Monday, January 31, 2011

Guest Post by Blake Crouch

I've known Blake for years, and liked his writing enough to work with him on several projects, including the upcoming KILLERS UNCUT and STIRRED, the final Jack Daniels novel (which will also be the conclusion to his Luther Kite/Andrew Z. Thomas series.)

Naturally, because Blake is a friend, he's been forced to endure my endless ranting about ebooks nearly every time we speak to each other. But he's been experimenting with Kindle and ebooks for a while now, and the conclusions he's drawn have been entirely his own.

I asked him to do a guest post because he's at the point where he's seriously considering quitting his day job to write ebooks full time. If the trends continue, it's a no-brainer--he can make more money on Kindle.

Here's Blake...

My ebook journey began on March 7th of last year when I uploaded a collection of four previously-published stories called FOUR LIVE ROUNDS. Later that month, I released a novella and a nasty piece of work I co-wrote with Konrath called SERIAL UNCUT. At the time, my expectations were low—sure, Joe was pulling down a couple grand a month, but he was Joe. An anomaly. I just thought that having some new, exclusive work up on Kindle might spur my “real” book sales, meaning the four novels I had published with St. Martin’s Press over the last six years. I made $215 that first month, and as the summer progressed I released a few short stories individually and watched sales slowly grow.

Once the 70% royalty rate kicked in, it occurred to me that my greatest assets were my novels, DESERT PLACES, LOCKED DOORS, ABANDON, and SNOWBOUND. But they were tied up with my publisher.

In September, I got the rights back to DESERT PLACES and LOCKED DOORS. I blogged about the rights reversion process right here on October 11th, just after uploading those novels. I was excited, but I wasn’t sure how well the books would perform with new cover art and a snazzy price of $2.99.

My publisher had been pricing these books at $6.99 prior to the rights reversion, and sales for the last six months before I took them back had been about 200.

In the three months I’ve had these books, they’ve sold over 3000 copies, and I attribute most of this to the price, but some to the new cover art by Jeroen ten Berge.

Thanks in part to those books, this month, I will earn more from my US Kindle sales than the advance I was paid for my first novel—$6,000—and will come close to selling 5000 ebooks.

I still don’t know what to make of this, and I often wonder for whom is this experience more surreal?

(A) The unpublished writer who had dreams of a big traditional publishing deal and wound up knocking the lights out on Kindle and Pubit?; or

(B) Guys like me...who have been in the trench warfare known as midlist New York publishing, are scarred all to hell from the battle, and then suddenly...

This utopian dream.

It’s like that scene in Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalypse novel, THE ROAD, where the father and the son, thirsty and starving to death, accidentally stumble upon an underground bomb shelter filled with more food and water than they’ve seen in years.

To be paid monthly to write exactly what you want to write and have absolute control over the presentation is an amazing thing.

The main reason I read Joe’s blog is for information, no matter how anecdotal, regarding how people sell and why. So here’s mine, for what it’s worth…

I have available 4 novels ($2.99), 3 novellas ($2.99), 2 short story collections ($3.99), 1 complete short story collections ($4.99), and 8 individual stories ($.99).

My two novels, DESERT PLACES and LOCKED DOORS, and SERIAL UNCUT are the top sellers. I sell far more story collections than individual stories, and surprisingly the $4.99 collection I put up looks on track to start outperforming the shorter collections. My novel, FAMOUS, which cannot be classified as a thriller, is unlike any of my other work—and I can’t give it away.

Because my work varies widely in length (from a 1500-word short story to an 85,000-word novel), I make sure to clearly designate the form (short story/novella/novel) and include a word-count in the product description.

As I mentioned previously, I spend a lot of time getting the covers right, and I think this has made a tremendous difference. I’ve nearly tripled sales this month on my novella PERFECT LITTLE TOWN following a complete revamp of its cover.

This all points to one of the great things about ebooks: the ability to make adjustments midstream, so you can constantly honing the presentation toward perfection. Something isn’t selling? Change up the product description. Retool the book cover (mine have gone through at least four modifications to arrive at a solid brand). Rename it....just did that with one of my books, and early indications are it’s working.

But to me, the best thing about the ebook revolution isn’t the money. It’s the unlimited creative potential. No more asking permission to write the book you’re dying to write. No more constraints on form (welcome back the novella!). And collaborative possibilities are endless. Writing DRACULAS with Joe, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson last year was one of my all-time writing highs.

But I NEED MORE NOVELS. My publisher retains control over ABANDON and SNOWBOUND, which is some of my best work. Even at $12.99, these books are consistently below 20,000 in sales ranking. In light of what I was paid for those books, and knowing I will in all likelihood never see another cent of royalties while the publisher owns the rights, it KILLS me to think what I could be making per month off those titles. I will get the rights back. Maybe not tomorrow. But it will happen.

Here are the questions that keep me up at night…

- Can an Indie break into the top 100 without pricing a novel at $.99? I’ve been tempted to drop DESERT PLACES to $.99 but fear upsetting my pricing balance.

- Can anyone other than Michael Sullivan do big business at more than $4/ebook?

- With instant publication now an option, will writers have the self-discipline to take the time to produce great work?

- How will readers continue to find the good stuff when there are potentially millions of shitty manuscripts being uploaded? Based upon my experience, books in the top 5000 are selling about 7/day. Which means buyers are regularly going outside of the top 100 to make purchases. Right now the system is working, but if it gets too fouled up with bad books, will it break down? Will finding that diamond in the rough become so taxing that readers predominately default to the top 100, as buyers of print books do today?

Good book, good cover, good product description, low price—is that really all we’ve learned? All we can bank on? Is this all a giant crapshoot?

I think it may be appropriate to quote the screenwriter, William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.”

Joe sez: I've been following Blake's journey, watching him sell more and more ebooks each month, and a few things strike me.

1. The writing matters. Crouch is as good a thriller writer as any who have ever lived. His publisher, St. Martins, made so many mistakes with his career--mistakes beyond Blake's control--that it's miraculous he hasn't eaten a shotgun by now. Honestly, it is the most depressing comedy of errors I've ever seen in the biz.

And yet, Blake's still chugging along, and on his way to his best monetary year ever. Cream does rise to the top, if it struggles hard enough.

2. Novels DO sell better. I have 19 self-pubbed books on Kindle right now. My novels are by far the best sellers, though SERIAL UNCUT does very well. But that's almost 40k words, though, so it's actually a novellini.

3. Experimentation and an open mind are essential. Blake had been diligent in tweaking his covers, changing product descriptions and titles, trying to maximize his sales and his brand. You can't ever be completely satisfied. Once you are, you cease trying, cease learning, and cease growing.

4. The book itself matters. This one is REALLY hard to figure out, and I gotta admit I'm close to clueless as to why some ebooks sell so many more copies than other ebooks. So far this month, I've sold 5393 copies of TRAPPED. It's a horror novel by my pen name, Jack Kilborn. My other self-pubbed Jack Kilborn horror novel, ENDURANCE, has sold a respectable 2890 copies, but that's only a little better than half of what TRAPPED is selling.

Why?

To make it more confusing, for the previous four months, ENDURANCE has been outselling TRAPPED. In fact, my #1 seller has changed many times since I started ebook self-publishing. At first, THE LIST was my #1 seller. Then ORIGIN. Then ENDURANCE. Then DRACULAS. Then SHOT OF TEQUILA. And now, TRAPPED.

THE LIST, my first ebook to sell 20,000 copies, only sold 1130 in January. And it can't be because it has already saturated the Kindle market. Stephen King's THE STAND is still in the Top 10 horror category. That book has been selling for 30 years, and hasn't reached a saturation point.

No, what's at work here is some weird, unknown factor that makes certain books sell at certain times.

Of all my novels, my book DISTURB has consistently sold the fewest copies. I have no idea why. It's a fun book, high-concept. Is it the subject? Title? Cover? All of the above? Should I change the author name from Konrath to Kilborn, since Kilborn sells better? And why should Kilborn sell better? Too many uninformed yet opinionated yahoos on the internet keep crowing that my sales are a result of my previous traditional publishing background, yet my previous traditional publishing background has been as J.A. Konrath. Konrath has many more books in print than Kilborn does, so why is Kilborn the better seller on Kindle? Thrillers outsell horror on the NYT list, so shouldn't my thriller series outsell my horror books?

And if horror sells so well, why is DRACULAS--a horror novel written not only by Kilborn and Crouch, but Jeff Strand (who has a large cult following) and F. Paul Wilson (who is a NYT bestseller) not selling as well as the other Kilborn ebooks? Surely vampires are still a hot genre? And with 167 reviews and a four and a half star average, it would seem DRACULAS should be a no-brainer must-have purchase for all horror fans. But it's only sold 1000 copies this month.

Blake's experience with his novel FAMOUS, which isn't selling anywhere close to what his thrillers sell, is proof that readers aren't indiscriminately buying every ebook an author releases.

Wunderkind Amanda Hocking currently has a staggering seven ebooks in the Top 100 on Kindle. But her zombie novel, HOLLOWLAND, priced super-cheap at 99 cents, isn't in the Top 100. Why the hell not? She's a hot author. Zombies are hot. 99 cents is THE price for breaking into the Top 100. Yet this isn't selling as well as her others.

Obviously, the conclusion to draw is that the book matters. In fact, it may matter more than the author, the price, the genre, and the writing.

But I still have no idea why some books sell more than others. The only advice I can offer is to keep writing, and hope something will click with an audience. Eventually. Maybe.

The big thing on our side is that ebooks have both an infinite shelf space, and an eternal shelf life. Unlike print, which has six months or less to find an audience before it gets returned, an ebook is forever. Forever is a long time to find readers.

As for Blake's questions...

- Can an Indie break into the top 100 without pricing a novel at $.99? I’ve been tempted to drop DESERT PLACES to $.99 but fear upsetting my pricing balance.

I think so. But it may be a case of pricing it at 99 cents, then changing it to $2.99 once it starts selling really well. Obviously, more experiments are needed. The problem is, if something is selling well, do you really want to mess with the price? That takes a lot of guts.

- Can anyone other than Michael Sullivan do big business at more than $4/ebook?

We'll see. I know Blake and I, after writing KILLERS UNCUT, will combine it with SERIAL UNCUT for SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT, which will be $4.99. It'll be interesting to watch how it does.

- With instant publication now an option, will writers have the self-discipline to take the time to produce great work?

There will always be writers who strive to improve their craft. These are the ones who will sell. The ones who post crap won't sell, at least not for long. They'll either be forced to improve, or they'll give up out of frustration.

As I've said before, the readers have become the gatekeepers. Their money and their time are valuable, and they won't put up with garbage. In fact, they go out of their way to warn each other about garbage.

- How will readers continue to find the good stuff when there are potentially millions of shitty manuscripts being uploaded?

I see this concern echoed a lot. The fact is, consumers have always been able to find what they want. Doesn't matter if it's on the internet, on TV, on Youtube, in a bookstore, or on Amazon. We all constantly make choices about what to spend our time and money on, even when there is already a lot of crap out there. More crap won't mean a thing.

How did everyone reading this blog entry find my blog? With millions of websites, many of them crap, they still managed to find mine.

As Theodore Sturgeon said, 90% of everything is crap.

As I've said many times, don't write crap.

There's the answer.

But even if you do write good books, that's no guarantee you'll sell a lot of copies. Which leads to another poor argument that those opposed to self-publishing trot out without thinking. (Those opposed to self-publishing have lots of bad arguments, the majority of them unsubstantiated, specious, and poorly thought-out.) It can be summed up as:

The majority of self-pubbed ebooks don't sell well.

This is a crap argument for a multitude of reasons.

1. The majority of print books don't sell well, either.

2. The majority of ebooks published by traditional publishers sell fewer copies than self-pubbed ebooks, as evidenced by authors who have both.

3. Self-pubbing is a guarantee it will find some readers, while pursuing a traditional publishing contract is still a long shot.

4. It is notoriously difficult to have a hit in any kind of media: TV, movies, music, and books.

5. The fact that you can self-publish and not sell a lot of copies should not dissuade writers from self-publishing, because selling a few copies is arguably better than letting the book sit on your hard drive, doing nothing.

As I said, it's shit argument. But it gets trotted out as often as "Konrath sells because he's Konrath."

The follow-up argument is:

If you self-publish, you ruin your chances at a traditional publishing deal.

Now I could argue convincingly that this is a GOOD THING. Stay the hell away from traditional publishing deals, I say, because you'll make less money and have to deal with a ton of bullshit. But if you go to Kindleboards.com, you can read about many writers who are finding agents and getting publisher interest BECAUSE they self-published. If that's the route you want to go, then I say getting your book on Kindle is a quicker, and more lucrative, way to find a traditional publisher than the query-go-round.

Which brings me to: why all the haters and nay-sayers?

Self-publishing is the most important thing to ever happen to writers. It liberates us from an arbitrary, unfair, broken system, and allows us to reach more readers at a faster rate than traditional publishing ever had. Best of all, as Blake said, self-pubbing allows writers to do it on our own terms.

To be paid monthly to write exactly what you want to write and have absolute control over the presentation is an amazing thing.

Anyone who doesn't see the advantage to that is an idiot. Or brainwashed by Stockholm Syndrome. Or fearful of change.

For almost two years, I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to inform writers about this opportunity. It staggers me that so many don't want to listen.

My past attitude has been to argue with these dolts. To convince them using logic and solid data that this is the future, and they'd be better off embracing it.

My new attitude is: if you want to stick with traditional publishing, it's your loss.

214 comments:

1 – 200 of 214   Newer›   Newest»
Nathan Lowell said...

