Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interview with Karen McQuestion

"JA Konrath is selling well because he's an established name."

"The reason Konrath has sold so many ebooks is because he has a large backlist of print books."

"Konrath has a platform--that's why he's making $4k a month on Kindle sales."

"Joe Konrath has a popular blog, and he's been self-promoting for eight years. No one else would be able to sell 40,000 ebooks."

I hear and read quotes like these all the time. Even though I'm pretty sure my ebook sales are fueling my print sales, and not the other way around, I still can't seem to get people to understand that ebook success isn't about having a known name.

It's about price, quality, and professionalism.

So it was a pleasure to talk to an ebook author who is OUTSELLING me. Karen McQuestion only has six ebooks on Kindle, rather than my thirteen books, and she's been live for less than a year. Yet she's sold over 30,000 copies since July.

And guess what? She's never published a book before. No name-recognition. No platform. No backlist. No blog that gets hundreds of thousands of hits on Google like mine does.

Karen simply writes good books, with good covers and descriptions, and posts them on Kindle herself.

Here they are:

Celia and the Fairies in paperback ($8.99) and Kindle ($0.99)

For ages 7-11, or those who are young at heart

A Scattered Life ~ currently available on Kindle ($1.99)

Easily Amused ~ a romantic comedy, available on Kindle ($1.99)


Favorite ~ a young adult novel, available on Kindle ($1.99)

Life on Hold ~ a young adult novel, available on Kindle ($1.99)

Lies I Told My Children ~ a collection of thirty humorous essays, on Kindle ($1.49)

When Karen admitted on this blog how well she was doing, I knew I had to ask her some questions, to see what secrets she could reveal about selling well on Kindle. She kindly responded, and here are her answers...

Joe: How and why did you get started self-publishing your ebooks on Kindle?

Karen: I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, even during the times when I didn’t write anything at all. When my three kids were (finally!) in school, I became more focused on writing with the goal of publication. I had success getting my feature articles and essays accepted by magazines and newspapers, but my fiction went nowhere. The first novel I wrote, A Scattered Life, caught the attention of a top agent, and I naively thought I’d made it, even though I never officially signed on as her client. One year and two revisions later, the agent opted out and I had to start over again. During the next several years, there were more novels and more agents, then contests, and direct submissions to editors at various publishing houses. Increasingly I got the sense that I was getting closer, but no offers were forthcoming. Talk about frustrating.

Last spring, I read an article about the author Boyd Morrison. He’d self-released three of his unpublished novels on Kindle, and as a result of great sales and reader enthusiasm wound up signing with Simon & Schuster. His story was a revelation to me. Up until then, I honestly hadn’t known that a writer could self-publish on Kindle. Something clicked and I knew I wanted to try to do this myself. At the time, I only knew one person who owned a Kindle, and I had never actually seen one (or any e-book device, for that matter). The thought of making money for past work was intriguing, but I had no expectations. I remember saying to my husband that I thought it would be wonderful if I could make enough for a nice dinner out once a month.

I uploaded one of my novels, a romantic comedy called Easily Amused, and a collection of my humorous essays, Lies I Told My Children. By the end of the first day I had sold a few books. I was elated, but puzzled. Who were these people and how did they even find my books? Every week the sales grew slowly but surely. And then I started getting positive reviews. Spurred on by my initial success, I went back to my other novels and uploaded them one by one. I now have six books on Kindle.

Sometimes I still can’t believe the turn my writing life has taken. A year ago I was a failed novelist with years of work on my hard drive, and now I have readers and an income. Life is good.

Joe: Did you do anything at first to promote your Kindle ebooks?

Karen: I introduced myself and my books on Kindleboards.com, and also on the message boards on Amazon. Some of my first sales came from readers there, and I’m grateful they gave an unknown author a chance.

Joe: How have the sales been? Steady? Going up?

Karen: My best day to date was Christmas day, believe it or not. Overall, sales have fluctuated, but each month they’ve either equaled or exceeded the previous month.

Joe: How did the film option happen?

Karen: Ironically, the novel that got optioned, A Scattered Life, almost didn’t make it to Kindle. I hadn’t looked at the manuscript in years, so I when I opened the document file, I wasn’t certain what I’d find. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I still loved the characters and the story. So much time had passed that reading it was almost like reading someone else’s book. It needed some work yes, but I still found it touching and funny. I went back and reread the notes the first agent had given me and she was right—way too much backstory, something my earlier revisions hadn’t adequately addressed. I spent about two weeks reworking it and uploaded it the beginning of October.

