Jelec, the White Bear

Beware an Encounter with a Raven and his Friends

Category: General

How to Write, Part 2: Deliberate Practice, or, Give Up What You Could Lose

Albrecht Dürer: Ritter, Tod und Teufel

First: a Note I Wrote for You

It’s come to my attention (via a friend who’s much smarter than I am, and whose opinion I respect), that the tone of this blog is condescending. Upon reflection, I agree. Who am I, anyway, and more importantly, who do I think I am, that I should write these things, and in this way?

The answer is that I’m just some random guy on the internet who has opinions about stuff. Those opinions may have value (or not), but the way in which they’re presented could use improvement. I’m keeping that in mind going forward, and trying to be more real. Even if that’s not cool. Just sayin’.

Second: That Said, Check out this Fortune Cookie I got Today

You must give up what you could lose in order to gain what you could not lose.

I ate some Chinese food last night. Too much of it, in fact. Came away all bloated and depressed, ready to call it a year already and move on to 2013, as if that were possible. That’s when I found this little gem. Little harbinger of serendipity, that. Saved me from thinking too much about the inevitable doom that awaits us all. Death, taxes, larger pant sizes, cavities, retirement (or lack thereof), you name it. Just doom and gloom, and turtles all the way down. Until this.

Perhaps I’ve said too much?

In any case, amid the general waste and decay, the piles of wrinkled clothing and so on that surround me in this, my man-mole internet shut-in habitat, I came upon a wrinkled message from an angel. Or from the LORD, if you believe in such things. Cthulhu, anyone? Whomever the originator, the Prime Mover, if you will, it saved me and kept me strong to fight another day. This day.

Third: What in Tarnation does Any Of This Have to do with Writing?

Easy. Just list all the things that you could lose, without which you’d still be able to function and, beyond that, even thrive. Yes, maybe you could even thrive. Perhaps you could do without your Tivo, your Netflix subscription? What about your favorite internet video games, or your (GASP) Angry Birds? What if you spent three days without seeing an Angry Bird? What would you do?

Why, you’d write, of course. And write some more. Think of all of the distractions you could lose, that would allow you to gain what you could not lose. And if you’re a writer, and love this stuff, and even think of being a “real” writer, one of those mythical, unicorn-like creatures which Absalom absconded with lo those many years ago, then the definition of what you could not lose must absolutely include the time to practice your craft. No, not like I do it when I ramble here on the internet, but really practicing, as in: “Deliberate practice,” which is a term coined by Swedish research psychologist Anders Ericsson.

There’s a great introduction to the research and its general points in this piece by Shelley Gare in the Australian.

Incidentally, I’ve read three of the books mentioned in that article, and they’re worth a look: Colvin, Coyle, and Gladwell. I’ve listed them in alphabetical order, so as not to play favorites.

Let me close by adding a question and an answer, lest you think I’m ignorant of my own failings: Do I need to take my own advice here? Good heavens yes!

Ah! Dollop of the sweet cream that is metacognition! I salute you!

All best to you, my sweet readers, writers and dreamers of all kinds.



Some Preliminary Notes on Making the Ebook Sausage

So, you wanna make an ebook, huh?

There are lots of folks and/or companies out there who will take your lovely Word document and, from that, generate all manner of ebook file formats, to wit: MOBI, EPUB, AZW, LRF, CBZ, DAISY, PDB, LIT, PRC, PKG, OPF, PDF, PDB, and PS, to name but a few 1. MOBI and EPUB are the biggies, but not the only ones. Smashwords comes to mind as a place where they’ll convert your opus. There are others, of course. You could always ask the mighty Google about them. Or, if you care at all about your privacy (even though it’s half-dead already), avoid the All-Seeing Eye and use Duck Duck Go instead. (Not trying to boss you – you can do what you want. Just sayin’ is all.)

If you don’t know what all those weird file format acronyms stand for, it’s OK. Just click the lovely links and read away. Or don’t, and just know that there are several of them, they mostly do the same things (from our lowly authorial perspective), and you should only worry about them when you need to. Which is probably not just yet (but soon).

