Saturday, July 06, 2013

Guest Post by Mark Terry

Joe sez: If you've missed the previous guest blogs, they've been fascinating and informative.

You can read Mike Dennis talking about noir here:

You can read Douglas Dorow talking about the publishing game here:

You can read Iain Rob Wright's 10 self-publishing tips here:

You can read about Tracy Sharp talking about just doing it here:

You can read about AJ Abbiati's Transliterator here:

You can read G.E. Nolly's fifty year journey as a writer here:

You can read Kevin Hardman talking about Amazon ranking here:

Now here's Mark Terry...

The Numbers Game

Joe made me do it. Back in about 2009, Joe was ahead of the curve when it came to self-publishing e-books. As it happened, I had written a couple of well-reviewed but modest-selling thrillers that were available in trade paperback and/or hardcover featuring my “franchise” character, Derek Stillwater, a troubleshooter for Homeland Security. Those novels were THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT’S KISS. In between Stillwater books I had written a thriller starring Joanna Dancing, a former security agent for the State Department who had become a high-level bodyguard. Originally titled DANCING IN THE DARK, my agent and I couldn’t place the book, so, following Joe’s lead, I self-published it as an ebook and trade paperback.

It didn’t sell terribly well.

Somewhere in there I completed two more Derek Stillwater novels, THE FALLEN and THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS. I had recently made a jump in publishers after Derek Stillwater. Luckily, the rights to the first to Stillwaters were released to me. So I went ahead and also released Pitchfork and Serpent as ebooks and trade paperbacks. In this case, the Stillwaters sold better than Joanna. Not amazingly well, but better. And besides, now I had three books . . . technically 5, once my new publisher got going with FALLEN and SHADOWS. (Actually 7, if you include the two books that were issued only in paper and to which I have yet to lock in ebooks – CATFISH GURU and DIRTY DEEDS).

Which is the point. During a fairly prolific period, I wrote several more books. I wrote two novellas that were prequels to THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK titled DIRE STRAITS and GRAVEDIGGER, three children’s novels titled THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS, MONSTER SEEKER, and THE FORTRESS OF DIAMONDS. I also wrote and published another novel, HOT MONEY, featuring a political consultant in Washington DC who, THE SINS OF THE FATHER.
as he notes, knows where all the bodies are buried, often because he did the burying, and another Derek Stillwater novel titled

Some of those books we shopped around traditional publishers, some I went straight to self-publishing.

I also put together a nonfiction book, FREELANCE WRITING FOR A LIVING, and an anthology of crime fiction titled DEADLY BY THE DOZEN. My son wrote a sequel to one of my novels, MONSTER SEEKER 2: RISE OF THE PHOENIX KING and we co-published it.

Somewhere along the line I realized something that makes a lot of sense. Not all of these books have to sell tons (it would be nice if ALL of them did, or any of them did) – but by having more books out there, each book can sell 20 or 30 or 50 or 100 or whatever amount of copies they might sell each month, and by having 10 or 15 or 20 books, it starts to add up in a significant way. So, yeah, be productive! Write your ass off! Write the best books you can, but write a lot of them!

A couple other points, besides the rather obvious point that the more books you publish, the more money you make. One is that I changed the title of DANCING IN THE DARK to EDGE and gave it a new cover. I may have to change that cover again, actually, since I’m still not completely happy with it. (I also really should write another book featuring Joanna and maybe introduce her to Derek Stillwater). I changed the cover to the first MONSTER SEEKER book and am very pleased with it. This is something you can do self-publishing.

The last point, I think, is the freedom this all gives me. The books for kids are fun. They are also very, very different from the books I write for adults, which are, for the most part, thrillers. The books for kids fall into adventure and fantasy. I’ve also written and published a science fiction short story under the name T. Ray Drew titled “Humanitarian Aid” and am working on a novel featuring the same character. I’m developing another potential series character with a novel I expect out later this summer titled CHINA FIRE. This is the cover and it should be out by August.

So let’s sum up a few of the advantages of self-publishing as we currently understand them: publish on your own schedule, can jump genres, can change titles and covers to try and improve sales, can collaborate on projects easily with other people, and oh, yeah, because there’s a 70% royalty rate for ebooks over $2.99, you’re making money, sometimes a lot of it!

Thanks Joe.

