Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shelf Space and Paper Trails

Whoever has their name on the most pieces of paper, wins.

This has been true in the print world since the beginning of print. The more copies available, the more exposure people have to those books. The more exposure, the more potential fans.

With authors, having big print runs is always a good thing. Even if a hardcover run doesn't sell that well, the books get remaindered. While authors don't get any royalties on these $3.99 discount titles found in the sales sections of bookstores, these books do find new readers, some of who will go on to buy the author's other, newer work.

If your book stays in print, and it's joined by other books of yours, this improves your chances to be discovered, because now you have shelf space. If your books take up five, ten, or twenty spots on a bookstore (or library) shelf, you're more likely to be noticed by browsers.

But your name on books isn't the only paper that counts.

Your name in reviews leads people to your books. Your name on the blurbs of other writers' books can also have a similar effect. Every short story you write and sell widens your potential fanbase.

Ads. Press releases. Articles. Every piece of paper your name is on can help your career, because it's one more reminder to the world that you exist. It's a paper trail that leads right to you.

But does this apply to virtual paper? How about ebooks and the Internet?

Yes. A thousand times yes.

The Internet is permanent. Every mention of your name and your books will last forever, leading people in your direction. And unlike print, which can take a long time to build up to reach that critical mass/tipping point where you become a household name, the Internet can work much faster.

As far as I know, no author has gone "viral" yet. Though some, like Cory Doctorow, Boyd Morrison, and Scott Sigler, have used the Internet wisely to widen their fanbase and turn popularity into money.

This blog gets thousands of hit per week. On weeks I blog about ebooks, my ebook sales go up. When I release a newsletter to 10,000 people, my Amazon numbers spike. If I Twitter something timely, I get more traffic.

Your digital name on digital paper (the world wide web) works twice. First, it works for those who see it when it happens. Next, it works for those who see it weeks, months, or years after it happened.

It can be both instant and cumulative. And it can be very effective.

As of today, Feb 24 at 9:07am, I've made $2750 this month on Kindle.

Next month, I'm putting four more ebooks up on Kindle (including an updated version of the Newbie's Guide to Publishing book.)

I'd be a fool not to. More ebooks means more chances to discover me, which means more potential sales.

The more shelf space I have, the more books I'll sell.

Which brings us to the obvious question: What can you do to get your name on more pieces of paper?

1. Look At Your Past - My early novels, which were rejected more than 500 times, have become long-term investments that are finally paying off. I wish I had more rejected novels. If you've got a book that was good enough to land an agent, but didn't sell, there's no reason you shouldn't be getting some of this ebook traffic. Just make sure the work is good.

2. Previously Published Work - Got some out-of-print novels? Some short stories or articles? Turn these into ebooks. Put them on your website for free, and on Kindle for a small fee. The more virtual shelf space you take up, the better.

3. Blog, Website, Social Networks - Your Internet presence is the perfect opportunity to find new readers. Surfers are looking for content. If you write a thoughtful blog, have a lot of free stuff on your website, and you're an active participant in online communities, you're getting your name out there, both passively (thanks to search engines) and actively (thanks to links and signatures.)

4. Reviews - Recently, several large NY Print Publishers announced they were discontinuing printed galleys and instead giving ebook advanced readers to booksellers and reviewers. Guess what? I've been doing this for years. I've sent out hundreds of ebooks for free to reviewers and bloggers and booksellers. If you can trade an advance ebook copy for a review, that's a small price to pay.

5. Writing. Writers write. If you're avoiding writing for the ebook market, you should perhaps rethink your priorities.

My third bestselling ebook on Kindle is TRUCK STOP. I wrote TRUCK STOP specifically for Kindle. And I had an insidious reason for doing so.

TRUCK STOP is a Jack Daniels novella, where Jack chases two killers. The first is Donaldson, the villain from SERIAL which I wrote with Blake Crouch under the name Jack Kilborn (and which has been downloaded more than 200,000 times.) The second is Taylor, the villain from AFRAID by Jack Kilborn.

TRUCK STOP is basically a gateway drug. Those who read SERIAL for free, or TRUCK STOP for $1.59, will often go on to read AFRAID and the entire Jack Daniels series. TRUCK STOP is a fun story, with some thrills and laughs, but its ultimate goal is to lead people to more of my writing. It's currently the #380 bestseller in the Kindle store.

is currently #756 in the Kindle store. It came out ten months ago, and is priced at $5.59.

is currently #3174 in the Kindle store, priced at $4.79. That's not too shabby, considering it came out six years ago.

Why is a six-year-old book selling better than 420,000 other Kindle titles, many by big bestselling name authors?

Because of shelf space and paper trails. Because I've positioned myself there, with low cost Kindle books and timely blog topics. Because I've blurbed a lot of authors, and keep my website updated, and use Twitter and Facebook. Because I've toured, and been reviewed, and gone to conferences, and generally done all that I can to get my name out there.

I never got big discounting in the bookstores, or coop. I never got huge marketing campaigns. I never got big print runs, or my books in Sam's Club and CVS.

