Short Reads, Short Stories: Kindling – RIP.
Kindling was the brainchild of Geoff Shaw. He had his roots in Affiliate Marketing and got into KDP in earlier days. I used to be a fan of Kindling and Shaw – until yesterday. And I occasionally return to a course I’ve bought to find out why I’m not using it any more.
That process led me to stumble on a recent post on his Facebook group where he pointed out, among other things, that he was shutting Kindling down.
Kindling was very typically an affiliate marketer’s approach to things. It wasn’t a course with modules, but more of a membership with lots of “stuff” dumped in there. And lots of claims where people “made it” with his system, but nothing really workable in terms of repeating, specific actions and steps. It was more of a hope machine.
What he was winning on was the simplicity of writing and publishing short stories. The recent K-lytics report shows that around 25% of the books on KDP are short stories / short reads. But Alex Newton also points out there that many of these are leftover from the hay-days of it’s startup, and have never sold any or much.
Shaw pointed out his secret to any Kindling success when he pointed out his opinion that you should never take your stories out of KU. Meaning, his system is Amazon-centric. And so leaves the author at risk of putting everything into a single platform and only playing by their rules.
KU has many things wrong with it – most of all is consistently declining earnings for authors in it. Second behind that is widespread scamming and outright piracy that Amazon can’t / won’t fix. The entire basis of this is to buy up author’s work on a contract basis and then offer them essentially for free to their subscribers.
The problem with giving anything away for free is that people don’t value it. A recent report on KU shows that 50% of the readers there never buy books. And the majority don’t finish the books they pick out to read. They don’t value those books because they never really paid for them. Prime membership also means free shipping. So Prime members aren’t just (or even primarily) book readers. Books are another commodity, a marketing loss leader.
That is the prime philosophy of Amazon: “Your margin is my opportunity” – Jeff Bezos. Meaning that from the top down, Amazon is going to be making sure the race to the bottom on prices and the treatment of authors as another cog in their machine will continue.
Shaw just proved what I’ve suspected for awhile – and why I quit recommending Kindling. It was no breakthrough. His blunt statement just proved why I’d quit studying his material. It was another layer of scammy tactics tailored to a scammy platform. Outside of the KU universe it doesn’t work. Meaning it was little more than a cult.
Shaw is similar to Steve Scott – both from affiliate marketing backgrounds, who found that it’s fairly simple to write. After all, churning out content is what an affiliate marketer has to be able to do. Scott made his claim to fame by finding a tiny niche of writing non-fiction “habit” books, and then advertising these to game Amazon’s algorithms and create “bestsellers”. He then leveraged that “fame” to his own course about how to write and market books. And has quietly been taking his multi 6-figure income home.
The trick with both of these is affiliate marketers is this: I did it, but I’m not telling you really how. But buy my stuff because I did it.
That Shaw now says you should be all-in on KU just shows his mindframe.
Again – it’s that of an affiliate marketer.
There are two types of authors that make it on Amazon – marketers who learn how to write, and writers who learn how to market. The prolific James Patterson, for example, was an first an advertising executive. He’s known for co-authoring and his machine that cranks out books under his name-brand.
The trouble begins when these marketers try to teach others. Because their business isn’t built on good writing, it’s build on “good” marketing. And once you tell a marketing “secret”, it quits working because everyone starts doing it. (Exactly why the “Internet Marketing” guru’s got such a bad rap.) So no marketing book is ever the complete truth or the complete system.
A horrible example is professors who learn how to write fiction. Books from professors about writing are 95% wrong. When you see someone who has made their career from writing books about how to write – and has a job teaching at some university – they’ve got it all wrong.
The best books about writing were written by successful authors. As a sidebar. Stephen King’s “On Writing” is heralded widely as a the top example of this – and it’s more memoir than anything. The other top book on writing, “Becoming a Writer” by Dorothea Brande is probably the exception to this rule – but you also see that around that same time was the self-help classic she wrote, “Wake Up and Live!” Brande was a magazine editor. But her book on writing has nothing to do with first drafts, editing, or getting your book accepted by a book chain – it’s a self-help approach to just getting started writing. Both of these books are timeless because they talk about the principles of writing, not the specifics.
When a professor is writing books about writing, he’s usually talking about how to game the traditional publishing scene. When a affiliate marketer talks about writing books, it’s about how to game Amazon’s algorithms. It doesn’t matter if they have also written non-fiction or fiction. Their advice and their results can’t be duplicated – and those that do crack the code never reveal their private, secret marketing tricks.
