Intrigued by Amazon’s Vella

Vella is coming soon.

Writers will publish stories in episodes. A single episode may be anywhere from 600 words to 5000 words.

Readers will read stories one episode at a time.

One neat feature that I like is that the author can include optional notes at the end of each episode. An author might share insights into how the story came about or share a personal note. There are many ways that authors can use this space.

Ordinarily, when you read a novel, such notes don’t appear between the chapters, and would seem to break up the momentum of the story. But with Vella, readers aren’t buying the entire book at once, but are reading one episode at a time. I might like some of the tidbits that get included here. Another possible use of author notes is to generate interest in the next episode.

Author notes are capped at 200 words per episode, so a single note won’t be too long. But after reading several episodes, there is a lot of potential for readers to learn more about the characters or the author.

Covers are simplified. It isn’t necessary to include any text on the cover itself. You just need to make a 1600 by 1600 square image (less than 2 MB) to generate interest in your story. Amazon automatically places the title and author name below the image.

Formatting the story is incredibly simplified. Every story will appear in block paragraphs with no indents, with spacing between the paragraphs. This is done automatically. You type, paste, or upload a story with paragraphs and that’s how it will come out.

There are no pictures to worry about in the content file. There are no bullet points, no subscripts or superscripts, no headings, no subheadings, no drop caps, or any of the kinds of things that complicate formatting.

Since Vella is designed for sharing stories, it is designed for plain text.

It is also phone friendly. For the phone, it makes sense not to indent paragraphs, but to instead put space between them. You can type with indented paragraphs with no space between them, and when you upload the file for each episode, it will automatically be converted to block paragraphs with no indents, with space between paragraphs.

The description is limited to 500 characters, which forces you to be concise. Most readers don’t read beyond the Read More point at Amazon, especially for fiction. It pays to learn how to be concise here, and to generate interest without spoiling the story.

The first three episodes are free. This basically serves as the Look Inside. The first three episodes need to be good enough to make the reader to want more.

For me, the most challenging part is to come up with the tags. I think this will be easier once Vella gets underway and we can explore the different tags in use.

The category choices are currently very limited. There are basically no subcategories. You’ll need to use a couple of tags to function as your subcategories.

The pricing is interesting. Readers buy tokens in bulk. The examples suggest that a token will cost about a penny. The exact cost depends on how large a quantity of tokens the customer buys. They can buy more and save a little per token.

The token idea makes sense because you can’t charge small dollar amounts on a credit card; the fees would make it impractical. But you can charge for hundreds of tokens on a credit card and let readers use tokens to buy low-cost episodes.

It looks like Amazon is taking prices out of the hands of the author. It looks like one token will unlock 100 words. For example, if an episode has 753 words, a customer will need to use 7 tokens to unlock the episode. If an episode has 799 words and you add one word to it, a customer will need to use 8 tokens instead of 7.

It looks like the author earns 50% of the customer’s cost of the tokens. So if customers spend approximately 1 penny per token, an author earns about half a penny per token spent. In this example, an author is earning about half a penny per 100 words read.

It’s interesting to compare this with Kindle Unlimited, where authors in KDP Select earn a little under half a penny per KENP page read. A KENP page read typically has well more than 100 words, right? So half a penny per 100 words in Vella seems to be a much improved rate compared to Kindle Unlimited.

Here’s another way to look at it. Suppose that you write a 100,000 word novel and break it up into episodes for Kindle Vella. (Before you get any ideas, you’re not allowed to publish currently or previously available books on Kindle Vella.)

At 100 words per episode, a 100,000 word novel would require spending 1000 tokens, which is a lot of tokens. If a customer spends 1 penny per token, it will cost the customer $10 to buy every episode of your novel (well, the first three episodes are free), and you would earn about $5 in royalties for the novel. So the royalty rate, if it stays this way, appears to be favorable for authors, much better than Kindle Unlimited, even better than sales of novels.

Seriously, most indie authors don’t price a 100,000 word novel at $9.99 and proceed to sell it like hot cakes.

But the novel was just to get an idea of the royalty rate, not to suggest that a novel is a good fit for Vella.

Vella is designed for stories that can be told one episode at a time.

Another important consideration is that customers will buy the story one episode at a time.

The customer isn’t paying the price for the book and buying the entire book.

The customer will read the first three episodes for free. If they are good enough, the customer may buy the first episode. The sequence of episodes needs to hold the reader’s interest, otherwise, the reader will just spend a small number of tokens and abandon the book.

