Monday, December 26, 2011

The List, A Story of Rejection

Just went through some of my old rejection letters. As readers of this blog know, I garnered more than 500 rejections before getting published.

One of my unpublished books was The List.


A billionaire Senator with money to burn...
A thirty year old science experiment, about to be revealed...
Seven people, marked for death, not for what they know, but for what they are...

THE LIST by JA Konrath
History is about to repeat itself

Book Description:

THE LIST is a bit of a departure for Konrath. It's a technothriller about a group of ten people who each have tattoos of numbers on the bottoms their feet, and don't know why.

One of them, a Chicago Homicide cop named Tom Mankowski, has had one of these strange tattoos since birth. When he investigates a violent murder and discovers the victim also has a tattooed number, it sets the ball rolling for an adventure of historic proportions.

To say more would give away too much.

The above description was, more or less, the query letter that my agent sent out to over a dozen top editors.


Here are some of the rejections The List received:

Here is The List. I'm returning it to you. Sorry it didn't work out at Ballantine, hope you'll place it elsewhere soon. - Ballantine Books

As discussed, The List by Joe Konrath isn't a book for me. Thank you, and I'm sorry. - Penguin Putnam

Thanks for letting me see The List by Joe Konrath. While it's certainly not a plot I've seen before--at least the cloning part--it seems very familiar all the same, plus the humor in the storytelling seems a little forced and sitcom-ish, and finally exhausted my interest. So it has to be a pass for me. Despite my reservations about The List, I suspect the originality of the concept will prove a lure to someone, and I wish you all the best with it. - Simon & Schuster


I have just taken on a thriller with comparable qualities, and we have such a small list that I can only afford to publish one novel of this kind every year. So, a pass, but many thanks for sending it my way. - Talk Miramax Books


Thanks for sending me The List by Joe Konrath. There's much to like here--particularly the author's savvy prose and the way he ieasily integrates his knowledge of police procedures into the story. As for the plot, I was initially intrigued by the way the protagonist was linked to the murders, but ultimately I had issues with it. I had a hard time believing inthe way he learned about his bizaree adoption taking it so well and regarding it simply as another clue surrounding the murders. I suppose the story twists from that point on were harder to swallow. But this is just my opinion, of course... I'm sure other editors will disagree. - Doubleday


Thanks for letting me read Joe Kramath's (sic) The List. I', sorry to say that despite the good writing and humor, I think the story may be too fabulous for us to publish it successfully. Thanks again and best of luck to you and the author. - Little, Brown and Company

As you know, Will passed along to me The List by Jo (sic) Konrath, which I read with great interest. It's certainly an original premise, and Konrath has an engaging style. I'm afraid though that ultimately we weren't sufficiently drawn into the thriller aspects of the novel, and thus have decided to pass. Thanks very much for thinking of us for this. I'll be interested to hear where this lands. - Hyperion (who later went on to publish six of my later novels)

Thanks so much for the look at The List by Joe Konrath. Needless to say, I found the premise extremely imaginative and original, and the author does a remarkable job balancing the brisk pacing with humor. In the end, however, I just thought it would be hard for us to really break this out in a competitive fiction market, as its novelty seems to hamper its commercial potential. - New American Library


I must say the cop-protagonist of this novel is one of the brightest lights in the clone world, an exact replica of Thomas Jefferson. But as I kept reading, the improbabilities kept bumping into each other and I just couldn't believe the storyline. Thank you for letting me see this, and I wish I could be more enthusiastic. HarperCollins Publishers


Thank you for sending me The List by Joe Konrath. I liked the set-up for this novel a great deal--a detective investigation a murder finds that the victim shares the same enigmatic tattoo that he possesses. Unfortunately, I just didn't think the rest of the novel could sustain that sense of eerie anticipation. The reason for the tattoos, that all participants were part of a secret government cloning experiment, just seemed a little too familiar, and the constant joking, while witty at times, also eroded the tension and sense of menace. I appreciate the look and hope another editor feels differently. Bantam Dell Publishing Group


I shared The List by Joe Konrath with some colleagues here. Several found it amusing but ultimately we felt it was a bit too odd and were concerned about the audience. So I will be declining. William Morrow


I certainly give Joe Konrath lots of credit for trying to put forth a most creative and different kind of thriller involving clones of famous people. And for the most part his wise-cracking dialogue held my attention, too. But int he final analysis, I just thought he tried to hard in this over-the-top novel. I just think it would be a very difficult thriller to sell to our sales force in a major way. The credibility factor is strained a wee bit too much. As such, I'm returning it with my regrets, but with my thanks for the look. - Warner Books


Thank you for sending The List by Joe Konrath. It has a lot going for it--especially certain moments of humor--but in the end it seemed too much like the novelization of a movie than a genuine novel. The characters are types, and the echoes of such movies as Lethal Weapon became distracting. if this really were a movie tie-in, I could see pursuing it, but as it is, I'm going to pass. I'm sure you'll find the right home for it, though. - Pocket Books


Thanks for following up so promptly and sending The List by Joe Konrath. I believe the idea is strong and the writer has great style.Unfortunately, I can not take this manuscript on in the state that it is in. To begin with, it is simply too long. The writer needs to trim his work down a good deal. The story is also too riddled with conversation, which slows down the pace and is cumbersome to read. It lacks the spark and sustained suspense required to stand out on the crowded fiction shelf. - St. Martin's Press

In April of 2009, I self-published The List.

As of this writing, December 26, 2011, The List has earned me over $100,000.

Right now it is in the Kindle Top 100 again (it has cracked the Top 100 four different times since I published it.)

What does that translate into sales?