A little more than a month later, I got an email from Eric Lake, an L.A. producer. At first glance I didn’t take it seriously. For one thing, it got routed to my spam folder. Not only that, but the name of the production company is “Hiding in Bed,” which was part of his email address. It all seemed a little fishy. I would have deleted it except the subject heading was the title of my book.

The email asked for the contact information for the person handling the movie rights for A Scattered Life. I think my heart stopped beating for a few seconds, but once it started up again, I checked with Mr. Google to see if this was a legitimate production company (it was) before responding.

Over the next week, Eric and I talked on the phone several times, and emailed back and forth as well. Once we agreed on terms, we were able to finalize the deal. I just heard from him recently and the project is on track. There are several more steps before it becomes an actual movie, but I’m hopeful it will happen eventually.

Joe: What are you doing now to promote yourself and your ebooks?

Karen: I still post on message boards, and make comments on heavily-trafficked websites and blogs. I think some writers underestimate the power of the message boards, especially the ones right on the Amazon site. The Kindle readers are right there, only one click away from your book.

One thing I did, which I think helps, was to set it up so my posts on Amazon come up under “Karen McQuestion, Author.” That way, I can participate in general discussions and if people on the boards are curious, they can check out my books, and if they aren’t, that’s okay too.

I've also posted comments on Gizmodo.com, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, and other newspapers here in the US and worldwide. I'm genuinely interested in reading about anything Kindle /e-book/ publishing related, so it was natural for me to seek out articles on these topics online. Whenever I felt I could contribute to the conversation or politely clarify a point I did, and always mentioned that I spoke as a self-published Kindle author. I do believe this led to sales, but it's impossible to say for sure. Regardless, I felt it was a good use of my time.

Joe: Are you going to raise your prices to $2.99 in June to get the 70% royalty?

Karen: I’m still debating this issue. On the one hand—hey, more money!--who wouldn’t want that? But then I remember the readers who said in reviews or on message boards that they tried one of my books primarily because it was cheap, and then liked it so much they went on and read my other titles. I’d hate to raise my prices and miss out on even one reader. So, I’m torn.

The short answer is that I may raise the price on one of the books, and see how it goes.

Joe: Have you used Smashwords to get on Sony/Nook/Ipad? Results?

Karen: I have not used Smashwords. All of my books have been sold via the Kindle or Kindle app.

Joe: What advice would you give to newbie authors who are thinking about uploading their unpublished ebooks onto Kindle?

Karen: If your writing has been vetted and you have every reason to believe it’s of publishable quality, I say go for it.

Amazon does not discriminate against self-published authors. In fact, they’d love for every indie author to sell millions of downloads. When you make money, they make money. The book pages on Amazon don’t differentiate--small press, self-published, big publishing house— each product page has an identical layout. And it’s free to upload a book on Kindle (I still can’t get over that)!

Four tactics that will give your book a huge advantage can be set into place before the book is even on the market:

Price: Set the price low--under $2.00 is best. A low price makes a huge difference in enticing readers to try an unknown author.

Title: Choose a title that’s catchy and easy to remember.

Description: Descriptions should be brief, ideally only a paragraph. Try to avoid making it just a rundown of plot points. Start with the main character and make sure you include the conflict. Use strong verbs and specific nouns, and leave the reader wanting to know more.

Cover: A cover can make or break a book. Try to make the cover as professional in appearance as possible. For ideas, look at traditionally published books similar to your own.

Additionally, when you upload your book, make sure you take advantage of the options in picking “categories” and “keywords.” And after the Amazon book page is complete, add appropriate tags. All of these things help readers find your books.

Finally, be prepared to spend some time doing marketing. For the first six months I spent at least an hour or two a day doing promotion online and it paid off in a big way.

People can’t buy your book if they don’t know about your book, so don’t be shy—get the word out!

----------------

Joe sez: Many years ago, I was arguing with someone who said the secret to selling a books is simple: just write a good one.

I disagreed. First of all, there is no set definition of what "good" is. Second, many "good" books go out of print, and many "mediocre" books become bestsellers (at least in my subjective opinion.)