"- Can anyone other than Michael Sullivan do big business at more than $4/ebook?"

Yes.

gniz said...

"To convince them using logic and solid data that this is the future, and they'd be better off embracing it."

Does logic and reasoning ever really work when someone has an emotional investment in a differing view? I think of politics or human rights issues (such as gay marriage).

I think there are clear-cut, logical points that to me seem obvious as the grass is green. That human beings should all share the same basic rights.

And yet if someone has an emotional investment in the opposite view, they will never be able to see my points as reasonable and vice versa.

Despite eBooks being somewhat less divisive than gay marriage, I think the principle applies here as well. All the facts and figures in the world won't sway people with blinders on.

An E-Publisher's Manifesto

gniz said...

BTW I recently read Perfect Little Town and it is one of the most bad-ass, creepy stories I've ever gotten my hands on. The scene in the restaurant blew me away.

I LOVE stories about quaint little towns that aren't what they seem. It actually inspired me to begin writing my own series about a small town.

On that note, Blake, are there any other books or stories that inspired Perfect Little Town that you could recommend to me?

Aaron

An E-Publisher's Manifesto

Joe Konrath said...

All the facts and figures in the world won't sway people with blinders on.

Unfortunate, but true.

If you look at all the conflicts in human history, whether they are between nations or individuals, they arise from an inability to empathize, and the refusal to change.

Changing your mind is one of the most difficult things a person can do. Which is why so few people ever do it.

Equally bad is believing something based on emotion or faith when there are no facts to support it.

The Dark Ages aren't that far behind us as a species...

Joe Konrath said...

On a side note, congrats to Amanda Hocking, who has sold half a million ebooks.

Heather said...

"As Theodore Sturgeon said, 90% of everything is crap.

As I've said many times, don't write crap."

Lol, great advice Joe! I loved this one and once again, great post. Thanks Blake, for sharing. And Joe, your right, a few sales is still better than having it sit in your hard drive doing nothing. I just released Across the Galaxy, my first novel, on Kindle a week ago and have sold 7 copies. and 7 is pretty exciting for a newbie indie! I'm excited enough to do the happy dance in front of my computer every morning when I check my numbers.
I really dont understand why more authors aren't doing this. It's such a rush to make it happen yourself and be in control of it instead of letting others decide your marketing strategies, cover art, etc.

www.heatherhildenbrand.blogspot.com

Hope Welsh said...

2. The majority of ebooks published by traditional publishers sell fewer copies than self-pubbed ebooks, as evidenced by authors who have both.

I have no idea why the above is true, but it certainly seems to be based on my experience.

My "publisher e-book" sales are dismally low-perhaps the price, which, of course I have no control over?

My novels under a pen name--a series--is outselling everything--and it's not even being promoted, as I'm working to promote my more mainstream romance right now. Why? The topic? The price? 1st book at 99--2nd in series at $2.99.

Lots of questions--just not so many answers. I just know that the books I have up on Kindle right now won't make me a damn dime sitting on an editor desk waiting for a phone call or rejection slip.

Sure, I only sold 300 copies this month--but, shrug, that's 300 more than I sold last month!

Peter Andrew Leonard said...

Love Blake Crouch's writing.

FOUR LIVE ROUNDS kicked butt!

Can't wait for more.

Daryl Sedore said...

Damn!

The new attitude is perfect.

You make it so hard to find something to argue about. I cannot find a single thing to dispute. This isn't a groupie comment. I want to debate something, but you're spot on.

Thanks.

Damn!

Daryl Sedore
www.spotlightonindies.com

Joe Konrath said...

I cannot find a single thing to dispute.

Well, I think you're wrong. So there!

On a completely unrelated note, ORIGIN has just become my first self-pubbed novel to have more than 100 Amazon reviews.

It took six years for WHISKEY SOUR, my first published novel, to get 100 reviews. AFRAID is almost at 200 reviews, but it had a few months at $1.99, and it has also been buoyed by my other Kilborn ebooks.

SERIAL is free, and has topped 300 reviews, and DRACULAS, thanks to a huge marketing push, is at over 150.

I believe the number of reviews a book has contributes to how many it sells. Though I don't see a direct correlation, and it may be the tail wagging the dog, having a lot of reviews certainly appears to be helpful.

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

"For almost two years, I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to inform writers about this opportunity. It staggers me that so many don't want to listen"

And prior to that you spent a lot of time and energy informing writers that self-publishing was not the way to go.

I understand it was a different paradigm back then, and you've fully explained your reasons for changing your mind. But the fact remains you've consistently invested yourself in pushing what you felt was the right way to go, at various points in your career.

So ease up Joe and let everyone else believe what they choose, and chart the course that best suits them, even if you disagree and think they're making a huge mistake.

I'll also add that while all of this ebook publishing thing seems so obvious now, just a year ago is wasn't nearly so, and 2 years ago it was even murkier.

In the grand scheme of things, it's all still very new, and you can be assured many more changes are coming.

Anonymous said...

Wunderkind Amanda Hocking currently has a staggering seven ebooks in the Top 100 on Kindle. But her zombie novel, HOLLOWLAND, priced super-cheap at 99 cents, isn't in the Top 100. Why the hell not?

Currently, it's at #161 which isn't bad. But IMHO, she violated one of your rules and put out a less-than-stellar cover. Think she stated in one of her blog posts that she plans on re-doing it at some point, though with all she has going on right now, I'm guessing it's a low priority for her.

A.A.

Cathryn Grant said...

Fifteen months ago someone asked if I'd ever self-publish and I said, Absolutely not!

Last summer I was worried about stigma and slush. (It's pretty easy to surf through the slush, I'm finding lots of good self-pubbed books. It's no more difficult than finding what I like in a bookstore.)

January 2011 - my novel has been on Kindle for 1 month as of today and I've never looked back. I'm extremely grateful that timing worked for me so that I didn't get locked into a traditional publishing contract. Thx Joe, Zoe, Karen and countless others.

Joe Konrath said...

But the fact remains you've consistently invested yourself in pushing what you felt was the right way to go, at various points in your career.

The blog is called "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing." The point of it is to share what I've learned. I provide this service because no one ever provided a similar service for me, and I really could have benefited from it.

Last year, self-publishing was a bad idea. This year, it's a good idea.

I didn't change my mind because I was wrong before. I changed my mind because the facts changed.

ALL writers can benefit from this paradigm shift. But some continue to badmouth it.

Those who do will miss out.

Traci Hohenstein said...

As a reader, I would buy a $4 ebook from Amanda Hocking. And from Beth Orsoff. And Hp Mallory. Because I love their books and think they are worth it.

Gary Ponzo said...

I think the common denominator with all of these guest posts is "write a good book."
Just like real estate is all about location, location, location. Self-pubbing is all about the quality of the product you're selling. Yes, throw in a good cover and find the right price, but it better be clean and smart and well-written.
At least that's what I take away from this blog.

Kendall Swan said...

Another great post!!

Congrats Blake. Welcome to the 'dark side.' It's much more fun over here.

So many points:

Re: selfpub creating crappy ebooks

Crap doesn't get good reveiws. The readers are the gatekeepers. (Congrats Joe on Origin 100.) And readers like myself who count on reviews are also embracing the power more and more to contribute one themselves. Reviews will come more quickly as ebook market percentage grows. But it is still basicallly a longtail phenom, I think.

Re: $.99 for top100?
for now, yes. We all seem to know the stats on ebooks vs print. (Like 11%, right?). What are the stats on trad pub vs self pub? As the selfpub percentage grows over the next few years (and it will despite stockholm syndrome-who can top 70%?), the top100 will reflect those changes. Selfpub will have a tipping point in perception among readers just like ereaders did/have.

More points to come.

Kendall

Michael Allen said...

I can't emphasise too strongly that this is an age of STAGGERING opportunity for writers. My first novel was published 48 years ago, and it wasn't the first thing I was paid for, and Joe is absolutely right. To be free to write any length you want, in any genre, without some smartarse editor telling you how to do it, is pleasure enough in itself. But to be able to publish so easily, so quickly, and stand at least some chance of making money -- hard to believe.

Kendall Swan said...

More points--

Re: Self Discipline:

Yes, I think- writers are a neurotic bunch and insecurities are the norm.

But regardless, market will dictate self discipline as quality clearly rises to the top in ebooks in the vast majority of cases. Those without self discipline won't make as much money. (Yea capitalism!)

Re: Form: Novels/Novellas/Shorts

I'm with Blake on this one. Yea shorter forms! I absolutely believe shorter forms will grow tremendously in popularity in the coming years. Having said that, I do think the novel will still be the dominant form. Most people like to spend actual time with their stories. That won't change.

More to come.

Kendall

Anonymous said...

I was never interested in competing with the self-published at .99 to 2.99 and decided instead to compete against the traditionally published. I've been selling very well at $4.95 and have always viewed $5.00 as the magic number to stay below. Recently, however, I raised the price of a few books to $5.95. To my surprise, the increase had no drag on sales and I'll be raising the rest of my books to that price slowly over the next few months. I've come to believe that if readers like an author they will pay a fair price for the book.

Kendall Swan said...

More points--

Re: Changing midstream--

Love, love, love this aspect of self publishing. Trad publishers could do this, too, but don't. Nimble adaptation has always been an advantage in business. And self publishing is a business.

Final point- Re: Draculas--Joe, I love vamps and I love your books, but haven't bought it. Honestly, it's the title for me. Dracula makes me think of something old. With vampire stories, I want the new take on it (even if that doesn't actually exist anymore). There isn't a promise of that in the title.

Again, great post.
Sorry for any typos- writing on the fly here.

Kendall

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Does it help to have multiple Kindle titles? You'd better believe it. I've got seven books in the Kindle store, although the short story collection sells much less than the other books.

Last month total: 1,613

This month I will hit 4,000. (Current total: 3919)

Lovin' it!

gniz said...

I agree with Kendall's point about the title "Draculas." It's an off-putting title somehow, feels clunky and old and almost comedic...I picture a bunch of Draculas in capes running around baring their fangs at one another.

I'm pretty sure the book isn't like that at all...but I bet a title change would help.

The other possibility is that the opening (ie sample) isn't as strong as your other books. I know that my books are selling somewhat in order of quality, and especially how strong the first couple of pages are.

An E-Publisher's Manifesto

Steve said...

Enjoyed the post. Blake is on a roll and the train will move faster and faster. Mine is still on a side track, but will be picking up speed in the future.

Prophecy of the Medallion

Death Mask

Joe Konrath said...

I agree with Kendall's point about the title "Draculas."

It's possible. My original feeling was the opposite. Here is an iconic figure who has fallen into the public domain, but while everyone is all over vampires, very few authors have exploited the brand that is "Dracula."

But it might be interesting to change it to VAMPIRES just to see if sales increase.

Free books for Kindle said...

I'm going to add one other thing to the successful book formula: being found.

Don't make it hard for people to find your book on Amazon (or elsewhere).

Sibel Hodge said...

"Can an Indie break into the top 100 without pricing a novel at $.99? I’ve been tempted to drop DESERT PLACES to $.99 but fear upsetting my pricing balance."

""- Can anyone other than Michael Sullivan do big business at more than $4/ebook?"

I know this is a big issue, and this has been discussed to death over on Kindleboards. I see no reason why others can't sell big. My novels are priced at $4.99, and although I'm not in the top 100, my romantic comedies are normally within the top 100 for contemporary romance and humor on US and UK Amazon.

I think if readers enjoy an author's work, they'll pay a fair price for it.

Good luck to everyone!

Blake Crouch said...

@Nathan – Examples?

@gniz – Thanks, Aaron! I LOVE the spooky quaint little town trope, and I’m sure it goes back to my complete obsession with TWIN PEAKS, which I still watch every year. If you haven’t seen, start there.

@Peter – thanks, Man!

Re: DRACULAS – wow, those are interesting observations. I think we thought the title was our strongest selling point….VAMPS?

L.C. Evans said...

Wonderful post. Thanks, Blake and Joe. I especially like these two points: Don't write crap and keep an open mind. I'm still finding my way, but this month I've sold more than 2000 ebooks. I'm having a lot more success finding readers than I ever did finding an agent or a publisher.

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Great post guys, lots of good ponderings. My sales are growing every month, my ebook sales have doubled since last month. They're still small, but doubled is doubled, in my book and this is still by far the best choice I've ever made. I recently dropped my price to 99 cents for a trial period, but if sales keep increasing, I may just leave it. It's the beginning of a series anyways, so I had planned to lower it to 99 cents once the sequel came. I am nervous to change it back because I'm selling more copies, although making less money. Such a conundrum!

I've heard some talk on Kindleboards and from some ebook authors that B&N swept a bunch of indies from their bestseller lists. Are we thinking the big 6 are going on attack and forcing B&N to oust a few indies to make room for trad pubbed books? If so, that's bogus, but I wouldn't put it past them!

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

And (I forgot to add) you're both totally right. Good books will rise to the top and we shouldn't start cranking out titles just to have a bunch of books out. Take your time, write good books, and you'll see results.
:D

www.karlykirkpatrick.com

Blake Crouch said...

"So ease up Joe and let everyone else believe what they choose, and chart the course that best suits them, even if you disagree and think they're making a huge mistake."

I'm sorry, maybe I'm misunderstanding you...What are you saying? That Joe shouldn't have a blog and share his opinions? How much fun would that be? Why do you think we all read this blog and others? To hear different perspectives.

Boyd Morrison said...