The novel, rejected by everyone, is right now selling over 100 copies an hour, currently earning $3.50 a minute. That's $210 an hour, $5040 a day. And it seems to be picking up speed.

Hopefully, it will catch up to my novel Trapped, which is also in the Top 100 (for the third time) and is currently ranked at #73. Trapped was part of a two book deal with Grand Central, but they rejected it. I published it myself in June of 2010. Since then, it has earned me more than $100,000.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to send warm holiday cheer and sincere thanks the editors at HarperCollins, Bantam Dell, Hyperion, NAL, Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, William Morrow, Warner Books, St. Martin's Press, Ballantine, Penguin Putnam, Talk Miramax, Pocket Books, Little, Brown and Company, for rejecting The List. And thanks to Grand Central for rejecting Trapped.

Much success to you all in 2012.

And just to show my story isn't unique, my friend and writing partner, Blake Crouch, recently had a similar experience with his novel Run. It was shopped during the fall of 2010 to a dozen major publishers, all of whom rejected it. Since Blake published Run himself in March, it has sold over 40,000 copies, and is currently ranked at #92 in the Kindle store. In the last 48 hours alone, it has sold over 2000 copies.

Blake and I want to wish all of those editors who rejected us a very Happy New Year.

100 comments:

Chrissy said...

These all seem, to me, to be positive rejections. I must say that I hear about godawful rejection letters all the time, but have come to wonder if they are mostly myth. Most of mine have been polite at the least and encouraging on occasion.

The other thing that strikes me is that they all seem to share one thing: the novel was LIKED but it was rejected because it "wouldn't fit."

Is that not the absolute definition of an ideal direct-publishing venture?

Thanks for sharing these.

Ramon Terrell said...

Thanks for sharing that story Joe. It's nice to read something like this to help recharge the batteries for a beginning writer. My first book got positive rejections from about 10 publishers before I indie published it. Waiting for the artwork to publish my third, and while I have no real sales yet, I understand its for the long haul.

That said, has anyone found it takes more time for novels to take off in the fantasy genre than others? Just curious.

Lexi said...

I enjoyed this post. If only publishers knew as much about selling books as they think they do, how well they'd be doing.

Happy New Year!

(And congratulations!)

AstonWest said...

Stories of rejection letters for highly successful authors aren't really new...how many rejected the Harry Potter series, for example?

That said, it was interesting to see all of the various opinions from the major publishers...and equally interesting that all of them seemed, at the very least, to be personal rejections.

Mari Stroud said...

They always say that the best revenge is living well.

Casper Bogart said...

Thanks for submitting. It isn't for us.

But feel free to spend another year cranking out another one, and send it our way so we can take six months to politely reject it.

Or..

($100K later....)

Richard J. Schneider said...

Reading between the lines I sense an fear to market the book (AKA: laziness) and sheer incompetence. My theory is that if the people reading the book liked it (as did many of the editors) that the reading public would like it as well. Your self-pub sales figures back that up. Helpful to see these rejections.

Todd Trumpet said...

My favorite line from all the rejections was this from the "New American Library":

"...as its novelty seems to hamper its commercial potential."

Yes, as a reader, I know the LAST thing I want to see is something that deviates even a LITTLE from everything I've seen before.

Revenge IS sweet.

Todd
www.ToddTrumpet.com

Elena said...

Love this post! 500 rejections? Sheesh, it took me one "not for me" to realize I would be wasting my time ;)

I still haven't reached three digit sales yet, but am thankful for the six 5-star reviews which probably never would have made it to Amazon had I chosen to go the "traditional" route.

Continued success to you, and best of luck to all authors who despite what they're told, know they "fit" somewhere.

Rambling Expat said...

Hi there,

What is the saying: "Laughing all the way to the bank", or something like that no? ...

Congratulation!

Have a good day.

Patrice said...

Thanks very much for the rejection letter exhibits, Joe. I agree that these are pretty kind rejection letters -- because you already had been published and you had an agent who was smoothing the way with acquisitions editors. These are the kind ones. Many of the rejection letters writers get (if they get any response at all) are from agents who say "Not for us at this time" or something similarly generic.

It must feel great to look at these letters now. The best revenge is success, right?

I also had years of rejection letters for my first novel (now in a drawer) and then my second. The second is currently making its way up the charts and is now #313 Paid in the Kindle Store, #2 in the Kindle Store for political fiction, #3 in all Books for political fiction, and #54 in all thrillers. I'm making money, and people are reading it.

I am VERY happy that I am in control of my own career and looking at a much larger percentage of the profit this way. Thanks for sharing.

Sean F. Roney said...

I find it funny that some of the people mentioned the humor as a reason for concern. I guess they don't know cops that well. Kudos to you for knowing that many cops, especially investigators, use humor to get through tense moments.

Just goes to show you know what you're doing and they don't. That being a facet of the larger discussion of the success of the novel. Congratulations!

Shirley said...

Thanks for the inspiration.

JD Rhoades said...

Yeah, those "positive rejections" are why I decided to go the self-pubbing route. My favorite was the one for LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY that said "We just don't think there's a market for a mystery set in a small town"--the same week that John Hart's THE LAST CHILD (a mystery set in a small town) was on the NY Times bestseller list.It doesn't take too may WTF moments like that.

JD Rhoades said...

Kudos to you for knowing that many cops, especially investigators, use humor to get through tense moments.

Some of the funniest people I know are cops. Also ER doctors.

Meb Bryant said...

"...we felt it was a bit too odd and were concerned about the audience. So I will be declining. William Morrow"

As a member of the reading audience, I rest better at night, knowing the gatekeepers are keeping a vigil.