Yet I'm still standing. And I can't help but think it has something to do with my efforts to get my name on as many pieces of paper--both dead tree and virtual--as I possibly can.

Quality counts. But quantity is important too.

It would be wonderful if every new book got a huge print run and a major advertising campaign and a giant marketing push. I'm still waiting for that to happen to me.

But while I continue to wait, I'm doing everything I can to make my own luck. And as the tide shifts from DTBs to ebooks, more and more authors are going to make their own luck, too.

Do you want to be one of them?


EchelonPress said...

Joe, nothing pleases me more than to read your Blog especiall on the days when it suits my purposes. I have had some of my newer authors being told by established authors they cannot succeed with eBooks. I have many coloful expletives to respond, but I figure now I will just send them to this link.

I can't tell you how much I, as a publisher, appreciate your knowledge and willingness to share it willy-nilly.

BIg hugs to you!

Vivi Anna said...

Joe, your blog post is just what I needed today. Im putting the finishing touches on a couple of older works that I'm going to get up on the kindle. You oontinually inspire me to not just to think outside the box, but to THINK.

David H. Burton said...

Thanks for blazing the trail, Joe, because I'm right behind ya!

The Modern Publisher said...

Another fascinating blog post, Joe.

The thing I love is that you're not afraid to stand up and be counted. You're not afraid to tell people how much you're making on ebooks. It truly gives inspiration to those of us who struggle to gain credence where our only 'income' is a contributor's copy.

More power to whichever part of your body you use to write with.

Claudia Whitsitt said...

Joe, I read your website article in Writer's Digest and am learning more from you than any other author about marketing. Since that isn't my bailey-wick, thanks! I'll be reading all of your posts!

We will be the pioneers of the digital marketplace!


David K Crane said...

Joe, I want to know who did your TRUCK STOP cover...and how much they charge. It rocks.

JA Konrath said...

The Truck Stop cover was done by the same guy who did Origin and The List. If you want to get in touch with him, email me.

Joe Menta said...

Joe, I recently profiled "Serial" on my blog, "Kindle Taproom" (an honest-to-God beer & ebook blog). Writing about your stuff always makes for good copy, not that it sounds like you need yet another blurb in a little blog to get by!

And David's right, your covers lately DO rock.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks for all the kind words, everyone.

@Joe M - Let me know if you ever need a guest blogger. I know everything about beer. Currently have a 2009 Sam Adams Utopias. :)

The Daring Novelist said...

Thank you for these inspirational posts on ebook publishing.

I've felt, on an instinct level, that this is they way things probably work, but it really gives shape (and hope) to my plans for spreading my work across more venues.

Rebecca Benston said...

Great post. I'm always looking for ideas to promote my work and you have inspired me to dig out some of my old writing and see what happens. :)

Rex Kusler said...

I wonder how many authors came within a gnat's ass of getting a novel published, but didn't, and gave up. I did. Between 1988 and 1992, I sat around waiting for responses from editors while my third agent diligently sent my third novel around. I remember thinking: I can write four novels a year, but what a waste that would be--because I have to wait for years to find out about this ONE. I gave up writing for thirteen years. Then wrote another one. Then gave up for six years. Now I don't have to wait for anybody. I'm writing up a storm.

I feel like I woke up from a coma.

Rex Kusler

Unknown said...

A friend sent me to your post today and I'm glad she did! Excellent article and I'll be back to glean as much as I can from your superior knowledge-- working all the while toward that day I succeed like you!

Kudos on your effort and your drive.

Anonymous said...

I hope some of the indie authors read your #1 very closely, Joe, because a lot of crap ebooks are being flogged out there in cyberland these days, in some cases by some good and relentless marketers (who are only hurting themselves faster by being good and relentless at it). These books are crap not based on my reading of them, but based on the Amazon reviews pointing out plot holes and grammar errors, and wooden dialog, and two-dimensional characters, etc., books no doubt rejected by literary agents.

Learn how to produce professional or at least near-professional work before self-publishing, people!

The Daring Novelist said...

Anonymous is right: wait until you have a few things published to leverage your unpublished work.

For one thing, you want to wait until you are a seasoned author so you can judge your best work.

But also important is this sense of "critical mass". Your unpublished work is leverage toward helping along your main work. Just throwing any old thing out there isn't going to give you the same boost as it would if you have something that's actually ready to boost.

T. M. Hunter said...

Another great post!

A question, though, somewhat related to getting one's name noticed...are you going to be doing another round of ads in your e-books?

Robyn Heirtzler said...

Jack, great post. And just to let you know, I initially discovered you through another writer's blog who spoke highly of your ability to publicize yourself and your work.

You've inspired me and I've gone on to offer my own book for free online to get exposure... on my blog, not kindle, though that may follow.

I agree that it takes a lot of hard work, getting your name out there everywhere you can and never giving up.

Thanks for sharing your experiences that got you where you are today.

Joe Menta said...

Thanks for the offer, Joe! Check out my blog anytime and see if it gives you any ideas for a guest post. Maybe something fun about what beers inspire the best writing juices. ;)

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Interesting ideas expressed here, ones I will not disagree with. But I've learned that instead of wasting time on trying to win converts, I'll simply follow what I believe, based on the evidence I have at this point.