If you’re writing in Word (like many people), what I have to say here probably won’t make a lot of sense to you. However, it might be of interest if you just want to see how someone else does it. I’ll try to take it pretty slow, since a good deal of the stuff I’m going to talk about presupposes some really sad levels of computer nerdery. Lots of Friday nights lost to the gods of the machine, that sort of thing. Weight gained, neckbeards grown, women not spoken to. But if you stick with me, there’ll be a payoff, I swear, and it’s this: you’ll be able to make your own ebooks pretty easily (provided you waste a bunch of time up front learning about it, but isn’t that true of anything you want to learn to do?).

Stay tuned for the first installment, in which we’ll begin with the Emacs text editor, which is a truly wizardly tool that has sucked out my weak-willed human brain and replaced said brain with its own malevolent mechanical will. Verily, it is that same dark will which propels my shriveled hands across the keyboard as I type this. Surely you’d like to hear more about it? Don’t be afraid!

(Image courtesy dshaboy under Creative Commons license.)

How to Write, Part 0: Reading is Essence

For the first post in this series, go here.

Why am I calling this Part 0, when I’ve already written Part I? Because in some ways, I needed to backtrack from the act of writing to that which comes first – namely, reading.

Like many writers, I spent a wonderful childhood surrounded by the imaginary creatures, people, and places found in books. Whatever was going on in the outside world was somehow less important than what went on in the latest book or story I found myself living inside.

I’ve long suspected that this is a common phenomenon.

My argument, therefore, is this: in order to write well, you must read a great deal. One of the best ways to learn remains monkey see, monkey do. No amount of workshopping, collaboration, or talking about your writing process will help you improve so much as burying your head in books for ten years. (Good books!)

This does not mean workshops and collaboration are unimportant. It means that if you have not read a great deal, and do not possess the requisite familiarity with language, phrasing, grammar, and the like, you are walking into a workshop without the tools you need to do your best work. This does not mean you are lazy, or somehow unworthy, somehow “not good enough,” but that you are simply unprepared. One can go from being unprepared to a state of readiness. It’s just a matter of time, and work. Anyone can do it, if his or her desire is great enough. Talent is almost always overcome by preparation and hard work, in the end.

So many activities that surround writing and the writer’s life are distractions. There is a mantra I’ve developed that serves as a reminder: essence over ephemera. Reading is essence.

(Image courtesy henrybloomfield under Creative Commons license.)

How to Write, Part I: Who not to Listen to

This is the first in a planned series of articles in which I will teach you how to write. More precisely: I will teach you how to learn how to write. The rest involves a great deal of hard work that you’ll have to do for yourself.

(Update: the second article is now available here.)

Perhaps you’re wondering what qualifies me to make such a claim? It’s only fair that I should share my background. I have a Bachelor’s degree in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing. While studying for that degree, I studied closely under two professors who were themselves published authors. During my time at a previous college, I was lucky enough to study under two equally talented, published writers. Please bear in mind that when I say published, I don’t mean published in an academic journal.

Does this mean I’m a good writer? Am I claiming that the skill and success of others is somehow reflective of my own? No. But it means I’ve been around writers better than me. And that’s important. If you want to learn how to write, you should study those who are better than you, and politely disregard everyone else.

This does not mean that you should be rude or dismissive. Please note the use of the word ‘politely.’ I’m simply claiming that you will not improve by listening to advice from any of the following groups:

  • Non-Writing Friends and Family

    They may know you personally, but it doesn’t mean they know anything about writing, or your writing in particular. Sole Exception: if you are lucky enough to have friends or family members whose intelligence, experience, and taste you respect, by all means solicit feedback from them on your work. Don’t expect them to come back singing its praises, though. You will probably be disappointed.

  • People who Don’t Read Much

    It’s sad but true that many people simply don’t read very much. How could they possibly have any useful opinions about your writing if they don’t read? (Note that I am explicitly not talking about audiobook listeners here. I have a number of friends who enjoy listening to audiobooks. They qualify as readers. Ask Random House.)

  • People who Identify as “Writers” but who do not Actually Write Anything

    Nothing new here: Writers write. Non-writers who sit around and talk about writing are an annoyance at best. At worst, they’ll pull you down with them. Avoid them.