As a writer, I just don't understand their decisions.

Anonymous said...

Interesting story. In a way, I think the rejections were pretty reasonable. Joe didn't have the level of exposure he has right now and the industry was different back then. It is quite possible that for a host of reasons The List could have bombed on the shelves.

Thankfully, this is 2011/2012 and E-Pubbing and an option. The List can be a successful seller due to Joe's recognizability and craft. It is a positive sign for anyone who has the skill, exposure and luck already (talking to published mid-listers or home-brewed Amazon successes). For the rest of us, let's hope we can get a piece of the pie when we reach that level of the above. [If the pie is still around when we get into the bakery for a slice.]

Suz Korb said...

Haha. Suckers.

Iain Edward Henn said...

A great example of how e-books and indie publishing can reach readers that the legacy publishers can't (or won't.) And an inspiration to all of us to knuckle down and get on with it.

KB/KT Grant said...

what must these editors who rejected you must be thinking now? "Doh" comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

Most of my rejection letters were form letters.

After finally signing with a small press, I really felt bad sending out rejections letters to other publishers, making sure my replies were as polite and personal as posible.

Walter Knight said...

I once assumed big publishers knew what they were doing merely because they were big. After exchanging letters with them, I am not so sure. I still assume they make a profit off the junk I see in the stores, so maybe junk is what the public wants.

tyhutchinson said...

Nice. Makes for some good basking

Paula Millhouse said...

Thank You for sharing this remarkable post, Joe.
My first agented project (the novel Careful What You Wish For...) was submitted this past year and I received three rejections that sounded surprisingly similar in nature.
I take heart in what you've shared.
Time will tell if the books, which are now available on Kindle, Nook, and CreateSpace with Amazon will ever hold a candle to your success story, but I'm thrilled that now they're available for the readers to decide.
Merry Christmas, Konrath, and Happy New Year too.
Thank You for sharing what you've learned.
Paula
www.paulamillhouse.com

Joe Konrath said...

There are still four hours left, but today on Kindle I've made over $9000.

I'm...in shock.

Darlene Underdahl said...

"The novel, rejected by everyone, is right now selling over 100 copies an hour, currently earning $3.50 a minute. That's $210 an hour, $5040 a day. And it seems to be picking up speed."

Hope I can do that some day...good on ya!

Joshua Simcox said...

I enjoyed The List, but it is a flawed novel and I can understand why publishers were reluctant to take a chance on it. It's obviously done remarkably well as a low-priced ebook download in this new publishing climate, but we can only guess how it would've fared in the mid-90's as a hardcover or mass-market paperback. As unfair as all those rejections may seem, I don't believe they're entirely unreasonable.

As for Run, I do have a difficult time understanding why that one was rejected...

--Josh

Ramon Terrell said...

$9000!!!!!!!!!

Good GOD man! I'm trying to be like you when I grow up! Damn. My hat goes off to you. Nothing is more inspiring than to see someone work hard and win at life!

Joe Konrath said...

$9000!!!!!!!!!

In the past 40 minutes, The List has sold over 300 copies.

I'm slack-jawed. I'd been expecting a decent holiday sales bump but this is making my head spin.

Larissa said...

This just proves that the gatekeepers don't know all. That they are human and it's ridiculous to worship their opinion like they're God.

Big reality check: They're not.
Shocker!

Anyway, great post! It's really inspiring to see you succeed despite what the gatekeepers say.

Casper Bogart said...

$9000.

Now you're beginning to taste the kind of money gatekeepers have always made off their writers.

As screenwriters, we make about five cents when a DVD of the film sells.

Cut out all the middlemen, and you've got profitability for artists.

Congrats.

Anonymous said...

"this is making my head spin."

Wow, me too. I'm so jealous. Working towards a Spring release of my first ebook, and hope to come close to these kinds of numbers. Congrats, Joe.

Patrice said...

I'm just as amazed as you are, Joe. Nobody had heard of me before December 23rd, when I made my political thriller, RUNNING, free for 24 hours. I had NO name recognition. I've now made $4,000 in less than 3 days. It's astonishing. People are reading and liking and recommending...

My ranking is still going up. It is a very merry Christmas in my house!

Patrice Fitzgerald,
author of RUNNING

Marie Force said...

I love this, Joe. Thank you for posting such an awesome rundown of all the bizarre reasons they said no. Congratulations on your success with The List.

I had a similar experience with my book True North, which came THIS close to selling to one of the big six in the summer of 2010. The contemporary romance about an unlucky-in-love super model made it all the way to the top editor and was rejected because, (and I LOVE this), "No one wants to read about a super model." I truly believe this editor never bothered to read the book, but whatever. I thank her EVERY SINGLE DAY for that rejection because two months later I published it on my own. True North has since sold 20,000 ebooks and earned me more than $40,000. Not to mention, it was the first of my 10 indie books this year, none of which would've happened if that editor had said yes to True North. So I thank her every single day, especially the day last week when I wrapped up my day job to write full time. That never would've happened without that critical rejection.

I've got True North listed as a freebie for five days on Amazon and we're closing in on 20,000 downloads in just 24 hours. True North continues to get it done for me! No one wants to read about a super model my ASS! :-)

Eric said...

Everyone who still hangs on to the idea that the publisher's are the "gatekeepers" and that they should be the judge of what we should read, this should show that the "gatekeepers" are no better judge of material than anyone else.

I say let the public be the new Gatekeepers!

JAMES BRUNO said...

My story is similar to others in this thread. Three novels. Three agents. Hundreds of rejections. All three now self-published books have been Kindle paid muliple-list bestsellers. My first novel recently attained #333 in the Kindle store. My royalties are rising. Thank you Big 6 for making me see the error of my ways!

