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Looking Forward, Looking Back

Happy New Year! As I start a third calendar year with Tungsten Hippo, I feel the need to pause and reflect a bit.

Tungsten Hippo started out because I wanted to build a public website again, and I have learned that I only stick with tech projects if the content, not just the tech, interests me. (I wrote a post for The Pastry Box project about that.)

It has continued because I continue to love short ebooks. My goals for this site are evolving a bit, though.

The length we think of as appropriate for a book is a bit of a technological and historical artifact. (Here is an old Charlie Stross post with some of that story.) With the rise of the ereader, we should be able to explore different lengths. Not all ideas and stories need a full novel-length book. Certainly, I’ve read many business books that I thought could be condensed down to the length of a novella—or shorter.

There are still difficulties with the shorter length, though. As a reader, I have found that it is hard to find the type of short ebook I want. The format seems particularly popular among romance and erotica writers and their fans. There is nothing wrong with those books, but they aren’t my cup of tea. This means that if I search “novella” on my Kindle, I have to scroll past page after page of books in which I’m not interested, with the hope that I’ll see something that interests me. I understandably get frustrated with this, and often go instead to the Kindle Single shop to find new things to read.

The problem with that is one that I’ve discovered as a publisher of short ebooks: not all short ebooks can be Kindle Singles. If you publish something that is excellent, but does not qualify to be a Kindle Single, you will really struggle to get it discovered by readers. An example of this is Unspotted. It was published previously in South Africa, by a publisher that went out of business. Because of this, it cannot be a Kindle Single. Everyone who reads it, loves it. But judging by the sales numbers, not that many people have found it and read it.

Amazon’s new “Short Reads” links on their website help, but I haven’t yet found those on the Kindle itself, and I do most of my browsing for new books from the Kindle. I may need to change that, because part of my stated goal with this site is to read as broadly as possible, within the genres I enjoy. (Sorry, I’m not giving myself nightmares so that you can get horror book recommendations here… but I do have an avenue to help circumvent the genre limitation in my reading. More on that in a bit.)

Another limitation that is obvious to me as a publisher is in pricing. This limitation is closely linked to the fact that Amazon so thoroughly dominates the ebook market. Well over 90% of my sales come from Amazon. Therefore, the fact that I can only get the 70% royalty on Amazon if I price my books at $2.99 or above factors heavily into my pricing decisions. However, I wonder if a book like Unspotted, which is only 40 pages long, would do better at $0.99. If I price it there, though, I only make the 35% royalty. That is a big difference. Still, I may experiment more with pricing in 2016. I am trying my first sale right now- all of the Annorlunda Books titles are on sale for $0.99 through January 10. So, if you’re curious about Unspotted, Okay, So Look, or Missed Chances, now is an excellent time to buy them.

Of course, the royalty options change if I enroll my books in Kindle Unlimited. I don’t want to do that, though, because as much as I love my Kindle, I want there to be more than just Amazon in this space. I publish all of my books digital rights management (DRM) free. This means that you can buy them anywhere and read them on your Kindle. (I published a blog post about how to do that, but my sales numbers—and my own behavior—tell me that this is not a common option to choose.

There is another limitation on the ebook market that has nothing to do with Amazon. It is set by the mailing lists like BookBub, which many readers use to discover new books to read. Most of these lists won’t take short ebooks, and those that do require a large number of 4 or 5 star reviews before they’ll consider them. I understand their reasoning. They have build an audience of people who want to read longer books, and they are giving their audience what they want.

My answer to this final limitation will tell you a lot about my plans for Tungsten Hippo in 2016. I want to grow it into something that functions a bit like the BookBub of short ebooks. I don’t want Tungsten Hippo to be exactly like BookBub, because the audience is different and my goals are different. But I want to provide a place where readers who enjoy non-erotica short ebooks can come to find things to read, outside of the confines of what Amazon deems a Kindle Single. (Judging by my own Amazon searches, I think readers of erotica short ebooks already have a good way to find what they’re looking for.)

One thing I’ll do is try to recruit more authors to “introduce” their short ebooks in a blog post. I posted the first such introduction last month. I’ll post the next one next Sunday. I also have added a “News and Announcements” section to the Tungsten Hippo newsletter. I will try to find and include more items to post there, including announcements about new ebook releases. If you have suggestions for either of these features, don’t hesitate to email me at

Of course, I’ll still post my weekly recommendations. They are the core of this site, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it seems fitting to close this post with a look back at a few of my favorite recommendations from 2015.

My favorite five short ebooks, in no particular order (and excluding the ones I published), are:
First Flight, by Mary Robinette Kowal
An Etiquette Guide to the End Times, by Maia Sepp
Murder in Ancient China: Two Judge Dee Mysteries, by Robert van Gulik
Company Eight, by Matthew Pearl
The Fort of Young Saplings, by Vanessa Veselka

My favorite collection was Long Hidden, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older.

But I liked all of the books I posted—that’s the deal, I only post things I would recommend—and so if you’re looking for more good things to read, please explore the archives.

Happy reading in 2016!

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