If the reader only reads 10% of the book, the author only earns royalties for the tokens spent to unlock 10% of the book. If the book is good enough for most customers to read all of it, then the author earns the maximum possible royalty for the book. So just having 100,000 boring words won’t be earning authors $5 per book. But 100,000 captivating, spellbinding, marvelously crafted words can bring a favorable royalty per customer.

The pricing appears to reward reader engagement. Personally, I like this, whether as a reader or as an author.

Vella has appeal to me both as a reader and as an author.

As a reader, I look forward to Author Notes. For me, it’s like a bonus feature. You sometimes get these things in front matter or back matter. But with Vella, when they are available, we’ll get them in tidbits between episodes. I like the potential.

As an author, until now I’ve only written nonfiction, mostly math and science workbooks. I’ve considered writing stories for several years, but until Vella was introduced, had never attempted it. But now, I’m planning to write some stories. I may publish some or all of them under a pen name. We’ll see.

I’ll definitely be registering the copyrights for my work though.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks

Amazon KDP Coming to Australia

AUSTRALIA KDP

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is finally opening a print-on-demand (POD) facility in Australia, which is great news for authors, small publishers, and Amazon customers in Australia.

The new facility is set to begin its launch on May 19, 2021.

KDP authors should check their paperback pricing options starting on May 12, 2021. On this date, you will be able to check your list price and royalty for Australia, and if necessary, you can adjust the list price for AU. The printing costs are apparently higher in Australia, so you want to make sure that your royalty isn’t zero or very low (if it is, you can adjust the royalty by increasing the list price, if needed).

For authors who live in Australia, the big question is whether or not you will be able to order author copies and proofs printed in Australia. The answer appears to be YES according to the KDP help pages and an answer from KDPSasha on the KDP community forum. (However, unfortunately, authors in Canada currently have their copies printed in the US.)

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks

A New Form of Book Piracy

Image licensed from Shutterstock.

BEWARE OF BOOK PIRATES

Earlier this year, after publishing a new book, I visited Amazon to check it out. When I finished inspecting the Amazon detail page for my new book, I clicked the link by my author photo to visit my Author Central page. And, boy, was I surprised by what I found.

(A little background: Author Central now shows only my Kindle eBooks by default. Customers have to click the Paperback tab to find my paperback books.)

I noticed one of my better selling books near the top of the list. What stood out is that book is only available in paperback. (For good reason. With thousands of math problems, this particular workbook would not be ideal for Kindle.) Yet, there it was on the list of my Kindle eBooks.

At first thought, I had hoped that Amazon was finally starting to show all of my books by default (like they had once upon a time), instead of just the Kindle eBooks. Some of my books are only available in paperback, and so customers can’t find them on my Author page unless it occurs to them to click the Paperback tab.

But I soon realized that it was indeed a Kindle eBook. What a surprise! This book is only available in paperback. How was a Kindle edition of this book on my author page?

I visited KDP just to see with my own eyes that this book wasn’t showing on my Bookshelf in eBook format. Indeed, it was only available as a paperback.

When I explored this mysterious Kindle eBook, it was obvious to me that it wasn’t mine. Yet it had the same title, the same cover, and even my own name listed as the author. Only it wasn’t a book that I had published (or authorized). When I opened the Look Inside, it looked like someone had used OCR to convert my paperback to a Kindle eBook (which is NOT a good way to convert a book to Kindle format, by the way). When I reached the exercises, I immediately saw a problem. The paperback has the exercises arranged in three columns. In this mysterious Kindle edition, the three equations from the three columns merged together, so that a customer wouldn’t be able to tell when one equation stopped and another started. It was a formatting nightmare, rendering the math unreadable. So not only was there a pirated version of my book available for sale, but any customers who purchased the eBook would likely be quite displeased. Yet the book had a sales rank of about 100,000, so people had evidently been buying the book. What is even more incredible is that the list price was exactly the same as the price of the paperback. The publication date showed that the eBook had already been available for a few weeks before I discovered it.

Fortunately, Amazon has a special form for people or businesses to report copyright or trademark infringement. If you published through KDP, visit KDP’s Contact Us page, and when you select the appropriate menu item, it will automatically take you to Amazon’s copyright infringement form.

