implemented yet? Writers should receive little congratulatory badges for hitting reasonable sales milestones. I’m talking 10 sales, 50 sales, 100 sales across all titles. And readers should get badges for the number of ebooks they finish. Numerous studies have shown that gamification increases participation. Writers need all the boosts they can get. A few of the effects I think a program like this will have:

A) Authors will be encouraged to write more with occasional reminders that people are, in fact, reading their works.


B) Aspiring authors will be encouraged to finish their first work if they see others sharing these milestones on social media. How many talented authors sit on the fence because they don’t think anyone will read what they write?


C) Speaking of sharing: It is far easier for authors to share someone else’s praise rather than brag on their own. Nobody loves a braggart, but most people understand the joy of passing along surprise milestones. And every badge shared would not only be advertising for self-publishing, but a reminder that many people are reaching readers (and a reminder that your cousin Ismarelda is in fact a published author, and maybe you should check her stuff out).

All I ask is that you take caution in making this a celebratory announcement and nothing like: “Welcome to the 1,000 – Sellers Club.” No clubs. No in-grouping and out-grouping. Just a reminder of a milestone along the way to more milestones.

7) I want to know why you all haven’t come out and explained that the 70% cut we make on ebooks priced in a certain range aren’t really royalties. (See #5 of this list for an example of improper usage of the term). When they’re called royalties, the 70% seems exceedingly generous. Because publishers pay a lot less. But publishers provide other services, like editing and cover art. We are handing you a finished product. As a distribution fee, you taking 30% (plus more for delivery fees) sounds less crazy-generous. It seems downright reasonable, in fact. Or even an area where you all could afford to give a little more.

Oh. Never mind. Just answered my question. I’d keep calling them royalties as well. You know, so it looks uber-awesome of you. So here’s a modified question: Why don’t you all come out and assure KDP authors that the 70% cut to us will never decrease. Ever. That it could only go up in the future. You would calm a lot of jittery nerves.

8) Why the 70% price cut-off? In a recent announcement about ebook prices, you all admitted that there are occasions when ebooks deserve to be priced higher than $9.99. I agree. I’d love to package my entire Silo Series trilogy together and sell it for $12.99. That would be an amazing savings to the reader, a great value to your customers. But you all treat every ebook product the exact same, which means my royalty rate would drop from 70% to 35%. That’s not good. I’d love to know why you all can’t make exceptions for certain products. In fact, indies are unlikely to EVER price their ebooks above $9.99, so why not drop the KDP price ceiling altogether. I promise you we’ll be more reasonable than other business partners you work with.

9) Related to the above, what about offering everything published by a particular author at great discount? This could be a dynamically generated package, so whatever is available at that moment is included. I’d sign up in a heartbeat if it meant a reader who enjoyed one of my books could “Complete their Library” with a single click. I’d give them 50% off the retail of every ebook I’ve published if they want to grab them all. iTunes does this with individual tracks. You can “complete the album” with a click. Why can’t we do this? I’d love to know.

10) Why don’t you all create a newsletter system for authors? Do you know how much MailChimp is making from writers right now? I know you obsess about customer experience, and you don’t want them getting spammed by desperate writers, so let them opt in. Let them choose the newsletter digest they want by selecting their favorite authors. You might launch the program by suggesting a list of authors of recent books they’ve purchased or reviewed. They click the boxes, and once a month, they get a feed from the writers who have something to share. This seems like a no-brainer to me. Include the ability to embed video messages and send gift ebooks or samples straight to their devices. There is so much you could do with this system. You could even charge authors for the service once their lists get over a certain number, the way MailChimp does. We’d happily pay.

11) Related to the above, how about something to compete with BookBub? You’ve got the emails. If you’re worried about being spammy, let your customers opt-in. We only want to reach the readers who are looking for us, anyway. Again, we would pay for the service. I bet you could beat BookBub both on price and efficacy. Why don’t you do this? I’d love to know.

12) Why can’t you help us hook up with cover artists, editors, ebook formatters, and beta readers? In fact, all four categories should have their own metadata entries. I should be able to include the cover artist so authors can get in touch with people whose works they enjoy. It would be great if you had a DeviantArt or Pinterest type landing page for authors to browse. And the same for discovering editors, where they can show off the books they’ve worked on and their rates and availability. This totally fits your commitment to customer service, because it’ll ensure higher quality products for sale.

You could even allow us to do a revenue share with freelancers. ACX does this (you should meet those people. If they start talking about royalties, tell them to shut up). What if we put a cap on the fee? So the cover artist earns 5% of every book sale until they hit $500, or some agreed-upon price. Maybe the one-time guarantee fee is higher, and the royalty share number is lower.

It’d be cool for beta readers to get a shout-out in metadata as well. Maybe you gamify this a little. When a beta reader has participated in books that aggregate a certain sales milestone, they get an Amazon gift card. Let’s figure out a way to thank and reward those who help make great ebooks happen. It should lead to even more great ebooks.

13) I got more, but you’re probably exhausted from scribbling down the answers to the above, so I’ll hold off until I hear from you.

173 responses to “Stuff I Want to Know”

  1. 13) Why has Amazon not hired Hugh Howey as a consultant for how they run their Kindle store in ways which would make the experience even better for readers and authors alike? Great ideas in there, Hugh.

    1. They don’t have to hire me. I give my dumb ideas away for free. :)

    2. Matthew McKinley Avatar
      Matthew McKinley

      Because then Hugh would be too busy to write books. UNACCEPTABLE!

  2. One thing I don’t want Amazon (and you as a consequence) to know :how far (if any) I’m reading, and what. Because I don’t know where the data will end up. Already too much data about me and what I like…

    1. That’s why I suggest allowing the reader to opt-in.

      1. Hugh,

        Please be aware those of us who download and sideload files, and don’t read on Kindles (we convert), are invisible to these sorts of statistical pulls post actual sale.

        I actually have to jump thru hoops for Kindle Unlimited to artificially show my reading past 10% (so the author will benefit) by pseudo-reading it on Kindle for PC so that something feeds back to Amazon before I “remove” it from my borrowed list.

        1. Great point. But what device do you use that the Kindle App isn’t a simpler solution for reading? Is it an epub-only device?

          1. I use EPUB and eRreaders. Two reasons:

            1) eReaders vs non-dedicated devices: battery life, convenience/weight, much better screens for reading (not light sensitive). So, the world of apps on phones/tablets is irrelevant for my reading habits.

            2) Proprietary formats. I’m agin’ ’em. EPUB would have to be wretchedly served for me to embrace a proprietary standard.

            And then, longer term… Longevity. I convert all my non-EPUB books to EPUB and maintain them (w/our DRM) and their metadata using Calibre. I believe in standardized tools, backupable files, etc. I plan to still be reading these files in some form in 20 years.

    2. If you use the Kindle or any of the Kindle apps… they already know that.

  3. I know you want to know these answers from Amazon, but I don’t think that the first question could be answered well by Amazon. For example, if I borrow a book from the library and then want to buy it from Amazon or an Indie Bookstore, how will anyone know I borrowed it first? (Just anecdotally, I and other bloggers do that a lot, especially if a book is going to be part of a series.) Also, after borrowing a book by a particular author, and then finding out you love that author’s writing, you may buy the *next* book by that author. So it may look like you “lost” a sale with the first book, but you actually have created sales, so to speak, for later books, analogous to potential energy. (I would add to this the potential sales generated by the increased word-of-mouth spread from borrowed books.)

    I have also seen analyses of how far readers go into a book by where in the book they underline, but again, I think such statistics are deceptive. I know that for me, as an example, I underline a lot in the beginning just to make names and dates and places handy. After that, I hardly underline at all. But I almost always finish a book – it has no meaning (at least in my case) that the only underlines are in the beginning.

    And a final point, regarding sales, particularly of your books. You’ve got your books in all sorts of forms on Amazon. You can get them in pieces or as a whole. So if, say, Silo is something or other in sales ranking, do they add in those books sold in shifts? (sort of a double entendre there, if not a very good one) I think that also should be taken into consideration, along with the format differences.

    1. Totally. They could only offer data on the books borrowed on Amazon (or downloaded for free on special promotions), and then later purchased on Amazon. I think this happens for a small percentage of our Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited borrows. Maybe it’s only 2%. If so, it would be nice to know.

