Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Understanding Kindle Bestsellers

This blog title is misleading. I make no claim to understand why a book becomes a bestseller on Kindle. I have a few hypotheses, but no real way to test them.

So I'm going to ask you what you think.

Currently, I have four self-published ebook novels on Kindle, each priced at $1.99. As of right now (Feb. 17 at 7:20am) one of these novels has sold 1327 copies so far this month. Another has sold 519 copies. The third has sold 212. And the fourth novel has sold 166.

There's a big gap between 1327 and 166. And I've been scratching my head for months, wondering why that gap has stayed so wide.

Is it cover art? Is it genre? Is it the writing sample people can download for free before they buy? Is it the product description? Is it bestseller ranking (meaning a bestseller continues to be a bestseller because people see it on the bestseller list)? Is it word of mouth?

The natural assumption would be that this book sells the best because it is my best. But I don't feel it's better than the others, and neither do readers if we go by reviews and the email I get.

This gets even stranger, because if I look at the downloads on my website (three of these books are available for free on my site) the bestseller on the Kindle store isn't the bestselling download on my webpage, even though the ebooks all have the same cover art and description as their Kindle counterparts.

Color me confused.

These books have been on Kindle since April. One might think that the numbers would have reached some kind of equilibrium by now. That the biggest seller would slow down, and those who read it and liked it would be buying the other three books. Or that the top bestseller slot would change.

But it hasn't. These four books have been in the same bestselling order since April. Here are their total sales so far:

First bestseller: 9691
Second bestseller: 5014
Third bestseller: 2239
Fourth bestseller: 1716

My question to you is: why?

I'm going to post the covers and the product descriptions for all four. I'm also going to post links, if you're so inclined to download the free sample.

After you look at the covers and descriptions for each, tell me which you think is best, and why.


A medical investigator tormented by secret guilt.
A beautiful doctor with an illicit desire.
A millionaire businessman indulging a passion for murder.
And a human guinea pig who has been awake for seven straight weeks.

DISTURB by JA Konrath
You’ll never sleep well again...

JA Konrath is the author of six mysteries in the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels series, including Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail, Dirty Martini, Fuzzy Navel, and Cherry Bomb. Disturb is Konrath's first medical thriller.

Disclaimer: This novel is filled with extortion, conspiracy, taboo sex, hidden secrets, shocking violence, and murderous betrayal. Not recommended for the faint of heart.

This ebook version also includes the bonus horror short story, "Dear Diary," about a very special pom pon girl.


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

JA Konrath is the author of six novels in the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels thriller series. The latest is CHERRY BOMB.

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.

Like the Jack Daniels series, The List combines laugh out loud humor with serious suspense and thrills.


Thriller writer J.A. Konrath, author of the Lt. Jack Daniels series, digs into the vaults and unearths a technohorror tale from the depths of hell...

1906 - Something is discovered by workers digging the Panama Canal. Something dormant. Sinister. Very much alive.

2009 - Project Samhain. A secret underground government installation begun 103 years ago in New Mexico. The best minds in the world have been recruited to study the most amazing discovery in the history of mankind. But the century of peaceful research is about to end.


ORIGIN by J.A. Konrath
All hell is about the break loose. For real.


Several million bucks, stolen from the mob...

All caught on video, with no chance of redemption...

Now one man must face the entire Chicago Outfit, a group of hardened Mafia enforcers, a psychotic bookie, the most dangerous hitman on earth, and Detective Jacqueline Daniels...

His name is Tequila. And he likes those odds.



So tell me, based on the above, which is the most appealing? What's the best cover? What's the best description? Why is the bestselling ebook selling almost seven times the number of the least selling ebook, when they're all thrillers written by the same author and with similar styles?

I'm eager to hear your responses, because I flat out have no idea why one book sells more than the other three combined.

If you follow this blog regularly, or click on the links to read the free samples (you can download a Kindle reader to your computer for free), you already know which one is my bestseller. But please refrain from trying to explain why it's the bestseller, because that's attributing significance to an occurrence after it happens.

Instead, tell me what does or doesn't appeal, and if you had to buy one of these books, which one it would be and why...

Which JA Konrath Kindle Ebook Would You Buy First?


R.R. Hunsinger said...

Joe, I like all of them.... I know that does not help. I don't know which is the best seller. But I would be inclined to think Origin is the bestseller because the technothriller that reaches into the past for the plot seems to be what is hot right now. I enjoyed the blurbs for each, the least cover for Tequila sot of turned me off. But I am a Jack fan anyway.

Edward G. Talbot said...

I've already downloaded two of the books, but I'll tell you my thoughts with as little pre-judgment as possible.

The hook/description of Disturb just seems like a "dime-a-dozen" medical thriller. It's exactly the stereotype of a hook that we get steered towards writing. But nothing about it says to me "This is interesting" or "this is unusual". The cover is fine, certainly well-designed and professional, but a skull again is kind of sterotypical/cliche. It may very well be a great book, but I'd rank this one least likely to read based on what you have here.

The List is the most appealing. aside from the very first part, the hook is more free-form. And the tattoos on the bottom of the feet - I swear, that alone hooked me. Very unique. The cover is good, and DNA is always more intriguing than a skull.

Origin is the best cover in my opinion - the most unusual. A solid hook, would get me interested, but not particularly unique. This is one I could take or leave based on the cover and hook.

Shot of Tequila. OK, purely based on personal preference, I don't like this style of cover. But if you like that style, then the cover is fine. This book has two things going for it. The end of the hook - "His name is Tequila. And he likes those odds." It shows (rather than tells) us that this book will be both amusing and violent. The other thing it has going for it is that it has your most famous character. That's why I downloaded it - to see if I want to buy some of your others in the series.