Walter Golden said...

I wonder how many of the editors who rejected your books are still working at the same company.

David Wisehart said...

Congrats, Joe!

Your blog has been a great inspiration to me.

I'm happy to report that my own rejected novel, Devil's Lair, spent Christmas Day in the Kindle top 400, and it's making me a lot of money selling at a retail price of $7.99. :)

I wouldn't have had this success if I hadn't gone indie, and I wouldn't have gone indie if I hadn't read your blog.

So, thanks a million, and Happy New Year!

David

Inara Everett said...

Congratulations on proving those editors wrong - success is the best revenge!

Here's my rejection story: I'm in the process of e-publishing a novel after trying the legacy publishing route. One form letter rejection was sent to me enclosed in my original envelope on which the editor had written "not at this address - return to sender". This meant the post office sent it to me for free, allowing the editor to keep the postage on my SASE.

That's all I was to him, a source of free postage. I doubt he even bothered to read my submission. His tactic shows a lack of ethics - and is likely illegal too!

Thanks for all your helpful info Joe!

Najela said...

My mom doesn't believe you make $5000 a day.

Artemis Hunt said...

$9000 in a few hours! Amazing. Here I am, simply chugging along, hoping to hit $20,000 for the MONTH.

Heh. Puts me in my place all right :)

Artemis/Aphrodite Hunt

Adele Cosgrove-Bray said...

It's said that the best kind of revenge is to be successful. So, thanks for the chuckles and my best wishes for your continued success!

Archangel said...

it's really jaw dropping, that bump. Congrats Joe.

rejection, yes, many of us have our archive of them. lol. Your rejections Z(just comparing to my 42 on first book) seem quite polite for the most part and subtext, just my .02, that there is desire to do business with your agent re your/others' work in the future. Unagented, all my rejections were anywhere from no reply other than manuscript returned jacked up completely with coffee stains and .... to brutal. Still fighting to free my work from big six. We've been at it for over two years now, and growing fatigued at times. But/And am always glad to read of your and other people's successes. Siempre.

David Wisehart said...

Najela said, "My mom doesn't believe you make $5000 a day."

My book peaked at #347 on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Day alone, I made over $1,300 on Devil's Lair in the US Kindle store.

Joe's book, The List, is currently #25 in the Kindle store.

So I totally believe he's clearing $9000 or more a day.

This is a big, big Christmas for ebook sales. :)

David

Paolo Amoroso said...

The remark "[...] we have such a small list that I can only afford to publish one novel of this kind every year." (Talk Miramax Books) hints at how much the digital revolution changed traditional publishing and distribution. And all this happened in a matter of years.

Peter Millard said...

Thanks for posting this. As others have said, the rejections seem pretty reasonable overall and having bought The List myself and failed to finish it, I have to agree with most of them.

You've written before that every writer can't possible appeal to every reader, and The List, for me, was one of those times; it certainly hasn't stopped me from buying some of your other books, though, and I'm glad it's working out for you overall.

Cheers, Peter.

Blue Tyson said...

Marie,

Maybe you should write a novel about a supermodel who marries or a Princess. Or the Queen of England.

And maybe an actress, too.

Might sell millions! :)

Stephen T. Harper said...

Congratulations Joe, and Patrice, and David. I've been seeing your books all weekend in my "customers also bought" and top 100 lists, right next to mine. Thrilling.

My story - Book went live in October. Only book. $4.99. Very little promotion. Small sales until dec 12th, after starting Kindle select and coming off first free promo. Sales jumped. Then jumped again at Christmas. Currently # 797 in paid kindle store. Mind blowing to me.

Angela said...

And to think I knew you when! LOL Thanks for the inspiring post, Joe. Need to get you at a local conference soon. I'm not in Peoria anymore. New territory, new people :-)

Happy new Year! - Kelly Henkins
w/a Angela Drake

Stephen T. Harper said...

Oh, and the real reason for the comment... Thank you, Joe, for all you provide in this blog, including and especially the comments section. incredibly valuable place. Happy new year to all!

fannyfae said...

Thanks, Joe, for the inspiring post. I discovered your blog a year ago and you and a few others really have given me inspiration in spite of the rejections.

I just downloaded "The List" and I have to say, I think these guys were idiots! Good on you! I wish you every success! With what you earn, it makes me realize that if I follow your example, maybe, just maybe, I can pay off my student loans after all! ;)

Marjorie F. Baldwin said...

Joe you crack me the *bleep* up, always. I hope to follow your lead in 2012 and pray you'll be eating my dust in 2015..unless the world ends this time next year and we're all just trying to take it with us :)

The name dropping (pun intended) was the most hilarious part. Loved all the typos! Thanks for sharing the "relaity" with us :)

-Friday
Marjorie F. Baldwin
(@phoenicianbooks)

jdcannonwrites said...

From the Hachette memo: "We identify authors and books that are going to stand out in the marketplace. HBG discovers new voices, and separates the remarkable from the rest."

I guess all those "remarkable" authors HBG discovered must be making some real money...NOT!!

Congrats Joe...the new gatekeepers have spoken!!

Tracy Sharp said...

Wonderful story. Thanks for posting it. So cool to be able to say, "How do you like me now?" ;)

Joe Konrath said...

As others have said, the rejections seem pretty reasonable overall and having bought The List myself and failed to finish it, I have to agree with most of them.

You're confusing your personal taste with what other like.

I couldn't finish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or The Road. Both took too long to get started, and I lost interest.

