Scott Marlowe
Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited and Why I’m Out

Kindle Unlimited

On July 20 of this year, I wrote a post about why I was going all-in with Kindle Unlimited (KU). KU is one of those things where you don’t know if it’s something that will prove beneficial unless you actually try it. I can now report that I did try it, I did have some success with it, but, ultimately, I personally have not seen a great enough benefit to remain with the program moving forward. Today is therefore the last day the books in my Alchemancer series will remain in the KU program. The remainder of my books will fall out next month.

As a reader, I like the idea of KU and the idea of having an unlimited selection of books to read (yes, I know, some refer to KU as “Kindle Limited,” because the selection is not as good as Amazon will have you believe). However, my schedule does not allow me to read enough to justify the $9.99/month cost. I enrolled in the 2014 Goodreads Reading Challenge, where I committed to reading 50 books in 2014 (I’m currently at 49, so almost there). That’s about 2/month, meaning I’d pay $5/read if I was enrolled in KU. Not bad, actually, but then what if I don’t read 2 books? What if I only read one? I don’t know if I could handle the pressure! Of course, there are a number of short stories and novellas enrolled in the program, so it’d be nice to read those without having to “pay” for them.

As an author, the program started out fair. I was “selling” multiple copies of my Assassin Without a Name shorts and novellas each day, which was kind of nice because I can see some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of recouping some of the costs associated with producing those little gems. Also, I started moving a good number of my novels. In terms of units moved, KU worked out well. But only in the beginning. More on that in a sec.

Then there’s the payment thing. KU works like this: someone downloads a title, but the author isn���t paid until said reader gets past 10% of the eBook. Amazon pays for each read out of a monthly pot. So, each author receives a share, which is basically the total pot divided by the number of reads in the entire program to determine a ‘per read’ dollar figure. The dollar figure for the months I’ve been enrolled has been somewhere in the range of $1.33 – $1.50 (I can’t remember the exact numbers, but it really isn’t important). For a 99 cent short story, this works out great because, before KU, I would get $0.35 per book sold. However, for a $4.99 novel, where I get $3.50 for an actual sale, KU isn’t such a good deal.

NOTE: There’s a bit of back and forth amongst my peers about if a ‘read’ really replaces a ‘buy.’ In other words, just because someone ‘read’ your book via KU doesn’t mean you lost a sale (i.e., that they would have bought it). It’s impossible to know this, so difficult (and pointless) to debate.

The greatest benefit, and the reason I initially was happy with KU regardless of the payout, was that I was moving units. Not thousands or even hundreds, but some, every day and consistently. This was enough to keep me in the program. But then something happened. Right after Thanksgiving, reads dropped off a cliff. Literally. To the point where, this month, I think I’ve had 2 KU reads credited to my account. Fortunately, sales are going pretty well, so this has been offset. But, with no rhyme or reason to the drop-off, and no way to stimulate things back to where they were before, I don’t have any choice but to ‘go wide’ once more and release all of my titles to BN.com, Google Bookstore, iBookstore, Kobo, and others.

So, the first books to drop out of KU are The Five Elements and The Nullification Engine. The rest will fall out of the program around January 15 of next year.

This is actually good news, though, because I have been invited by various parties to participate in some fantastic opportunities in the near future. Since Kindle Select requires exclusivity, I need to get out of the program anyway. You know that saying, when one door closes, another opens? That’s pretty much the situation I’m happily in. I’ll have more on these opportunities as soon as things solidify enough for me to talk about them.

In the meanwhile, I’m in the process of restoring the first of my books back to wide distribution whilst saying a fond farewell to Kindle Unlimited. See ya!

Kindle Unlimited and Why I’m In

Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is a new program just introduced by Amazon that allows readers to read an unlimited number of Kindle books each month. Think of it as Netflix for books. The cost is $9.99 per month, though if you sign-up now Amazon starts you off with a free 30 day trial.

The ‘all you can read’ subscription based idea isn’t new. Others, like Scribd and Oyster, have been in the game for a short while now. But it says something about the viability and potential of the model given that Amazon has decided to also offer their own version of it. I think if I were Scribd or Oyster, I might be worried. Those services currently contain a wider selection of titles given their license agreements with some of the big publishers, but this is Amazon we’re talking about. With 60% of the eBook market and an army of independent and hybrid authors marching to their beat, Amazon once again has the potential to be a huge industry disruptor.