Joe sez: I remember Mark interviewing me for some magazine years ago, when I had made some waves landing a six figure deal as a first time authors. This was back when authors didn't discuss money, so my three book $110,00 deal was misinterpreted by some as half a mil or more. Which worked to my advantage, publicity-wise. A new author getting six figures generated buzz, and hopefully that buzz translated into sales.

Perhaps it would have, if my publisher actually gave me coop. But they didn't, and I wound up busting my ass and touring, and readers of this blog know I eventually got those books back and make more in a month on them than I made in three years with that publisher.

Mark will get there too. He has to. He's doing everything right. He's changing titles and covers, genres, working with co-writers, and tying his books together with series.

A lot of ebooks selling a few dozen each month can result in significant money. But more importantly, if people like those books, they go on to buy others. So one sale leads to ten or fifty.

I don't need a million fans. I just need 20,000 fans who buy everything, and that's a million sales if I have fifty titles.

If I have 100 titles, I only need 10,000 fans to make 2.7 million dollars (assuming $3.99 an ebook).

And this doesn't take global sales into account. Amazon now has Kindle stores in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, India, Spain, Japan, and Canada. It won't be long before ebooks are everywhere, and finding those 10,000 fans will be a lot easier out of a potential pool of 7 billion.

Never before, in the history of the world, have artists (or anyone) had such an incredible business model. The old model was to create a product, manufacture a product using resources (employees, offices and factories, raw materials), distribute a product (planes, trains, trucks, boats, warehouses) to a retailer, who then sells to a customer. Everyone takes a cut, and supply and demand rule the roost.

The paradigm has changed. Once you create an ebook, it can be manufactured for a small, sunk initial investment, zero overhead, distributed globally for pennies, and you keep 70% of the price you list.

Here's a conversation with a reporter I had about a year ago when I was still giving interviews.

Joe: How much are you getting paid for this article?

Reporter: Uh, about $1500. It's a feature.

Joe: About two weeks to write?

Reporter: Yeah, plus research.

Joe. And you get the check, cash it, then have to go write another story?

Reporter: Yeah.

Joe: I spend two weeks on a novella (or in some cases a novel) and I make money forever. My grandkids will be getting my royalties someday. I've written things in two weeks where I've made $75,000, and that number keeps going up. We're both writers. Why the hell are you writing features ?

Why indeed.


Veronica - Eloheim said...

A long time ago Joe share a screen shot of his KDP report. He had loads of titles doing well and one doing AMAZING.

That was the moment I realized that you don't need every book to be a rocket ship in order to make a fine living.

I can't recall if I thanked you then Joe, but I'm thanking you now.

Mark Terry said...

Thanks Joe, and yes, I know I interviewed you for I also did an interview with you for ITW that I believed was titled, Looking at Joe Konrath's Fuzzy Navel. :)

Yeah, I forgot those foreign sales. So far I don't make much money off them, but I do make some and I always manage to spend the money I make.

Aimless Writer said...

Great to hear how well your books are doing. You're an amazing writer.
You and Joe are an inspiration to the rest of us.

Jude Hardin said...

If you can, on average, sell one $3.99 ebook an hour, you'll earn about $2000 a month. Over the course of a year, you'll earn four times the average advance that you would have gotten from a publisher.

That just amazes me.

Yet some of the NYT bestselling authors I interact with (along with their cronies) still use the term self-publishing as pejorative. Which also amazes me.

Smarter are the ones who recognize present-day self-publishing for what it is: a pathway toward potential success as legitimate and viable as any other.

Nice post, Mark. Best of luck with your new title!

Mark Terry said...

Aimless, thanks! Now if I can only sell close to the number of books Joe does!

Mark Terry said...

I've always thought writers should think of "body of work" as opposed to just one title, at least creatively. But the new self-publishing paradigm let's our "body of work" work together to make more money without books going out of print. Yay!

Mark Terry said...

I like your math. Aiming for an ebook an hour is a fun idea, definitely. :)

Anonymous said...

Question for Joe: I might be mistaken about this: I remember seeing somewhere on your blog that you had experimented using different and new pen names for writing novels in different genres than what you had written in before. I think you had mentioned that the results were mixed. I'm assuming that nobody can link you to these pen names and novels (at least not yet). So the public would assume that your new pen names are "newbie, first time, unknown authors." Can you share some of results so far (without identifying your new pen names of course, if you want)? Just curious.

bettye griffin said...