The success of as book, I posited, depended on how much money a publisher threw at it, how big the coop was, how large the print run and distribution.

In the age of ebooks, where print runs and publisher dollars don't mean anything, there is still an unknown Factor X that determines why some books sell well and others don't.

But I'm also changing my thinking a bit. Writing a good book, with an interesting premise, a professional, eye-catching cover, a decent description, a low price, and a hooky preview, does help sell ebooks. Perhaps even more than it ever helped sell print books.

Maybe the secret is to write something that people will really enjoy reading, and make sure it's cheap, easy to acquire, and presented professionally.

Karen has done just that, and has sold a lot of ebooks. I predict she'll continue to sell even more.

74 comments:

Morgan Ives said...

Karen, thank you for sharing your success story! It's great to hear from people who've succeeded in the new world of e-publishing. These stories help identify the path through uncharted ground.

And Joe, thanks for putting this on your blog. It's very kind of you to share the spotlight.

robsteiner01 said...

Just when I get down about my own Kindle sales (10 in the three days it's been live), you go and post an interview that gets me all fired up to promote the hell out of it. Thanks, Joe, and thanks to Karen for her inspirational story!

Mike Dennis said...

You and Karen drive the point home, Joe, that you don't need a huge backlist of previously-printed books and you don't need to be famous in order to do well with an ebook.

I have a novel coming out in a couple of months with a traditional press, but I have other yet-unpublished novels. I guess that would constitute a backlist, right? I've been edging toward self-pubbing an ebook myself, and I think I might do it after reading this.

Great post!

Stacey Cochran said...

Karen rocks.

Was a pleasure to have her on Book Chatter not too long ago. And you, too, Joe.

____________________

Stacey Cochran

Author of THE COLORADO SEQUENCE
and CLAWS

Randolph said...

It's great to hear about another well read Independent author. Congratulations Karen, I hope you entertain many more readers in the future!

PV Lundqvist said...

This is the first time I've read about ebook success with YA and kid books.

Somebody must be handing down their kindles.

Boyd Morrison said...

Way to go, Karen! I'm so happy that you've done so well. You and Joe are great role models for other unpublished authors who have faith in their work and just want to give readers a chance to find them. I'm honored that I played a small role in your success.

Anonymous said...

Again Congrats to you Karen. You have been such a great help that it is great to see you gaining the success you deserve and have worked for. Keep it going.

Sean McCartney
Lost Treasure
Secrets of the Magical Medallions

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Karen. I'm impressed by your ability to succeed in several categories at once -- children's, young adult, adult, and even a collection of essays.

Once readers are hooked on your writing style and wit it appears they follow you anywhere.

Anna Murray

David Wisehart said...

Karen, thanks for the info, advice, and encouragement. Very motivational. Congrats on your success!

James Ashman said...

Great story. Another motivation to get yet another book on Kindle. Someone kindly pointed out that just having as many books as Joe or Karen is a platform in itself. The books also being good and very well designed definitely helps, as well. Those covers are great!

Aaron Polson said...

Congrats to Karen, and thanks Joe for introducing her to those of us who have yet to make the discovery.

Ellen Fisher said...

Yay, Karen! Thanks for the interview!

Christina Katz said...

Congratulations to Karen for "producing herself" as I like to say to my students and in my books.

I just wanted to report, Joe, that I am taking a slightly different approach. Like you and Karen, I have a lot of content I am sitting on, not on purpose, of course, but just because I've been busy.

I've got my first e-book, Author Mama, in beta right now and I am asking my first readers to give me feedback to improve the book for the final editions, which I plan to release in multiple formats, meaning every possible format, including POD.

I'm using a price point of $5.99 and I've sold 100, nope, make that 101 so far (since March 30th or in three weeks).

I don't think I am going to follow your advice on the price point for the final version at this time, Joe. But since you have provided so much amazing inspiration and help to so many, I will come back later and report on the results.

And, of course, if you guys were right, I'll let you know. This is all a big experiment for me and I'm taking it one small step at a time.

Karen McQuestion said...

Thanks to everyone who posted such supportive comments. I recognized a few names of other indie authors whose work I've read and admire. You guys rock!

Boyd Morrison, your story inspired me and I'm looking forward to buying The Ark next month.