From an author’s perspective, I’m embracing this new program. Not with all of my titles, but at least with my Assassin Without a Name shorts. That series is not performing well under the usual pay for each title model. Fine Wine and Killing the Dead have been free for a long time; they each rack up the free downloads on an almost daily basis. But I haven’t seen those downloads translate into a measurable amount of paid sales. So, as I write this, those titles, along with Night of Zealotry and The Goddard Affair, have been pulled from all other online retailers and enrolled into KDP Select, which is a requirement of the Kindle Unlimited program. I don’t particularly like the exclusivity requirement, but Amazon remains my number one source of sales by far, so it would be foolish for me to not at least give this new program of theirs a try.

When you get down to it, that’s what enrolling some of my titles—specifically my short ones—into this program amounts to: it’s something I need to explore. If it works out, great. If not, I learn what I can from the experience and move on to the next, big thing. Who knows? The subscription model may become the way the majority people of people consume books. In that case, I’m already at the forefront.

Scott Marlowe
Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Book Review: Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold

View this book on Amazon.comNow that I own an eReader and thus a viable way to read eBooks without having to print them, I plan to read and review each of the featured Tor.com giveaways. This is the eighth of those reviews.

I'm taking LibraryThing's 50 Book Reading Challenge for 2010. This is my 21st read of the 50.

Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold follows the basic Tarzan theme: a feral child living amongst the animals (in this case, wolves) is discovered by an expedition and brought back to civilization. The child, a young woman known by wolves as Firekeeper but by humans as Blysse, is thought to be the daughter of the king's brother. Turns out the king has no heirs. As a monarch approaching the end of his years, he is pressured by various parties to make a selection from amongst his eligible relatives. If he doesn't choose, civil war is a very real possibility. The return of Lady Blysse throws a wrench into the plans of those factions and individuals vying for the king's favor as she quickly makes an impression upon the elder statesman.

The story would seem somewhat predictable from there, except it isn't. Not that it is a terribly complicated plot, but Lady Blysse/Firekeeper does not simply step into the role of the king's heir. In fact, when offered the responsibility, she turns it down. From that point on, the suspense is raised a notch as the reader is left hanging nearly until the end before we learn who the king has selected. It may very well be Blysse; everyone assumes it is. I won't ruin it if you decide to pick this one up, but let's just say the not knowing creates some contention amongst otherwise already strained relations.

The writing in Through Wolf's Eyes is excellent. At times suspenseful, funny, and intriguing, it is only because the story unfolds so very slowly at times that keeps me from giving this novel a stellar review. It is most definitely a competent, well-told, and interesting story. But it really lags about midway through as Lindskold spends too much time developing relationships between Blysse/Firekeeper and various other members of the royal household. It reminded me mostly of a Bujold story: interesting characters, a well-developed world, and a smooth, easy-to-read story. But it takes some time before the place Lindskold is leading us to become apparent.

There is some history or backstory that Lindskold discusses at times but doesn't explore too thoroughly: long ago, "high" animals coexisted with humans. Blysse brings two such high animals with her in the forms of Blind Seer, a very large wolf, and Elation, a peregrine falcon also larger than the norm. Blysse can communicate with both animals, and they can communicate back. It is something people do not question nor challenge. They just accept it as the sign of madness they believe it is. Lindskold could have gone further with these animals in terms of their prior relationship with humans and possibly she does in a later novel.

Through Wolf's Eyes is the first book in a series that spans at least five novels.

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Book Review: Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

View this book on Amazon.comI'm taking LibraryThing's 50 Book Reading Challenge for 2010. This is my 20th read of the 50.

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb is the first volume in the Rain Wilds Chronicles, a two part series that takes place after events told in the Liveship Traders books. Dragon Keeper was (briefly) a free giveaway in Kindle format from Amazon. That's how I obtained my copy.

I've mostly had good luck with Hobb. I really enjoyed both the Farseer and Soldier Son trilogies, but had some issues with the first novel in the Liveship Traders series. Ultimately, I never finished that series, though after having read Dragon Keeper I might be willing to give it another try. That being said, while Dragon Keeper is in some ways a continuation of the ongoing saga told in the Liveship books, it is the start of an entirely new story. There are some familiar names and faces here, but they're merely mentioned or, in the case of Althea and Brashen, appear as secondary characters.

The overarching story of the Rain Wilds Chronicles is that of a host of dragons who emerge from their cocoons underdeveloped. While the dragons of Hobb's world inherit the memories of their ancestors, these dragons are physically handicapped: their wings are stunted, their legs too short, their bodies undernourished. Forced to rely on their human tenders and dwell in a place where they are increasingly unwelcome, they decide as a group to travel upriver to seek out an ancient Elderling city that they all remember from memories past. Though they know the journey will be fraught with danger, they decide it is better to die trying than to remain where they are.