I hope this helps you.

Yamabuki said...

"Origin" looks most appealing to me, Based on cover art and description.

"List" would be second. Cover art very appealing and description sounds good too.

"Disturb" would be third. Cover art not as appealing, but still good. description sounds interesting, but find it hard to relate to "beautiful doctor with an illicit desire.A millionaire businessman"

"SHOT OF TEQUILA" would be last. Cover seemed Stupid, plot description and characters feel hard to relate to.

I don't know how my rating compares to actual sales, as I did not check. Hope this helps


Author Scott Nicholson said...

DISTURB says Robin Cook
THE LIST doesn't immediately say as much so you have to look to see "technothriller," obviously a genre more appealing to Kindle early adopters (along with, I suspect, technical manuals
ORIGIN says Preston/Child, which is good, except Preston is not exactly popular for ereader audiences at the moment
TEQUILA says "not sure what I want to be." I like Jack but this reminds of of bad 70's movie posters--I'd be less likely to take a second look, all things being equal.

Scott Marlowe said...

I'd got with "The List". Intriguing title plus nice cover.

Anonymous said...

I'd buy The List. I don't like medical thrillers or horror (I like sleeping at night), so that knocks two of them out of the running. The fourth book didn't have as catchy/unique a blurb, and the cover of The List looked professional.

Anonymous said...

The order I like them based on cover art alone: Disturb, List, Origins, Tequila

The order I like them based on description alone: List, Disturb, Origins, Tequila

Meg said...

I would pick up The List first based on the cover. After reading the blurb, I'd probably buy it too.

The Tequila cover just threw me off.

Thee Desecrator said...

I chose Origin, which is actually the only one on here that I have read, but not for that reason. When I purchased Origin it had a different cover. I chose it here because it is the only one that is obviously a creature storyline which aligns more with my interests.

As for the other ones, which I have not read, I would go for The List. The bright and interesting cover really jumps out at me and I think this will actually be the next one I purchase.

Valerie Geary said...

The List description hooked me most. Not because of anything in particular... just sounded the most intriguing to me. So I would probably buy it first. I also liked the covers of Origin, Disturb and the List, but didn't even want to read the description for Shot of Tequila based on the cover. It's a completely different style from the other three and so I wouldn't think that the story inside would be similar to the other three.

JoePike said...

Well, being a Jack fan I would purchase THE LIST first since the description says that it's similar to the Jack Daniels books in terms of suspense and thrills combined with humor. The DNA cover is cool looking too.

But the most intriguing to me plot-wise is ORIGIN, so that one would be my second purchase. That's one scary looking cover, which helps to sell the book if you're looking for a scary read.

DISTURB would be my third choice. The plot sounds good, but honestly it's the disclaimer that really makes me want to read the book. The cover is good, but it's just not as striking or professional looking as THE LIST or ORIGIN.

Which leaves SHOT OF TEQUILA as my fourth choice. That cover needs work. It's just too campy and again, not nearly as professional looking as your other ebook covers. Also, for some reason this one feels the most like a pre-cursor to the Jack series to that wasn't good enough to get published until you refined your writing enough to produce WHISKEY SOUR. (This feeling probably has to do with the alcohol reference in the title and as the main character's name.)

Anonymous said...

Ooh, Origins sounds intriging AND has an awesome cover to boot. I think I might buy Disturb next, because though its cover is weaker than The List's the subject matter is personally significant to me as a person with hypersomnia who wishes there was a pill that could keep me the hell awake!

And, yeah, the cover for Tequila turns me off.

-- Remaining anon since I revealed a personal medical problem.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

There's also something to be said for "font." It's no secret NY has this little shorthand for category--thriller font, chick lit, romance, etc. Tequila is also the least professional-looking of the fonts, based on how we are trained as book consumers.

Anonymous said...

This was an easy test... The List. I have no idea which is your bestseller, but I know what I like. Based on your synopsis, this book would either live up to my expectation of intrigue and mystery or it wouldn't; but I'd be interested in finding out. I also think it has a more general appeal. I'm not one for political mysteries unless it's embeded in human drama, but again, that's just me.

Also, I do believe bestsellers sell more because they are bestsellers. I would never in million years have read "The Help" without everybody going goo-goo ga-ga over it on Amazon/NYTimes... Only to find out I did the same.

n s

Zoe Winters said...

I've got a personal theory about how bestsellers on Kindle may work. I've tweaked my product description and tracked my ranking and etc. And the one thing that seems to influence things more than any others is what other people buy my work WITH.

Like, there was another self-pubbed book: "Tiger's Curse" (Totally unknown author puts me to shame with her awesomeness), she got all the way up to number 42 in the entire Kindle store. Which for an unknown, out of 420,000 products, in just a few months since release is amazing.

Somehow because her book was about a feline shapeshifter and mine was too, people who bought my book, bought her book and vice versa. Suddenly I shot up to 592 in the Kindle store because I was showing up in the list of "Customers who bought this book also bought..." for "Tiger's Curse."

My conversion rate for my page dropped to 20% which made it clear I was getting a LOT of traffic and most of it was coming from people who bought Tiger's Curse because the majority of people on my page ended up buying her book instead of mine.

NOW my sales ranking hangs out somewhere between 800 and 1200 and my conversion rate has gone up, which means that most people who view my page now are actually more my customers. (She's written a young adult paranormal and I wrote adult paranormal romance, so while there is some overlap and enough to make my ranking get almost up to 500, it wasn't "that close" of a match. Also, her book is likely better than mine, obviously what she's writing is compelling enough to almost have 100 reviews now.)

Before the brush with Tiger's Curse, I was "usually" under 2,000 but never got down lower than 1,100. (That I'm aware of. I don't check my stats THAT often, so while I was sleeping or doing something else I could have gotten a better ranking at some point.)