Joe, I will admit that your blog was the source of many of my ideas. Thanks for being so forthcoming with your success and strategies.

I'm glad my story is motivating other writers to get their work out in ebook form and promote. We all know how hard it is to get ahead in this business, and there's no downside to helping each other out. I honestly believe that there's room for everyone. This is a growing market and a great opportunity for self-published authors.

Jude Hardin said...

Congrats on your amazing success, Karen!

Donna Fasano, author said...

I contacted Karen just before uploading my book to the Amazon Kindle Store just a few months ago. She was very down-to-earth and friendly. I bought her book merely as a small 'pay-back' for all the help she offered me...but I ended up loving it and buying a second...and then a third. I wrote and told her I have been a published author for 20 yrs and I couldn't understand why she hadn't been snatched up by a publisher before now.
Karen, I am so proud to know you. Congratulations! You deserve your success!

The Daring Novelist said...

Joe, you are my hero. Not because you are doing so well on Kindle, but because you are laying so much information and so many options open to us. Thank you for introducing us to Karen.

In the past week, I have changed my plans from just publishing books that didn't go elsewhere, to realizing I want to write new stuff just FOR Kindle.

Cara Wallace said...

Karen, thank you, and congratulations on your success!

I have a question: I agree on the importance of good cover art, and I absolutely love the cover in this post for A Scattered Life. (They're all good, but that one particularly stood out to me.) Have you used different artists for different books, and do you have any tips for finding cover artists?

Thanks again for sharing with us.

M. M. Justus said...

This is fascinating. I'm edging ever closer to self-publishing my work. I am scared of doing the promotion, though, not the amount of work, but the putting myself forward. And the fear that I'm not doing it right.

Any good resources for getting past that besides just doing it, which is sort of like diet advice that reads just eat less?

M. M. Justus said...

Argh. Sorry, I'm just trying to get subscribed to the comments.

Zoe Winters said...

That's amazing Karen! I want to be like you when I grow up!

Ellen Fisher said she wanted to be like me... I think she needs to aim higher! haha.

Karen McQuestion said...

I'm overwhelmed by all the good wishes! Thanks to everyone who offered congratulations.

Hey Jude(how many times have you heard that in your life?), Thank you!

Donna Fasano, I clearly remember the first time you emailed, and the many exchanges we had about formatting and everything else. Since then you've become one of my favorite Internet people! (And you're a terrific writer and storyteller, too.)

Cara, three of my covers (A Scattered Life, Favorite, and Celia and the Fairies) were made with images purchased online. I described how all of my covers were created on my blog. You can read about it here:

http://mcquestionablemusings.blogspot.com/2010/01/more-about-book-covers.html

http://mcquestionablemusings.blogspot.com/2009/12/creating-book-covers.html

If you have any other questions, feel free to email me.

M.M. Justus, I'm not an outgoing person in real life so I know what you're saying about putting yourself out there. Even a simple thing like leaving a blog comment used to make me very nervous. But you're right, the only way to get comfortable with it is to do it. It gets easier with time and people are generally nice. The world is a kinder place than we often perceive it to be.

Zoe Winters, your comment made me laugh. I can tell by your website that you're way cooler than me. Ellen Fisher and I both want to be like you!

Dorothy said...

This all is so so encouraging. I am loving it. I'm doing a strictly Kindle tour for someone in June I believe. We want to see how many we can sell through a virtual book tour. I hope we follow along your footsteps!

Zoe Winters said...

LOL, I'd switch places with you for your sales! Let's find that Freaky Friday Chick!

Zoe Winters said...

I need to pay for hosting again so I can get that icky "this site was made by wix.com" banner off of it. It looks SO much better without it.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif said...

Thanks for sharing Karen with us. I found her story to be very inspiring!

I've always been a proponent of self-publishing, though I have done both (traditional & self-pub). It is truly great to see that e-books by self-published authors have really been taking off.

I currently have two Kindles available--Divine Intervention (paranormal suspense) and The River (techno-thriller). They recently went live (though they've been pub'd as paperbacks for a few years) and I have a new novel coming out in the fall as a Kindle.

I plan to take your advice, Karen, and work at promoting my Kindles even more than I have in the past.

Thanks for all the words of wisdom, Karen and Joe!

Cheers!

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling Canadian author
www.cherylktardif.com

WriterOne said...