      1. Hugh, You are(?) a great writer, but lack real business experience, in some areas. KU, and “free books” are *advertising.* When (if?) you go fishing, you put _bait_ in the water, not just a bare hook. KU/free books are *bait* to “lure* the reader into reading something you wrote. If they like it, they buy more. I’m reading the second book in a series (chronology uncertain), and it’s “*D–N you Pam Uphoff. Now, I want all the rest of the books in that series.” At least one was a “free book,” but results in prying scarce money out of my pocket, to get all the others (my wish list is probably close to $2K.).
        As I put it on FB yesterday, “Advertising costs you money, to get buyers. KU _pays_ you to get new buyers.”
        I fully expect that as time goes on, Amazon will add many of your ideas. _It makes money for them_. One idea I would as, is as follows. I’m getting ready to publish (dead tree and e-book) a children’s/YA book related to Christmas. In Sept. I am going to do a fundraiser, to put *ten free copies* in _*every*_ Children’s Hospital in the Continental US., at my cost. Due to, as I read them, Amazon’s ToS, I have to wait until the fundraiser is _over_ before I can offer them there. If instead, I could say. “Buy a 10 pack (at author cost) and designate the hospital to get them, from this list (or buy a copy and donate it, until the limit per hospital is reached), it would benefit *everyone.* Think of the possibilities for military hospitals, etc., for authors willing to forgo the royalties, for charity.
        Yes, I’ll get some publicity, but if even _one_ child thinks. “Maybe the one who comes here, will really be a Santa Claus?” If even one does, the nearly $4k in royalties I give up, will be worth it (four months total income for me). I’m waiting for a response, but until I get one, “publication date” will be Oct. 4, 2014, or the end of the fundraiser (whichever comes first). _Maybe_, they’ll let me do “pre-orders,” but I won’t hold my breath.

  4. I didn’t know Kindle readers don’t get badges. Kobo readers do, especially for the first few books. I don’t know if they give milestone badges to writers, though.

    1. Writers don’t get badges anywhere.

      1. Badges? … nah, too easy…

        1. Blazing Saddles high five! (And made my husband very happy that I caught this reference so quickly.)

  5. 3rd is a gamechanger.

    My idea: multi-author packages. Three authors agree, they click a special button within the KDP, they adjust a special slider (Humble Bundle-like) to divide the royalties and, let’s say, “Super Ultra Bundle of Wool + Pennsylvania + Eleanor” is available for 9,99$.

    1. Love this idea. I may add it to my next list (with attribution, of course. So they know who to blame).

      1. I’ll better get off the grid then:-)

        One of the most prominent features of self-publishing scene is that authors know each other, inspire each other and work each other. There’s only one piece missing: easy and effective group publishing.

        1. Agreed. I’ve bugged the hell out of the KDP team for an easy way to split royalties. Not just for boxsets but for anthologies as well. It would be a massive feature.

          More coming in the next round.

          1. While you’re at it, how about more than 10 authors in the author attributions? I know you can work around it, but it’s not keeping up with the many, many collaborative ways authors are working together.

          2. Oh, if they could only do that for anthologies life would get SOOO much simpler! I love the anthologies, but at some point, you have to say no so you can work on books that will earn. I’d certainly do more of them if there was a way to split the royalties.

            Having royalties go to charity is great and was a nice solution for one of them. But being able to profit would be good, too.

          3. What do they say about split royalties? From Amazon’s perspective, I would be concerned with rights and taxes. But it’s also something that any responsible supplier should be able to handle himself. It’s another one of those things that businesses do everyday without help from their customers.

      2. The OneBookShelf sites (Drive Thru Fiction, Drive Thru RPG, Wargame Vault, etc) already do this. You can set up a bundle with a password, then give the password to other publishers so that they can add their titles.

        When adding a title, you set the discounted price – the bundle price is the total of all the discounted prices. When a bundle sells, each publisher gets royalties based on the price they set for their title(s).

    2. Wow, that idea is so good I hope an Amazon rep is reading this.

    1. I know, right? It’s like they don’t want us to know. My only guess as to why they would make this difficult is that Amazon hates sharing data, period. But they know we love sharing data. So if they give it to us, it’ll just make it easier for us to share it with each other and the world.

      So they provide the things we legally ought to have (for determining pay), but they leave out anything they don’t want others knowing (like lifetime sales).

      Maybe they worry about the negative gamification effect this will have on authors who have been self-publishing for five years, have eight titles out, and have “only” sold 382 books? Do they worry those authors will line up at to bash self-publishing? This is the only sort of reasoning I can suss out for the oversight. It seems deliberate. I think people who get dour over “mere” dozens or hundreds of sales don’t appreciate how extraordinary it is to sell a single book.

      1. On single-digit lifetime sales: Whenever I run across someone who doesn’t know what to do with the “terrible book” they’ve written (why do we put our work down so much?) I tell them this: 99% of the people with an idea for a book never write it down. Of the people who jot a note, 99% of them never draft a first page. Of the people who do, 99% don’t ever write past the second or third chapter. Of those who make it past that, 99% never make it to the end. Even if you only write, publish and sell one copy of a wretched novella to your Mom (or to yourself under an assumed name so that it looks like someone else bought it), you’ve reached a very exclusive milestone. I think that is badge-worthy for sure.

        1. Denise, I admire your point of view.

        2. Cool. I’ve passed a milestone, except I didn’t sell it, just posted to fanfic site.

      2. My only guess as to why they would make this difficult is that Amazon hates sharing data, period.

        I’d say it is much more likely they have higher priority tasks. Authors proposed lots of ideas why Amazon didn’t update the dashboard. Then they did.

        Authors proposed lots of ideas why Amazon didn’t give an Excel daily sales list. Then they did.

        Authors proposed lots of ideas why Amazon didn’t do pre-orders. Then they did.

        I suspect there are a zillion things Amazon has on their list of programming enhancements. We don’t know what is on the list.

      3. Do these authors not have Excel or Open Office? I keep track of all my sales in spreadsheets, so I know my totals sold.

        I haven’t yet reached four digits in sales, so it’s probably a bit easier for me than for someone like you, Hugh.

        Of course, it would be easier to have those numbers in my dashboard on Amazon, and it isn’t clear to me why we don’t.

        1. I suspect the Generate Report button at the bottom of the KDP dashboard might help some folks. It can be used in Excel, or used as input to another program.

  6. I would love to know where my purchases are coming from. I’m sure Amazon tracks the referrer links. Do people come to my product pages through my blog, Twitter, a promotion I’m running, an also-bought from another book?

    As for LOOPER, there are so many questions that will never be answered. :-(

    1. I would love to know where my purchases are coming from. I’m sure Amazon tracks the referrer links. Do people come to my product pages through my blog, Twitter, a promotion I’m running, an also-bought from another book?

      That would be near the top of my list, too.

      1. Mine as well. Some basic analytics on referral traffic and conversion would be great. Keywords? Even better.

    2. Alexes Razevich Avatar

      H. S. Stone–I would love to know this as well.

  7. I so desperately want #2 it’s crazy. It drives me nuts to know that Amazon knows exactly how far folks read, but I never will. And as you say, I’d love to know if the majority of people read to X point and stop and see if I can fix that!

    And #6 would be great. I’d love to hit a sales milestone and get a badge. Awesome ideas, Hugh!

  8. Caution: ‘finishing the book’ is NOT a measure of whether the reader finished the book.


    Well, if I really don’t like something, I go immediately to the last 2 or 3 chapters, read to the end to CONFIRM I don’t like the book, and then throw it against the wall. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this.

    Very rarely, I will then go back and read more.

    And in non-fiction, especially books bought for a single purpose – to read the chapter on X – it may seem I didn’t finish it, when, in fact, I’m quite satisfied. Again, I’m not unique.

    I don’t know what percentage of readers do this, but I do it a lot. So it may mess up the statistics.

    1. Maybe they could add a sensor to let me know how many Kindles I’ve caused to be hurled against a wall!

      1. All of them. You’re a powerful gravity well that only attracts kindles.

  9. Love it, love it. #4 would be fabulous, considering how much time I burned yesterday going through my monthly reports for the last three years. Yes. If they can cull so much data for that, why not total sales per book? Maybe you’ll have better luck getting them to listen. And a BookBub competitor would be nice.

  10. One measure of my ideas’ lack of perceived worth is that no digital distributor has put me on retainer to send lists like this their way first. :)

  11. Regarding #3, you can do that already. Sign up to sell books on Amazon as a third party seller. List a quantity of books as New/Signed (you can list it twice–once under New and once under Collectible if you want–just put a quantity of 1000 or so, which will mean you don’t have to update it as often. Under Description, you can put: This Brand New SIGNED copy comes directly from the author. If you’d like an inscription whether it’s for yourself or as a gift for someone else, just let me know. Thanks for reading! (or something along those lines–some people will order it directly because they know it means more money for the author, too).

    On your Amazon seller page, you can print the postage–USPS, if memory serves, but they may have a UPS option, and I believe they even have an option you can click to have the postman pick up the books at your house. If they don’t, you can arrange a pickup on the USPS site. I had a daily pickup at my warehouse when I was a big time Amazon/eBay seller, so we just had everything ready to go in postal bins (the post office supplied) or bags (which they also supplied). We simply kept first class, media mail and priority mail in separate bags/bins.

