Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Guest Post by Jon F. Merz

I love success stories.

I especially love success stories when the recipient of success struggled to attain it. The reason we all relate to the movie Rocky is because it personifies the American Dream. To wit: "You can do anything if you work your ass off."

Jon F. Merz is, by any account, a good writer. He's sold a lot of fiction to legacy publishers, has a lot of words under his belt, and began self-pubbing on Kindle around the same time I did.

Initially, he had some success. Then the success began to recede.

Merz didn't understand why.

Anyone who reads this blog knows the value I place on luck. You have to have the right book in the right place at the right time.

But you can give luck a little help by also having the right price, the right description, the right cover. You can also improve luck by doing this as many times as possible. The more books, the better.

I'm fond of saying that ebooks are forever (and you should begin forever today, not tomorrow.) I also believe that with infinite shelf space, a writer should take up as much of it as they can.

So last month, on my blog, Merz openly disagreed with me. (You can find our exchange in the comments of Lee Goldberg's guest post.)

I invited Jon to give me a call, then got busy and blew him off. But I did ask him to write a guest post, which he did on January 24th. Again, because I've had a lot of guest posts lately, I haven't had a chance to post it.

Well, now I have a chance to, along with a follow up post by Merz a month later.

It's very interesting reading...

Tales of an Ebook Nothing...
by Jon F. Merz

So, last week I called Joe out. Here on his blog. Maybe you saw my comments. I've ventured into indie publishing on the Kindle and my sales have been pretty awful. Joe's constant preaching of his and others success has, frankly, grated on my nerves for no other reason than I'm jealous as hell that I'm not selling thousands of dollars worth of ebooks on a monthly basis. I wanted answers as to what I'm doing wrong and I asked Joe to put his money where his mouth was.

But before we get to the goodness that follows (namely, Joe taking one of my books apart bit-by-bit) a little backstory is in order.

My first novel, The Fixer, came out in May 2002 from Kensington Publications Corp. Scott Nicholson and I were both there at the same time. But while Scott enjoyed a few more years, my own experience with Kensington was short-lived. Long story, short, my first agent only wanted me writing vampire novels, so I fired her. Unfortunately, she and my editor were best pals. That didn't bode well for my fledgling career. Suddenly, planned publicity evaporated and they brought out four novels within a really short space of time. Subsequently, by the time my third novel in the Lawson Vampire series came out, the first one was already out-of-print.

My plans to convince the publisher that they needed to reprint the first book involved a pretty big fan letter campaign that produced thousands of letters of support aimed at Kensington...and one very pissed off letter back from the president of Kensington to me, telling me in no uncertain terms that the series was dead to them and to please tell my fans to stop flooding them with letters.

So my first publisher dropped me. Not a nice feeling. Especially since I'd come up dreaming (like most everyone else) about big advances, publicity and bestseller lists. Now I was orphaned.

I moved to a second agent, who looked good on paper, but in reality sucked mightily. Any deals done during my time with him were ones I worked my ass off to bring to the table myself. I was busy looking for a new home for Lawson, simply because I knew the series had incredible potential and just needed the right editor/house behind it. I started doing work-for-hire novels for the bestselling Rogue Angel series from Gold Eagle. I was the first writer they brought in after the original team that had created it. Over the course of the intervening years, I've written eleven of those novels. (And, according to some Amazon reviews, have single-handedly destroyed the series because I don't let the heroine hack her way out of every troublesome spot.)

Around this time, I was working on a project that I felt sure would be my break-out bestseller. Parallax was a spy thriller about two professional assassins - one a Mafia hitman and one a retired German terrorist - who kill at the exact same moment in time and develop a psychic bond. The resulting cat-and-mouse game intertwined with a nefarious plot, was certain to catapult me onto the lists. I felt sure of it.

I worked my ass off on that novel. More rewrites than I'd ever done before. And this was while I was co-authoring two non-fiction books, working on Rogue Angel, etc. etc. But Parallax was good. It was damned good.

My second agent submitted it around New York. And the reactions from editors were more than encouraging. They loved it. We had one go so far as to tell us, "the world needs Jon F. Merz's voice." Seriously. Hey, it's publishing, you know you can't make this stuff up!

But as nice as all that praise was, the worst was yet to come. Because along with the great things they said about the book, they also delivered this buzz kill: "We can't buy it."

WTF? That was some sort of joke, right? Nuh uh. Turns out, editors have almost zero power. And the sales people they had to pitch the book to, decided that since Parallax wasn't a straight spy thriller, nor was it straight SF, but some sort of weird amalgamation of the two, it would be too difficult to even attempt to sell to their accounts.

Never mind that it was a great read. All that mattered to the sales people was they couldn't easily label it and it would therefore take too much trouble to try and convince key accounts that it would sell.

I was pissed off beyond belief. The reasoning was ludicrous. But it was also indicative of the changing face of publishing. And it was a hard lesson to learn.

I'd always resisted the idea of self-publishing. All right, that's not *exactly* true. I'd given it some thought. But I hadn't made much money with my writing so far and trying to think about doing it myself was a pretty awesome undertaking given everything else I was involved in. I was also, frankly, still one of those who saw self-publishing as the refuge for those who didn't want to do their time in the trenches and earn their way to a legitimate deal. (And yeah, that was my sentiment. Honestly. I'd read a lot of self-published stuff and everything I'd read was crap. Throw stones if you want, but that was my experience at that time.)

But Parallax getting turned down because it couldn't be easily shelved into some narrow category really annoyed me. So I heard about Amazon's new Kindle publishing program. This was back in 2009 and I put Parallax out.

It sold great. Better, the reader reviews were almost universally positive. I felt vindicated. And the sales really helped on the home front. I played around with price points quite a bit, trying to maximize revenue and strike that balance between too little or too much. This was about the same time Joe was doing his first title out there as well. Interesting times, to be sure.

And then I screwed up. I took my eye off the ball. Instead of capitalizing on the initial momentum that Parallax had gained, I got wrapped up in other projects. I was content to let Parallax sit out there and generate the passive income I'd always dreamed about. I did about $10,000 in sales during those first four-to-six months. I put out another trunk novel of mine - Vicarious, a supernatural thriller. It did okay, but nothing like Parallax had. I was starting to see problems.

Then all momentum died. I started putting other parts of my backlist out, but my sales simply didn't take off. And for the past year or so, I've sold consistently but completely unimpressively. I make a few hundred bucks each month with a combination of novels, short stories, and novella pieces. I've experimented with covers, and studied a lot of the market trying to understand, although I certainly haven't had as much time to devote to it as I wish I had. Contrary to what some believe, I'm not out here looking for an easy solution. If anything, the fact that I've experimented as much as I have rather than simply come over here and kiss ass is proof that I have tried to find the solution on my own.

But after reading post after post of others enjoying the level of success I want for my own ebooks, I've grown frustrated and tired of my own failed experimentations. As I've said elsewhere, I'm all for cutting out the middlemen and getting my stuff right to the people who matter: the readers. I just need some help finding the path.

So here I am: on Joe's blog looking for a way to kick the afterburners into gear and really get my sales up. My latest novel is The Kensei, out last week from St. Martin's Press. It's the 5th book in my Lawson Vampire series, but I want to get my first four Lawson vampire installments out onto the Kindle - a lot of people are asking about them.

But I want to do it right.

And with that, I turn it over to Joe, with the expectation that as harsh as his critique may be, it will hopefully provide some of the answers I've been seeking. And if they do, I'll be the first to shout it from the rooftops.

Thanks.

Joe sez: This was the part where I was supposed to get all preachy and lay down the tough love about tweaking his covers and descriptions, lowering his prices, and keeping at it. I was then going to point out specific examples of what to fix, and end with the rallying cry of, "Just keep on keeping on, and hopefully lightning will strike soon."

In a nutshell, for those who haven't heard me spout it before, here are my plans for ebook success:

1. Write a damn good book.

2. Make sure it has professional cover art.

3. Keep the price under $4.

4. Make sure the formatting is flawless.

5. Write a good product description.

6. Upload to Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.

7. Repeat. Over and over, until the world can no longer ignore your work.

In Jon's case, I would have concentrated on #2 (I think his covers are too dark, so they don't look clear as thumbnails or in grayscale), #5 (I believe his descriptions can be beefed-up), and #7 (more is better.)

But, as fate would have it, Jon didn't wait for me to give him his critique and pep talk. He went ahead on his own, and...

Well, I'll just let him tell his own story.


The End of Fabruary
by Jon F. Merz

I’m excited about things ahead for one big reason: the preceding month has been renamed to “Fabruary.”

Let me explain…

I’ve always viewed the coming ebook revolution with something of a jaded eye. After a decade or more in this business, I’m always wary of supposedly “new” things. But I’ve also been playing around with ebooks for a few years now. I had some early success with it with regards to Parallax and then, after putting out a host of novels, short stories, and a few other things, my sales flatlined at about $100 earnings each month for the last year. That means I was making about a hundred bucks on sales of everything I had out on the Amazon Kindle platform. Not impressive, by any means – especially when I’d read blogs by other folks like Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking (she just bought a house for cash with her ebook earnings), and even some closer friends and colleagues – all of them were enjoying some serious success.

