Monday, October 11, 2010

Blake Crouch on Ebooks

One of my best friends in the writing biz is Blake Crouch. I've collaborated with him on multiple projects, and we talk often about the publishing industry.

I asked Blake to write a guest post for me about something he's currently doing, because I knew it would be helpful to my readers. So here's Blake...

Blake: Rights reversion is a beautiful thing.

My first novel, DESERT PLACES, was published—wow, hard to believe—almost seven years ago. Its sequel, LOCKED DOORS, came out the following year. I knew at the time that most books didn’t stay in print forever, but I still quietly dreaded the day my books would no longer be available to readers.

Then, over the last couple of years, as ebooks rose in prominence and popularity, a strange thing happened. I quit dreading the day my first two novels went out of print and started wishing that day would come faster.

Unlike Joe, I didn’t have 74 unpublished novels in my drawer which were good enough for public consumption. I only had two unpublished novels prior to my first sale, and NOAA actually just sealed those manuscripts in a steel chest and dropped them into the Challenger Deep so there is no chance that future generations might accidentally discover them.

This meant I didn’t have any thriller novels to upload into the Kindle Store. Sure, I had a short story collection, a few novellas, including SERIAL UNCUT, which I wrote with Joe, and a quirky novel about warped celebrity called LUMINOUS BLUE, but I didn’t have anything meatier. And novels seem to sell much, much better.

To add insult to injury, my publisher, who still had the rights to LOCKED DOORS and DESERT PLACES, was selling them in the Kindle Store for $6.99. My two recent novels, SNOWBOUND and ABANDON are priced at $12.99, and I get email from people castigating me for this, but it’s beyond my control!

Reversion of rights is standard boilerplate in all publishing contracts (unless you are getting royally screwed) by which the rights to a book may revert to the author when certain conditions are met. There are subtle variations, but generally these conditions are activated when the books are no longer in the warehouse, when sales fall below a certain threshold, etc.

So I had my agent investigate the situation with these two books, and we concluded that, in fact, rights should be reverted. A letter was written to the publisher, requesting rights be reverted, and the publisher had six months to either initiate a new edition of the books, or to give me the rights back.

This was a challenging experience, which took every bit of six months to complete.

Joe: (Blake is being kind here. It's hell to get your rights back. Publishers want to milk them for as long as possible, especially now that ebooks are on the rise. Some publishers actually go into another printing rather than revert the rights. Compound the fact that publishers often have corporate mentalities, often putting things off and backburnering the stuff that isn't a priority to them, and it could take months of emails, registered letters, agent intervention, and even lawyers to get back the rights that are legally yours as stated in your contract.)

Blake: If you heard a shout of joy two weeks ago, that was me receiving my reversion of rights letter for DESERT PLACES and LOCKED DOORS, which meant they were mine again.

I had prepared for this, had the books poised to go in my DTP account, and all I had to do was hit publish. It felt good.

Two things to consider when getting your rights back.

THE BOOK ITSELF
Both these books had been given the full editing, copyediting, multi-round proofreading treatment, and so I wanted to capitalize on that.

My publisher, however, when I asked, didn’t have the final electronic version of the manuscripts, which had been spitshined into a high gloss sheen.

So with the help of a friend who shall remain nameless, I downloaded the over-priced Kindle versions of my novels, jail-broke the text out of DRM (die, DRM!), and was able to upload the pristine, final version of the manuscripts.

THE COVER ART
Even following a reversion of rights, the publisher still retains ownership of the original cover artwork. You can’t use it. Luckily, this was totally cool with me, because I never loved the covers to DESERT PLACES and LOCKED DOORS to begin with. So I asked Jeroen ten Berge (www.jeroentenberge.com), the man behind the “Serial” cover as well as many of my ebooks, to design new covers for DESERT PLACES and LOCKED DOORS. He did a fantastic job.

Here are the original covers, along with the new ones. (The new ones are clickable and link to the Amazon pages.)

I just put these books up, so it’s early yet to know how they’ll do in the long run, but I can’t help but feel it’s a wonderful new world we have, where books can find a 2nd life.

Joe: Are you using DRM on these titles?

Blake: Not a chance. These books are only available in the Kindle store right now, but I want all e-reading devices to be able to download these books (and with Caliber they can if DRM is not enabled).

Joe: My blog readers like numbers. I know that prior to your publisher listing DP and LD at $6.99, they were $9.99. What were the cumulative ebook sales through your publisher, compared to something you released (say SERIAL UNCUT)?

Blake: Last royalty period (which represents six months), these books sold about 200 copies each at $6.99. Serial Uncut, since its release this past March, has sold 2,943 copies in the Kindle store. It’s also sold a fair amount through Barnes & Noble, and when I have a spare fifteen hours, maybe I’ll go through the Smashwords spreadsheet and add up those sales. :)

Joe: You're writing a sequel to these two novels. Can you go into any details?

Blake: Well, it’s going to be another collaboration project—the conclusion to these books, as well as the conclusion to this guy Konrath’s Lt. Jack Daniels’ series. Working title is STIRRED, and it’s going to pit Jack Daniels against one of my nastiest villains, Luther Kite. We’re going to try to write it in the same manner we wrote “Serial,” bringing a true chess-like dynamic to the writing process. Should be a blast.

Joe: Both ABANDON and SNOWBOUND are doing okay on Kindle, even at the insane price of $12.99. What do you attribute this success to? And would you ever consider releasing a $12.99 self-published ebook?

Blake: I have no idea. But I think it clearly establishes that there are people willing to pay more than $2.99 for an ebook. I can't imagine releasing one myself for $12.99 though.

Joe: Especially with a cover like Snowbound, which has the be the very worst thriller cover I've ever seen. I won't ask you to comment on it because you're not into burning bridges like I am.

This is A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. So advise newbies. If they have a hot book, all ready to go, what should they do with it?

Blake: Get a great agent, and try to sell it for a lot of money. Publish short fiction in solid magazines. There’s a lot of bad-mouthing lately about the “gatekeepers” but I think a publishing track record is important, and it should matter to readers. I’m a reader, and it matters to me. Put your short fiction and your novellas and collaborations up on Amazon. Keep your irons in several different fires. The truth is no one knows how this is all going to shake out, so in light of that, there’s really only one smart play…diversify.

Joe: I encourage everyone to buy DESERT PLACES and LOCKED DOORS. They're terrific thrillers, and the villain from them appears in my seventh Jack Daniels book, SHAKEN, which comes out October 26. If you've read my previous Jack books, you'll love them.

148 comments:

author Scott Nicholson said...

Yhanks for the insight--you've dodged two critical questions: Does your publisher own the rights to ITS work, presumably the professional copyediting and editing? (You've already established they own the cover art, so why should proofing be any different--it's usually contracted labor paid by the publisher).

Two, what exactly did the rights reversion spell out? Merely an "in print" clause? Or requiring a certain number of copies to reprinted?

We regular readers of Joe's blog are pretty familiar with the pricing concepts--in my own case, I had seven-year contracts and a 50/50 split, but also, it's not just the high prices that are part of the control, it's the fact that the publisher now has a vested interest in keeping your book out of print (a thing called "competition" that publishers are finally coming around to recognize). Contracts are not just for the rights to print your books, but also the right to manipulate its appearance to fit the overall strategy of the company.Yeah, you'd think it would be to sell as many copies of every book as possible, but you can't make every book a bestseller. You pick the ones you want to make bestsellers and move the others out of the way.

Scott Nicholson

Karen said...

I love that there are options out there for authors, but lets address the issue of authors going into contracts and then for no other reason than they want to make all the money themselves, they go their publishers demanding their rights back.

No one seems to be talking about professional responsibility. If you want to self-publish then by all means captain your own ship, but I wish that you guys would make it clear that it is not okay to simply demand your rights back for no other reason than you want all the money for yourself.

I am a publisher, Joe is familiar with me and he may be willing to vouch for my character to a small degree and in my house there seems to be a run on authors who have contracts with me, I've put their books in print and in eBook with value pricing, offering 50% on the eBooks and now (because Joe has shown them the way) they are demanding their rights back (even though they have not earned out or even tried to sell our books for that matter) so they can self-publish. They have absolutely no regard for the fact that if I give them their rights back with product still in hand that I am basivcally flushing money down the toilet. It is a HUGE loss for me, and if I say "no you need to follow through and do what you agreed to do, by helping me sell those books" the generally become angry, some are even talking bad about me and I am getting very familiar with lawyers bullying me to release rights.

I guess my overall comment is I hope that you and everyone else doing this have the greatest success, but please don't do it at the expense of others. It seems to be mostly unspoken that even in the self-publishing industry you MUST remain professional.

You, Blake, seem to have had viable reasons to make your request for reversion of rights, but would you have done it the same if the publisher was doing the things you wanted/needed them to do? Like value pricing and fair royalties?

I've read your stuff and you are good. You deserve the success. But I hope that you and the others, while being encouraging and teaching the masses about this, will remember to teach people to be fair and professional.

The very best to you,
Karen Syed
http://klsyed.com

Stitch said...

Congratulations on getting your rights back! I'm certain this can only be a good thing in the long run.

Thank you for guest posting, and thanks to Joe as well, for allowing guest posts in the first place. It adds even more to the value of an already appreciated blog.

I would definately give your books a chance, if it wasn't for Amazon's "you're-outside-of-the-US-so-we're-going-to-charge-you-more-tax". For me, in Sweden, the ebooks are listed at $5.74, which is too much. I don't mind paying that, or even more, for a paper book. But, as I've said before, I'm not paying that for a digital download. Even most ebooks that are free in the Kindle store are $2.30 if I want to download them.

Do you, as authors, have any chance to influence this at all, or this all Amazon pulling the strings?

Joe Konrath said...

Do you, as authors, have any chance to influence this at all, or this all Amazon pulling the strings?

No. But if you buy a US Kindle,you can shop at the US Kindle Store and not pay that extra. It's not tax. It's a 3G delivery charge. You won't be able to use your US Kindle as a 3G device, but you can download the ebooks to your computer, then upload to your Kindle from your computer, and pay only $2.99.

The 3G network costs money. In the US, Amazon can cover the cost. Elsewhere in the world, they have to charge for it. I assume that eventually 3G will become globally inexpensive, and I'm sure the delivery price will be reduced or eliminated.

Morgan Mandel said...

I agree the best way these days is to diversify. Kind of pertains to food also. You never know what'll be bad for you next, but if you don't overdo, you'll probably be okay.(g)

I like the second batch of covers better. They're not the same as each other, yet have a similar style, making them more recognizable as yours, so they can establish your brand better.

Morgan Mandel
http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

Blake Crouch said...

@Karen - I hope it was clear through my post that the books I requested rights back on were seven years old and unavailable in print. I am in no way encouraging authors whose publishers are actively publishing their work to seek reversion of rights. (a) Both of my books more than earned out; and (b) If my publisher had kept these books in print, I wouldn't have requested the rights back. I follow Joe's blog, and I don't recall him encouraging authors to make a run on their contracts. The point is, if the books are in print, authors have no legal basis to even think about a rights reversion.

Blake Crouch said...