To wit:
1) I will make more on my backlist first novel THE RED CHURCH this year than I did from its original advance. In other words, in the year it took the book to get through "traditional production." And I can do whatever I want with it, forever.

2) My later publishing contracts tied up my rights for seven years even though the books were left for dead after a couple of years, therefore I am losing five years of potential income. In other words, I've actually lost money instead of earned money by publishing midlist books.

3) Many agents and publishers generally only want you to write one book a year, for their own reasons. You can sneak around it with a pen name, but unless you are JA Konrath/Joe Kimball/Jack Kilborn and display all the names, you have to work to get name rec for each. Now, NY won't COMPENSATE you for the books they don't want you to write. But you can certainly compensate yourself.

4) You are generally expected to write only one type of book and stick with it. Look how long it took Joe to break out as Jack Kilborn.

5) Instead of wondering about hundreds of elements beyond my control that will affect my career as a writer, I can now see the daily income and projected revenues and weigh that against the investment of time and passion. I can hope my NY lottery ticket gets plucked or I can publish 10 books and be making more than I do in my day job. I can do simple math. If I had the rights to my published books and released those I am shopping, I would have more than 10 books. And don't think I ain't thinking about it.

6) Any ebooks I publish on my own will give me 100 percent of net. Any book I publish through a major publisher will give me 50 percent net at best, 15 percent at worst, and that's even assuming an advance earns out. Giving away 85 percent for virtually an entire career doesn't inspire me.

7) Now that I know I can find whatever audience I deserve, judged on nothing but quality and talent and my willingness to connect with my audience, I am more inspired than I have ever been--to take chances, to try new things, to strive for art, to write without thought of what one or two people in New York will think. Working-class fiction is an idea I can get behind.

8) While I still believe those who publish through traditional means will still fare the best overall, I can't help but wonder if getting published was the worst thing I ever did for my writing career.

Way to go, Joe.

Scott Nicholson

Lloyd Lemons said...

Thank you for a post that adds clarity to a business that seems to be in a state of disarray. There are many flailing writers hoping to grab onto a floating log in this turbulent sea. Your post shows them the way. Thank you for your presence of mind.

Thomas Kaufman said...

Amazing, Joe. Your perception and honesty are so impressive...thank you.


Margot Justes said...

Terrific blog.
I have 2 short stories ready to go.
Thank you for sharing.
Margot Justes

Anonymous said...

Looks like at least one of your predictions, the one about open ereader devices/platforms allowing people to read anything on any device they happen to own is coming true:

Gazete Oku said...

Hi, thank you very much. good job.

Mary Cunningham said...

You spelled it out in a very concise, understandable way, Joe. Great post!

Sherryl said...

Great post. I'm republishing one of my books that has gone out of print as a paperback book because I can sell it on school visits.
But I'm leaning towards making it an ebook for sure.
What software would you recommend for conversion?

Ruth Francisco, author said...

Joe, I followed your advice and posted my book "Amsterdam 2012" on Kindle for .99 over the weekend.
I went from an Amazon Kindle Ranking of 20,000 to 30, and sold about 1,500 copies. Not bad for a weekend. All I can say is thank you so much for sharing your information. Without your encouragement, I probably would've waited forever for my agent to sell my manuscript. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Ruth Francisco

JA Marlow said...

Just wanted to say thank you for posting such great specific information. It seems so many in the industry view the details of anything concerning money as top secret. I, like many, want to make informed decisions concerning their writing careers, but finding concrete information and data to base those decisions on is few and far between.

The more data, the more information out there, the better! It feels like more and more is starting to come out as I've now seen a few other authors not only share ebook numbers, but also advance numbers and royalty statements (which I'm sure publishers must hate. Well, boohoo).

Thank you, thank you!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Thanks again for a great post! I don't always comment, but I always read, because you, my friend, are a value add blogger!

Steve Anderson said...

Joe and Joe,

Did someone say beer? You two beer lovers are welcome here in Portland where we're practically bathing in it. Speaking of, I remember a day long ago when it was inconceivable to find real hand-crafted indie beer -- now the opposite is true here. It actually reminds me of what's going on with ebooks. A year or two ago few could see what's going on. I certainly couldn't. Now I have two novels that were sitting in a drawer out on Kindle and Smashwords -- books that I'd revised repeatedly after years of learning the craft -- while my agent's trying to sell a series. I used to fret a lot over that last part, but now I could do the whole thing myself if I had to and this realization is liberating.

The emphasis on quality can't be stressed enough. It's what will make or break this indie movement in the end, regardless of price.

My books are at $1.99 but for some reason I hesitate to go lower. Maybe someone should twist my damn arm. That said, Ruth Francisco's comment is doing a pretty good job of it already.


Bookcase said...

Joe !
Thank you so much.
This post is useful for me.


J Lenni Dorner said...

An excellent post. Thank you so much for these tips.
#3 also sounds like a good reason to take part in blog hops and tours, because it gets ones name on the blogs of others. Does that sound about right?