Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Embrace Change – Guest Post by David Gaughran

Writers have it better than any other creative profession right now but it feels like we don’t appreciate our good fortune and haven’t adopted the mindset where we fully embrace change. The transition to digital is hugely disruptive – and not always in positive ways – but it’s solving a number of long-standing problems, particularly the issue of author earnings.

It’s easy to forget how bad things were before the digital revolution made self-publishing viable and gave us all more options. I was at the International Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy at the end of September. It’s a great conference in the most beautiful location and very well run, with all sorts of interesting panels and talks. It’s also refreshingly small and you get to meet everybody.

Some of the most fascinating exchanges were when authors gathered for dinner and shared experiences. Many had been through a number of publishing contracts with different houses, and most were extremely scathing about their experience. When these writers are able to go public – i.e. when they finish up their contracts, break free of things like non-compete and option clauses, and/or get their rights back – they will have some disturbing stories to share about their “nurturing” publishers.

I was at a very different conference in York at the beginning of September. The Festival of Writing is great too, but it’s aimed at newer writers who are seeking agents and publishing deals. They have some self-publishing stuff on the program, but it’s more focused on the traditional path (and also has some truly excellent craft workshops).

When looking back at both conferences, I found it very interesting that the writers who had the most experience of traditional publishing were the ones with the least interest in pursuing that path. Newer writers, who hadn’t yet seen how the sausage is made, were those in thrall with the idea of landing an agent and a publishing deal. But I think it’s fair to say that both groups shared a lot of fear about the future.

I remember Dean Wesley Smith saying a few years back that the only thing that could kill a writer’s career was giving up. Even an author who commits the most egregious sin can keep going under a new name. In other words, nothing can kill your career – except you. However, there are lots of things a writer can do to make their path much, much harder, and sometimes our own worst enemy is the three pounds of squishy grey matter between our ears.

Authors, for obvious reasons, tend to have very active imaginations. This can lead us to being quite skittish: seeing Reds under every bed and panicking at the drop of a hat. It might also explain why we cling to dogma, find various myths comforting, and happily trot out zombie memes that have died a thousand deaths. Writers are smart and creative, and can convince themselves of anything.

It makes having an in-built bullshit detector a pre-requisite for keeping your sanity and focusing on your core job: writing books and reaching readers. There are all sorts of people engaging in FUD for various self-serving reasons, but some of the most insidious untruths are the ones we tell ourselves.

Like people in general, I suppose, writers can go to incredible lengths to avoid admitting they were wrong about something, even to the point of making career-damaging decisions. It’s the exact opposite of the start-up mentality that we should be adopting in this current climate, where change is embraced and failure is treated as a learning opportunity.

We all need to continually guard against dogma. It’s easy to slip into lazy thinking when we see something being confirmed over and over again, but we should always be prepared for black swans and shouldn't attempt to reason them out of existence just because they force us to question a hypothesis which has served us well.

The one constant since I started self-publishing in 2011 has been change. It’s not just the business which is changing but also the ways to reach readers. If you embrace change, instead of being fearful, you are in a much better position to take advantage of what’s happening. But if you think you have it all figured out, and then become dogmatic about something like pricing or marketing, you will fall behind.

The authors who are growing really fast today tend to be very aggressive with marketing and are trying all sorts of crazy experiments, rewriting the rules as they go. When Ed Robertson released the fourth book in his post-apocalyptic Breakers series in August last year, he bundled up the first three books into a 99¢ box set. The series was selling well – around 30,000 copies – so I naturally thought he was nuts.

It turned out he wasn’t so crazy after all. The box went ballistic and Ed tore up his plan to only have it discounted during the launch of Book #4, keeping the bundle at that crazy low price for six straight months. The box shifted 60,000 copies over that timeframe, helping the new release sell another 15,000 copies on top of that.

By being willing to take risks, Ed dramatically expanded his audience in a short space of time. Two books later, the Breakers series has now sold well over 200,000 copies.

And it was a gamble – Ed was risking solid income from consistent sellers – but he had been watching the really smart things that Urban Fantasy author SM Reine was doing and figured it was worth a shot.

If you aren’t familiar with SM Reine, she had been making big plays likes this for a while, with astounding results too. I guess they both figured they were fast writers and, even if things went horribly wrong, they had plenty of books in the pipeline to juice their numbers again.

As my writing speed increases – I've graduated from very slow to merely slow! – I’m becoming less conservative. Having more titles out gives you more options with your marketing. It makes you less emotionally attached to each individual book. You start thinking more in terms of what increases revenue overall than what a particular title has sold.

In other words, it gives you room to fail. When you can afford to lose, you can afford to gamble. And the prizes are going to the risk-takers.

I’m taking a bit of risk this week myself. I only launched the new edition of Let’s Get Digital in mid-September and it was pulling in good money at $4.99, but I’ve already put it in a discounted box set.

It’s called The Indie Author Power Pack: How To Write, Publish & Market Your Book and it also contains Write. Publish. Repeat by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant and How To Market A Book by Joanna Penn, as well as some exclusive content too.
We’ve launched the box with the explicit aim of hitting the New York Times Best Seller list. We could easily fail, but I think we gain just by making the attempt. And if you want to check out the box set, you can pick it up at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo for just 99¢ (saving you $16).