But if I'd been an editor, it would have been a giant mistake if I rejected those books, because they each became huge blockbusters.

I'd expect an editor to see the commercial potential of a book. Grand Central saw the potential in Afraid, but rejected Trapped. Trapped has outsold Afraid. My novels Origin, Shot of Tequila, Endurance, and Disturb didn't sell to publishers, but they're all doing very well.

After Hyperion dropped my Jack Daniels series, no one else wanted to pick it up. Amazon published the last two books, and each of those outsold any of the six Hyperion published.

While taste can vary, and everyone likes different things, it's hard to dispute that my work is commercial. The hundreds of 5 star reviews are a good indicator that people like my books.

The fact that dozens of major editors failed to see this is embarrassing.

Dan DeWitt said...

I found Waldo:

Thanks for letting me read Joe Kramath's (sic) The List. I', sorry to say that despite the good writing and humor, I think the story may be too fabulous for us to publish it successfully. Thanks again and best of luck to you and the author. - Little, Brown and Company

No way that's a real rejection. :-)

Also, congrats on your success, you rich bastard.

Dan

Josh Randall said...

Joe, way to go. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, unless it was me (grin).

Anonymous said...

Yes, but is this story only applicable to commercial/genre fiction?

It seems like the only huge Kindle successes are with thrillers and other genre reads. Literary fiction does not seem to get that kind of success.

A.W.Hartoin said...

Little, Brown should stop using the word fabulous. I don't think it means what they think it means. :)

marciacolette said...

Chiming in to say how much I love love love this post. Self-publish on with your bad self.

Joe Konrath said...

Just made most of my ebooks free on Kindle. See my latest blog post.

Cyn Bagley said...

Your rejection letters are better than mine. I received a form letter once and a signature. Most of my rejections letters were that my work was not what they were looking for (yes, with dangling prep.) I knew someone who was told to never write again. Fortunately, I never had that type of rejection letter. :-)

Anyway, I need to get back to writing. I was sick over the Christmas weekend and still feel bad. But I hope to have the energy to write again in the next day or so.

Yours, Cyn

PS - Digital publishing has been so much less stressful for my body and mind. Because of my disease, stress is not useful - it just makes my disease worse. So Happy New Year and hope you sell more and more in the next year.

Anonymous said...

"I'd expect an editor to see the commercial potential of a book ... The fact that dozens of major editors failed to see this is embarrassing."

But Joe, isn't it possible that both you *and* they are right? Isn't the exact point that they *did* see the book's commercial potential?

By your figures, in 30-some months the market has shown a $145k appetite for the work. That's about $57k a year. A publisher's profit on that - at the industry average - might be about $5k or $6k a year.

But their business model wanted more than that. They decided to shoot for a higher return with someone else. That's what "not right for us" means.

Maybe they succeeded with their alternative quest, or maybe they failed. But it was their right to decide.

Where you're right is that yes, of course, the epub marketplace is a great place for such works to find a home. With indie-level costs, the definition of "profitable" is very different.

Welcome to the new world. The Big 6 will try for big profits. They'll be right some of the time, and wrong some of the time. The "gatekeeper" decisions are not personal - they're basic P&L calculations.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Joe, that's pretty impressive that you got so many "personal" rejections. Most of mine were form letters. "Thank you for sending us The Door Within. Unfortunately, your novel does not meet our current needs." Blah, Blah. Eventually Thomas Nelson picked up on The Door Within and I've sold over 150,000 copies. Cheers to the rejectors! It's really just a reminder of how flawed the traditional publishing model is. It most often comes down to ONE PERSON'S OPINION as to whether a book gets published. So many talented people get turned away just because one person said no. Stupid way of doing things.

David L. Shutter said...

There are still four hours left, but today on Kindle I've made over $9000.

I'm...in shock.


Why? This is what you've been predicting. This is viral marketing and e-commerce at work brother. Can only imagine what it feels like to log on and look at those numbers though.

Would love to hear how Selena Barry and some others are doing amidst the Kindle buying frenzy.

Congrat's on the banner sales season!

feathered paisley said...

thanks for this post...gives me a little faith in this passion of mine someday evolving into something more tangible.

Rejean Giguere said...

Joe - Too many of us have had those sorts of letters. My book DreamWeaver never had a chance here in Canada, the market is too small. Now I'm just waiting for that viral thing to work.

Happy New Year.

David Darracott said...

These posts just get richer and richer, Joe. How well you prove what so many of us have known for so long. You can spend your life chasing a deal or you can make your own deal. Hats off to every writer who recognizes that we now have the means to control our own destiny. No one needs to waste a single minute more playing the game of What New York Wants.

Marie Force said...

LOL Blue! Great ideas. If they sell half as well as my first super model book I would be thrilled. Really what makes that book different is that she appears to have it all but really has NOTHING but a fancy job and a nice bank account--and regular Jane Q. Reader has loved seeing her get her prince. I think all the time about how badly I wanted to make that sale and how very, very LUCKY I am that it didn't happen. That yes would've prevented me from doing everything I did last year that led to me quitting my job (with a kid going to college in 18 months) and living my dream. Rejection is my friend.

PatriciaW said...

I'm curious as to what, if anything, you did to change The List prior to publishing it yourself? Writers are always told to look for repetition in rejections. If many people are saying the same thing, perhaps there is something to it.

In your rejection letters, aside from everyone saying it was a very novel concept and therefore perhaps difficult to market, a number also seemed to comment on the humor and good, if a bit over the top, writing.

