My 2019 reading list

One of my 2019 goals is to read more. The intent is to spend at least 30 minutes/day reading, and I’ve set up a target on my Goodreads profile to hit at least 25 books in 2019 – that’s one book every two weeks, which is totally doable.

I got my old Kindle all charged up, and the first thing I did (after linking my Goodreads account) was to integrate all my Amazon Kindle purchases. It turns out I’ve bought quite a few books over the years that I haven’t yet read. All told, there’s 48 books on my to-read list at the moment (of the 130-odd in my Kindle library). A bit more than 25, but then I do love a challenge 🙂

These are all the books I plan to have read before the year is out. And if I can get through one book per week (should be completely doable on weekends) I may even add a few more.

History and Politics (9)

  • The Dictator’s Handbook – Bruce Bueno De Mesquita
  • People’s War – Anthea Jeffery
  • On Tyranny – Timothy Snyder
  • Algorithms of Oppression – Safiya Umoja Noble
  • Countdown – Alan Weisman
  • Democracy for Realists – Christopher H. Achen
  • The Coddling of the American Mind – Jonathan Haidt
  • Who owns the future? – Jaron Lanier
  • The Death of Expertise – Tom Nichols

Psychology, Philosophy and Self Improvement (7)

  • Games People Play – Eric Berne
  • Atomic Habits – James Clear
  • Wisdom of Insecurity – Alan W. Watts
  • Zero Excuses – Gabriel Machuret
  • How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big – Scott Adams
  • Solving the Procrastination Puzzle – Timothy A. Pychyl
  • Bowling Alone – Robert Putnam

Business and Startups (6)

  • How to Measure Anything – Douglas W. Hubbard
  • The Best Dick – Mike Sharman
  • Traction – Gabriel Weinberg
  • Drive – Daniel H. Pink
  • The 7 Day Startup – Dan Norris
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton M. Christensen

Science Fiction / Fantasy (12)

  • Split Second – Douglas E. Richards
  • Why You Were Taken – JT Lawrence
  • 3001: The Final Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
  • Darknet – Matthew Mather
  • Project Northwoods – Charles J. Bruce
  • Arrival – Ryk Brown
  • BrainWeb – Douglas E. Richards
  • Failsafe – Daniel Gage
  • Silo 7 – Daniel Gage
  • AfroSF – Ivor W. Hartmann
  • Departure – A. G. Riddle
  • A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick

Writing Craft (14)

  • How to Write Short Stories – James Scott Bell
  • How to be an Author – Ashton Cartwright
  • Write to Market – Chris Fox
  • How to Write Faster – Marcy Kennedy
  • Writing Deep Point of View – Rayne Hall
  • The 7 Secrets of the Prolific – Hillary Rettig
  • She Sat He Stood – Ginger Hanson
  • The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction – C.S. Lakin
  • How to Write Dazzling Dialogue – James Scott Bell
  • Super Structure – James Scott Bell
  • Story Climax – H.R. D’Costa
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer – Dwight V. Swain
  • Rock Your Plot – Cathy Yardley
  • Write. Publish. Repeat. – Sean Platt

I think you can tell by that last, largest category that I’m really interested in being a writer 😉

My progress will be tracked on my Goodreads profile – Kindle makes it really easy to flag which book you’re reading. Now it’s just about finding the time to sit down and do the reading.

If you’re doing a reading challenge this year, let me know!

Charting the Amazon Sci-Fi jungle

This post is more than a year old. The information, claims or views in this post may be out of date.

Probably one of the more inspiring books I’ve read lately is Chris Fox’s Write to Market – it’s practical, grounded advice for building a writing career in today’s landscape. The principles contained within are solid, the first being: find an under-served market you can target your efforts on.

It makes complete sense from a supply/demand point of view – if you know ahead of time what readers are interested in buying, and they happen to align with what you enjoy writing, you can build a much clearer picture of what you’ll need to do to succeed. Modern content production has changed, after all.

The book got me thinking about how I might apply it to my own ambitions, and it became pretty clear that I’d have to take a very detailed look at the Sci-Fi book market on Kindle. Amazon accounts for a solid portion of global eBook sales, and should serve as a fantastic indicator for what’s trending.

So last night, I worked on exactly that – first, acquiring a snapshot view of the Top 100 books in each of the 21 sub-genres of Science Fiction, and how they relate to the global sales rank. I’ve got some information to share there, as well as some related insights on the composition of the market.

The Theory

The theory is relatively simple: Amazon lists over five million eBooks on Kindle (depending on what numbers you trust, I guess), and they’re all globally ranked on what Amazon calls their Best Seller rank (I call it ABS for short).

One book can exist in multiple categories – it can have a rank in the niche it serves (for instance, Science Fiction about Genetic Engineering), as well as a global ABS rank. The relation between these tell you how active a niche is.

For instance, if the top 5 books in a niche also exist on the top 10 ABS list, it means there’s a large amount of demand there. If books #80-100 in that same niche are in the high-thousands, that indicates under-served demand: People are buying books in that niche, but for whatever reason are not spending money on some of the lower-ranked books currently available.

This is the fertile ground – you know you have people heavily interested in a particular niche, and they are likely ready to buy anything new and interesting that might land in that category.

If the top 5 books in a niche are in the high-thousands, that means there’s very little demand for that niche. But if all Top 100 books in a niche appear in the top 500 ABS rank, that’s most likely an impenetrable market – and a wildly popular niche.