And I wasn’t.

So, I decided to try to remedy that. At the end of January, I put my entire Lawson backlist – four novels, a novella, and four short stories – out on both the Kindle and the Nook platforms. In February, I also debuted a new novella, SLAVE TO LOVE, and then in late February, I reworked the cover of Parallax, dropped its price to 99 cents, and put an excerpt from THE FIXER in the back of it. The goal was to use Parallax as something of a gateway drug to my Lawson series.

The results have been amazing.

Thanks to a series of incredible covers, the Lawson backlist is selling very well, indeed. As of this moment, THE FIXER alone has sold 450 copies on the US Kindle store alone. Priced at $2.99, the novel has earned me $900 and change this month. That’s 100% gorgeous passive income – and it’s 9 times what I made in total for the previous 9 months.

Ah, but I’ve got more than one Lawson novel. I’ve got four. The other three are all selling triple digits. The novellas are closing in on 3 digits and the short stories are selling very well.

So, by itself, the Lawson backlist was generating very strong sales during the shortest month of the year.

Then I dropped the price on Parallax. Until I reworked the cover, I’d sold 4 copies all month. After I dropped the price to 99 cents, I sold many more copies. As of last Friday, I’d sold just over 150 on the Kindle and perhaps 50 on the Nook.

But on Saturday morning, something incredible happened: Barnes & Noble featured Parallax in an email promo to its customers. Nothing elaborate; just a simple shot of some book covers. Parallax was featured in its “thrifty reads & great stories” section. I had no idea this had happened until very late Saturday night. Saturday morning, I saw that Parallax had suddenly sold 55 copies and I thought, “huh, interesting.” I continued to watch the numbers climb all day and into Saturday night. By midnight, it had done 347 copies for the day.

Incredible. My sales rank in the Nook store was beating the likes of JD Robb/Nora Roberts and I was on par with ebook success Amanda Hocking. I had no way of knowing if the trend would last, but yesterday, I sold 233 copies.

Staggering.

I have no idea if the Parallax burst will last, but I’m thrilled to have gotten such an amazing push. I’ve sold 25 copies this morning. You can still get it for the Nook HERE and on the Kindle HERE for just 99 cents. It’s a great book, one of my best.

So, with all that said, I’m very excited. The ebook revolution means that I have the freedom to write whatever I want and get it out there as soon as it’s ready for mass consumption. No longer do I have to slave over a proposal and hope that an editor in New York understands the scope of the project, gets excited, can then pitch it to a room full of supposed experts, gets the green light to acquire it, makes a decent offer (lol), and then tells me the book will be out in about a year. Now, if I have an idea I think is cool, I can just write the thing and put it out. If it flops, no biggie. If it’s a hit – all the better. But the amount of time and number of hoops to jump through for me to reach my readers has now been drastically winnowed.

After all, it’s always been about the readers. Or rather, it should have always been about the readers. That hasn’t always been the case with the traditional publishing model.

But now, it can be.

Am I through with traditional publishing? Probably not. But I will say this: my attitude has been changed tremendously given the success I’ve had in the shortest month of the year. I have big plans to get a lot more material out for ereaders – more Lawson, new series, fun stuff – a veritable ton of things that have only been ideas and “failed” proposals until now. (I say “failed” only because they didn’t sell in the traditional publishing world.)

The landscape is changing. Dramatically.

Borders has gone bankrupt. Is B&N going that way, too? Probably not since they adopted an ebook strategy. But the thing about ebooks is this: they’re not going to stop. And more people will get an e-reader. I love the feel of traditional books, but even I have been reading some things on my iPhone lately. We’re either at a tipping point or beyond it now. Millions are reading ebooks and millions more will soon join them.

Traditional publishers need to seriously revamp their contracts. Right now, the industry standard is 25% net on ebook sales.

That’s crap.

And as much as they may insist that costs are high for producing an ebook, it’s a bogus argument. I can put an ebook out on the Kindle and it takes me perhaps thirty minutes to do. Same for the Nook. I can hire someone to design a great cover.

So why would I give a publisher more than 50% of the proceeds from ebook sales?

For me personally, there’s a lot to think about in the coming months. Where do I want my career to go? With THE FIXER TV series moving ahead, do I want my books tied up by a traditional publisher that doesn’t pay me a fair rate?

Before the ebook revolution, the folks in New York (by and large) determined the destinies of writers.

Since the ebook revolution, that power has shifted. On a seismic scale. Writers now control their destinies. We can write what we want and sell it to our readers. Fewer middlemen means a lot of very good things, indeed.

I’m excited.

For the month of Fabruary, I just broke $3,000 in earnings for my ebooks. 30 times what I’d earned each month for the previous year. (and frankly, there are many writers making a LOT more than that right now, so my potential for sales isn’t going to go down, it’s going to go up as I a) produce more material, b) the number of folks reading ebooks climbs, and c) the number of e-readers sold climbs…)

That kind of success can make a person stop and think.

And it should.

Joe sez: Remember the end of Rocky? He lost the fight. But he still refused to give up, and then went on to eventually win in numerous sequels.

That's life. And that's the writing biz. There will be ups and downs, but you can't take it personally either way. Selling a lot doesn't mean you're the best writer on the planet and you deserve all the cash you're making. Selling a little doesn't mean you're a loser who will never amount to anything.

You just need to keep at it until you get lucky.

Merz kept uploading new material, kept experimenting, kept rethinking his approach, until luck struck.

Best of all, his luck saved me from having to keep my promise to help. Jon found success, and I didn't have to do a long blog post, lecturing him.

Which is why I'm thrilled to have him guest post. Let this be his lecture to you.

131 comments:

Tom H said...

Congratulations Jon. I remember the duel between you and Joe a few posts ago and I'm delighted that you've turned the corner of your e-publishing venture. Onwards and upwards, as they say.

Cameron Baylor -- Author said...

Congrats, Jon! I love these success stories. Please keep them coming, Joe.

Douglas Dorow said...

Some great lessons here for all of us writers. Thanks for sharing.

And a comment you made is often overlooked in the debate over indie vs legacy publishing....

After all, it’s always been about the readers. Or rather, it should have always been about the readers. That hasn’t always been the case with the traditional publishing model.

Good luck!

David H. Burton said...

Congrats Jon! Glad to hear the success is coming through for you. You've been working your tail off and it's finally paying off.

Heather Hildenbrand said...

Definitely, Congrats is in order, Jon. You worked for it so the results and success is so much sweeter! And gave the rest of us great ideas of how NOT to give up and what to do about stagnated sales. Thanks =)

www.heatherhildenbrand.blogspot.com

Dawn said...

Good to hear a success story about stuff going off track / back on track. This is good solid advice. And ditto on Douglas about it being about the readers.

[Insert Rocky music with Jon running up the front stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.]

Nicholas La Salla said...

Yet another inspiring post...this one is great, because you really don't see that many posts about the inevitable aftermath of success, which is that you fall down, too. That only gives us the opportunity to get back up and become bigger and better than ever.

The covers are really cool as well, but I second Joe's opinion about them being too dark. Very cool books though, and I wish Jon the best. :-)

- Nick
One More Day

Merrill Heath said...

Congrats, Jon. You've certainly put forth the effort. I'm glad you're reaping the rewards.

In the article you mentioned THE FIXER TV SERIES. What can you tell us about that? Is a TV series in the works?

Merrill Heath
Alec Stover Mysteries

Merrill Heath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Merrill Heath said...

BTW, love your cover for The Fixer.

Merrill

Robin Sullivan said...

Congratz Jon - The moral of your story (for me) is not luck but perseverence. The only true path to failure is to stop trying. Keep at it and (as long as you have talent and skill) you'll make it.

Thanks for sharing.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Matt Brady said...

Congrats Jon! Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Your story is so encouraging and you deserve success. I'm lucky to have found this blog. Can you please tell me who designed your cover for The Fixer?

Robert said...

Joe, I start my writing day reading your blog. For motivation, it's better than my two mugs of coffee.

Jon's tale has its own dramatic arc. I love it. Congratulations, Jon! And oh, do I ever love the cover for "The Fixer"! In fact, it would've been dead-on perfect for the thriller I'm writing.

Please tell me about your cover artist. Pretty please?

Thomas Quinn said...

Really fascinated by all this. The UK seems to be a million years behind on ebooks, but I have a feeling that we are going to start catching up really quickly

Joe Konrath said...

The moral of your story (for me) is not luck but perseverence.

You need to keep at it until you get lucky. Read DRUNKARD'S WALK and it'll knock that determinism right out of you, Robin. ;)

Karen Carr said...