Terrific interview and information, Joe and Karen! Thanks so much.
I've been on Amazon in print for a number of years and my trade paperbacks sell steadily, which of course, makes me happy.
But...when I decided to use the Kindle digital area to put the titles up as e-books, I was nervous.
Hah! No worries there...sales have been great even during this past 6 months when folks aren't spending much.
Thank you Karen for sharing your promotion ideas for Kindle books. I am in league with many other authors who feel "icky" about tooting my own horn on forums. I'm going to give it a try.

Toni Leland, http://www.tonileland.com

Emma Newman said...

Well, this has cheered me up immensely, thanks for the great interview and positive message.

Self-promotion is hard but I agree that doing it is the only way to get over that fear. In response to M.M. Justus (I hope it's ok to chip in) I use what I call the 'pub test' - but for my American friends I think it would be the 'bar test' - i.e. whenever I am about to tweet something, or say something about my book, I ask myself: would I go into a pub and say this?

It stops me doing things like authors I don't want to be who just constantly shove their book down other people's throats. I wouldn't walk into a pub, right into the middle of the chatting punters and yell "Hey! Everyone! Read my book, it's brilliant!" But I might say, an hour into a conversation, or when they ask what I do, that I am an author, and only continue if they seem interested.

Online promotion may use new technology but it still involves good old human beings. Be yourself and not a sales machine. Being helpful and generous gets one as far online as it should in real life - and it's much easier online if you're shy like me!

Wendy Webb, author said...

Karen and Joe,

This is beyond fascinating to me. I've got a book on Kindle right now (The Tale of Halcyon Crane) and Karen, I'm going to take every bit of your advice (see my name with "author" now at the end) and skitter over to the Amazon discussions to make myself known. And I'm considering putting my other unpublished titles on Kindle, too.

Thanks to both of you for all of this info. It's invaluable.

Donna Fletcher Crow said...

Fabulous! Thank you so much for the info! I've been in the business 30 years with as many books on backlist. I'm going to give your advice a try.

Donna Fletcher Crow,
The Monastery Murders

Dave Bara said...

Hey Joe,

Could you maybe do a primer sometime about ebook covers? Resources, where to find art/artists, using Photoshop, etc.? Would be a big help and I think would dove-tail nicely with the other ebook posts.

Thanks, - db

Anonymous said...

Great information! Karen is awesome. Thanks for the inspiration.

Joe, I've been following your career since seeing you at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Aurora several years ago. You must be the hardest working guy in fiction. Hey, wasn't that someone's tag line a long time ago? The hardest working guy in show business?... Anyhow, thank you so much for always providing the rest of us with "insider" information. Congratulations on your success, and I wish you much more to come.

Karen Wojcik Berner
author of "A Whisper to a Scream"

Anne R. Allen said...

Your story is so encouraging. I think you'll find a lot of us following in your Kindlesteps.

Helen Hanson said...

@Karen I’ve been looking forward to this interview since Joe announced it. Kudos to you, Karen, with the cool last name. I’ve bookmarked your blog, because your candor is a gift. Thanks.

@Joe I’d begun to theorize that your ebook sales flourished , in part, due to the 1200+ book store signings that accompanied your print pubs. These events, along with your ubiquity on the net, concocted the enticing and profitable brew. Your Q &A convinces me that the ingredients for ebook success are not quite as exotic. Thanks again for carrying this particular torch.

Moses Siregar III said...

Thanks very much for sharing this, Karen and Joe.

While I don't know which way I want to go with publishing yet, I think for those who are going the self-publishing e-route, there's something that you (we?) can focus on to improve your PR.

The most widely perceived problem seems to be the long-running meme that self-published books are crap. Even just a month or two ago on this very blog, that was still the predominant attitude until Joe changed his approach (even Joe was more or less saying this). Now we're hearing from everyone on the other side of the fence, and the conversation here is very different than it was before.

But I think that's been the thing that's beaten down self-published authors for a long time. *Real* writers look down (hard) on self-publishing, and self-pubbed authors were considered second class.

So what's needed is exactly the opposite. We need to start hearing that *particular* self-published works are good. We need to see authors willing to go out on a limb and say that x, y, an z are good authors writing good books, all on their own.