  • Bad Writers

    Dunning-Kruger tells us that there are lots of bad writers out there, and that I’m probably one of them. That’s OK, nobody’s perfect. But be aware of this, and be especially aware of it if you’re not sure where you stand. Dunning-Kruger in a nutshell: if you think you’re pretty good, chances are you’re not. If you think you’re pretty bad, you might in fact be pretty bad. Then again, you might be a little better than average (Most people who are above average rate their skills too low – see the link above).

That covers the basics about who not to learn from. I’ll have more to say about some positive actions you can take to improve your writing in my next installment.

(Image courtesy maggz under Creative Commons license.)

Jelec: the Complete First Chapter


The following is an excerpt of the first chapter from the complete book, which is available via Amazon here.

Read this excerpt in PDF format here.

Copyright 2011 R. M. Loveland.


The first time Glynis McGinty found out that she could transform into a bird, and could speak the secret language of birds, was shortly after her twelfth birthday.

At her mother’s insistence, in order to fill the long summers of no school, she had taken a very modest job at one of the local hotels. For four hours from eight to twelve noon, she would fold and stack sheets and towels in the hotel laundry, and also run small errands for the desk clerks as needed. She didn’t mind doing this, as it got her out of the house a few mornings each week, and it gave her the freedom of a little spending money. For this she was the envy of her friend John and sister Marla, who were themselves twelve and ten, and who coveted her freedom from parents as much as the little money she earned.

This was especially true in the case of little Marla McGinty, since it is a well-known fact that little sisters like to be allowed to do the same things that big sisters do, which is generally harmless and perfectly alright, except of course when it isn’t. And when you’re the Big Sister that Little Sister is following, it never is.

This meant that despite Glynis’s fervent pleas to her mother, Marla would accompany them on the drive to the hotel each morning at seven-thirty, come rain or shine.

And what a hotel it was! The Sycamore Hotel and Resort had stood by the shores of Lake William for over a century, and in all that time no other had been built that could rival it. Standing, as it did, on an island just off the western shore, it was a white jewel set in the blue heart of the lake, visible from the tops of nearby mountains for miles around.

It was to this small island that Glynis rode with her mother and her sister Marla two or three mornings each week, leaving the house for the drive over the mountains into the town, which was also called Lake William. It was the sort of town that people who lived in cities went to when they wanted to “get away from it all,” a small place on the shore of a lake in the mountains. Glynis and her family loved it, and they enjoyed a quiet life there.

Until Glynis took a job at the Sycamore Hotel, that is.

It all began innocently enough, as adventures go. Glynis was in the laundry room surrounded by bins of white towels that needed folding, and so she was doing just that. It was a cool, clear morning in early June. The dew was on the grass, and Mr. Stephens, the hotel manager, was feeling ambitious again.

“Oh, Glynis!” A voice called from behind a particularly overstuffed laundry cart, rousing Glynis from her daydreams about sailing ships and white towel seas.

“Yes, Mr. Stephens. I’m back here with the towels.”

“Ah, there you are.” He emerged from behind a small mountain of pilowcases, clutching his ever-present black notebook, which he turned to as Glynis looked on. “Where was I? Oh yes, page forty-two: “Special Projects.” Yes, well, since this is your first summer here at the Sycamore, you probably don’t know about this, but every year I create one or two of what I like to call special projects, that need to be done above and beyond the regular work we do. Things that otherwise slip through the cracks.”

“Slip through the cracks?” Glynis had never heard this expression before, and she wondered what her mother would think of it. Mrs. McGinty was not the sort of person to allow slipperiness, cracking (wise-or-otherwise), or any combination of the two.

“Oh, you know, the sort of thing which needs doing but never seems to get done. Usually we’re so busy with taking care of our guests that we don’t have time for much else, so I schedule these things in as and when I can. Anyway, just go and see Brian at the front desk; he’ll give you all the details.” And with that, he turned on his heel and left as quickly as he’d arrived.

“What a strange man,” Glynis thought as she continued folding her way through her ocean of white towels. “Just buzzing in one moment, and out the next! I suppose a hotel manager must have to have a lot of energy, especially at a big place like this. I wonder what sort of “special” this project will be? I guess I’ll find out soon enough.”

