What I learned from reading Kindle trash
Posted On March 14, 2020
I have a confession to make.
While there will never be any replacement for a well-written, wonderfully crafted book, I kind of low-key also love Kindle Unlimited trash. I suppose the question then becomes, what is Kindle Unlimited trash?
What is Kindle Unlimited Trash
Kindle Unlimited is, of course, Amazon’s “all you can eat” monthly subscription that lets you read as many books as you want on the Kindle, provided the book is enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited Program. Authors get paid (last I checked) on how many page views each of their books get. There’s a variety of things available on the service, including several quality books by well known authors. But there’s also a whole goddamn lot of trash.
Due to how the Amazon Algorithm works, one of the best ways to keep your book turning up in people’s searches is to write shorter books, of 30,000 – 60,000 words that you can pump out every couple months, or faster. This helps your books kind of advertise for one another, plus it also encourages readers to binge a longer series so you get a lot more page views, thus more money.
In a way, it feels a little like a reversion to the old penny-dreadful methodology, just on a much larger scale. If you want to make any sort of money writing and publishing on Amazon’s marketplace, at least as an indie-author, the recipe is usually quantity, rather than quality.
I tend to read in the fantasy / science fiction Kindle Unlimited genres, so I’m taking my experiences and take-aways from there. There are a few very successful romance authors in the Nebraska Writers Guild, who’ve also given talks at conferences I’ve attended, so I’m not totally making this up. Granted, their writing process seems to involve a few steps that author’s who I’ve read have seemed to skip…but I’ll get into that.
Trash can take several forms, of course. There’s the truly awful, complete shit that is only worth mentioning so that I can establish a baseline. The absolute bottom of the pile is the shit that someone craps out, doesn’t look at twice, slaps a self-made book-cover on, then moves on and does it again and again in hopes that by sheer volume they will rake in some of that sweet, sweet Amazon money.
Hmmm… now that I put it like that… That’s pretty much all Kindle Unlimited Trash…it just varies by degree. Because at the end of the day, what separates Kindle Unlimited Trash from “a good book” is quality. What I’d really like to talk about in this post is what makes something “Trash”.
Get your work professionally edited
Professional editing is expensive. I get it. But it results in a far superior story. Lots of Kindle Unlimited Trash contain numerous errors that even the most basic of copy-editing passes would have caught. Spelling and grammatical errors like that make a story feel cheap and rushed… which as I’ve said previously is a key problem with Kindle Unlimited Trash.
Avoid overpowered protagonists
An overpowered protagonist can be really fun to read… for a book or two. Lots of the Trash that I’ve read center around a protagonist who’s found the one thing in their world that means they’ll never face a real challenge. This might work in the first book, where they fall ass-backward into their own power and are making things up as they go… but since Kindle Unlimited authors often have to write 5-10 books in a series to make any money, this dynamic often gets really boring by the time you hit book three of four, and even more tedious by book six.
Doesn’t matter how good your plotting is. Doesn’t matter if you have good characters or even if your editing is up to par if your story doesn’t have any stakes. We like protagonists to beat overwhelming odds … but if he doesn’t have to really work for it then its just boring and the odds aren’t overwhelming. If the arc of your characters power is “he/she is the best at whatever” at any time in your story, you’ve almost assuredly made a boring character.
LitRPG is a … thing, I guess?
LitRPG is a newish genre that’s been spawned out of the success of things like Sword Art Online and other “stuck in a video game” stories. Kindle Unlimited is absolutely lousy with stories like this. They involve things like “gaining levels or experience” and some sort of rule set for the protagonist to interact with. Usually, the protagonist will be a nerd or a gamer of some sort and will be able to exploit the system. Really, the basic concept has been overused with very few people writing any sort of variations on it.
The genre lends itself to overpowered protagonists and the inherent problems that come with it I just described. The concept was interesting for the first couple books that I read … but then I read the same thing over and over again from a half-dozen different authors and realized that it was largely used as a crutch for world-building instead of something that enhanced it. Not only that, but the rules served as a means to empower the protagonist rather than to limit them, as soon as they learned how to “game” the game system.
I’m not against LitRPG as a genre. Like I said, the first few books that I read were interesting and fun. But if this genre is going to stay around the authors in it are going to have to experiment with deconstructing their rule sets. Or maybe LitRPG is just too weak a genre to do anything that’s actually “good” with. I honestly don’t know.
Trash can still be good
All complaining and holier-than-thou advice aside, Amazon would probably get rid of all the Trash on Kindle Unlimited if people weren’t reading it. The truth is, sometimes I just want to read a little trash.
I’m not saying that I’ll ever enjoy any of these stories as much as Name of the Wind, the Dresden Files, or Elantris, but some of it is fun and you can knock a book out in an afternoon, if that’s what you’re feeling. Sometimes you feel more like chicken nuggets and there’s nothing wrong with that.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, maybe sign up for your free month of Kindle Unlimited and find a little Trash in your favorite genre. You’ll find some things that you like, and some you hate and some that are just alright. Kindle Unlimited also has plenty of non-trash books for you to read, but the only way to find them is to look.
And who knows… maybe you’ll find a new author or two that you really like… even if they do write Trash. Sometimes that’s fine.