I have a friend named Elle Lothlorien, whose romantic comedy The Frog Prince, continually sells well at a price of $5.99. Why? Because it's got a fantastic cover (IMO as good as traditionally published books), it's a great read, and the reviews show that readers love it. So I agree with Joe: it's all about content, content, content.

Sam said...

Great questions raised, Blake!

And I agree with the others that the title "Draculas" put me off. Would love to see you guys re-title Draculas just as an experiment. Heck, sell it under 2 titles at the same time.

Re: "I've heard some talk on Kindleboards and from some ebook authors that B&N swept a bunch of indies from their bestseller lists."

Wow, that's scarier than a horror novel. Would need to see some proof on it, though...

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Sam,

True about needing proof. I'd gotten an email over the weekend from an indie author that's been featured on this blog that said it had happened to her. I'm not sure which lists they were pulled off of, but she said her sales took a hit.

If I hear any more, I'll post it!
Cheers!

karly

jtplayer said...

Blake,

I was referring specifically to comments like this one:

"My past attitude has been to argue with these dolts"

I agree, this blog is a pleasure to read, and the information given by Joe and others is crucial to making sound career decisions.

But to characterize someone with a differing opinion (or a different approach to the business of getting their book published) as a dolt is a little extreme. IMO.

There's room in this world for all viewpoints. And the way I see it, there is no one single right way to do this.

Btw...I downloaded some samples of your books and look forward to checking them out.

Sibel Hodge said...

@KarlyKirkpatrick

"I've heard some talk on Kindleboards and from some ebook authors that B&N swept a bunch of indies from their bestseller lists. Are we thinking the big 6 are going on attack and forcing B&N to oust a few indies to make room for trad pubbed books? If so, that's bogus, but I wouldn't put it past them!"

Really? Wow! There are some fab indie authors out there, and that's a real shame to hear that.

I also heard that indie books via Smashwords are not promoted very well on the distribution sites. Big fat shame!

Mark Young said...

"If you self-publish, you ruin your chances at a traditional publishing deal."

This belief has kept a lot of writers in bondage to the old publishing paradigm. I believe that many writers--like myself--are finally breaking free of these chains. Thanks, Joe.

Blake Crouch said...

@JT

JT – thanks for clarifying and hope you dig the samples….re: Joe’s attitude, I hear what you’re saying but the attitude by a lot of trad-published writers is simply mystifying. I have a friend, who will remain nameless. They’re a great writer. I love their work, but they’ve gotten royally $%&#$ by the system. Some of their books are eligible for full reversion. The publisher isn’t doing anything with them. I encouraged this writer to explore reversion and offered to hook them up with my cover designer, Jeroen ten Berge, and help them through the process. They told me they didn’t even want to bother their editor to ask for the books back THAT THEY WROTE WHOSE RIGHTS THEY ARE LEGALLY ENTITLED TO EXPLOIT. This Stockholm Syndrome analogy is apt. I understand Joe’s frustration. A lot of writers are not thinking clearly….remember Shawshank Redemption and the old convict who’s finally released, but kills himself….I think it’s kind of like that. Institutionalized.

Boyd Morrison said...

"If you self-publish, you ruin your chances at a traditional publishing deal."

Not true. Self-publishing was the only reason I got published. Lisa Genova is another writer who got published by self-publishing first. Plus it gives you more negotiating leverage. If Amanda Hocking can sell half a million books on her own, I can't imagine how much money a traditional publisher would have to offer so they could sign her.

Because foreign sales are becoming a bigger factor in publishing, I'd like to know if anyone has self-published a book and then sold those rights to a foreign-language publisher.

David A. Todd said...

Congrats, Blake.

I find it interesting that your short stories are selling for 99 cents. So long as you clearly give a word count, I guess the price is fair. Have you had many returns from people saying "99 cents and all I got was a short story?"

Blake Crouch said...

@Boyd - while DESERT PLACES is not self-pubbed, (first released in 2004 by SMP) it is now an Indie book. In the last month, I did a Polish-translation deal and a German hardcover book-club deal. I'm hopeful to exploit more of my backlist in the coming year.

PJ Lincoln said...

Blake,

Can you post the link to you book designer's web site?

The going rate for cover design seems to be about $400. Does it matter if it's a short story or a novel?

I haven't self-published yet, but have a short that's pretty much ready to go ... minus the cover. It's hard to pitch my wife on shelling out that kind of money when I'll be making $35 cents or less on each unit sold.

Thanks!

jtplayer said...

"Are we thinking the big 6 are going on attack and forcing B&N to oust a few indies to make room for trad pubbed books? If so, that's bogus, but I wouldn't put it past them!"

It seems to me once Corporate America decides to go after ebooks and epublishing full-tilt, a lot will change. And I suspect many indies will scream bloody murder when it happens.

I know the popular opinion around here is the Big 6 are idiots.

That may be true, but those huge corporations have a lot of experience at playing hardball and feeding their bottom line.

David A. Todd said...

Oh, I meant to ask: Do the stand-alone short stories sell enough to justify the cost of cover design?

Blake Crouch said...

@David...some returns.

And I hate it...I don't just rattle off short stories. In a lot of ways they're harder than novels, and almost all have been published in major magazines and anthologies. To have a $.99 story returned really irks me. But the return-rate is low. My most-returned title is actually Serial Uncut...23 returns this month so far, but that's because it's highly offensive.

Blake Crouch said...

@PJ

of course....Jeroen ten Berge...
http://jeroentenberge.com/

He's brilliant and a blast to work with.

Sam said...

Karly, I just looked through all of B&N.com's top 100 Nook books. Not a single indie. So I'm very inclined to believe your friend's story...

Amazon has much more been the small publisher's friend, which is why I've concentrated all my efforts on them and paid no attention to B&N.

But it's still a scary development. Here's hoping Amazon never tries something similar, such as pushing their Encore books at the expense of others...

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

@jtplayer,

I agree...once they figure out what they can do to stop the bleeding, they will. And maybe that's part of it. It'll be interesting to see how things will play out.

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Well, and I'm not on any bestseller lists, but I know that does hurt indies to not be on them. Interesting find, Sam. That sounds like what the other author mentioned. She did say she thought Amanda was still on some of them though.

Blake Crouch said...

If there's any truth to the B&N bestseller list thing, it's only more proof that an organization needs to be formed ASAP where indie writers can use their numbers to protect themselves against this kind of stuff.

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Right on Blake. Maybe you and Joe can spearhead the organization?! :D I'll join. :D

Either that or maybe we need to rally the troops over at Kindle Boards. It would be interesting to see what B&N has to say on this matter.

Sam said...

Just looked at B&N's Nook bestseller list for "Vampires," and Amanda's not on it.

I agree that access to the bestseller lists is extremely important for sales.

If B&N is going to be this much a tool for the big publishers, I'll be happy to see them go down.

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Wow Sam, even scarier. I don't want to see Amanda's run-away sales train stop...she's blazing trails for the rest of us. That's insane. And I can't imagine she wasn't making great money for B&N with all her sales.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be critical, but not all vampire (dracula) and paranormal books are created equal. The ones that sell well typically involve RELATIONSHIPS. Readers like to see how people meet, how they interact, how they fall in lust with each other, how they hate each other and how they overcome external and internal obstacles.

DRACULAS doesn't fit this popular theme. From what I can tell, it's more of a bloodfest. There's probably a market for that, but it's not the mainstream market, hence the more limited sales, IMO.

Changing the name may help but I kinda doubt it. Underneath, it's still the same book. Again, this is just an opinion. I'm not trying to be disrespectful.

David Wisehart said...

@David — Do the stand-alone short stories sell enough to justify the cost of cover design?

Yes, if you don't pay for a cover. Do them yourself.

I've started putting up short stories. I spend $0-10 designing my own covers (sometimes I license an image), and the stories each sell about 10 copies a month at $0.99. That's $3.50 per month in royalties per story, so each cover is paid for within a few months.

The nice thing about publishing individual stories is that you can then republish them in collections at a higher price—which I'll be doing soon.

David

Kendall Swan said...

B&N- that totally sucks!!

Completely agree, Blake-- organization is needed. There is already the association of independent authors. I joined last year, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of activity there, yet.

A couple of weeks ago, we joked about starting "the Joes" contest for selfpubbers. But this seems more pressing.

Why don't y'all help organize and include some of your branding in return. Maybe the "Perfect Little Author Association" or SelfPub Author Assocition- for "Newbies" and pros -?

Joe, you are clearly a leader. If the BN stuff is true, your leadership and vision could be key to stopping such practices in the future.

Kendall

Leigh Saunders said...

David Todd wrote:
"I find it interesting that your short stories are selling for 99 cents. So long as you clearly give a word count, I guess the price is fair. Have you had many returns from people saying "99 cents and all I got was a short story?"


I have a half-dozen short stories up for $0.99, and one novella (that was a WOTF finalist) for $1.99, and I haven't had any issues or complaints from my readers. However, I do clearly note on my covers if a story is a short story, novelette, or novella/short novel to avoid that very problem. It's all about truth in advertising and setting the buyer's expectations properly.

I'll do the same with a collection of short stories that are just too short to sell on their own, and will probably price the volume at $2.99. I'm nearly finished with the first novel I plan to post (set in the same world as one of the short stories), and I'm planning to list it in the $3.99 - $4.99 range, because that just seems right for a book-length work.

David also asked "... if a short story would sell enough to earn back the cost of cover design."

FWIW, my short stories are selling quite well, so I think they would. However, I had the same concern when I first started out. To keep my cover costs to a minimum, I built them myself, using public domain photos and graphic design software I already had (so no new expense there); the one image I purchased was quite inexpensive. Of course, not everyone can design a book cover that doesn't suck, and I got a lot of input from other people as to what worked/didn't during the design process, and tweaked the initial designs quite a bit before finally putting them up on public display. So, for a small time investment, and almost no financial one, I have covers that are catching readers' attention, and making them curious enough to take a look at the stories.

After that, it's all about the story...

Leigh Saunders
www.camdenparkpress.com

Joe Konrath said...

But to characterize someone with a differing opinion (or a different approach to the business of getting their book published) as a dolt is a little extreme. IMO.

Anyone who disagrees with me on this issue after looking at the facts I've presented is a dolt. That's like looking at a view of earth from space and insisting it is square.

If people want to pursue a traditional publishing contract after being confronted with overwhelming evidence that it's a bad idea for a multitude of reasons, they're being foolish.

The only reason I can see for any author signing a contract is for big money upfront. That's the only advantage publishers still have.

But my various contacts tell me that publishers are becoming VERY slow in making offers, signing contracts, and in some cases, paying royalties and showing royalty statements. Borders didn't pay publishers for December, and now they aren't paying for January. The only thing keeping B&N afloat is the Nook, and last I checked, you don't need a traditional publisher to get on the Nook.

Print right now is A LOT riskier than self-pubbing.

I'm happy to listen to any argument that disagrees with me, but so far the only debate I've seen has stemmed from denial, ignorance, and living in the past.

gniz said...

"it's only more proof that an organization needs to be formed ASAP where indie writers can use their numbers to protect themselves against this kind of stuff."

I have been thinking this as well. We definitely need some kind of union to protect us as things go forward so we can act en masse...with someone like Joe and yourself and Amanda to maybe act as the representatives for awhile.

Aaron

gniz said...

I have a strange sinking feeling that if we're too slow too mobilize and organize and protect ourselves, the good times won't last very long.

What say you on this topic, Joe? Do we need to organize or not?

Monique said...

I think it's premature to assume that B&N is cooking the lists.

@ Sam - Did you notice anything odd about the Vampire Fiction list? I did. I has a whopping 179 books on it.

Look for Amanda under Paranormal Romance.

It's certainly possible that B&N would try to appease the Big 6 with some perks. I'm not sure that's reason to circle the wagons and send for Randolph Scott. :)

jtplayer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kendall Swan said...

@David Todd

There are some returns but so far mine have been less than 5%. I agree with Leigh--it's all about truth in advertising. I put short story all over the description and on the cover. I am going to start putting word count, too, bc that is trending towards a norm as a replacement for page count.

re covers:
I am just now contracting out my first cover. It should be ready in a couple of weeks. When I first started, I tried to either find free images or get some from istockphoto for less than $10. Then I used the "Paint.net" program for free (I have since donated). They got a great review from cnet as a free photoshop alternative.

Hope this helps.
Kendall

PS-@Blake- just bought Perfect Little Town- such a great title!

gniz said...

"It's certainly possible that B&N would try to appease the Big 6 with some perks. I'm not sure that's reason to circle the wagons and send for Randolph Scott. :)"

Point taken, but should we wait for something like that to happen before we do a little organizing? There's a writer's guild for a reason. There are unions for good reason.

When money's involved, you can bet that someone's going to try and get the upper hand through just about any means necessary. This isn't paranoia, it's simply true.

Being naive isn't going to help anyone. If there's some organization to help prevent e-pubbed authors from being taken advantage of, I really can't see where that's something to try and dissuade people from doing.

And waiting until things are already happening and then trying to organize is usually a bad idea because we won't have time to do it right.

Sam said...

Here are all of the Nook bestseller categories:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ebooks/browse.asp

I can tell you there is no "paranormal romance," but there's "Vampires" and "Teen Vampires," and Amanda's vampire books are not on either (yet her sales rank is higher than most of the books on these lists).

Comb through the other lists to see if you spot any indies...

Mike Dennis said...

"I didn't change my mind because I was wrong before. I changed my mind because the facts changed."

And that's the whole deal here. The facts, the world, the reality of it all really did change. That necessitates the changing of one's mind on the subject.

Sam said...

OOPS! I see they have Amanda's books under "Horror."