In all this discussion about indie publishing, the need to produce the best book possible may be overlooked.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of what you're doing and I've downloaded The List to read. I've yet to publish anything so perhaps I'm not one to ask. I'm just curious because I see so much emphasis (not only here but in the posts of other indie writers) on the monetary aspects and less so on whether perhaps books rejected by traditional publishers may have needed a little work (although the novelty of The List suggests that no matter what you did with it, publishers would have shied away from it.)

Just curious.

Joe Konrath said...

But Joe, isn't it possible that both you *and* they are right? Isn't the exact point that they *did* see the book's commercial potential?

No. In the past, publishers would nurture authors and grow their brand. This was how the majority of the bestsellers we have today became bestsellers. All the old white guys who constantly hit the NYT List did not start out as instant mega-bestsellers.

If a book has commercial potential, and a publisher wants to make money, they should publish the book.

By your figures, in 30-some months the market has shown a $145k appetite for the work. That's about $57k a year. A publisher's profit on that - at the industry average - might be about $5k or $6k a year.

I disagree with your figures. A publisher makes more profit on a book than an author does, even after everyone (author, distributor, bookseller, printer, shipper) is paid.

Publishers can make money on books that haven't even earned out their advance.

Any publisher who turned down a book that can steadily make $50k a year is foolish.

If you're saying that the $50k would have to be shared between the author and publisher, it is still foolish for them to turn down. This year I make almost $100k in royalties from my 8 legacy pubbed books (Whiskey Sour, Afraid, etc.)

They made a lot more than I did on those titles, because I'm only getting 17.5% of the list price, and the overwhelming majority of sales were for ebooks.

Publishers could have been earning good money if they'd bought The List, Origin, Tequila, Endurance, Trapped, etc. But they missed out.

Fail.

But their business model wanted more than that. They decided to shoot for a higher return with someone else. That's what "not right for us" means.

Are you seriously saying that publishers only take on books they expect to be giant bestsellers?

If so, then they fail miserably at that job, because most of what they publish doesn't become a huge bestseller.

If you're saying that they rejected The List because they thought they could make more money on another comparable title, that's silly too, because The List has made a nice chunk of money, and 4 out of 5 books published do not.

They failed.

Maybe they succeeded with their alternative quest, or maybe they failed. But it was their right to decide.

Publishers passed on Harry Potter. Personally, if I was an editor who said no to that, I would have quit right after HP started getting big. I'd know I was unsuited for the job.

An editor's job is to find commercial (or worthwhile) books to publish, so the house and the stockholders make money.

Passing up on titles that do make money, and picking titles that flop, is failing.

Where you're right is that yes, of course, the epub marketplace is a great place for such works to find a home. With indie-level costs, the definition of "profitable" is very different.

Again, I'll politely disagree. Right now, The List is making more money than 99.999% of EVERY book published by EVERY publisher.

You're saying that's not what publishers want?

Joe Konrath said...

Welcome to the new world. The Big 6 will try for big profits. They'll be right some of the time, and wrong some of the time. The "gatekeeper" decisions are not personal - they're basic P&L calculations.

And their P&L calculations consistently fail.

Let's say that the reason The List is doing so well right now is based on my marketing savvy and my ability to exploit a new technology.

If that's the case, shame on a MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR PUBLISHING INDUSTRY for not being able to do the same thing with the 50,000+ novels they publish every year.

Why am I a bestseller and all those legacy pubbed books aren't? And I'm not the only one. Crouch, Locke, Goldberg, Mallory, McQuestion, Lyons, Hocking, Morrison, Daglish, Sullivan, etc are killing it.

So either they were wrong for passing up on a hit, or they're wrong for how they do business.

Either way, the facts stand. In the past 36 hours, The List has made me over $10,000. That's net, not gross. It has earned me $10k in a day and a half.

Any way you look at it, publishers have failed.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

"as its novelty seems to hamper its commercial potential"

Liked that line especially.

Anonymous said...

"Any publisher who turned down a book that can steadily make $50k a year is foolish."

This seems to be the heart of your argument, but it's wrong, for two reasons.

First, it assumes a publisher can publish as many new books as it wants to. But it can't. There's a practical limit to a publisher's output - per category, from a hundred or so to a thousand or so. Five hundred books (for instance) each of which *grosses* $50k a year is a poor business plan. All publishers will try to do better than that. They may have a spotty record of success, but so do self-publishers. And it's worth pointing out that the Big Six are consistently profitable overall, which self-publishing probably isn't, overall, even with its meager costs.

Second, a book that grosses $50k a year when selling at $2.99 isn't very interesting to a corporation with a corporate cost structure. The P&L projection would assume a much lower gross at a necessarily higher price.

We should rightly celebrate the e-book "aftermarket" (or whatever we might call it) - but to blithely compare the minor leagues to the majors is protesting way too much. They're not comparable.

Dustin Scott Wood said...

I don't understand the disconnect that exists between these large publishing houses. By no means do I wish to imply that they're some large cabal intentionally setting out to keep good writing from readers, but it does seems as though a decent number of the people working for these large publishing houses shut down a portion of their intellect when it comes to understanding what the larger reading public wants to consume. One must assume that if they're in that line of work that they must love books and reading, but when/where/why does the sudden "mind gap" happen with regard to originality and commercial appeal?

Joe Konrath said...

First, it assumes a publisher can publish as many new books as it wants to. But it can't. There's a practical limit to a publisher's output - per category, from a hundred or so to a thousand or so.

I don't disagree.

My argument is that they chose poorly. My self-pubbed books are more successful than the majority of legacy pubbed books. People buy them and enjoy them.

This is a case of publishers failing to see that.

Five hundred books (for instance) each of which *grosses* $50k a year is a poor business plan.