    I’ve been meaning to do this myself, actually. Maybe I’ll set that up today.

    1. Yep! That’s what I was going to write.

      All great ideas, Hugh!

    2. Wow, that’s brilliant! Thanks for taking the time to write it out! As of right now, I don’t sell them because I really don’t want to mess with sales tax, which is a huge pain.

      Now I just give them as prizes and such, or in person (on the rare occasions that happens). If Amazon had a system where I didn’t have to mess with sales tax, that would be better. :)

  12. #12 please. Help me organize my life. I hate that I have a folder with 36 links to cover designers. I’m sure there are many more that I don’t have. You mentioned Reedsy a while back attempting to consolidate all this. Hopefully it works out.

    Slightly off topic but I bought Lexicon a year ago and thought it was one of best novels I had read in years. I’ve had Max Barry’s other eBooks in my wishlist but can’t pull the trigger on 9.99, 9.99, and 11.84(?). I would love to read some of his early work but publishers strict adherence to the 9.99 price point just keeps me away. Just two dollars less and I probably purchase them all.

    1. They finally lowered the Kindle ebook price to $7.99. Of course, they do this after all the promotional energy is gone and once the paperback has come out. Publishers are absolutely destroying authors’ chances of gaining readership and jump-starting their careers with this pricing philosophy. They’ll figure it out eventually, but it won’t help those who debuted during this window in the meantime.

      1. Everything traditional publishing does follows pretty basic principles for maximizing their share of the supply-demand surplus (the region below the demand curve and above the supply curve). This is mostly great for monetizing bestsellers. It is a terrible system for getting discovered as a non-bestseller.

  13. I’d love for Amazon to notify readers of one book in series that the next book has been published. That would be huge for serial writers.

    1. Alexes Razevich Avatar

      Matt Heppe — YES!!!! What a difference this would make in sales. Especially for authors like me who have a bit of a time span between books.

    2. As a reader I’d really like this feature. I have a list of authors whose series I am following, and every once in a while I have to go down searching each manually for new books. It should be easier for me to throw money at the authors I like.

  14. Another thought about #3 (signed print books):

    I’d love to set an “in-stock” amount for each print book, and let Amazon watch my sales, know my inventory level, and ship new Createspace books by using their predictive algorithms. That way, new books are showing up as signed books are going out the door.

    If they know these books are going into the “Signed Books Program,” they could even ingest a signed book page before the title page. If you wanted, they could number the book as well, like we do with collectors editions. Maybe the author can specify a note that goes on this page.

    There are massive advantages with POD that can be shown off by doing stuff like this. Every book can be dynamic. If you think not, look at the date stamp in the back of your Createspace books. Amazon is already doing this. The capability is there. The question is whether or not the “wow” factor and the number of readers who would want to use this are worth the costs of developing the infrastructure.

    My thinking is that the cost is more than worth it. Show the offset people to be crude and limited and give POD a chance to shine for what it can do that other print technologies can’t.

    1. Love the thinking on this! Leverage the tech to make the experience better for readers and simpler for writers… you’ll sell more print books, Amazon!

  15. Why does KDP Select require exclusivity?

    Why doesn’t Amazon sell in epub format for other ereading devices?

    Why can’t KDP split royalties between two or more co-authors?

    Why can’t authors interact with readers on the Author Page?

    Why aren’t there Buy This Book buttons at the end of ebooks that are KOLL and KU borrows?

    Why not offer KU readers a variation of the Book of the Month Club? All readers who opt into Mystery or Romance genres clubs get an ebook that automatically downloads to thei Kindle once a week.

    1. Dude. I love the book-of-the-month club idea.

      Split royalties are in my next batch of questions (I got tons).

      Love the idea for reader interaction on the Author page. They have the Goodreads “ask a question” feature. Include that. Or make a sub-forum for every author so readers can interact with each other. Organize it by book or series.

      Buy this Book button at the end of a borrowed book would be ideal. Or “send this book to a friend” who gets an offer for a free month of KU with the suggestion.

      And while I would love an epub option, I worry it would break too many of their features, like Whispersync and X-Ray. My guess as to Amazon’s insistence on .mobi is that they don’t have to rely on a standards organization to move forward with ideas.

      And how would KDP Select operate without exclusivity? I agree that exclusivity is dumb and that Amazon should drop it, but wouldn’t that just mean getting rid of KDP Select altogether? They seem to go hand-in-hand. Roll the advantages into all of KDP and retire the Select program.

      1. I think they should get rid of KDP Select and give thise benefits to everybody.

        Forgot one: let readers subscribe to authors. So when I have a new release, people who subscribed to me download it instantly when it is pubbed.

        1. Yup. I’ve asked for this. Will add it to my next list.

          I know they are constantly working on things, but some of these I feel like they could launch in a week. They need a SkunkWorks division there where they can do some testing and limited roll-outs, then turn on and go global with what they like.

          1. Amazon does listen. A lot of KDP features are things I’ve been hounding Amazon for since 2010.

            Monthly totals.
            Free ebooks. (they should make these permanent, not limited)
            More Bisec categories. (they need to allow more than two, like they used to)

            They implemented these things after I (and other authors) mentioned them, over and over. They do pay attention, and act accordingly.

          2. Agreed, Joe. And they tend to listen to people who are reasonable, rather than to those who criticize them no matter what they do.

        2. They’re close to that. If there is an Author page (writer’s responsibility), then readers can click on the “email me for next book by this author” in the right-hand corner. Extra steps, but the functionality is there. (Not sure, but I think you can’t turn it off once on.)

          I don’t mind the extra steps, because when I accidentally pick up something awful, I’m not going to be plagued by those emails, since I have to take an action to sign up (and sometimes forget to).

          1. The big thing for me that I would love to see Amazon adopt is to remove KDP Select and Unlimited exclusivity.

            The reason that I say this is that Oyster doesn’t care if my stories are listed with Scribd, and vice versa. Why should Amazon care if my stories are included in Unlimited or Select? As long as they’re making their percentage, I don’t understand the requirement.


    2. Joe, the reason Amazon will never sell ePubs is because it would break their product lock-in. Someone who uses an ePub-based device doesn’t have to shop at Amazon to get what they are looking for, whereas a customer whose ereader device can only use Amazon’s formats must go to Amazon’s store to get what they are looking for.

      It isn’t about selling Kindles and it isn’t about selling books. It’s about guaranteeing that the customer will always come back and buy more from their store. NOT from someone else’s.

  16. […] In another brilliant look at the publishing industry, author Hugh Howey has crafted a list of unanswered questions, questions that are not being answered for authors but that also shouldn’t be classified, top-secret information. Despite accusations in the past that Howey is practically in Amazon’s pocket, this list fires directly at the world’s largest ebook retailer and self-publishing platform and demands information for authors. A few of the highlights are below, and the full story is HERE. […]

  17. Ten and twelve are DEFINITELY must-haves for me. I include my cover artist on each of my books with an “illustrator” credit, but it really is a shame that she can’t have her own Amazon page, or any way to link to her website, short of doing it in the actual book.

  18. It looks like Amazon knows exactly how much of each book is read. Now that Kindle Unlimited has set a 10% threshold to count as a read, we see that they have been keeping track all along.
    I bet they are tracking ALL of the metrics you mentioned. And we will see them as soon as amazon figures out a way to use them!

    1. As I mention above, not true for the (how big a percentage?) readers who sideload and convert Kindle files for reading on epub devices.

  19. Love so many of your ideas. I’ve had one for a long time – how come I can’t ge a discount coupon I can offer my fans – for instance when I have a new book coming out I send my fan list an email code telling them that if they order this week we’re giving them an extra 10% off. I talked to both Amazon and BN about this – it must be 10 years ago and then 5 years ago… almost got it but the legal team killed it at the last minute. Wouldn’t it be great?

    1. OMG, this needs to be done. Kobo has the ability to do this. I’d love discount codes, as there wouldn’t be any price-matching, and you could tie it to your newsletter or special promotions.

      1. This! Smashwords has had coupons for forever and even Createspace has it for print…why is this such a hard thing to work into the checkout process?

  20. Amazing list, Hugh! You did this because today is my birthday, right? Thanks — it’s the best present!

    I just paid someone to figure out #4 for me. #6 is brilliant. And #7… of course. And #9, #10, #11! And TWELVE!

    They should hire you, but then you’d only have time to write 10,000 words a day, and make videos, and travel and sign books and inspire other indies and come up with more wild ideas…

    1. Happy Birthday, Patrice! A year younger, I see. Hope all is well with you.

      1. Having a beautiful day!

        See you at the James River Conference in October?