This is great and very positive! I do have one question for Jon and Joe. I've always seen cover art mentioned as important, but never the book's title. How important do you guys feel the title of the book is? Have you ever changed a title and increased sales?

Rebecca M. Senese said...

Congratulations, Jon! I love your success story here because it really does show that it's now all about the long tail. Readers will eventually find our work as long as we keep putting it out there. Then when they do and they enjoy it, they'll buy everything! No longer will our books expire. They can live and be discovered at any time! Exciting! And I wish you continued success!

Merrill Heath said...

Robin: Congratz Jon - The moral of your story (for me) is not luck but perseverence. The only true path to failure is to stop trying. Keep at it and (as long as you have talent and skill) you'll make it.

I couldn't agree more, Robin. Luck is important, but perseverence, talent, skill...those are the things that sustain a long, successful career.

Merrill
Bearing False Witness

J. E. Medrick said...

Ouch, Jon - about the agent and editor relationship. It's hard to hold hands with everyone all the time - especially when they aren't doing what they should, or what you want them to!

Your success is awesome, so congratulations!

Coming into indie publishing, aside from Joe's blog, what are some of the resources you used? Did you find someone to format for Kindle (etc) or learn to do it yourself? How did you go about choosing a cover artist?

A few other questions: How many projects do you try to work on, at once? What is the average amount of time it takes you to write a novel vs a novella, short story?

Sorry to bombard you, and congratulations again!

J. E. Medrick
Shackled

Joe Flynn said...

Way to go, Jon. The thing people have to remember is the best reason for becoming a writer is you love to write — and you keep getting ideas for stories.

I got my first short story idea out of the blue as I was on my way to my first day of college. It was only twenty years later that I got my first publishing deal for my novel The Concrete Inquisition: a paperback original contract with Signet Books for all of $8,500.

But Bantam Books bought the reprint rights to Concrete for 20K. And when I got the rights back again I put it up on Amazon as an e-book where it's still selling.

Like Jon, February was a very good month for me. The streak started in December when my sales hit three digits for the first time: 108. January jumped to 400. Last month I hit four digits, finishing at 1,088.

Now, following Joe's advice, that's for ten titles. But in February my bestselling title The Hangman's Companion outsold my January sales total. An oldie but a goodie The Next President sold over 200 copies. And another title Gasoline, Texas sold over 100 copies and reached #4 on Amazon's political humor list.

This month, I'll be bringing out two new titles and in April another one.

I've compiled all this work for the simple reasons I mentioned above: I love to write and I have a very generous muse.

I do have one question, though. If you use Nook as a place to sell your e-books, don't you have to worry they might drop your price and undercut you with Amazon?

Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. said...

Very useful example.

Thank you both!

ezbeanz said...

Keep up the good work, Jon. It looks like hard work pays off.

Sarah said...

Congrats, Jon! You've got a legacy publishing story and a indie publishing story and luck clearly is involved in both. But what's cool is that in the indie story, you control so much more of your success than in the traditional venue.

Which I guess is what Joe's been trying to say . . . .

www.sarahwoodbury.com

Coral Russell said...

One of the key points for me (besides it being about the readers) is that your book didn't fit the mold. I can't tell you how many satisfying reads I've had because of books that didn't fit the mold! Grats!

OH, I read this is happening across the pond where writers are charging 70 pence, which I'm guessing is close to our .99, and doing very well.

http://alchemyofscrawl.blogspot.com/2011/02/new-self-pub-friendly-website.html (second story down the post)

How are you doing in UK sales on Amazon? Are the sales divided so you can tell? Is it possible to even market over there? Would you even want to?

K.L. Dillon said...

I've read post after post, and Joe, you kept saying luck has to do with it. (right as well as damn good book, at the right time, yaddah, yaddah) I thought it was all relative to the writer.

But it seems it may be true. It may sound corny and cliche, but if you keep trying and trying and never quitting, something good is bound to happen to you. Whether its now or ten years later, who knows. But Joe, Jon, and many others prove that time and time again.

Kevin Dillon

kevinlyledillon.blogspot.com

TheSFReader said...

Robin : With due respect, the great Shadok said (warning French culture inside) :
"When one tries continuously, one ends up succeeding. Thus, the more one fails, the greater the chance that it will work."
The Shadoks having calculated that they had 99.99 percent chances to fail their rocket launches, they worked on failing as fast as possible 9999 lauches to finally reach the 10000th that would "statistically" succeed.

I guess one can partly compensate the other (and the other way), but I'm with Joe's list on it that they are by no way sufficient : Quality is PARAMOUNT to both !

Jon F. Merz said...

Hi All,

Thanks so much for the kind words and support - much appreciated! Also, thanks to Joe for posting this.

I"m running crazy today (of course) so I will be back later this evening to answer any more questions. For now I can only handle the first one (late - sorry!)

The Fixer TV series is (interestingly enough) being produced entirely outside of the Hollywood system. I got tired of getting crap offers and decided to start a company with my buddy and we're shooting the whole thing ourselves to shop broadcast rights around after we've got the pilot done. To do this, we've had to go around and chase investors - billionaires, millionaires, and thousandaires, lol. The whole thing is rather similar in a lot of respects to the ebook revolution. Things are changing in Hollywood as well and the tech these days is amazing. You can shoot full 1080p HD on a camera body that only costs $2500 and if you've got a talented crew (we do) then you've got broadcast quality stuff ready to go. But the ups-and-downs of that path are very similar to what I've been experiencing on the ebook side.

We should be shooting the pilot within about a month or so, so things are ramping up nicely.

The covers for my Lawson Vampire series stuff (which THE FIXER TV show is based on) all fature the lead actor playing Lawson in the series and were designed by our graphic arts guru Nick to help us establish and maintain brand continuity between the TV show and the books. (Interestingly enough when I broached the idea of using the actor for the cover of The Kensei, St. Martin's wanted nothing to do with it because they said it would give the book a "media tie-in" feel. >sigh< Yeah, cuz that would suck having all those TV fans go to the bookstore and buy copies of the books. Jeez.)

Okay, I gotta fly. But thanks again everyone - keep the questions coming and I'll do my best to answer them later tonight.

Be well all,
Jon

Karen McQuestion said...

Another great post! Congratulations, Jon and thanks for sharing your story with us.

Eric Christopherson said...

Congrats, Jon, continued good luck, and from one Mass guy to another here's a Larry Bird quote:

"I've got a theory that if you give 100% all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end."

And Joe, the next time my wife moons at a diamond, I'm quoting you: "ebooks are forever."

Algot Runeman said...

John, one of the Nook sales for March 1 was mine. The link in this post made it easy for me.

Marketing can sometimes be that simple.

gniz said...

Something that disturbed me in Jon's post was the gradual (or was it sudden) decline in sales after his initial boom.

Jon sort of glossed over those details in the post, but it brings up a lot of gnarly and anxiety-producing questions for me.

Why was your book selling so well and then why did your book(s) begin selling less and less until they were almost down to nothing?

I understand that over time books may sell less, but Joe talks about ebooks having a long shelf-life and so forth...it's a bit disconcerting to think that the gods may be this fickle.

How on earth can we feel comfortable if at any moment the rug can get pulled out and our sales are once again diminishing back down to zero?

Maybe I read it wrong but it's important to look at the long-term trajectory here...in essence what Jon might have been seeing is a trend that all of us will encounter if we self-publish ebooks long enough.

Could it be that Jon was in fact hurt by the influx of new competition in the 2010 era? Which would lead me to believe that as even more competition streams in, the game will get even tougher for all of us.

epubmanifesto.blogspot.com

JDuncan said...

So...great covers/blurbs to draw attention, and a bit of luck with some marketing (that B/N ad was certainly a nice stroke of luck), the low price point, and you've hopefully generated some forward momentum that will last.

That said, it still continues to bug me that ebook pricing seems to be trending toward this itunes kind of value. Now, it's one thing to price backlist titles or previous books in a series at that to entice readers to buy the new stuff, but as a standard value?

Yes, I agree with the arguments about selling more books at a low price can and sometimes will generate more profit than selling fewer at a higher price. I can't help but feel however, that the market is driving the value of books toward this 99 cent barrier.

Admittedly, many ebooks out there aren't worth a buck. On the flip side, many are worth more. I pay ten bucks to sit for two hours in a movie theatre to see/hear a story. Sometimes it's definitely not worth the investment, but other times it's money well spent. If we're heading to this itunes store of books model, I don't see people placing much value in the book. You aren't investing much so you don't care as much. As a writer, this continues, and probably always will bug me.

I wish Jon tons of success. Every good writer deserves it. If he makes it selling 99 cent books, more power to him. I just think his books and many others out there deserve more, and appeasing the market by devaluing the content is a sad state of affairs.

Lundeen Literary said...

Fantastic post, Jon & Joe! And congrats to you Jon!

We really appreciate you coming here and telling your story! And yes, that cover is awesome!