So I am calling off the dogs... :-)

Monique said...

@ gniz

I'm not against an organization, at least in principle. The devil will be in the details, as it always is.

And, fwiw, I don't think I'm naive. It's just that my pitchfork's in the shop. ;)

I do think that using something potentially false (not nearly enough evidence yet) as a rallying cry isn't the right way to go about things. There's enough cause without it.

Better to offer insight than to incite.

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

@gniz

I totally agree. What do we need to do to start something like that though? I'm happy to do whatever I can to help. I've actually talked about something similar with the author that I got the whole B&N story from. We do need to stick together.

Monique said...

@ Sam

"I can tell you there is no "paranormal romance," but there's "Vampires" and "Teen Vampires," and Amanda's vampire books are not on either (yet her sales rank is higher than most of the books on these lists)."

Paranormal Romance is a sub of Romance. Fwiw, Amanda is high on the Teen Fiction list.

No idea why she's not on the Vampires for Teens list. It's another oddly small list.

Erik Williams said...

Just a quick observation on the DRACULAS title versus sales discussion. I can see what people mean by the title being kind of a turn-off but the cover, too, is a bit of a turn off. Looking at it, you have the last names of the authors above and below the title. Those names draw you to the middle, as intended, but the title also gives the impression that the authors are calling themselves Draculas. Funny, I know, but that's the impression I get looking at it. You guys think you're a bunch of vampires! Ha!

Jeanne Tomlin said...

Joe sez: The fact that you can self-publish and not sell a lot of copies should not dissuade writers from self-publishing, because selling a few copies is arguably better than letting the book sit on your hard drive, doing nothing.

Joe, truer words were never spoken. And after a year and a half of an agent NOT selling my novels...

I am with you on that. Thanks for bringing so many of us over to the Dark Side.

gniz said...

To me the whole discussion about whether Amanda Hocking is on the B&N lists is a bit of a red herring.

Not that it wouldn't be an interesting tidbit or somewhat concerning if true...

But totally beside the point as far as I'm concerned. What would we do if tomorrow B&N and Amazon decreased our royalties to 15% on ALL books? That's just one example.

I believe organization is necessary to help prepare for the as yet UNFORESEEN issues that will eventually pop up for authors involved in e-publishing.

The question is, will we wait to do anything until we're already painted into a corner? or will we show a little foresight and put some basic in place...

I don't see that as even remotely breaking out the pitchforks.

Monique said...

I actually agree with you.

So, what are you going to do about it?

Jeanne Tomlin said...

There is a lot of talk all over the place about the possibility of Amazon raising the lowest price from 99 cents, limiting file sizes, etc.

I don't think any of those should be the reason for panic, but they do show why it would be a good idea to have a pressure group on the side of the indies.

Do you trust Amazon to do what is best for writers? Do any of us remember the threats to small publishers to force them to use CreateSpace? Gay-themed novels having their rankings stripped? Etc?

All things that Amazon had a right to do, mind you, but both groups were able to mobilize protest when it happened. Who would protest if they decided that indies were expendable? I don't think they will...

Indies are making them money right now. But if they would make more money catering to the Big 6, you can bet that's who they'd support.

gniz said...

Monique, I'm going to start off with exactly what I'm doing here. Asking a pertinent question on one of the most widely read forums regarding e-publishing.

If people want to discuss in more depth, email me at literarysnark@gmail.com. I am happy to take this offline.

As far as taking concrete steps towards organization, I'd need to do a lot of learning about what already exists and whether there is something in place that would help protect epubbed authors. or whether we need to create something new from whole cloth.

I fear that as per usual people probably won't be very interested in organizing until bad things are already in the works. That just seems to be how most folks operate. Hope for the best, stick head in sand, and wait...

Karen Cantwell said...

As usual, great post and great discussion. Thanks guys!

Regarding readers finding good books in a world where anyone can publish: Amazon's Sample feature has solved this for me. I sample everything - EVEN (especially?) traditionally published. Good writing/good story is apparent right away.

Joe, regarding those who can't be convinced about self-publishing - I think there are those people who REALLY care more about the validation that goes along with trad publishing than they do about having readers or money. I'm not one of them though! :-)

Tara Maya said...

That totally sucks about B&N. Just when I was getting excited about putting up a special color illustrated version on the Nook.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Anonymous said...

I think that from all those stories we can conclude:

1 - A great book is the only thing that matters in the end.

2 - Covers, product descriptions and marketing can at most make the book sell sooner. It may be the difference between a year long (or more) wait and instant success, but it cant make failure or success.

bowerbird said...

blake said:
> to me, the best thing
> about the ebook revolution
> isn’t the money. It’s the
> unlimited creative potential.

that's an artist talking.

thank goodness!

i was beginning to think
all this talk about money
and this new "gold-rush"
would mean we would be
over-run with greedsters.

the real potential here is
one that appeals to artists
-- a chance to go directly
to your audience, at last,
without any compromise
to your vision so that it
will pass the gatekeepers.

-bowerbird

Vivi Anna said...

I am 15 days away from pubbing my first indie kindle book and I have not been this excited in a LONG time. I'm more excited about the possibilites now than I was with my first NY print book back in 2006.

Tara Maya said...

bowerbird, I know it's popular to talk about "need for artistic freedom" and "need to earn money" as if they were opposites, but I'm sorry, it's just not true. At the risk of TMI, I just received another medical bill that my insurance was supposed to pay (but won't without a fight I don't have time for) that has a result gone into collections.

For some artists, making money is also a REQUIREMENT for artistic freedom. Otherwise we lose the most basic artistic freedom of all, the ability to even do our art.

I've actually been homeless rather than give up being a writer. (I talk about this in Conmergence. Fun, if stupid. Now I have kids, that's not an option.

I do wish you wouldn't sneer at those of us who are trying to find out to market and sell our books for the most money possible as though we aren't "real" artists. Believe me, if I weren't DRIVEN to write, and money is all I wanted, I'd do something, ANYTHING else and probably be a lot better off!

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate
Conmergence

Beth Orsoff said...

Wow, I never thought I'd be in a position where I had to defend B&N. Are self-published authors excluded from some of their bestsellers lists? I don't know. Perhaps. But I don't think it's fair to conclude that means B&N is anti-self-published authors.

B&N sends out weekly e-newsletters that definitely do include self-published authors because I've had my books listed there. My chick lit book, Romantically Challenged, has shown up next to Nora Roberts, and my mystery, Honeymoon for One, has been wedged between Lee Child and James Patterson. And I've seen Amanda Hocking and HP Mallory in those newsletters too. And all of our books are listed in the category bestsellers on the site (search bestsellers in Contemporary Romance Nook Books and we're all listed there).

Is there paid placement on the B&N site? Of course there is, just like there is in the stores. The difference is at least B&N.com carries self-published books whereas the brick and mortar stores will not, so at least we have a shot, which is a lot more than we had before.

Matthew W. Grant said...

@gniz: I LOVE stories about quaint little towns that aren't what they seem.

I'm not sure of you are looking for small town stories specifically with a horror angle or if you like any small town with secrets and lies bubbling beneath the surface.

If it's the latter, please check out my novel Secrets Of Slaters Falls which is sex, sin and scandal in a "postcard perfect" small New England town.

Matthew

RobH said...

On the subject of tweaking the title, cover, author name etc of a book, have you tried a more rigorous approach, such as A/B testing?

I don't know what tools Amazon gives you to post a book with (for example) two different covers, but have it share the reviews (they seem to handle it ok for dead-tree books where hardbacks and paperbacks share reviews). If it's possible, this might give you a better insight into which factors make a difference without needing to account for seasonal trends etc. Perhaps this would only work with a new book though?

jtplayer said...

Greedsters?

Really?

Now there's a loaded word if ever there was one. Some might say it's akin to using the word "obscene" to make a point.

So pray tell, at what point does a writer cease being an artist and become a "greedster"?

I only ask because Joe spends a lot of time touting the *money* part of it.

And Lord knows he makes a lot.

Almost as much as a "greedster" might make.

Gisele said...

Add me to the list of people turned off by Draculas as the title. It sounds too stereotypical. it gives the impression that it's just a rehash of all the Draculas stories everyone already knows. Wooden spikes, holy water, garlic. Yawn.

When I think of Dracula, I think of Christopher Lee who started making those Dracula movies back in the 50s - 70s. Dang, that's 60-40 years ago. No wonder it gives the impression of old and stale.

I guess the intention was that Draculas was a classic title. Unfortunately, it's coming across with mothballs. For me at least.

Also, the cover is very weak. The names of the four authors are so big, they are squishing the title in the middle. Is that how Draculas die? Death by squishing?

Joe, I mean no offense. I just wanted to offer up my uncensored opinion on "Draculas" with the intention of being helpful.

Best,

Gisele

bowerbird said...

"anonymous" said:
> I've come to believe that
> if readers like an author
> they will pay
> a fair price for the book.

sibel said:
> I think if readers
> enjoy an author's work,
> they'll pay a fair price for it.

this idea about a "fair" price
amuses me. the corporations
think that $12.99 is "fair"...

so how does one define "fair"?

i suppose for many people it's
whatever you get away with.

oh, and the corporations
probably think it's "fair"
for them to demand that
barnes&noble remove all
you indies from the top100.
after all, you don't _print_
books that are sold in the
barnes&noble brick&mortar,
do you? so why should you
be placed on the same lists
as they are? it's not "fair",
not from their perspective.

remember, sweetheart, that
_all_ is fair in love and war...

-bowerbird

Ruth Harris said...

Uh-oh. Looks like buh-bye Borders.

Here are the grimmer-than-grim details from Brillig, an excellent publishing blog...Notice how they snuck out the news on Sunday night when no one was looking?

http://brilligblogger.blogspot.com/2011/01/more-shoes-dropping.html

gniz said...

I just want to point out that nobody needs to come on and "defend" B&N...at least, not where I stand.

But it seems to me just common sense that we want to be VERY careful when assuming that our interests as epub authors are in any, way, shape or form going to be protected by giant corporations who mainly think in terms of the bottom line.

Right now we suit their bottom line. It suits them to have the royalty rates and other such things structured the way they structure them.

Why on earth would we assume they'll keep it that way? Now, even if we form some kind of organization, it doesn't mean that would keep B&N and Amazon from making drastic and negative changes in as far as authors are concerned. But at least we'd have something to turn to when problems arise.

As it is now, where do we go? Kindleboards? Well, there are worse places to go, but still...I think we should stay away from this whole "defending B&N" and "attacking B&N" type conversation.

It has nothing to do with that. It's simply business and attempting to protect our business interests as authors who are also now publishers.

An E-Publisher's Manifesto

Kirby said...

"The blog is called "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing." The point of it is to share what I've learned. I provide this service because no one ever provided a similar service for me, and I really could have benefited from it."

This perfectly sums up why I visit this site daily. For someone like me who is just starting out, these posts are tremendously helpful. I found the world of e-publishing to be rather daunting at first, but now that I'm in the loop and able to converse with fellow indies - sharing suggestions, war stories, etc., the road to self publishing seems a lot less scary.

Keep it up Joe!

bowerbird said...

tara said:
> it's popular to talk about
> "need for artistic freedom"
> and "need to earn money"
> as if they were opposites,
> but I'm sorry,
> it's just not true.

i think you misunderstood.

badly.

perhaps that medical bill you're
unable to pay is clouding your
ability to interpret correctly...
(sorry about that, by the way.)

i am all in favor of artists
making money. lots of it.
as much as possible. heck,
if we could all be as rich as
damien hirst, i would love it.

and i love self-publishing,
and all other d.i.y. art...

but you know, don't you?,
that for a long time there,
the only people who were
making money by doing
self-publishing were the
sharks (speaking of hirst!)
who were selling e-books
that told you how you could
make money selling e-books
that told people how to
make money selling e-books
that told other people...

they would even sell you
the e-books that you could
then sell to other people...
to save you the time and
effort of writing 'em yourself.
for a hefty price, of course.

are those the type of people
who you want to come running
to this brand new opportunity?

people who run con games?

i thought not.

if you're willing to go
hungry and homeless
to be a writer, then i am
in your corner, baby...

if you are unwilling to
"be a writer" _unless_
you can get rich quick,
the quicker the better,
i'm not in your corner.

so, to respond to you,
if the shoe fits, wear it.
if it doesn't fit, don't...

***

jtplayer, i don't need to
have an excuse like an
unpaid medical bill to
explain _your_ failure in
reading comprehension...
it's just par for the course.

-bowerbird

Joe Konrath said...

See, this feedback on Draculas is interesting. I love the title and the cover. But if that's turning off people, what I like doesn't matter much...

Bella Andre said...

Blake - Like Sibel, my current bestselling self-pubbed book is $5.99 (Game For Love). It's sold a lot of copies :) since I released it December 2010 (has been steadily ranked between 55-400 on BN.com and 700-900 on Amazon). So, yes, I think the higher price point can work.

And there was another question in the comments - I think from Boyd - asking about foreign sales. LOVE ME (released July 2010) sold to Japan a week after release. I actually sold it myself, but my agent negotiated the deal after the offer had been made. The publisher already put it out (it came out December 2010 from Fusosha) - and then they bought one of my Bantam books (Wild Heat - will be out summer 2011 in Japan) and are talking about buying one of my previous Pocket books. So, the self-pubbed book paved the way for the NY pubbed books to be bought as well.

Bella
http://www.BellaAndre.com

ps - This is the final day for my "Win a Nook Color from Bella Andre" contest. Details on my website.

jtplayer said...

Your covers got pulled bird...deal with it.

Jon F. Merz said...