For the time being, anyway – the ground here shifts constantly as reader tastes evolve. Just like fashion, trends come and go. So despite all the charts I’m showing you in this post, they could be out of date as little as six months from now.

The Niches in Sci-Fi

I’m interested primarily in Sci-Fi, and so focused my analysis there. Things might look different in the other markets, but since I’m not likely to get into Suspense or Young Adult any time soon, I figured I’d give those a miss 😉

Amazon lists 21 niches (or sub-genres) under Sci-Fi:

Adventure Alien Invasion Alternative History
Anthologies & Short Stories Classics Colonization
Cyberpunk Dystopian First Contact
Galactic Empire Genetic Engineering Hard Science Fiction
LGBT Metaphysical & Visionary Military
Post-Apocalyptic Space Exploration Space Opera
Steampunk TV, Movie, Video Game Adaptations Time Travel

For each one, I set about gathering specific data:

  • The list of top 100 books in that niche, based on the niche’s own performance
  • For each book, what the global ABS rank is, and who the merchant is
  • Timestamped for once-a-day retrieval

 

Throw them all together in a chart, and you end up with something like this:

PBIDesktop_2017-07-03_20-59-51.png

Enlightening, right? Let’s rather go by genre, starting with the most hotly-contested one right now – Adventure:

PBIDesktop_2017-07-03_21-14-05.png

This is the dashboard of a very healthy sub-genre.

The top 20 books all have ABS ranks below 1000, with the top 5 being below 100 – these books are selling very well, and there is clear demand for this sub-genre right now. The market is also being very well served at the moment – none of the ABS ranks are above 10’000, so it’s unlikely that a first-time author, or someone without major existing traction, will be able to break in here right now.

Now let’s look at a less-contested genre – Hard Science Fiction.

PBIDesktop_2017-07-03_21-19-52.png

This is more like it! The Top 20 books are all under the 2000 ABS rank, and the book sitting at #40 is double that. The category bottoms out at over 12K, so if you’re looking for a place to start, this could be a good sub-genre to do it in.

Finally, the most uncontested sub-genre at the moment – LGBT.

PBIDesktop_2017-07-03_21-22-34.png

There are no official numbers for this, but the #1 book being at ABS rank 1973 would suggest that it’s selling around 100 copies a day. By comparison, the #1 book in Adventure should be doing around 6000 copies/day. This is according to TCK Publishing’s calculator.

100 copies/day on the top end is not much in terms of demand, so while you could almost definitely rank in this sub-genre, it probably won’t be worth the time investment right now.

All the charts above are looking at the total market though, regardless of whether or not titles were independently published. Let’s get into that next.

Independent publishing on Amazon

I published first versions of these on the Dragon Writers group, but now that I have updated information and time to properly process it, here’s a snapshot of how the Sci-Fi genres break down as of today.

PBIDesktop_2017-07-03_21-37-53.png

The vast majority of Kindle titles in the Sci-Fi genre are independently published – “Amazon Digital Services LLC” is the business name used there.

A word of warning on this: That same business name is used by Amazon itself on occasion – so far I’ve seen it used for special store listings of old, republished books. Unfortunately that’s just the nature of a project like this – the data is not going to be 100% accurate.

Other than the LLC, there are a few big names in this space, but they account for very few of the titles published.

But then there’s the quality-vs-quantity argument. Are independently-published novels doing better (or worse) than those published by traditional houses?

This one’s a tricky question to answer, so it’ll help to look at it in parts.

Let’s go with all titles under Sci-Fi with an ABS rank of 1000 or higher. At 1000, you’re selling around 185 books/day – it’s an arbitrary number, sure, but we need to start somewhere.

For each of the sub-genres that have books in that ABS range, what proportions were published independently vs traditionally?

PBIDesktop_2017-07-03_21-59-05.png

It’s no surprise that Traditional is dominating the Classics sub-genre – since that’s literally the genre in which Traditional companies re-package existing traditionally-published books.

But look at the rest – entire sub-genres are being dominated by independently-published titles! This is the encouraging part – on the largest eBook retail platform in the world, it’s possible for independently-published authors to dominate entire sub-genres.

What does the top end look like? Let’s take the top 100 books across all Sci-Fi sub-genres, sorted by ABS rank. The #1 Sci-Fi book is ranked 4th on the Best Seller list, and the #100th book comes in at rank 1429.

PBIDesktop_2017-07-03_23-30-26.png

That’s the most encouraging chart I’ve produced yet. Across the top 100 titles at the moment, 88 are independent titles – but more than that, there’s no clear bias attributable to the publishing method.

Or in other words: It doesn’t matter if you’re independently or traditionally published – both methods have a chance of reaching the top, and ultimately reaching customers.

Conclusions

None of the data above looks at sales or revenue – a lot is being inferred by the limited ranking information that Amazon makes available. For the most comprehensive report that actually looks at sales, AuthorEarnings is the best place to go.

The intention of this post wasn’t to dive into the industry as a whole, but rather to illustrate two things:

  1. There is opportunity here, possibly more so than via traditional publishing channels. The markets are wide-open to new entrants, and the opportunities might change over time, but they are always there.
  2. In the eBook space, it doesn’t matter whether you were published by a big name, or under your own name – both books will have equal treatment, and customers end up making the choices.

Publishing is definitely changing, and I’m excited to see where it goes next.