The tech companies which are taking over publishing have a totally different mindset to risk-averse publishers. They embrace change and aren’t afraid of failure. They innovate and iterate until they hit on the process that maximizes revenue. They work on a model of abundance, instead of one of scarcity. And it’s the mentality we should adopt too.

In short, don’t be afraid to take risks. The potential upside is enormous.

Joe sez: There's a lot of wisdom here. 

The difference between being wise and being smart if sometimes you have to stop being smart in order to be wise.

I call this phenomenon digital thinking. Examples of analogue thinking abound in this business. Pricing ebooks higher than paperbacks is analogue. Windowing titles is analogue. Pre-orders for books that are already finished, that's analogue (as soon as it is done it should be made available to buy and download).

Digital thinking means looking at how things have changed and adjusting accordingly. Here's a quickie example. Way back in 2009, I used Amazon DTP to self-publish the novels that the Big 6 had rejected. I priced these at $0.99, as a favor to fans. My idea was to use them as a loss lead, which would then make readers seek out my more expensive paper titles. Imagine my surprise when these started to make money. Very soon, they were making more than my print royalties. So I began to experiment with price, which was risky considering there was no data to look at to anticipate what might happen. Raising prices, when a product is selling well, is a risky thing to do, and there was no precident for it. But I gave it a shot. And it worked.

 For a while, I was convinced $2.99 was the sweet spot for novels. And it was, for a while. Then I took a chance and tried $3.99 and liked it, and have stuck with it for about two years, putting titles on sale regularly via BookBub.

Reading David's post makes me realize I haven't taken any big pricing chances in a while. So why not give it a shot?

After you buy your $0.99 copy of The Indie Author Power Pack: How To Write, Publish & Market Your Book (buy it RIGHT NOW) please consider buying two of my bundles, each reduced from $9.99 to a mere $0.99.

A box set of my first three Jack Daniels thrillers, Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, and Rusty Nail, is now $0.99 on Kindle. 

A box set of my first three Jack Kilborn horror novels, Afraid, Trapped, and Endurance, is now $0.99 on Kindle.

These are six novels that sell well at $3.99 each. Am I cutting my own throat here? Does this seem like a stupid thing to do?

Yes. Yes it does. And that's how a person becomes wise. I can only guess how this experiment will work. Could go badly and I lose a lot of money. Could jack up my sales and give my backlist a boost.

But I won't know what will happen unless I try it. 

I'll post the results as they come in.


Anonymous said...

No offense, but my kingdom for a handful of snarky, smug, rich, serious nonfiction authors (history, biography, etc) who've done well self-publishing and who blog about it like Joe and Barry here. What I would do. I would so love to see it. Tips and techniques, fisking, the whole works.

Don't get me wrong, guys, I LOVE what you do and believe you're fighting the good fight. I think the legacy companies are doomed, they know it, and the publisher's guild, er, author's guild is a bunch of weenies.

BUT. I am really tired of thriller/romance/mystery/genre-etc novelists hogging the podium here. Ok. We get it. If you work hard, write your novels well, sell 'em dirt cheap, and figure out how to find an audience, you can do well via Amazon.

Show me the same with serious nonfiction. Not self-help crap or BS like Bill O'Reilly's ghostwritten nonsense, but serious nonfiction.

If Robert Caro were starting out today, how the hell does he survive? If he were JUST starting to research Robert Moses, and it was years before THE POWER BROKER came out, do you think he would stand a chance with any of the Big 5? Would he be able to pull it off with Amazon and the self-pub route? How does he eat? How does he have a roof over his head during the 10 years of research?

This is what bugs me about the self-pub authoring scene. It works for the genre stuff, which, face it, is easier to crank out than spending one or more decades working on a major nonfiction history book that's 1000+ pages long.

I challenge you guys to come up with an answer that's better than "I have no idea. Be the first."

Joe Konrath said...

Show me the same with serious nonfiction.

Analogue thinking. You're putting the cart before the horse. Email Robert Caro and ask him to self-pub. Or write some serious nonfiction and self-pub it.

I challenge you guys to come up with an answer that's better than "I have no idea. Be the first."

Someone has to be the first. If I recall, I was one of the first, and now my sales pale compared to others.

The whole "how does he eat" and "spending one of more decades" don't interest me. No one owes any writer a living. If advances help support some nonfic writers as they do research, that's great. But they pay very high interest on that advance. Forever.

When someone notices a hole in the marketplace, that's usually when an innovator can come in to plug it. The market will sort itself out, and nonfic authors will become as ubiquitous as genre fiction.

Either that or they'll disappear completely, bringing about the end of culture and contributing to the dumbing down of the world.

But I'm betting some nonficcer will self-pub, have a hit, and then the floodgates will open.

Joanna Penn said...

I was actually talking about this to a serious literary fiction author the other day. We were discussing whether everyone will eventually end up self-publishing, and of course, the answer is no.

There are some types of people that it suits well, and there are some types of books that it suits well - right now, at least.

Of course, doorstep non-fiction books that take years of work require an upfront investment of capital and most likely are best remaining with niche publishers who can support that kind of thing.

But that's not what most authors write, and it's not what most readers read.

I used to be of the view that everyone should go indie, because it's the best thing that ever happened to me and I love this life.

