Kindle Unlimited – Worth It? Or Not?

The Kindle Unlimited Service. For $10 a month = $120 a year, you get access to hundreds of thousands of titles for free. Sounds like a good deal, but I hate taking on what I call “lifestyle overhead”, the little services that nickel & dime your monthly paycheck until you have nothing left. The cell phone plan, the cable plan, magazine subscriptions, etc. all seem cheap but add up. In many cases, it’s worth forgoing the monthly bargain and buying things when you need them. (i.e. rather than subscribing to a magazine, only buying it when you happen by the bookstore and want to read it)

But I’m an avid reader, who easily spends more than $120 a year on books, so it’s worth looking into Amazon’s new offer.  With three hours of commute time on Tokyo’s trains, I get through about two books a week for nonfiction, and a book a week for fiction, which means about seventy-five books a year. Joining Kindle Unlimited seems like an easy choice, but is it? Again, I really hate lifestyle overhead. I want to make absolutely sure that it would be worth letting Jeff Bezos’s hand slip into my wallet every payday to yank out a ten spot.

My first mistake was to browse through Kindle Unlimited’s selection and try to get a feel for the books I could read through it. That’s probably what Amazon is counting on people to do. Granted, there are a lot of interesting and appealing books, and I could see myself reading them. But, that was the wrong way to go about it, and I caught myself.

I was making the same mistake people who walk into a department store, see something on sale, and buy it, thinking they’re saving money, make, which is: It’s not saving money if you wouldn’t have bought it in the first place.

So I decided to try a different approach. I went to my formidable Amazon wishlist and went title-by-title, putting the books into the Kindle Unlimited search form.

Kindle Unlimited Search Result

That line of text would soon become a familiar sight as I poured through my wishlist. Basically none of the hundreds of books I had deemed worth reading in the future was in their selection. When I was browsing through their collection, I had been wondering why Amazon didn’t include some kind of nudge for the service saying “If you subscribed to Kindle Unlimited, look at how much you’d save off your wishlist!”, but that reason became clear quite fast. Most people would probably get something along the lines of “If you subscribed to Kindle Unlimited, you’d save $0.00!” Not a very enticing advertisement.

Of course, Amazon is a shrewd company with more data on its customers than its customers have on themselves, so they could probably calculate the value of someone’s wishlist and only show an advertisement if the number was something that would look appealing, probably a number greater than $120, the cost for a year, but someone would have to have an enormous wishlist for that number to pop up – the kind of wishlist that includes stuff they don’t remember wanting to read.

Amazon’s new service leaves out a lot of publishers. After their kerfuffle, Hachette obviously has no interest in supporting Amazon, and the other big publishers: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster are still up in the air, likely in heated contract negotiations if they haven’t outright rejected the service.

Independent book authors seem to be getting a big share of the collection (without their prior consent thanks to the terms of the Kindle Digital Select program), which is fine for readers, but not fine for the authors, who are saddled with the KDP Select exclusivity contract, meaning they can’t sell their books elsewhere like normal publishers, on top of getting paid via a strange royalty system.

Given that the reader doesn’t seem to benefit, authors don’t seem to benefit, and publishers don’t seem to benefit, it’s pretty obvious that Amazon is the only one who stands to gain from the service. In addition to a guaranteed income source from people who wish they read a lot but don’t, they can take even more business away from other bookstores and online e-book services because, you can bet, once someone has committed to paying $120 a year for a book service, they’re not going to want to pay more on top of that for a book from somewhere else, even if they’re stuck picking books they weren’t even all that interested in reading.

That point brings up another caveat you should consider. If you’re paying $120 a year for an unlimited book supply, you’re likely to pick the books you read from that supply, whether you wanted to read them or not. If you’re only interested in reading words, then that’s a fine deal, but most of us have a limited amount of time and realize that one good book (or one book that is of particular interest to us) is worth a hundred books that aren’t. Your reading habits will change. No longer will you pick the book that interests you most, read it, then pick the next book that interests you the most, you’ll pick the book that interests you the most from the limited selection in the Unlimited service. The quality of your limited reading time will drop.

There’s also another thing that will drop the quality of your reading time: the unlimited aspect of the Unlimited program. Like overeating and getting sick at an all-you-can-eat buffet to “get the most value for your buck”, you’ll likely start skimming, skipping, or putting books down faster than when you had to pay for them individually. There’s a real chance that, under Unlimited, reading books will become like reading web pages: a skimming process.