So that's my theory. I think all the things you mention play a big roll in your sales status. I also think especially when you've gotten yourself deep into the Amazon Kindle system and more people see your book, that affects your sales as well.

But I think one of the biggest deciding factors is... who else is attached to your name? Check and look at your conversion rates. Are your conversion rates a little lower on your bestseller because you're pulling a lot of traffic from another book?

That's my theory on how this whole thing works anyway.

John McFetridge said...

My theory is it has to do with the nature of Kindle reading and the $1.99 price (which I think is the right price).

Readers now, more than ever, have the option to try lots of writers.

So even if people like one book a lot it doesn't mean they'll automatically buy another form the same author - at $1.99 books are no longer as risky a purchase as they were at $25.00 or $15.00 or even $10.00.

Also, e-books have no collecting value like printed books. E-books can be an impulse purchase.

All this can be seen as good or bad, that's up to each of us to decide for ourselves, but I think the technology and the price is fundamentally changing the way people look at and interact with books.

Tami Moore said...

I'm going to preface my comments by noting that I am NOT your target readership, though I rub elbows with them. I prefer more paranormal, less science when book shopping, and that'll be reflected in my commentary.

Origin's cover was my favorite by far, though the blurb didn't hook me enough to keep me looking. "Technothriller" has me worried that it'll end up being a science-y plot instead of a paranormal one, and the animalistic eyes on the cover are what drew me in to the book. Even so, the hope that it would be what I like to read is enough to download a free sample.

The blurb that interested me most was The List - I'd be most likely to actually purchase this book from the ones noted. The strange tattoos hooked me, and the "from birth" cemented the possible paranormal connection. I'll be looking for a free sample download, but the Amazon price is cheap enough that I may just buck up and buy the whole thing on a hope - I have the kindle reader on my iPod Touch.

The cover for The List didn't draw me in at all and I probably wouldn't have picked up the book based on it. A bloody tattooed footprint would have done a lot more to arouse my curiosity.

The promise of "laugh out loud" humor gave me pause, though. Nothing in the blurb pointed at it being funny, so I'd worry that the humor might feel out of place. However, I love books that make me laugh and I'd be willing to take the chance.

Incidentally, this is the point where I started mousing over things and got irritated by the window popup "help" on the site. It's a thing, but enough to make me stop trying to click on links.

The blurb for Disturb makes me want to care, and the soothing blue skull on the cover was intriguing, but a little too cliche to truly catch my attention. Looking at the list thus far, I would mentally catagorize your books by those of Michael Crichton, which may or may not be an accurate association. (If it is, then kudos on your cover choices! M.C. is hit and miss for me.)

The blurb itself introduces characters, but I felt like the stakes were missing and the connection between them. The idea of a patient being kept awake is interesting, but not enough on its own without a reason for me to care. And "medical thriller" isn't my normal genre, so it wasn't enough to push that over the edge for me.

Shot of Tequila's cover immediately made me sigh and roll my eyes. I like kickass women kicking butt stories so I'd have read the blurb, but my initial reaction was more exasperation than anger or interest. I'm interested in the Tequila character, though revenge stories are hit and miss for me. The promise of humor made me want to read more. I could tell from the blurb and the character name that the promise isn't an idle one, and I love books that make me laugh. "His name is Tequila. And he likes those odds." is cliche'd but I don't care. I love it anyway. That one, I'd look for a blurb or excerpt from before purchasing.

Hope that's helpful, even coming from an offshoot of your normal customer base. =]

Dave said...

Origin is my favorite- best cover, best/most appealling description. It makes me think of the works of James Rollins, Douglas Preston, and Lincoln Child, and suggests there's more to the story than just a techno-thriller.

Next in appeal would be The List. Nice-looking cover, intriguing description. DNA sells these days.

Disturb is okay. Cover is fine in thumbnail, but... odd up close. I don't particularly like the hook. A guy staying awake isn't sinister enough for me. I want something that suggests a broader threat.

Shot of Tequila doesn't sound like my kind of book, but I wouldn't buy it even if I liked the description because the cover is cartoonish and turns me off.

The Daring Novelist said...

I haven't made up my mind yet, but I suspect there is some keyword factor. Something that makes one of the books pop up when a reader searches the Kindle store - and that the book and whatever they were looking for is a taste match.

Otherwise I'd say there is a self perpetuating aspect - not just that best sellers appear on the best seller list, but that there are more people to spread word of mouth, more possible reviews with links, etc.

Jamie D. said...

I had a hard time choosing between Disturb and Origin for my first choice...both blurbs hooked me, and both covers did too. The blurb for Disturb (rhyme!) gave me the promise of some steamy relationships and illicit desires, and as a romance reader/writer, that's what pushed it into 1st place for me.

Origin sounds exciting and adventurous - I do love a good adventure novel. The cover makes me think that whatever's just gotten lose is going to be both creepy and fascinating. That's the kind of book I'll stay up all night reading.

The blurb for The List was kind of "meh" for me...somewhat intriguing, but it doesn't really appear to have much "action" or "adventure" in it, and I'm not really a "let's just solve the mystery" kind of girl.

The cover for Shot of Tequila is just too "cheesy-70's-look" for me - it undermined my attention span for the blurb completely.

I hope that's not too harsh...sorry! I wanted to be completely honest.

And I want those other two books too...are they available in any other format than Kindle (don't want to have to read them on my netbook - I normally carry ebooks around on my PDA). I'll check your web site.

Adrian said...

Could it be as simple as the fact that these are all different subgenres, and that there are differently sized audiences for each?

You have a medical thriller, a technothriller, another technothriller with supernatural elements, and pulp action/adventure.