Last Thursday, the first book in my Lawson Vampire backlist went live on Amazon, followed by three other novels, a novella, and four short stories. I had a good series of covers done using the actor from the TV series who will be playing Lawson. I'm still tweaking descriptions and the like, but I've been pleased with the sales so far. Not huge, but for me given my past sales, very good. As of this writing, The Fixer has sold 56 copies.

Not huge numbers, but it seems to be consistently selling close to ten copies a day - even over the weekend, which I thought was cool. If the pace keeps up, then I'd be on track to do 300 copies a month, for just one of the Lawson novels. I've got four out there plus the novella and stories, so right off the bat, that's 9 properties I feel can really sell well if I tweak them just right.

In the meantime, I'm still waiting for Joe to roast me in my guest blog post, but thought I'd put this up anyway as my latest experiences.

Interesting times, for sure...

Jeanne Tomlin said...

But it seems to me just common sense that we want to be VERY careful when assuming that our interests as epub authors are in any, way, shape or form going to be protected by giant corporations who mainly think in terms of the bottom line.

Right now we suit their bottom line. It suits them to have the royalty rates and other such things structured the way they structure them.

Why on earth would we assume they'll keep it that way?


Exactly. They're not bad guys, having a conspiracy, or out to get us BUT our concerns are not even on their list much less high on it.

They will do what they need to to protect their bottom line and only if you can counter that with strong pressure can you change it.

Verilees said...

@Blake I looked at Famous and even after reading the blurb I couldn't figure what it was about-- someone nonfamous decides to take over the life of a famous person? I think you need to rewrite the blurb to make it more exciting. It looks like it's a dark story from the cover, is that a destroyed billboard? Is it a woman in jeopardy? Could you call it suspense?

Just my thoughts.

gniz said...

BTW, not to be a conspiracy theorist, Joe--but I've asked the royalty question directly to you (or a version of it)on at least two occasions, and thus far, no answer.

Should we be concerned about our royalty rates being changed for the worse in the not too distant future?

Am I just being a silly billy?

Joe Konrath said...

In the meantime, I'm still waiting for Joe to roast me in my guest blog post, but thought I'd put this up anyway as my latest experiences.

By the time I post your guest blog, it might no longer apply, because you'll be in the 1000+ a month club. Which directly speaks to my constant harping about:

1. A good book (and good formatting to go along with it.)
2. A good cover.
3. A good product description.
4. A low price.
5. Continually adding more books to the virtual book shelf.
6. Perseverance, and the willingness to experiment.

Jon F. Merz said...

I hope, Joe! but I thought my post was at least interesting given my failures to date...

Joe Konrath said...

Should we be concerned about our royalty rates being changed for the worse in the not too distant future?

As long as there is competition, there shouldn't be a concern.

If Amazon suddenly cut their royalty rate, I'd suddenly raise all of my ebook prices. They'd lower the prices to match my Nook prices, but I'd get the royalty based on the higher price.

If they disallowed that, they'd lose my titles, sending more readers to their competitor.

Remember when you used to have either a Wii or a Xbox or a PS3?

Now people have all three. Having a Nook and a Kindle, when they both drop below $100, won't be uncommon.

Joe Konrath said...

Should we be concerned about our royalty rates being changed for the worse in the not too distant future?

As long as there is competition, there shouldn't be a concern.

If Amazon suddenly cut their royalty rate, I'd suddenly raise all of my ebook prices. They'd lower the prices to match my Nook prices, but I'd get the royalty based on the higher price.

If they disallowed that, they'd lose my titles, sending more readers to their competitor.

Remember when you used to have either a Wii or a Xbox or a PS3?

Now people have all three. Having a Nook and a Kindle, when they both drop below $100, won't be uncommon.

Joe Konrath said...

I hope, Joe! but I thought my post was at least interesting given my failures to date...

It's probably best to hold off a few weeks, then let you update it yourself. Then I won't have to argue with your points--your sales will do the arguing.

Joe Flynn said...

I love all the questions raised by Blake, Joe and all the contributors to this thread. But here's a thought I haven't seen on Joe's blog before. What about all the other smart, talented people — other than writers —whose lives are being affected by the e-pub, self-pub revolution? I know of editors, publicists and event a publisher who have been dislodged from their jobs. It occurs to me that forming an indie team with an editor and a publicist who have been tossed into the freelance labor pool could be a good move for a writer. But how would the average indie writer find the people he or she needs? How could fees or profit participation be arrived at? If a site called something like The Literary Talent Exchange doesn't already exist, somebody who has the time to spare and the know-how ought to put one up.

Tara Maya said...

bowerbird:are those the type of people
who you want to come running
to this brand new opportunity?

people who run con games?


Certainly not. But it's because I don't want to be fooled by such people that I really appreciate straight talk on money from Joe, Blake and all the other guests who have shared their personal info and strategies here.

It's not something that comes naturally to me. I need all the help I can get. :)

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Selena Kitt said...

Blake! So awesome to hear the books are doing well and you're considering quitting the day job. That rocks! I just read Serial recently (the free one) - OMG what a wince-riot! :)

I also just recently finished *69. The jaw-dropping ending was mighty satisfying, sir!

"Perfect Little Town" will be next, I think...

As to short stories - I have lots of them out there at $0.99 and they sell pretty well with not a lot of returns.

batesy said...

Nice covers, Blake. Jeroen is a real talent.

Kendall Swan said...

@gniz I'm right there with you.

@Bella Foreign sales for indie-- you rock! I am actually thinking about querying agents for this purpose alone. Don't know if any will bite since I don't want them to sell my stuff locally in the USA but I thought it might be worth a little effort to try.

@Joe Flynn The Literary Talent Exchange- I like it.
I think they are setting up a preferred vendor board at independent-authors.org. Not sure of it's status as of now, though.

re: draculas title
I find that the most fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) thing about 'art'- that it is basically a conversation-- meanings must be shared to be understood. You saw iconic- we saw old.
Bizarre.

Great conversations on this blog--that's for sure.

Kendall

JD Rhoades said...

Well, i;m trying to tweak things myself to find that elusive "X" factor..I put STORM SURGE up last march and the most copies I've ever sold in a month is 11. Which. admittedly, is better than it would have made sitting on the hard drive. Maybe the new cover will make a difference, I dunno...

bowerbird said...

tara said:
> it's because I don't want
> to be fooled by such people
> that I really appreciate
> straight talk on money from
> Joe, Blake and all the others

i appreciate it too. i'm glad that
joe is spreading the good word,
because i want artists to know
about this new opportunity here.
it's unselfish of joe to reveal it...

as i said, on another entry here,
this is a revolution for all artists,
who can learn how we too can
support ourselves in cyberspace.

but just like picnics draw ants,
all this dialog about _money_ is
_bound_ to draw the con men...

so it's nice when someone like
blake talks about how he enjoys
the artistic control he now has,
because that is something that
will resonate with the _artists_,
yet fly right over the con men.

***

gniz said:
> I have a strange sinking
> feeling that if we're
> too slow too mobilize
> and organize and
> protect ourselves,
> the good times
> won't last very long.

a couple notes about that.

first, don't be so pessimistic.

second, of course artists will
be too slow to mobilize to
protect themselves. naturally.

third, if you have _any_
inclination that you could
outwit amazon regardless,
you're only fooling yourself.
it would be like the monkey
outwitting the organ grinder.

fourth, we artists need to
_eliminate_ the middlemen,
not "protect" ourselves
from them. get it straight.
the answer is direct contact.
even if the corporations
continue to remain friendly,
the answer is direct contact.
do you understand that?

***

jtplayer, you just do not
know you're outmatched,
do you? it's kinda sad...

but, just so we're all clear,
every artist reading these
posts knows what i mean.
_you_ might be confused,
but i assure you they aren't.

-bowerbird

Basil Sands said...

All this talk about short stories...or at least the talk that was going on about the fifties in the comments...is driving me more into the idea of pubbing my own shorts.

I have a dozen or so action oriented shorts ranging from military/espionage to crime to adventure. They were pretty well received as a podcast series but I've held off on pubbing in print due to having to make separate covers for each and not sure how well they'd do.

My novels just hit 600 for the month today, but the one short I have out there is only at 15 for the month. I think it's due to the cover (the story is a pretty intense combat scenario from WW1 that was one of my most popular audio-shorts).

My question for Blake and others who've had short story success is, what's the word count you consider publishable for a short at 99 cents? 10k minimum? More? Less?

Lundeen Literary said...

Blake Said:
- Can anyone other than Michael Sullivan do big business at more than $4/ebook?

YES. I have helped one of my clients upload a nonfiction book, available for sale at $9.99 on Kindle. I have not been given permission to release exact numbers, but I uploaded the file for him originally in November. This month, he has sold a good number of copies - not breaking 1000 yet, but getting there.

Let's just say that from ONE ebook, this month he has made THREE TIMES what I pay for rent. I call that big. Not BIG, but still big.

Jenna
@LundeenLiterary
Need a cover or formatting?!?! I do that...

Basil Sands said...

@Joe Flynn

Good idea. I recently became part of a similar kind of group for audiobooks. Rather than everyone getting paid up front the narrator contracts for a price, but gets paid out of sales royalties. Once the narrator is paid their initial fee, they, the producer, the publisher and the author share the remaining royalties indefinitely.

Oh, and yeah...I did say the narrator gets royalties...unheard of in the industry but it works. Check out Crossroads Press (http://store.crossroadpress.com/) for details.

jtplayer said...

"jtplayer, you just do not
know you're outmatched,
do you? it's kinda sad..."


Yep...about what I expected.

Keep reaching for the stars though...you'll get there eventually.

Tara Maya said...

Nathan Lowell,

I enjoy your series, and wonder if we will ever see a post from you here sometime...

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Lundeen Literary said...

@PJ Lincoln -

I do covers starting at $150 - most end up around $200-250. Book design for p-books varies, but ebook interior design usually is from $100-$300. Just FYI. you can contact me at lundeenliterary@gmail.com if you have questions. We may be able to work something out that will appease the wife. ;)



Blake said:
"If there's any truth to the B&N bestseller list thing, it's only more proof that an organization needs to be formed ASAP where indie writers can use their numbers to protect themselves against this kind of stuff."

This will be the one, very likely…
http://www.independent-authors.org/

@Kendall - I am SERIOUS that we should start the "Joes". I wasn't kidding. We should do it. All of us. We have the POWER IN NUMBERS. Should we start a blog/forum to brainstorm this? Entry requirements? Scoring system? Because I think we should do it. Not. Kidding.

Jon F. Merz said...

@Basil Sands I have a bunch of short stories up and they tend to range from 2500 words to about 5-6,000. Anything longer and I call it a novella. I sell a lot more short stories than I do of my collection of shorts, though interestingly enough. But I'm glad to be able to offer a range of things for readers.

no-bull-steve said...

"Based upon my experience, books in the top 5000 are selling about 7/day."

It might be because of the post-Christmas bonanza or maybe I didn't have a run that lasted long enough but Thurs, Fri, Sat, I averaged 10 sales a day and never broke 6,000. Just offering my experience.

As for what is outselling what any given day or month....that's wayyyy too minute of a sample to look at. Look at it over a sales quarter...or a year. Then the numbers should make more sense. Book buyers have "moods" apparently.

"if you go to Kindleboards.com, you can read about many writers who are finding agents and getting publisher interest BECAUSE they self-published."

Nine months ago on this blog I shared how my agent told me to self-publish and it was met with disbelief (and on another blog with contempt and accusations toward my agent). Turns out she was smarter and more visionary than most.

I was approached by a Chinese publisher because I self published. No follow up yet on that. I wonder how they're going to feel about my Communist Terrorist groups.....

jeroen ten berge said...

@ basil sands

The royalties set up you describe is one that I really like and relate too, and it can work wonderfully for all parties involved.

Blake and I have worked together for several years now. Designing his website three years ago proved to be the start of a very exciting, fun, and interesting collaboration. I offer my services to him for a percentage of the royalties he receives on the ebooks that I have designed the covers for. Counting all the covers including the upgrades and variants that have been used (some were on amazon only for a few weeks) your talking upwards of 40 covers.

How we work? Blake sends me a manuscript, I read it, we briefly bounce ideas, I create a cover, he loves it, or not (in which case I come up with a different idea, until he is happy), and he uploads it. The fastest between receiving a manuscript (of a short story), and Blake' uploading it with a 'kick-ass cover (his words) was less than 48 hours.

The only time we talk money is when he receives a statement from amazon, and I get my share. The first payment I received (I had done more than 8 covers by then) was enough to buy my kids, wife and myself a decent dinner in town. The following payment was more substantial. I'm looking forward to the next one.

If Blake had to ask the cost for each tweak, and if I had to quote each time he asked, our collaboration wouldn't have worked, or not as well.

The key thing is that Blake and I have built a relationship based on respect, trust and loyalty. He can throw anything at me, and I give him my opinion, or offer a design (even sometimes when uncalled for). In return he offers his opinion on cover design proposals for other authors and has become a fantastic ambassador for my work, for which I am forever grateful. I now consider Blake a dear friend (a term I don't use liberally - at all).

Funny thing is - I've never met the guy.

wannabuy said...

"This utopian dream."

Blake, it amazing how you've kept your 'chin up' despite all the trials and publisher mistakes.

@Joe:"On a side note, congrats to Amanda Hocking, who has sold half a million ebooks."

In a word, WOW!

@Hope:"The majority of ebooks published by traditional publishers sell fewer copies than self-pubbed ebooks, as evidenced by authors who have both."
I speculate this is due to the publishers making the authors do the marketing; why do they not spend more on promoting midlist? This so called 'platform' is going to be far more effective at a slightly lower price and with the author the primary beneficiary.