What I think is interesting is that you had a sales drop, and then came out of it when you added new material. You admitted that you dropped the ball, which lets me know that we can never be totally lax in promoting our work (PS, I do ebook design and covers - yay, promotion!! ). At least a few hours per week is needed to maintain momentum, I suppose.

As to your show, if you don't get a broadcast buyer, then go web and netflix for video. it's working out very well for quite a few folks. :) It looks like you'll have the viewers, regardless.

Congrats again, and we look forward to more!

Jenna
@lundeenliterary
www.lundeenliterary.com

J. E. Medrick said...

@Gniz: As much as everyone likes to say this isn't a competition - I think you just raised that valid point. More and more authors will come around with good stories. Even if they are only a dollar... everyone only has so many dollars. I may be able to buy 15 or 25 ebooks in place of that one hardcover, but that 16th or 26th might be out of my range.

While the ebook market is growing, it will eventually find a point where it levels out, and that will be the first "real" new hurdle authors will have to overcome. (Yes, there's marketing, formatting, et cetera now, but what do you do when you can't even compete on price, because everyone is already at rock-bottom and there just aren't any more dollars?)

I think ebooks will grow rapidly for a long time, and there is still a lot of room before we really have to worry about it, but eventually an atmosphere of competition over camaraderie will prevail. Until then, I think we can only try and make sure our book is at least little bit better than our neighbors, then maybe we'll be able to skirt the crest of the wave. ;)

J. E. Medrick
Shackled

PJ Lincoln said...

Wonderful, wonderful story. I'm so happy for you, Jon. I hope your books continue to sell and sell.

Power to the Artists!

Stephen T. Harper said...

Congrats on your new success, Jon. I found
Your comment about the trouble with being in between genres particularly interesting. I think I'm having trouble with that even on Amazon. My book draws consistently great responses from readers who find it, but it's definitely a tweener as far as genre. And you never want to confuse readers, or worse, dissapoint them if they think they are buying soemthing else. If I call it paranormal, people think vampires, if I call it a thriller... Etc. My sales are also remarkably consistent, 4-5 books a day for 2.5 months now. Can't seem to find that sweet spot. But I have to ink that a slow burn with great reviews will eventually turn into word of mouth success. Right?

Yeah, I know. It's a " maybe" until it happens. Meanwhile, I cranking on the next book.

@Joe and Robin. It fun watching you two debate, but I think you actually agree with each other, but are arguing semantics. You would both agree that you make your own luck with hard work and perseverance, yes? And that success isnt gauraunteed but the odds increase with a good plan and hard work. Yes?

Barbey Bardot said...

Sure did love the Rocky metaphor, Joe. That has been the theme of my life--favorite song--"Eye of the Tiger" my protagonist even performed a humorous dance to it in my satirical novel Vampire Angel!

I'm new to your blog and can't stop reading it! I've been up the last few nights rewriting my next novel with your advice from your Newbies Guide. Thank you. Congrats and much more success to Jon F. Merz and all you other Rocky Balboa's out there.

Infinite bliss,
Reussie Miliardario

Selena Kitt said...

You put "vampire" on the book cover. That alone was a brilliant move. ;) Congrats on your success... may you write long and prosper!

As for declining sales, it's truly inevitable. That's why you have to keep feeding the machine. I had three books in the top ten in erotica on Amazon for about nine months. Right now I have two in the top twenty. One of which has never dropped from the top twenty for very long.

When my titles were removed from Amazon, my sales at B&N more than made up for them (strangely enough...) But those sales are starting to level off, too, which I expected. (And now that B&N has removed all its "download sample" buttons from its PubIt erotica titles, I'm sure they'll drop even more... *sigh*)

But there are always new releases coming out from other authors to fill the top spots. And yours better be one of them. Keep feeding the machine.

Kendall Swan said...

That is a Rocky story! Congrats, Jon! Just bought your book. Are you going to put out a print version? My husband still reads paper and I'm his unofficial book vetter. (This question applies to Blake Crouch, as well, for RUN. Also, Blake- in AuthorCentral-associate Run with your name-it didn't show up for me in a Blake Crouch Kindle store search.)

I, too, had great success for 18 months and then have watched my sales slowly dissipate. I've been tinkering, but mainly writing more. It is definitely inspiring to read about another author who has had similar issues and overcome them. Thanks for sharing your story with us. And thank you to Joe, also.

Kendall Swan
NAKED Slumber Party and Other Stories

Kendall Swan said...

Dude, Selena, I didn't notice that about the samples buttons being gone. That sucks!!! :(

Jim Kukral said...

Great story, thanks for sharing. In the future all writers will have to become marketers as well. Same as how all bloggers had to become marketers if they wanted to succeed.

The world has changed. You gotta get the word out yourself now.

Jeanne Tomlin said...

Joe, one of the things I like and respect about your blog is that (even though you are an indie-publishing evangelist) you pretty sometimes show that it isn't necessarily easy or automatic by having people like Jon do guest posts. It is good to know that even if success doesn't come fast, it still can come.

Megg Jensen said...

Congrats Jon! I love your covers - they're gorgeous. :)

I wish you continued success with your books!!!

Megg
www.meggjensen.com

Katie Klein said...

Jon-

I love the change of tone between your first post and the last. You seem much happier now. :)

Congrats on a FABulous month!

Joe Konrath said...

As for declining sales, it's truly inevitable. That's why you have to keep feeding the machine.

You beat me to it, Selena.

I'm lucky to have had some consistent sellers for two years running. But for those to stay consistent sellers, I need to keep renewing my consumer base. The more new work I post, the more new readers i attract.

I like to compare it to a fishing net. You want to catch more fish? Make a net bigger.

Stitch said...

Congrats Jon!

Joe has said it several times, but it's worth repeating: The most difficult thing a person can do is change their mind.

Adapting in the face of new circumstances is crucial to success in an ever changing business. That's why you're going to do great, while people like Guido Henkel will continue to fall behind. (Unless he, too, starts adapting instead of repeating the same mistakes. If you're reading this, Guido, there's still hope for you! But you need to get with the program. Don't confuse thinking outside the box of 2011 with thinking inside the box of 1995.)

Anonymous said...

Jon, congrats on success. I think you can get more through with a few tweaks.

The title PARALLEX is a barrier to me. I don't know it's an action, mystery, SF, romance or what. It's unique, but it's also confusing. Personally I'd change it.

The cover has a human element, which is good. However, the element is too big, too specific and defined, and too cold. There's no color variations, no compelling composition, nothing of interest. Further it doesn't raise any issues.

Take todays modern covers for example, the ones with the sole running figure. It raises questions. Who is this person? How did they get into this situation? How will they get out of it? IMHO, a cover that raises these kinds of questions, and lets the viewer know they're in the middle of a story, is a superior one.

So, I think you can improve sales by changing the title and the cover.

Selena Kitt said...

So, I think you can improve sales by changing the title and the cover.

That one is off-putting to me, too. The other ones I totally love. That one, not so much. I was looking at the PubIt bestseller list this morning (congrats on Parallax being #19 on that list, btw ;) and kind of passed over your cover. I wouldn't have noticed it at all if I hadn't seen it here on Joe's blog. It's kind of a non-cover. I don't know how to explain it - I'm so not a designer. But there's too much negative space or something. Not enough to draw the eye. And the guy reminds me of Spock with the ears. :)

Just another opinion on it!

Helen Hanson said...

Congrats, Jon!

I'm curious. What was the initial price of Parallax when you released it in 2009?

I like the guy on the cover, but we Trek geeks like Spock, too. Live long and prosper.

Ellen Fisher said...

I love the Parallax cover! It catches my eye every time I see it.

Robert said...

For what it's worth (and, as some other person here noted, you get what you pay for):

I didn't like the "Parallax" cover, either. Why? No message. It doesn't communicate anything. What is this guy? Two-faced? Or is it two separate guys? So, is this about duplicity, or conflict?

And the title: Is this a sci-fi book? What genre is this?

Good covers don't just catch your eye: They either suggest something about the genre, create a mood, capture the book's central theme, and/or hint at some question or activity. Ideally, more than one of those things. Above all, they create curiosity among readers in your target audience.

But a literalistic, static image just doesn't do any of these things. The image here did not grab me as a "spy thriller" image.

By contrast, your cover for "The Fixer" is sensational. I think this book will do much with covers such as that one -- or the kind of covers you see on Joe's or Crouch's books. Very evocative of genre, mood, and plot.

--Robert Bidinotto
RobertTheWriter.com

Merrill Heath said...

Anon: Take todays modern covers for example, the ones with the sole running figure. It raises questions. Who is this person? How did they get into this situation? How will they get out of it? IMHO, a cover that raises these kinds of questions, and lets the viewer know they're in the middle of a story, is a superior one.

I think this is a very good point. Compare The Fixer to Parallax and you see exactly what he (or she) is talking about. The guy on the cover of The Fixer looks like he's been through Hell...and somebody's gonna pay for it. Makes you wonder what's happened and what's going to happen next.

The disembodied head(s) over the cityscape on Parallax just doesn't have the same punch.