JA Konrath said...

Interesting comments so far. And being blunt is what I'm looking for--don't pull punches.

People seem to be favoring The List, which is the bestseller, and disliking Tequila, which is the lowest seller.

Personally, I love the 70's pulpy cheesiness of the Tequila cover--that's exactly the look I wanted. But if it's turning off readers, I'm not married to it.

Tequila, The List, and Origin (along with Suckers and Truck Stop) were done by a friend of mine.

I'm now leaning toward having him redo Tequila and Disturb (which was done by someone else) to make them look more like The List and Origin, which are the #1 and #2 bestsellers.

Keep the comments coming. This is very helpful...

Anonymous said...

I picked TEQUILA because I liked the faux retro cover. It's fun and made me think of the Hard Case Crime imprint, which I adore.

The DISTURB cover is my least favorite, if only because the direction the skull's facing draws my eyes away from the rest of the cover's content toward somewhere off the Web page. It should've been facing the right (or to the front) and casting its gaze more toward the title. Looking at it on its Amazon page, if the skull faces the other direction, it'd draw a person's gaze to the stuff you want them to see: title, price, and the ever important Buy button. If the skull faces front, the eyes become engaging... even if they're not there. Give either of these a try... might help.

THE LIST's cover is bright and appealing. It pops on the page, which I suspect has a lot to do with its success. I didn't vote for it because I've read it (as I have ORIGIN). Also, I think the hook is the most intriguing of the four... TBH, it's my favorite JAK book.

Jeremy D Brooks said...

"Disturb" cover art was better, but the description for "List" pulled me in deeper and made me want to read it--so it won. The other two just didn't turn me on in the two seconds I gave them to perform.

Unknown said...

You are one of my favorite authors. I love your take on everything, HOWEVER, my eyes will not follow more than a little electronic writing. I long for the paper word.

How can I read what you are writing on good old fashioned book paper?

L. Winters said...

Caveat: I have purchased items previously, including at least one of those listed and several not listed. I don't know which is the bestseller, though I could make an educated guess.

My first choice is The List, based both on cover and plot summary. It just sounds like my kind of book. Tattooed feet? Death lists? I wanted to know more and I bought (and enjoyed) the book long ago.

Second would be Disturb. Based on both the cover art (which I find pleasing and intriguing) and summary. I'm not usually a medical thriller person, but I also know Joe writes a damn good book, so I would try that one next.

Shot of Tequila would be third, but a close tie with Origin. Based mostly on cover art, which is pulpy. I think when folks see a pulp art cover, they expect a certain type of story. I don't think pulp appeals to as broad a group as death lists and medical thrillers. This beats out Origin, for me, due to plot summary. Plot sounds good and again, I know Joe writes a good book.

Last would be Origin. Based on the cover art and the plot summary, it screams "supernatural events" to me even though it's billed as a technothriller. I'm not so interested in dormant beings being awakened. The cover art and summary both tell me that's what this book is going to be about. Of all of them, I'm not even sure I would purchase this one.

As for pricing and buy v. free, I think the low pricing Joe has placed on his Kindle books is somewhat genius. I think it welcomes new readers and lets people take a chance on something they might not normally and never would for $10 or more.

As for the free stuff, while I think it's a nice gesture, I have a personal policy against downloading things for free (unless it's my only option). I think an author should be paid for his/her work. Now one might argue that $1.99 is hardly being paid a fair price for blood, sweat and tears. Have I spent more than $10 on Joe's books that I might not otherwise? Probably. (And I gladly spend $10 each for the Jack Daniels installments.) Have I recommended them to others based on (1) price and (2) content? Yes. Thus, I would like to think I have impacted sales at the $1.99 level through word of mouth more than I could at the $10 level. At the $10 level, I more often have to buy a book for someone to try. The days of being able to do that too often are gone.

Thanks for your insightful blogs on this issue, Joe, I enjoy reading them and they make me (and I hope others) think more about where we're headed on the ebook front.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Hey, Joe! I like Origin the best, but it's a genre thing for me. The cover is very cool and definitely catches my attention more than the others. But reading the blurb for each, Origin wins, hands down. "All Hell is about to break loose" is a brilliant tagline. It doesn't reek of cliche, and it doesn't sound redundant or impossible. "You'll never sleep again" just sounds like hype. Plus the cover looks like a 3rd year med student's textbook. I seriously want to read Origin now, but no eReader. CURSES!!

Brian Gmutza said...

After finding your blog through the MacMillan discussion on Amazon's Kindle board, I wanted to give your work a try. I searched for your name, and looked at which ones were the most popular. Then, I read the descriptions and ultimately ended up buying Origin(and rather enjoyed it!) after reading the descriptions simply because I thought the story sounded the most interesting. I'm a horror fan and find demonology and the like fascinating. I honestly didn't pay too much attention to the covers. I know that's not the question you asked, but it is an honest recollection of an actual purchase.

JA Konrath said...

With 68 votes so far, the popularity is syncing pretty much exactly with my Amazon sales.

Which means I need to switch covers for Tequila and Disturb and perhaps play around with the description.

Now this begs the question: why don't publishers test their covers before deciding on them? How hard would it be to throw three mock-ups and a poll on a website and let readers decide which is best?

Ruth Ann Nordin said...

Origin is my first preference for the cover (I love the eyes). Also, the idea of an underground government installation intrigues me because I enjoy conspiracy theories.

My second choice is Disturb. The first thing I noticed was the cover because I thought, "A skeleton with a pill at the throat" was unusual. Then I read the "You'll Never Sleep Again" and that sealed it because I want to know why.

Steve said...

As someone who only discovered your work as a result of your "Selling Paper" blog post, I can tell you what I recently bought and why.