Both professors and affiliate marketers are selling snake-oil. They preach benefits, but not principles.
Tricks aren’t principles. Tricks aren’t timeless. Tricks will make you rich – for awhile. Tricks aren’t permanent success.
Being all-in on KU is watching a slow-motion train wreck. Those Authors run more and more ads to keep their books selling, and hide their increased costs behind inflated income. Amazon is taking more and more of their income every month. Those authors are part of the KU machine and are addicted to it.
When Steve Scott last showed his income years ago (when he was still being transparent) he saw huge drops – 40% – when Amazon changed something in their KU scene overnight. And I most quote him saying “Amazon works as well as you send traffic to it.”
Geoff Shaw was never that transparent. He only repeated that people were successful when they followed his teachings – and others came forward with their reports of huge income totals. But not specifically how. When you piece together the comments, they have scatterings of tips about hiring co-authors/ghostwriters to do the work and running ads. The bottom line is to game Amazon by churning out cheap boilerplate fiction and then running ads to get Amazon to also push those books to readers.
The biggest change recently – where several authors pointed out their 40-50% drops in income, whether they are KU or wide – was where Amazon dropped the “also-bought” carousel in favor of more ad-space. Now fully 50% of the spaces on most Amazon search pages are “sponsored” placements.
Essentially, discovery of new books and authors on Amazon is dead.
So people investing all their efforts into getting their books selling on Amazon are working on tricks, not principles.
Study the perennial-selling books – ones that were around since before Amazon was a glint in someone’s eye. Ones that keep selling and getting downloaded even as public domain. Because they are well-written and have consistent word-of-mouth based on the quality of their writing alone. Like the Sherlock Holmes series.
Sure, learn marketing. Like Mark Dawson. He’s earned his million dollar year on Amazon. But he started out as a writer first – and then doggedly learned marketing.
But be warned: writing isn’t just about “making money.” Money, as Earl Nightingale and others tell us, is only a symbol based on the value you give. By itself, money is meaningless. These days, like Venezuela recently proved, you can print it all you want – but if there’s no value behind it, it’s worthless. (There was an interesting study of someone hiring programmers there who were working for bitcoin or similar, but would eventually quit when they had enough to move out of the country. Bitcoins have some intrinsic value because you can’t just print more of them.)
Study classics to learn writing. Study marketers to learn marketing. But don’t study marketers to learn how to write and profit from “bestsellers.” They’ll only help you eat your own soul.
(This was only a point that needed to be made. A side show needing to be exposed at the carnival of life.
And why I’m not bothering to even put an image on this post – or bother with SEO. I’m just leaving some dried flowers on these graves in passing.)
PS. You’ll see Nick Stephenson’s works show up like this. He learned marketing and sales before he taught himself to write fiction. He left writing a couple of years ago to just market his course. Now he’s returning to writing – but telling you this from a marketing view, like a carny barker. I went back and studied his course again – and still found it disjointed and hard to understand. Not because it’s “advanced” – because it’s not well organized. (Update: he’s disappeared again.)
PPS. Mark Dawson was at least a lawyer first – but even he admits he wasn’t very good at lawyering. His training as a writer began when he was hired by the government to watch movies as a review board critic. He dissected stories for a living. And then he taught himself the disciplines of writing during his 3-hour daily round-trip commute by train…
PPPS. There is a particularly valid reason for writing short stories and publishing them – to improve your craft by volume writing. I have a popular take on this at https://livesensical.com/podcast/selling-books-online/write-less-profit-more-rich-adventure/ And at some point, I will have to revisit it to remove the Kindling references and update it. And after I tested this short story concept for a couple of years (in my third year as I write this) is when I started having a lot of books that began selling as print anthologies via Draft2Digital. And that income is continuing. No ads. Publish wide. But it more aligns to the datum I’ve found earlier that it takes something like five to ten years of consistent writing (meaning about 10 novels worth) for an average author to have their breakthrough into “known and selling well”. Like J. K. Rowling and many others. What Shaw proved again is that there is no get rich quick on Amazon or anywhere else. There’s long, slogging work and discipline, plus doing what Amanda Hocking did, which was to submit to the book bloggers. (But non-fiction can better than fiction, especially as built into courses that Amazon isn’t interested in.) Looks like it’s time for another update to the above post – I’m sitting on way too much stuff again…