But actually, I've discovered that many authors don't want to work this hard, and they don't love the thrill of everything we do as indies. Your example of an author that spends years on one book probably fits into that category.

PS. Thanks for the books Joe, I grabbed the Kilborn boxset ... and BTW, any chance of an Origin sequel :)

Christina Pilz said...

Hey, Joe, I like the analog vs. digital thinking idea, it'll help me to remember that an indie author has to be nimble.

But I thought that pre-orders were the way to go; everyone was so excited when Amazon said, hey, you can have pre orders too! Indies make money with pre-orders, so why is it an analog thing to do?

David Gaughran said...


Serious non-fiction was being written long before the Big 5/6 came into being, and they will continue to be written long after they are dust. I don't understand the position that publishers are necessary for certain kinds of books to be written.

Self-publishing success stories have been largely concentrated in certain genres for two main reasons. First, those genres are huge in any format. Second, for a whole variety of reasons, different demographics of readers have transition to digital at varying speeds.

Erotica and romance readers were the first to go digital, followed by mystery and thriller readers. I remember in 2011 the SF/F authors all grousing that there genres were tiny in digital terms compared to romance and thrillers, but SF/F readers were the next wave to switch to e-books and those guys started making bank.

At the back of the pack has been historical fiction, literary fiction, and non-fiction. There's a few factors for that relatively sluggish switchover that spring to mind right away. I suspect readers in those genres are more likely to shop at indie bookstores - which have fared somewhat better than the chain stores. Genre readers were probably more likely to shop at the chains, which have been going out of business, closing stores, reducing shelf space specifically for books, and then pushing people online where they are more likely to succumb to Amazon's Kindle advertising etc.

I also think non-fiction authors have probably been treated better, in historical terms, than fiction authors. Advances are often bigger, readers seem prepared to pay higher prices, and it's more common to sell off a proposal than to write on spec and then go on submission.

Finally, I think the technological constraints of e-book formats and devices have hindered non-fiction. We're still pretty much at the 1.0 stage of what e-books and devices will be like, and many are pretty terrible at replicating standard things in print like graphs and pictures and whatnot. But the formats and devices will improve rapidly, and move beyond print by incorporating sounds and video etc. (one area where enhanced ebooks will be a thing, IMO).

I think all those factors will reduce in effect over time and we'll see readers in all genres switch to digital in larger numbers.

Arphaxad said...

I think the nonfic writers are a little slow on adapting to the new publishing trends, but you can now see authors like Thomas E. Woods Jr, who has published several block buster, best selling nonfic books, just selfpubed his latest book, Real Dissent:A Libertarian Sets Fire to the Index Card of Allowable Opinion. On his podcast he talked about experimenting with selfpub in hopes of doing it for all his future books. BTW, his book is already number 11 for paid economics books on Amazon.

Jake D. Parent said...

Great words. It feels like the biggest problem now is quality. And that's a solvable one.

Free idea for some enterprising person out there: build a platform for connecting support talent (editing, layout, cover design, marketing, etc.) with writing talent (and vice versa). (ie a site specifically for the writing world)

That same kind of platform would really help bring together:

a) standards
b) quality
c) creativity

Joe Konrath said...

Indies make money with pre-orders, so why is it an analog thing to do?

The original purpose of pre-orders was to make the book available for purchase before it was ready to ship. If you're working on a book, and know you'll be finished at a certain time, creating a pre-order page is an option--but there is a waiting period after the book is finished and it goes live, and pre-orders count toward ranking.

If the book is finished, there is ZERO reason to wait to publish it. Make it live. Some readers simply don't pre-order, but they will buy the book if they can get it instantly. Why waste rank potential by getting a smaller buy-in at launch (the pre-order launch vs the real launch?).

If your book isn't ready, making a preorder page could help build some buzz, but at the expense of rank. If your book is ready, I see no reason to use a pre-order page, even for buzz-building. It's retrofitting an old way of doing things, and conflating "it's not a bug, it's a feature."

It's 2014. People can download a book by pressing a touch screen. Don't get in their way.

Christina Pilz said...

Joe sez:
It's 2014. People can download a book by pressing a touch screen. Don't get in their way.

In other words, be nimble! Thanks, Joe.

Alexander Mori said...

Hm. Never thought of bundling only half of a series. I'm about to release my 3rd book of a 5 book series and was waiting to bundle when the entire thing was done, which should be a year from now (knock on wood.)

So, if I bundle 1-3 in a couple of months when the third is completed, should I also release the 3rd installment simultaneously? Seems to me that people who bought #1 and #2 might be upset to see all three put together and priced lower than #1 and #2 were individually...

I suppose it's all about finding new readers, and being willing to experiment. Thanks for opening my mind to alternate ways to address publishing a series that has and will take me some time to complete.

Scott Dyson said...

Another reason why it's genre fiction that makes all the waves in self-publishing is because of the nature of its readers. It's not just about the writers writing fast and such. It's about readers reading fast, and voraciously. How many non-fiction books is someone going to go through in a month? Probably not 30 or 40, like some genre readers do. As a genre fiction reader, I buy a lot of books in any and all of the genres I read in. I buy biography and history and non-fiction when it strikes me that I'd like to know something more about a topic, but that isn't every day. I go through my regular authors and discover new ones on my Kindle every day for genre fiction. (As a genre fiction writer, I can only hope that I have some small amount of success...)

celtgirl68 said...