I’m not a big fan of the form itself. You have to state your problem clearly in 1000 characters or less. I struggled with this because it was my own name on the pirated book, and I wanted to make it very clear that someone else was using my name and content without my permission (to try to avoid confusion). Plus, the form has lawyer-ish language that seems nonspecific to books. One question wants to know if it is a physical item, and, well, it was an eBook. Is that a physical item? There wasn’t an option for a Kindle eBook. Other questions like this ran through my mind.

Unfortunately, it can take an agonizing couple of days to receive a response. I submitted my request on a Saturday, and Monday was a holiday, so this evidently added to my waiting period. Remember those snow and ice storms that some states had earlier this year? Guess what. This book piracy happened to occur at about the same time, so that while I was constantly checking my email for a response and Amazon to see if the pirated book would ever get taken down, at home I was experiencing frequent rolling power outages. It was a nightmare in a nightmare. (Pinching didn’t help.)

After this waiting period, I received a response and the pirated eBook was taken down. (Thank you, Amazon.)

I can’t imagine what the “pirate” was thinking. Somebody invested some time to get the book, OCR the book, and make the Kindle edition (as little effort as that might have been, and as poorly formatted as the result was). What did they expect to gain from this? Amazon doesn’t pay authors for a couple of months after the purchase specifically so that in the case of infringement or other violations of the TOS, the infringing author won’t ever receive one penny. Did the person expect not to get caught? The book used my cover, my name, even got linked to my actual paperback. Kind of hard not to notice. I’m guessing the “pirate” must have done this to several books, not just mine. The copyright team hopefully checked out any other books that person had published when they blocked the book that I reported.

The lesson is to make sure that nobody else is selling your book on any major retailers, such as Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

A more common mosquito-like book piracy problem is to find websites that claim to be selling or giving away unauthorized copies of your book. Often, these websites don’t actually have the book. With all of the viruses, malware, and phishing that plagues the internet these days, my advice is to avoid visiting untrusted websites, avoid clicking links, and avoid downloading files. Hopefully, most customers will be wise enough not to try to obtain books from unknown sites. People shop for books at places they trust, like Amazon. If you find your book being sold or given away, you can issue a takedown notice. Unfortunately, this can become a regular occurrence, taking up a great deal of time and energy.

If you’re an author, I hope you never have your book pirated. I hope you sell enough books that other people “wish” that they had written your book, but I hope they don’t try to actually sell unauthorized copies of your book.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Expanded Distribution Has Expanded

EXPANDED DISTRIBUTION

Amazon KDP now offers two Expanded Distribution channels. In addition to the usual Expanded Distribution channel for the US, they have added an Expanded Distribution channel for the UK.

Authors and publishers using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing for paperbacks may now add the Expanded Distribution channel for the UK. Each title must be individually enrolled. To sign up for Expanded Distribution in the UK, find a book on your Bookshelf, and go to Page 3 of the publishing process for the paperback edition (the pricing page). You may need to click an option to show prices in other countries. If your list price is too low, your book won’t be eligible for Expanded Distribution in the UK (unless you’re willing to raise your UK list price). Check the Expanded Distribution royalty amount that is displayed and make sure that you’re comfortable with that royalty. The process isn’t complete until you click the button at the bottom to submit the book for publishing (or for “republishing”). The changes won’t take effect until the book is republished.

Every little bit helps. 🙂

If you had edited your book description through Author Central, beware that the description in your KDP description field (Page 1 of the publishing process) will now overwrite the Author Central description. If this may be an issue for you, copy/paste the HTML version of your Author Central page into the KDP description field before you submit the book for publishing. (If you receive an error message, it might be that the syntax for KDP’s description HTML is different than Author Central’s regarding br for manual line breaks.)

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Kindle Unlimited, October, 2019

The Kindle Unlimited Per-Page Rate for October, 2019

$0.0047 is the Kindle Unlimited (KENP) per-page rate for October, 2019.

It’s nearly identical to the rate for September, 2019. (You need more decimal places to see a difference.)

September and October were about 7% better than July and August.

The KDP Select Global Fund reached a new high of $26 million.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

AMS Advertising: Now in the UK and Germany

Background image from ShutterStock.

AMS ADVERTISING VIA KDP NOW AVAILABLE IN THE UK AND GERMANY

Amazon KDP has its expanded its AMS advertising option to books that are available at Amazon’s UK (United Kingdom) and DE (Germany) stores.