Because the dragons made a bargain with the folk of the River Wilds, they do not venture out alone. With them go the dragon keepers, malcontents and misfits chosen by the city council because they, like the dragons, are no longer wanted. The principal character amongst them is Thymara, a sixteen year old who, though born "marked" by the Rain Wild, was spared death by exposure by her father. The other keepers are a varied ensemble, with some who have definite designs of their own that go far beyond merely assisting and tending their dragons.

Also, there is Alise, a woman obsessed with dragon lore. She has amassed the single, largest repository of dragon knowledge and is given the chance to add to it when the opportunity arises for her to visit the dragons. Little does she know that they are just planning their expedition, and so, as one might expect, she winds up joining them.

Rounding out the cast is Leftrin, a likeable riverboat captain, and Sedric, Alise's oldest friend who wants nothing but the best for Alise, but who has certain nefarious motivations of his own.

I liked Dragon Keeper. While the cast of characters somewhat resembled that of Ship of Magic, where I found the majority of those characters unlikeable, these possess much greater depth and, for me, were easier to enjoy. While the novel begins with multiple storylines, it's easy to see that soon they all will coalesce into the journey the dragons intend to undertake. As a reader, I never felt I was getting bogged down with too much back story or being sent off on tangents that were either dead-ends or had nothing to do with the main plot. Everything fits here and Hobb keeps things moving along smoothly. She tells just enough to give you the characters' back-stories but not so much you feel compelled to start skipping pages.

That being said, the only thing holding me back from purchasing the next book in the series, Dragon Haven, is the Kindle price. It's not available in paperback yet, and I've never been one for hardcovers. It'd be nice if publishers would give it up already and just sell the electronic versions at a reasonable price, but that's not to be. Not right now, anyway. The Kindle edition of Dragon Haven sells for $14.99. Fortunately, my reading pile is never small, and so I can wait for it to come down in price. Take that, Big 6 Publishers.

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Book Review: Lord of the Isles by David Drake

View this book on Amazon.comNow that I own an eReader and thus a viable way to read eBooks without having to print them, I plan to read and review each of the featured Tor.com giveaways. This is the seventh of those reviews.

I'm taking LibraryThing's 50 Book Reading Challenge for 2010. This is my 19th read of the 50.

Lord of the Isles by David Drake is the next Tor.com free giveaway I'm going to review. This one is going to be a short one because, ultimately, my time with this novel was short.

There were two problems I had with Lord of the Isles: (1) the characters didn't reach out and grab me and (2) the author didn't allow for any time for the characters to reach out and grab me before the story swept them away. Unlike a Robin Hobb novel, for example, where the reader is introduced to the characters with a steady, depthful narration while the story moves along in like fashion, Drake dumps both characters and story on us with such brusqueness it was difficult to enjoy either.

The prologue details magic gone awry as a sorcerer successfully repels an attack by invaders but sinks his own city in the process. A trireme is thrown off-course from the resulting choppy seas and comes upon a small, out-of-the-way town where they discover the missing daughter of an important count and countess who were slain years before. Next thing we know this young woman is aboard the trireme and being whisked away to claim her birthright. Meanwhile, her brother, who we now know is not really her brother, looks to also be leaving the town via a visiting merchant. I stopped at that point, so I can't say what happened next.

While Drake is an accomplished writer of military fiction, he fired a blank on this one.

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Book Review: Sky of Swords by Dave Duncan

View this book on Amazon.com

I'm taking LibraryThing's 50 Book Reading Challenge for 2010. This is my 18th read of the 50.

There are six books in the King's Blades series. They are:

  1. The Gilded Chain
  2. Lord of the Fire Lands
  3. Sky of Swords
  4. Paragon Lost (review forthcoming)
  5. Impossible Odds (review forthcoming)
  6. Jaguar Knights (review forthcoming)

Sky of Swords by Dave Duncan is the third novel in the King's Blades series. In book two, Lord of the Fire Lands, the reader is left hanging at the end as history inexplicably unfolds in a different fashion compared to what was told in the first novel in the series. Duncan not only has some explaining to do, but, as a writer myself, I was curious to see how he was going to handle this inconsistent situation. I wasn't disappointed in the storytelling or the characters, but I was a little at the ultimate conclusion. Still, I'll give the author some credit: it was something you don't often see done in a fantasy novel, and while I did see where things were going about halfway through, the ride getting there was still fun.