Self-publishing can work for books outside of those with the 'genre' tag. I'm proof of that. I write fairly serious historical fiction about the Irish Troubles. I have three books in the series so far, and a collection of short stories out. I'm not a fast writer, believe me, but I have a loyal fan base. I sell around 40-50 Kindle copies every single day, sometimes as much as 150 per day. No, it's not the stuff of bestsellerdom, but I am making decent money doing what I love. I even managed to take my husband to Ireland on my earnings for the month of September. So it can be done. I had to try a lot of different things before I hit on what worked for me. It's just as the post says, you try different things until something takes and then you figure out how to run with it and how to sustain it in the long run. I'm thinking now about bundling the first three books when the fourth one comes out, just to change things up and see what happens.

Kevin said...

I write non-fiction. I have 20+ titles, one with a publisher. I have two books that hit #1 on Amazon. One was self-pubbed and the other was with the publisher.

I have earned 9 times more money on the self-pubbed title than the published one with roughly the same number of copies sold.

I am thankful for both. The published title created the market for my self-pubbed book.

I have yet to hit the jackpot again with any of my other books and would love to do so. Several of my later non-fiction books are actually much more valuable in terms of content than the two that have sold so well.

Fortunately, by having such a large list I am earning enough to pay some bills and that is fine. I would like to sell more, a lot more, of all of my titles.

Non-fiction is a different animal and I have tried a lot of what worked for fiction authors only to discover it does not work for me, or I am doing it all wrong.

I will say this, the best tool I have is my e-mail list for the newsletter I send out. At least the readers of the newsletter, by virtue of signing up for it, are more prone to buy my books.

Putting a book on sale for awhile works well in generating total sales so I will agree that while risky, there are things that can be done with price to move non-fiction titles.

Cassandra Leuthold said...

As usual, a perfectly timed post to tell me exactly what I need to hear today. I wondered if I was thinking too small about growing my readership and experimenting with prices and marketing. Now I know with certainty the answer is yes.

Thanks to everybody who added their own experiences and viewpoints, too. It's so helpful - personally and as a writer - to find this kind of inspiring company.

Nat Russo said...

Some anecdotal evidence for you, Joe:

I'm not typically a Thriller reader. But I read your blog and identify with you in many ways. So when I saw you were offering those two bundles at 99-cents a piece, I didn't even stop to think about it. I just grabbed them as fast as "Buy Now with One Click" would let me!

Pure impulse. It worked! I may read and love it, or decide I'm still not much of a thriller reader. But shit, how the hell am I gonna complain about something I paid 99-cents for!

And no matter how much your book sucks, I'll still be reading your blog as fast you publish articles. :)

Woelf2.0 said...

To celtgirl68

Do you have a blog or have you written about your experiments? Those are decent numbers, I think, and I would love to learn about your methodology and more about your books, if possible.

Congratulations, btw. The fact that you used writing money to travel is awesome all on its own.

John Ellsworth said...

Great guest post, David. Great follow-on, Joe.

Love the .99c bundle idea. Please keep us posted.

Mirtika said...

Could not resist. I just bought one of your bundles. :D

I can't wait until I have enough titles (within a year, fingers crossed) to start doing wild and crazy things.

Jennifer Bramseth said...

Now I be confused.

I'm planning a six-book contemporary romance series for the first half of 2015, and have been wrestling with how to release. My plan has been to do a Liliana Hart (put out 5 or 6 all at once, maybe hold that last one for thirty days after original releases, then make Book 6 live and/or do preorders for it).

Joe, are you saying you'd release all 6 series books at once under the circumstances described above? Or would you release as you finished the series books? I read about the so-called "thirty-day cliff" and get confused about how it factors into this discussion and analysis.

It is so great to have the ability to have these choices and discussions. Thanks for the forum and thoughts, Joe.

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w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

Fiction? Nonfiction? If there's a market for either that becomes aware of the existence of a book via effective promotion, and you are one lucky mother, you sell books. If you are taking ten years to write non- fiction, you write too damn slow. With ebooks you can write short nonfiction and make some money and promote other books in the process. Why either/or? Write both fic and nonfic, see what happens.

Nirmala said...

My wife and I have about 25 self-published nonfiction spiritual books, and between ebooks, POD, and audiobooks we are making about $4000 per month on average. We probably sell more POD paperbacks and audiobooks than the average self-published fiction author. Overall we have found self-publishing is a great way to go for our niche within nonfiction.

The topic of bundles is timely because we just launched a single volume version of my wife's previous three books for....that's right....$0.99. Must be something in the air :)

The book is here on Amazon:

Walter Knight said...

Am I right that when a 99 cent book is bought by an Amazon Prime customer, the author gets more than 99 cents because of the pooled percentage of money Amazon sets aside for Prime sales?

celtgirl68 said...

To Woelf 2.0

My website is I have blogged about my experiments with Kindle Free weekends, but not about what I did that actually works for me. The books are on Amazon- first one is called 'Exit Unicorns' if you'd like to take a look at them. There's a link to e-mail me on my website, please feel free to contact me and I can tell you what I've done to get word about my books out there.

Nirmala said...