My first purchase was 55 Proof, not listed in your poll. I bought that because I read where you described it as some of your best work, and because I thought it would give me a variety of story types, so I could get a feel for your writing and what I might want next.

Within a few minutes, I had read enough to know that I'd get my $2 worth out of a novel. Since then, I honestly haven't gone back and read past that first story in 55 proof, but I'll get to it sometime.

My next purchase was The List. I don't know if the cover was a factor, I don't think so. The main reason I chose that book was because the premise sounded different from anything I've read before. It was sort of a sci-fi thriller, but still grounded mostly in reality. Being a computer geek, the technology aspect of it caught my interest right away.

Once I finished that book, I bought Shot of Tequila, but I haven't had time to read it yet.

Hope my ramblings help you somehow.


Nobu said...

I picked Origin. But it was a hard decision vs the List.

The cover of Shot of Tequila is actually a turn-away sort of cover, for me.

Theresa Milstein said...

It's funny after seeing the votes. I picked, The List, but I thought it was going to be Tequila b/c of the cover. I'm curious to know if it is, The List, but I'll wait until you tell us.

Sara said...

I think another variable needs to be considered. The keywords that people are searching on Amazon might make a difference. Many the bestselling novel had a keyword in it that people are searching for when looking for other books stumbling across your novel instead.

The cover art only applies as a difference in the case that all the Kindle pages have been viewed and equal number of times.

The bestselling novel of yours is probably being found through Amazon much easier on more popular terms.

Anonymous said...

@Theresa Milstein: He already confirmed. See

Jim said...

Joe, if you change the covers, be aware that you can get great royalty-free images for hardly any money at A great cover shouldn't have to cost more than $30 or so.

Anonymous said...

The covers don't matter much to me, I don't buy based on the cover, but on the description, and while I don't even remember the cover for The List, that book sounded the most commercial and the most like what I'd see from the top bestselling suspense.

Disturb really intrigued me, reminded me of something Crichton or Cook might do and I liked the premise of the guy who wasn't sleeping.

The other two just didn't interest me much.

Gwen said...

I would pick The List but my reasoning is different than what you may think. I look at the ratings and all of those books have good ratings but I also look to see how many people rated it. That makes a difference to me. If 40 people think it is a good book I think my odds are better than if 5 reviewed it.

Jude Hardin said...

Shot of Tequila reminds me of Robert Rodriguez's faux trailer Machete (which I understand is coming out as an actual film soon) in its cheesiness. I like that pulpy stuff, but I guess a lot of people don't get it.

A couple of problems with Tequila, though: It's a feminine name, really, and the character was obviously named that solely for the purpose of putting Shot of in front of it. So maybe just a little too much cheese, even for cheese fans.

One of the problems with Disturb is that it's a medical thriller, and thus competing for readership with names like Palmer, Gerritsen, and Cook, who are not only good writers but have the medical backgrounds that add the kind of authenticity readers of medical thrillers expect.

With Origin, I never did like the prologue, and I think maybe some of your samplers might feel the same.

The List is presented the best, I think, but it's kind of baffling why the people who bought it didn't come back for the other titles.

So...I don't think there's really any way to predict or explain why some books become bestsellers and others don't. If there were, then publishing wouldn't be the crap shoot that it is.

Esther said...

I bought The List (and voted as such). However, I liked the cover to Origin best. The concept of The List was more intriguing to me. I did not connect at all to Shot of Tequila. For me the cover did detract and I passed over reading the description because of it. But I'm female.

KD Easley said...

Hi Joe,
Origin has the best cover. The List and Disturb the most intriguing descriptions. Don't care for the cover of Shot of Tequila, it speaks of the old pulps, and that's not a genre I'm very interested in. Other than that, I can't really say.

J. T. Cummins said...

The List is the most benign of your covers, so I think it has the greatest appeal, especially to women, who I have read make up the largest portion of Kindle readers. Personally I've noticed the same with my own books. The most benign of the covers (Cobblestones) is my bestseller, and the fact that it also deals with topics popular with women (witchcraft and the occult) doesn't hurt either.

Connie Keller said...

I'd buy The List. The tattoos hooked me. And the rest of the blurb reeled me in.

DT said...

A very interesting post. I liked all the covers apart from Tequila. Do you know if your eBooks are mainly downloaded in the US or do they sell worldwide? I'm written a fantasy novel and couple of British thrillers so I'm checking out my options!

Kyle Maxwell said...

I'm not a heavy Kindle user. I only have a few "classic" works on it, like Kafka's The Trial and both Hamlet and Macbeth. With that out of the way, I'd grab Origin first: the cover is dark and the intro text sets up a dark but fairly believable scheme (in a thriller sense).

Shot of Tequila would be a close second, I like noirish stuff. But medical thrillers and bioconspiracies just don't interest me as much for whatever reason.

Derek A Benner said...

I'm going with "A Shot of Tequila" as number one because I've already purchased the rest of the Jack Daniels series and this would (and in fact did) complete that series. I'll grant you that its cover isn't as appealing as "Disturb", but I tend to complete series before I branch out to other books an author has written. Now if ASoT were NOT available and I had not seen any of these before, I'd go with Origin follwed by The List and finishing with Disturb.

Even so, I enjoy your books and will complete my Kindle ebook collection with any new novels you offer.

Anonymous said...

Joe, THE LIST appeals more to me. It's the blurb and not the cover art. A SHOT OF TEQUILA cover looks cheesy. Just my opinion.

Perhaps one day I'll own a Kindle and get to read the books.

Love your blog.

Amber Scott said...

I prefer the cover and title for Origin. All have excellent hooks.
Could one be possibility be that Amazon suggests it to buyers more than your other works?

Stacey Cochran said...