Merrill
Bearing False Witness

A.P. Fuchs said...

Glad things turned around for you, Jon. Truly. Hard work pays off. Just gotta keep at it, day by day, bit by bit.

I actually feel sorry for writers who have immediate success. To clarify: I'm happy for them, don't get me wrong, but I also worry because what will happen to them or their career if they hit a bump in the road and they don't have the tools to work past it?

As a side note to writers here: this month I'm conducting an eBook cover experiment, in short seeing the impact a cover revamp has on book sales, all other factors being equal.

Some might say, "*cough* *cough* Good covers sell better than bad ones, duh." But my 7 years in this business show me that's the guideline not the rule as books with awful covers have sold boatloads.

Anyway, come check out my blog (and I hope Joe doesn't mind me posting this). I also have another experiment--this one probably way more controversial--in the wings for later this month.

The entry talking about this cover experiment can be found at: www.canisterx.com

Brian Drake said...

Jon,
Thanks for the post. I think you illustrate very well what I have been trying to convince myself of, in that a writer may not be doing anything *wrong* as far as writing and formatting go, but other bits, like pricing and covers and descriptions (all per Joe's lectures, of course) are where one experiments to see what works. And, of course, adding material. I have three ebooks up so far and am seeing momentum build s-l-o-w-l-y but it's there (I sold a book a day last month). I've done some tweaking to get there (after a slow 2010) and now I'm adding more stuff (four books this year).

Anyway congratulations, and I'll race you to the Top 100 list!

Brian Drake
www.briandrake88.blogspot.com

Robin Sullivan said...

Joe Konrath said...You need to keep at it until you get lucky. Read DRUNKARD'S WALK and it'll knock that determinism right out of you, Robin. ;)

I'll check it out but the subtitle of the book.."How Randomness Rules our Lives" makes me doubt I'll drink that Kool-aide. Sure random things happen - but it is the individual who controls their resonse to a random act. If I'm robbed - that is random. But how do I respond? Do I lock myself away - afraid to ever go out? Do I become resolute that this won't get me down? Do I form a support group to help others deal with violence? To a join with those in the community to 'take back the streets'? There are a thosand responses that I could have and the only one that dictates which way I go is me. So no I don't believe in determinism as in the sense that a single cause has a single effect

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Congratulations! As someone who doesn't fit into a neat, tight little genre package, I know exactly where you are coming from. I will be publishing my first book later this spring. I can't afford to hire people to do everything for me, but I will make sure that I have a custom cover. I have seen too many books with the same stock photo. Good luck.

J. Noel said...

Wow! Just a few tweaks and coming at your marketing/business plan from a more strategic perspective...and WHAM!

Congratulations Jon, here's to more success.

Robin Sullivan said...

@TheSFReader said....I guess one can partly compensate the other (and the other way), but I'm with Joe's list on it that they are by no way sufficient : Quality is PARAMOUNT to both !

I think you need to re-read my post - we are in violent agreement my components to success are

a) Talent
b) Skill
c) Pereverence

I've never said that "trying hard" will work if you have an inferior product.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Daniel W. Powell said...

Congratulations on your success, Jon. It's always encouraging when hard work and good fortune pay off. Your tenacity, particularly in terms of going after television production for The Fixer, is impressive!

An Autumn Harvest

Anonymous said...

Jon, I'm not a huge fan of the Parallax cover either. Same reasons as the comments above.

I do like 'The Fixer' cover though. Again, for the same reason as those mentioned in comments above.

Tara Maya said...

Guys, I have a huge favor to ask. If you've been thinking about buying Conmergence, today would be a great day to grab it, as I might make the top ten in Alternate History. I'm already in the top hundred for both Alt Hist and SF Anthologies thanks to Kindle Nation.

Tara Maya
Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Tara Maya said...

Jon,

I read your original comments to Joe and also your blog post on Fabruary when you first posted it. I didn't know the rest of the back story, and it was really interesting.

A.P. Fuchs said...

Is there a reason my post got deleted?

Other folks here have links, so I assumed it wasn't an issue.

RSVP. Thanks.

Merrill Heath said...

If I may, I'd like to backtrack to Karen's questions because I think they merits some discussion...

"How important do you guys feel the title of the book is? Have you ever changed a title and increased sales?"

Personally, I think it's very important and I'll point back to Jon's books as examples. The Fixer is a great title and it gives me an idea (along with the great graphic) as to what to expect. Parallax, on the other hand, doesn't make the same statement.

Sideburns said...

Jon, you didn't really want Joe to put his money where his mouth was, you wanted him to put his mouth where his money was. It's a slight difference, but significant.

Your story about Parallax just goes to prove something I figured out some time ago: nobody in publishing any more cares about the quality of the book; all they care about is can they sell it. And, unless they can pinpoint the target audience, they're not willing to take a chance. Thus, what "legacy publishing" (Oh, how I love that term!) produces now is little more than "same old, same old." Nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing off the beaten track, just more and more regurgitation of the same old tired themes and ideas. Just like in Hollywood, everybody in publishing wants to be the first person to be the second person to do something. If you think I'm wrong, explain why only Scholastic, a text-book publisher, was willing to take a chance with Harry Potter.

Coolkayaker1 said...

Shame that Mr. Merz has put a seemingly long time, effort, plenty of re-writes, and has good reviews of Parralax, and has to sell it for 99 cents on Amazon. May be fine while Amazon pays 70% (but only 30% on 99 cent books, I think), but little chance to be a bestselling, Grisham-esque, name brand author without traditional publisher, even now in 2011 (plenty of recent examples, including mediocre Dan Brown, K. Hosseini (Kite Runner), J. Franzen, Y. Martell (Life of PI), now Emma Donoghue (Room), and on and on. And I’m not even mentioning H. Corban, N. Roberts, and Grisham himself. There is a small but definite cadre of authors making millions—zillions!-- on traditional publishing still, and who wouldn’t hold the hope still, in 2011, of being one of them?

My point is not to denigrate e-publishing, but to see that Mr. Merz still has some optimism about traditional publishing (even in his latest post), and again, it’s a shame to see such hard effort sold for 99 cents. That’s all.

Mary Sisson said...

Congratulations Jon!!!

And honestly, I thought I was the only one who has gotten rejection letters that were so favorable that I could pull quotes from them and put them on the back jacket. "I look forward to reading this"--but we won't publish it! I mean, I understand that it's a business, but it just seems that publishing has gotten almost absurdly removed from, you know, writing and the effort to produce good literature. I hope that e-books will lead to an industry where not only can more writers make a living, but where more readers will be better served, because books that don't neatly fit into one or another category get published anyway.

bowerbird said...

jon-

you wanted joe to do it for you.

but doesn't it feel much better
that you did it for yourself?

and recall you weren't gonna
"believe" it until joe proved it?

but now that you have
proven it to yourself,
you _have_to_ believe it.

***

joe said:
> You just need to keep at it
> until you get lucky.

it wasn't "luck"... it was the
sequence of actions jon took.

just because that sequence
won't _always_ pay off does
_not_ mean it doesn't matter.

sex doesn't _always_ cause
pregnancy, but you cannot
get pregnant without sex...

and you can certainly _try_
to get pregnant and "fail".

and you can try all you want,
and you'll never "succeed" if
you are a male, not a female.

so it's complex, and that will
sometimes make it seem that
"luck" has decided the matter,
but that's usually not the case.

(luck _is_ a factor sometimes,
however, to a degree, with an
example here being the fact
that jon's book was featured
in that b&n e-mail promo...
but even that might've been
due to the reworking he gave
his cover, so that it appealed
to the person who was making
the promo, and not just luck.)

so... the bottom-line is that
you won't "get lucky" if you
sit around and wait for "luck"
to strike you, like lightning...

_do_something_.

if you want some "luck"
lower your price to $.99,
like jon did with parallax.

-bowerbird

S.J. Harris said...

@A.P.--You might need to tiny the url you used for the link. I had a problem with that a while back.

Congrats on the sales spike, Jon! Hope the snowball keeps rolling for you.

General question to everyone:

Wouldn't tweaking cover art get prohibitively expensive after a while? I can see where writers who create their own covers have a huge advantage with this, but most of us have to hire artists to do our covers for us. Any thoughts on this?

Journey Into Darkness: A Kim Journey Thriller

Nicholas La Salla said...

I think it's unfortunate that we put such a stigma on selling a book for $0.99, $2.99, whatever -- sure, the prices in the bookstores are far higher, but the royalties are so much lower than what Amazon is offering at this time. What appeal, aside from stroking my ego, does becoming a mega-bestseller do?

I think that $5.99 is the most expensive books should ever be. Books do absolutely nothing for us physically. They are all about pleasing emotions and rollercoaster rides, and they might be incredibly deep and thematically satisfying, but at the end of the day I could've bought my family dinner instead of buying a brand new hardcover from Borders.

