Thoughts on Amazon’s new royalties system and more

Thoughts on Amazon’s new royalties system

Amazon very recently introduced a new way of calculating royalties for books borrowed in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library schemes. Whereas previously royalties were based on the number of times a book has been borrowed, they will now be based on the number of pages read. Amazon will define what a page is according to font size and other parameters, so authors can’t pull a fast one by making the font huge!

But is she reading all of it? Photo by goXunuReviews

It’s early days, and the scheme so far is being applied narrowly—only to borrowed books. But Amazon already knows how many pages of a book people have read, as you can infer from the fact that it synchronises your reading between devices. Therefore I believe it could, in theory, apply this principle right across the board. What might the effects of that be?

  • Authors of longer books will be paid more, if their books are read. That was the main reason for introducing this new scheme apparently.
  • Could it lead to better quality writing? It could do, if you think that cranking out a book every ten days of such awful quality that people read the first couple of pages and then give up would not result in huge royalty payments. Much better to turn out fewer books that people actually enjoy reading.
  • On the other hand, could it lead to less academic writing? I imagine that a light, chatty sort of writing style is more likely to be read by most people than dry-as-dust academic prose. But maybe that would be the case anyway, or maybe it won’t make any difference: if you have to read academic stuff, you have to read it, and that’s the end of the matter.

The bottom line is, I don’t know what effects, if any, this new approach will have on the sort of books that are published on Amazon, but it will be an interesting area to watch I think.

Details of Amazon’s scheme.


How to display your word count

I am not sure if displaying one’s word count is a good idea or not. On the one hand, you are publicly committing yourself to writing, because if your word count remain static then it appears to everyone that you are not doing anything. On the other hand, appearing not to be doing any writing could be quite embarrassing.

I say “appears” because you may be doing research, and so working on your book without writing anything that will actually appear in it. I read recently, though I can’t remember where (in one of the National Novel Writing Month forums I think) that you can legitimately count research as equivalent to 1,000 words of writing. I suppose that might make one feel better, but it does nothing to change the impression given to others if your displayed word count doesn’t change.

Sarra's word count meters, in common with many others, can be configured to look how you like

Still, if you are interested in displaying a word count, there is plenty of choice available. There are lists available on the web. See, for example, 13 free writing meters etc, and 20+ Writing Progress Meters and Word Count Trackers.

All involve copying and pasting HTML code, so you will need to know how to insert html code into your blog or website. Also, you will need to update the code itself each time your word count changes.

One kind word count meter that will automatically update your word count when you paste in a new word count is Sarra Cannon’s word count meters. You need a Facebook account to use one, but the idea is that once you have copied and pasted the HTML code you don’t have to fiddle with that again, you just update your word count meter where it is hosted on Sarra’s website. You can configure it to look how you like. Mine looks like this:

I’ve displayed it on my other website, ICT and Computing in Education.

I may remove it if my writing stalls – I don’t believe in public shaming, especially if it’s me who is being shamed! But for now, it sits there as a stick to beat me into knuckling down to the writing.


My Scrivener Dashboard

After a year of prevaricating about using Scrivener as my main writing tool, I am rapidly heading towards doing so. The reason is that I discovered that I can have a view on my work in which I can see everything I need to see all at the same time. I call this “My Scrivener Dashboard”, and in this post I point out what each part of it is, and why I am starting to fall in love with Scrivener.

Another great feature is the word count targetInterestingly enough, I first became interested in Scrivener because it lets you view your document as a set of index cards. I have always loved programs that enable you to “write” on index cards, but all too often there is little else you can do with them. Scrivener, on the other hand, enables you to use the index cards as a visual outliner. So moving the cards around is a way of changing the order of your document.

But I’ve hardly used that feature at all!

But my “dashboard” is saving me absolutely loads of time and frustration. To understand why, you need to know how I tend to use Word when I am writing a long document, such as a book or a White Paper. I keep a section of the document for references, and go back and forth between the references and my main document. Despite using the SHIFT-F5 command, going back to the last edit is often a hit and miss affair. I have tried using a separate document for the references but that just gets messy.

Moreover, every time I open the document again, I have to find where I’d got to at the end of the last session. (I’ve tried numerous macros to automate this, and none of them work for me.) When I resorted to typing “Start here!” in red letters at the end of each session, I knew it was time to look at Scrivener again. Imagine how delighted I was to discover that Scrivener automatically opens the document at the last edit! (I don’t ask for much out of life.)

OK, so the screenshot below shows my “dashboard”. Although you can’t see the text very well, that doesn’t really matter because it’s the layout I’m focusing on here.

Scrivener Dashboard

What you can see is as follows:

  • Large upper window: the section of the document I’m working on.
  • Large lower window: the references section of the document. Thus, to insert or look up a reference, I just have to click in the lower window. When I was working on a book last year which had about a dozen pages of references, this feature alone would have saved me hours.
  • Left-hand window: the outline view of the whole document.By moving the names around I automatically move the headings around.
  • Upper right-hand window: the meta-data section. Note that I have given the bit I’m working on a blue label called “In progress”, and the status of “First draft”.(You'll have to zoom in to see all this!)
  • Lower right-hand window: Document notes. This is where I can write notes to myself about the particular bit I’m working on (Document notes) or the project as a whole (Project notes). This is a great feature because it means that if something occurs to me I can make a note to myself right there in the document and carry on writing. I know that you can write comments in Word, but if you’re anything like me you forget where you inserted them! In Scrivener, they are in the document’s working area but not in the document itself. It’s like having a notepad on your desk, but one which is always open at the right page and also which doesn’t get lost or covered with detritus!