  21. I’ve been suggesting #4 (Lifetime Sales on each Title) to my Amazon publishing team for years, and I know other imprint authors have as well. We’ve been told it’s a good idea, and to be patient. I can’t be patient because that tool would be huge to authors like myself who are not fans of taking time from writing or marketing to run numbers or play with spreadsheets.

    *the others are great suggestions too

  22. Hugh stop having all the good ideas. You aren’t leaving any for the rest of the class.

  23. Thank you for this article. I follow you on FB and always enjoy your insight into publishing. I agree with you on all points! Their dashboard reporting especially. It’s horrible and confusing. Or maybe it’s just ’cause I’m a blonde. Who knows! :) Keep up the good work! ~C.J.

  24. Why can’t Amazon let us do auto-delivery of serial episodes? Like Kindle Serials only for KDP authors… and let them set their own price!

    The new preorder capability almost solves this problem, because now my readers will be able to preorder the complete season. But I would also LOVE the ability to have them pay the full season price but have each episode delivered each week (or two, whatever). It gives the reader a reason to pick up and open their kindle each week! Surely Amazon would love that.

  25. Yes to all of these, Hugh! I’d also like to know how many views my book entry gets, and how many of those views progress to a “look inside.” Would be great information for me to base a decision to update jacket copy, search terms, or cover art. So with page views compared to looks inside compared to sales, I might be able to spot a problematic element right off and adjust accordingly for better sales. Win-win, no?

    1. ^This! I would love to know how many page views progress to “look inside.” And I’d love to know where inside the reader either clicked the buy button or clicked away to another book. Want!

      1. How many download a sample? How many of those buy the book? Could tell you something about your description and your book’s opening chapters…

    2. ^^ This. Twice.

  26. Great list, especially the ability for readers to opt in to an author’s newsletter. I want!

  27. I want to know how the reader got to my book, as in searched for “time travel” or whatever. This would help in getting rid of the search terms that don’t work

    Amazon and authors working together as a team: That could help boost the number of readers, as thus boost profits for authors AND Amazon. Remember, for a company it’s about profit.

  28. Funny, Hugh, last thing I said out loud before going to sleep was can I find out how many people read the Look Inside actually go on to buy the book? I can see a 5% read through on WattPad, but I don’t know those facts on Amazon.

  29. Amazon’s own S3 cloud storage service sells data transfer at $0.120 per GB for up to 10 TB / month (data transfer out from Amazon S3 to Internet). Why do they charge authors much more, i.e. $0.15 per MB, for ebook download?

    1. Amazon charges more for eBook downloads, because the average eBook sold is downloaded more than once. Are they being overly conservative? Probably, but as it stands, they are incentivizing us to keep file sizes down.

      1. Amazon apparently charges for each 1 MB ebook download more than it charges for 1,000 same size file downloads off S3 storage. That’s pretty conservative indeed.

        1. I was thinking about this and realized that Amazon doesn’t charge KDP authors for storage, just for downloads.

          My S3 account is charged for both (I host audio/video files which I sell on my site).

          I have 90 GB stored with S3 and this month have had 46,000 requests which transferred 175 GB.

          The storage cost has been $2.47 and the transfer cost has been $16.25.

          Book files are quite small compared to videos. However, it is cool that AZ doesn’t charge us to store them. That they charge more when the files are actually downloaded makes sense to me.

          As an aside, the cost of S3 is so low that I don’t bother to compare it to other charges or even understand it fully. As I’ve mentioned in other threads, before S3 I was paying $150 a month for about 1/10th of what I store with S3. I’m super super happy with S3.

  30. 12. Why can’t you help us hook up with cover artists, editors, ebook formatters, and beta readers? In fact, all four categories should have their own metadata entries. I should be able to include the cover artist so authors can get in touch with people whose works they enjoy.

    There’s a FB Group that does that – the Indie Author Group – although we don’t link to specific titles.

  31. *laughing* I also wish there was a ‘like’ button for some of the comments on this page!

  32. Great list! I’ve always been bothered that Amazon takes a 30% cut off your product just for posting it on their site…

    I love the idea of buying an authors complete works. Sometimes amazon posts sales like that but I don’t think it’s a given.

    1. To be fair, you are also paying Amazon to handle credit cards and “customer service” :-D That is totally worth it to me — when I had my own store up on my website, I was spending a lot of time helping customers who didn’t know how to sideload books, or had download problems, or just general technophobia. And not being responsible for credit cards is a BIG relief (I used Paypal but some people dislike that, too).

      1. Also, the fact that Amazon drives so much traffic. Readers go there, at least I do, not necessarily looking for a specific author or book and finding something that I buy.

      2. Credit cards, file delivery software (which costs $$ for guys like me), local sales taxes, affordable shipping, logistics, accounting, and a whole bunch of other things I don’t have to worry about.

        Yes, that is worth 30% to me.

  33. I agree with all your information/data requests, but do you really want Amazon to provide all those other services, including cover artists, editors, ebook formatters, and beta readers? Wouldn’t they then be tempted to tweak things to their own advantage and the writer’s disadvantage? I like having as an independent, purely by/for-writers critique system. I like going to DeviantArt to hire artists. It’s probably more work, but I like the control and freedom I have that way. Having all those services on Amazon seems like putting too many eggs in one basket (or something like that) IMO.

    1. I agree with you, Dan. The idea of sourcing everything through Amazon makes me squirm a little. There are already several writers groups and websites where I can find all those services. I don’t see a need here. And I like being “indie.”

  34. I love this list!

    I especially adore the badge idea, email list ideas, “complete my library” idea, and shared royalties idea. I love how collaborative our community is already. Fostering that mentality is a no-brainer.

  35. I’d like another section added to the artists/editors listings — translators. With Amazon’s global reach, they’ve got a lot of the infrastructure in place already. Just like ACX has voice artists listed with samples, why not translators? I would really like to get my books translated!

    And while we’re wishing, I want a way to know as an author what people are highlighting in my books. Right now the only way to do that is actually buy a copy for my Kindle

    1. And even then, I think they only show you the most popular highlights, not all of them, right?

    2. another section added to the artists/editors listings — translators. With Amazon’s global reach, they’ve got a lot of the infrastructure in place already. Just like ACX has voice artists listed with samples, why not translators?

      This. Totally. A three-way win.

      It would accelerate the indie expansion into global markets.

      I suspect the present indie market share in Amazon’s non-English-language stores (.fr, .de, .es, .it, etc.) is a couple years behind what we see in the U.S. Perhaps someone has some data they can share.

      Anyone…? Anyone…? Data Guy…? Bueller…?

  36. So here’s a modified question: Why don’t you all come out and assure KDP authors that the 70% cut to us will never decrease. Ever. That it could only go up in the future. You would calm a lot of jittery nerves.

    Forever terms are interesting. For authors who think Amazon will gain such market dominance that it will drastically cut royalties in the future, what locked in rate would you take today? Forever.

    How about twenty percent? That would be lots better than the forecasted pittance we hear about. You would be getting 20% while every one else got the pittance.

    Suppose Amazon held an auction, and said it would take the 10,000 lowest bids? Everyone else can take what comes. What would you submit as a rate you would take forever?

  37. Hugh, you may be the one indie on the planet that might have a shot at getting someone with decision making authority at Zon to listen to those wants and get the ball rolling. (Well, I’m sure Joe and others can get the list to Amazon but you’re just so blooming *charming* so there’s that.)

    Love your list, agree with it 100% and like the additions in the comments as well.

    When is your conference call with them?

    1. I’ve brought most of these up with people from Amazon (and with people at Kobo, B&N, and iTunes). Some of them are new. Like Joe, I’ve watched as a lot of the things I’ve pined for (like pre-orders for all indies) have come to fruition. Not that I think I had any sway, only that I saw what was logical, and Amazon eventually did the same thing.

      Love the discussion in the comments. More great ideas everywhere.

  38. Theoretically I should be benefitting from Kindle Unlimited. But so far, I’m not. I’ve had books downloaded but so far not a cent in royalties. This must mean whoever is downloading the books isn’t reading past the 10 percent mark, I guesss. So that means I’ve got books in limbo–books that otherwise would have been immediate sales. I’m thinking of taking my books out of Kindle Select. At least in the regular Kindle a sale is a sale, and 30 percent of something is better than 70 percent of nothing. Anybody else having this problem?

  39. Hugh,

    Great ideas! Thanks for taking the time to care about our business.

    You and Joe and Barry and Russell and Rosalind and Viola and et al remain my heroes.

  40. OOHHH I love this thread. I don’t have time to read all of right this second, but this is the change I would love to see (in addition to many that you have mentioned.)

    I would love a Book Queue, like Netflix has, but for authors. Then I could say, “Anything by __________ put in my queue.” Whenever that author publishes something it goes on my queue and I can review my queue to see if I’m interested. With Netflix I can add things to my Queue before they are available. Amazon needs something along those lines.