And so Glynis returned to her folding, and to her daydreams, until the formerly vast white towel ocean had become a mere pond, hardly big enough for a sailing ship anymore, though perfectly nice for paddling a canoe with a friend. It was at around this time that Glynis noticed the clock on the laundry room wall, which told her that it was half past eleven. She knew that her mother would be coming for her soon, and so she climbed the three flights of stairs to the main floor of the hotel, where her friend Brian worked. She liked Brian; he was funny and always had a smile and a kind word to share, and he would often let her sit behind the front desk with him while she waited for her mother to arrive.

“Hey Brian!” she called, happy to see her friend. Since there were no guests at the desk, she didn’t have to worry about formalities.

“Hey yourself, kiddo! What’s the latest news from the laundry dungeon?” Yes, Glynis thought, this was definitely a guest-free environment.

“Not too much news. White towels on and off all day today, with tomorrow’s forecast calling for a ninety-five percent chance of more white towels. But that’s not all, Brian.”

“Oh no?”

“No. Mr. Stephens came to see me this morning, and he said he had a ‘special project’ for me, and that I should come and see you about it. I guess it’s something he puts together every year?”

“Oh Glynis, you are a lucky girl, aren’t you?” he said with a grin. “Follow me then, you poor soul,” he added, grabbing a flashlight from under the desk.

And so she did. They left the lobby and followed the hall to the North Wing of the hotel. When they had reached the very far end of the building and could go no further, Brian turned and, after some fumbling with the lock, went through a narrow door that opened onto a dark stairwell.

“This is an old part of the hotel,” he explained, though it seemed clear enough to Glynis that it was. “We’ve gone through several renovations over the years, and you can probably guess that these stairs aren’t legal under the building codes we have now. It’s hard to believe that this used to be how people got around inside the hotel. Can you imagine chambermaids carrying laundry up and down these narrow stairwells, or bellhops carrying luggage?”

Glynis had to admit that she couldn’t. She was too busy trying not to trip and fall while studying the strange patterns illuminated in the wallpaper by Brian’s flashlight. It was a sort of paisley print, shot through with curlicues arranged in such a way that they kept catching in the corners of her eyes, and she found it very distracting. Added to that was the difficulty of navigating the stairs themselves, which were tall and narrow in the style of very old houses. Or very old hotels, for that matter.

Glynis had known that the hotel was old, but it was one thing to hear her mother say it and another actually to see this strange, dry wallpaper curling off the walls like onion skin, or to feel the thin boards creak and sag in the middle of each step as she and Brian walked over them. Down one, two, three cramped flights of stairs they went, and it seemed to her that they were almost holding their breath as they went, so strange was the place they’d found themselves in. It truly was as if they had gone back in time. She realized that they were now back to the lowest level of the hotel, where the laundry room was, and where she’d just spent all morning working.

How strange to think that she had just come from there! You wouldn’t even know you were in the same building, especially given the smell of the place, which she was just beginning to notice. It was musty, and gave the impression of a place which hadn’t been disturbed in a very long time indeed.

“Glynis, can you hold the light for me? I need to open the cellar door.” Brian was fumbling with his keys again. “I need to get at the fuse-box and get these lights working again before any work can begin, but I just wanted to give you a quick tour.” And with that he bent down, fumbled a bit with a lock and latch, and lifted two large sections of the wood floor, first one and then the other. Together they opened on hinges like a pair of rusty wings, revealing a passage underground.

“This is the deepest part of the building, Glynis, and it’s where you’ll be working for the next several weeks, in addition to your regular duties in the laundry room. As I said, I still need to fiddle a bit with some fuses and bulbs to make things habitable, but once I’ve done that, you should be able to come and go as you please.”

“That’s all very nice, Brian, but what is it I’m supposed to be doing down here? You still haven’t told me.”

“Ah well, now comes the magic bit. Take this flashlight and go over to the edge of that opening there. Be careful not to fall in, because there aren’t any stairs, so we’ll need to get you a ladder. Now crouch down and shine your light into that big hole in the floor, and tell me what you see.”