Walter: It is correct that when someone "borrows" the book on KU or KOLL that a $0.99 book earns the author more than $0.99, and of course more than if that same reader purchased the book.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

"When someone notices a hole in the marketplace, that's usually when an innovator can come in to plug it."

There are SO many holes in the marketplace, you can almost guarantee you will find one. I have mine - and will exploit it as soon as I can.

Each writer is UNIQUE.

Thanks for the bundles, Joe - a great way to support you and try your other works. Hope they do exceedingly well for you.


Daniel Barnett said...

Hi Joe, I picked up both bundles. Can't wait to check them out.

I've got a couple questions if you or someone else has the time to answer.

How exactly does preorder impact rank? Does it spread out the sales you might have had upon release and diminish the effect of them? Do those sales not count for rank at all?

I'm puttin out my first novel soon, and I set up a preorder for December in order to try and get some advanced reviews. Was my line of reasoning off base here? As I said, I'm new, so I'm trying to learn what to prioritize.

Daniel Barnett said...


Also, the end of my comment got chopped off. I also wanted to thank you again for all the time you put in here talking about these things. This blog has been invaluable.

Craig Hansen said...

I had already bought books 1 and 2 in the Jack Daniels series, but since the 3-pack is now only $0.99, I bought that instead of book three, but in effect, re-bought two books I already owned, LOL.

You evil genius.

David Gaughran said...

@Jennifer Bramseth

You asked about a six-book series and whether it's best to release it all at once or space them out, or do pre-orders, or what.

My suggestion would be different based on your experience. If it was your debut series, I'd recommend publishing each installment as it is ready. But if you know what you are doing, and have learned the marketing ropes etc., and can hit the ground running and/or have some readers waiting for these books, then there are alternative strategies that could be a lot more fruitful.

If it was me, I'd be tempted to stack up those first three, release at the same time, and stagger the next three either two weeks, three weeks, or a month apart and have the final three all available for pre-order when the first three go live - making those clickable links in the back the first things readers see when the finish the book.

It's too early right now for best practices with pre-orders to have emerged, but I'd watch romance authors in particular and the different variations they are trying with stacking books up, release intervals and pre-orders. SF too.

As for pre-orders in general:

I'd agree with Joe to a certain extent about pre-orders in that I don't think they are a great idea unless you are using them for a very specific purpose.

Newbies should definitely avoid them because they lock you down to a certain release date (which you can move up, but can't push back without incurring serious penalties). With your first book, you really can't be sure that your editor isn't going to hand it back and tell you it needs another draft.

Pre-orders can harm you in other ways by diluting your launch week push. If you have, for example, 1,000 people waiting for your next book, it's optimal to have them purchase in the first days it's out, rather than spread over a three month period.

But that equation changes, IMO, when you have a series. If a reader is finishing Book #5 and Book #6 won't be out for another three months, having a link to the pre-order is wise. You should push the link to your mailing list also (as some readers won't buy pre-orders, esp. if there's a long waiting time), but I would definitely do both in a situation like that.

Pre-orders can be useful in other very particular situations too. For example, we used a pre-order for this box set because our primary aim is to hit a list. The NYT (supposedly) counts all pre-order sales as Week 1 sales for list calculation purposes, so if you are going for a list, a pre-order is usually the right way to go.

And that, I reckon, is the real reason people like Preston and Patterson got so bent out of shape over Amazon removing pre-orders. I strongly suspect they are on escalators or get bonuses for hitting the NYT, and not having pre-orders makes it much harder.

I'm sure there is a range of opinion on this though, and I'm happy to hear anyone else's experiences.

David Gaughran said...

As an addendum to the above:

Don't forget that you can do a pre-order before the book is ready, so this isn't necessarily a case of sitting on a book which is ready to go and could be published.

There's something you can do now called an assetless pre-order, where you basically put up a dummy e-book file along with your cover, and then you have to swap in the actual e-book file 10 days (I think) before the go-live date. Obviously, with being locked down to a particular date that can create stress and pressure so be conservative with your estimates. Y

ou can always move the release date forward, but you can't move it back.

Paolo Amoroso said...

@Anonymous As a reader, I’m patiently waiting for the disruption of nonfiction publishers and their insane prices. Technology is advancing fast, and competition may come from where you least expect it (a Chromecast may also make for a good ereader for coffee table ebooks, if you squint a bit).

As an author, I’m grinning so much at the opportunity my jaw aches. Do current nonfiction authors stick with publishers because they’re afraid of using technology and doing business on their own? Their loss.

The irony is many such authors write about science and technology. My hat is off to the self-publishing pioneers such as romance and erotica writers, who started from scratch and overcame technology fear.

As for nonfiction advances, in my country, Italy, they have always been a joke, if you lived in the midlist. A few years ago typical such advances, from publishers who treated authors moderately well, used to be around 500€, to be split among the possibly multiple authors of a title.

No prominent serious nonfiction self-publishing outliers? Who cares? They’re leaving money on the table. I’m eager to be among the first.

Kit Power said...

I already own the first two Jack Daniels books, but cannot resist the horror bundle at that price. Looking forward to it.

J. said...

I agree with Joe on pre-orders. I really regretted using mine. I was going for extended visibility via the New Releases list, but sacrificed a trip to the Top 100 as a result.