    I’m not always great at remembering the names of authors or titles of books (I remember how I FELT as I read the book a lot more) so I can’t easily find the author to see if there is new material.

    Yes, Amazon does the also bought thing and the recommendation thing, but I would like it to be more formal.

  41. Wow! What a great list! #7 bothered me A LOT as well. It makes me very nervous. Semantics, they matter.

  42. Just realized that you’ve got quite a great list here and that all that is needed is for some tech savvy start up from San Francisco to come along, scoop up your Great! (not dumb) ideas and create a new eReading platform/distribution network. You (and your commenters) have just given out some great ways for a new ebook distributor to differentiate themselves from the field!

    Hope Amazon listens or that some tech startup comes along asap. :)

  43. Love all of these ideas.

    And while we’re getting rid of the 70% royalty cap at 9.99, why not get rid of the same cap on the lower end, at 2.99? This seems particularly important for short works that have a harder time justifying the 2.99 price.

    A small note on the definition of royalties, from the Business Dictionary:

    “Compensation, consideration, or fee paid for a license or privilege to use an intellectual property (brand, copyright, patent, process) or a natural resource (fishing, hunting, mining), computed usually as a percentage of revenue or profit realized from the use. See also technology licensing.”

    By these definitions, any money paid to an author as a percentage of sales is a royalty. It doesn’t lose that status if the publisher doesn’t pay for editing, design, etc. In fact, no publisher even mentions such things as a factor in royalty payments. That self-publishers have to pay for these things (or do it themselves) doesn’t change the status of these monies as royalties. It only changes their net profit, which is a different term than royalty. Authors who publish with major publishers and don’t pay for editing, printing, etc, still usually have to pay for lots of marketing costs with both time and out of pocket expenses. We don’t stop calling their income “royalties” as a result.

  44. This is a great post, and it could be viewed in an even bigger context as was suggested by Broken Yogi in the comments on Joe Konrath’s latest post: perhaps Amazon should just focus on making KDP better and better as their main strategy for dealing with the publishers. If Amazon makes KDP even more attractive, then they might just draw so many authors over to self-publishing that the traditional publishers are left high and dry with few or no authors. That would be the ultimate long term play on Amazon’s part, and might eventually make the terms they have with Hachette and the rest relatively unimportant.

    One suggestion Broken Yogi had was a sliding scale of royalties based on total sales, like they used to have on Audible.

    As Melissa Bitter points out, these are great ideas for any ebook distributor to differentiate themselves. But if Amazon started implementing some or most of them now, they could fend off ebook competitors and draw even more authors (including perhaps some of the top names) over to the self-publishing side. As Broken Yogi put it on Joe’s blog:

    “True, this is a slower moving strategy than trying to force publishers to accept Amazon’s pricing model. But in the long run, it’s the way for Amazon to win. It’s not a bluff, in other words. Poaching more and more authors from traditional publishing is the way to win this war. Go against traditional publishing’s true vulnerability, which their relationship to content providers – authors. If that falls, so does everything else.”

    I added some more suggestions over there also:
    1-Make the “royalty” rates permanent for all ebooks currently published. Over on Audible, when they recently lowered the rates, they grandfathered all existing audiobooks so they kept the higher old rates. Amazon could change the terms so that whatever royalty rates you currently have will always stay the same or at least not go lower, even if they lower the rates for newly published ebooks in the fututre. This would give new KDP authors the confidence to commit to Amazon knowing that their rate was locked in.
    2- I am not sure how Amazon can get POD books into bookstores, but since they seem to be willing to take a very low margin on some printed books, maybe they could offer larger discounts for self-published paperbacks that are also offered through KDP. But perhaps a better discount would entice some bookstores to also carry CreateSpace titles. I remember reading somewhere that in actuality, the main reason indie bookstores do not stock CreateSpace titles is that the discount to the retailer in Creatspace’s expanded distribution is much less than what they normally get.
    3-Create a page featuring titles only available on Amazon and link to it on the home page. Amazon could really play up the titles that are in KDP Select on their site, and maybe offer additional discounts and promotions that direct readers to these books even more. Maybe there could even be a KDP Select Plus program where even the paperback is only available on Amazon.
    4-For titles in KDP select, Amazon could start offering epub versions. This would lure more readers to these ebooks exclusively available on Amazon.
    5- This is a far out one, but maybe Amazon could roll all of its imprints into something like the KDP Select Plus idea, and just make all Amazon exclusive titles into one big happy family. Then they could just focus all of their marketing efforts onto the top-performing KDP titles instead of trying to do it through their imprints. If they are willing to lose money on ebooks from the Big 5, then why not use some of their percentage from KDP titles to promote, discount, and feature the best selling KDP books?

    None of this is affected by whatever they end up negotiating with the big publishers. As someone mentioned, the big publishers are still an important part of their sales, but maybe if Amazon shifted their focus and current costs of discounting the big publishers books over to self-published titles, it would eventually accomplish much more than even the best possible outcome with Hachette and the others.

  45. James McCormick Avatar

    Amazon KDP will likely have to be what Joe is describing if Amazon wants to keep Kindle U.

    1) Sort of related to what you are talking about with the 12.99 omnibus, Hugh, but on the flip side — KU heavily favors shorter work. So much so, that it is advantageous to break up a novel into component parts and sell them individually. The problem with doing this is that — while you make more money per sale — you’re diluting the KU pool, meaning everyone else gets less. People who write longer works aren’t just punished for having less to sell. They’re also punished because a book that would normally only get 1 slice of the KU pie is now grabbing multiples.

    2) Along with your royalty comment — technically, KDP exclusivity only applies to the product sold. Not the stories contained inside. When you sell a story to a magazine, you’re selling copyright (usually first printing rights). However, there’s no exchange of copyright between Amazon and author. Copyright protects works individually. If you think of it in terms of comicbooks — the single issue and the TBP in which its contained are separate copyrights.

    Meaning, I can divvy up my book into 10 mini-books and sell them through KU. Then I can make an Omnibus and sell the whole thing on B&N or the Apple Store without violating Amazon Select’s “exclusive” terms of service.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this sort of thing is already happening.

    The problem is it is toxic to the Amazon / Kindle / Select / KU environments.

  46. I’m a collector but I collect for two reasons:
    1. For monetary reasons. I take a punt on a new novel in the hope that someday it might be worth a little more than I paid for it. Something I can have for the future or can pass on to my kids. It’s a gamble, but I don’t pay much as I buy them from new mostly from Goldsboro Books in London who are very reasonable. One book alone I bought for £20, Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm is now selling in places for over €1000 – that’s a rarity. Others might be worth two or three times what I paid for them, in a few years who knows? It’s more of a hobby.
    2. I’m a fan of the author. This is a win-win situation for the author because I generally buy two copies, one inscribed if I can and any special editions and probably the ebook too because I don’t want to open the print book! My problem is that most of my favourite authors are in the US and postage is pretty expensive to Ireland. Some authors offer to send me free signed books sometimes because of my blog but I feel bad as it costs them a fortune to ship them to me. One author sent me two paperbacks to say thanks for helping them with a promotion and it cost them over $50 yet I could buy those two books from Amazon.Com and have them shipped from the US for $10. I think Amazon should definitely look into offering some service for authors to sell signed copies without the prohibitive shipping costs. It can only add value, plus they can be sold at a higher margin.

    1. There is an autographed Wool 1 on ebay right now, lol.

  47. I sometimes wonder why I don’t spend more time trying to think stuff like this up, but Hugh does such a stellar job at it, so why bother? Some super exciting ideas here. Rattling my brain now, I would love to see a multi price point option through Createspace so I could sell a printed book on Amazon at one price and set a higher price for the extended distribution channels. Just to break even on the ED channels increases my sell price by 15% on Amazon, so I won’t do it. Great work, Hugh!

  48. I also agree that the 70% royalty isn’t quite as generous as it seems, considering how little cost Amazon incurs in making ebook sales.

    In a previous thread I suggested that Amazon’s strategy vs. Hachette and the Big Five would be better served by making KDP even more attractive than it already is, to lure bigger authors over from traditional publishing. I suggested that Amazon offer even larger royalties on sales above certain levels, just as traditional publishing does.

    For example, in print publishing the writer often gets a 10% royalty on sales up to 10,000, then 12.5% on the next ten thousand, then 15% on anything over that.

    Amazon could offer similar sales incentives. Such as 70% for the first 10,000, 75% for the next 10,000, 80% for sales over 50,000, and 90% over 100,000. Or something like that. That would really help bring the heavy hitters over.

    1. Unless we know the deals the heavy-hitters have, it’s hard to say what they would do if Amazon offered 85%. If we did know the deal they have with the publishers, we would then have to construct the new model they would be using if they left the publishers, including paper, translations, etc.