I'm holding out for the J.A. Konrath Chick Lit novel.

Seriously, chick lit sells best. As evidenced by my writing group buddy Elisa Lorello who had somewhere in the neighborhood of 17,000 units sold in January alone.

Beyond that, I'd probably say that action-thriller does next best on Kindle (as evidenced by Boyd Morrison, your The List, and my The Colorado Sequence).

Cover art, story description, positive reviews, and pricing all play a role, I would say.

Kathleen McDade said...

The List appealed to me most, closely followed by Origin, so apparently I agree with the Amazon figures. I like a good mystery, and The List sounds more original.

Disturb doesn't have enough detail in the summary, I think. And the Shot of Tequila cover didn't appeal to me (and I don't think Jack would appreciate it, either).

Erin said...

I am what you might call an avid kindle reader. I have something like 500 books on my kindle, and I believe that Zoe Winters is on to something.

I think the secret is in the "Recommended for You" section in the kindle store that is reached directly via the kindle. In my experience, this magic list of 24 books bears absolutely no resemblence to the books that appear in the recommendations section on I can't figure out why particular books appear there, but quite often they are books from off the beaten path. I sample and read all sorts of things recommended there (and now that I think of it, many of them are less expensive) that I would never have searched for myself. Perhaps it's some combination of the factors Zoe suggests?

I suspect that many of the comments here have already made clear why one particular book took the lead initially, but my experience suggests that there is a kindle recommendation algorithm out there that is helping you maintain momentum.

Naomi Johnson said...

I like the cover of Disturb, but I don't like medical thrillers so...

I love the cover of Shot of Tequila, and the description makes the story sound like a fun chase kind of story. There's never enough fun in crime fiction.

The other two books look and sound like a lot of stuff already out there. The descriptions don't reveal enough to make these books stand out from the crowd.

Stan said...

I've read some of your books. None of these. (Jack Daniels--rollicking good reads.)

From your post, hands down The List would be my choice. It's the blurb. I kind of want to know what got dug up from the Panama Canal, why the guy can't sleep. But not like I want to know about those tattoos.

Excluding the JD book, the other blurbs don't mention a character by name. The focus is on plot elements. Tom Mankowski gives me a name to go with a story. Makes it personal.

Chris W said...

I deliberately avoided the descriptions and ranked them solely by covers, and I got the order right.

My theory is that I did some sort of quick calculation that compared your covers to the covers of previous best sellers I've seen in bookstores. It's probably not the most accurate way to determine value, but it seems like the kind of intuitive thing a shopper does in the marketplace. The List looks the most similar to past bestsellers. I wonder, then, if some of the commenters here who say they chose The List based on description are also being subtly influenced by cover art.

What's striking to me is I don't think the DNA strand is any less cliche than the eyes or the skull. It's less horror-ish, though, which probably helps. Other than that I suspect it really has to do with the colors and overall layout.

JA Konrath said...

This is all really fascinating, and helpful.

Now my obvious goal is to tweak the product descriptions and change the cover art to see if these give the sales a bump.

Keep the comments coming.

John McFetridge said...

Can the books be offered as a single item through Amazon?

Or sold three or four at a time as a single purchase?

Anonymous said...

Just going by the product and description, I was most attracted by Origin because of the cover and the historical premise, I might pick up Disturb next. The List just looks like another cookie cutter medical thriller although I perked up when the cop came into it in the description. The Tequila cover looks a bit like an old style men's adventure novel-- I know they aren't read just by men, but I rather put it in the category with The Executioner or the million and one imitators. My interest clicked off due to the cover.


Anonymous said...

I don't like the name, "Disturb," and am not certain why, except that it doesn't jump out at me as a thriller.

Bill Peschel said...

For what it's worth, here's my take. FYI, I don't remember which one's your best-seller, and having actually sold a book this past year, I think I know what I'm doing (yeah, right, so at least you know where I'm coming from).

1. Speculation: Either The List or Shot of Tequila is probably your best seller (actually, since SoT is your Jack Daniels character, I suspect it's not, because a tie-in to your series makes it an obvious candidate for best-sellerdom.).

2. If the best-seller is "Disturb," maybe because it's got a bonus story.

3. Of them, I would buy either List or Tequila. The promo text of List features an actual human being with a problem. Tequila's got the cute girl (and I also like this type of story).

4. The concepts behind "Disturb" and "Origin" don't engage me in the way "Jurassic Park" or "DaVinci Code" does. They sound like a dozen other thrillers. The concept behind "List" is equally unengaging, but at least it has the "10 people with a code" mystery to get me curious.

So there you go. Now I'll read the comments and see how far off I am.

Bill Peschel said...

Hmmm, not as far off as I thought I would be. Being a guy, the cover to "Tequlia" didn't turn me off as much as the other readers, but I can see their POV. It looks a lot like a '70s exploitation movie poster.

As for the copy, I strongly suggest tweaking "Origin" and "Disturb" to get your lead character and the intriguing problem in there. I'm so used to copy that promises "earth-shattering" secrets and "ultimate" adventures that it doesn't register with me. Give me a person I can identify with and their curious problem.

After spending years reviewing books and seeing a lot of dull cover designs (especially hardcover fiction), I wonder why publishers don't try to make them more intriguing. More mysterious, or more odd, more evocative.

The book covers you have are technically fine, but they're static. The elements don't interact with each other (the skull with the pill, especially). "Origin" does draw attention with the eyes. "The List" however, doesn't. It doesn't say much to me except "technothriller."

Anyway, this turned into an interesting exercise in crowdfocusing, especially since the opinions were pretty consistent. Looks like you've got a good direction to go in.

Anonymous said...

None of the covers were visually appealing to me. So my response is based on the descriptions of the stories.

