Here’s one more reason why you need to be looking at eBooks as part of your “I’m-a-journalist-who-needs-to-make-money” career strategy.
Kindle Singles is Amazon.com’s effort to promote shorter-length eBooks, between 5,000 and 30,000 words. Prices are low, too – Amazon requires that eBooks selected for the Kindle Singles program be listed between 99 cents and $4.99. However, all titles listed under Kindle Singles are eligible for a 70 percent commission to authors instead of the 30 percent commission it offers for titles priced under $2.99.
(By the way, if you haven’t read our series on publishing eBooks, you might want to start there before reading more about the Kindle Singles program.)
With Kindle Singles, Amazon’s using the flexibility of the eBook medium to target stories whose natural length falls in the gap between magazine articles and books:
“We’re looking for compelling ideas expressed at their natural length–writing that doesn’t easily fall into the conventional space limitations of magazines or print books…. A Kindle Single can be on any topic. So far we’ve posted fiction, essays, memoirs, reporting, personal narratives, and profiles, and we’re expanding our selection every week. We’re looking for high-quality writing, fresh and original ideas, and well-executed stories in all genres and subjects.”
But can Amazon create a market for this content? To get a first-person perspective on publishing a Kindle Single title, I emailed Will Bunch, who recently published October 1, 2011: The Battle of the Brooklyn Bridge about a pivotal day in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“As a writer, it’s always exciting to experiment,” Bunch replied. “Although I was pleased with my 2010 book about the rise of the Tea Party, The Backlash, it was hard to get people’s attention with a $16-20 hardcover book with so much good free and immediate writing on the same topic on the Internet. I thought with the Kindle Single I could produce a piece of writing that would come at the right time (when Occupy Wall Street was still at the top of the news) at the right length (14,500 words) at the right price (99 cents, in the spirit of the 99 percent.)”
Anyone who publishes an eBook on the Kindle platform can request to have his or her title considered as a Kindle Single. You can’t submit excerpts of a larger work, or republished work. Amazon’s also not now accepting “how-to manuals, public domain works, reference books, travel guides, or children’s books” as Kindle Singles, either. That doesn’t mean you can’t sell those items in the Kindle Store. It’s just that you won’t get the promotional boost of being listed on the Kindle Singles pages, and if you price under $2.99, you’ll be stuck with the 30% commission rate.
Kindle Singles also provides eBook publishers the opportunity to work with publication agents, a rarity for solo publishers in the eBook world. As an established print author, Bunch’s literary agent made the initial contact with Amazon, but once Amazon agreed to include Bunch in Kindle Singles, he got the chance to work with Kindle Singles editor David Blum to focus the end product.
Don’t expect Amazon to do all the work, though. In my experience, Amazon is the best eBook retailer in “suggested sales,” pushing your titles in front of consumers who have bought similar works. But to take full advantage of Amazon’s social recommendation system, you need to launch your title with a big push to generate those initial sales. So how did Bunch launch “Battle of the Brooklyn Bridge”?
“I don’t think it’s much different than regular books,” Bunch replied. “Become a presence on social networks, and use blogs intelligently – TV and radio is great if you have the right subject. You have to compensate for the fact that you won’t likely get traditional book reviews – but there are fewer and fewer reviews of conventional books anyway!”
Bunch introduced the eBook to readers on his blog and Twitter account, as well as in a post he wrote on Huffington Post. Additional links came from liberal blogs Firedoglake and Eschaton, and Bunch also made appearances promoting the book on radio and Keith Olbermann’s TV show. The blitz helped push Bunch’s book into the top 100 for all Kindle titles. Now, Bunch is trying to build on that momentum by reaching out to the progressive community online.
“One of my ambitions is to chronicle current events and politics in a writerly fashion – with a point of view, but not necessarily the kind of polemic that dominates the political best seller,” he said.
So is a Kindle Single a worthwhile option for other journalists?
“I think narratives and essays or meditations on topics that don’t merit a full-length book work well, and of course short stories for fiction writers,” Bunch replied. “Don’t have grandiose expectations — if you find the right publisher (like Amazon) you may earn as much as a major magazine article, but fortune is a longshot, fame not quite as much.”
Will he write a Kindle Single again?
“You bet. One benefit of the Kindle Single is that it’s a good format for experimentation; for example, I’ve long had an interest in other topics outside of politics, such as sports, and this might be the best way to take a risk with a new direction.”