As to Amazon playing unfair, McMillian's CEO claims they are down to 60% e-book market share. If Amazon does anything wrong, they will have their market share crushed.

Buried in this link:
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2011/01/digital-book-world-sro-for-ceos.html

I speculate most new ereaders in 2011 will be on tablets. So in many ways, Amazon's lead will be less secure.

Neil

shana said...

Joe, I love how this blog attracts so much thoughtful conversation.

Blake, congratulations on your success.
From what I read, you deserve every bit of it.

About "Draculas", all the talk made me go check it out.
I have to agree with others that the cover definitely isn't the greatest.
But the description sounded fantastic and I had to buy a copy.
Can't wait to read it!

Shana Hammaker
CHARLIE, Book One of the short thriller series
Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011

Lundeen Literary said...

Blake said:

"books in the top 5000 are selling about 7/day"

Well, just last week, Michael Wallace had no sales. He came and posted here, got a new cover from me, and is listening to our advice. Today, he's at #601 in the Paid Kindle rankings... Maybe someone should ask Michael about his numbers to see if he'll share. ;)

BTW, a HUGE congrats to Michael on this. Well done!

Tara Maya said...

Wow, he's at #585 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#22 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure
#23 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Action & Adventure

That is impressive, especially considering that he had no sales before!

Sales are so strange. Right now, mine are really volitile. It seems like if I am online, I'll see a bump a day or so later, but if I let things cool, even for a day or two, sales drop off the map again.

I feel like I have constantly blow on the flame to keep it from going out.

I hope there is a point where I just have to add more wood every once and a while, and let it burn on its own.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Selena Kitt said...

Payment for work like editing and cover art based on percentage of sales can work, if you have an established, trusting relationship. And it can be lucrative - or not - for the editor or cover artist. If the book only sells a couple copies a month... ouch. If the book ends up earning the author $10,000 a month, well... cha-ching. :) But it's a gamble, either way. And for the author, you have to remember your work will then be tied to someone else for its entire life. For someone who is self-publishing because they like the control aspect of things, that's a little off-putting.

Personally, I hesitate to pay a royalty percentage. I'd rather pay a set amount up front for an edit or cover art based on what the artist or editor believes their time and effort is worth. Just my preference.

jeroen ten berge said...

@ Selena

I agree - working on a royalty basis is indeed a gamble, but that is I think part of what attracts me to it. As a designer I become more involved, more pro-active - it tickles my entrepreneurial bone. And it is not necessarily 'for life'. You can cap it to a $ number, or limit it to a certain date.

That said, it doesn't mean it is the only way I offer my services, or the only way my design juices start flowing. I will be as motivated and inspired when working for a straight design and edit fee, and do so quite often.

In fact, money isn't a prime motivator at all when I comes to designing book covers. Aside from book cover design I design brands, and logos and other stuff. But book design combines my passion for design with the pleasure of reading and my somewhat mild case of book collecting addiction.

Michael said...

This is Michael, and I first noticed my sales hitting the top 100 for action/adventure (they're really suspense/thrillers) on Saturday. I wondered what the hell this blip was and how soon would I drop to oblivion. I climbed to the low 20s by yesterday and have been in the 20-30 range since then. My book has sold 89 copies since last night at 10:00 (it is currently 9:54), so roughly 24 hours. It had two sales in the first week and then something happened over the last three days. My total sales (including those two) are 339 for The Devil's Deep.

My other book has sold five copies in the same time, but I have not yet given away free copies and it has a crappy makeshift cover still.

You will notice that my book has excellent reviews so far and I will say that these books have all been worked and reworked and I had an agent who couldn't sell them, or, in the case of The Devil's Deep, refused to go out on submission because nobody would ready a thriller about a guy who couldn't communicate with the outside world.

My next release is scheduled for Friday, when Jenna will have another excellent cover ready for me. This is the first half of a failed two book auction where everybody said they loved it but were waiting for someone else to make the first offer. We'll see how it does, but these two books are even better books than The Devil's Deep. If there's anything to this e-pub business, I think they will do well.

I'm still cautiously optimistic and prepared to see my sales sink to 1-2 a day when Amazon changes its algorithm. Until then, I'm loving it.

Michael said...

Oh, and here is my book, The Devil's Deep. Note the excellent new cover Jenna at Lundeen Literary provided for me.

I'm currently #22 in my category (that's about to change, though), right below Joe's book, Origin.

The Devil's Deep

Kendall Swan said...

@Michael Congrats! That's awesome.

@Jenna Okay, I'm sold. I would like a cover done.

@ Jenna + Everyone :
Just created a blog to talk/plan for 'The Joes'- awards for self pubbers.

Check it out:
SelfPubAwards.Blogspot.com

Kendall

wannabuy said...

@Sam " I just looked through all of B&N.com's top 100 Nook books. Not a single indie."

Wow... Something isn't adding up then. So I did a quick paring.

#1 on B&N is #9 on Amazon
#2 on B&N is #6 on Amazon
#3 on B&N is #8 on Amazon
#4 on B&N is #7 on Amazon

Ok, ignoring Michael Bennett is more popular on B&N than the powerhouse that is Steig Larson, it indicates something is different on B&N.

The #1 thing I saw, randomly clicking on a Steig Larson novel, is that B&N recommends fewer books and zero were Indie author. Amazon had Amanda and what I think is another Indie author on page #1 of the 'customers who bought this item also bought' and dozens of additional links if you kept clicking the arrows.

I'm not happy with Amazon banning books, but otherwise they do seem far friendlier to the 'little guy.'

I wonder how much this has to do with Amazon's early head start? Supposedly the early Kindle buyers were mostly 'intense readers' who craved more variety.

It also means we need to weigh the AAP 14 biasing more towards B&N than Amazon... Hmmm... Fun with stats ahead...

Neil

Blake Crouch said...

Thanks all for the good wishes.

@Selena - Thanks! So glad you dug *69....Perfect Little Town is a dark one, so be warned.

Re: the royalty situation with my cover artist....here's why Jeroen and I have that arrangement. One of my goals out of the gate was to put a bunch of stuff up on Amazon and other platforms in the first year. The start-up cost for that would have been tremendous if I had paid Jeroen up front (considering he's done 18+ covers in the first 11 months). At $300-$500/cover, do the math. Another thing I wanted was the flexibility to have Jeroen do redesigns/tweaks on the fly. Making him a royalty participant out of the gate made sense for both us and has turned out well. It's worth it to me to ultimately pay more for per cover (by the time the cap is reached) and have no upstart cost and the ability to have ongoing redesigns.

Anonymous said...

Earlier today I noticed that the author was gifting copies of Devil's Deep (a post on the Kindle Forums).

Could that be the reason for bump in ranking? How many free copies were gifted?

Another author was doing the same thing today (a book called Vegas, Baby), that is gifting a free copy to anyone who responded on the Kindle Forum. I watched her rank go from 40,000 to 1,000. So, I guess it works.
While this scheme costs the author, could it also be a good way to "prime the pump"? Will the sales be sustained?

Kendall Swan said...

How do u 'gift a copy' on amazon?

Anonymous said...

@Michael

"I'm still cautiously optimistic and prepared to see my sales sink to 1-2 a day when Amazon changes its algorithm. Until then, I'm loving it."

Do you mean when Amazon removes author-gifted copies from the sales numbers used for ranking?

Joe Konrath said...

Do you mean when Amazon removes author-gifted copies from the sales numbers used for ranking?

I haven't tried gifting yet, but I've certainly considered it for promotional reasons. The problem is that a gift doesn't count unless the gift is accepted. I've had several people send me ebook gifts, but I never clicked on them. I have to assume that happens often with an unsolicited ebook, even a free one.

If an author had a mailing list and did it for fans, it might make a temporary spike in rank. But ranking is much more than a flurry of sales over a few hours. I highly doubt any author if gifting thousands of ebooks, and having all of those gifts accepted. Too expensive, too difficult, to unpredictable.

But I may try it for a release someday. I have a mailing list of fans who might dig it.

Tara Maya said...

When I was asking for reviews, I noticed that a lot of reviewers have a policy of print books only. Apparently, this is normal for big pubs, but it would bankrupt me pretty quickly....even if I get my own books at wholesale price, there's shipping. At $7-$10 a book, publishers must be investing a lot just in review copies.

I remember reading about one (fairly small) publisher who bought something like 7000 books (trade paperback) for the bookstore employees of critical bookstores in New York, knowing that if those booksellser liked the book, they would hand sell dozens more each. It worked. The book made it to the bestseller list and was also nominated for a prize.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

TWH Valentine said...

A tip for those who need decent covers made on the cheap, you might want to check out artists on deviantArt (http://deviantart.com). A lot of young college artists and grads are there, with extremely high-quality galleries, and will probably do covers for you for $100 or less. deviantArt also has an extensive library of stock art you can use to create your own covers, if you are a little familiar with Photoshop.

I just released two Kindle e-books today: Storms and Sonata, under this pen name. I'm always surprised by the bitter stories I hear from other traditionally published authors, because my personal experience with the Big 6 has been really good. Sad to hear that my experience isn't universal.

Keep up the fascinating blog, Joe!

(My book covers are now up! http://twhvalentine.blogspot.com )

Lundeen Literary said...

@Kendall

Muahahahahhaaa!!! At last, I have you in my web… ;)
Drop me a line lundeenliterary@gmail.com

And you read my mind - Yay for a blog to discuss the awards! You rock! Let's do this!

@Anonymous

Gifting a few copies for review is not different from sending ARCs or galleys out to garner reviews and attention. Michael is using the most efficient method of getting it to people - .azw files can be a pain to make, chasing everyone's free kindle email address is annoying, and emailing possibly virus-laden files is uncomfortable. The most effective way to make certain that the galley is read is to send it via Kindle. Much less hassle that way. I know because I've spent HOURS hand-emailing PDF files for an author, and answering the dumbest emails about how to open the file. People do not follow basic instructions. It's worse than herding cats. He's being smart, and making his marketing count. Michael's a smart guy. I'd say he's another one we should keep an eye on, and do as he does - seems to be working, whatever it is!

Mikaela said...

Thank you for an intresting post!

I have never planned to go the NY route, since I write novellas. No, my plan was to go e-publishing. But now I am considering trying self-publishing on the Kindle. Haven't totally made up my mind.
But, as several writers have pointed out, there is nothing that stops me from doing both!

TheSFReader said...

@Michael regarding "The Devil's Deep", I just had a look at the book with the link you gave, but have to tell the "Description" is uninspiring at best.
While the fist and last paragraph are quite good, the "articulations" for the two in between seem artificial and not on par with the rest.
I think you should rework it a bit.

Ana said...

HI Joe,
I´m from Spain. I need help to format my manuscrit to kindle. And Rob is missing? Do you meet someone else who offers this service?
Kindest regards. Your blog is amazing. I am very excited with my next book in Kindle.
Thanks

Sam said...

Ana, for formatting check out Lundeen Literary (above in these comments) -- lundeenliterary@gmail.com

Ana said...

@Sam Thanks. I send him a e-mail.

wannabuy said...

Apple is tightening down on their app store. Sony's ereader was rejected and a bunch of analysts point to Amazon's ereader app being next.

The best article I found is in the WSJ, but for those who do not subscribe, here is the 2nd best link I found:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/technology/01apple.html?src=me&ref=technology

My wife has an IPad. Unless Amazon whipes out a good web ereader that works on Safari, this kills my interest in an IPad2.

Question for authors: How hard is it to put a 'book app' into the I bookstore? How are Ibook sales doing anyway? (Any authors willing to share sales data or a link to sales data?)

Neil

Anonymous said...

"Gifting a few copies for review is not different from sending ARCs or galleys out to garner reviews and attention."

It's not the same as offering a gift copy to anyone who sends their email address (public post on a forum).

I was just pointing out that this gifting program should be taken into account when looking at Michael's book ranking. It's not apples to apples when the author is giving away 50 books in a day.

While it's true that some people might not accept the book, my sense is that most do because they had to actually request it from him (respond to his post) -- and give him their email into -- to get it.

Just trying to keep things honest here . . . if it works as a marketing tool that's great, because I'll use it too. I'd like Michael to disclose how many free copies he gave away to achieve the ranking yesterday, along with a follow up over the next several days to show sustainability of the ranking/sales (or not). It's a great experiment, and sharing that info would be useful for all of us.

It's disingenuous to portray a ranking as organic sales growth when it is clearly NOT.

Michael said...

I'd like Michael to disclose how many free copies he gave away to achieve the ranking yesterday, along with a follow up over the next several days to show sustainability of the ranking/sales (or not). It's a great experiment, and sharing that info would be useful for all of us.

I'm not trying to portray it as anything, as I have no idea what it means. And I've also slipped to the 40s in my category today. But I'll be happy to answer the question as this group has given me a lot of help.

I didn't give away a single copy Sunday night into Monday, so most of those 89 sales were not gifts. I believe about 5-10 were late-claimed gifts from Saturday, however. There were also 10-15 different purchases by friends and family, who I finally told about the book. Let's say ~70 copies of the 89 were legitimate sales.

I gave away about 150 copies on Friday and Saturday, and that definitely juiced the numbers. I'm also unclear what the lag time is on the rankings. I think it might be a 24 hour rolling clock, based on how one hour's sales don't send the ranking up or down much.

There's no question that my numbers are down for the day. I'm hoping to move 30-40 copies, but if I slip off the top 100 rankings for the category, it might not happen.