1. ORIGIN - this one is most like the type of story I would normally read.

2. Shot of Tequila - which I would read more because I like the rest of the Jack Daniels series vs. the actual plot line itself.

3. The List
4. Disturb

Not really interested in the last two based on the descriptions. But I might give them a try because I like other things you've written.

J.A. Marlow said...

I guessed the right order from the blurbs. And I think I know why.

"List": Great description with a great hook. The description gave a really good idea of what the reader could expect if they bought it and did so in a very active way. It had location, conflict, and showed the high personal stakes for the main character involved. It invited the reader to find out more.

The others lacked the 'hook' and good description that "List" had. As a reader, the story wasn't really clear in the other books (although Origin came close to it), and there wasn't the incentive to find out more. I didn't see why the other three books were special in any way.

For instance, in "Disturb" you give a list of characters (without the names), but no real idea what the story is really about. And the list of characters, as eccentric as they might sound, was not enough to interest me at all. What's so special about them? Why are they there? What joins them together? Why should I care?

"Shot of Tequila" had more description, but the sentences felt disjointed and not cohesive. The description really bounced around a lot. If a little more description were put into it and then smoothed out, I think it would help. That, combined with the cover, told me this one would be last (see below).

The covers of the first three books were fine (although I think the placement of the skull on "Disturb" is in the wrong place and angle). But "Shot of Tequila" looked like something you would see on a 70's mass market book cover. Honestly, that turned me off, as it immediately invokes ideas of formula action stories with inter-changeable characters you really don't care about.

I hope some of that helps. I think it's great that you are studying this in such detail and are willing to post the results of your efforts so that the rest of us can learn. It's greatly appreciated! :)

Marie Simas said...

Okay, here's my humble opinion.

The cover for "Shot of Tequila" is awful. And I love comics and pulp. But if you are going to do a mock-pulp cover, it has to really be mock-pulp. This is computer generated and looks cheap.

The blurb for DISTURB is the best-- but the cover for DISTURB is not the best. It has the best hook, in my opinion.

The cover for the LIST and Origin are both really great-- sharp, visually appealing-- fantastic.

Did you notice your reviews? There are really fantastic reviews for Origin, and that might be impacting sales, too. DISTURB has a few shitty reviews. That doesn't mean the book is shitty-- that just means you got some shitty reviews. And shitty reviews can affect sales (GOD, I know this from experience, trust me)

Simply asking some more of your readers to post their honest reviews on DISTURB could help sales.

Joe, it's probably a combination of many different factors, but it looks like your kindle books are smashing bestsellers based on their sales rankings. (The highest ranking I ever got on my book in the Kindle store was 43, so you are doing kick-ass!)

Daniel said...

I can say with conviction that I bought THE LIST. I suppose I could have pirated it or gotten it off your website, but I'd rather support you.

I found the description the most appealing because it asks the big question without stating it outright, and gives you no clue as to what the answer might be. It piqued my interest without telling me anything about the story beyond what I might find out in the first chapter or two. It also felt a little more original while also having a slight Ludlum vibe. And being a big Ludlum fan, that spoke to me.

Anonymous said...

Check if there's a correlation between the order in which they are listed and their success in sales i.e. if they are listed in alphabetical order and Disturb is number one in sales. Most buyers are decided to buy "something"; if they don't have time to evaluate all books' descriptions they will choose among those they see first.

Thomas Edgar said...

I can tell you from the descriptions Origin is the first book that draws my attention (and was actually the first book of yours that I read). After that I think The List has the most interesting blurb.

From the covers I think Disturb has the most interesting look followed by The List.

As for Shot of Tequila I think it has the least appealing cover and I am not into detective stories so it is the lowest rated blurb as well.

Kathryn Lilley said...

I think I know why DISTURB is selling so well. A while back I was getting familiar with my (brand new) Kindle that I got for Christmas, and I was browsing through the Kindle store. My attention began to glaze over after scrolling through endless books, until I hit DISTURB. The cover and title is one of the few that made me stop and look. I saw that you were the author, and made a mental note to come back and check out the sample and probably buy. I think average Kindle buyers probably have the same experience--when they hit that book, they stop and look. I don't know why it's so arresting, but I think it really works.

JA Konrath said...

This is computer generated and looks cheap.

You aren't the first person to say this is computer generated. Oddly, it's not. My buddy hand drew it, and I watched him do it. He added color with Photoshop, but these are freehand drawings, not computer generated.

As for it looking "cheap", the cheesy 70's cover looks was what I was going for (hence the wording ont he cover and description.) A small percentage of people recognize this fact, but they're in a minority compared to those who think its cheesiness is unappealing.

Which may explain why Grindhouse bombed at the box office...

Joleene Naylor said...

If I were choosing based on covers alone it would go in this order:

the List
Shot of Tequila.

On the descriptions:
The List ("History is about to repeat itself" - very catchy!)
Shot of Tequila

Over all, The List appeals to me the most. the cover is polished, bright colors, good focus, etc etc, and the description is intriguing because it not only sounds "thrilling" but has a large element of mystery attached to it. plus, it's just written very catchy.

Not to say the others don't sound interesting too, but since you asked, I went with first impressions. Hope this helps some.

Anonymous said...

The cover for the ORIGIN immediately drew my attention. It was one that stayed with me, and within a week I had to download it to see if the story was just as captivating.

Although I read primarily horror, I loved the ORIGIN so much that I seared out others by you. It was the premise of the LIST that got to me--the tatoos on the bottom of the foot was something that made this stand out from the other ebooks I searched.

Next I'd have to go with DISTURB, although this storyline seemed a bit more cliched.

The cover for TEQUILA completely through me off--not very professional looking.

Unknown said...