@Scott
Do they own the professional copyediting and editing? Short answer, I don't know. But I had a hand in producing the final product at every stage (the editing, the copyediting, reading the page proofs, etc.) and there is nothing that explicitly forbids me from using the final manuscript. It's still my work.

Re: more info on the rights reversion, I'm not going to post the entire clause right here, but I gave a pretty good summary in my post. The only other thing I would add is the book has to hit the threshold requirements for I think 4 consecutive royalty periods.

Re: your last paragraph, I don't know what to say to that Scott...I do know that certain books get the big push, that some books get next to nothing, but I simply don't believe that publishers ever take proactive, premeditated steps to stop books they have purchased from selling. They might not give them the support, but they don’t shoot them in the back.

KevinMc said...

I don't recall hearing anyone here espousing the idea of harassing publishers for their rights back in violation of a contract. Hey, you signed it, you deal with the good AND the bad results.

I absolutely agree that a high level of professionalism is important, regardless where one is publishing. You don't break a contract just because you feel like it. That's not the way the world works. ;)

Selena Kitt said...

I'd just finished Draculas and discovered three great new authors and went hunting for Blake Crouch on Amazon only to discover agency pricing stamped all over his work. *sigh*

I was about to one-click ANYWAY (I can deal with $6.99... but $12.99? Ack!) when I read this post.

*doing a happy Kindle-thrifty fan-girl dance*

Just a head's up, Blake, they're not showing up on your author page. Head over to Amazon Central and own those versions, dude! :)

Christy Pinheiro said...

I like the cover of Snowbound. It seems creepy in a "Fargo" sort of way. And I agree with Blake about diversification. He's right. It's safer to have many irons in the fire-- you never know which company or format is going to really make the most money.

We all know that e-books are the future, but you never know-- maybe something else will come along in the next decade that's even more advanced? Video? Interactive? Who knows. Things are changing so fast it's impossible to foretell the future of publishing.

Anonymous said...

"Do they own the professional copyediting and editing?"

@Blake: I doubt it. Editing your copyrighted work makes it a "derivative work" which does not in any way void your rights to it. If they added a substantial amount of new material, the new material alone would be copyrightable (via due process), but simple edits/cuts are obviously not in that category.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_work

Confirm with a lawyer to be sure, in your specific case. Congratulations on getting your rights back!

Joe: great article, as always.

D

Blake Crouch said...

@Selena

I'm working on it....a very frustrating part of this process is that the old $6.99 versions of my books keep popping up on Amazon (and people are still buying them!). Hopefully they will be completely gone forever in the next week.

Anonymous said...

"I simply don't believe that publishers ever take proactive, premeditated steps to stop books they have purchased from selling. They might not give them the support, but they don’t shoot them in the back."

Actually they do, and there's even a term coined for it, "privishing". Although the motivation is more correctly attributed to individuals within the publishing organization, than the publisher itself.

An example of how it might come about is: an editor at publisher X loves your book, signs you on, then leaves the publisher. Your book's account is then handed to someone who absolutely hates it and doesn't believe in it, but whose hands are tied by the contract signed by the first editor. Marketing has a finite budget, and they want these other books they believe in to get out there, not your "piece of crap".

Simple imcompetence is mistakenly labelled as privishing more often than not, but it does happen.

I think Joe posted a link a while ago to one woman's horror story about her book bouncing between 6 different editors because of staff turnover. As the industry goes farther off the rails and publishers downsize even more, I suspect we'll hear more stories like that.

D

Selena Kitt said...

"a very frustrating part of this process is that the old $6.99 versions of my books keep popping up on Amazon (and people are still buying them!)."

If they're smart Kindle buyers (and I've discovered most Kindle owners are) they'll click the "other formats" and find it. Besides, just looked, your version is listed first because it's cheaper! :P

But it's hard to know which one is connected to "whispernet" buying, so you really do need to get the higher priced versions off there as soon as you can.

Good luck!

Tara Maya said...

No one has come out and told newbie authors to break contracts, but several time the advice to writers with no previously published books has been, "Go ahead and submit to an agent or editor to make sure your work is not utter crap. Only those of us who have been safely vetted by intelligent people can self-publish in confidence."

And I get that. But given that the argument on this blog is that a newbie would be an idiot to tie themselves to a sinking ship, isn't it a bit tendentious to also advise newbies to "prove" themselves first in this way?

It seems like this is encouraging, however indirectly, newbies to either

(1) Submit to agents/editors, wait for an offer, and then say, "Whew! Ok I am good. See ya later!" and go self-publish

or

(2) Sign a traditional publishing deal and grin and bear the very same things that are here being decried, i.e. loss of rights, inability to set the price on ebooks, etc.

Ruth Francisco, author said...

Congratulations, Blake. It's a grand thing to get your rights back. When I asked my publisher, Hachette, to please lower the Kindle price of my books from $19.99 to something more reasonable, they gave me back my rights!! They were slow to complete the paperwork, but I was thrilled. I'm reaching a whole new readership now, and it feels great.

Blake Crouch said...

@Anon 12:10
I'm not saying that incompetence, apathy, and horrific bad luck doesn't lead to a lot of horror stories for a lot of writers, but when people (and I'm not saying you are) start believing there's an honest-to-God conspiracy in publishing to stop certain books from selling, that just sounds like raving paranoia.

@Tara
First, I should say that this post is my take on ebooks, and I don’t share Joe’s exact viewpoint on the state of publishing. In other words, this particular blog post ended with “my advice” which is not necessarily endorsed by Joe.

But I stand by what I said: the best thing you can have is a great agent. Period (I think Joe would agree). And what I said was, “try to sell your work for a lot of money.” Not…“take a shitty deal.” Publishers get it wrong a lot, but they also get it right, and when the stars align and a publisher goes all in for you on your book, there is no better, more effective method of getting your work into the hands of the masses. I know ebooks are becoming a greater share of the market at a fast rate, but it’s myopic, at this stage in the game, to focus exclusively on the ebook market as a potential readership. It is still just a fraction.

@Ruth

Back at you! Great feeling, isn’t it?

WDGagliani said...

Blake, great to see you! Thanks for the personal experience tale. I enjoyed both Desert Places and Locked Doors, and it's good to know they are out there again in ebook versions. Congratulations on getting your rights back! (I am in limbo trying to get mine back for 3 novels, but hope springs eternal, they say.) In any case, I also wanted to say I like your new covers. Care to share as to where and who? I have somebody lined up for future work, but it's always good to know who else is out there.

Also, I found it interesting that you were able to grab the Kindle versions, jail-break them, and then reuse them for the DTP. I wondered if that was possible! I may hit you up for advice when the time comes. The closest I could come was to have a service scan the published book and convert it to a Word file that then my other guy would clean up. Your approach sounds easier, or am I wrong? I am not greatly code-enabled, btw, LOL, so I'd have to farm this out.

Best of luck with the new versions!

Bill

Christy Pinheiro said...

Speaking of overpriced Kinlde editions...This morning, I opened my digital edition of the San Jose Mercury News to see that one of their lead stories is about... pissed-off Kinlde owners.

Ken Follett and James Patterson are the newest victims of the "one-star curse"-- when Kinlde owners attack! I blogged about it this morning.

Blake Crouch said...

@WDGagliani

Thanks, Bill! Check out www.jeroentenberge.com. Jeroen does all my stuff, and he's amazing.

wannabuy said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but new authors are having to sign over their e-book rights for extended times now.

So celebrate the legal return of your copyright. But new authors must verify when their rights will return. As already noted, new p-books do not stay in print forever. Do you want your publisher 'selling' your e-book for $8.99 (or some other 'above market' price) for years?

As Blake alluded, the author is the brand. If the book stays overpriced for years, that will set an impression with future customers.

Neil

Tara Maya said...

@ Blake. It sounds like you're advising try to go for a print deal, just make sure that there is a clear escape clause? That would include accepting 17% on ebooks. Fair enough.

I have some friends who have been offered print deals in the last week, and I think this still makes sense for them, especially if they don't want to do a lot of marketing and it's important to them to see their work in bookstores.

But I guess I have been convinced by Joe that this is dangerous for a newbie who is looking at the following hypothetical timeline:

1-3 months for an agent to respond to a query letter

3-6 months for agent to respond to a partial

6-12 months for agent to respond to a full

(possibly necessary to repeat)

1 week-9 months for agent to sell book to editor

1-2 years before book comes out

This means that even an author with a terrific book should expect to spend 1-3 years or more before seeing their book in bookstores. Assuming those bookstores are going to be there in 3 years. Assuming their print publisher doesn't switch to an ebook/POD model like Dorchester in the middle of the process...

For someone like me, who can probably only expect no more than a 5,000-7,000 advance under the best circumstances, I'm just not sure this is good advice.

I agree that for a newbie who is not able to judge their own work (and who is?) there should be some way to discover if your book is awful before you embarrass yourself in public, but is relying on the traditional gatekeepers really the best way?

Anonymous said...

@Blake

It's not paranoia, it's a matter of public record that it happens, look up the court records.

From a business perspective, the progression of events is perfectly logical. You sign up a controversial book (choose a topic these days) and the prominent subject gets wind. They threaten to sue if you publish, and they have much deeper pockets. The court case will unquestionably cost many times more than the book will ever earn out, and may in fact bankrupt your business. What do you do?

Does it happen often? No. Does it happen? Yes.

D

Tara Maya said...

Anon. 1:44 -- That sounds like you are referring to non-fiction, or are you saying this is a problem in fiction too?

Anonymous said...

@Tara

It can happen in both, for the two different reasons I stated, and several more besides those.

D

Donna Perugini said...

I read this as a novice to all these problems...
My rights have all been returned, artwork is legally mine and I am re-issuing the books. Todd Rutherford, VP of Yorkshire alerted his peeps to this 'posting' to read.
I had no idea how hotly debated all this could be. My children's books are soon to release (Oct 2010LSI) and I will be checking into the 'e-readers'.

KevinMc said...

@Tara - that is *precisely* my situation. I have two novels, one at first draft stage, and one nearing completion of my revisions.

Now, I can send that one off to publishers. It's SF, and pretty decent. But if I do, I would be looking at 2-3 (or more) years before the book hit print. And then, I'd be getting something along the lines of a $5k advance (average for first SF novels). And that's assuming the publisher I sell to stays stable through the rocky period ahead.

To make that much as an ebook over three years, I'd need to sell an average of 70 copies a month. Not every ebook does that, obviously...some sell much better, others much worse. It's a gamble.

It's an interesting decision process. I have to say though, there's a certain appeal to being in charge of your own destiny.

Tara Maya said...

@ KevinMc, I can understand your dilemma.

I don't actually know what to advise. I have friends who have mss that are ready to be published, IMHO, who still cling to the query-agent-print system, and I think they are wasting valuable time they could be using to self-publish.

But I also have friends who *think* they have a viable novel, who just aren't there yet. The writing itself is riddled with errors, the plot has severe problems, etc. Ironically, the worse the writer, the more confident they are in their own genius.