      It may be that Amazon can’t offer them more than they are getting. I don’t know. Stephen King doesn’t call anymore, and Douglas never did call.

      1. It is probably unlikely that the heaviest hitters would switch anytime soon, but doing more and more to improve KDP for authors could speed up the movement of midlist and maybe even upper midlist authors to self-publishing. Conradg’s idea for a sales incentive suggests starting in at 10,000 books which covers a few more people than just authors in Stephen King’s category.

    2. They should offer Stephen King 100% for his first book, with the promise of 75% after that, with the deal that only Amazon has the rights. Once King sees the money he can make, he will go digital. Again, it will cost Amazon very little. They should try this with the big authors, once one gives it a shot with a single book, Amazon will win the battle.

  49. btw, on Joe’s site I’m Broken Yogi. I can’t seem to figure out how to comment using the same moniker. The internet seems to assign me old names I’ve used before at different times, and I have little control over it.

  50. #3 I can’t imagine the thrill of opening up an email from one of my favorite authors with a pdf of their signature. No seriously, I can’t imagine. Sorry, but whose to say it was sent by the author and not their assistant.

    I love opening the fly leaf of a cherished book and running my fingers over the indents the author’s sharpie made when he signed it.

    Once, I took my kids to get their copies of Fablehaven signed by Brandon Mull and you would have thought they met a rock star. You are absolutely right, Lexicon was an awesome book but I would much rather shell out the cash for a hard cover copy for him to sign then get an esignature.

    Granted, some states let you e-notarize documents now, so maybe a notarized copy of your esignature would fulfil the need

  51. To #1: A resounding YES. I have used the library system in tandem to help build my home library for years, so the Kindle Unlimited bombshell was a welcome surprise. I take out books at the library, then purchase copies if I like it in multiple formats. If I like it enough, I gift copies to friends. KU cuts out the middle man, so to speak, which is doubtless what they wanted.

  52. I like all of these ideas!

  53. I love #6 – that would be amazeballs! Hope to see you at Dragon next weekend! Find me at the Westin lobby bar, we’ll hang.

  54. Why can’t I see how many people land on my product page then decide to click away? If I knew that thirty thousand people landed on my book page but only five clicked BUY, I’d know I have a serious conversion problem. But if only 10 people land on my book’s page, and five buy it, I have a visibility problem.

  55. As I was out for me evening walk… Kindle in hand… I was thinking about how I would like the experience improved as a reader, not an author.

    1. I’d like there to be a website or part of Amazon the displays your digital library graphically on a library like image. Each book sorted and kept is the same location as determined by the owner. This would help the reader remember ebooks he or she has read in the past and remember what they are about.

    2. I’d like help finding new books to read. The tool I’d like is for readers to opt in to data collection by Amazon or other epubishers that would track if a reader re-reads a work and how many times. This data would be tied into the existing recommendation features. “What other readers who are reading works similar to the ones you like are reading more then once.”

  56. Hugh, How about raising funds for a cause. In place of a written inscription on a paper book, give the donor a little audio file saying, “Hi Brent this Hugh Howey. Thanks for the donation to __________. “Where a story ends is nothing more than a snapshot in time, a brief flash of emotion, a pause. How and if it continues is up to us.”
    Enjoy my next book.

  57. I’m hanging onto the first thing you mentioned because it’s the most relevant to me. I’m small potatoes, but my readers are still vocal and valuable. I had one recently who told me she’d find me on any platform. It didn’t matter to her whether I put all my stuff in KU or not. She would also BUY it rather than “rent” it. But her comments made me think about why she might choose to follow me versus choose the easier path of infinite material for an easy $9.99 per month.

    I think there is a divide that is related more to what we write than how the readers buy. Is what you write “disposable”? I think that type of “disposable” writing will be borrowed more often. The type of books that readers know they will never re-read. The type of writing that a lot of us churn out quickly (erotica, for example). Pulp maybe. I don’t want KU to turn into that, but that’s what Netflix is. A source for the cheapest, easiest video. And their selection is for shit.

  58. To #12: that’s exactly what we’re doing at Reedsy, actually. Most new coming authors struggle in their search for good editors and designers, and let’s face it, successful self-publishing authors’ “indie toolboxes” are just not enough for everyone…

    So we’re building a place where you can look for the right people for your book. Obviously, we vet all freelancers displayed on our marketplace, and obviously, we provide tools to make it possible to ask for samples and quotes, and ultimately compare apples to apples. You can read more here: and we’ll be launching in only a few days (exciting times)

    To all the other points, well, it’s basically data Amazon is sitting on as Hugh points out, and I don’t believe they’ll be releasing it anytime soon, but let’s keep pushing them to do so nonetheless!

  59. 9) Related to the above, what about offering everything published by a particular author at great discount?

    I LOVED this idea!

  60. Excellent ideas though, I’m not convinced Amazon needs to handle -all- of these things. I’m not sure I need (or want) my reader e-mail list to be handled / controlled by them, or want them to target services like Bookbub for competition or buyout (I’d rather see more independent promotional services like that be encouraged to lend to a diverse customer base.) You could maybe argue they do this to some extent already with Kindle Select deals and algorithms that connect people with “if you liked….”

    The gamification is great and I’ll get that started now – everyone go to Amazon and click “buy” on my book. Repeatedly. For each completed transaction, you will be awarded with ONE ENTIRE BOOK! :)

  61. 5 – Yes please!

    N+1: How much will we get per KU borrow? Low hanging fruit, I know.

  62. My short answers…
    1. It is very rare, I did it for The Road my McCarthy, but if I own the ebook, what do I want the hard cover for?
    2. No writer gets this info, and I don’t like the idea of Amazon spying on me. I bought the book, it is nobody’s business if I read it or not.
    3. B only, no one wants printed copies of an autograph, that is not an autograph. I have had a n autographed copy of Wool 1 on ebay for three weeks, no buyers, and my price is half what others want, so maybe there isn’t that much interest.
    4. True
    6. True
    8. Didn’t you degrade Hachette for wanting ebooks priced higher than 9.99?
    9. You set the price, you can offer all your books at half price once a year, or you can put all the ebook files in one giant collection yourself and sell the “Works of Hugh Howey”, you don’t need Amazon to do it for you.
    12. If you ask Amazon to do more, they will need to make more, which means authors make less.
    My problem with a lot of thee is that you are starting to see Hachettes side of this…..

  63. […] Stuff I Want to Know | Hugh Howey […]

  64. Referring to point #2, “I would love to know how far into my books readers get.”

    Amazon’s reading devices and apps track all kinds of info. Like how long it takes a reader to complete the book—both the number of days and number of hours. Why not make some of that information more transparent. We could see that book #1 in the series came across as a real page turner but, while people were completing book #2, they were taking longer to do it over all, for example.

    That sort of information is there for the taking. Why not anonymize it and make it available to authors? It’s something that conventional publishers can’t (a never will be able to) do.

    While I’m at it, I would like to see the Kindle app become more powerful. I want to be be able to swipe up and down on the center of the screen to adjust brightness without going to any menu first. That’s how the Marvin app works and it borders on genius. I also want more info, some of which is available on the Paper White. How many minutes to finish the current chapter at my current reading rate, and so on.

    Amazon could do more with the Kindle app. What’s the holdup?

    1. Why not anonymize it and make it available to authors?

      Because it is valuable information that Amazon wants to exploit itself. For example, it probably figured into how they structured KU. Nobody else has that info. They gain nothing by making it public.

  65. # 42 (I lost track of the added numbers) Why won’t they allow authors to make a book perma-free? The only reason I put books on smashwords and other sites is so I can get a price match and make a book free for longer than 5 days. If the Zon would let us do that, I wouldn’t bother with most other sites. I sell much more on Amazon than anywhere else.

    1. Speaking of perma-free: lately I have had two instances where my free permanently free ebooks started to really take off on one of Amazon’s European websites. But then Amazon stopped price matching them so they lost all of their momentum. After a couple of days, they started price matching them to free again, but by then the books had lost their momentum and ranking as free ebooks, so the opportunity to reach a lot more readers was lost.

      This has never happened with my free ebooks on Does Amazon discourage free ebooks on their European sites (this happened on the UK and Spanish sites)? Why would they stop price matching to free on the day that the free ebook started to take off?

      I would like to be able to easily set my price at free and have it stay that way on all of the Amazon sites including in other countries than the US.

  66. We may be coming from this at the wrong angle–which is assuming that Amazon views book publishing as an important business; or that it views authors and the culture of growing their audiences as key to its future. What if it does not? Amazon views authors as product-producing customer bait. We, along with publishers, are vendors, no different from vendors who sell toasters. Do those vendors ask Amazon to share its valuable data and help them build their sales? (They may, but I assure you, they get no help.)