Best of all, once you have found a layout you like, you can save it for use with other documents.

In a future post I’ll demonstrate how I created this dashboard, but for now I’ll just summarise what’s so good about it as far as I’m concerned. It enables me to work in the way I like to work, with everything I need to refer to at my fingertips. Word is great for a lot of things, but seeing your whole document at a glance while also having a focus on a particular section while also having notes about the document there at the same time is not something I would regard as its strong point.


Freelancing vs authoring Part 2: Authoring

If, like me, you enjoy writing and you would like to earn money from it, should you go down the freelance writing route or write books, or both? In the first part of this two-part series I looked at the advantages and disadvantages of freelancing, ie writing articles for newspapers and magazines. In this part, I consider the advantages and disadvantages of authoring, ie writing books.

Books not only mark you out as an expert, they look good too!

Advantages of authoring

Passive income

Once you’ve written the book you can sit back and relax and enjoy an income stream from it. That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, you have to write more than one book. This is because the more books you have out there, the more visible you are. Also, it stands to reason that the more books you have, even if you earn only a small amount from each of them it all adds up.


A published book, ie an actual book, not a White Paper or a bundle of sheets stapled together, still has a magical effect on people. The strange thing is, even of you have self-published the book it still signifies that you are an expert in many people’s eyes, though my sense is that traditional publishing still has the upper hand in this respect.

Business card

Some people have a short print run of their self-published book and give the books away as a business card. This is what the speaker Marc Prenski told me he does.

Further articles

Writing books and writing articles are not mutually exclusive. You can rework chapters in the book to sell as articles, and you can write articles so as to alert readers to the fact that you have written a book on the subject.

Less ephemeral than articles

Books are, by their nature, not as ephemeral as articles. Often, an article is only in people’s minds until the next issue of the periodical comes out.

Disadvantages of authoring


It is not as fast as freelancing to get to print, generally speaking—especially if you go down the traditional publishing route rather than self-publishing.

Deferred gratification

It may take a relatively long time to see a decent monetary reward for your efforts. See the next point too.

More work

It takes longer to write a book than it does to write an article, obviously. But once you’ve written it, the work doesn’t stop. Even if the book has been published by a publisher you will have to spend time and effort promoting it. Contrast this with freelancing: you write the article, send it in and, if it is accepted, take the money and run (so to speak!).


Although books are less ephemeral than articles, that can be a disadvantage too: a dated book looks worse than a dated article in my opinion.


As I said earlier, article writing and book writing are not mutually exclusive. Do both, but keep a balance between activity that gives you results now vs investing in a result in the future.


Review of 30 Day Blogging Challenge by Nikki Pilkington

If you're looking for a handy, no frills book of suggestions for blogging, this book should meet your requirements. Having been designed as an email course, 30 Day Blogging Challenge, written by Nikki Pilkington, consists mainly of 30 very short articles on different aspects of blogging. Being able to buy the whole lot in the form of a book is excellent for those of us for whom deferred gratification is an alien concept.

Rosie the blogger, by Mike Licht to read, with plenty of useful tips and links. Having looked at several "Improve your blog in 30 days" type articles and books, I wasn't holding my breath expecting anything too different, but I was pleasantly surprised. The main stand-out feature is that several of the suggestions made are unusual in the sense that I have not seen them mentioned elsewhere.

30 Day Blogging ChallengeFor example, on Day 6 we are told to write a blog post saying something nice, whether about a product, a client or whatever. A “nice” idea, although perhaps not one which comes easily to a person like me who, I am constantly told, has gradually turned into a grumpy old man (what's with the "old"?).
Other ideas include taking inspiration from a song (I've used a variation of the idea occasionally myself, and I think it works well), and a number of other suggestions which made me sit up and think "Oh, I hadn't thought of that!" I also learnt about the correct way of using anchor text (the text used for a link), and there is good, easy-to-implement advice on search engine optimisation.

There are some excellent links included too, such as 25+ places to which to submit your blog, in order to promote it, and a handy list of places where you can find free high-quality photos with which to illustrate your blog posts.

I like the fact that the advice is byte-sized. You can open the book at random and find and read a suggestion very quickly. Should you wish to delve deeper into a particular aspect, there is usually a link back to an article on Nikki’s blog. There are also a few longer articles towards the back of the book.

There are a couple of niggly things. Sometimes, especially when you’re somewhere without internet access, the byte-sized chapters with links to a more in-depth article can be a bit frustrating. Also, the section on tags is particularly weak. We’re told that we absolutely must put them in our blog posts, but to find out why you have to buy another book. Still, these are relatively minor concerns.

Does this book have any educational application? If you’re looking for a way of raising your school’s profile through blogging, whether to promote pupils’ work, drum up more interest from parents of current pupils, or to raise awareness of the school’s work in order to attract potential pupils, I think this book would help. Some of the advice would be less relevant in an educational content perhaps than a business one (search engine optimisation comes to mind, although having said that I have sometimes had quite a job finding a school’s website through search engines). On the whole, however, there is a lot of good advice here that could easily be adapted by a school for its own blog.

The book would prove useful, too, for schools that teach pupils about the business potential of blogging as a marketing tool.



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