I made north of $10K on release day thanks to 4-digit pre-orders (at $4.99, you can do the math yourself), with no advertising and just my mailing list, but I still wonder, to this day, how far up the Top 100 I could have gone.

Anyone can hit the Top 100 for a day with a Bookbub ad, don't get me wrong, but I would have done it without one. How do I know this? Despite the thousands of pre-sold units, I still opened at #150 and see-sawed between #150-#300 for the rest of the month.

Besides the massive ego boost, I can't help but wonder how the visibility of staying in the Top 100 at full price would have meant for the books and my career. For a guy who just self-pubbed a year and a half ago, with no former trad pub career and existing fanbase, and who started from scratch, I'm still amaze I have a career thanks to Amazon.

But Joe was probably the guy who convinced me to go the indie route. Thanks, Joe. I always knew self-pub was an option, but it wasn't until I found your blog that I REALLY knew it was THE way -- not just ONE way -- to go.

Jennifer Bramseth said...

@ David Gaughran

Thank you much, kind sir, for that analysis. Most generous with your thoughts, as always.

First off, I have no experience at this. I don't know the ropes; I am fumbling about in the gloom and groping for them.

That being said, I know I have a unique opportunity with six books and a new series, and I am gathering information in anticipation of launch.

When you say you'd be tempted to "stack" the first three, is that referencing what Ed Robertson did? Bundle the first three at, say 99c, and then do the remaining releases with preorders? I realize it is highly unlikely, but if I could make a list--why not give it a go?

Again, nice to have these choices.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Excellent post. Thanks, David.

Ceri clark said...

One of the problems with non-fiction is that the ebook format doesn't support the tricks to make dry text more palatable.

I wrote A Simpler Guide to Calibre. It published fine on Kindle and I even made an ePub that worked but when I tried to put it through Smashwords for the premium distribution it failed Epubcheck.

This was because it had numbered lists and an index. I removed the index and I was reduced to a fraction of the errors. The rest was because of the lists.

You could argue that you don't need an index for an ebook but I had a few complaints that there was no index in another of my ebooks.

So the upshot is I can sell on Amazon but not Apple mainly because of compliance and that I really hate putting out an inferior product.

The people who decide the ebook standards should really think about readability for non-fiction as well as fiction.

David Gaughran said...

@Jennifer Bramseth

Sorry, by stacking, I meant releasing the first three books at the same time, rather than as a bundle. I definitely wouldn't start off with a bundle. It's not something I'll get to try myself until next year, but it's something that authors like Liliana Hart have been experimenting with and doing well. Hugh Howey blogged about it here:

HOWEVER, it's not an approach I'd recommend for someone starting out. It's harder to pull off and I think you need a little experience, some readers waiting for your books, an ability to get reviews up quickly, etc. - all sorts of little things that will come together for you over time.

If you are just starting out with self-publishing, and haven't built an audience yet, I think you would be better following the approach I outlined here while you learn the ropes:

In short, it recommends focusing on getting each book out when it's ready, and building up your mailing list with each successive release, running 99c sales to boost sales/sign-ups, and taking out ads etc.

No matter how quickly you wrap your head around everything, you are still going to make mistakes as you go. You'll probably play with covers, branding, how you are pitching and positioning the series. I think, when you are starting out, it's better to figure that out as you go along with one or two books, than having to five or six out and having to get new covers done for everything etc.

Nancy Warren said...

I own all of the books in the bundle and every one of them is fantastic. I'm going to buy the bundle right now to do my bit to send you all to the NYT. Had the pleasure of meeting David at the Matera Women's Fiction Festival and he's absolutely right. The conference is terrific, but you learn just as much at the bar and at dinner hanging out with other writers. Probably the best thing about the Indie community is the sharing that goes. on. Thanks Joe and David for a great blog post.

J. said...

@Jennifer Bramseth,

You should also take into consideration the sizes of your books. Releasing parts of serial where each part is 20K or less is not the same as an actual full-length novel (60-100K or above).

If it's the former, I'd recommend putting them out a week apart. If it's the latter, a month apart. I don't believe in just throwing everything out there.

For a full-length novel, 1-month apart is the smart move IMO. You don't want to have all those books out there, then not have anything ready to go for many months later when the reader goes looking for more. One month apart is a great way to keep readers, while still giving yourself time to write more books.

But that's just one person's opinion.

Jennifer Bramseth said...

@David Gaughran

Thanks for your info!

These are full-length books, averaging 95k words. I'm writing the fifth book now.

I had already read and re-read Hugh's Liliana piece and David's August post--umpteen times--trying to digest all that info. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that Liliana dropped six at once to blow up her visibility--which worked wonders. Or did I get her process wrong? But it seems David wouldn't advise that path now? Still confused there.

I'm already talking with a cover designer for the series and have shared with her all the titles. She seems to get where I'm going, as well as the mood of the world I'm having blast creating.

Thanks again!


Christine said...

I loved your message about embracing change and being willing to taking risks -- it's too easy to get caught in the mindset of "you must do things this way because it worked for Author X." I'll be self-publishing for the first time in 2015--and very excited about the chance to experiment with prices, covers, sales venues, and more.