    Amazon’s main directive is to collect data and use it to sell products and create bigger customer systems that sell more products (and by products it means “systems.”) The data itself is invaluable, perhaps far more valuable than the products. That’s why it won’t share sales numbers, or hook you up with vendors who can help you. Because that’s not its lifeblood. Making you successful means little to Amazon. Feeding off your success to get more data is important, yes.

    At the risk of sounding all Tin Foil Hattish, the Jarod Laniers and others who discuss the collection of customer information and how that dominates the focus at Amazon, Google and others make a good argument for how little we understand about what motivates the giant companies who control access to information and connections in our lives.

    1. We, along with publishers, are vendors, no different from vendors who sell toasters.

      Of course. Books are products. Authors and publishers are suppliers. Just like toasters and widgets.


  67. […] makes the questions Howey lays out in Stuff I Want To Know so compelling, however, is that they are […]

  68. I want to know stuff as banal as why in the movie LOOPER they didn’t just send those people back in time about a mile up above those corn fields. Be simpler and scarier.

    I want to know why in the movie LOOPER they didn’t send people back in time for any purpose more interesting than getting shot in some corn field.

    Sort of like imagining a world where people have telekinesis but they only using it to do dumb coin tricks.

    Oh, wait…

    1. erm… only use it to do dumb coin tricks.

      Gah. Less coffee.

  69. As someone oh would like to never buy a paper book again, I would like if a copy of a signed bookplate could be mailed o emailed to me with an ebook purchase. Possibly with different price points depending on the degree of personalization requested.
    Regarding author newsletters or communications, we already have good reads, Facebook, Twitter and blogs for that. I don’t see the point of Amazon adding in something.

  70. Please, careful on the gamification! I can see how it might, seemingly, improve the situation by garnering more readers (and increasing the time invested in reading/writing), but looking at the video games industry this is false positive. You end up optimizing for arbitrary and easily measured metrics which do not necessarily alight with (and are often diametrically opposed) the quality or “soul” that we seek to find and produce in writing as an art.

    Interesting talk about the subject:

  71. […] makes the questions Howey lays out in Stuff I Want To Know so compelling, however, is that they are […]

  72. […] Stuff I want to know (from Amazon) via @hughhowey  […]

  73. […] Hugh Howey’s latest post asks why Amazon cannot provide us with data about how far a reader has read a book, at what chapter they gave up, etc. Basic data Amazon will have from every live-linked (as opposed to side-loaded) device, be it a Kindle device or one using a Kindle app. […]

  74. Brilliant questions.
    If I read an Ebook I love I will instantly buy the book form. I know keen readers like myself ‘trophy’ their favourites as a way to show off part of your personality in your home, inviting conversations with a guests. The signed copy idea is great, I’m one of those that feels a book is made so much more special when signed, so why not an Ebook? I’m currently lucky enough, to have the Wool trilogy in UK signed first editions with dust-wrap, pride of place on the mantle.

  75. Free books – we all struggle to sell to, or hand out free copies to – readers that haven’t heard of us. How about a program that is opt-in for authors, that means any reader that hasn’t read one of my (or your) books, gets the first one – of their choice – for free.
    The reader chooses the book they want. Not us. We just agree that Amazon doesn’t have to pay us for it.

  76. I especially like #8 and conradg’s suggestion in this thread that short works under $2.99 should receive the 70% profit. Because of the current system, I’ve stopped uploading most of my short stories and book bundles to Amazon. I just can’t price them in a fair fashion and get a reasonable cut from Amazon.

  77. […] recently published a long list of questions directed at Amazon, titled simply “Stuff I Want to Know.” Some of his questions […]

  78. Wow, some great ideas here, both in the original post and the comments. Makes me excited about the future of self-publishing!

  79. 1. I’m not a member of Kindle Prime, nor do a participate in Kindle Select, so I probably can’t answer this question. I would posit that the new Kindle Unlimited should allow customers to read as many titles as they want, but they may only read any given title ONCE. If they want to read it again, this would force the customer to go out and buy it. I’m one of those people who finds a book I enjoy and reads it over and over through the years. But I know many people who read any book only once. After that, the book becomes merely a house decoration and the reader can brag that they have read every book in their personal library.

    2. Every book of yours I have read I have read through. The only time I don’t finish a book is if it is terrible and/or I just don’t like it.

    3. I am totally with this program. I prefer to buy my books as ebooks. But when I find one I really like or I have the opportunity to meet the author, then I will buy a hardcopy version so I can get an autograph. In fact, for the past few years, this is the only reason I’ve purchased hardcopy books. On the other side of this, I set up with a friend of mine who owns an independent book store to sell autographed copies through her store only. This way, I can support an independent bookseller and friend, and I don’t have to worry about shipping costs, sales taxes, etc. She’s better set up to handle all that. (Of course, I can’t afford to print my books, so it’ll be a while before we get that program going.) And, yes, it is possible to autograph an ebook (ePub), live. It just takes a little bit of tech savvy to pull it off.

    4. Yeah, this would be nice. There are business reasons for this, too. Trying to procure business loans, sales numbers would be nice to show to the bank to support that you are moving product. For now, I just keep a running tally in a SQL database on my computer. Truth is, as a business—being my own publisher—that is my job to keep track of sales numbers.

    5. Same answer: it is my business’ job to maintain a track of sales of the various products. It would be nice if Amazon and the other distributors made it easier to get lifetime numbers. Of course, the question is, how long must they go through the expense of maintaining that sales data?

    6. Considering right now things are going pretty badly for me, I really don’t want to know my score. It’ll only make things seem worse. :) The only reward I need from the distributor is that monthly check for my share of the sales proceeds. The bigger that is, the better I’m doing. Better than gamification for writers would be gamification for readers. Encouraging them to buy more books would be better for authors everywhere.

    7. A royalty is a fee paid to an artist (to wit: writer) in exchange for a third-party (to wit: publisher) to license the artist’s intellectual property and use it to make profit. In the US, the tax code labels royalties as “unearned income.” I incorporated and created an S-corporation so I can make my taxes easier to deal with. But an S-corp can lose it’s designation as a S-corp if more than 25% of the corporation’s income is from royalties. Amazon is NOT my publisher, it is a distributor. My publisher is my LLC–S-corp. Amazon pays me a share of “sales proceeds,” not royalties. All Amazon does is sell my products as a retailer. They do nothing along the lines of production to create my books. No editing, artwork, filing of copyrights, legal filings, or any of those other production efforts that must be done to complete one of my books for consumption by readers. Nor do they pay me an advance for my work. They are not a publisher. They are a retailer. I can think of only two reasons why the retailers describe the payments of sales proceeds as “royalties”: first we all understand the concept of income from booksales as royalties, so they are leveraging that term for simplification, and, second, by labeling the proceeds as “royalties”, they are using that as a tax dodge, because I suspect royalty payments are treated differently tax-wise than sales proceeds.

    8. Amazon forces authors to sell their books within a price range for the 70% share. I think this artificially inflates the bottom range and puts the squeeze on authors at the top range. Apple, on the other hand, charges 70% no matter what price you want to set for your book. There are good reasons for keeping book prices affordable. Squeeze consumers too much and sales will collapse. At the bottom end, however, a retailer has fixed costs for maintaining accounts for credit cards and per sale. They don’t want ebook prices to be so low that it begins to squeeze their profit margin against their fixed costs. To set up a web store on my website, my fixed costs would be about $35 (rounded). If I’m only selling $15 of books per month, I’m losing $20 per month. Not a good way to stay in business. Remember, there is a business side to writing if you want to sell books you write to make a living.

    9. I have nothing against volume sales. It’s a great way to get someone into a series at a decent price. Consider buying J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series as hardcover books for $125 vs. buying all of them together as ebooks for $65. That’s nearly a 50% savings off the shelf price for the whole series. What I object to is if Amazon (or another retailer) decides they want to arbitrarily drop the price of my books for a sale, I only get paid my percentage on the lower price, not the full price. And they can do this without my consent. Instead of taking a hit on their profit to hold a sale, they put the hit on me.

    10. I would love a FREE service for managing mass emailing. Actually, my ISP already provides such a system. I just haven’t gotten around to creating a nicely formatted HTML email to send through it. Plus, I think I need a few people to request to be on the mail service. So, a program for the future…

    11. For any retailer, creating a monthly or weekly periodical for readers featuring various authors offering specials on their works might seem like a good idea. But it takes people with talent to pub a regular communication together and that brings with it costs. We’re not dealing with book lovers at the corporate level, we are dealing with MBAs who don’t understand the product. I’ve worked with these people for far too many years and I can assure you most of them are really detached from the reality of the product. Imagine the horror of working for someone who doesn’t even know what it is that your company makes. Yes, that was my reality at several companies where I used to work.