Lower quality content (i.e. the books you’re not truly interested in) at a higher pace? Sounds like the internet, and Amazon seems determined to turn the consumption of books in that direction.

Of course, leaving aside that caveats, the true value of the Unlimited program for readers is going to hinge on whether Amazon can get the big publishers on board and get a larger portion of our wishlists  available. As of now, they haven’t done it, so it’s probably not worth it. But don’t take my word for it. Go to your wishlist and start typing those titles into their search engine. That will provide you with the only answer you need.

Fifth Book Stats

This will come as a surprise to those of you who know my writing style, but I’ve finished a fifth novel-length story, and it’s not even National Novel Writing Month. My first non-NaNoWrimo book was an experiment to see if I could write the story I chickened out of writing last year in favor of something more familiar. The experiment turned out well, and even without the NaNoWrimo pressure, it got done within a month. A young adult dark fantasy novel, it does a lot of things that pushed me as a writer. One of those things was writing a novel-length story in first-person POV. I used to use first-person all the time when writing short stories, but when I moved to novel-length, I made the switch to third-person limited and haven’t gone back since.

One of the biggest difficulties is keeping the character voice consistent. Because the character is now speaking through you as the writer, you end up casting your current moods and attitudes onto the character, which isn’t fair to the character because they’ve only had a few hours of novel-life to cope with what could be weeks of your life. I think I managed to keep it under control, but the first edits will reveal how well I did.

As usual, I kept detailed stats on the writing of the novel in case it sheds some light on the novel writing process, and, after five of them, it might shed some light on how a writer’s speed, etc. evolves over the years. I’ll add more statistics after I finish all of the editing drafts, so for now, this is just for the raw first draft.

Here we go with the statistics!

Time: 1975 mins (32.9 hours)
Words:  51,086 words (~204 pages)
Pace: 25.9 wds /minute
*vs. 24.7 wds / minute on Book Four
*vs. 23.5 wds / minute on Book Three
Fastest Pace: 37.0 wds / minute, working outside
*edges out my previous record of 36.9 on Book Four
Slowest Pace: 18.2 wds / minute, also working outside
*much faster than my slowest 8.9 on Book Four

For more details on the other books, check out the previous posts on Book Four and Book Three.

Kicking it Off!

blue tengu logo

I finally broke down and got the domain name to move my site from over here. All of the articles, pictures, and comments look like they survived the trip.

This will continue to be my personal site, but I’ve also got an entertainment site set up at, which I’ll be working on over the next few weeks, hoping to get it kicked off as well.

Might be a little while before I get into the flow of things, but I hope you’ll drop by once in awhile.

Pixel Art and Animation

Lately I’ve been working on learning pixel art & animation, hoping to get my meager skills serviceable enough to make the art for some old school video games. This one’s my first attempt at a person, from a picture of me after biking up Mt. Rokko many years ago:

I’ve received a lot of great advice from a coworker who used to draw 2D video game sprites and was able to put it to work. The first piece of advice was to pick a base color for each part (skin, hair, clothing, etc.), paint the part with the base color, and then go through with a highlight color and a shadow color to give it depth, while keeping it simple. The second piece of advice was to shrink a photograph of a real world object/person way down and zoom in to grasp the basic shape in terms of pixels. And of course I have the internet to thank for a lot of things, one of which was the method for resizing a sprite in Photoshop without it going blurry (Edit -> Preferences -> General : Change Bilinear to Nearest Neighbor)

With enough practice, I hope I can make creating 2D assets a little less painful when the time comes.

Fourth Book Stats

It has been some time since my last post, but that has mainly been to keep my pace up in finishing the fourth novel started last November. I managed to beat out my previous novel’s fourth edit by three months, so I’m moving considerably faster than I used to! I think the primary contributing factor has been a longer commute. I no longer live and work in Tokyo, but have to commute from a place called Tsukuba, which gives me about 50 minutes each way on the train to write (and saves me coffee money, though I miss mornings writing in a cafe with a glass of iced joe). Not all of the additional speed is from the commute time though, as the statistics I’m posting should show. Like the last time, I took detailed notes on everything (word counts, minutes spent on the different drafts, etc.) so I’m posting them in case anyone finds them interesting.