This is exactly what makes me second-guess my own confidence in myself -- I don't want to be one of the clueless. Beta readers say nice things, but they are my friends, how do I know their judgment isn't as clouded as mine? On the other hand, I know wonderful writers with just fabulous books who won't take my word for it, and that frustrates me! (My judgment may be suspect regarding my own writing, but I think I am able to tell if someone else's work is up to par!)

Blake Crouch said...

@Tara

Yes, my advice, go for the agent who can get you the BIG print deal with a BIG publisher who has been around for a long time and can get your books everywhere. Yes, it could take awhile…hopefully you’re writing other books and short fiction while you wait and getting your name out there in other ways and reaching out to the ebook market. It can take a long time. It can be soul-crushing and painful, but if you’re productive, it’s not the only path you’re pursuing. I think in this age of people being able to instantly upload their manuscript to the Kindle store, the concept of having to wait for something is completely alien. Sure, something awful could happen like the publisher go under or the sun go dark. Terrible shit happens all the time. There are no guarantees. Accept that and shoot for the best. You only lose if you sign a bad contract, and whether or not you sign a bad contract, is completely up to you. If no one bites, you always have the option of releasing it yourself.

Blake Crouch said...

I feel like I should put at the end of every post: *This opinion is not necessarily endorsed by the host of this blog." :)

Tara Maya said...

@ Blake. My situation is a little different than a complete newbie. I've had two books published (albeit with a small press in another genre), and I've inadvertently taken the route you've suggested. I've had agents look at a full a couple times.

I've been "validated" in that I've had the response, "The writing is terrific and the book is great and I love the character, but I don't know if I can sell this. Write me a completely different novel and come back." And I also had an offer from a small press.

I've been trying to break into the industry for ten years, I've sold short stories, won awards, etc. etc. even made, all told about $10,000 so far on my fiction, so I don't think this is a matter of wanting instant gratification -- but I'm just not willing to wait another ten years. And I don't think I could fairly advise a newbie to waste ten years as I have either.

Btw, I hope you don't construe any of my arguments/complaints as directed at you personally. I'm very grateful you stopped by to share your story. And I think the new covers look great!

WDGagliani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WDGagliani said...

Sorry, I left out a word in my previous post (deleted).

Thanks, Blake. I will look him up! Is he also the jail-breaker, or did you do that yourself?

Bill

Rebecca Stroud said...

Regarding the reversion of rights: I just now finished emailing my former newspaper editor, asking that all rights to my work be returned to me as I stupidly signed a work-for-hire agreement ten years ago (in my defense, naive would be more apropos as I was such a novice).

Anyway, I am very ethical BUT...if a publisher is simply holding on to my rights "in perpetuity" yet hasn't "used" my work in years (and has no intention of doing so, in my case), I have no qualms whatsoever in saying, "Return to me what is mine, damn it!" I did say 'please' (though I amost gagged when I wrote it).

And as far as finding an agent, trad publisher, etc...At this point in time, I am a nonfiction writer in a niche market. And though I'm not seeking instant gratification, neither do I have the mental stamina to wait ad nauseam for dead-end responses (if any at all). So I published on Kindle and plan to have another book uploaded before Christmas...

Personally, for what I'm hoping to accomplish, this was best. Cannot - and will never even try - to speak for other authors as we all have different "time tolerance" thresholds. And I'm the first to admit that mine is pathetically low.

Blake Crouch said...

@Tara
No offense taken. Every writer’s journey is so different, it makes giving advice a tenuous proposition.

To give you an example of what I’m talking about, (and to show you I practice what I preach) here’s where I’m at right now.

-I just completed a new novel, which I feel is the best thing I’ve ever written. It just went on submission.

-18 months ago, I finished a novella which I loved. It was very tempting to stick it right up on Amazon, but I wanted to publish it first, so I sent it around, and waited and waited and waited, and it’ll appear in the March issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which I’m thrilled about. Later next year, I’ll be able release it on Kindle. That AHMM publishing cred is worth more to me than having a year’s worth of Kindle sales right off the bat.

-I put all my previously published short fiction and novellas up on Amazon this year.

-DRACULAS, which I wrote with Joe, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson is being released straight to Kindle on Oct. 19, and we bypassed traditional publishing for a variety of reasons, mainly arising out of the nature of the book itself and the fact that there were four writers involved.

I’m not saying you’re doing this, but I talk to a lot of newbies who just hyperfocus on the one novel to their detriment. There are other forms to play around with and Kindle can be a great testing ground for those. But as for my absolute best work…I’m still holding out for the dream.

Tara Maya said...

@ Blake. Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine is a great market to break into, and I agree, probably worth the the wait.

It seems like you have a platform already, so you'd do well on an indie model, but I also agree each writer has to decide this on a case by case basis. I'm curious though, when you say you're holding out for the dream, what do you have in mind? Coop in front of a bookstore, NY bestseller list? If a genie granted your wildest wishes for your next book what would it be?

Joe Konrath said...

I jailbroke Blake's books.

And though I'm less optimistic than he is about the future if Big Publishing, we both agree that if you can get a big deal, take it.

Life is a tightrope walk, balancing between risk and opportunity. While I'm convinced the Big 6 are pretty much ineffective for the majority, every so often they do hit a homerun.

The problem is, you are statistically more likely to be amobg the 9999 pop fly/easy out than you are to be that homerun. If you do it yourself, you have a much better chance to at least get on base...

jeroentenberge said...

Thanks for the kind words and referral Blake.

Somewhat off topic...

For those who haven't read DRACULAS yet - the story is fantastic and a bloody riveting page turner.

At least equally exciting are its extras, especially the transcript of emails between its 4 authors. It is hilarious at times, always insightful, and a must for anyone who is remotely interested in the art of writing.

Thanks guys, for sharing the process of the conception to the maturing of DRACULAS.

Jeroen

Tara Maya said...

@ Rebecca Stroud. So your book (if I understand from the Amazon page) is a compilation of your newspaper articles? That's actually a selling point right there, exactly because of the "vetting for quality" worry with indie books. If a newspaper published your words, probably you can string a few together. :)

Congratulations on getting The Animal Advocate up on the Kindle! The only thing I would still strongly advise is getting a cover that looks like a book cover, and includes the title and your name. There are many reasonably priced book cover artists who can make one for you.

(Confession: I do book cover art.
http://tara-maya-cover-art.blogspot.com/
I charge $150, but I know there are many artists who are less expensive.)

You could also do it yourself if you just trim the picture size and add the title in a nice, legible font.

And I apologize if I am budding in where I'm not wanted. I just think the cover is VERY important in selling a book, and this is no less true of an ebook.

bowerbird said...

rebecca said:
> asking that
> all rights to my work
> be returned to me
> as I stupidly signed a
> work-for-hire agreement
> ten years ago

ouch... i am not a lawyer,
nor am i j.a. konrath, but
_work-for-hire_ means that
"your" work is actually legally
"their" work, not yours at all,
and never yours to begin with.

they might give you the rights,
but they will not be "returning",
them to you, as you said above.
they'll be _giving_ them to you,
as a present. so appreciate 'em.

and odds are that they will say
"company policy prohibits that".
(because it most likely _does_.)

just to put things in perspective.

-bowerbird

p.s. the takeaway? _stay_away_
from "work-for-hire". it's evil...

Ty Johnston said...

Rebecca, as a former newspaper editor for nearly 20 years, I have to back bowerbird on this one.

Unless your specific contract said something different, the newspaper will own the rights to whatever work you did for them. And it would be a rare work-for-hire contract, indeed, in which any publisher would allow the writer to retain those rights, unless maybe that writer was one of the big-name columnists or some other celebrity figure. There are always exceptions, however.

It never hurts to ask, though.

Anonymous said...

Well ,well, wait a bit and the questions one had in mind will be asked and answered by someone.
From the top, despite fond hopes, there is a vast number of writers who want to be published, and a very few open places, in a sinking industry, and so the idea that spending years being patient & writing queries might pan out, seems unlikely.
A fellow writer spent 12-1500 dollars going to a conference, bidding on agent reads, yelling out his pitch in an open room jammed with agents & other yelling writers, and was told by an agent it would be "at least a year before she could read & respond to his pitch and query." (Why was she even there?) Sure enough., 'bout a year later back comes a rejection for someone else's novel. He tried emailing her to let her know someone else also had the wrong reply, but her end just kept rejecting his enote on the web address she had given him. He took the hint and went away quietly.
I don't blame agents for this mess, but why invest that kind of money and time (he only went to the conference to meet with an agent on the chance that someone might pick up his book) for this kind of result? He could have paid for his own SP book for that amount.
I don't doubt that if you are that rare, rare new author who actually has produced what an agent considers the best seller of the moment, it might be the way to go, but most writers will not be in that situation, and have virtually no chance of being picked out of the thundering herd praying to be noticed and signed. How many years are you willing to waste in this venture? Why not let the market decide? And it will decide.
Now, has anyone vposted the first chapter of their book on Amamzon? Can it be done, or must one always have the whole book and the optional sample? And who can recommend an artist along the lines of John Howe? I'm looking for the kind of remarkable cover I saw on The Smoke Thief, and The Dream Thief. (Shana Abe) That was Lynn Newmark's wonderful work. I want a close to fantasy interpretation of a real object. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

And on that note, why is anyone PAYING an agent to "listen to his pitch"? Yeah, yeah, it's "for a good charity." Does any other industry work like this? Are screenwriters also paying money to propose a play or movie?It can cost several thousand to go to an out of state conference for the sole purpose of buying a few moments of some overwhelmed agent's distracted attention. Heck, I've seen ads offering very expensive "seminars on how to pitch to an agent."
Does the phrase "Major Racket" have any resonance here? Especially now that agents commonly say they will only consider partials if they "met you at a conference." Sweet.

Maria said...

I really like the new covers.

And I think you meant Calibre, not Caliber.

Best of luck with the new venture! Welcome to the new world!

Maria

bowerbird said...

speaking of rights reversion,
if you have content that dates
back as far as 1978, read this:
> http://www.copylaw.org/p/termination-of-book-music-publishing_17.html

-bowerbird

Robert said...

Don't really have anything to add to the conversation but I must admit I actually like the cover for SNOWBOUND. Like someone else said, it reminds me of FARGO. The greatest cover? Probably not. The worst? Nah.

wv: cusnes

Debbi said...

Get a great agent, and try to sell it for a lot of money. ... There’s a lot of bad-mouthing lately about the “gatekeepers” but I think a publishing track record is important, and it should matter to readers.

Um, wait a second. You just said you couldn't wait for your books to go out of print so your rights could revert.

Now, you're advising newbies to sign them away. Sorry, but WTF?

I'm not saying one should never publish with a traditional publisher. But the deal has to be worth what you're giving up in exchange. And these days with indies doing so well with ebooks, it would take an awfully sweet deal for me to sign up with a publisher.

And, frankly, readers don't give a damn about an author's publishing track record. Nor should they have to. They're just looking for good stories. Something to which they are completely entitled.

KevinMc said...

@That last anonymous... (really, folks, if you have something to say, own it with your name!)

Couple of thoughts:
- You don't need to spend $1500 going to a con to get an agent. You have to submit your work to agents. Yes, this takes time. It's not a waste if your goal is print publication, but you *can* still submit direct to editors in most genres instead if you prefer.