Glynis did as she was asked, but she decided to lie on her stomach instead to get a better look. And when her eyes followed the beam of her flashlight down into that dark place, what did they see? They saw ornately carved dressers and liquor cabinets, faded paintings in gilded frames. There were rolled-up carpets and lamps with shades of many-colored glass. And more that her eyes could not detect, receding into the darkness, but no doubt covered in the same dirt and dust and faded grandeur as what she saw now. She felt like an explorer cracking open a Pharoah’s tomb, and the old hotel was the pyramid which held it all.

She knew right then that she couldn’t wait for another visit to see what was there; she had to start exploring it right away.

“Brian, you said there’s no ladder yet, but I do so want to have a quick look around, now that we’re all the way down here. Is there any way you can lower me down for a quick peek?”

“I don’t know, Glynis. Your shift is almost up,” he said, looking up from his watch.

“I’ll be in and out before you know it. Please?” She put on her best approximation of an `aren’t I a nice young girl not to mention completely trustworthy at all times’ face. Brian was helpless against it, or very nearly so. “All right, all right –but it’s a quarter ’til twelve already, so no dilly-dallying, O.K.?”

“O.K.” She tried not to grin too broadly, lest he should change his mind. “Five minutes or less, on my honor as an employee of this fine hotel.”

Brian had to smile and shake his head at that, then then he turned and began searching in the darkness for something to lower her with. After a moment’s grunting and some jostling aside stacks of wooden deck chairs and dusty bookshelves, he emerged from behind an eight-foot dry sink with a tallish stepladder in hand. A bit more digging produced some white rope, a former clothesline probably, and they were ready.

“So here’s the plan,” he said as he began tying one end of the rope to the top of the ladder. “I’ll lower the stepladder onto the floor with the rope and, if it holds, I’ll lower you down onto it, and you can walk from there. I’ll stay up here, and try to preserve my last clean shirt, that is unless you need me for anything. Either way, you’ve got five minutes and then we go, no questions asked? Got it?”

“Got it.”

And so Brian did as he’d planned, lowering the stepladder into the cavern beneath them. When he’d finished, Glynis came over and, with his help, stepped down onto the ladder’s top step. It was surprisingly stable, and she turned to Brian to gather their only flashlight before leaving him there in the darkness.

“Four minutes, forty seconds,” said Brian, half-smiling, though Glynis couldn’t see it.

“I’ll be right back.”

Glynis climbed down the stepladder with no surprises and found herself surrounded by all of the wonderful and strange things she’d only glimpsed a moment ago. She had sensed that there was more to the room than she had at first seen, and as she picked her way by the flashlight’s beam through the maze of four-poster bed frames and antique rolltop writing desks she found she’d been right. The Cavern (as she had already taken just now to calling it in her mind) seemed to extend the entire length of the North Wing of the hotel.

Glynis realized then that this was going to be a very big job indeed.

Just then her light caught the edge of something that flashed, something over by the wall. She had been walking down a sort of central aisle that had been left clear, so she turned left, in the direction of the flash, and began squirming between the bookcases and wardrobes, trying to find its source. Worried that she’d lost it, she began sweeping the flashlight from side to side, a bit wildly perhaps, when she saw the flash again. She was much closer now and was able to discern that there were mirrors and other various glass items leaning against the walls, some covered in burlap, and some not. She had homed in on her target’s general location when the third flash came, several feet ahead. As she approached, she could see clearly that her quarry was entirely covered in burlap save one corner, and that it too was leaning against the Cavern wall.

Glynis did next what any curious person, young or old, would do, and when she had slid the burlap tarp onto the floor, her eyes widened at the treasure which lay before them.

There was a tree at its heart, a tree rendered in a window of stained glass, its many-colored leaves reminding Glynis of autumn, which was still months away. The branches of the tree, leafy and full, were supported by a massive, gnarled trunk that disappeared into a grassy hillside. Upon further inspection, she could see that it was a maple tree by the shape of its tiny glass leaves. Behind the tree, an expanse of clear blue sky faded up into the star-filled blackness of the heavens, as the sun and moon hovered far overhead, one in each corner of the starry heights. Each had been given a face: the moon’s, dreamy and cool, was the face of a woman gently smiling, while the sun had the prominent brow and nose of a man, his expression resolute and strong. Between and below the sun and moon, directly above the tree in question, was a constellation of small, bright stars which Glynis had never seen before. She made a mental note to start looking for that constellation in her own sky or, failing that, some books on astronomy in the Lake William Town Library.

