Friday, March 30, 2007
I've been talking with my print publisher, Hyperion, about giving away free ebooks in the Jack Daniels series.
I've been an active believer of Internet promotion since I first became a writer. My blog gets over 20,000 unique hits every month, my website gets almost as many, I have 13,000 MySpace friends, 10,000 people who have signed up for my mailing list, and if you Google "JA Konrath" you get 143,000 hits.
I try to maintain a large Internet presence, because more and more people are using the net. According to http://www.internetworldstats.com, there are more than 1.1 billion Internet users.
The more I do on the Internet, the likelier chance I have of people finding me. The more people that find me, the more who will read me. And, of course, the publishing industry has known for years that a certain percentage of readers will become buyers. Publishers give away millions of ARCs and galleys, hoping they will be read and talked about.
Which brings me to ebook downloads.
An ebook costs nothing to manufacture or distribute. It can be copied by pressing a button, and sent around the world by pressing another button.
And yet, for all the excitement about ebooks a decade ago, they aren't really big sellers. In fact, looking at past royalty statements, I haven't sold many ebooks.
The reason is threefold:
1. Ebooks are too expensive. Readers don't want to pay $16.95, or even $6.95, for a text download, when they can buy the print book for the same price. And the print book is easier to read.
2. Too many formats and restrictions. Consumers need special equipment and programs, and books that can be read on one device can't be read on another device. Some ebooks can't be printed, or put on two computers at once. It's confusing, and not user-friendly.
3. The majority of book buyers don't care much about the Internet. That's slowly changing. But I've spoken at over a hundred events, and I have had thousands of fans show up to see me, and I always ask them how many have visited my website. Surprisingly few have. Mystery readers buy print books, not ebooks. They don't care if an author has a website.
By giving ebooks away for free, I don't want to turn my print readers into ebook readers. That isn't going to happen, because my average reader (a woman in her mid-fifties) isn't going to give up the joy of reading a book on the beach to hunch over her computer to read. She doesn't have a Blackberry or a PDA or a Palm Pilot, nor does she want one.
I want to reach the audience that is already online---the Internet people---and turn them into print book fans. And I want to do this by giving away free ebooks.
If you Google "ebooks" you get 50 million hits. People are reading online. But, based on my ebook sales, my fans aren't among them.
Giving away free ebooks will help reach this potential audience. And as my audience increases, so will my print sales. Here's why:
First, because people who wouldn't read me normally will give me a try if it is free. Some of those people will become fans. Fans who talk about me, buy my books as gifts, and even buy copies for themselves.
Second, because not many people like to read entire books online, there is a percentage that will read some of it, then go out and buy the book to read it in the bathtub, on the beach, before bed, etc. People are likelier to download a full ebook than simply an excerpt, because there is a perception of greater value. An exceprt is a teaser to get someone to buy a book. A free ebook is a gift, and the attitude towards free ebooks is warmer and more welcoming.
Third, because this will help me reach an audience I haven't been able to reach. I've been to the mystery conventions. I've won some mystery awards. The mystery fans already know who I am. But how do I reach the larger audience? The regular fans?
I know I can reach thousands of people on the Internet. I can do this without spending a lot of money. And it won't cost Hyperion much, because my backlist ebooks haven't been selling very well.
This is cheaper than print advertising. Cheaper than touring. And I'll do most of the work.
Here's my plan:
I'd like to make WHISKEY SOUR, BLOODY MARY, and RUSTY NAIL available for free on my website, blog, and MySpace page.
I'll use two formats, pdf and HTML, as these are universal and able to be used on the most devices. Downloads will be handled on my site.
I'll encourage folks to download these files, and share these files with their friends and family. Business author Seth Godin did this with his first ebook, UNLEASHING THE IDEAVIRUS, and went on to become a bestseller in print. Sci-fi author Cory Doctorow has had hundreds of thousands of free ebook downloads, and still sells like crazy in print. The publisher Baen/Tor has had an ebook program for years. Dave Weber's novel ON BASILISK STATION has been available for free for several months. Over that time it's become Baen's most popular backlist title in paper.
Naturally, the fear is if we give away ebooks, people won't buy the print copies. I believe the opposite is true. When Napster (the original file sharing site where teenagers traded their music online) closed down, CD sales did not go up as expected. Sales went down. Getting music for free didn't prevent sales, instead it encouraged people to try new music, which they then went out and bought.
I'm read for free in libraries all the time. And many of those people who discover me at the library later buy my books.
I believe that ebooks are another way to get noticed, and get read. Publishers spend a lot of money on marketing and promotion. Here's a way to spread name-recognition and brand-awareness for free.
I'd really like to give it a shot. If I'm wrong, and my sales go way down, we've learned something. If I'm right, we've figured out a new, inexpensive way to promote authors.