Thank you both for creating these great bundles! I bought one of each (David's and Joe's) and started reading last night. Your experiment worked! :)

J. said...

I had already read and re-read Hugh's Liliana piece and David's August post--umpteen times--trying to digest all that info. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that Liliana dropped six at once to blow up her visibility--which worked wonders. Or did I get her process wrong? But it seems David wouldn't advise that path now? Still confused there.

I could be wrong (and someone correct me if I am) but I believe Hart was already huge when she decided to do that. It was just an experiment on her part IIRC. So no biggie for her. When you're a nobody like us just starting out, it pays to be more deliberate.

But hey, keep in mind that this is one of the perks of indie publishing: if it doesn't work? Change it up. You still have all the ammo, and you control when to pull the trigger.

I would just caution with being too impatient. You have a stack of books ready to go, which is just fantastic. So I'm guessing you're not one of those impatient types. Don't change now!

Also, remember that when readers become used to your release schedule, man, they expect you to keep it up! I know this from experience.

Jennifer Bramseth said...

"Also, remember that when readers become used to your release schedule, man, they expect you to keep it up! I know this from experience."

I would love to have this problem! :)

I am trying to be patient and deliberate. So far, I think I'm successful at least on those points.

J. said...

I am trying to be patient and deliberate. So far, I think I'm successful at least on those points.

I have to tell you, I'm impressed you wrote all those full-length books and refused to just run to KDP and upload them one by one, and are instead seeking advice. I've seen so many rushed-to-publish books that have sunk careers before they even got started. Once those 1-star reviews roll in (for whatever reason -- badly edited, no editing, bad cover, something idiotic, people will complain about just anything), you can't get rid of them short of unpublishing the book and starting over with a pen name.

Make that first book the best it can be. It really is true what they say: you only get one chance to make a first impression.

I wish you luck. Those first few months will be trying, painful, depressing, and scary. But man, it's also really, really awesome!

celtgirl68 said...

Joe, this is a bit off topic, but I really hope you're going to fisk that Vanity Fair article by Keith Gessen in which Andrew Wylie refers to the Kindle as an 'idiot device'.

Unknown said...

I just went and purchased all 3 boxed sets. I appreciate all you do Joe.

Is there any chance you could make future links of this sort so that they open in a new window? That was a lot of using the back button. :)

William Ockham said...

Every time somebody brings up Robert Caro as evidence that publisher advances are necessary for serious non-fiction, I just want to scream. Caro became familiar with Moses as a reporter and started "The Power Broker" when he was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. He was able to finish the book because his wife sold the family home, they moved to NYC, and she took a job so he could work on the book. There was no golden age of advances that supported non-fiction books. That myth, like so many of the lies that legacy publishing tells itself, needs to die.

Serious non-fiction books typically are supported by employers (universities, newspapers and magazines, or political and social institutions) and/or friends and families. Publishers support bankable non-fiction. Diet books, self-help, topical stuff.

Non-fiction ebooks are held back by the limitations of the format. Full stop.

Terrence OBrien said...

William Ockham is correct. Caro and his wife supported themselves while he worked on Power Broker. No guardian of culture stepped forward to finance his research. The guy stood up and did it himself.

He didn't sit around and ask people to figure out how he could do it. He just did it. He did it then. Others can do the same now.

Mackay Bell said...

Price was right, Joe! I'm not a huge thriller fan but I just bought your .99 cent Jack Daniel's three pack. Who knows, maybe I'll become a thriller fan…

Anonymous said...

Post #1 - Anonymous

One thing that comes to mind is "bootstrapping." I don't think the Big 5 is giving a newbie of any sort any decent advance for a book that will be 10 years in the making, especially if it's 10 years out from the time of contract. Then you have the issue of whether someone started their 10-year omnibus before you started yours - they make it to market before you and now your research seems repetitive.

So you bootstrap - what was your "outline" gets fleshed out to become a 150 page mini-biography; then you build era by era with 100 page releases. Then you take the 1500 pages you've released on the subject over the first 8 years and whittle away for a master omnibus with new insights, the definitive biography - with affiliate links to all the "short" pieces you've already released that have a little more depth on a particular area of interest.

If you truly want to create that masterpiece, you don't need someone to give you the answers.

Jennifer Bramseth said...

@David Gaughran

In thinking about this discussion over the past few days, something has been gnawing at me and I think I realized today that in some regards we have different perspectives about when a book is “ready” or “done” and thus can/should be published—which has been one of the fixed points of this discussion. We need to back up, I think.

I have written four of the six books in my series, and have written a very respectable chunk of Book 5. But just because they are written does not, to me, mean they are “ready” or “done.”

I *could* whip Book 1 into shape and get it out there (although I desperately need beta readers! Contact me if interested!). But I DON’T want to do that.

These books are series books and I am looking at them as one work, although they will all be able to be read as stand-alone books. When I get to the end of writing the story that will be Book 6 (and I know, very generally, what that story is), I want to have the freedom to go back and look at the whole world I've created through all the books and ask how can I make this whole thing even better. I don’t want to publish the first few books, get into writing Book 5 or 6 and then think, “Drat! I could’ve put this thingy in Book 2 about Character X and it would’ve made it so cool in this book when Character X does this other thingy!”

In other words, by waiting until the stories are done, I think I will have the ability to go back through the entire series, book-by-book, and add detail and information which will make the books richer and, hopefully, more entertaining. I’ll even be able to add tidbits of stuff for Books 7 and beyond, if that’s where I want to go (and I’m thinking I do).