First Draft (writing to get it done!)
Started Nov 1st, 2013 and Finished Nov 26th, 2013 (vs Nov 1st, 2012 – Dec 13th, 2012 for Novel #3)
Total Word Count: 78,939 words (vs. 75,741 words for Novel #3)
Total Hours Spent: 53.2 hours (vs. 53.8 hours for Novel #3)
Average Pace: 24.7 words / minute (vs. 23.5 for Novel #3)
Best Pace: 35.1 words / minute on one morning train ride (vs. 37.9 words / minute for Novel #3)
Worst Pace: 6.9 words / minute on a difficult section during a work break

Second Draft  (edit to fill in scenes, address “notes for later”):
Started November 26th, 2013 and Finished January 15th, 2014 (vs. December 18th – March 18th for Novel #3)
New Total Word Count: 85,353 words (vs. 86,456 words for Novel #3)
* this time around I didn’t have empty scene holders or anything specific left undone, making the second draft much quicker
Total Hours Spent: 37.5 hours (vs. 49.8 hours for Novel #3)
Average Pace: 37.9 words / minute (vs. 28.9 words / minute for Novel #3)

Third Draft (edit for content and flow):
Started January 16th, 2014 and Finished Feburary 27th, 2014 (vs. March 19th – June 7th for Novel #3)
New Total Word Count: 89,846 words (word count for third draft of Novel #3 is nowhere to be found, but likely around 91K)
Total Hours Spent: 49.3 hours (vs. 56.8 hours for Novel #3)
Average Pace: 25.4 words / minute (vs. 26.9 words / minute for Novel #3)

Fourth Draft (edit for consistency and wording):
Started February 28th, 2014 and Finished March 30th, 2014 (vs. June 10th – July 1st for Novel #3)
New Total Word Count: 87,797 words (vs. 97,095 words for Novel #3)
* Unlike Novel #3, I actually managed to trim the length down with better wording, etc.
  and I also used a few software programs to do the check (Cliche Cleaner and Editor, highly recommended!)
  so the Fourth Draft this time represents a lot more work
Total Hours Spent: 33.1 hours (vs. 23.3 hours for Novel #3)
Average Pace: 44.2 words / minute (vs. 69.4 words / minute for Novel #3)

Project Total:
Started on November 1st, 2013 and Finished on March 30th, 2014 (vs. November 1st – July 1st for Novel #3)
Total Hours Spent: 173.1 hours (vs. 183.7 hours for Novel #3)
Total Words: 87,797 = ~351 pages (vs. 97,095 ~ 388 pages for Novel #3) (at the industry standard 250 words / page)
Total Avg Words / Minute: 8.4 words / minute (vs. 8.8 words / minute for Novel #3)

Unlike the previous novel, this count includes a copy edit and grammar check with software tools, so the end count is a bit like comparing passion fruit and kiwis. One other thing I can say which dramatically improved the writing time was breaking away from the NaNoWrimo habit of “just keep writing” and instead, fixing problems as they came up. That meant problems could be addressed before they wove their way deep into the story rather than waiting until the second or third draft and holding my head in pain as I try to rebuild the house of cards every fix knocks down. If you’re just starting out, I would definitely recommend going the NaNoWrimo way, because getting the first draft of your first novel done is the most important thing, but if you have one or two victories under your belt, consider doing a little more outline-level plot fixing as you go. It will save you time later!!!

The subject matter of this novel was back to Science Fiction from Horror, which was in some ways more comfortable and in some ways more difficult. For me, the things that are more difficult about writing Sci-Fi are: getting the science right (or at least doing my best to investigate where research is going), getting the tone right (aliens, AI, etc. are a much wider cast of characters than modern humans), and formality. The things that were more difficult about writing horror (at least the last novel were): getting the facts straight (I had to spend hours looking up video formats, etc. just to get a few details right), getting the characters to loosen up while still sounding like real people, and getting the tension right. I like both genres a lot, which is why I alternate between them, but they definitely have their differences! My next step will likely be going back to horror, but going for a much more challenging-to-write main character (a teenage girl) and audience (YA). I’ll also be looking at getting a website set up, so I hope to see you there when it’s ready! I’ll keep this blog updated as I get started on the next project and the site.