There are probably two main obstacles wrt general perception.
1. People think you can't make any money self-publishing your works. People like Joe and Karen are really tackling this one, and bravo.
2. As above, the thoughts about quality. And I think the way that that will change is if respected people--or even the little joes--begin to make a conscious effort to turn the perception of self-published books around, by actually talking about the quality of particular books.

Obviously, there are a lot of bad self-published works out there, and that's not going to change. In fact, that's only going to get even worse with e-publishing. BUT, the important thing is that there are also a lot of *very good* self-published works out there these days. And those are the ones that we need to talk about, IMO. The more we do that, the more the public's attitude will improve regarding independent authors.

Professor Beej said...

This has, in a lot of ways, been one of the best articles I've read on this site. I'm wary of self-publishing, but I'm really intrigued by the Kindle/ebook model. I don't know if I'd want to do it with my first novel (I am going to at least try the traditional route), but I am thinking of editing a collection of my short stories and doing this. We'll see how that goes later this year, I think.

Thanks for the advice!

Redstar said...

Thanks to both Karen and Joe for sharing and good luck for the future.

I find e-publishing an exciting prospect and look forward to seeing what happens when e-book reader prices come down to where everybody can afford one.

Jude Hardin said...

Obviously, there are a lot of bad self-published works out there, and that's not going to change. In fact, that's only going to get even worse with e-publishing. BUT, the important thing is that there are also a lot of *very good* self-published works out there these days. And those are the ones that we need to talk about, IMO. The more we do that, the more the public's attitude will improve regarding independent authors.

My position has always been that self-publishing is usually a poor choice because the authors who choose to do so are usually just not ready to be published. Karen is an exception, and obviously Joe, but I still think most writers would do well to improve their craft enough to at least garner interest from an agent before jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon.

The public generally doesn't know one publisher from another. They just want good books.

Autumn Jordon said...

This was a great post. Thank you Karen and Joe for sharing your knowledge.

I currently have an e-book out with a small press, but since I've not had a royalty statement yet, I'm not sure how sales are doing. I'd certainly would love to learn more on promoting.

Also, are the steps to upload your books to kindle easy or do you need to be a tech person? I also have a small backlist, which have placed in contests but are considered too different for tradional publishers. I still love the stories and characters, and would love to share them with the world.

AJ
2009 RWA Golden Heart Finalist
www.autumnjordon.com
Obsessed By WildFire from The Wild Rose Press

author Scott Nicholson said...

Well-done, Karen, and I'm especially cheered to see you publishing in several different genres or categories. Thanks for sharing.

Scott

Debbi said...

Thank you, Karen, for doing what I've believed for quite a while is possible.

Congrats!

Karen McQuestion said...

I'm glad my interview proved beneficial to other writers. This is such an area of opportunity--I honestly don't know why big publishing houses aren't looking into mining their out-of-print books, and releasing them again as inexpensive e-books. To me it seems like a win-win for all involved.

As far as self-published books being crap--well, some are, some aren't. Some readers might put my books in that category (although I sincerely hope not). But with self-publishing on Kindle, the market gets to decide. The free downloadable samples are fairly lengthy. By the time a reader finishes two or three chapters, they can generally tell if this is something they'd like to read.

Wendy--your "Wendy Webb, Author," looks very cool and sounds good too. I enjoyed your previous post and will be adding your book, The Tale of Halcyon Crane, to my TBR pile. I adore a good ghost story.

Helen Hanson, I think this is the second time you've mentioned my last name. Thanks! Helen Hanson has a nice flow to it, too, I must say.

Emma Newman, I like your idea about the "pub test." A guidance counselor at my kid's high school routinely tells the students not to post anything on Facebook they wouldn't want their grandmothers to hear. It's the same idea, although I like your version better. :-)

Autumn Jordan, uploading a book to Kindle is easy, getting the formatting to look good is a bear. Someone in a comment in a previous blog post (Zoe, I think?) mentioned their method for achieving this using Smashwords. Getting my Kindle books to look good (paragraph indents were particularly problematic for me)was an arduous process even with the help of my husband, who has a background in computer science. I believe that Joe has the name of someone who does this as a business.

I missed acknowledging a whole ton of people, but I have been reading along and appreciate hearing everyone's comment.

There's a thin line between being a know-it-all and sharing helpful information and I'm glad I came off the right way.

Zoe Winters said...