I don't feel any disappointment or shame for charging less for my books, and I don't think anyone else needs to, either. If books are so expensive to make that publishers literally can't break even without charging $25 out the gate with a new hardcover, then honestly e-books is the way to go.

I could buy numerous real, concrete things that will make a physical difference with my money. Why should I put all that aside to play pretend for a little while?

Now keep in mind, I'm not saying that books don't mean anything or that they are not important. But for me to shout with my megaphone to the world that my book is worth $25 is just absurd.

You could donate that money to charity. You could help someone with that money. You could help the fight against cancer or promotoe AIDS awareness, a million other things that need to be done.

I feel a whole lot more comfortable providing entertainment for a far lower price, and I think most readers are in the same camp.

And they're the ones we're selling to, after all, aren't they? ;-)

- Nick
One More Day

Gary Ponzo said...

Okay, Joe, I'm on board. After selling 1400 copies of my novel in February, I've decided to lower the price to 99 cents. I have a sequel coming soon and honestly would rather have readers than revenue. At least right now.
I'll let you know how it works out.

Joseph said...

I've known Jon for almost a decade now and not only is he one of my closest friends in the writing business but he's also one of the hardest working writers I've ever met. I'm thrilled that his efforts have finally given him some of the success he deserves.

If you like wise-cracking heroes and a mix of action-oriented martial arts and dark fantasy, give his Lawson Vampire series a try!

Kudos too to Joe for sharing Jon's before and after posts. It's great to see other writers, established or otherwise, applying those basic concepts and seeing the same kinds of results.

JD Rhoades said...

a pretty big fan letter campaign that produced thousands of letters of support aimed at Kensington...and one very pissed off letter back from the president of Kensington to me, telling me in no uncertain terms that the series was dead to them and to please tell my fans to stop flooding them with letters.

"People need to stop telling us they like this series, we've already made up our mind that no one likes it."

Absolutely amazing.

A.P. Fuchs said...

Thanks, S.J. Trying the tiny url thing with this post.

In case this doesn't post or whatever, I'll keep it brief:

First and foremost, glad things picked up for you, Jon. I know you work like a dog in this business (we go pretty far back). Awesome news, man.

For the writers here, last night I uploaded a new cover for my love story, April, which I wrote under the pen name Peter Fox. The book has been selling pretty good on the Kindle even though the cover was lacking. This month I'm conducting an experiment on how much of an impact an improved/good cover makes, all other factors remaining the same (price, content, genre).

I've been self-publishing for 7 years and know that, in short, this business is a huge crapshoot with no hard and fast rules. There are guidelines, yes, but nothing in stone. Regarding my experiment, I've seen loads of books with terrible covers move VERY well. Why? Lots of factors, of course, like, say, word of mouth or whatever. Regardless, is a good cover a huge factor in sales or just a piece of the equasion or, dare I say, a non-issue?

I know most here would quickly point out the answer should be obvious. On the surface, that makes sense. But as said, I've seen tons of books with terrible covers move big time, but haven't documented anything.

That's what I'm doing now at my blog Canister X. Just click on the link to see the new cover for April and also details of the experiment. Check back often for updates as I'm going to be transparent with my sales and such. (And I also blog daily so there's always something new there Mon-Fri.)

Thanks.

Sarah McCabe said...

Joe: You need to keep at it until you get lucky. Read DRUNKARD'S WALK and it'll knock that determinism right out of you, Robin. ;)

In my experience there is no such thing as luck.

Sorry, couldn't resist. But seriously, I suspect that "luck" is just a word we've come up with to describe probabilities that we are unaware of.

Robin used as an example of something random being robbed. But this is actually not random at all. If there is someone who is planning to rob someone else, there's a certain probability that second someone will be you, depending on many factors (where you live, how good your security is, various things about the robber himself, etc.) that you may be only vaguely aware of or not aware of at all.

I maintain that there are reasons behind every occurrence, but often we don't know what they are or have limited knowledge at best. We call this luck to make it easier to explain, but "luck" doesn't explain anything.

Brian Drake said...

JD, per your comment, they were also saying they didn't want to make any money despite Jon firing his agent which upset his editor... It sounds like a bunch of petty elementary school playground b.s. if you ask me.

A.P. Fuchs said...

Okay, tried the tiny URL thing. Either my posts are getting intentionally deleted, or blogspot is the culprit.

Here's my post again, without any linkage:

First and foremost, glad things picked up for you, Jon. I know you work like a dog in this business (we go pretty far back). Awesome news, man.

For the writers here, last night I uploaded a new cover for my love story, April, which I wrote under the pen name Peter Fox. The book has been selling pretty good on the Kindle even though the cover was lacking. This month I'm conducting an experiment on how much of an impact an improved/good cover makes, all other factors remaining the same (price, content, genre).

I've been self-publishing for 7 years and know that, in short, this business is a huge crapshoot with no hard and fast rules. There are guidelines, yes, but nothing in stone. Regarding my experiment, I've seen loads of books with terrible covers move VERY well. Why? Lots of factors, of course, like, say, word of mouth or whatever. Regardless, is a good cover a huge factor in sales or just a piece of the equation or, dare I say, a non-issue?

I know most here would quickly point out the answer should be obvious. On the surface, that makes sense. But as said, I've seen tons of books with terrible covers move big time, but haven't documented anything.

That's what I'm doing now at my blog Canister X. Just click on the link of my name to see the new cover for April and also details of the experiment. Check back often for updates as I'm going to be transparent with my sales and such. (And I also blog daily so there's always something new there Mon-Fri.)

Thanks.

bowerbird said...

jduncan said:
> I pay ten bucks to
> sit for two hours
> in a movie theatre
> to see/hear a story.

you can drive yourself crazy
doing comparisons like this.

i realize that that particular
perspective helps you to
make the point you intend.

but i can also tell you that
an $8 netflix subscription
will give me all the movies
i can watch for a month...

do you catch my drift?

in the end, it boils down to
whatever people will pay...

if you get 'em to pay more,
then more power to you...

otherwise, deal with reality.

***

nicholas said:
> If books are
> so expensive to make
> that publishers literally
> can't break even
> without charging $25
> out the gate
> with a new hardcover

and here's the other side.

if you're doing hard-copy,
and selling in bookstores,
then yeah, you really do
have to charge $25 for
a hardcover "out the gate".

especially if you're paying
for lots of vice-presidents,
and a gleaming skyscraper.

have you priced gas lately?
lifted a box of books to see
just how much they weigh?

publishing is rough trade...
there are good reasons why
only the greediest survived.

-bowerbird

Tara Maya said...

A.P. Fuchs, I agree the second cover is much more appealing. (Although, I will be honest, it still looks more homemade than professional to me.) Still you were selling impressive numbers of that book even with the other cover, so it will be interesting to see how it does now.

Thanks for sharing your numbers and your experiment with us.

Tara Maya
Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Mary Sisson said...

It sounds like a bunch of petty elementary school playground b.s. if you ask me.

It absolutely is, and yet this kind of thing happens fairly often. Publishing is a small, small, small, small world. To an editor or an agent, preserving their relationship with each other is far more important than maximizing sales for any given author (unless that author is a monster best-seller). There are lots of authors out there, but not a lot of gatekeepers. You piss off one gatekeeper, and they will cut off your access either to all their clients (if they are an agent) or to their publishing house (if they are an editor).

S.J. Harris said...

I have decided to start a new blog dedicated solely to critiquing cover art. Check it out.

Cover Art Review

If you're interested in submitting a cover for peer review, send your jpg image as an attachment to sjharrisbooks@rocketmail.com

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

Jon F. Merz pointed out that he had great success after Barnes & Noble featured Parallax in an email promo to its customers.

I think that step 8 for ebook success is promotion, promotion, promotion. There seems to be a critical mass one must hit to be successful. One either has to have enough luck to have a mention by someone else, or the author has to be out there getting as many people to know about their book as possible.

Just uploading the book is not enough. Promote the book and promote yourself.

Lee Rogers said...

>>. . . explain why only Scholastic, a text-book publisher, was willing to take a chance with Harry Potter.<<

Too true. This is the best example of a monumental legacy publishing snafu by the big fiction houses.

Excuse Me, Miss said...

Another great post. I've followed Jon's career since the very beginning. I remember waiting with bated breath every week for the columns he wrote about his first year as a writer. I believe it was with Jenny Bent's newsletter. Those columns helped me greatly in understanding the mechanics of the publishing business, and when I received my first traditional contract I revisited them often as I went through the same process (editorial letter, copyedits, etc.). I felt it important that I support Jon as well, so I went out and purchased all of those early Lawson novels even though "vampires weren't my thing." I can't even begin to describe how much I loved those books. So it is wonderful to see Jon creating a new life for not only Lawson but his own writing career. Much success to you.

Excuse Me, Miss

Tara Maya said...

Yeah, I wanted to bring up the issue of promotion on the other thread, when Anon who has both a Big 6 deal and a self-pubbed novel was advised not to promote the self-pubbed novel. I don't understand that advice at all. Seems to me that's a perfect way to go from selling 12 books a month to 1-2 books a month.

