Tag Archives: Non-Fiction

The Allure Of Non-Fiction

I get the sense that most writers start out wanting to tell stories. I also think it’s what people assume we mean when we say “I am a writer.”

It’s certainly where I got my start. For many years I’ve defined myself as a science fiction and mystery writer. I’ve been writing stories since before I can remember, and still am. Most of the ideas I get for books are fiction.

The weird thing is, most of the projects I have actually finished, and the ones that have been more financially successful, are non-fiction.

One of my favorite authors, Isaac Asimov, wrote 500+ books. But for all that he’s known as a science fiction writer, there are seven Foundation Books, four Robot Novels, three Empire Books, and maybe several dozen short story collections. Most of what the man wrote was non-fiction, essays on science, treatises on the Bible and Shakespeare, even books on Calculus.

So why should you think about writing non-fiction?

  1. It’s easier to define your target audience and market: A Google search for Fractal eBooks and a more targeted search on Amazon suggested this was an under-served market. Sure, it’s never been a big market. But for people who are looking for books on this topic, I’m easy to find. There are thousands upon thousands of mystery books out there, from all sorts of authors. I think mine’s pretty good, but to get it noticed I need more than just good SEO. When you’re looking for a good mystery to read, you rarely type “mystery” into the search field, and go with the first thing you find. You ask your friends, you read reviews, and you try to find authors you like. With non-fiction if someone searches for “fractal programming”, they find my book. They know what they’re looking for, and all they have to do is determine if my book covers the topic they’re interested in.
  2. Organizing a book around a topic is easier: Okay, maybe not for narrative non-fiction. And a good non-fiction book chooses a focus rather than an information dump. But it’s still pretty easy to define what are the main topics I’m going to talk about, and break it down from there. For fiction there are all sorts of considerations of plot and characterization and tone. Non-fiction requires organized thinking, and a progression of ideas that build on each other, but this process often mirrors the learning/research process.
  3. Writing isn’t the only thing you’re doing: Good fiction often involves research as well, but with a non-fiction book, much more of your time is spent researching, compiling, organizing and exploring a topic. Writing can come almost naturally once you’ve put in the leg work. And more importantly, there are ways to be productive even when you don’t feel like writing. It’s easier to keep the project humming along in some capacity. Fiction writing can often stall if you don’t feel like putting in your 500 words.
  4. You get to teach people something: I honestly love fractals (if you hadn’t noticed by now), and I think it’s a topic that should be taught in more school math classes. I think fractals can get people excited about math, prepare them for some programming ideas, and show them a different way to think about the world. I write about fractals because I want to share that love with others. The same is true for any of the other non-fiction projects I’ve considered.
  5. People will notice your other work: Writing more books means more people notice the books you’ve already written. If they decide they like you as an author, they might try other things you’ve written, including your fiction. True, I don’t always look the the guys who write computer science textbooks for good science fiction, but if I’ve connected with them in other ways that give me a sense of their style, I might take the leap. And non-fiction is an area of self-publishing that seems less served in general than fiction. You’ll already be differentiating yourself from the pack.

Have you made any forays into non-fiction writing? What has been your experience?


Filed under Writing

Paid by the page, first month results

Those of you who participate in Kindle Unlimited or KOLL as an author have probably been curious to see how per page payouts would shake out versus getting paid a fixed amount per checkout. The reason given for the change was to balance out self-published authors who were getting the same money for 50 page pamphlets versus those who wrote 500 page epics. Reportedly, some authors were abusing this system by putting out a lot of small books. As the author of both short and long books, I can offer a little perspective (and numbers) from both sides of the change.

coverMy “pamphlet” book Fractals You Can Draw is 52 KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) and sells for $0.99. Before the change I was getting about $1.35 for each checkout, which is four times the royalty I got from someone buying the book, and 33% more than the purchase price. Under the new system, according to the payouts I received for July, each page is worth approximately 0.57 cents. If someone reads the whole book, I get 30 cents, pretty much the same as if they bought it and never read it. Sure, it was nice to get a 133% royalty for a while, but that’s kinda silly.

My other book Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach is 582 KENP and sells for $4.99. Because of delivery fees I make about a 50% royalty on each copy sold. The $1.35 payout was a little more than half that royalty, which at the time was balanced out with checkouts of Fractals You Can Draw, but it was still less money than if I had made a sale. Now, at 0.57 cents a page I make $1.35 if someone reads 239 pages, $2.50 for 439 pages, and $3.32 if someone reads the whole book. Holding a reader’s interest does pay off.

coverHere’s where the loophole might still exist. Both of these books are picture, equation, figure and source code heavy, sections readers will often skim. Now in my case it probably took as much if not more work to create each image as it did a block of text the same size. But they are pages more likely to be read because they have less of an opportunity cost for the reader, at least in theory. A 130 page self-published book of webcomics takes much less time to read than a similar book of text, and might be more likely to be read all the way through.

So, if you’re an artbook inclined person, this is your time to shine.