Hyperion decided on a compromise. They're allowing me to give away 1000 downloads of one of my backlist titles, and see how that goes.
In order to do this effectively, I need to know several things.
1. Which book should I give away? The first book in the series makes the most sense. But giving away the newest book might spur more interest in that book.
2. How should I go about giving these 1000 away? I have a blog, website, newsletter, and MySpace page to do so. Should this be a contest? Or should they go to the first 1000 people who respond?
3. How can I leverage this to get as much bang for my buck as possible? Enlist other bloggers? Draft a press release? Take out a few ads?
Let me hear your ideas and suggestions. You might be doing something like this for yourself, someday soon...
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I'm behind in my blog, behind in my email, behind in MySpace, behind in my website, and behind in my writing.
The strange thing is, I've been working my tail off.
I'm writing back-to-back novels. Finished the first. Almost finished the second. Then had to stop work on the second to do a semi-major rewrite on the first.
On one hand, I feel this is what I've always wanted to do: write for a living. For the past four years I've felt more like a marketer than a writer, because that's taken up the majority of my time.
But for the past three months, I've been feeling guilty because I haven't been putting in the marketing time.
I haven't been a complete slacker. But I haven't been able to find the harmonious balance between writing and promoting. It's been 95% writing.
I'm not sure that's a wise idea. Because the publishing world is changing.
I've been thinking a lot on this topic. Here are some of the things I've been noticing.
- More titles being published, but less of each title being sold
- The price of books rising while other media drops in price
- Indie bookstores struggling
- Books getting smaller promotional budgets
- Chain bookstores losing money, closing locations, reorganizing
- Bookstores stocking higher quantities of fewer titles
- The ineffectiveness of advertising to sell books
- Greater competition for fewer readers
- The majority of books being sold through non-bookstore outlets
- Movies, TV, Music, and the Internet taking readers
Now many of these things have been happening for decades. I don't think we're near the end of the print book anytime soon.
But I do think that the future is coming, and profits won't be tied into selling a lot of paper books as much as they've been in the past.
Authors have needed publishers for two things: printing and distribution. These things cost money. Printing, shipping, warehousing, advertising, and marketing isn't free. Neither is paying editors, sales reps, publicists, marketers, etc.
The Internet allows for free copies and distribution. Virtually all costs associated with a book are eliminated. Yet I don't see many publishers, or authors, taking advantage of this, a market where 1 billion people log on daily. In fact, many people are fighting it.
I've had several thousand downloads of my free ebooks, ORIGIN and THE LIST, and several hundred positive comments on them from readers.
I released these books as an experiment, to spread word-of-mouth and encourage free readers to also try my print books.
But maybe I missed the bigger picture.
In this age, information wants to be free. You can search the net and find free songs, movies, shows, and books. This terrifies the music companies, the movie companies, the publishing companies, because people are getting for free what they paid for in the past.
But haven't things always been free?
Since the 1950's, people have gotten TV for free. They've just paid for the device to watch it on.
Prior to that, there was radio.
If the users doesn't pay for these shows, who does?
Consider Google. A billion dollar company. They're a search engine, using software to compile information about websites they didn't create. Where do they get their money?
Writers have long thought that publishers are the only way to make money in this business. But there is another way, that really hasn't been pursued.
What if, in ORIGIN, my characters drank Coke? What if, in THE LIST, my hero drove a sporty new Mazda RX7? What if, at the end of each book, there was a nice full color ad for Alberto VO5? And what if each of these companies gave me a few thousand bucks to do this? What if they also distributed the books for me, reaching more readers than I ever could?
Advertisers pay for TV and radio. Advertisers help pay for movie production with product placement. Advertisers make Google worth a billion dollars.
What if advertisers paid authors for product placement in their books? On author websites?
Or go a step further. What if advertisers hosted websites where people could download text and audiobooks for free?
Instead of making money off of sales, authors would get paid by advertisers.
Now before everyone starts screaming about the purity of the novel, and how it is an expression of the author, not a 300 page commercial, consider that film and TV and newspapers and magazines have been putting out a lot of quality product for many years, being funded by advertising dollars.
Publishers could capitalize on this. What if paperbacks had ads in the back? Would it bother you, as a reader?
Would it bother you less if these paperbacks with advertising only cost $3.99 as opposed to $8.99? Or if you could get a new hardcover Stephen King novel for $10, but all of Steve's characters drank Miller Lite, and on the last page there was a coupon for Handi-Wipes?
What if publishers hosted the websites, paid authors a salary to generate content (novels) and gave the books away for free, generating their income through banner ads and sponsors?
What if there was a subscription based service, like an Ebook of the Month Club?