We're not talking gross. We're talking profit. Five hundred books that profit $50k a year is 25 mil. Annually. And my bet is that some of those books will do better than $50k with a proper marketing push.

But instead, publishers consistently lose money on titles.

My argument is: my books don't lose money. Not a single one I've pubbed solo, or with legacy pubbers.

They missed an opportunity. Repeatedly. The fact that I'm able to get rich of off titles they rejected--and couldn't get rich off of titles they bought--speaks volumes about their incompetence.

And it's worth pointing out that the Big Six are consistently profitable overall, which self-publishing probably isn't, overall, even with its meager costs.

Give it two more years, on both counts.

The Big 6 are riding high on ebooks. But when their authors demand better royalties, or else leave, profits will dry up and overhead will not be met.

Compare that to a self-pubber who spends $600 on a cover and formatting. If the book is decent, that money will be recouped eventually, and everything beyond that is pure profit.

Second, a book that grosses $50k a year when selling at $2.99 isn't very interesting to a corporation with a corporate cost structure.

Then you change the corporate cost structure, or you sink. And they will sink.

But let's get back to the crux of the argument. My books appeal to people. I've got hundreds of five star reviews, and I've managed to sell 600,000+. So 600,000 sales aren't worth a legacy publisher to even bother with? That's silly. Hocking only did a bit better than that, and landed a million dollar legacy deal. Obviously what I'm doing is very appealing to publishers, and the numbers I'm putting up are better than the majority of what they can do.

Ultimately it doesn't matter if publishers passed on me because they thought I didn't have a wide appeal, or if my wide appeal is based on a new technology. Either way, publishers have failed. They've failed authors, failed readers, and failed themselves.

William Ockham said...

The bigger question this post and the comments raise is simply this. Publishing "The List" as an e-book was essentially a risk-free endeavor. Why don't the big publishers at least do that? All those "almost good enough" to publish manuscripts they get represent a pool of potential profits that they are just completely ignoring. They could put those manuscripts through a simple process (copyediting, slapping some cover art, etc.) and send them over to Amazon and B&N. Sell these "inferior" products for $5.99 and they could make a killing. Not to mention they would be creating a "farm team" [Google it if you don't know what that is] for their "real" business.

David L. Shutter said...

But let's get back to the crux of the argument. My books appeal to people. I've got hundreds of five star reviews, and I've managed to sell 600,000+.

But it's only because you have a print history!!!

Sorry. Had to say it. Thread just didn't seem normal without it.

William

That's what I've been waiting to see: honest attemts at author fostering in e-publishing in an form other than say, a Book Country Fair.

Any "pay-forever-for-uploading" services would (and should) be met with criticism and spite (I think) but there are avenues such as translation and foreign marketing, etc, that publishers could be offering.

If done with reasonable terms and, even perhaps royalties, I think it's something both new and experienced authors would look at favorably.

Marie Force said...

That is not true, David. I know people (other than Amanda Hocking) who have sold hundreds of thousands of ebooks WITHOUT a publishing track record. It can be done, and it is being done.

Stitch said...

Thanks for a great post. It's always good to get a glimpse "behind the scenes."

The List was the first of your books that I read. I find it interesting that one of letters mentions Lethal Weapon, because I was constantly thinking of that movie while reading. Is it the best book I've ever read? Not by a long shot. Same as Lethal Weapon is not the best movie I've ever seen.

But picking up The List, I didn't expect it to be the best book ever. I expected to be entertained, and it delivered in droves. If I didn't have such a huge to-be-read pile, I'd happily read it again. And I'm always recommmending it to people who enjoy movies like Lethal Weapon.

Robert said...

Those rejections sound similar to me, too. Especially by certain houses (and even some spelled my name or my agent's name wrong). In my guest post here in November I mentioned I was averaging $1,500 a month. The past two months have been even better (earning me close to $3,000 each month), and I hope the trend continues into the new year. Cheers!

wv: kersomet

Charles F Millhouse said...

OK Joe one question. How did you do it? Give us your wisdom.

J. R. Tomlin said...

That "the story is riddled with conversation" remark from St. Martin would have certainly had me banging my head against the wall. My GOD! It has dialogue. What kind of author puts in DIALOGUE??!

Gahhh!

@Ramon Terrell - my historical novels have been much easier to get to take off than my fantasies. I think it has to do with the fact that there are darn few good historical novels out there (as opposed to supposed "historical" romances that have nothing to do with history) so the competition is sparse. Everyone and their brother writes fantasies.

Blake Crouch said...

"But it's only because you have a print history!!!"

LOL.

David L. Shutter said...

Marie

I was being sarcastic. It's the number one meme Joe gets regarding his current position.

Blake, thanks for the laugh. I just finished "Hunting Season." Great and powerful little read.

At the risk of asking something you've probably gotten a hundred e-mails about already: Do we have a new serial killing couple perhaps?

Jeffery Evans said...

That's great Joe - I liked The List, it was fun.
I published my first novel a few months ago.
People love it - but so far I'm in the hole on it. Now I'm back at my day job and writing the sequel. Dues suck. I swear I'm not jealous, but at least I won't ever have rejection letters. I'll take any customer review over a rejection letter, you know? So far I'm surviving on the comments of friends who say to me, "I couldn't put it down and by the way when is your next one?"

So yeah - publicity is the thing, and that's what they gate-keep.

CB said...

That is simply amazing. Thanks for sharing Joe and best of luck in 2012.

D R Sanford said...

Absolutely terrific, Joe. You're my inspiration. I've used 3 free days for FREEFALL by D R Sanford since Dec 14th and have sold over 1,000 copies. Sure, most are free, but we have to start somewhere. And cracking the Top 100 in Men's Adventure was worth it!