There's no question that there's a risk and a cost if you want to go at this in a serious way. If I get five books up, plus free copies, it will cost maybe a couple grand for the initial push. If you don't have a book that you're confident is high enough quality, it might not make sense.

In my case, I've been doing this for twenty years, have sold to The Atlantic and other prestigious short story markets and had my books almost make it several times, so I know I've got some ability. As I am financially comfortable and can afford the money, it's worth it to me to take the chance. The bigger risk to me is self-publishing books that are still good enough to go with a mainstream publisher some day. Once they go out as e-books, I believe that door is closed forever.

Anonymous said...

Michael,

Thanks for explaining how you achieved the numbers over the weekend (150 free copies gifted). I'll be curious to see if the numbers are sustained.

I think it's important to be transparent here, because other authors are looking to achieve similar results. They may have the expectation that you did it without a marketing investment in gifted copies. You should have disclosed this fact (free copies boosting your "sales") vs. being backed into it by an observer.

The gifted copies are tantamount to "free", and overtly free books are not ranked with paid Kindle books -- they have a separate bestseller list. By engaging in a generous gifting program you circumvent the free program (and ranking on separate list) and give the appearance of achieving a high ranking on a paid purchase basis.

This is clever, but I wonder how long Amazon will allow the gifted from the author purchases to be included in ranking calculations?

Michael said...

You should have disclosed this fact (free copies boosting your "sales") vs. being backed into it by an observer.

First, I only came to this thread because someone told me that people were already talking about my book. Second, don't you think it's a bit harsh to criticize me when I just posted my exact numbers and how I got them on a public blog?

You should have disclosed this fact (free copies boosting your "sales") vs. being backed into it by an observer.

First, I only came to this thread because someone told me that people were already talking about my book. Second, don't you think it's a bit harsh to criticize me when I just posted my exact numbers and how I got them on a public blog?

The gifted copies are tantamount to "free", and overtly free books are not ranked with paid Kindle books -- they have a separate bestseller list. By engaging in a generous gifting program you circumvent the free program (and ranking on separate list) and give the appearance of achieving a high ranking on a paid purchase basis.

I'm a total noob to this, and didn't try to circumvent anything. I wasn't even aware of a category list until someone emailed to tell me that my name was on it.

This is clever, but I wonder how long Amazon will allow the gifted from the author purchases to be included in ranking calculations?

The system will always be juiced. What do you think the publishing world is doing at any and all times? Do you think all those glowing quotes from big name authors mean they actually loved the books, that they even read them in many cases?

Besides, it's not going to do any good in the long run to get on that list. I suppose you could give away 150 books a day indefinitely, but at some point you have to actually start selling copies based on the quality of the work. If your reviews aren't high quality and the free sample chapter doesn't entice, your book will sink like a stone. The only thing I was trying to do was get some reviews earlier than they would otherwise come and this actually seemed more ethical than convincing all of my family and friends to write bogus reviews.

But I invite you to go get the free sample chapter from my book and see if it's just about giving away free copies. I will also post my sure-to-be diminishing sales numbers so you can see what has happened over time.

The Devil's Deep

Stephen T. Harper said...

Congrats on your weekend, Michael. That's a very interesting strategy. I noticed your book is 2.99. Did you temporarily lower the price to 99 cents before purchasing all those copies? And when you do send it as a gift, you still get the royalties for each sale, right? So that would make it fairly cheap to do. Smart.

Also, about worrying what self-pubbing does to your rep with traditional publishing - If you sell books, it will have the opposite effect. Sell a LOT of books and they will come to you.

Best of luck with it. Steve

Oh, BTW - I have a new blog post up, apropos of nothing but still endlessly fascinating.

­ SHarperBlog

Stephen T. Harper said...

Dammit. Link doesn't work. Here it is hard way. Sorry.

www.stephentharper.blogspot.com

wannabuy said...

I'm amused an anonymous is questioning openiness.

So anon, why do you care?

@Michael:"The system will always be juiced. What do you think the publishing world is doing at any and all times? Do you think all those glowing quotes from big name authors mean they actually loved the books, that they even read them in many cases?
"


First, thank you for clarifying on your sales. You owed no one anything, but we appreciate the numbers. Second, I wonder why the anon doesn't have an issue with the BS that is the current best seller list. At least Amazons is truly calculated.

As long as Amazon makes their buck, they'll allow anything to happen. Will they stop one of the big6 from gifting a few thousand copies? I doubt it. Instant #1 best seller!

Even at $0.99 for each book, Amazon makes a profit...

I have more of a problem in how B&N's numbers are being skewed toward the AAP14. :( Oh, all they are doing is providing less conienient links to Small pub/Indie author books (as far as I can tell), but isn't it suspicious that there are zero Indie authors in the B&N top 100?

Amanda Hocking sells well on Nook. Very well. Something isn't right if she isn't in the top 100.

Neil

jtplayer said...

"Apple is tightening down on their app store. Sony's ereader was rejected and a bunch of analysts point to Amazon's ereader app being next"

Thanks for the link Neil. I saw this earlier today on another site, and it reminded me once again how relatively new all of this is and how the business end is in a constant state of flux.

One thing seems certain, changes are coming, and it won't take many to realign the paradigm in ways that do not favor the independent author.

This may be the new "Gold Rush", but it's still big business with big corporate players. In the end the little guy really doesn't stand a chance.

Michael said...


One thing seems certain, changes are coming, and it won't take many to realign the paradigm in ways that do not favor the independent author.

This may be the new "Gold Rush", but it's still big business with big corporate players. In the end the little guy really doesn't stand a chance.


That's my worry. Entrenched interests have a lot to fight for. Look at real estate as a guide. Is there any reason at all why Realtors need to take a 6% tax on transactions in this day and age? What is stopping people from universally flocking to a Zillow-like platform to buy and sell their house for a flat fee of a couple hundred bucks, plus attorney fees for the closing? Yet somehow, Realtors still maintain a near-monopoly on the buying and selling of houses.

At some point, I would not be surprised to see the two or three big players collude to tighten the screws and demand 90%.

Even in the meanwhile, you're always at risk of having some Amazon employee think your book is too risque, or not politically correct, or maybe he just didn't like you in high school. There goes your book, either taken off the list or pushed into some back cyber corner.

All of this is to say that I'm cautiously optimistic, but I wouldn't count on it lasting forever.

jtplayer said...

"All of this is to say that I'm cautiously optimistic, but I wouldn't count on it lasting forever"

I wouldn't either.

Because after all, once the greedsters take over, all bets will be off.

But never fear, as the hipsters will always be there to light the way.

And say I told you so.

bowerbird said...

"anonymous" said:
> I think it's important
> to be transparent here

that's very ironic, i would say,
coming from an "anonymous".

whistle-blowing is fine, but
don't mix up your rationale...

-bowerbird

Anonymous said...

I'm amused an anonymous is questioning openiness.

So anon, why do you care?


@wannabuy

I think it's important to be transparent about how sales are achieved. Many new and aspiring authors read this blog for inspiration and marketing ideas. They also form expectations about potential sales of their own work.

I care because I think it's important for independent authors to maintain a standard of integrity. If we are going to criticize the traditional publishers for "juicing" the system, then we must be honest when we also play that game. Otherwise we come off as hypocritical.

Joe has set a high bar for open and honest communication regarding sales and marketing. I think we honor him by doing the same when we come here.

No doubt Michael has a quality product (I haven't read it yet, but plan to sample) as he is an experienced writer. Thanks Michael, and I look forward to hearing more about your marketing strategies (gifting or otherwise).

Anonymous said...

Here's how you do a cover: (1) buy a royalty free image at www.istockphoto.com; (2)crop, modify, illuminate to your liking using any photo-type software, save as a JPEG; (3) open a publisher document (or eqiuvalent), eg. a page 5 x 8; (4) insert your image; (5) overlay your text using text boxes; (6) save as a JPEG or PDF; (7) upload your JPEG or PDF to Amazon kindle.

You're welcome

Joe Konrath said...

You're welcome

You're nuts.

A good cover is a lot more than a stock photo with some font slapped on it. Some of my covers have as many as thirty different layers.

It's both an art and a skill to make a good cover. It also requires time and effort.

My advice: hire a pro.

Tara Maya said...

No offense to those who have done covers exactly as Anon suggested, but those are the covers that usally repel me. It does no good to have a gorgeous stock photo if you just slap your title on in an amateur font. Sorry, I'm not trying to be mean, I just cringe a little when I see a bad cover and it definitely makes me think twice before buying a book.

The Draculus cover may not have been the most catchy of all Joe's covers (well, YOU try to fit 4 author names on a cover--it's not easy) but at least it looked professional.

Michael and Lundeen, may I ask why the new book cover is still a non-standard size? It does look a lot better than before, but to me it still doesn't look like a "book" because the dimensions are wrong. Maybe this is archaic for ebooks, but I like to know from the picture I'm getting a book, not a CD or a calendar, so bookish dimensions help.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Tuppshar Press said...

Here I must agree with Joe. A good cover, like a good book, is a piece of art. And the first rule of art is that you never be completely satisfied with it. Every new cover we do is an effort to improve on the ones before.

Here are a few examples...

Tara Maya said...

Joe mentioned layers. The cover for my book The Unfinished Song: Initiate had about forty layer. I used two different programs: Poser (for the faery) and Photoshop for the rest. I paid the model for her stock. (She's Jessical Talbot of faestock on Deviant Art.) All told it probably took me 72 hours over three weeks.

Also... I decided on it after going through 3 or 4 other designs only got as far as the proof of concept stage.

The artwork on Conmergence took less time and had less layers, but still more than a dozen. For Tomorrow We Dance, I bought rights to an artist's work (from Deviant Art) and just put on a title. But I still used a professional program to put the title in, with drop shadows, etc.

Tara Maya
Tomorrow We Dance,

Devon said...

Tuppshar Press...

Those covers are some of the worst I've ever seen. I mean BAD! Laughably bad. As in, this has to be a joke, bad. You know, hide your face in shame, bad.

Doesn't give me hope for the books.

Anonymous said...

Take "LOCKED DOORS" in the body of your post. This cover is exactly as I described, namely a stock photo (that may have been photoshopped)with text overlaid in text boxes (the boxes themslves are invisible in the final layout). The only addition is that some of the text was then cut out using circles or the shape of a gun, which is very easy to do.

If I already had the photo picked out, I could make this cover in less than 20 minutes. Picking out the photo(s) is what usually takes the time.

Photoshopping can also include merging photos, or overlaying one on top of another, which is very easily done. That then becomes your background photo.

True, it's an artform and probably not for everyone, but the steps themselves are very easy.

Basil Sands said...

You're nuts.
...
My advice: hire a pro.


As one who did his own covers and realised quickly that while I am not totally colour blind, "Colour Deficient" is still a seriously debilitating disease when it comes to book covers I will second Joe and others on this.

Hire a pro.

The initial covers for 65 Below and Faithful Warrior sucked...with a big "SU" followed by a massive "CKED"...

A wonderful listener to my podcast, Jerry Scullion at Sculliondesign.com felt sorry for me and made a couple of nice professional covers...downloads increased 100 fold instantly.

So as Joe said...HIRE A PRO! or (my words, not his) look like a dork.

Tara Maya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tara Maya said...

Anon, "but the steps themselves are very easy."

The steps to writing and publishing a novel are pretty easy too. You just type a bunch of words into your computer, format into chapters and upload it to Amazon.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Tara Maya said...

Anon,

Why don't you show us some cover art you've done and let us judge for ourselves whether you are so skilled at the art you underestimate how hard it really is, or whether you're just suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Anonymous said...

"Why don't you show us some cover art you've done and let us judge for ourselves whether you are so skilled at the art you underestimate how hard it really is, or whether you're just suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect."

I was just trying to be helpful, not start a fight. Joes says "hire an expert," he's the guy who's also making $42K a month and has the money.

I was trying to educate those who might have less resouces. The fact remains that the process is very simple and relatively cheap. Very nice photos can be purchased at istockphoto.com for $20 or $30.They can be combined, merged, cropped and manipulated in photoshop or equivalent very easily. Anyone with 2 hours to spend can learn how to do it. The final product then becomes you background photo.

"Text boxes" are invisible layouts to insert the font in. The font itself can be centered, shaded, and maniplated to your heart's content. The "boxes" do not show up in the final cover, only the font does.

My point is that it really isn't voodoo, magic or even very hard. If you can learn how to use word, you can learn everything I'm talking about.

As for my own work, I remain anon because there are too many haters and trolls in the world.

My covers, however, are on many books that are in bookstores, libraries, and all over the net.

Basil Sands said...

Anon 1:45 has a good point. With the right skill level and artistic eye it is technically not difficult.

Its just the genetic part that folks like me lack.

Tara Maya said...

My covers, however, are on many books that are in bookstores, libraries, and all over the net.

If this is true, then you probably have years of experience as well as a well-trained or innate sense of design.

I appreciate your desire to share how to do it, but those steps are not likely to result in a professional cover for the average person. A poor cover will very likely translate to poor sales.

A lot of authors *do* have art skills as well. If you can design a webpage, you can probably do cover art. But not everyone can, as the numerous excrusiating covers that consist of a stock photo and slapdash text, attest.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Lundeen Literary said...

@Tara Maya said...

"Michael and Lundeen, may I ask why the new book cover is still a non-standard size? It does look a lot better than before, but to me it still doesn't look like a "book" because the dimensions are wrong. Maybe this is archaic for ebooks, but I like to know from the picture I'm getting a book, not a CD or a calendar, so bookish dimensions help."