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Revision and version control

I just got back the full copy-edit of Surreality from Brian along with some really great comments. Looking at edited drafts or starting any revision process can make you feel like you’ve screwed everything up, that nothing of what you’ve written on the page is any good and you should just pack it up and go home.

You’re already home? Go crawl under your covers and don’t come out for a week.

The thing is, this way is thinking is wrong for a couple of reasons:

1) Just by sheer percentages a lot of what you wrote is actually doing just fine. Even if you get a draft back with hundreds or even thousands of edits, a novel is tens of thousands of words. Something obviously worked, and some things can be improved.

2) It’s ironic that I’m starting this (hopefully final) revision of Surreality at a moment when I’m also doing some significant editing to technical documentation at work. I’ve been working on this technical doc on and off for about a year for a software product we released a few months ago. As things change, things in the manual need to change with them. This happens for a couple of reasons: the way the software works changes OR people who’ve read the doc need some additional explanation or things said a different way to understand it.

For a technical document this is always going to happen. Hopefully, software improves, and your ability to communicate about it improves as well. Writing technical documentation benefited a lot from my work on the fractal book, and conversely, writing this doc I think will help in future projects.

The point is, revision is just part of the game. You’re a better writer, a better version of the guy who wrote the first sentence of this story God knows how long ago. There will be things to fix, and it’s okay.

3) A separate but no less important point is that you can have blind spots to your writing; areas of the draft you would never in a million years interpret one way that pretty much every one else would. You could have said something sexist, or illogical, or stupid, and it takes the right pair of eyes (often not yours) to pull the scales away and see the work for what it is or how it will be perceived. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it’s just that some sections need adjusting and it takes outside help to see that. And the change can be subtle, but vastly affect how a character is perceived. Call characters out on their bullshit. It’s okay for some characters to have shitty views, or do bad things, but don’t let them get away with it.

4) Don’t quit because you’re tired. I’ve been working on Surreality for a long time. I want it to be done, and I want to share it with all of you, but I also want it to represent the writer I am, not the writer I was. That takes work, and that’s okay. I’ve put untold thousands of hours into this project. What’s a couple hundred more to make it better?

So take a moment and be depressed, then move on and get to work.

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Kindle Exclusive (1 month in)

Hey, this Monday and Tuesday you can get Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach on Amazon for just $2.99! The price goes up to $3.99 on Wednesday and Thursday so grab it now if you can! Also, Fractals You Can Draw is available again for free this Monday and Tuesday only!

UPDATE: Kindle Countdown Deal is live. Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach is $2.99 until 11am on 2/4 (when the price goes up to $3.99 for another 48 hours). Fractals You Can Draw is FREE until 11:59pm Tuesday.


About a month ago I decided to sell the fractal books exclusively on Amazon. Part of this was due to slow sales at outlets like Barnes and Noble (which offered a better royalty but only made 13 sales in one year), and the rest due to platform changes on sites like Bundle Dragon. I’d already triggered the higher royalty back in August, but I wanted to try out some of the new tools for giving my books away for free or selling them at a discount.

I had a bad experience last year with discounts on Bundle Dragon. To lower the price of my bundle I basically had to create a new bundle from scratch (which meant re-uploading all the content which kept failing even though it had worked last year). After running the lower price bundle for a week I had made exactly 0 sales. And because the site always redirected to the latest bundle, links to Bundle Dragon now took you to my defunct discount bundle, and not the current full price one.

With Kindle, all I have to do is specify a time I want the book to go on sale. I’m trying a Kindle Countdown deal for Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach this week ($2.99 on Monday and Tuesday, $3.99 on Wednesday and Thursday) and another free deal for Fractals You Can Draw. When I ran a free deal for a couple of days last month I gave away over 200 copies of Fractals You Can Draw (more than twice what I’d sold in the last year and a half).

A lot of authors complain they don’t get as much of a royalty (if any at all) for books that are lent. I’m sympathetic to this argument somewhat, but my experience in the last month has been increased sales and borrowing. I’m still a relatively unknown author, so it’s nice to give people the chance to try before they buy (and sometimes a 5% sample from Amazon doesn’t cut it). I actually like that people can borrow my book and decide to buy it later if they want. When I first published Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach, I put a copy of it on my library’s digital lending site so that people (at least in the Columbus area) could share my love of fractals for free (and I’m not getting any royalty on those borrows). I think a lot of people will support you if you give them the choice. That’s how sites like Humble Bundle and Story Bundle have survived.

I’m not saying I’ll always put all my eggs in the Amazon basket, but the fractal books have been out for a year and a half, and sometimes you just have to try something new to stir up interest. And since I’m thinking of releasing Surreality as an Amazon exclusive initially, making the switch has been a nice way to feel that process out. This is the part that’s very different for the self-published author, self promotion and having to figure out where to sell your books for the best exposure and the best profit. It can feel like a very un-writer-y thing to do, but it can also be exciting.

Have you ever tried a Kindle Countdown deal? How did it go?

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