Writing Tools


Although the main tool I was planning to discuss was something for ferreting out cliches and overused expressions, the timing was right for kicking off with this article on the preferred writing tools of some famous authors. I’m sure that not many modern publishers would appreciate an envelope stuffed with hundreds of pages of loose-leaf paper smothered in barely legible fountain pen ink, so anymore analog tools are the luxury of someone who wants to retype all of their work or someone already so famous that they could scribble a novel on a roll of toilet paper and receive offers for it, but the idea of buckling down with a fountain pen or a pencil and a notepad does carry a romance that’s difficult to obtain with a computer – the same tool that does everything from calculate taxes to display videos of cats falling off of sofas.

Though analog tools have fallen out of favor, the specialization that something that cannot be reprogrammed, such as a fountain pen and an empty sheet of paper, provides is not only romantic, it makes the tool legitimately well-suited for the job it was designed for: writing. The empty piece of paper doesn’t offer the allure of escape. It gets filled with thoughts or it stays blank, whereas a computer display can easily flip from Word to the news that Ben Affleck is going to be the next Batman (I think he’ll do a good job btw). Whether the writer does actually flip to the news of Batman = Daredevil or not doesn’t matter, the fact that the option is available is what makes writing on a computer a dangerous activity because we are trained through hours of flipping back and forth to treat anything perceived through the computer in short bursts, which is why reading on one is so difficult. Even on my writing computer, which is not attached to the internet, it’s likely that some attention is lost to the flipping habit, so the ye old fountain pen approach is quite attractive. Alas, it is impractical.

Though it’s not all bad. Aside from not having to smear white out all over mistakes, the other advantage computers provide is providing tools that cover repetitive tasks or data analysis. I’ve mentioned a few before, but one that I found recently that’s interesting is Cliche Cleaner. It’s rare I buy tools, but this one might be worth it. It not only checks text for overused expressions from the public domain = cliches, it also checks text for overused expressions from the author = repetition. On a few tests, it tore through a few bits of writing like an editor worth his or her weight in gold (cliche attack). The fountain pen might have its uses, but the computer’s no slouch (argh, another one).

The other option that has been popping up more and more among writers is dictation. Not dictation software, but dictation into recording devices while on the go and using those audio files to transcribe what was said. In my case, that’s not an attractive option because my stream of thought doesn’t flow in one direction and any attempt to record me speaking to myself would leave me trying to decipher the ramblings of a crazy man at the end of my walk through the woods, but it might be worth a try for more organized folks. The powerful advantage that the approach offers is the ability to hear how words sound strung together long before the editing process begins – potentially saving hours of work later at the cost of an initial transcription investment. A boon, especially in a dialog rich work.

In a perfect world, I could dictate to a robot that writes with a fountain pen while double checking my work. Eh, who am I kidding? If I was shooting for perfect, I might as well throw in a brain-wave reading robot which would dictate to the other robot for me. Until then, I’ll have to make do with Cliche Cleaner and macros.

Short or Long Story?

Once in a while I come across a novel that should have been a short story or a short story that should have been a novel. What seems to be the problem is:

A short story that should have been a long story =
a character-focused story that doesn’t pan out because, like an awkward date between two people that don’t know anything about each other, the character hasn’t fed the reader enough reasons to care

A long story that should have been a short story =
a plot-focused story that hangs on the empty framework of shallow characters and drags with a Monty Python-style “Get on with it” chorus chiming in every chapter

Although there are examples of short stories with a rich character (note the singular) and plenty of examples of novels that keep the pages turning on the power of their world or story alone, they are the rare case. In general, it’s safer to decide:
“Is this about how a character adapts to challenges and grows?” = Long Story
“Is this about a cool idea I want to explore?” = Short Story

Writing with Style

This jumps back to the earlier post about JK Rowling being recently outed by her style, but there is a site that will analyze a few paragraphs of work and tell what famous author’s writing style the writing resembles.
I Write Like
Of course I have no idea what sort of algorithm is behind the decision, how many authors are covered, etc. so it’s not to be taken too seriously, but it can be fun, especially if given a few years worth of work. According to what I’ve done so far:
1st Novel – Dan Brown
2nd Novel – James Joyce
3rd Novel – P.G. Wodehouse
Quite an odd progression in style (and a bit hard to swallow, but interesting nonetheless). Style is like a fingerprint, it’s so unique that, even if similarities exist, no two people write alike. And, more enlightening, as writing reflects growth, no person writes like they did yesterday, which makes it so much better than a fingeprint.