So, my plan is to have my SERIES of six books ready to roll at the same time in 2015.

So if that’s the starting point—six cards on the table—the question remains how and when to play them. I’m still mulling over all the options, but I have plenty of time and, thanks to folks that show up here and our gracious host, lots of helpful advice. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again.

I raise a glass of Kentucky’s finest to you all (my series is set in a small fictional distillery town where they make bourbon :) )!

Terrence OBrien said...


I can't help thinking about how the technology now allows an author to change books after have been published. That would say a book is never finished.

That's not a criticism of your approach, just speculation that if a constraint is removed, it's likely people will get used to taking advantage of it.

If a product can be improved, go for it.

Dominic Adler said...

I've been reading 'The Curve' by Nick Lovell. A lot of the themes in this piece are echoed in it, i.e. the power of free and a price gradient to "let the people who love what you do pay as much as they like for extra stuff" and nails the concept of cost versus worth.

Personally, I'll be interested to see when indie authors with big fan bases start releasing niche products (a numbered, limited edition physical book collectors set with extra content for example) and charging more for it. The example of the Nine Inch Nails (Ghosts I-IV) album Lovell dissects in the book seems to have synergies with books.

I'm about to publish my second book with an indie publisher (it's a hybrid deal of the digital sort I think many here would appreciate) but for my next I'm going to experiment with a free novella and physical merch. Why not?

I'm actually enjoying the business side of publishing. Not as much as writing, but I certainly see it as interesting at the moment. This is why I am a regular viewer / lurker here.

Glass is half-full. At least.

Alan Spade said...

Big news for the fantasy lovers: R.A. Salvatore joins the self-published ranks with his DemonWars saga (

I've checked and no, it's not April fools today. ;)

Joe Konrath said...

Update: I changed my books back to the original price. There was a big boost in sales rank (went from 100,000 to 6000) but I lost sales on the single units, resulting in a minor net loss.

I could have kept them at 99 cents and hoped for stellar rankings, but the rank began to get worse and I killed the experiment.

Terri Herman-Ponce said...

I love the refreshing excitement on this blog every time someone takes a chance and tries something new...or something they haven't done in a while. Life is sometimes about risks, and the only way to know if you're going to have an impact (with any decision) is to just give it a try.

felixmagestermilitum said...

Hi there,

Great post David, very interesting. I was youtube surfing yesterday and came across this video. I suspect most of it will be met with sadness, derision, contempt and sheer incredulity, but fast forward to around 1.20.15 for when the publishing exec on the left drops a real doozy. It'll make you blow your coffee through your nose.

Kiana Davenport said...

David, a great post! If indie writers think they know all about marketing...THINK AGAIN!!! They need to read the Indie Author Power Pack. Its brilliant. A compendium of everything we need to know and do not tomorrow, but right now! I bought three extra copies as gifts. Thank you for the low low price! Alohas,
Kiana Daveport, author, THE SOUL AJAR

PS...RE JOE'S 10/30/2014 POST: AGENTS BEHAVING BADLY. Again Kudos to Joe. He's the only industry pro I ever heard refer to Andrew Wylie as "adorable." Also the only one I know who can outwit him, out-think him, out-rationalize him, and out-hyperbolize him. Wylie is a SNAKE, an insult to intelligent writers, and humans in general. Joe, we love you! I just bought your Daniels and Kilborn .99 thrillers even tho I read them already. Cheers, Kiana

Jeff Ezell said...

Joe, Thanks for featuring David Gaughran's terrific guest post. Now going to follow his blog.

I've bought and read all your Jack Daniels books and short stories. I bought the 3-pack to loan to others (for two weeks) so they'll get to know her and buy the others. Bought Kilborn 3-pack because had only read "65 Proof" and "Truck Stop". May also loan it to others to get them on the the Konrath/Kilborn trail.

Thank you for dropping in on the Nov 7th event hosted by Jim Kukral, Penny Sansevieri and Bryan Cohen. I planned for and spent 12 hours reading, commenting and learning from the great collection of authors, who offered great insights. I already owned 7 of the 20 books offered @$0.99 and snapped up the rest, plus bonuses offered. What a day. Y'all can still benefit from comments at:

Mary Buckham was still offering comments/advice the day after. Don't miss it next year.

Robert Frazier said...

Anonymous, here is a possible answer to your challenge. Start by writing a serious non-fiction book which takes two months to research and write, then self-publish it. Repeat this at least six times. That should take a year. For years three through eleven, slack off the pace of the easier books to one or two a year, but keep doing those part-time while doing that ten years of research. At the end of the eleventh year, you have somewhere between 16 and 26 of the easier books, plus your ten-year megaproject is done. No advances, no agents, no traditional publisher. You pay the bills and eat off the proceeds of the books you're writing on the side. The main reason we haven't heard of anyone doing all of that yet is that indie publishing is still too new.

Another possibility is to do the first year as above, then use some combination of investors, government grants, and crowdfunding (depending on what kind of project it is) to pay the bills during that ten years of research. The books from the first year will both establish your credentials as a non-fiction writer and provide some supplemental income during ten-year project.

There you go. Two something betters, which can be combined.