On the one hand, if you are among the first to test this out, you might get ahead of the competition. On the other hand, if a big swarm of authors shows up all at once to test this out, some people may vastly overbid and hog all of the clicks (at an expensive cost) just to test out how it works. So if you’re not getting much activity for several days, my suggestion is to be patient, don’t raise your bid insanely, wait for people to spend more money than they can afford and for the bids to drop down to reasonable values (and then maybe even start a new ad later, which is sometimes better than continuing an unproductive ad).

Note that UK bids are in GBD, not US dollars. You might want to Google a currency calculation to see how much you’re really bidding if you’re used to US currency.

If you already have an AMS account setup for the US, you have to be careful about how to test this out.

Note that existing or even new ads placed in the US will NOT display in the UK or DE. You have to setup new ads using the AMS site specifically for the UK or DE.

Don’t go to Reports. (Because if you reach the UK or DE site that way, it might seem like you have to setup an account from scratch. So try my suggestion first.)

Don’t go to AMS for the US.

Go to your KDP Bookshelf.

Find a book that is live in Amazon UK (or DE).

Hover your cursor over the gray ellipsis (…) button to the right of the title on your KDP Bookshelf.

Click the Promote and Advertise option.

Now select your marketplace.

If you already have an Amazon Author Page setup in the UK, you probably already have an Amazon account setup for the UK. However…

You might need to update a credit card or add billing info for it (even if it is currently working for your US advertising with no problem).

The reason is that Amazon AMS has different sites for advertising in the US, UK, and DE stores. So you might need to do a little work to get your billing info setup.

If you advertise in both the US and the UK, for example, you’ll need to monitor your reports separately at the US and UK sites for Amazon AMS.

For authors who live in the UK or DE, or whose work is highly relevant for these countries, you are probably eager to test this out.

Otherwise, first ask yourself if you have any books that may be a good fit for this audience. If they expect one thing, but get something else entirely because your book is a much better fit for the United States, the ad probably won’t work out.

If you have regular sales in the UK and also some good reviews in the UK, then you have some reason to believe that your book may be a decent fit for the UK audience.

Search for AMS on the search bar on my blog. I have several articles on advertising with AMS (including one specifically about changes in 2019).

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Kindle Unlimited: What was the KENP rate for July, 2019?

KINDLE UNLIMITED PAGES READ FOR JULY, 2019

The KENP rate for pages read in Kindle Unlimited in July, 2019 was $0.00439.

It’s a small drop (roughly 5%) compared to June’s rate of $0.00464.

However, Amazon actually paid out more royalties overall in July than in June.

That’s because the KDP Select Global Fund rose from $24.9 million to a record $25.6 million.

Perhaps Amazon Prime Day had a small impact. If, for example, Amazon sold many Kindle ereaders, there may be new customers using their free month of Kindle Unlimited.

Whatever the reason, the per-page rate does tend to vary a bit, although it has been relatively stable for much of 2019.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Kindle Unlimited Pages Read Rate for May, 2019

MAY, 2019 KINDLE UNLIMITED PER PAGE RATE

For May, 2019, the KENP per-page rate for pages read through Kindle Unlimited was $0.00466.

This is nearly identical to what it was in April, and is a small improvement over March.

In May, the KDP Select Global fund climbed up to $24.6 million.

The Global fund was $24.1 in April and $24.0 million in March.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

More Changes to AMS Advertising—Up and Down Bidding

 

AMS ADVERTISING BIDDING DYNAMICS

The amount of your bid may now change.

This includes ad campaigns that were running prior to April 22, 2019.

There are now three campaign bidding strategies:

  1. Dynamic bids—down only. Your bid is automatically lowered when Amazon predicts that your ad would be less likely to convert to a sale.
  2. Dynamic bids—up and down. Your bid is automatically raised as much as 100% when Amazon predicts that your ad would be more likely to convert to a sale, and lowers your bid when it would be less likely to convert to a sale.
  3. Fixed bids. Your bid is fixed, unless you check one of two boxes that allow Amazon to adjust your bid.

In addition to the bidding strategies, there are now two bid adjust options (which replace the old Bid+):

  1. You may choose to increase your bid by up to 900% to land your ad at the top of search results (first page).
  2. You may choose to increase your bid by up to 900% to land your ad on a product page.

WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR OLD AD CAMPAIGN?

If you launched an ad campaign with AMS prior to April 22, 2019, the bidding strategy was automatically changed to Dynamic bids—down only.

If your ad previously had Bid+ set to on, it now includes a 50% bid adjust for top of search (first page).