Tara Maya
Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Brian Drake said...

Eric said...Just uploading the book is not enough. Promote the book and promote yourself.

I cannot agree with this more. From day one I sent out review copies of my books, did guest posts, and talked up my work on my own blog. I quickly found that what I thought was enough was not enough. I would get a burst of sales and then nothing.

With the new book, SHOW NO MERCY, I have done more promotion than ever, but most of my appearances are "time delayed", meaning that I have to wait to come up in the rotation on the various sites. That could take weeks or months, in some cases. They are also appearing on sites geared specifically to Kindle readers, not another authors site where readers may not have a Kindle. But, once the appearances happen, I expect a burst each time. It adds up over time. So, yes, take advantage of the many indie-friendly sites that exist to promote our material. You will find them happy to receive you.

S.E. Gordon said...

Write a damn good novel? Yes, and make sure it delivers.

Anonymous said...

"...explain why only Scholastic, a text-book publisher, was willing to take a chance with Harry Potter.

Scholastic has been publishing children's titles in Oz for decades.

I still have some of their books from the early 70s.

Jon F. Merz said...

Catching up after a crazy day...thanks for all the comments everyone, much appreciated. I'd like to make a few quick points about Parallax.

When I first brought it out, I priced it at $9.99 and sold about a thousand copies before sales took a nose dive. The most likely explanation for that decline in sales was due to the fact that I didn't have anything else out for sale at the time. I've since learned form that mistake, lol...

Also, Parallax being priced at 99 cents doesn't keep me awake at night. As I explained, it's my gateway drug. It's representative of some of my best work and my goal by pricing it at 99 cents is to get people to buy it, enjoy the ride, and then get hooked into my Lawson series (which features a lot of books in the $2.99 price point level). The drug analogies, I feel, are quite relevant. First taste is almost free and man, what a rush, you gotta get some more...and here it is: just $2.99...and whoa, there are more? Cool, gimme, gimme, gimme...

While I've been around a while, I don't kid myself that I've got a huge fan base (yet) so I need a little something to get folks to come try my wares. Parallax is that.

Thanks for the comments on its cover - I think I'll play around some more with it. I'm in the midst of having some of my other covers redone as well - gotta get everything firing on all cylinders.

And also, I'm not saying I'm completely done with legacy publishing yet, but I'm very frustrated and worn out from dealing with people who don't have a freaking clue about what sells. Case in point: I have a boys' adventure series out making the rounds. This thing should have been a slam-dunk. My agent was rabid with excitement about this and even he is beside himself at the ridiculous responses we've gotten. Some of the editorial responses were beyond inane. "I don't get ninjas." Well, great - little boys do and they'd love it, especially a series written by a guy who has been studying the authentic art for over twenty years. (This same editor then actually went out and tweeted: "What can we do to get more boys to read?" I SO wanted to write back: "Well, you could start by getting your head out of your ass and try to remember who your customers are.")

In any event, thanks again everyone!

Be well,
Jon

John Ling said...

Yeah, I wanted to bring up the issue of promotion on the other thread, when Anon who has both a Big 6 deal and a self-pubbed novel was advised not to promote the self-pubbed novel. I don't understand that advice at all. Seems to me that's a perfect way to go from selling 12 books a month to 1-2 books a month.

It's called maintaining the legacy publishing status quo.

John Ling said...

If you think I'm wrong, explain why only Scholastic, a text-book publisher, was willing to take a chance with Harry Potter.

That's actually incorrect. It was Bloomsbury that first acquired The Philosopher's Stone, and they then auctioned the US rights to Scholastic.

Also, as Anonymous pointed out, Scholastic is by no means a textbook-only publisher. They are, in fact, the largest publisher of children's fiction in the world and have occupied this position since the '70s.

John Ling said...

(This same editor then actually went out and tweeted: "What can we do to get more boys to read?" I SO wanted to write back: "Well, you could start by getting your head out of your ass and try to remember who your customers are.")

Legacy publishing's loss will be digital publishing's gain. =)

J. Viser said...

Jon - congrats!

As the father of a 12-year old boy, I can say with authority that ninjas are FREAKING COOL.

My son consumes books like they are mental pixie sticks and he loves series. I bought a Kindle for my wife's birthday, just so she could read my first novel, but if there was more stuff out there for kids, I might consider buying a cheaper (used?) device for our son.

That said, print is much easier for a kid to read - you will be amazed at where they take books. In the shower? Yeah, believe it.

Great story and glad things are looking up!

Tara Maya said...

I'm pretty sure my boys would love ninja stories.

Tara Maya
Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

evilphilip said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Selena Kitt said...

Ninjas might actually get the boy-child to pick up a book! ;)

Elaine said...

Joe-I’m addicted to this blog. Don’t know what you put in the Kool-Aid you serve, but it sure tastes good.

Jon-thanks for sharing!

You nailed it when you said- “it’s always been about the readers.” That’s exactly why we created RomCon, a fan convention for genre readers. There were no fan events focused solely on the reader-just lots of writer cons calling themselves reader conventions.

So, how would you feel about premiering your Fixer TV Series at RomCon 2011 (www.romcon2011.com) (August 5-7)? Saturday night we’ll have a dedicated audience at dinner of hundreds of die-hard Vamp fanatics.... You could look directly into your audience’s faces and judge their reaction to your work. It would be so cool.

Elaine Levine
elevine@romconinc.com

Lee Rogers said...

>>It was Bloomsbury that first acquired The Philosopher's Stone, and they then auctioned the US rights to Scholastic.<<

Although this is correct, the original poster's point was, as I saw it, that the big six US publishers missed out on Harry Potter (and Hunger Games), so their antennae for YA hits seems somewhat awry.

Jon F. Merz said...

Thanks everyone - we've got a few more legacy places to try, but if nothing pans out (in a huge-a$$ way) then I'll simply put it out myself. It's the kind of series I always wanted to read growing up, and it's been a work in progress for a loooong time now.

Elaine - shoot me an email jonfmerz AT verizon DOT net and let's chat. Thanks! Romcon sounds very interesting!

Thanks again all - very much appreciate you all taking the time to chime in with comments and congrats!

best wishes,
Jon

Matthew W. Grant said...

Jon, you should check the WBZ site to see if they have an audio file and link to your interview from a couple weeks ago. I'm sure Joe's readers would enjoy hearing it.

One point from your post that not too many peopole mentioned in the comments is the huge success again from dropping to 99 cents. That is a theme I keep seeing everywhere ebooks are discussed.

I've been going back and forth with that and finally did it today for Secrets Of Slaters Falls. The book is over 97,000 words so .99 seems like the book bargain of the century to me.

I've been amazed at how many people I see saying they won't pay any more than .99 for a book. I want to ask if they've ever bought a greeting card? Greeting cards can cost five or six dollars!

Matthew W. Grant
Sex, Sin, & Scandal in a small New England town...
Discover the Secrets Of Slaters Falls

Kelly said...

Cool article. I like how you distilled it all down to just a few salient points. Very worthwhile to know for anyone trying to break into the indie publishing markets. (I know - I just published a book for Raven c.s. McCracken on Kindle - I EAT BUTTERFLIES - and trying to navigate the marketing aspects has been daunting to say the least.) Thanks for the insights!

Anonymous said...

>Although this is correct,
>the original poster's point was,
>as I saw it, that the big six
>US publishers missed out on
>Harry Potter (and Hunger Games),
>so their antennae for YA hits
>seems somewhat awry.

When it comes to children's (and YA) publishing, though, Scholastic is the biggest game in town. They have dominated that side of the market since the 1970s, as others have said, and have done direct sales to children through their schools for just as long. They do a ton of in-school book fairs, as well.

If I were to write a children's book, I would rather have it published by Scholastic than anyone else.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Wow! What an amazing difference in tone between Blog One and Blog Two. So happy for you and for all who persevere...well except for the Sales and Marketing folk who've helped screw the pooch these past few years. The book I have out now--that's doing quite well was one of those "we don't know how to sell it" novels too.

Viva la revolution!

Lee Rogers said...

>> When it comes to children's (and YA) publishing, though, Scholastic is the biggest game in town. <<

Scholastic has about 2 percent of the total US retail market (not textbooks). In that sense it's not big.

And that's just the point: a relatively small publisher, overall, dudded the big, slow to move guys for a billion or more with Potter, and they still missed Hunger Games.

Probably won't happen again though.

Coolkayaker1 said...

Hey, Jon, cheers from one Bostonian to another (grew up in western MA near Amherst, undergrad and grad at B.U., lived on Bay State Rd behind the Citgo sign, and spent some time at the old Boston VA near you--now in Illinois, sorry to say). Your online presence is fantastic! Youtube videos, an amazing website (I think the best author site I have ever seen), and plenty of online exposure (twitter, etc.). I see in one video you mention your relationship with St. Martin's Press, and on your website, you have publisher's names next to the titles of your books..so (scratching head) do you have a traditional publishing contract, or is it purely e-books and online (which is what I took from this blog post)?