- Taking "reader's fees" as an agent is a violation of the professional code of ethics as put out by the AAR. Most agents do not. Don't bother with agents who do.

- You said "rare, rare author", "most writers do not" and "virtually no chance of being picked". Yup. True. Same is also true of self-pub. Only authors with skill, determination, and tenacity will succeed at writing as a profession. That's not going to change with ebooks. Anyone can publish anything to Kindle, but that doesn't mean anything will sell. The work involved in getting your novel purchased and read has not diminished.

- Yes, you can publish the first chapter of a book to DMP. You can publish your high school poetry, your dog's ghost-written autobiography, and whatever else you want too - but that doesn't mean it will sell. Because you have a 99 cent lower limit on price, putting short works up can be problematic for getting sales.

That said - serialized novels used to do quite well in magazines! I could see potential in putting up a serialized novel in 20,000 word, 99 cent increments. If nothing else, you'd get a lot of publications linked to your name as author, which helps build readership. If you timed releases right, you could put up on chunk a month so you'd always have one work in the "released in the last 30 days" category - a HUGE boon. And if you wrote each section with a cliffhanger, and wrote it well, I could see that working...

Not a terrible idea, that. ;)

Tara Maya said...

@ Kevin

In theory, a writer has only to submit excellent queries. But Anon is not wrong that some agents say explicitly they will only consider subs from people they've met at conferences. I know that my request rate jumped from one out of 20 to 4 out of 5 agents I pitched when I went to a conference. I would have considered it money well-spent if one of those requests had turned into an offer. But now I wonder if even back then (this was a couple years ago) I would have been better off using that money to publish and market my book myself. That was before Amazon offered 70% royalty though. It's hard to say, since the market is changing so fast.

Blake Crouch said...

@Debi

By the time I started wishing for my rights back, my books were available, but beginning to go out of print. It's not just like a sudden thing, turning out the light. There came a point where, looking at my royalty statements for those books, I knew I could have more success on my own. That's when I wanted my rights back, not in the beginning. I should have made that more clear.

Regarding your other comment, now you're speaking with authority for "readers" in general saying they don't care about a track record? Sorry if I don't take your word on that. Our track record, whether it's success on Amazon, as you've had, or publishing credits MEAN something. It's saying this is what I've done, this is why you should read me.

And something that worries me about Kindle and strictly targeting that market, is that I think it's easy to get readers, people who buy your book, but a lot tougher to get true fans. The bright side of Kindle is that the books are cheap, you sell a lot of them. The dark side is, the books are cheap. Not quite the same commitment as someone plunking down $12.99 or even more for a tangible book. I would love to see stats on the percentage of books downloaded vs. actually read. I think it would be a scary number.

Look, I'm not judging anyone's path here. Get an agent, don't, throw it up on Kindle, I don't care. Just giving my opinion, based upon my experience, which I was asked for :)

KevinMc said...

And thanks for your thoughts, Blake. Whether or not people follow your advice or agree with your line of thinking, I think hearing insight from folks who have been doing this a while is valuable.

If nothing else, there is certainly something to be said for having your work out there in as many spots as possible. If a reader sees your name in B&N, even if he doesn't buy right then, that name recognition will make him more likely to look with interest on an ebook offering he spots a week or month later. Having your name on books in as many places as possible is a good thing, I would think.

Joe Konrath said...

I actually like the cover for SNOWBOUND

It looks like a stock photo with some font slapped on it, and it is totally inappropriate for the book's plot, which is a white knuckle thriller about human trafficking and a black market baby farm.

The cover sucks rocks.

Joe Konrath said...

is that I think it's easy to get readers, people who buy your book, but a lot tougher to get true fans.

That depends on the writing, not the medium, my friend.

I've gotten enough email from folks who have discovered me on Kindle, then went on to buy everything I've written, to know that cheap books are a gateway drug to more purchases.

If people are hoarding ebooks (buying without reading) there is zero harm in that. Either they get to them, or they don't. In the meantime, I'd rather be bought and not read than never bought...

Tara Maya said...

I've become a fan of people just from reading their blog, and that's free. ;)

KevinMc said...

Yeah, talking about "gateway drugs" - I finished Draculas a bit ago as a reviewer (will be posting the review shortly), and better believe I'll be following up on those authors' other works! Hadn't read any fiction by any of them before, though. ;)

jtplayer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Joe-

Off topic here-but Tara brings up a good point. One I'd love to see you address. Agents.

Having an agent is good for Joe. But. You were already published pre-e-book era, you have numbers, you have a need for an agent. Maybe talk about the rest of us...

I had two agents, big houses. You must have an agent, everyone said. You will earn more, be better published. They are worth it. I believed them.

Both my agents killed those two books-one with ineptitude, one with greed. I had to fire both. I wasted three yrs of my life and two books. (Well, after exhausting small pubs, I'm about to e-publish them myself so wasted is as wasted does.) I now have a third in the wings.

It doesn't quite seem to make sense querying it. I lost a shitload of time and money. Having agents didn't behoove me at all. So. What point is an agent at this point?

Perhaps they'll sell my 3rd to a Big 6, for big numbers. (I might win the lottery too. Yet I'm doubtful.)

So let's say I self-publish it.If my third book does well...well, maybe then I'd have some use for an agent. But they'd want nothing to do with me until I had big numbers.

I don't know. I see the role of agents changing dramatically. I also think we'll be seeing far fewer of them and their roles will change. But on a personal side, I don't actually SEE the advantage an agent will provide me, a debut writer, at this point.

So. I'm curious. Why would a debut writer want or need an agent first? (The current model.) Why does it make sound business-sense? Unless they had a total jones for the lottery, I suppose...Or does it not? Will an agent be someone you need down the road instead? (A new business model?)

Ellen Fisher said...

Thank you for the interesting guest post, Blake.

I have to admit I like the cover for Snowbound, esthetically, but it makes the book look like literary fiction. I would never guess it was a thriller.

The new covers are terrific, and say "thriller" quite clearly. I hope they sell great for you.

And say what, now? The Jack Daniels series is going to conclude on a book that requires me to read another author's series as well? Sneaky, boys, very sneaky.

Anonymous said...

You're right about that SNOWBOUND cover, Joe. On first impression it looks like a memoir of depressed Vermont woodsman. Also nice: the tiny little "A Thriller" on the lower left. Somehow not feeling it.

MUST be a damn good book to get past a cover like that! Thanks for the post, Blake.

Mark Asher said...

@Blake: "And something that worries me about Kindle and strictly targeting that market, is that I think it's easy to get readers, people who buy your book, but a lot tougher to get true fans. The bright side of Kindle is that the books are cheap, you sell a lot of them. The dark side is, the books are cheap. Not quite the same commitment as someone plunking down $12.99 or even more for a tangible book."

I don't see a correlation between price and commitment. I've found writers I want to continue to read by checking books out of libraries, having friends lend me books, by buying one of their books for a couple of bucks in a used bookstore, etc.

Good writing is good writing, and that's what is important to me. I've seen poorly written books from traditional publishers, including books by well-known writers, and well-written self-pubbed books.

My biggest fear is that not having to go through a traditional publisher will result in writers not working as hard when they self-publish, in writers going cheap and not paying for professional editing, etc. I don't always see a correlation between quality and sales in the book business. I am skeptical that self-pubbing is going to result in an increase in quality.

Robin O'Neill said...

I got the rights back to my YA series from Penguin last weekend. I was screwed royally on this series. The promised me the moon and a future and when Bertlesmann bought out Berkley a couple months later, they had no use for me. They killed the series which had already sold about 60,000 copies and had been taken by a book club.

Oh yeah, I feel so bad for the publishers and the work they've contributed which would include the crummy covers and complete lack of editing when "my" editor took off for the greener pastures of NAL leaving my series to fall through the cracks. I mean no editing. I sent the first draft manuscript in and got galleys back.

Rebecca Stroud said...

Tara - Thank you for your advice. As this is my first "Kindle venture," I was very unsure about how ANY of it would look so I basically went with KISS...

And to bowerbird and Ty: Yes, work-for-hire agreements are indeed the contracts from hell. And I fought tooth & nail to not sign it but - again - this was a decade ago and I wanted to keep my columns running. I did however get an addendum that - in essence - allows me to "rearrange" my words and change the titles (this WFH was for another column I wrote, not The Animal Advocate as I do own all rights to it, thank God).

Anyway, we shall see what they say. Yet I still think it sucks that I have to "ask" for the return of ownership of MY work, especially since the paper has no interest whatsover in ever using it again.

Anonymous said...

Excellent. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone, and answering my questions. I thought it was clear that I understood agents don't get money for bidding reads & pitches, but it doesn't matter if the money goes to eskimos for snow, does it? The already backed-to-the-wall writer still has to come up with it. For exactly what? The conferences are a great time & all, but they all cover the same old, old ground, as in how to write queries, practice agent pitches, write an engaging first chapter, and on and on. Strictly 101 stuff, and all that money is gone and you are no closer at all to the original goal. Hey, if money was'nt involved, I'd be happy to spend most of my so-called writing time shlepping from one conference to the next, but I really can't afford to party on like that right now.
Meanwhile, about that book cover. Anyone who has read Abe's lyrical prose, and I don't even read in the romance genre, will know that her writing alone could peddle snow to those eskimos, but the three book covers used for her draikon trilogy really were gorgeous. Yeah, I think covers are critical, and especially now that the emarket will be flooded with books. Several people in B & N told me they were buying the books (Abe) for Christmas presents on the basis of the cover ALONE. Truth.
I have a simple illustration in mind, but have always seen it as being akin to Howe's excellent calendar art. There must be someone up and coming who is capable of doing this for me. Names? Of course they will be paid. Not looking for free work here. Thank you.

Anna Murray said...

Anonymous makes a good point. In this economy most authors can't afford the $1500 it takes to fly to conferences and pay for hotels and entry fees, all just to get a shot at pitching to an editor. More often they find themselves unemployed or underemployed, or with an unemployed spouse or other family members in financial crisis.

The publishers need to streamline the query and submissions process and add value for the writer.

Tara Maya said...

The publishers need to streamline the query and submissions process and add value for the writer.

I'm guessing that adding value to unpublished writers isn't their top priority at the moment.

jeroentenberge said...

Anonymous - click on my face and get in touch. I may have the hands and skills you require for what you're after.

Debbi said...

Our track record, whether it's success on Amazon, as you've had, or publishing credits MEAN something. It's saying this is what I've done, this is why you should read me.

Blake, not to belabor the point, but these things are meaningful to writers, not readers.

I suggest you read this: http://workinprogressinprogress.blogspot.com/2010/10/work-in-progress-how-readers-find-books.html

I'm not trying to pick on you. I know you're just giving an opinion. But fans start as casual readers. And even if people who download books on Kindle don't read them all right away (although there's evidence to suggest that ebook buyers read at a faster rate than print buyers), you're still getting the product "out there" and getting paid for it.

KevinMc said...

Debbi, I think you're both right. =)

For the person who tends to snag a book on a Costco rack, the author matters very little - if at all. Very few authors penetrate pop culture deeply enough to become household names. King and Rowlings are the two who come to mind instantly. Maybe Steele.

But these people don't buy the majority of books sold. Publisher's Weekly claims the average adult in the US reads 20 books a year. Your Costco reader isn't even close to that. What brings up the average are folks like us - me, for instance, who reads an average of something like 100 books a year.

And for those readers, author matters more than cover, more than topic, more than just about anything else. Having the author's name up in multiple places, so that it can be seen by these avid readers, gives the writer credibility in their eyes. It's a valuable asset.

Where do most sales come from? Hard to say. But if the Costco-style reader is won over by story (which we all try to work on anyway!) and the avid reader is won by name recognition of the author, then it seems helpful to work on that, as well.

Blake Crouch said...

@KevinMc

well put

Tara Maya said...

An author's name is like a brand. I definitely look for my favorite authors. So I agree wholeheartedly with Blake on that.

I think Debbi is right though that name is not the only thing readers look for -- even sophisticated readers. Although I do know people who read nothing but Dickens and Tolstoy, or the one or two authors they discovered fifty years ago when they were teens, most voracious readers will take a chance on a new name. Every writer is new at some point.

Writers also grow, even after they are published. (Or else they get sloppy, which is worse). So sometimes a new writer's book isn't a masterpiece, but there's something about it that's wonderful, so you stick with that writer, and sometimes the writer gets better and better. Or maybe not every book the writer puts out there is your favorite, but that's fine too, it doesn't mean you won't read that writer again.

Anyway, that's not true for me. One of my favorite writers alternates between mysteries and romances. I prefer the romances, but also read the mysteries.

I forget how this was supposed to relate to ebooks. But to tie it back, I think the process would be the same. As long as a writer doesn't put total schlock out there, I think it's okay to recognize that your first book might be, hopefully WILL be superseded by later books.

Tara Maya said...

Oooo, I just heard about the Kindle Singles. I've blogged about it. It seems mostly aimed at nonfiction.

I wonder what this will mean for fiction writers?

jtplayer said...

Re: "The dark side is, the books are cheap. Not quite the same commitment as someone plunking down $12.99 or even more for a tangible book. I would love to see stats on the percentage of books downloaded vs. actually read. I think it would be a scary number."
-----------------

Agreed.

And thank you for saying that.

It seems many here have a huge blind spot with regards to that statement and it's potential impact on publishing in general, and the topic of ebooks specifically.

I believe it means something. It's hard to articulate it though, because it's more of an intuitive feeling as a reader, a writer, a consumer.

Maybe ultimately it means nothing.

It seems for people like Joe, the ones counting all that money in their pocket, it's completely irrelevant.

That's cool.

But one thing's certain; money, and the singleminded pursuit of it, has f**ked up more than a few things in this world.

IMO.

jtplayer said...

Re: "although there's evidence to suggest that ebook buyers read at a faster rate than print buyers"
-----------------

Could you please elaborate?

Maybe provide some of the "evidence" to support that statement?

If you're talking about the physical act of reading, Kindle or any other ereader isn't going to make you read the words "faster".

Maybe you'll get through more books because they're right there on your device, and you'll bypass the time involved walking up to your bookshelf and picking out a book to read, or going to the store to buy one, or the library.

I guess that's where the book "hoarding" comes in.

But how often does that really apply?

Anyway, at the end of the day we're still talking about books...and stories. Kindles aren't magic. They don't hold special powers that enrich you in ways printed books never will.

It's still all about the story. And a person's desire to read that story.

Tara Maya said...

The dark side is, the books are cheap. Not quite the same commitment as someone plunking down $12.99 or even more for a tangible book. I would love to see stats on the percentage of books downloaded vs. actually read. I think it would be a scary number.

I still REALLY don't understand this argument.

Accessibility, convenience and affordability =

...people reading LESS?

In what universe does that make sense?

The only thing I get is that there will be more competition for the individual author. Right now, a person may hesitate a long time before buying a $30 hardcover or $8 paperback. But chances are, they are committed to that book once they buy it. (Less so with the paperback, presumably.) And they have less money left after buying your book to buy the competition.

Now, it seems the fear is that after readers stock up their Kindle with hundreds of competing titles, your book STILL has to compete for reader attention even after it's bought.

But again, I don't think this will translate to LESS readers. Because the people who would have been your fans before (and spent more money to buy your book) are the ones who will still value it the most, whatever they paid for it. The people who buy your book not sure they will read it are people who wouldn't have taken a chance before, but now have, because it's not as big a loss if they don't get around to it. And once they have it, they are more likely to read it.

So your book is not going to lose anything by not being read by a few buyers. Those were buyers who wouldn't have bought you otherwise. In that case, what do you care if they buy your book but decide not to read it after all? Except maybe a blow to the ego.

There's nothing scary about this to me.

Throughout the history of the book, there has always been one predictable truth:

Accessibility, convenience and affordability = MORE READERS.

Selena Kitt said...

"Accessibility, convenience and affordability = MORE READERS."

Maybe not readers. Maybe just more people playing with their new toy. Which they may get bored with in a few months.

Readers who have always been readers are going to keep reading. But Kindle (or the iPad or the Nook or whatever ereader we're talking about) are brand new and the "hot" and "in" thing right now. There are a lot of people who aren't "readers" buying ereaders. And loading up their new toy with books.

That will fade over time. But it will balance out - more and more real "readers" will buy ebook readers. And the folks who thought it was cool to have a new toy will pass it on or let it languish.

jtplayer said...

Agreed.

And well said Selena.

Tara Maya said...

There are a lot of people who aren't "readers" buying ereaders. And loading up their new toy with books.

That will fade over time. But it will balance out - more and more real "readers" will buy ebook readers. And the folks who thought it was cool to have a new toy will pass it on or let it languish.


Maybe. And if they do, no loss, right, since they weren't readers anyway.

But I think a lot of people who wouldn't have bothered carrying a paperback around before, but who will carry around their phone, and maybe load it with books, will read more. Just because it's easy and cheap and right in their hand. And a cool tech toy.

Obviously, that number is always going to be less than the number of people who download porn, but again, nothing new there.

I have anecdotal evidence of this already. My dh used to read about one book a year. Always a hardback, which he wouldn't carry around because it was too big. He's not illiterate, just prefers to socialize than to read. But now he reads books from my Kindle on his phone. He doesn't have to remember to bring it, it's just there, so he can squeeze it into his busy, people-filled life easily.

It's gotten so I have to read the books I download really fast, before he has a chance to read them first and tell me spoilers!

jtplayer said...

Purely theoretical question here, but maybe we can have some fun with it:

If you knew for a fact that your books sold at $2.99 were not being read, but priced at say, $5.99 they were, what would you do?

Go for the higher sales and profit, or more readers?

Tara Maya said...

Purely theoretical question here, but maybe we can have some fun with it:

If you knew for a fact that your books sold at $2.99 were not being read, but priced at say, $5.99 they were, what would you do?

Go for the higher sales and profit, or more readers?


Fascinating question!

It touches on who we write for, doesn't it?

Originally, I just wrote for myself. In that case, I would definitely go for the money. If I can write to please myself and people will pay me money to keep doing it, that would be fine.

But writing is meant to connect to people too, isn't it? In that case, I would want readers.

So I guess it would depend on the piece, and my goals for it. There might be some work I felt was so quirky and personal, I would write it mainly for myself, on the assumption other people might not "get" it anyway. And there might be other work that I really hope other people will read because I think they would enjoy it.

So I would set the price on the work I wanted to have a lot of readers really high and the price on the work that I only wanted a select few to read really low, and....

...and right there is where it breaks down, because, um, HUH? When you want a wider audience, you set the price lower. If you want just a few elite readers, you set it higher.

There's no price so low that it won't have readers. Look at the free books that Joe and others give away for free. If ever there was a danger of having people not value your book! It's free! What's to stop them from downloading it and not reading it? Nothing. Yet obviously people read free stuff all the time.

So.... I guess if I did live in this alternate universe you've proposed, and I had a choice between selling $200,000 worth of books to people who never read them vs. $5,000 worth of books to people who did, I would sell the $200,000 worth first, and then, once I had paid off my mortgage, raise the price on all my books so that people would finally read them.

I guess I've revealed myself as a capitalist running dog instead of a true artiste.

KevinMc said...

I look at that (quite interesting) question differently. ;)

I'd probably sell my books at the higher rate, if that got more people actually reading them. Why?

The rate given is still under what big publishers sell for, so I still have a sales edge in price. And - more readers equals more ratings and reviews. More ratings and reviews equals - you guessed it - more sales. So looking at the longer term, if data suggested less sales would equal more people actually reading the book (I don't think that's logical, but it was the question), then the less sales path would actually result in more sales and income eventually.

There's another factor, too. More readers equals more fans of your work (assuming it's good!). And...if this big change is teaching us ANYTHING, it should be that nothing lasts forever, and everything can change very fast.

We don't know where publishing will go in two years, let alone where it will be in ten. But having people who have read and love your work is an asset which should serve a writer well, regardless of the changes that occur.

Tara Maya said...

the less sales path would actually result in more sales and income eventually.

I guess I interpreted the question to mean that one had to choose between less sales and more sales, period.

Your scenario is more realistic. And I am not denying that there are times it is better to price a thing higher in order to get more sales.

But is there really any writer who wouldn't price a book higher if it meant more sales?

I think the problem with the question is that the writer has no way to judge whether people who buy your book have actually read it or not. Frankly, sometimes I wonder if people who have reviewed my books have actually read them.

It's an interesting question if you could chose between 500 fanatic fans and 100,000 casual readers. It just seems to me that, realistically, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer -- the writer who has 100,000 casual readers is also likely to be the writer with 500 fanatic fans.

jtplayer said...

It’s purely anecdotal, but I know from reading the Kindle message boards that many people buy cheap books and never read them, or perhaps take a very long time to read them.

There’s been entire threads devoted to just this subject.

There was one recently regarding free books, and I couldn’t believe the number of people (pages worth) that admitted they grab every freebie there is, literally, just because they’re free, many completely unaware of the content of the book.

Apparently, the thinking is get them while they’re free, and then delete them later if the book turns out not to their liking.

I’m not saying there’s necessarily anything wrong with this, it just seems really odd to me.

Not to mention, this practice could greatly skew sales numbers.

But then again, I find many of the Kindle owners who post over there kind of strange. I mean really, what’s up with “naming” your Kindle?

Anonymous said...

I know from reading the Kindle message boards that many people buy cheap books and never read them, or perhaps take a very long time to read them.

These are gear forums, jt. People don't hang around there to discuss books, or photography, or woodworking, etc. They go to love up their gadgets, so to speak. Don't take your worldview from places like that. Please oh please.

jtplayer said...

Yes, the question was posed as a strict either/or.

Lower price = higher sales = no one reads the book.

vs.

Higher price = lower sales = they all read the book.

Which would you choose?

Keep in mind, this is purely a theoretical exercise meant for fun.

Could be enlightening though, no?

jtplayer said...

Re: "These are gear forums, jt. People don't hang around there to discuss books, or photography, or woodworking, etc. They go to love up their gadgets, so to speak. Don't take your worldview from places like that. Please oh please."
-----------------

I beg to differ.

There are basic Kindle forums, and there are Kindle book forums.

In both they routinely discuss all things related to books.

Being a musician, I peruse many "gear" forums. And as such, I do know the difference.

And no, I do not get my "world view" from any internet message forum...or blog. No matter how amusing they may be.

But thanks for the advice dude.

Anonymous said...

What percentage of Kindle readers participate on such forums, jt? I've seen you mention it a lot, so it really does inform your worldview on this topic. All I'm saying is that it's no good to extrapolate too far based on what people on internet forums say.

Anonymous said...

I get what you're sayin, man (you say dude, I say man!) -- books ought to be an investment, that people should care. You believe they should cost more than $2.99 and that if they did more people might actually read the damn things instead of blindly downloading them. Maybe that's true, I could go with you there.

But you know, I've downloaded more than a hundred Project Gutenberg books so far, and I've only read a few. Most I'll never get to. All worthy classic books. But the ones I have read, ones I paid not a single red cent for, I love just as much as if I'd paid a thousand dollars. And I can't read what I don't have.

So I say let people surround themselves with ebooks. Let em roll in the goddam things like pigs in mud. It can't possibly be a bad thing.

Tara Maya said...

It’s purely anecdotal, but I know from reading the Kindle message boards that many people buy cheap books and never read them, or perhaps take a very long time to read them.

Interesting. I am actually sympathetic. I'm also a crazed book-hoarder. When a library or something would give away free books, I would take the whole pile, regardless of the topic. I had to force myself to stop that by picking what topics I would collect for my library. Then I could collect any book I could find/afford on that topic, but not just random whatever.

I mean really, what’s up with “naming” your Kindle?

You have just changed my worldview.

I am naming my Kindle immediately!

Blake Crouch said...

Fascinating...no easy answer, but the point I was trying to make is having 5000 people download your book on Kindle is not the same thing as having 5000 people buy your book in a bookstore, price aside. Not saying AT ALL that Kindle sales don't mean anything, just that I'm not sure they go as far, pound for pound, as physical books, at establishing the writer in the cultural conscience. I love when people buy my books on Kindle, who've never heard of me, who just thought the jacket and product description was cool. Maybe they read it, maybe they don’t. But if they don't ever read my work, they won't necessarily seek out my new work. What I'm trying to say, though not very articulately, is this. If only a small % of people are actually reading your #@%& book, if they bought it on a $2.99, or worse, $.99 whim, it’s going to be sheer luck if they pick up your next book. The low price-point means a lower ratio of sales to new fans as opposed to a hardcover, or even paperback release. In Joe’s case, or Selena’s, or people who are doing huge business, they’ve got enough saturation where even if only a small % of buyers actually reads their stuff, they’re still gaining fans. But for the rest? It’s an uphill battle. I would rather have my name sell my book, than just the idea itself, and these low price-points make that more difficult.

jtplayer said...

Re: "I've seen you mention it a lot, so it really does inform your worldview on this topic."
------------------

No, it doesn't. You're just gonna have to take my word for it.



Re: "All I'm saying is that it's no good to extrapolate too far based on what people on internet forums say."
---------------------

Hence the word "anecdotal".

Tara Maya said...

...the point I was trying to make is having 5000 people download your book on Kindle is not the same thing as having 5000 people buy your book in a bookstore, price aside. Not saying AT ALL that Kindle sales don't mean anything, just that I'm not sure they go as far, pound for pound, as physical books, at establishing the writer in the cultural conscience.

That makes sense, and I think you're probably right.

But it's just like price point, I think. If you make $5 on an expensive book and only $1 on a cheap book, you have to sell 5 times as many cheap books to make it worth your while to sell cheap.

If you gain 1 fan for 1 hardbook sold but only 1 fan per 5 ebooks sold, you have to sell 5 times as many ebooks to assume the same level of fandom.

That said, it still might be worth it. If the ebooks sell ten times as many copies, you still end up with more fans, even if there is also more deadweight.

Anonymous said...

I'll be curious to see what Joe thinks of the new Kindle Shorts program... is it going to force those authors with works under 30K to change their prices and will this affect the 70% royalty deal?

For all the speculation it really depends on how Amazon plays the game. If they're going to force short story authors to put their prices down, then what?

Anonymous said...

But ya keep bringing it up, jtplayer! Here's one of your comments on Joe's Sep. 25 post:

Spend some time at the Kindle message boards...you'll get an eye full that'll make you nauseous.

People in love with their devices and cheap books...couldn't care less about the future of quality writing.


I don't mean to divine what's in your heart and mind. Can't and don't want to. I'm just responding to your written arguments, and that bit -- that anecdote -- is used in support them.

Anyway, enough of that.

In response to your hypothetical:

That's a toughie, but I think I'd take real passionate readers at the higher price point. You could sell those people more than just one ebook.

Does it really work that way, though? I have my doubts.

Anonymous said...

I love when people buy my books on Kindle, who've never heard of me, who just thought the jacket and product description was cool. Maybe they read it, maybe they don’t. But if they don't ever read my work, they won't necessarily seek out my new work.

Isn't that true in a bookstore as well? We've all got books and products of all sorts we buy because we like its looks and description. Often we read or use them, sometimes they get donated after a funeral.

I would rather have my name sell my book, than just the idea itself, and these low price-points make that more difficult.

Ergo higher prices make your name more ubiquitous and memorable?

KevinMc said...

Anon asks some interesting questions about the Kindle Singles. Will we be allowed to publish shorter works on the regular "ebook channel" anymore? My guess based on what they've written is yes, but that's just a guess. I hope so - I was starting to like the idea of a serialized novel sold in 20k word chunks. ;)

On the flip side though, the Singles has potential to revitalize a dying short story industry. As magazines have failed over and over, short fiction has been vanishing. It's certainly no longer a viable career path - but once (in SF&F, anyway) we had folks who did short fiction as their main output for an entire career!

I think that this could bring that back, at least a little. I blogged in more depth about this (http://www.kevinomclaughlin.com), but for a little math:
write one short a week for a year
sell each one for 25 cents
get 100 buyers for each, each week

By the end of the year, you're making $900 a week. Now, it might not be that rosy (or might be rosier). But it becomes *possible* with this sort of set up, quite a change from what we were seeing before.

jtplayer said...

Dude...that's really weird that you're pullin' up stuff I said back in September.

Just sayin'.

Tara Maya said...

It will surely be interesting. And maybe there's no need to give up on the serialized novel idea yet -- could move it over to the Singles.

A lot will depend on what kind of price vs royalty structure Amazon has set up. The Amazon Shorts sold for .49 but it seemed the author made very little on that -- honestly, even though Amazon published some of my Shorts, I can't remember what royalty rate I made per sale. Pennies. (If you want to read those stories, btw, they will be in my anthology Conmergence.)

But I agree, this could be a game changer now that ereaders are becoming widespread.

I wonder if there will be some way to sell subscriptions? That would be helpful for locking in a fanbase.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

@Blake: I would rather have my name sell my book, than just the idea itself, and these low price-points make that more difficult.

I agree. But right now I'm happy to just get my books on a lot of Kindles. Hopefully they will be read eventually, giving me a chance to earn new fans.

One of my books is discounted to $2.39 (because of Kobo's discounting) and the other three books in the series are discounted to $0.99 (because of Sony's prices. I am about to drop my books from the Sony ebook store altogether if they don't fix this soon.)

But in the meantime, I'm selling a lot of books. This month I'm averaging 63 sales per day. Yesterday I sold 100 books.

That's a lot of chances to win new fans.

Anonymous said...

@ KevinMc

Yes, you can publish the first chapter of a book to DMP. You can publish your high school poetry, your dog's ghost-written autobiography, and whatever else you want too - but that doesn't mean it will sell. Because you have a 99 cent lower limit on price, putting short works up can be problematic for getting sales.

That said - serialized novels used to do quite well in magazines! I could see potential in putting up a serialized novel in 20,000 word, 99 cent increments. If nothing else, you'd get a lot of publications linked to your name as author, which helps build readership. If you timed releases right, you could put up on chunk a month so you'd always have one work in the "released in the last 30 days" category - a HUGE boon. And if you wrote each section with a cliffhanger, and wrote it well, I could see that working...


Not a terrible idea at all. My present book is in the clean up stage and that's probably going to stay a full novel, but releasing another project similar to it, in short 99 cent increments, sounds like a fantastic idea! What a great way to build readership and a back list!

How often do you suppose you'd have to drop the little 20,000 word novels to keep people interested? Once a week? Might not be that easy (considering you'd technically have a full novel within a month). But it's a good idea.

See? This what I love about the whole going indie thing. You have so many options. So many different routes to take to make a living. If I were going with a traditional publisher I wouldn't be able to publish anything without getting their OK. I've read blogs where agents screamed/cursed out and BLACK LISTED authors for daring to work with other agents/publishers.
What gives these people the right to tell authors when, where and how often they can publish their work? Don't we have to make a living too?

Whoever is about to give me some sort of excuse for why that is, don't even bother. There is no excusing that. The agent can have as many clients as they can handle (some more then they can handle), that's why it takes so long for them to complete any one project. I have to wait on them to finish with other authors, but I can get blacklisted for working with another agent on a completely different project (I am not talking about the same project, as I agree that would be unfair to the agent).

Until things are a little more fair to authors, and all these rules aren't created for the benefit of the publisher/agents solely, i'm going to have to pass on the industry. I cannot allow someone else that much control over my career.

...unless of course they compensate me greatly ($$$$$). But for a 5,000-10,000 advance? No f-in' way!

bowerbird said...

boy, there seems to be
a lot of ignorance here,
spouting its mouth off...

if you ask actual owners
of the kindle how they
make buying decisions,
you'll find that one of
the _most_ important
considerations for them
is _the_sample_chapters_.

an author's reputation
-- both in general and
specific to a reader --
is crucial, of course...

and the _cover_ might
have some influence on
whether a person takes
a first look or not, and
the _price_ will exert its
impact, naturally, and
_word-of-mouth_ remains
as a vital predictor, but
it is the actual _sample_
that makes the difference.

many kindle owners will
not even buy an e-book
until they read the sample
and decide they want to
continue reading the book.

even on authors they love.

much of the thinking of
the past was on how to get
the customer to purchase
a pig in a poke. but now,
it's very difficult to _fool_
people into buying a book,
not when they can read a
significant chunk of it first.

so stop wasting your time
thinking about "marketing",
and spent if more wisely by
writing a compelling story,
and then writing another
compelling story, and then
another, and another, and...

***

oh, and by the way, if you
talk to actual kindle owners,
they'll also tell you that they
read a lot more these days
because their kindle means
they're now using snippets
of their life for reading...

they'll also tell you they are
buying more books because
they're reading more books,
and also because the ease of
buying kindle books means
the gap between _intending_
to buy a book and actually
_buying_ it has been closed.
finally, they are buying more
books these days because
e-books are a real bargain!
they're now an impulse item!

***

jt said:
> theoretical question.
> Lower price = higher sales
> = no one reads the book.
> vs.
> Higher price = lower sales
> = they all read the book.
> Which would you choose?

first, it's a dumb question...

people have _always_ bought
books and then not read 'em.
some have bookshelves full of
books they have not read "yet".
and they still buy more. really.

besides, even as a "theoretical",
the question is badly flawed...

how many units are we talking?

if i sell 3 million, more or less,
at either price, i go for $5.99...

if i sell 30 copies, more or less,
at either price, i go for $5.99...

but if i sell 3 million at $2.99,
and only 30 copies at $5.99...
it's $2.99 and i don't look back.

if that's too nonspecific for you,
here's my _real_ answer, buddy:

i would sell the person _2_ books,
$2.99 each, and throw in a third
"for free" as sizzle on the steak.

-bowerbird

Cheryl Kaye Tardif said...

Congratulations on getting your rights back, Blake. I know what a stressful event that can be. I fought to get my rights back for my bestselling novel Whale Song over a year ago, and when I finally had them I did the dance of joy. :-)

By the way, I really like the style of your new book covers, but I have to admit, I do prefer the publisher's cover for the second title--it's more suspenseful and applicable to the title.

Thank you for sharing your ebook experiences and your numbers. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on the ever-changing world of publishing.

All the best in success!

Cheryl Kaye Tardif
www.cherylktardif

jtplayer said...

Dumb question or not...it got you talking about it.

Ty Johnston said...

Actually, if Kindle Singles becomes popular, I could see the return of serial stories big time. For example, would horror readers pay 25 or 50 cents a week to keep up with the latest penny dreadful? I don't know. Don't have a clue. But it'll be fun to see what happens.

jtplayer said...

I think that would be kind of cool Ty.

Might just make me pull the pin on the Kindle purchase ;-)

I love reading the old pulp fiction stories from back in the Dime Detective and Black Mask days.

I just picked up the "Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories".

Very cool stuff.

bowerbird said...

jt said:
> Dumb question or not...
> it got you talking about it.

well yes, it did. thank you for
drawing me out of my shell...

-bowerbird

Tara Maya said...

Don't you have a "bower" rather than a "shell", bowerbird?

Tara Maya said...

Question for those authors with agents: when you self-publish ebooks, does the agent get 15%

Cheryl Kaye Tardif said...

Tara, it could depend on your contract with your agent and your agreement with him/her, but in general, no. Since your agent hasn't negotiated a contract for you, he/she wouldn't receive a percentage.

My agent had nothing to do with me publishing my ebooks. They're separate from the works he's pitching to publishers. He is very supportive of everything I do. That's the kind of agent you want--if you choose to look for an agent. :-)

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

bowerbird said...

tara said:
> Don't you have a "bower"
> rather than a "shell",
> bowerbird?

touche!

now there's a smart woman.

yes, but i wouldn't
leave my bower
for a dumb question
from a man...

i only leave my bower for
a smart woman... ;+)

-bowerbird

Tara Maya said...

bowerbird, you made me laugh. :D

Tara Maya said...

Rebecca Stroud, is there some way I can contact you? Your blog doesn't accept comments and I don't see an email. You can email me at:

tara [at] taramayastales [dot] com

pagerd said...

On naming a kindle, some do it for the same reason people name their cars. I named my kindles so I know which of them I've downloaded a particular title to. I currently own a K1, a K2US, and a K3-3G.

I've purchased enough books from Amazon that I do NOT have room on my K3 for them all, much less my books from Baen and other sources.

Anonymous said...

I don't think my comment was ever saved, so here goes again.
I still really like t
ghe idea of publishing the book a chapter at a time, at least the first half. I have two concerns.
99 cents seems like too much for a chapter, when entire books are that price or free. I would just like to know if other people are interested in this subject.
The book is based on a real historical event, and I have never seen it used in a book before, which may be good or bad.
I have years in this project & would like to be the first one to use it. (Apparently, but doubtful)
Once begun online, anyone can easily finish the book and publish it as their own. I can't get too whipped up about this, however, because it seems to me that anyone is free to take the entire ms and publish it elsewhere under their name, so why worry about them taking a few chapters as the beginning of their own book?
Can anyone see any reasons going a chapter at a time, would be an irretrievably bad move? Thank you.

Tara Maya said...

99 cents seems like too much for a chapter, when entire books are that price or free. I would just like to know if other people are interested in this subject.

Let's how the Amazon Singles play out... it might be a way to publish a book chapter by chapter. Because otherwise, I agree, 99 cents is too much for one chapter.

However, I have decided to break up my epic fantasy into three shorter books (of 50,000 words each). I think I'll offer the first for .99 and the rest for $2.99.

As for stealing your book and claiming it as their own... I don't think that's likely. A bigger danger is they will steal your book, credit you, but sell it or offer it free without paying you. But this is an issue that has nothing to do with publishing chapter by chapter.

I'm curious to know what event you're an expert it. Yet if it turns out that some else has written about it, I wouldn't fret too much. Your work is original because only you can write your heart and soul into a story. (Unless you are talking about nonfiction.)

One of my stories was inspired partly by the great Xhosa cattle killing movement, which ended in the ruination of a whole people. I haven't seen to many fantasy stories based on that kind of society. But even if there were to be other stories based on or set in or inspired by the same event, it wouldn't be the same as my story, so I wouldn't worry about it.

KevinMc said...

You're really asking two questions. I'll answer the second one first. I've been thinking about serializing novels via Kindle, too. I think it has promise - but! I think a chapter is far too short, unless they start offering Kindle Singles for under 99 cents. But I could see a 120k word novel, split into six 20k segments, each published at one month intervals... ;) I'd complete the entire novel first, if I did something like this, and then keep the rest of it hidden, release segments one month at a time. At the end, you could release a "special edition" with all segments put together.

Your other question is a copyright issue: "(Apparently, but doubtful)
Once begun online, anyone can easily finish the book and publish it as their own."

No, they can't. Even if you just wrote a chapter and published it, no one else could use that chapter. They could certainly write about that sort of idea. But they cannot take your work. A manuscript does not have to be finished for the part that IS done to be protected under copyright.

That said, I advocate registering a copyright before doing any digital publication (or at least within six months of doing so). Which means you really want the whole manuscript complete before firing off any chapters anyway.

So write the thing, revise it, pay someone to edit it for you, revise again, register a copyright, then put up chunks of it a bit at a time and...see how it works. Worst case, if it flops you can remove the first sections you tried, and just put the entire book up.

Thomas Brookside said...

If only a small % of people are actually reading your #@%& book, if they bought it on a $2.99, or worse, $.99 whim, it’s going to be sheer luck if they pick up your next book.

If a customer buys one book of yours, Amazon pushes your other books in their faces.

That 99 cent impulse buy only gets you a 35 cent royalty, but it puts the rest of your books into Amazon's recommendations shotgun for that customer. And for the Amazon customers with similar buying patterns to that customer's.

Mark Asher said...

@Ty: "Actually, if Kindle Singles becomes popular, I could see the return of serial stories big time. For example, would horror readers pay 25 or 50 cents a week to keep up with the latest penny dreadful? I don't know. Don't have a clue. But it'll be fun to see what happens."

Kindle Singles looks more like an invitation-only initiative than a label anyone can self-publish under. I believe Amazon is going to act as a publisher and invite submissions.

And I really, really doubt it will mean prices of $0.50. My guess is novellas from well-known people for $3.99 or higher. And lots of it will be non-fiction.

Then again, I could be completely wrong. :)

Ty Johnston said...

Mark, you're probably right on that one. Hadn't thought it through. But we'll wait and see.

I am surprised, however, at the number of writers (indie and otherwise) who are working on serializing novels. I'm breaking a novel into three parts, sort of a mini trilogy, with the first part available probably in December, then the other two over the next six months or so.

I have my own reasons, but I'm curious as to why others are doing this. Does it appear to be a way to make more money? Spread out chances for more readership?

Rose said...

People considering serializations: You need to check with a few readers about how they feel about cliffhangers. dearauthor.com did a poll in April of this year and 78% of the readers said they hate them. This is pretty common in romance. I don't know about other genres.

If each segment provided a satisfying conclusion to at least part of the whole story it might work. Anne McCaffrey's first dragon book-- Dragaon Flight was made up of two stories previously published in Analog.

I have also heard a lot of readers say they won't start a book that is part of a series unless the entire series is available. George R R Martin and Robert Jordan usually are mentioned in these conversations.

KevinMc said...

Rose, I think people have a love/hate relationship with cliffhangers. Nobody likes having to wait forever to find out what happens next - in any sort of series. But at the same time, if they were not the most powerful way to ensure people come back to your story, they wouldn't be used so darned often. ;)

Think about TV shows. Pretty much *all* of them use cliffhangers to hold attention between seasons, and often between breaks in a season. People might not think they like cliffhangers. But they certainly respond to them favorably by running back to the next section of the story.

As for not buying a series before it's all in print... I'm sure some people feel that way, but I don't think it's a majority. Remember, publishers often prefer a series to a single book, because they know it *does* sell better than a single book.

For Kindle, serialization has two large values. First, having more separate works for sale in the Kindle store seems to boost sales of each. And second, releasing multiple works keeps your name in the "recently released" categories in your chosen genre, which I suspect is pretty huge for sales. Still, you'd need to be *very* careful to make sure each installment was big enough, strong enough, well written enough to grab the reader and hold them.

Selena Kitt said...

Actually, if Kindle Singles becomes popular, I could see the return of serial stories big time. For example, would horror readers pay 25 or 50 cents a week to keep up with the latest penny dreadful? I don't know. Don't have a clue. But it'll be fun to see what happens.

I would so buy that. But I liked King's Green Mile experiment, and I enjoy cliffhangers. They make me squirm. I love squirming. :)

But it's true that most people hate cliffhangers and MANY won't even start a series until it's finished.

I remember my husband whining about having to wait for the last book in Stephen King's Dark Tower series - he'd just read all of them in one go but that last wasn't released yet.

I told him, "Dude! I read The Gunslinger (first in the series) twenty YEARS ago! I think you can wait six months!"

:P

Tara Maya said...

I have also heard a lot of readers say they won't start a book that is part of a series unless the entire series is available. George R R Martin and Robert Jordan usually are mentioned in these conversations.

A pity those two authors are selling so poorly.

It does depend on the genre too, I think. Most romances can be told in less than 100,000 words, even less than 50,000 because there are usually only about 5 important characters: heroine, hero, sometimes a secondary couple, and the villain. The only pov characters are usually the heroine and hero. And the worldbuilding usually takes backseat to the relationship.

In fantasy, worldbuilding rides shotgun, if it doesn't indeed take the wheel. There are dozens, sometimes hundreds of characters, and often a handful of major pov characters. This takes a MUCH higher wordcount to do justice to.

Lord of the Rings is really one story. Fellowship of the Ring is not complete and ends on a cliffhanger. It's just a genre thing.

I would be interested to see if serial storytelling could take off in romance/women's fiction if there were more characters -- like a soap opera. Or in adventure/thriller if it were done something 24. You would need to sell the sequels close together, so you don't lose momentum.

Portuguese cunt said...

That 99 cent impulse buy only gets you a 35 cent royalty, but it puts the rest of your books into Amazon's recommendations shotgun for that customer.