In her musings over the mysterious constellation, her eyes wandered over the entire window, not really settling on any feature in particular, until she noticed a small, uneven rectangle hidden in the gnarled lines of the tree’s trunk. Though it was quite small, she could make out the Roman numerals inside: XIII. Thirteen. “What does that mean?” she wondered to herself. “Are there thirteen of these windows? By the same artist, or many? Maybe there are more of them down here,” she speculated aloud. Her curiosity piqued, she took an oath, or something she thought very much like it, in the sense that an oath is a promise to yourself; her oath went like this: “On my honor as Glynis Helen McGinty, I will discover the secrets of this window of stained glass, not least among them the name of the secret constellation and the mysteries of the many-colored tree, numbered thirteen. I hereby take, of my own free will a solemn oath that I shall not cease in my labors until the secrets of this window are known. Let it be done.”

At that point, surprised at her own strange behavior, and having sworn to the seriousness of her intent, Glynis reached out to touch the tree of glass, thereby sealing the oath-taking ceremony in her mind and in time. As her fingers approached it, the sky behind that strange tree began to ripple as if reflected in water. One inch more her curious fingers came closer, and the leaves of that odd tree swayed first this way, then that, as if caught in a mild evening breeze. Glynis was not afraid, however, having sworn such a solemn oath (not to mention being naturally curious, and perhaps not in her right mind of course), and so her child’s fingers didn’t hesitate for an instant. The unknown constellation responded in kind to her curiosity, twinkling and fading as if to the rhythms of a music she could hear, or perhaps the music was her own? She could no longer tell, entranced as she was by this magical scene: tree, sky, and stars each dancing after their own fashion to this music without time.

When at last her fingertips reached the tree, they felt not iron and stained glass, but moist leaf and branch. The gentle breeze she had thought imaginary a moment before now touched her bare arms. A turn of her head revealed the same secret constellation, now far overhead, still twinkling and dancing merrily in the night sky. Far above, shining down on all, was the moon; though faceless now, and cold, it glowed beautifully nonetheless.

“Where am I?” she wondered quietly. “What is this place?” She was surprised to find that she felt no fear, despite her strange journey (which had mostly involved standing in one place, but many journeys are like that, as any child can tell you).

“Wondering what to do next, are we?” The voice carried down out of the tree, raspy and sharp.

It startled Glynis. “Who’s there? Come on, show yourself. Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Strange to think that you could hurt me, child. I am older than any that walk your world. You’d do well to rein in your tongue a little here, I think. This –”

“– And where is here, pray tell, O Kind Voice that Lives in a Tree? And who are you?”

Glynis knew it was rude to interrupt people (if this was indeed a person), but she’d listened to enough of her mother’s lectures to know that sometimes it’s best to stop long speeches before they get started.

The voice did not respond to her question. Afraid she had driven it away entirely, Glynis tried to apologize. “I’m sorry, kind voice. I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m lost, that’s all. I don’t know where I am.”

The branches above her head began to shake, a little at first, and then a lot. The shaking grew violent, and she began to fear for her poor head as small branches began falling from the tree to the grass all around her.

The voice returned, this time much deeper and louder. “That you don’t know where you are, that much is clear. This realm does not forgive ignorance so easily, child. If you would travel these lands, you must learn to have a care for your speech, for words are powerful things here, in the Realm of the White Bear.”

Just then the tree, which had been shaking wildly and dropping branches as the voice spoke, groaned and convulsed mightily, as if throwing off a great weight. Glynis jumped back, trying to avoid danger, if danger it was, and saw something large and dark emerge from the top of the tree. The dark shape climbed high above before it swooped down, wings outstretched, coming to rest in the grass a few feet away, in the tree’s moonlit shadow.

Glynis was cowering away now, a little afraid. The shape removed itself from the tree’s shadow and Glynis gasped: it was a giant, ragged bird, oilblack, with a twisted, ragged beak. The creature just stood there a moment, half-opening and then closing its wings, which were enormous, the biggest Glynis had ever seen, even on television. Overcoming her fear, Glynis asked, “Um, pardon me, Mr. Bird, sir, but I don’t know where I am, and I’ve grown a little afraid. Yes, I’m afraid I’m well and truly lost.”