I agree completely that being prolific is one key to success, but as far as changing titles and covers goes, but I would caution for to make sure that this is addressed in the product description (preferably in the first sentence), that the book was formerly known as "(TITLE)." I suppose it really isn't necessary when the cover art is changed (that pretty much falls to the reader to check). Readers don't like feeling they've been tricked into buying a book they've already read.

Mark Terry said...

Absolutely. And I do find this confusing. Barry Eisler recently released several of his earlier John Rain novels under new titles and names, but he very carefully tells what they were published as before. That's probably just as well. The Rain titles, not unlike John Sandford's Prey titles, worked pretty well, but it's hard to tell the books apart in many cases based on the titles. On my book description for Edge I do have a "Previously published as Dancing In The Dark."

Anonymous said...

I release a new full length novel every 10 weeks, takes me roughly 200 hours of work. I have 16 on sale to date.

My oldest titles (2+ years) still sell 10 copies a day at $2.99ea. Now if I stopped putting out new material, that would likely decline. But I won't.

So, each book I spend 200 hours on earns me $600 a month forever, at a minimum (so far).

Better than some crummy 401k.

Mark Terry said...

I think we need to keep publishing books to keep it going, too, at least to some extent. I know whenever I release a new book my sales jump overall for a while (and incrementally it seems to continue indefinitely).

M.F. Soriano said...

I'd sort of forgotten about the global aspect of ebook publishing. A few days ago I realized the KDP reports page has that little drop-down menu for other countries--turns out I'm selling copies in the UK and Germany, too. And the page for my book has a review up.

I wish there was a way those other-country reviews would show up on the page. (I guess the author can always add them himself to the Editorial Reviews section for their book, from the author central page.) The .com reviews automatically show up on

Brendan Mackey said...

I just want to say that Mark Terry's Derek Stillwater books are great reads at any price or publishing model. (Feel free to quote that on your next cover).

Mark Terry said...

Thanks! Glad you like them!

Alistair McIntyre said...

Always good to read a success story :)

Keep up the good work!

Mark Terry said...

Thanks, Alistair

Jill James said...

Another great post. Now I'm off to write and add to my virtual shelf.

Big Honey Dog (Honey the Great Dane) said...

Hi Mark - congratulations on your success! While you may not think so, your "moderate success" is still very inspiring to newbie/wannabe indie authors like me. :-)

I have a question (and hope that Joe might add his thoughts too) - about putting out books in diff genres and using a different pen name?

I'm currently about to self-pub my first ebook which is a canine mystery adventure aimed at 10- - 14yrs, with some crossover potential into adult dog lovers. But straight after that, I'm planning to publish a romantic suspense. I'd always thought that I would have to do the romance under a different name coz people say it protects the kid readers from inappropriate material in your other books...but I noticed that you published your kids adventures under the same name.

Obviously, keeping everything under one name is better for sales/author recognition/marketing - so do you think it doesn't matter if you use the same name for kids books & adult books that might contain inappropriate violence/sex scenes, etc? (* Joe - could you please add your thoughts too if you have time?)

Thanks very much in advance! :-)

Marcus Blakeston said...

Nothing to do with this, but it's about the Haunted House mistakes mentioned in another recent guest post. How can I tell if I have the latest version? I got it on 31 May and it has a lot of mistakes. This one is the most glaring:

“I think we’ll lower your dosage,” Gunter said.

(it should be Forenzi talking).

Mark Terry said...

Big Honey,
Yeah, it's a good question. My concern was less about "protecting" kids from my adult books, than a marketing issue. There are probably good reasons to go with a new name, including not confusing readers, although I figured that for the most part my kids book titles are so different from the adult ones that people would get it. I was hoping that what recognition I have for my name would help sales along. I'm not really sure that's been the case. The kids books aren't good sellers, although Atlantis is the best of the bunch. When I did the short story under a pseudonym a reader told me they wish I'd just put it out under my own name. Maybe Joe has more to say about pseudonyms. If I were to write something dramatically different for the SAME readers, like SF, or if I decided to write romance or erotica or even horror, then I think there are good reasons to use a pseudonym (or maybe to put on the cover, Mark Terry writing as John Doe, for instance. That way it's very clear the books are very different, but you still get the name recognition.

Big Honey Dog (Honey the Great Dane) said...

Hi Mark - sorry for checking back so late but thank you very much for answering my question! You make very good points. I do hope Joe might address the issue of using pseudonyms in a future post.

Thanks again,