Michael's original cover was non-standard, and it gave me a wonderful idea. In the Amazon listings, his book stood out, not due to an incompletely finished cover, but because the aspect ratio made it jump out in a list of other book images. I changed the aspect ratio, but ran with the original idea.

We no longer need to conform to the idea of what a book cover should look like, at least in the digital realm. Fantasy covers for years had massive, landscape-oriented wraparound art - and for ebooks, the entire image can be visible if you want it to be.

Essentially, what you're seeing is a chance to experiment. Fixing the aspect ratio of Michael's cover is a cinch. All I have to do is email him the file, and he uploads it. Done. You know how Joe is always saying to experiment with cover, etc.? Yeah, here is an experiment. ;) If it doesn't work, we try the book-sized aspect ratio. or the color version. or a new picture. They're made already...

The aspect ratio is very similar between books, dvd covers, blu-ray covers, VHS covers, and yet you do not confuse a book for a DVD when you shop on Amazon. Heck, even the cover of the new version of Eat, Pray, Love *is* the movie poster for it. Yet you do not accidentally purchase one for the other.

Tara Maya said...

Yet you do not accidentally purchase one for the other.

You might be overestimating my intelligence. ;)

It will be an interesting experiment.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Anonymous said...

No offense to those who have done covers exactly as Anon suggested, but those are the covers that usally repel me. It does no good to have a gorgeous stock photo if you just slap your title on in an amateur font. Sorry, I'm not trying to be mean, I just cringe a little when I see a bad cover and it definitely makes me think twice before buying a book.

And yet, Karen McQuestion has done quite well using iStock photos as well as pics she's taken herself.

A.A.

wannabuy said...

On Apple and the changing rules:

Forester has weighed in with their opinion:

"Even notoriously closed players like Apple can be surprisingly open. To create demand for the iPad, Apple had to act in a way very contrary to how people typically think of the company: It had to allow competitors access to Apple's customers. Kindle, Netflix, Pandora, and Spotify are the most obvious examples of brands/companies that Apple had every right to deny entry to the iPad because they conflict with the iTunes store. But Apple could not do so: To deny those companies would be to deny Apple's customers experiences that they clearly value."


and
"Alternatively, Amazon can develop an HTML 5 web experience that allows you to read Kindle books in the Web browser on the Apple device. A substandard experience, to be certain, but better than cutting customers off at the knees, from Amazon's perspective. And better than giving Apple an extra revenue stream."

http://blogs.forrester.com/james_mcquivey/11-02-01-apple_clamps_down_on_paid_content_delivered_to_iphones_and_ipads

No wonder Amazon has been working hard on a Kindle web browser...

The consequences for Apple will be staggering. Read the link... I agree, this is AOL circa 1995 and is 'an ecosytem killer' for Apple (if it goes through). Do Kindle books matter? No. But add Netflix, Hulu, and a few others...

No wonder Amazon seems to be gearing towards Kindle.

Neil

Anonymous said...

I would add that NY publishers almost universally create their covers with "royalty free" and/or "rights managed" images purchased from either istockphoto or Getty Images. This is usually disclosed on the title page of the book and/or the back inside flap.

Watcher said...

Blake-
You asked Nathan for examples of an author doing big business at more than $4/ebook. I think he was referring to himself. Nathan has a rather large and rapidly growing fanbase that beats his door down for more books, and who nearly ripped his head off when he killed off a major character in his last book. I don't know his exact numbers, but suspect he is doing rather well.

Lundeen Literary said...

@Tara Maya said...

You might be overestimating my intelligence. ;)

ROFL!! I doubt it, somehow... you seem to be a smart cookie...

Jenna
@LundeenLiterary

Kendall Swan said...

According to Pub Mktplce, Sony was denied bc their app tried to get customers to purchase from within the app-- something the other ebook apps don't attempt. The kindle app takes u outside of it to the safari web page to buy, as do the other ereader apps. Not sure why Sony thought they could do it.

Kendall

jeroen ten berge said...

Interesting discussion about cover designs. Of course I second what Joe says - hire a pro.

It is correct that today anyone can 'design' a cover. There is a raft of typefaces, clip art, and photos available on the web, much of it for free. Software has made it easy to slap some text on a free stock image and there you go - another cover done, and fuck me - it took less than an hour.

To those who think it is that easy - I wish them good luck.

Designing a cover goes far beyond throwing the required ingredients into a mix. First you need to read (part of) the story to get a feel for its tone, and what the story is about. Then you have to consider genre and its conventions. You want to create a cover that alludes to the correct genre, without it being (too) cliche. Another consideration is the author. Who is he or she? What is the author's back story, has he or she already published and to what extent does that influence the design? Is the author known for one genre only, or prolific and adventurous and writing children's books one day and horror the next? Is there one title, or will the cover be part of a series? Will the series be branded, or is the focus on the author and will he or she become the brand? Is the author's name more important, or should the focus be on the title? And so on.

Only when all the above is clear you can start creating. I start sketching first - NEVER EVER start a design straight away on a computer. A computer is nothing but a tool - creation starts with your imagination. The most direct way to channel that imagination is by using a pencil and a piece of paper. I write down associations, words, make doodles, quick sketches that visualise a raw idea. I choose what I like best, narrow it down, and only then turn to the computer. I look at typefaces, and images. Which typeface suits the cover best? Should I use one or possibly two typefaces. Which ones work best together, and why? Does it work with the photo or illustration I have in mind? Can I find the photo online, or should I take a photo myself, or illustrate myself? Or both?

I have invested in soft- and hardware and continue to do so. There are about 9000 or so typefaces I can choose from, very very few of them were free. One font library I purchased cost over US$ 5000. I bought a single typeface last month, because I thought it suited a cover design best, for US$ 90. In the end I didn't use it.

If I can't find what I have in mind I create it myself. Starting from scratch with my camera or pencil, and then work my way towards what I envision. I totally relate to the 30 layers in photoshop Joe mentioned. For some covers I have more than 10 documents, each one an evolution or variant of the previous.

Designing a great cover is a bit like writing a great story. It takes time, it takes tweaking and reworking, it takes rejection and starting over again, it takes more time, and hopefully you get better and better along the way. Slowly you gain experience, find your voice, and become confident in your skills and the product you create.

But aside from all the above - the key ingredient to be able to design a great cover (or write a great novel) is talent.

Thankfully that is something unique to individuals, and not downloadable for fuck all from the web.

Tara Maya said...

jeroen ten berge,

Thank you.

Now I know why your covers rock.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate

Anonymous said...

You've all convinced me that you are not in fact capable of doing in. So, I'll join with joe and say, just break out your wallet and Hire a pro, forget everything I said. It's easier that way, anyway.

evilphilip said...

"The consequences for Apple will be staggering. Read the link..."

I think it is WAY premature to conclude that because Apple denied Sony's App -- an app with its own store built into it -- that they are suddenly going to turn on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or any of dozens of other ebook readers that they have approved.

That is unfounded speculation from the techie community and nothing more.

evilphilip said...

For anyone who doesn't have the money to 'Hire a Pro', I've had fantastic results by playing around with an older paint program like Paint Shop Pro.

Learning to do things like layers and custom fonts isn't nearly as difficult as writing the novel was in the first place.

You can do a decent cover yourself without slapping some text up on a stock image -- However it would be important to note that Amanada Hocking's covers are obviously nothing more than the title slapped up onto a stock image.

Basil Sands said...

For my covers I do clay tablets with a Sumerian Cuneiform stylus. Then I just photocopy it, add some color and run a "texturizing" filter in GIMP for the ebooks...works great.

And my pet lobster Enrique likes it too.

did I mention Enrique sings in Portugese.....but only my goldfish can hear him....he translates for me

msthriller said...

@Blake - I just bought Perfect Little Town after reading this. Sounds like the type of thrillers I like to read.

BTW, Jeroen rocks on book covers. He has been easy to work with, quick turnaround, and my readers like his work. I would refer any author to him. :)

Mike Fook said...

I didn't read the 187 previous comments on this post - so maybe someone has mentioned what I'm going to say...

Joe says he believes the quality of the writing is what is selling more of one book, than another.

There are other variables at play. The affiliates that earn commission on selling your Amazon Kindle books - for one.

If an affiliate with a large number of active buyers pimps one of your novels - that alone can be the reason it sells more that month, than your other books.

If your book is mentioned at a popular website one month - you will get more sales. If Oprah mentioned your book - you'll sell out - ebooks, everything.

It is damn impossible to guess what the quality of your writing does to ebook sales because you'd need to look at how many people buy multiple books of yours. That info isn't available. Good luck trying to divine it from what we have to look at for data about sales.

Most buyers of your books are first time readers. Your cover, description, length of book, and title should all be optimized - sure.

The other thing you control is the hype surrounding your book. Amazon doesn't run ads for you. Amazon doesn't contact your local newspapers or locally based websites to tell them you're an author cranking out new books. As an author - you can still do a LOT.

Blake Crouch said...

@MsThriller! Thanks, hope you enjoy!
And I totally agree on Jeroen...he's the best.

Bob Wagner said...

I am finding it wierd that I sell far less on Kindle than I do at Barnes and Noble for the Nook. Last month Kindle sales : 6
Barnes and Noble sales: 60

I don't get it.

Sandy said...

Tuppshar Press:
Those covers are really really bad. Not good examples. Seriously.

Tara Maya:
I agree with you on the size ratio of Michael's book. It's one of my pet peeves when a cover is not book dimension. Visually it's what I want to see for a book. It's weird, but I do have a serious debate with myself whenever I buy a book with a 'bad' cover. It's hard to get past no matter what anyone says.

A reader who finds this blog fascinating

Kendall Swan said...

@ Bob Wagner
That is definitely weird--and very cool! Hopefully, Amazon will catch up.

@Mike Fook
It's not quite 'damn impossible' to see the quality. Your title's pages show the "customers who bought this also bought" listings. When your other titles are in that listing, you are probably doing ok. Not an exact science, but an indicator.

@Michael
Thank you so much for being so candid and generous with telling us what you are doing. Like the guest posters and Joe, it's that kind of info that makes this blog so invaluable. Thanks for sharing!

re: covers
Man, everyone has strong opinions on this. I don't know if a formatting discussion would elicit the same level of reactions. Here's my take. As with everything in life, feel free to take or leave it.

I'm a big believer in not spending money until you have it--especially for the writer who has never run a business. Don't spend money you don't have. Do the cheap cover and write, write, write. Use your first few months royalties to contract out a quality cover at that point. The cover matters but the writing matters more.

re diff size cover
I am so torn- different covers kind of bug me but they also work. My eye will go to that on the page naturally bc it is different. I won't not buy a book bc of it's cover. Title, description, reviews, and possibly sample matter much more to me than cover. But at that point I'm already on the book's page so it's job is done.

Great discussions, everyone.
Kendall

Tara Maya said...

If you can't afford a cover, and have no artistic skill, ask around and see if you find an artist who will trade services -- a beta read for a free cover, for instance.

Or, hey, do it yourself. (I did, after all.) Just put some thought into it. Think about whether it's a series and if you can maintain a recognizable style. Someone mentioned Amanda Hocking has very simple covers. That's true, but she uses a similar styled background, color scheme and font that "brand" her books. Plus, they look nice, they aren't eyesores.

Right now you can read an excerpt from successful indie publisher B.V. Larson on500 Words. You can also see a bunch of his covers. To be completely honest, I don't think his Amber Magic series covers look as professional as jeroen ten berge's covers. The first time I saw one, I thought, "That's an indie author." (The Mech, Mech 2 and Swarm look really spiffy, otoh, and I wouldn't have guessed that.)

Nonetheless, they are attractive, and even more importantly, they have a style that unifies the series. So once I'd read the first book I had no trouble finding the others, and by then I was more interested in the story than the cover.

Tara Maya
500 Words.

Anonymous said...

not to pile on and I'm a lover of this blog and Joe's work, but....

Draculas has issues. I read the first couple chapters and there is so much TELLING TELLING TELLING.

Worse, the opening scene is pretty contrived: A billionare spends millions on a vampire skull and then entrusts FED EX to deliver it??? Methinks considering the content, he'd sent a private jet...with armed guards.

If true vampire fans are sampling it, I'd suspect many may not buy it. I stopped reading, and like I said, I'm a fan and really wanted to like the book.
:-(

Steve said...

@Tuppshar Press:

Are you serious? I never post on blogs, love reading this one (very informative), but I had to make a quick comment. Were those covers a joke?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely spot on post about self publishing...

Here.

azarimba said...

OMG LMFAO Thanks for that link, Anon. I'm only half way in, and it's made my day!

Kendall Swan said...

Hilarious! Thanks, anon. And in the comments of that post another one that will bring tears to your eyes: http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/ .

jtplayer said...

Holy shit dude, thanks for posting that. Absolutely hilarious...and so right on.

Amidst all the sycophantic cheerleading and the "you can do it too" nonsense, finally a piece that nails the cold hard truth about self-publishing.

I love your blog Joe, but damn, you should put up stuff like this once in a while, just to keep it real.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Nathan Lowell said...Can anyone other than Michael Sullivan do big business at more than $4/ebook?"

Yes.


For those that don't know both Nathan and Michael are the best selling authors at Ridan Publishing and he's been selling thousands of copie of his books. In January he sold over 6,000 books priced at $4.95 (2 titles)

I often feel like the only lone voice in the wind pushing for people to get off the $0.99 and $2.99 price point. It took people a long time to determine that self-pub will work -- perhaps given more time they'll realize that readers are happy to pay $5 for a quality read.

Ridan Publishing

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