“Finally, you begin to talk sense,” the creature croaked, not entirely unpleasantly. “Now we can move on to the next stage of our encounter.”

[Image courtesy under Creative Commons license.]

Amazon Royalty Options: Which One is Best for You?

A blue web.

I: Introduction

Like many writers, I’m interested in making my work available on’s Kindle ebook reader. They’ve had a direct publishing option for some time now, which is called (aptly enough) “Kindle Direct Publishing.”

When you’re talking ebooks, there are a number of issues that need to be dealt with. These include, but aren’t limited to: cover design, formatting, illustrations (if any), and the like.

One of the thornier ones is the matter of pricing and royalty structures.

Deciding on a price point for your book is a very personal matter, and it’s a topic I’m still thinking a lot about as I prepare to release my own book. I’ll most likely be in the under $5 bracket. There are a few reasons why that feels like a comfortable place for me: for one thing, I’m used to buying trade paperbacks of many excellent SF&F authors for around $7.99. That’s for a nice little paperback book with black and white text, color cover, and (maybe) a few black and white images inside.

It could also be the case that a slightly lower price point will be enough to get that hypothetical “indecisive reader” to give you a chance. That’s pretty important to me, and if a couple of dollars’ difference is what gets them to buy, I’m game.

But I didn’t really come here today to talk about ebook pricing. I’m sure there are plenty of articles out there about that topic. What I’d like to talk about are the royalty options for Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing specifically. You, the author, can choose the royalty you’d like to receive from the sale of each ebook. There are two options: 35% and “70%”.

Why did I put “70%” in quotes? Because it isn’t exactly a 70% royalty. Or more precisely: it is a 70% royalty rate, but there are a lot of terms and conditions that you have to think about, and that might affect you in ways that aren’t clear from the outset.

After reading through the Kindle Direct pricing page 1 and doing a bit of basic math 2, I came up with a few things I think my fellow writers should be aware of when deciding on royalty options via Amazon. Keep in mind that there may be errors here. Please do read through my references and perform the relevant calculations for yourself 3.

II: 35% is the KISS Option (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

For every book you sell, Amazon pays you 35% of the list price that you set. The only condition worth noting at this royalty rate is that if your book is being offered at a discount elsewhere for promotional purposes, Amazon reserves the right to lower the price of your book to match (up to and including making it available for free). Again, this price-matching is only if your book is offered elsewhere for less. So, not a big deal, but something to be aware of.

Additionally, you must set your List Price at Amazon to be no higher than the list price in any other sales channel you use. Essentially, you just have to give Amazon the same consideration as everyone else. Unless it violates the terms of another distributor you sell through, you’re free to set your Amazon price at, say, 15% less than retail. Maybe you’d like to drive Kindle sales of your books. Maybe you like selling through Amazon because you like the way they pay you promptly or track your sales, etc. I don’t know. But you have that option.

The formula for the 35% royalty can be expressed pretty simply.

Let m = the total royalties you are paid (m is for “money”).
Let r = the royalty rate you choose (0.35 in this case).
Let p = the list price you set for your book.
Let n = the number of books you sell.

For the 35% royalty option, here’s the formula that determines your
paycheck 1.

m = r * p * n.

Pretty simple, it’s just the number of books you sell, times the list price, times the royalty rate. Very easy to understand. It doesn’t change, and you don’t have to think about it too much.

III: 70% More Money, More Problems? Maybe Not

So, 70% sounds pretty cool. I mean, after all, 70 is more than 35, right? There are some reasons why I’m a little wary, however.

The first thing to know is that if you choose the 70% royalty option, you must set your List Price at least 20% below List Price in any other sales channel. This means every other way that you sell your book, to include your own website, &c. Your 70% is now coming out of 80% of your previous price.

An example: you list your new book, The Amazing Adventures of Captain Complexity, for $2.99 on Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! Store. To qualify for the 70% royalty on Amazon, you must list it for $2.99 * 0.80, which is $2.39.

$2.39 * 0.7 is $1.67. For comparison, note that $2.99 * 0.35 is $1.05.