MAKING SENSE OF THESE CHANGES

The main idea behind AMS advertising is relevance. When the most relevant ads show to customers, this benefits customers, it benefits Amazon, and it benefits the product being advertised.

AMS has always benefited authors and companies whose advertisements rate high in terms of relevance.

In fact, by rating high in terms of relevance, an ad campaign can actually generate more impressions at a more modest bid.

If an ad creates 2000 impressions and has no sales, from Amazon’s perspective the ad doesn’t seem very relevant to the customers seeing the ad.

If an results in a sale once on average for every 500 impressions, this ad is far more relevant than an ad that creates one sale for every 2000 impressions.

What I’ve said so far has been true for years.

The recent change of introducing bidding dynamics helps to reflect relevance in the amount of the bid itself.

In circumstances where an ad has a history of seeming less relevant, a dynamic bid would lower the bid for less relevant ads.

In circumstances where an ad has a history of seeming more relevant, a dynamic up-and-down bid would raise the bid for more relevant ads.

DON’T GO OVERBOARD

Amazon makes it easy for authors to bid too high.

It’s very common for authors to bid more than they can afford to bid.

If you bid too high, your ad is more likely to result in a short-term loss, and you’re more likely to think that AMS isn’t for you.

First of all, it helps to realize that AMS isn’t just for books. There are many businesses using AMS to advertise many other products.

When you’re selling a product that retails for $100 or more, and where your profit is $10 or more, you can afford to bid $1 or more and you can afford to include a large bid adjust option.

When you’re an author selling a book for $5 with a royalty of $3, you can’t afford to bid $1 or close to it (there may be exceptional circumstances, but very rarely).

If you mostly sell Kindle eBooks, and if your average royalty is close to 70% (if your books include many pictures, your effective royalty is probably much less due to the delivery fee), then you want your ACOS (average cost of sale) to be 70% or less so that you’re not losing money on your ad.

If you mostly sell paperback books, and if your average royalty is close to 30%, then you want your ACOS to be less than 30%. The list price should be higher for a paperback, which helps to offset this lower percentage.

Figure out what your average royalty is, then keep a close eye on your ACOS and strive to keep it below your royalty percentage.

For comparison, my ads (some for books under pen names) generate millions of impressions (combined) in a single month with an ACOS usually around 25%. So it is possible to generate many impressions at a modest ACOS.

My ad campaigns use dynamic bidding—down only. I don’t currently raise my bids. The main reason is that this happened automatically on April 22. But after about a month of data, I don’t yet see a convincing reason to change to up-and-down bidding. I might try it with a future ad and see how it does, but the big downside is that ads will cost more.

I didn’t use Bid+, so I don’t bid extra for placement in search results or on product pages. For a nonfiction book, I would prefer to show high in search results than on a product page. But I also prefer not to pay extra for this.

It’s tempting to bid higher and bid extra. But it costs more. If you can get successful ads at a lower cost, you can run your ads for a much longer period.

The main key to success is relevance. You can actually generate good impressions at a modest bid if your targeting results in high relevance.

Part of relevance is a compelling cover, effective description, helpful Look Inside, amazing content that leads to good reviews, etc. This helps you sell more books for each 1000 impressions, which helps to rate high in terms of relevance.

Part of relevance is effective targeting. I have a knack for researching keywords and keyphrases. I spend time on Amazon typing in keywords and seeing what it suggests (yes, I know this isn’t perfect, but as it turns out, it really helps with brainstorming). I jot down keyword ideas whenever they occur to me. Use your brainstorming techniques. Now I don’t use every keyword (or better, group of related keywords) that comes to mind, but I do have a very long and varied list to begin with.

I suggest trying to bid below a half-dollar, maybe in the 30 to 40 cents range. This may not be enough with a popular broad keyword like “mystery” or with a product page for a popular book. But if you are clever enough to find combinations of keywords that do get searched several times per day, but which aren’t insanely popular, or similar popularity for product page targeting, you can get lower bids to be effective.

But you really want the targeting to be relevant for your book. That’s the most important thing. If the wrong audience is looking at your ad, you will rate poorly in terms of relevance.

If your ad isn’t performing well and it’s been a couple of weeks, you can pause or terminate your ad and start a new one. Try different targeting.

Raising the bid isn’t likely the solution to an ad that isn’t performing well because it doesn’t rate well in terms of relevance. But new targeting may help you land more impressions at a modest bid. If you can rate better in terms of relevance, you can land many more impressions.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides