Monday, February 15, 2010

Kudzu and Kindle

All along, the goal has been to build a fanbase.

In the history of publishing, this was usually a slow and steady process. You write a book. Then you write another a year later. And another a year after that. Hopefully the publisher keeps them in print, the bookstore keeps them on the shelf, and the fans like them and talk about them. This linear approach, if kept up long enough, can lead to a career, and even a spot on the bestseller list.

But there's an easier way to achieve market penetration and saturation.

Instead of releasing one book at once, you release sixteen.

There's a plant known as kudzu, which is widely hated in the south because it takes over cropland. It grows fast, and uses runners to spread. Kudzu can quickly saturate an entire field. One patch becomes two patches, then four patches, then sixteen patches, and pretty soon it's everywhere you look.

I'm noticing a similar phenomenon with writing in general, and ebooks in particular.

I've always believed that being prolific and diverse are the two biggest things a writer can do to create fans. Because of this, I write a lot of short stories, in various genres. The effect works as intended. I've got a few hundred thousand novels in print. But my short stories have been printed millions of times. Each published story is an opportunity to gain a new fan, some of whom will buy my books.

This approach has served me well. I get a lot of fan mail about my short work, and it often leads to the intended effect; to point readers toward my novels.

But this still isn't literary kudzu. It's a slow, gradual build up (albeit faster than if I only did novels.)

Then along comes the Kindle.

For those new to my blog, here's a recap of how I got started on Amazon.

Ever since my first novel, Whiskey Sour, was published back in 2004, I've had a website, I understood early on that people on the internet are looking for free content, and the two main forms of content are information and entertainment. So, from the very beginning, I've had free downloads on my website. Lots of short stories, and several of my pre-Whiskey Sour novels that couldn't find publishers.

After the Kindle's debut, I had Kindle readers contact me, saying the pdf downloads I offered on my site weren't compatible with their ereader. Could I please somehow make my ebooks available on Kindle?

So I did. But I wasn't allowed to give them away for free. So after some experimentation, I settled on a $1.99 price point.

This was in April 2009. In ten months and a few days, I've sold about 26,000 ebooks. In the first fourteen days of February, I've already made $1600. My bestseller, The List, isn't just the number one bestseller in the Kindle police procedure category, it's the number one bestseller in the overall police procedure category. In other words, I'm outselling print novels from Jonathan Kellerman, JD Robb, James Patterson, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, John Sandford, and everyone else. (For the curious, this book is averaging 82 sales per day.)

That's pretty astonishing. All of these writers are NYT Bestsellers. I am not. I'm just a midlister with a low cost ebook.

But here comes the kudzu tie-in. I've recently learned that all six of my Jack Daniels ebooks are among my print publisher's top 50 Kindle bestsellers. These books are priced higher than $1.99. In fact, one of them costs $9.99.

On the Kindle police procedure bestseller list, I currently have 7 books in the top 100.

This is instant market penetration and saturation. Unlike a slow, gradual growth, this is more like kudzu, which pops up in a bunch of places at once and keeps spreading out. Different readers discover different ebook titles of mine, and it sends them to other ebooks.

The more chances you have to be discovered, the more you'll be discovered. Building a fanbase, which used to be linear and gradual, now becomes more like a patch of weeds, spreading out in all directions and at great speed.

So you want to be a Kindle bestseller?

The more quality content you have, the better your chances. Short stories. Out of print books. Unpublished work that your agent couldn't sell.

This is more than just a quick way to make a buck. This is getting a firm foothold in the oncoming digital revolution.

I used to be known as the guy who wrote nine unpublished novels and got over five hundred rejections before landing a book deal.

Now I'm known as the guy who pays his mortgage selling books on Kindle that NY rejected.

Be the kudzu. Join the revolution before everyone else figures this out and it's harder to get noticed.