What if a really great ebook reader gets created, something that is even better to read than paper? Don't laugh---Sony thought CDs would always rule the music biz, until that pesky iPod came around. CD sales have dropped. People are trading music for free. This will happen in the publishing industry as well. Could authors still make money?
There will always be a need for storytellers. But the way storytellers get paid may change
An author's success is based on positive reactions to name recognition. In 2007, that means the author can sell a lot of paper. In 2027, that might mean that author has his face on a box of cereal, with a free book inside.
Peer-to-peer file sharing is done by millions of people. On sites like Kazaa, e-donkey, Limewire, bit torrent, mIRC, and FTP warehouses, people are trading their media.
Think about that. This isn't a distribution network set up by the media, or the advertisers. It's set up by fans. And it's growing.
Yet instead of media companies exploiting this, they try to shut it down. The scream about copyright infringement, and intellectual property.
Shouldn't they be using this somehow?
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Writers are fearful creatures. The joy of being paid to be creative, and the unavoidable side effect of egotism that goes along with it, is easily tempered by the constant paranoia that everything will be taken away from us.
We worry about sales, fret over decisions our publisher makes, question the effectiveness of our agents, compare ourselves to peers, and eke by contract to contract, wondering if the ride is going to end.
My attitude has been that of a shark---keep swimming, or I'll drown.
That means non-stop touring, a constant web presence, a steady release of new product (books and stories), and keeping in touch with fans and peers.
These last two months have changed my attitude somewhat.
I've been writing a lot. In fact, in the last 75 days, I've plowed through about 150,000 words.
It's been great, and made me remember why I became a writer in the first place.
But I've been concerned that my writing time has been at the expense of my self-promotion time, and that I'd lose a lot of what I've built up.
It's nice to be shown I've been wrong.
My website hasn't been updated in months, and I've only been able to post a handful of blog entries. Yet, according to Statcounter, my unique hits have stayed consistent.
I'm still getting a decent amount of email.
I'm still getting requests for stories and articles.
Google Alerts and Technorati have shown me that I haven't left the public eye, even though I've made very few public appearances.
And though I've slowed down seeking out MySpace Friends, more and more folks are approaching me first.
In short, I haven't been forgotten in the last few months.
This has made me revise my original analogy. Instead of comparing a writing career to a shark, I'm going to instead compare it to a locomotive.
It takes a lot to get started. A lot of effort, time, and money.
But once it starts, it takes a lot to stop it.
Careers have momentum. And momentum wants to keep things moving, even if you're no longer stoking the boiler.
How does a writer build momentum? How long does it take for momentum to die?
The easy answer is: the more you do, the more momentum you build, the tougher you'll be to stop.
Every event, every signing, every interview, every short story, every appearance, every email, every newsletter, every blog, keeps you in the public eye. And many of these things keep you there long after you've put in the effort. Old blog posts get new visitors. People pick up an anthology that you were in three years ago. A speaking engagement last year leads to three more this year.
There are countless ways to build momentum. And the more you do, the harder you are to stop.
I've often believed that I'm not reaching for success, rather I'm running from failure.
But it seems like I'm able to take a rest from time to time and simply coast on what I've already done. It's a good feeling. And perhaps when I finish this book, and return to actively pursuing self-promotion, I won't be quite as gung-ho.
It isn't about how quickly it takes for you to reach 100mph---six seconds or six years. Because once you reach that speed, you're going to be hard to stop.
The goal is getting up enough speed.
What are you doing to build momentum?
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
You're also invited to my friend Melanie Lynne Hauser's Booklaunch Party, for the debut of her second novel, Super Mom Saves the World.
It's a chick lit novel, mixed with super heroes and villains. Think Spiderman, if he were a single suburban soccer mom.
I like her books, and like her, and not just because she's having free beer at the party.
If you're in the Chicagoland area on March 7 at 7:00pm, come by and say hello. It's taking place in Glen Ellyn, IL, at The Bookstore. If you can't make it, call them and order a signed book over the phone.
I'll be there. So it's a good place to corner me and ask, "Joe, what's up with the blog lately? Are you on vacation?"
Uh, no. I'm writing back-to-back novels, which isn't as easy as I thought it would be.
I just finished a stand alone horror novel, and now I'm working on Jack Daniels #5 (The book, funny guy. Not the drink.)
So it's been nonstop writing, stopping only to blurb a few friends, do a few speaking events, and occasionally shower. There hasn't been much time for blogging lately.
In April, The Newbie's Guide will resume multiple posts per week.
In the meantime, if you have anything to gripe about, Vent Club is open.
Hope to see some of you at Mel's party. You can also catch me in Homewood, IL on the 18th---I'm doing a library with Marcus Sakey. And in April, I'll be at Sleuthfest.