In this installment our point-of-view character is Princess Malinda, daughter of the King of Chivial, which is the principal realm we are concerned with in book one of the series. Similar to how Lord of the Fire Lands was laid out, the story is part past, part present, but always told from Malinda's viewpoint. The novel opens with Malinda locked in prison, accused of high treason against the king. Of course, we know from the second book that the king, her father, is dead, and so the question of who is the current king is just one of many as the story unfolds.

It's interesting that Duncan chose Malinda as the primary viewpoint character. While she shows up in the previous two novels, it is mostly as cameo roles. In those, she is depicted as a spoiled child with little depth. This changes in Sky of Swords as she is forced to grow up fast or crumple beneath the political and royal weight laid upon her. Durendal (the hero and main character from the first novel) once again is present, this time as a secret advisor as Durendal must fear for his own life: Calls for the disbanding of the Blades grow louder after the king's death; anyone associated with them past or present must be wary. But Malinda casts a bold strike when she Binds four Blades to her, thus creating a group called the Princess's Blades.

Sky of Swords is an adventure novel first and foremost, but contains more court and political drama than the first two novels as Malinda must contend for the throne with a cousin and half-brother. Malinda is a likeable character whose personality we learn is quite different from her previous portrayal as we come to realize Duncan's characters are not always the most reliable narrators.

I liked Sky of Swords, but I did find the final solution to setting things right a bit of a letdown. Not to give anything away, but it was a very Superman-like ending. Still, it was a fun read and I'm looking forward to jumping into the next novel, Paragon Lost.

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Book Review: Lord of the Fire Lands by Dave Duncan

View this book on Amazon.com

I'm taking LibraryThing's 50 Book Reading Challenge for 2010. This is my 17th read of the 50.

There are six books in the King's Blades series. They are:

  1. The Gilded Chain
  2. Lord of the Fire Lands
  3. Sky of Swords
  4. Paragon Lost (review forthcoming)
  5. Impossible Odds (review forthcoming)
  6. Jaguar Knights (review forthcoming)

Lord of the Fire Lands by Dave Duncan is the second in the King's Blades novels. While it largely stands on its own, it is still intertwined with events that take place in the first novel, The Gilded Chain. In fact, Duncan drops a bomb at the end of Lord of the Fire Lands which directly contradicts events that take place in The Gilded Chain. At first, I had to wonder if I was remembering things wrong (I'd just finished the first book, so I was pretty sure I hadn't), or if I'd missed some subtle hint that would explain why history was not about to follow the path set out in The Gilded Chain. In the end, I realized Duncan had just dropped one of the biggest hooks I'd ever seen for wanting to rush out and buy the next novel in the series (that being Sky of Swords).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's stick with Lord of the Fire Lands first.

Our main characters are Raider and Wasp, both King's Blades in training who are called into service by King Ambrose. This is what King's Blades do. It is what they are recruited for, what they train for, and what they most want to do in order to bring honor to themselves and to their liege. There is no greater privilege for a Blade than to serve the King. Problem is, both Raider and Wasp refuse their liege.

What unfolds is a story narrated by Raider, whose real name is Radgar, who we come to learn is not of Chivial. Radgar hails from Bael, the Fire Lands, whose people are the sworn enemies of the Chivians. The first part of the novel is consumed by this narration, which is done very well and shows us that the Baels are not the fire-eating barbarians the Chivians believe them to be. Instead, they are colorful and sophisticated in their own way, but chillingly cold in others, as in when they "enthrall" Chivian captives, effectively turning them into soulless shells. Much of this story unfolds through Radgar' father's eyes, and so it is only when Radgar comes into his own that we jump back to the present.

From the telling of Radgar's story, Ambrose knows he can never let Radgar return home, and so he devises a hurried plot to lock the boy up for the rest of his life. Radgar, accompanied by his now sworn Blade, Sir Wasp, escapes, returns to Bael, and there tries to claim what is rightfully his.

It is then, as the novel concludes, that Duncan drops his bomb. I won't go into what it is, as giving it away could be considered a bit of a spoiler. But it's significant enough that I immediately started reading the next novel in the series, Sky of Swords.

My impression of Duncan continues to improve with this latest novel. His stories are enjoyable, engaging, and very well-written. He tends to use a lot of words from Old English; my Kindle's built-in dictionary is perhaps its best and most used feature. I started reading Sky of Swords immediately after finishing this novel and, in fact, just finished it this morning. Look for that review next.

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