    12. Technically, this would actually start pushing Amazon into the publishing category. Or at least further blur the lines between retailer and publisher. I have the worst time reaching artists. I’ve sent out queries to seven artists and I have heard nothing from any of them. A sad commentary for illustrators who say they are trying to break into the cover art business. What better way to build up a portfolio than to work with self-publishing writers and get paid for it?

  80. […] Hugh Howey unterbreitet Amazon in seinem Blog ein paar interessante Ideen, wie Amazon sein KDP verbessern könnte. Nicht alles ist für den deutschen Markt geeignet – und andere Probleme hat KDP in den USA […]

  81. Michael Hottenstein Avatar
    Michael Hottenstein

    This was my first borrow from the local public library.
    Third Shift sounded good, then I found out it was book #8.
    I found Wool, and loved it so much, I bought it.

    I thought about buying a physical copy to get signed, but forgot.
    I can’t believe I didn’t think about getting my Dragon*Con badge signed when I met you.

    And when I finish Dust, I will continue with other books of yours.

  82. If you want to sell your books as a package deal, like the Wool trilogy, why not do it where you can without losing the 70 per cent like at Smashwords, etc. and direct traffic to that location.

  83. I’d like to respond to the first one.

    1) I would love to know how many readers borrow a book and then go on to buy a copy of the same book.

    – It’s been a few years since I let my library card laps, since locally you have to renew it every year. I might be able to still check out books from the library where I grew up. Probably not, but maybe. I did that, because they had these silly little limits. They weren’t open when I wanted to borrow a book. They didn’t have the books I wanted. They didn’t appreciate it if I wanted to keep the books for weeks or months at a time. They’d even charge me for books I was late returning, but still wouldn’t let me keep them. On top of that, they only let you have so many books out at a time.

    I don’t recall what that limit was, but the one I grew up with had a limit of twenty-one books and you could check them out for three weeks and you could renew them once for a total of six weeks. I remember that, because once I checked out twenty-one books and returned them all the next week fully read. Since then, I’ve been purchasing all those books I borrowed and many more besides, because I don’t want to read them just once. I am sometimes in the middle of a dozen books or more at once. Usually these are the more technical books, but I don’t really like the idea of returning them just because the time is up or I have too many. I’d have to keep a database just to keep track of where I was in all these books.

    One time I bought a collection of ebooks just so I could pay for a book I got for free.

  84. Hugh,

    Great points. I’m a little late to this post, but I didn’t realize prime borrowers ONLY get one borrow per month!!! I thought they could borrow as much as they liked. Wow, that really makes me see the borrows in an entirely new light. Borrows are easily 60% of my sales, so it is absurdly flattering to realize someone’s picked one of my novels as their one book for the month.

    Hey, has Amazon responded to your questions? Can you post a follow up with their input?


  85. I have purchased books that I’ve borrowed and books that I’ve read only excerpts from and I’m a Prime member. Two years ago when I first got my Kfire, I asked Amazon on FB why can we only borrow one book per month. What if we finish the borrowed book and want to borrow another. There was a little debate with another Prime member about all the other freebies and someone that monitored the Amazon FB page agreed with the other Prime member. Now, I’m not going to take credit for this new borrowing system, I’m sure I wasn’t the other Prime member that asked the same question but, I found it curious when it was announced last month or so and I like it!

    I haven’t signed up for it yet but, I like it.

  86. The most important piece for me is that when I read a story I like, the first thing I want to know is if there is another book in the series in the works. If so, I’d like to sign up right then and there to get it (just the sample I mean, I don’t ever pre-order much because I only ever want to download the sample and then I make a buying decision, that has helped me from spending money on a few dogs!). I want to push a button that says: “Inform me when next book in series is ready!” I’m an avid reader and I want this button in my life…I NEED this button in my life!!!

    For new and indie authors who do not yet have a following and if they could see that people were already clicking to show interest in their next book, that would give them a lot of support and satisfaction that their story is reaching an audience. They could sit down at their computers knowing they were working for those 5, 10 or 100 people. Or, God forbid thousands! Imagine, typing a story knowing that thousands have said if you publish it, they are interested in reading it!!! If it’s only 5, then you’d be proud to write it for them. At least then you know you have 5 people waiting and that’s all any author wants to know that someone is waiting for what they are working hard at delivering.

    I have an old Kindle and I have a folder set up that says “Get Next Book in the Series” and I have over 30 books there. I have to check periodically to see if the next book is available. If there was a way this could be automated and sent to me or an email sent to my kindle when the book is ready so I could download it myself I’d be thrilled. I think the reason why most of the 2nd and 3rd, etc books in a series do not sell as well as the first one is because most people move on with their busy lives and never remember to check to see if another one is ready. Or may do so years later. Or they forget that name of the book or author, but if someone reminded them, they’d be happy to be reminded of the characters they enjoyed once upon a time and give the next book in the series a looksee.

    Even if an author gets good comments online or in their email about the book, imagine an author after a period of writing, editing and proofing their anticipated 2nd book finally publishes and NO ONE downloads it for days…weeks, that can be disheartening. And it’s only because their audience doesn’t yet know it’s available!!! Many people will not take the time to sign up for emails at author websites – but they would push the button at the end of the book that says “Inform me when next book in series is ready!” And when it shows up in their email or on their kindle they’d check it out.

    I heard the Kindle Fire cannot even do these kinds of folders that allow me to keep track of the books I’m waiting for…so I cannot upgrade to the Fire ever…or I’d never be able to figure out the books in my que that have been read and waiting for next book in series or not yet read.

    Amazon is getting better and if they keep listening to their customers, we’ll all win!

  87. Speaking as a reader, I am very excited at Kindle Unlimited’s potential to introduce me to new authors. I am somebody who loves real ‘paper’ books. I’ll read an e-book if I have to, but the experience is totally different with the printed word and I miss it when I am reading an e-book. I don’t have a ton of money, but I do spend money on books, and I always prefer to do that on a book I can hold in my hands. Often I’ll more readily buy non-fiction on my kindle than fiction, maybe because I have a different kind of ‘relationship’ with non-fiction; less of a connection. So, anyway, the few works of fiction I have bought on kindle I don’t feel like I really ‘own’. They’re somewhere as pixels, but not that book on the shelf that you can tell how many times I’ve read it because of how worn the spine is. So paying a small fee – the price of one book – to discover many different books as e-books first is a brilliant strategy for a reader like me.

    The Wool omnibus was the first book I read on Kindle Unlimited (just finished it last night; have already looked for what book of yours to read next). It had a lot of good reviews, I like science-fiction, and most importantly, of course, once I started reading it was clear how good it was. I will now almost definitely buy a print copy of the book. The fact that I can pay for unlimited and try many different books within a month makes me feel more able to spend that money ‘again’ on a print copy of a book I’ve already read.

    With regard to the editor/cover designer – great idea to have some kind of list. I’ve been an editor for about twelve years now, first with an independent publishing house for 8 years, and now as a freelancer. The house I worked at, like most (all?) other publishing houses, did not put the editor’s name anywhere in the book. Our names are almost always only publicized through the generosity of the author’s acknowledgment to us. Recently I was contacted by someone who has just finished her first novel and is now looking for an editor. Why me? Because I was Donald Harington’s editor, and he was one of her favorite authors. Interestingly, Don never mentioned me in an acknowledgment – told me that over his long and varied career he had stopped believing in them – and sadly he died before I could think to ask him to write a recommendation for me. So this new author/client only found me because I mentioned Don on my own website, and had written a tribute to him after he died.

    Of course, there are books I’m exceptionally proud of having edited, and books I’m less connected to – I am fully committed to doing the best job possible on every book I work on, but there are some I loved, and some that were just doing the job. There are some books that were written so beautifully I had the easiest job possible, and others which took a huge amount of elbow grease. I’d make sure to have a really thorough profile of an editor – not just the books that they edited, but which their favorites were, and which books they love reading for themselves; books they wished they’d been able to edit, if you will. For example, I am an avid science fiction and fantasy reader, have been my entire life, but my work has been mostly in other genres. Someone looking for an editor might not know that I’d be a good bet in those genres too if they only looked at the books I’ve worked on.

  88. […] our results, and at the same time learn from others. Not even Amazon moves fast enough for us. We often complain about how long it takes the ‘Zon to implement ideas. To the five major New York publishers, of course, Amazon’s advances must seem like the […]

  89. Another thing that would be great is if the categories we select when we edit our book details on the KDP dashboard were the same categories as the categories in the KIndle store. As it is, I am not sure how you can get your book into certain categories as the ones on the edit book details page do not correspond well to the categories on the store.

    And why do indies only get two categories? David Gaughrin says that the big publishers get five. Why can’t we list our books in more places also?

  90. Now I am going away to do my breakfast, when having my breakfast coming again to read further news.

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