Yes, it was me who said to use the Smashwords Style Guide. The easiest way to get a good looking Kindle book is to go to Smashwords, type "Smashwords Style Guide" into the search box. Download that book (it's free.)

Follow their formatting guidelines EXACTLY. It isn't hard.

Then save as html and upload to Kindle.

You CAN bother with trying to upload your cover image to the actual book but it's extra crap to go through and since the Kindle doesn't default to showing the cover anyway, most people don't look at the cover once it's on their actual kindle.

i.e. A reader has to "go out of their way" to see the ebook cover once they go to read the book.

I know once I've bought a book and start reading on my kindle, I don't give a crap about the cover anymore. It's a sales tool. It's not a big point of pride in ownership with an ebook.

Connie said...

Thanks so much! I'm getting close to giving e-publishing a try--I've been so close so many times in the traditional route.

Ruth Francisco, author said...

FYI to all. Today, Thursday, April 22, live chat at 3:00 PM EST at the New Yorker magazine website on epublishing. Call in and ask questions or comments.

newyorker.com

Helen Ginger said...

Excellent post. I loved hearing from Karen and she shared a lot of tips for anyone thinking of self-pubbing on Kindle or anywhere.

Helen
Straight From Hel

rex kusler, psychiatric patient said...

One tip I'd like to add to what Zoe said about fomatting for Kindle: don't use soft carriage returns at all, because they'll be ignored in the Kindle for PC. Instead use paragraph spacing before and after. And you can use page breaks between chapters in Kindle, which you can't for Smashwords.

Karen McQuestion said...

OMG, Rex Kusler--your "psychiatic patient" tag made me burst out laughing. That alone made me want to check out your book.

And the fact that Helen Ginger's blog is called "Straight from Hel," amused me as well.

Thanks to both Rex and Zoe Winter for their formatting suggestions. Where were you guys when I was struggling with this? :-)

Ruth Francisco, thanks for the heads up on the live chat at the New Yorker magazine website on epublishing. I'm not really sure how that works, but I'm going to check it out.

Yours Truly, Laurence MacNaughton said...

Okay, Joe, you talked me into it! Well, you and my agent, who sent me a link to your blog. (And I said, hey, I know that guy; he gave me a coaster and an autographed bottle of Jack Daniels!) Keep up the good work!

Autumn Jordon said...

Thanks, Karen, Zoe and Rex. My head is spinning from all the info you've provided. And much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Great information and a great attitude about what it takes to succeed in self-publishing
Charles Irion ,author

Cara Wallace said...

Karen, thanks for the links to your posts about covers -- I'll go check those out. And thanks for spending so much time here in the comments talking with us all! Your graciousness is a good example for every author thinking about self-promotion.

Cara Wallace said...

And now that I've read them, kudos to Maria for her mad skillz in fotoflexer and Photoshop! And to your husband for helping with the photography. ;) It's hard to believe the cover for A Scattered Life is a photo; it looks more like a painting.

Karen McQuestion said...

Cara, I agree that the photo on A Scattered Life looks like a painting. I wonder how they got that effect?

My daughter Maria was the one who introduced me to fotoflexer.com and I've been spreading the word about it ever since. They have sample photos right on the site if you just want to play around and try different things. I'd recommend it for anyone doing covers for their Kindle books.

Carl said...

Karen, some of your books look good. I sure hope you get them in other formats soon (nook!) so I can read them.

Also... someone made a comment about e-book readers having to go out of their way to see a cover. Not so on the nook, you can see them in your library on the color touch screen.

Anonymous said...

May 1st, 2010

As a kindle owner, I discovered Karen's books when Erma Bombeck came up in conversation November 6th. I plugged Bombeck into kindle search and "Lies I Told My Children" popped up. No books by Erma, though. The description was interesting, and I was willing to risk $1.49. (Referring back to one author's upset at being referred to as an "impulse buy", this is the true meaning.)

I read the essays, enjoyed them and bought a few more of Karen's books.

Robin

Annette Lyon said...

Fascinating interview--thanks! I'm getting ready to put my first two books (out of print, so I have the rights back) onto Kindle or another platform (I've been debating Smashwords), so this is very helpful.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Very exciting!
I've been considering e-publishing.
That's not just the wave of the future, that's the wave of the now.

LM Preston said...