$1.67 is more than $1.05. Great! More money, case closed. Move on, nothing much to see here.

But there’s more. When you choose the 70% option, you must also pay a per-megabyte delivery charge for each book you sell. As of this writing, that charge is $0.15 per MB for (US). Let’s say that The Amazing Adventures of Captain Complexity has some nice illustrations, and that it weighs in around 1.2 MB (I looked through my own ebook library and found that this is a representative size. Feel free to plug in different numbers to suit your own needs).

Since we’ve chosen the 70% option, we now pay a per-book network delivery fee. Since our book is 1.2 MB, that totals

1.2 * 0.15 = $0.18

Here’s the formula for the 70% royalty 1.

Let m = the total royalty money you are paid.
Let r = the royalty rate you chose (0.70 here).
Let 0.8 * p = the new, lower list price you must set for your book.
Let n = the number of books you sell.
Let mb = the size of your book (in megabytes).
Let d = the “delivery charge” you pay per megabyte.

m = n * (r * ((0.8 * p) – (mb * d)))

This is a little more involved, isn’t it?

There’s more. We talked about Amazon’s price-matching policy for the 35% option above. To recap: if your book is available at a lower cost elsewhere, Amazon may lower your price to match. With the 70% option, if Amazon price-matches your book, there is another wrinkle. You are also charged for the taxes so that Amazon may offer a lower tax-inclusive price. This changes the above formula slightly.

m = n * (R * ((0.8 * p) – t – (mb * d)))

where t = the applicable local taxes (VAT in the UK, for example).

IV: Head to Head Comparison, with an Evil Word Problem

In order to understand these royalty schemes a bit better, I came up with a hypothetical situation, which is also known as a word problem. Though I didn’t always enjoy them in school, they keep turning out to be useful. Here is mine:

Let’s say that you have been wildly successful, and sold 86,428 copies of your debut novel, The Amazing Adventures of Captain Complexity, via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. You’ve chosen a List Price of $2.99 for all of your various outlets, which include but are not limited to Given the above formulas, how much money would you have earned if you’d chosen the 35% royalty? The 70%? (Note that this calculation is simpler than the reality we face, since we don’t account for any price-matching or tax charges here)

Well, the 35% option is straightforward. Remember that

m = r * p * n,


m = 0.35 * $2.99 * 86428.

In this case, m will be $90,446.90. Nice chunk of (pre-tax) change, I must admit.

OK, Now let’s look at the “70%” option (again, note that this hypothetical calculation is simpler than reality).

Our formula is

m = n * (r * ((0.8 * p) – (mb * d))),


m = 86428 * (0.70 * ((0.8 * $2.99) – (1.2 MB * 0.15/MB))),

where m = $133,825.12.

Even better. Remember, though, what we said about this calculation. It’s a simplified version of reality. In the real world, we’d have to ask: How many times did Amazon price-match below list? How much tax did you end up paying as a result? Did the terms and conditions of your other distributors preclude you from doing the 20% list price cut in the first place? None of those variables are accounted for here, so think of this as a ballpark figure.

To put it another way, had you chosen the 35% option, you would have received $1.05 per book (35% of $2.99). With the 70% option, you would have received $1.55 per book (this is 51.8%, not 70%).

V: Conclusions

Our simple calculations here showed that you would receive about 32% more money had you chosen the 70% royalty option. However, it’s fair to assume that this percentage would be less in real-world situations, for all the reasons noted above.

Even given all that, it’s fair to say that, on average, you will likely receive more money from the 70% option. However, the process by which that occurs will be somewhat more opaque. You will have to think a little more about what is happening with your royalties. You will have to spend a little more time checking Amazon’s terms and conditions and pricing pages to ensure that you’re staying current on the latest changes (though you’ll probably want to do this either way).

Bottom line: for most people, most of the time, the 70% option is worth it.



2 I used a computer algebra system called Maxima. Probably overkill for this simple work, but it’s a great program that can do Calculus, solve algebraic equations, and more:

3 I am neither a lawyer or accountant. I’m just a random guy on the internet who can read (a little) and who has access to a calculator. So the usual comprehensive disclaimers of any and all liability should apply.