I agree with Brookside. I struggled with how to price my first Kindle release . I finally decided on a $9 paperback and a 99 cent Kindle edition. The idea is to build reader interest, and move on from there. The reviews on the advance review copies have been good, so we'll see how things go.

S.L. Naeole said...

"But it's true that most people hate cliffhangers and MANY won't even start a series until it's finished."

As the author of a series, I know this to be quite true. I've received many emails asking for the release date of the last book in my series because the reader doesn't want to start on the first book, read the next two, and then have to wait for the last one.

We live in an instant gratification society, so many people just don't have the patience to wait out a year, a couple of months, even a week. I write a serial novel that I post chapter-by-chapter every week and while readers love it, I still get the "I won't read it until all of it is available."

Selena Kitt said...

I would be interested to see if serial storytelling could take off in romance/women's fiction

When I was writing at Lit, I wrote a chapter at a time, and they were released that way, serial-like. LOTS of people followed them and waited day to day to read the latest one. And it was erotica/romance. You didn't even need tons of characters. You just needed to make people care what was going to happen to them.

Anonymous said...

I'm having a formatting issue...

Does anybody know the secret to having your headers (author's name/title) show up in the Kindle? My files look great except for that - no headers. i know it's possible because other books on Kindle have them. What am I doing wrong?

Thanks, "Anonymous Steve"

Debbi said...

An author's name is like a brand. I definitely look for my favorite authors. So I agree wholeheartedly with Blake on that.

I totally agree that an author's name is essentially a brand. The question is how to establish the worth of your brand.

Whether or not you have a traditional publisher, the author has to market and promote to do this. The question is, what financial or other benefit do you get in the bargain with a traditional publisher?

The distribution system gets your books in stores, where they (usually) get lumped in with all the other mysteries or whatever you write.

So it's the Costcos and Targets that actually are the new authors' best friends. Stores where the books are on prominent display, face-out. Stores where people actually shop and have MORE chance of seeing your book.

However, as an indie author, it's difficult (if not impossible) to get placed in these stores. That's why ebooks are so important for us.

Joe has interviewed Karen McQuestion. She's not alone in succeeding as an indie author based on ebook sales alone. There's also Elissa Lorello, who was an Amazon ebook bestseller. Now, both of them are signed with Amazon Encore. Karen has a movie deal.

These things don't just happen. They aren't the result of pure luck. They are the result of telling a good story, hard work and shrewd marketing.

Every writer is new at some point.

Thank you, Tara. I think you get it. :)

Rose said...

@Tara May: "A pity those two authors [Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin] are selling so poorly."

No, the problem is that they sold too well. Lots of people found themselves in the same boat. Neil Gaiman wrote the very memorable statement that "George R. R. Martin is not your bitch" in response to an overly entitled fan who thought he was being let down because GRRM wasn't writing fast enough and was letting the fan down.

But it is necessary to be aware of these things. Some people also don't like to start series at the beginning or middle because there is no guarantee that the series will finish. Many times that is the fault of the publisher, but the publisher usually doesn't get blamed when the topic of unfinished series come up.

Where, I want to know, where is the second volume of Emma Bull's Territory duology? But I must not behave like an overly entitled fan.

I won't say not to do any experiment when it comes to using Amazon's Kindle platform, just always be cognizant of your audience and their wishes. They will love you for it.

Something that seems to be turning out rather well for publishers-- putting a series out in close order, usually one a month for three months. Some authors feel that has increased sales when that strategy was used.

Tara Maya said...

I'm actually one of those readers who usually tries not to buy a series until all the books are out. It's not series I mind, however, but a long wait between books, or worse, the possibility a series won't be finished.

I won't say not to do any experiment when it comes to using Amazon's Kindle platform, just always be cognizant of your audience and their wishes. They will love you for it.

Agreed. Don't make a promise you can't keep. Beginning a series with cliffhangers means promising an end.

Something that seems to be turning out rather well for publishers-- putting a series out in close order, usually one a month for three months. Some authors feel that has increased sales when that strategy was used.

This is what I was thinking of doing with my epic fantasy Windwheel and the Maize. I have the entire series finished, although the later books need heavier edits than the first. I think I could bring them out once a month and finish publishing the series in a year.

Mark Asher said...

The thing about starting a series is that there's an implicit promise that the series will be concluded. In the case of Martin, it's looking more and more like it may take years for him to get around to finishing it.

I read the first two books in the series and loved them, but decided to stop reading until the series is finished. That was years ago that I stopped.

Worse is David Gerrold. His Chtorr series was started in 1983. His fourth book was published in 1993. There are three books remaining in the series. The next one is scheduled for 2011. I mean, c'mon.

Portuguese cunt said...

Worse is David Gerrold

Worst is Melanie Rawn the her series, which I read breathlessly in high school. Still waiting for the last in the Exiles series since 1997. So lame.

Derek J. Canyon said...

Anonymous Steve,

I'm not exactly sure what you mean with your headers question in Kindle. If you contact me at my derek@derekjcanyon.com, I'll try to help.

DJC

Tara Maya said...

Sometimes it is a not a writer's choice to stop working on a series, but the publisher's decision.

Selena Kitt said...

Sometimes it is a not a writer's choice to stop working on a series, but the publisher's decision.

Which just makes self-publishing even more and more appealing, no? ;)

The Vampire Years said...

Re it not being the (traditionally published) author's choice in cutting a series before its end, I think many independents will find themselves yielding to the same market forces that influenced publishers dropping the series.

I.e. the author writes a vampire book, originally intended as a standalone, and a werewolf book intended as book one in a series (with some foreshadowing built into book one to whet reader appetites for book two). In the initial 12 month period, Vbook sells 5000 copies, has 50 reviews, has multiple reader recs and similar buzz on shelfari, library thing, goodreads, etc.; Wbook sells 500, has 2 reviews, and no recs/etc., anywhere. I'm betting, as much as the author loves Wbook, thinks it's every bit as good as Vbook, etc., author turns Vbook into a series and Wbook withers until, and only if, it picks up enough sales.

It may be politcally incorrect for an author to say it, but as for the author's disappointed Wbook fans -- they could have talked it up more, for starters.

[disclaimer, yes, I have both a Vbook and Wbook series in progress, and it doesn't look to good for Wbook.]

Derek J. Canyon said...

RE: continuing a series

I totally agree with you, Vampire Years. The author has to consider his profit when making decisions on what story to write next (unless he's successful and wealthy and has the wherewithal to ignore sales).

Despite that, I must admit that my own personal affection for my unpublished YA book (first in a series) is enough to get me to complete the series no matter how poorly it sells. Of course, if it sells very well, I'll get it done sooner. ;)

Mark Asher said...

A series is fine if the books are written to be standalones. It's when the author writes them and leaves cliffhangers, plot lines not tied up, etc., that it can be annoying to readers.

For example, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books are self-contained stories. It's still a series and it still sells based on readers liking the characters and the setting, but Butcher isn't using cliffhanger endings to seed sales for the next book.

Derek J. Canyon said...

Mark,

My unpublished YA book does indeed have a cliffhanger ending. I tie up the plot of the first book, but then end on a cliffhanger that gets revealed in the last few pages.

I understand that some people don't like cliffhangers. I'll just have to wait and see if anyone likes mine. Of course, first I have to get an agent. And then a publisher, and then get it on shelves. So, I'll have a couple of years to write the 2nd book and get it out soon after the first, hopefully.

L B said...

Thanks for this terrific post.

I'm wondering if either Blake or Joe can offer insights or experiences on collaborating with another writer on fiction.
I know a bit off topic but ... I'm interested.
Thanks so much.
Laura B

wannabuy said...

Derek,

"first I have to get an agent. And then a publisher, and then get it on shelves. So, I'll have a couple of years to write the 2nd book and get it out soon after the first, hopefully."

You might gain attention faster if you self publish. :) Just a thought... I just posted how following the ebook sales trend half the market will be ebooks by mid to late 2013. http://ebookcomments.blogspot.com/

So if the book is ready (and you think good), why not self publish now? The YA should be very ready to accept books in e-format.

Neil

KevinMc said...

I was gonna say "but teens don't have Kindles and Nooks" - and largely, they don't. But they do have ipods, and cell phones - and most newer cells can act as ereaders for epub format.

And then I spotted an article by the American Bookseller's Association saying that 33% of YA books are purchased by people age 45 and older.

So, yeah. Maybe give it a shot? Even if sales don't take off right away (and I do predict a lot of Nooks and Kindles in stockings this year), getting your foot in that door might be a good way to go.

Anyone else have more data on the strength of YA ebook sales?

Derek J. Canyon said...

wannabuy, Kevin,

Thanks for the info. I’m considering self-pubbing my YA book if I don't find an agent. To keep two irons in the fire, I am epubbing my cyberpunk ebooks (Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds and Dead Dwarves Don't Dance (out in Nov)).

I think the YA book has a better chance of breaking out. So, I thought I would give the traditional publishing path a chance. I'll be starting my agent search in November, after I update the manuscript based on location scouting I recently did in South Dakota.

Another reason for me to delay epubbing the YA novel is that I'm spending over $1800 on the cyberpunk ebooks. I'd have to plop down another $2000+ for the YA (because I want a really good cover and editing). Not in the budget right now. If the cyberpunk novels make a profit, I’ll use that to fund the YA novel.

Mark Asher said...

"And then I spotted an article by the American Bookseller's Association saying that 33% of YA books are purchased by people age 45 and older."

What does this mean, though? I'm sure a lot of parents are the ones buying the books.

Tara Maya said...

I'm sure a lot of parents are the ones buying the books.

True, but it's also true that a lot of the exciting new stuff is labeled "YA" these days, so it makes sense for adults to read it too. Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, all have large adult followings.

Anonymous said...

I'm a newbie unknown Kindle author. I've sold over 250 ebooks since August at either $1.99 or $2.99 as I've experimented with different pricing.

Wait 3 years for a book to be published with a traditional publisher?

No thanks. I'll just upload my next one. I couldn't care less about what anyone thinks or says other than readers - who've given me good reviews (and sales) so far.

I don't understand the hand-wringing. Just self-publish or submit to agents, in the end, nobody cares what route you take. They just want good books.

wannabuy said...

Derek,

I respect the fact you wish to put out good work. If going the traditional route is worth it to have someone else subsidize the editing, cover, and other costs... Go for it! You had the best comeback vs. going indie I've seen yet: short term economics (vs. long term economics).

Anon said:
" in the end, nobody cares what route you take. They just want good books."

So true. I bet a third of all the books sold are to people who couldn't tell you who the author was. I could only tell you who published about half of the books I've read... and I bet that is far more than normal. ;)

Neil

Derek J. Canyon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Derek J. Canyon said...

wannabuy, thanks.

Just so I'm clear, I'll only be searching for an agent+publisher until I have the budget to self publish the YA novel. If I find a deal before then, great. If not, I'll self-publish.

Also, after all the advice from Joe and others, if I do get any offers, I will be very hardnosed about the details (erights, reversion of rights, "in print', etc.) If I can't get a good deal, I'll self-publish.