I believe when an author can effectively put on their sales hat and find reasonable ways to sale their books - they would be surprised at the outcome. Also, must add, not all authors are interested in selling their book. They'd like to sell it one time and watch the money roll in. I just don't think that's realistic. I'm glad to see that most seasoned authors realize that the moment you want someone else to read your book - you are selling it.

M. M. Justus said...

It's hard, for me at least, to come to terms with the idea that "wanting to be read" has to equal "needing to sell."

I want the former (not for the money, really, just because I want my words out there), but the latter scares me to death.

Pug said...

Karen McQuestion is a generous author. I had heard her on an NPR interview and decided to contacted her for advice on how to put my first book on Kindle. In response I received a wonderfully written reply which outlined many different routes for me to take.

Her story is an inspiration as is yours Joe. Thanks to both of you for stepping outside the box to lead the way for others.

Diana Taylor
Jackson Dunes

http://amzn.to/JacksonDunes

Suzanne said...

Thank you Joe for this great interview! This is one of the most informative and useful articles I've read on self-publishing via kindle.

Thanks!!!!

Roberta Munroe said...

Dear Joe,

It is people like yourself who keep looking outside the box for an artist to find success.

As someone who has gone the traditional route with my non-fiction trade paperback reading this interview with Karen sent chills up my spine as I consider the YA fiction work I am currently writing.

When even my editors at Hyperion said, "Yeah, you're going to have to write an entire book for your proposal since it will be a different genre" I now see there is an exceptionally easy and FRUITFUL (in all ways: emotionally, financially, creatively, structurally) way for me to find and secure an audience!

Thank you seems inadequate so I'll also be posting this link as far and wide as I can reach.

All my gratitude & very best,

Roberta Marie Munroe, Author
How Not To Make A Short Film: Secrets From A Sundance Programmer (Hyperion 2009)

Scott Stoll said...

Thanks. I look forward to meeting Karen at the Waukesha library Jan 19. I've taken a lot of steps she has as another self-published author, but I think the missing ingredient has been promoting myself. (I hate being a salesman.) Scott Stoll

Jack l. Henderson said...

Karen,
It's so good to hear your success story on self pubbing. I hope that I will be able to achieve a story as encouraging as your own. The only thing is that I published with Smashwords.com, a novel entitled TDROMC The Dirt Roads of Madison County: "Road of Confusion". Can I/Should I unpublish and republish with Kindle? It is really discouraging to see my work sitting there and doing nothing week after week. I intend to lower the price and to do more marketing to see if maybe that has some effect. At this point it can't hurt anything.

Thea Atkinson said...

just stumbled onto this posting on Konrath's blog and found it incredibly inspiring. thankyou for detailing your journey so articulately. I've just met the 1 per day sale and am thrilled at that. Like you, I though maybe I'd make enough for a nice lunch every now and then. sure beats the novels languishing on the hard drives.
Thea Atkinson
author of One Insular Tahiti and Anomaly

Patience Prence author SCARS said...

Karen, A big congratulations on the success of your books and I can't wait to see the movie!

Patience Prence
Author SCARS: An Amazing End-Times Prophecy Novel

Kiersten said...

Great post! I aim for that kind of success myself. I know it's going to take some hard work and interviews like these keep me motivated.

Stephen Walker, writer said...

Great news. I hope your advice'll help bring me success with my own ebooks.

Chris Beanie said...

Group hug. Congrats. My first time published. I feel like a virgin.

Adnerby said...

Brenda Coffman Author Great Interview! I love the fact that Amazon Kindle has leveled the playing ground.
Between the ink cartridges, special bond paper, and postage, it cost $50 to send my book out to just one publisher! I couldn't afford to keep it up, so self-publishing has been an answer to my prayers!

Serena Fairfax said...

Thanks so much for placing this on your blog, Joe. A generous gesture. And well done Karen. Your success is well deserved. It can't have been easy.
Serena Fairfax- ebook author.

Tori Scott said...

Karen, I'm curious if you have a reason for not uploading your books to Smashwords, B & N, Kobo, etc. My B & N sales aren't nearly as high as Amazon, but I make a respectable income there. I just surpassed 100,000 sales on Amazon, so Kindle is still my favorite, but I have readers who own Nooks and iPads, so I've tried to make them available in as many formats as possible.