Livia Blackburne said...

"My argument is that they chose poorly. My self-pubbed books are more successful than the majority of legacy pubbed books. People buy them and enjoy them."

You know I'm a fan, Joe, but I think Anonymous has a point here. It looks like you have two main arguments against publishers:

1. That they don't do enough to add value in an ebook market.

and

2. That they were idiots for rejecting The List.

I think you make good points on the first one, but I'm not quite convinced by your second point. It's not enough to point at your sales now and say that they made a mistake. You have to prove that if they had taken The List instead of another book that season, they would have made more money overall. Not saying that wouldn't happened -- it might well have -- but on the other hand, you aren't happy with the way your other traditionally published books are selling, so maybe they *weren't* the best people to publish The List effectively.

Or flip the argument around. Say they took on The List instead of Jane Author's novel that season. Then maybe Jane Author decided to self publish. Can you rule out the possibility that in this alternate reality, Jane Author would be making even *more* money on her rejected book than you are on The List? In that case, did the publisher make the right choice?

But either way, it turned out well for you. Looks like those rejections were a blessing in disguise.

C. Amethyst Frost said...

Ha ha, Joe, you rock. You are truly an inspiration. I must say, though, I am envious of your rejection letters. It sounds as if the publishers actually read the story. Out of my own 500 rejections, I've only gotten a small handful of personal notes. Nothing so elaborate as your multi-paragraph critiques. (Except for once when a publisher asked me to revise my first scene to include more action. I revised it but never heard from her again.)

The problem with appealing to traditional publishers is that you have to impress the establishment rather than the intended audience. If the publisher is too busy that week, or if someone's Uncle Henry died, or if the coffee pot is empty, your readers lose out.

Good for you, Joe. Thanks for keeping up this blog. I don't reply here much. I'm a silent stalker. But your info has been very helpful.

David Gaughran said...

What a cool Christmas present for you and your family. You must be flying high right about now. Merry Christmas, Joe.

John Brown said...

This post is an excellent xmas present to us authors because it reveals, by showing such a massive "fail," that what trad pubs purchase are books that satisfy THEIR tastes, which does not represent the tastes of all readers.

LK Watts said...

The saying: 'Having the last laugh' is now ringing loudly in my ears.
I've never tried to get my book published the traditional way so I can't share my experiences, but your post is definitely saying you don't need to rely on the professionals in this business anymore. You can make just as much money by doing everything yourself.

Lisa Grace said...

Congrats on the $9,000 (I'm sure it's much more by the end of that day).

I'm working on following the Grisham model myself as my series is being optioned for movies with pre-production to start immediately.
Because of the movie deal, acquisition editors are emailing me about a paperback deal. I will sign with someone and use that as the loss-leaders for my self-published eBooks.
I have an entertainment lawyer working my deals. They are less expensive than agents. And I've found publishers don't seem to care whether you use an agent or a lawyer.
I'm the only one who lost sleep over not having an agent. But I'll get over it.
Happy New Year. Now I'm off to Kindleboards to let Dalglish know you mentioned him.

Wordsmith said...

The sad thing is, had they accepted your novel, they would not have been able to maximize the profits. Instead of giving them enough time to get a readership, they would have pulped most of them and moved on. Ultimately, it's been much better for you and your books that they passed.

I'm still trying to get into the stratosphere with you. Although I'm happy to have gotten to the point where I no longer need a day job. And that's within the first five months of going indy.

Meanwhile, there are trad pubbed authors who still need to work day jobs because they're being paid peanuts.

Thanks for leading the revolution, sir!

The Marshal said...

I have a question. I have been looking at Create Space. For about $700 you get a formatted book with cover design, ISBN, book put up on Amazon, etc. I see you can list your book for sale here, hire the Blog Author's e-store designer, etc. What are the best steps to take to get the most exposure to your ebook?

Leonard D. Hilley II said...

I never experienced 500 rejections with my Predators of Darkness: Aftermath, but Baen Books did sit on it for nearly three years before kindly offering a "no." I was told that my novel had made the first cut in their selection process (99% don't make that cut) and had to pass through a second reading. In some strange mix-up, they sent a rejection on the hard copy, but after I self-pubbed, I received a letter from them with my CD formatted versions of the books, asking for me to resubmit as they couldn't read them. They had been on Jim Baen's desk, and he had expressed that he wanted to read them but had passed away.

This past year, before going through KDP, I did major revisions to the novel and resubmitted to over one hundred agents. Several expressed interest and requested to read more, but in the end, they said, due to the economy and book placement (it's cross-genre) they passed.

However, my sales are steadily increasing. I have had six book signings in the past month with more scheduled in the new year.

Thanks for the post! I enjoy reading your blog! Happy New Year

Lady Jewels Diva® said...

And publishers wonder why so many authors are going the self-publishing route. I've received positive rejections, what I don't get is if you like something so much why not take it on.

But they always come back to excuses. "it just doesn't fit", "we don't have the room in our schedule", "we don't think our audience/public will like it".

Well, these days, the publishers have NO IDEA what the public likes because too many indie/self-published authors are finding success with the books the publishers rejected.

No wonder the publishing business is going down the drain. They just stick by the authors they already have that they know make big amounts of money for them.

Apparently no one else matters!

Katherine Owen said...

Congratulations, Joe! You never gave up and you found a better way for "The List" and several others. Most of all, thanks for sharing your story of rejection. It's inspiring in its own little way to learn that you kept on going, undeterred, and found a way! Love it! Nicely done!

Best,
Katherine Owen

MarCarring said...

Your example gives us all hope - well done!