Wishing you fantastic success. Let's get you to be the next Dennis Lahane to get Boston up there on the literary map.

Jon F. Merz said...

Matthew - I actually just got the CD from Jordan the other day, so I'm sure the interview will be up at some point in the next month or so. But I'll definitely get a link out.

@Coolkayaker1 - I have a traditional deal with St. Martin's for the 5th book in my Lawson series, The Kensei. But they dragged their feet on picking up the rest of the series (not my editor who loves the series, but her boss who is...yeah) so I got tired of waiting and put them out myself. And now with the success I'm having, I probably will never sell erights to them.

Thanks all!
-Jon

David H. Burton said...

"Well, you could start by getting your head out of your ass and try to remember who your customers are."

This sentiment is one I share with children's publishing. A lot of editors and agents (not all, mind you, but a lot) are completely out of touch with what children actually want to read. I should know...I have three boys. And good boy books that actually engage them are hard to find.

Ninjas would totally sell. My boys would be all over that.

Dave Keane said...

Hey, I'm 45 and I still love ninja stories!

As far as books for boys go, I'm just finishing the last illustrations for the sixth book in my "Joe Sherlock: Kid Detective" series (with the help of Rob Siders, of course). Boys love 'em because of the gross-out humor, short chapters (with cliff hangers) and silly illustrations.

Harper did the first five, but gave up on this popular series. So now I'm taking over! My first self-pubbed ebook! The first five are available on Amazon. Check 'em out for your sons! http://tinyurl.com/63wvumo

Not sure how hot middle grade fiction is on Kindle, but I'll soon find out!

Cheers!

Kendall Swan said...

Just wanted to give some fyi stats:

Parallax is #1773 in Kindle store and
#91 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure.

The List (which I'm totally addicted to watching now) is at #58 in the Kindle Store and still holding at #2 for Police Procedurals in both Books and Kindle.

And...

Amanda Hocking mentioned on her blog Monday that she has sold 900k books. Our biggest indie star should hit 1 mil this week or next, I think.

Exciting times.

Kendall Swan
NAKED Parent Teacher Conference

David A. Todd said...

Congrats, Jon, on newfound success. May you have much more of it.

Off topic to commenters: I've been watching many of your comments include a signature that includes links to your websites or your Kindle works. How do you create that? I've been all through the blogspot profile and Google account pages, and can't find an "add signature" feature. There's probably another way to do it that I'm just not seeing.

Thanks in advance,
DAT

Anonymous said...

Dave mentioned middle grade fiction, which is what my series, The Treasure Hunters Club, is about. I think as more schools move to ereaders the middle grade fiction line will take off.

Sean McCartney
The Treasure Hunters Club
Secrets of the Magical Medallions

Merrill Heath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Merrill Heath said...

@David: Off topic to commenters: I've been watching many of your comments include a signature that includes links to your websites or your Kindle works. How do you create that?

Send me your email and I'll send you the code. I can't put it in a comment because it won't display properly.

Merrill
merrill_heath@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

For all of you thinking about ebook pricing-- This is from the blog DearAuthor.com:

"this morning, EU readers woke up to the news that the European Commission RAIDED European publisher offices looking for evidence of price fixing."

You can Google for more.

A.P. Fuchs said...

Sincere apologies for the repetitious posts, folks. If you follow them, however, you'll see I was having posting issues yesterday, hence the repeats. (You'll even see the small changes in wording to prove it.)

They honestly weren't showing up even after waiting awhile for them to do so.

I blame blogspot. *grumble* ;)

Mary Sisson said...

Do you want to know the funny bit about Scholastic and Harry Potter?

When the editor who aquired the US rights got back from (IIRC) the Frankfurt Book Fair, he got reamed out for spending so much money on this stupid property no one had ever heard of.

Anonymous said...

I'm a middle school, teacher, and today, during our "drop everything and read" time, I was reading The List on my Nook. Some of my students asked about what I was reading. I gave them a thumbnail plot sketch, and about six boys burst out with, "Whoa! Can you get a regular copy of that for our class?" I had to tell them it was not school-friendly, but it led me to wonder if the types of books that most boys truly would like to read would be considered too 'edgy' for a school setting. The boys I teach typically like action, humor, gross things, and yes, violence. Too bad I'd probably get fired for putting The List in my classroom library. Many of my students would like it, and would even get the humor.

Lundeen Literary said...

Hi All!

I've reread the comments, but maybe I still missed it... why is it that no one is talking about the free short by Jon on the Kindle store? I looked at my Kindle last night, and thought "hey, there's a name that sounds familiar..." Is it possible that the title from MacMillan here:
http://amzn.to/fOK4e2

with a sample of another of Jon's titles might possibly be pushing sales? Because my Amazon record shows me as having purchased/prepurchased this on Jan 10th, and it must have been for free - I didn't have funds to buy books/shorts at that time. It's still listed as free right now. This makes me think that Jon's recent uploads of books related to a book that was up as a freebie might have helped things along...

If this is the case, this blog information might be of limited use to self-pubbers - we don't have a major publisher on our side that will upload items which can be made free, and we don't have the ability to lower our prices to zero. Fabruary is great for Jon, but none of us can really repeat the experiment.

Just a thought...

Jenna
@lundeenliterary
www.lundeenliterary.com

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,

I teach middle school also and many of my students have read my book because it has lots of action and adventure. The web site also has a free teacher's guide. I also tried to get our school to try a pilot program called KIndle in the Classroom but we could not get the money. I am still hopeful.

Sean McCartney
The Treasure Hunters Club
Secrets of the Magical Medallions

Jon F. Merz said...

Jenna, I really don't know how much that even helped, to be honest. That short story was *supposed* to be released well in advance of my novel, The Kensei, and ended up coming out a month after the novel hits stores.

To further complicate things, St. Martin's didn't make it available to Canadian fans, nor is it even out on the Nook yet, for some inexplicable reason.

Dead Drop is a nice way to see if you dig my work, but to say that SMP has been behind this is really giving them far too much power. My sales in February were driven by a lot of butt-busting on my behalf - a lot of Tweets, working my newsletter list and adding subscribers, and using every social media outlet I could find to help drive people to my listmania list on Amazon and a list on the Nook store.

I'm sure Dead Drop might have swung a few people to check out the rest of the series, but I wouldn't say that's been even remotely the biggest factor.

-Jon

Merrill Heath said...

Jon, just finished reading the preview of The Fixer. I'll be purchasing a copy so I can continue reading.

I like what I've read and especially like the branding you've got going on with the covers for the Lawson series. Each is different enough to stand out but they are obviously part of a series and there is consistency in the appearance. I like that.

Regarding price, I have no issue with paying $2.99 per copy. Dropping the price to 99 cents would not affect my decision to buy...but that's just me.

Merrill Heath
Alec Stover Mysteries

Jon F. Merz said...

Thanks Merrill! I appreciate that!

Cookie's Mom said...

I really enjoyed that! I have a somewhat sort attention span. More accurately, my preschooler has a short attention span and I have little time to read a post of this length. I read it in it's entirety. Very informative. Thanks, and congratulations to both of you!

http://cookieschronicles.blogspot.com
http://cookiesbookclub.blogspot.com

Ellen Brickley said...

I don't read spy thrillers, or SF. But I just bought Parallax because it sounds interesting and I think I might like it, and hey, from Amazon.co.uk it cost me less than a cup of tea.

As its so far outside my preffered genre, if it had been released in print, I might have taken it out of the library but I would have been unlikely to buy it. Paperback books cost about ten euros in Ireland and that's about an hour's pay - a reasonable price for a book but a reasonable punt to take outside your genre.

So I get to read an interesting new book in a new genre I may love, it costs me very little and the writer is enjoying success. Viva la revolution!

Delighted to hear of your success, John!

Jon F. Merz said...

Thanks Ellen - I appreciate you taking a risk on my work. I hope you enjoy it! :)

Erin Fanning said...

This is my first visit to your blog, and I'm glad I found my way here. I just subscribed and looking forward to reading more.

Rai Aren said...

Hi Jon,

Thanks for sharing the details of your journey, and all its ups & downs. I appreciate your frank discussion and insight, it's very helpful. You've sure worked hard!

I just bought a copy of Parallax, it sounds like a very good read. I added The Fixer to my wishlist, too. I also thought I'd help you along by adding your books to the March 2011 Bargain book thread on Kindleboards:

Kindleboards

Hope it helps! :)

Cheers,

Rai Aren, co-author SECRET OF THE SANDS

Jon F. Merz said...

Thanks Rai! Much appreciated!

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Remi said...

Smashwords? I know that in the world of of letting amazon manage your files you, this puts me somewhat in the minority, but trust me when I say, buying e-books from either amazon or BN would be way, *way* more hassle than it's worth.