I like the cover of Origin, which is why I voted for it first. The teaser text also sounds interesting. It sounds like the kind of book I enjoy.

Shot of Tequila doesn't appeal. I don't like that style of cover, and I would probably avoid it based on the cover.

The other two covers are okay, but they don't hook me.

By the way, I've read Afraid and liked it!

Unknown said...

I am a fan of the Jack Daniels series but the cover for shot of tequila looks more like a cartoon, smut book rather than what it is. If I was not a fan I would not read it or even pick it up to look at the synopsis. The other covers were all equally good but I like Origin best mainly because that is one of the genre/book style I enjoy.

Unknown said...

Hi Joe. Just looking at the covers, The List appealed to me. The cover of Disturbed turned me off as did Shot of Tequila. But on Kindle I rarely see or am bothered by cover are. Descriptions appeal to me as do recommendations on KindleKorner. I will buy "The List" and give it try.

Joe Frost, old gentleman, not old fart

Carol Bruce Collett said...

Of those four, I would buy either Disturb or Origin first, then The List. I probably would not even pick up Tequila Shot based on the cover, though reading the blurb it sounds like a story I would read. The cover of Disturb intrigues me. I like the eyes on the cover of Origin. I like horror. When you boil all this down, it would be interesting to learn your conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Just more food for thought... People that gravitate to the ORIGIN are more likely the kind of people that would prefer the type of storyline in AFRAID as opposed to that of TEQUILA. I, personally, fall into that category. THE LIST wasn't a far stretch... reminded me of a Preston/Child colaboration. Judging by the covers alone, people attracked to THE ORIGIN would probably not be drawn to TEQUILA.

Maria said...

The List has ALWAYS sounded the most intriguing to me. The others all sound like horror so they aren't as appealing to me.

But as for your numbers, the same is true for my three books. Executive Lunch waaaay outsells the other two. Catch an Honest Thief is a mystery also--but the sales numbers are not even half. "Sage: Tales from a Magical Kingdom" is novellas/short stories so I didn't expect it to sell as well as the novels. It sells as much as "Catch an Honest Thief!"

Covers? Based on three month sales of Thief and Sage, I went with a cover more like "Sage" when I published Executive Lunch (look and feel). Did that help?

I have no idea. It's a mystery to me...Thief has been doing steadily better month by month, whereas Executive Lunch started strong and remained strong. Sage stays about the same.

These sales numbers are different over at Smashwords. Sage (the novellas) has sold more copies than the novels. Same covers, shorter descriptions.

B&N has only had them up for a short time, but it looks like Executive Lunch will also be the top seller there...but that's pretty early data with no quarterly statement to back it up.

G.R. Yeates said...

Hi Joe,

Origin would be my pick. I'm a horror writer and reader so evil eyes staring out of a cover will always get my attention. The style of the cover also evokes the classic old school horror covers of the 70s and 80s that now seem to be history.

Lee Pletzers said...

The List

Linda Pendleton said...

The List would be my pick, probably based on cover even more so than the description, yet the description is intriquing.

Second choice would be Origin, based on description and cover.
Last would be Tequila, too funky looking.

Layton Green said...

I'm a lawyer and novelist in Atlanta, and I love your post. Question: if you self-publish through Amazon, do you sell your rights to them, or retain your rights? I.e., could you still publish a novel with big publishers after building up Kindle sales?
Very curious, and sorry if you have answered this already.

JA Konrath said...

When you publish on Kindle, you keep all the rights.

Cheryl Tardif said...

Based on covers alone, if I saw your books on a shelf in a bookstore, I would pick up the first three (especially #3). The covers are eye-catching, bold and depict thriller covers comparable to today's major publishers.

Cover #4 I would walk right past. It has a dated feel. Old book. Maybe self-published. Terrible graphics. And worst of all, the cover is more suited to a graphic novel than a serious thriller.

That's my 2 cents worth.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
Canadian suspense author

Jaden Terrell said...

Joe, I don't know if you're still looking for input on this or nt, especially since I see that you changed some of the covers. (I like the new one for DISTURB very much).

But if you are, here are my opinions.

1. The List. The cover is striking, with the layout, the shape of the DNA helix, and the bright colors. It screams technothriller, but the swirling, bright design hints at a touch of magic (either literal or mataphorical). Very eye-catching. The description was also intriguing. It sounds like a very human story.

2. Origin. The cover didn't capture me, but the description did. I would not have picked it up based on the cover, but I wasn't turned off by it either. I would have bought it on the basis of the description alone, if something else, such as seeing your name on the book, had drawn me to it.

3. Disturb. I confess to having looked ahead and seen your new cover for this, which is, in my humble opinion, vastly superior. (It evokes thoughts of Stephen King's MISERY, which was very creepy too.) The first DISTURB cover did make it clear that this was going to be a medical thriller, but nothing about it would have made me stop and look further. The description was fair, but the disclaimer was a winner. That's what would have sold me.

4. Shot of Tequila. This one didn't do it for me. I got the sense that the humor would be very, very broad and felt that plot and characterization would take a back seat to the laughs.

Thanks for this blog, by the way.

Theresa said...

Hi Joe, I know I am late to the party but just recently found you as a writer. The List would be my top pick - I am partial to high tech bio and I like the cover. In my opinion this is followed by Origin with its creeeepy cover art and cross genre theme. The blurb for Disturbed just misses me, likely my own personal preferences and I place this in a tie for third with Shot of Tequila. Shot of Tequila has a good blurb and sounds interesting but the cover feels like a mismatch - off resonance somehow. I am not sure how to explain my reaction, perhaps making the figures (particularly the central female figure) a bit more over the top caricature might match my feel for the text with my feel for the cover. That said, I am an avid reader and am very excited to have found another author whose work I enjoy.